Time to reset China’s Foreign Policy buttons?

Barry Pearton's picture

CHINA is moving to repair its image abroad – but it needs to review a number of its foreign policies, too . . .

CHINA’s newly-minted aggressive tone in international diplomacy — successor to the ‘charm offensive’ employed in the early marketing days of the Belt and Road Initiative – is winning few friends.
Today’s China is coming across as belligerent, the world watching on with a sense of trepidation as an increasingly powerful Xi Jinping promotes the blessings of his chosen political and economic systems — under the broad umbrella of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.
Are we watching a crisis in the making?
Hopefully not.
Reports out of China say President Xi himself recognises that the propaganda effort has been too successful – that it has overhyped China’s rise as a real power .
New leadership has now been appointed to guide the propaganda engine in improving China’s image abroad.
Perhaps, the policies that are driving China’s tougher image might also be softened?

CHINA has been employing a mix of soft and hard power – carrot and stick – in seeking to bend more of the world to its way of thinking.
As a result, even some of its best intentions are now more often misconstrued as of sinister intent. The current round of trade measures being taken by U.S. President, Donald Trump, is not helping.
Exporters are having to rethink their reliance on the China market as trade sanctions morph inevitably into wider issues of intellectual property protection and cyber security.
U.S. companies tell media of raids on their offices in China by bureaucrats tasked with accessing proprietary technology. Western governments increasingly are walking away from leading Chinese suppliers of technology and communications equipment.
China-linked multinational firms – including now those long-domiciled in Hong Kong – are being denied the right to bid for major infrastructure offshore, especially in the utilities and transport sectors, for fear that their first loyalty will be to China’s Central Party Committee and its State Council.
In Australia, there is rising concern about direct Chinese influence in the nation’s political and economic affairs through Chinese expatriate community and student groups, political parties, and directly into the economy  — through investment in infrastructure, real estate and even bulk-buying of  everyday food and medical products for resale in China.
Also, increasingly, come warnings of China’s strategic influence through its interests in the wider region, but more specifically for Australia in the Pacific and Antarctica.

CHINA emerged from the 20th century as a country endowed with enormous goodwill.
That tide turned as the Chinese leadership endorsed incursions into the South China Sea, building artificial reefs bearing military installations in defiance of accepted global norms.
Imagine China’s outrage if India, Japan, Indonesia, Australia or any other nation sought to replicate China’s military islets in offshore waters.
Yet China continues to reject a ruling on these islets handed down by the World Court at The Hague, and attacks those who support The Hague ruling.
 It continues to demand what it sees as its historic territorial and (read food security) marine rights in these seas.
Meanwhile, Chinese diplomats ruffle feathers abroad.
Witness the very public tantrum by China’s envoy to a closed-door meeting in Nauru of the Pacific Islands Forum – because he was refused permission to speak first.
Not a good look in front of influential Pacific Islands leaders being so assiduously wooed by Beijing as it seeks to expand its interests in the Pacific.
It may well be that China does not want to control the Pacific west of Hawaii and through Belt and Road to Amsterdam and London. But countries like Australia and the United States are genuinely concerned as China pledges soft loans across the Pacific, especially for ports and other infrastructure.
China’s military has been active in regional issues, too.
 Last year saw a 10-week standoff between Indian and Chinese soldiers after Chinese workers were discovered road-building in the disputed region of Doklam Plateau in Bhutan.
In April, this year, Chinese military aircraft flew near the island of Taiwan as China conducted live fire drills, and in September, a U.S. Navy warship was banned from entering the Port of Hong Kong.
This in response to a U.S. military vessel testing freedom of navigation rights in international waters, cruising within 12 miles of a disputed Chinese islet in the Spratly Islands.
China has been stepping up its campaign against Taiwan interests, most recently strongly criticising the United States for continuing to sell spare parts to Taipei for fighter jets and aircraft systems.
Beijing’s campaign to isolate Taiwan’s few remaining diplomatic allies is relentless. In this, ironically, Taiwan has won support from an unexpected source – the European Parliament.
A Parliamentary report calls on the European Union and its Member States to urge China to refrain from military provocation towards Taiwan, reiterating support for Taiwan’s “meaningful participation” in international organisations. It also supports the launch of negotiations on a Bilateral Investment Agreement (BIA) between the EU and Taiwan.
China would appear to be fighting fires on too many fronts.

COINCIDENTALLY, in this issue (pages 20,21) we revisit an earlier renaissance of China’s global reach – a 15th century dalliance with U.S. traders marking earlier days of globalisation through the Spanish-led Silver Way out of the Philippines.
Then, as today, China bewildered its trading partners by restricting navigation, wanting to set the terms of trade, and expecting the world to accept it on its own terms.
To quote philosopher George Santayana from our review pages: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”