Diaoyus row marks shift in Beijing's diplomatic posture
Growing power emboldens China to be more aggressive
Cary Huang in Beijing
Oct 02, 2010
First there was Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang and then the South China Sea. Now the Diaoyu Islands have become the latest addition to China's "core interests" when it comes to territorial integrity.
The elevation of the islands, in the strategically important East China Sea, to the same level of national interest as Tibet and Taiwan this year speaks volumes about China's increasing naval ambitions and intensifying competition in Asia's oceans.
Beijing has put its dispute with Tokyo over the Diaoyus into the category of "core national interest" under a newly established diplomatic system to classify its major disputes with foreign nations, according to diplomats familiar with the process.
China never publicly announced it has classified the South China Sea and Diaoyus as "core national interests". The application of the term to the South China Sea was only made known to other countries during a meeting in March with visiting American diplomats.
Copying a system used by Western powers, Beijing has approved a new system to put major foreign relations issues into two categories, "core national interest" and "national interest", a Chinese diplomat said.
China would not make public announcement about what disputes it has classified as "core national interests", following common practice in other countries, such as the United States and Russia, the diplomat said.
While Chinese strategists could not agree on whether to classify such issues into more than two categories to enable more policy flexibility, the leadership agreed in a meeting late last year to classify major foreign relations issues into two categories.
The US has a three-category approach. Early in the 1990s it began classifying issues into "vital national interest", "important national interest" and "average national interest". Russia and other Western powers have similar policy frameworks.
"This suggests a significant change in the making of China's diplomatic policy and its tactics in dealing with foreign nations over major issues," the diplomat said. Such a system would put foreign-policy decision-making on a more scientific basis and enable various government agencies to work in a more co-ordinated manner.
The diplomat said the government had this year classified the "indisputable sovereignty" over territories and surrounding waters in the East and South China Seas as "core national interests".
In recent years, the words "core national interest" and "national interest" have been used by the official media and occasionally by officials to refer to Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet.
Professor David Shambaugh, director of the China policy programme at George Washington University, said the first official application of the term to the South China Sea was during a conversation between State Councillor Dai Bingguo and visiting US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and the US National Security Council's Asia director, Jeffrey Bader, in March.
"To put the Diaoyu Islands dispute into the category of 'core national interest' means Beijing will brook no compromise over issues relating to it," Jin Canrong , associate dean of Renmin University's school of international relations, said. That was why Beijing was adopting a much tougher stance over the issue than it had in the past, Jin said.
China watchers noted a significant change this year. From a tit-for-tat war of words over "national interests" between Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in July at the Asean Regional Forum in Hanoi, to the joint exercises by US and South Korean forces and counter drills by the PLA in the Yellow Sea in the past two months and the latest no-compromise spat with Tokyo over the Diaoyus, the signs suggest Beijing is adjusting its diplomacy by adopting a more aggressive stance.
China and Japan have been embroiled in a tense diplomatic stand-off for more than three weeks since Japan's arrest of a Chinese trawler captain near the Diaoyus. The captain was released last week but the dispute simmered on, with China arresting four Japanese nationals, demanding an apology and compensation from Tokyo and resorting to trade retaliation.
Wang Xinsheng , a scholar of Japanese history at Peking University, said he believed Beijing was abandoning its long-held policy of "putting aside the disputes and jointly developing the area" in its recent spat with Tokyo.
China has long observed a policy of putting aside disputes over territorial waters with neighbours and jointly developing natural resources in the East and South China Seas. But analysts say China is now pushing to extend its jurisdiction as far out to sea as possible.
Renmin University professor of international relations Shi Yinhong agreed, saying Beijing appeared to have adopted a more assertive stance in handling the Diaoyus row.
Shi said that in the past, Beijing only made vocal protests without resorting to substantial retaliation and tried to separate territorial or political disputes from normal business. This time, it had halted ministerial-level contacts and resorted to trade retaliation.
For more than two decades, China's foreign policy has been low-profile, following a famous dictum by late leader Deng Xiaoping , who urged his countrymen to "hide our capacities and bide our time".
Analysts say that now, under a new maxim of "advance with the times", China's leaders seem to be fine-tuning their approach, with increasing wealth and power emboldening the country on the world stage.
- ＜向龍時代：上 海の攻防＞膨張野心 緊張の海／ベトナム沖 中国船台頭／尖閣、ひとごとでない（朝日新聞） gataro 2010/10/03 20:04:02