Beijing’s Diplomacy Taking a Lonely Road

By He Qinglian

Beijing has been experiencing diplomatic setbacks in the past couple of years, especially in 2011. Over the course of a few weeks—from the Asia-Pacific Summit (APEC) in October, to the G-20 in the beginning of November, and then the East Asia Summit (EAS) in mid-November—the United States launched a series of attacks.

This round of wrestling, wrapped up by the Obama and Wen Jiabao meeting at EAS, featured a complete failure on the part of Beijing. The United States re-entered the Pacific region on both the military and political fronts, while Beijing lost its role as the region’s leader.

Domestic Policy Extended

The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement was signed by nine countries in the Asia-Pacific region, excluding China, leaving the regime in an isolated position on both the military and political fronts. Since the Chinese communist regime was established in 1949, it has twice before endured periods of international isolation.
To Beijing’s dismay, it is once more becoming isolated, and this time the isolation has started in its backyard—the Asia-Pacific region. This isolation is occurring at a time when the communist regime proclaims itself to have “peacefully risen” and to hold a position, with the United States, of co-leader.

The Chinese regime has always been confident that its economic relationships with its neighbors will bring about political trust. However, the Southeast Asian countries have been jointly rejecting Beijing’s scheme for one-on-one negotiations about important regional issues.

China is located in the upper stream of the Mekong River. China has been taking advantage of this and abusing the water resources for years, affecting Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Similarly, in the South China Sea, China’s large claims affect nations throughout the region. It was only a matter of time for the Southeast Asian countries to join forces in the fight against China.

The Chinese regime’s diplomatic failure is not because of incompetent diplomats, but because the regime’s diplomacy is an extension of its domestic policy.

The last 30 years of domestic policy have been centered on the theory that economic development is the concrete criterion. The so-called “bread agreement” with the general public became the foundation of the Chinese regime’s political legitimacy. The regime promises to feed the people, and in return, the people must accept single-party authoritarianism.

Lies and violence are the two ways the regime maintains this role. Lies are used to control the media, influence public opinion, and fabricate the voices of mainstream society.

Such domestic policy, when reflected onto foreign affairs, uses economic incentives to achieve political manipulation. In exchange for political support, it offers rich countries investment opportunities and imports and exports; it offers poor countries financial aid.

In recent years, Beijing has initiated a “grand overseas propaganda” scheme in order to influence public opinion outside China’s borders. In the meantime, military expansion has become a threat to neighboring countries.

One difference between Beijing’s domestic policy and foreign policy is that on the domestic front, it has been a lot more frugal when it comes to spending on things like social welfare and education.

Starting from the early 1970s, the spending on foreign aid has been increasing by 1 billion yuan (US$157.5 million) per year. In 1973, foreign aid reached an all-time high of 2 percent of the GDP. In the same year, the United States spent only 0.0063 percent of its GDP on foreign aid. In the past 10 years, China’s educational spending has been less than 4 percent of the GDP.

The increase in foreign aid slowed down at the start of the economic reform in the 1980s, and then in recent years, foreign aid started to increase again. In the past 10 years, the regime spent 170 billion yuan (US$26.8 billion) in total on various foreign aid projects. This does not include the large amount of debt from other countries cancelled by Beijing.

Whenever there is a diplomatic emergency, the regime will try to settle things using money. For example, during this year’s East Asia Summit, Wen Jiabao added $10 billion on top of the already promised $15 billion in aid to East Asian countries. In addition, a 3 billion yuan foundation (US$472.5 million) for oceanic cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations was announced.

Ignoring Rules

The Chinese regime first experienced isolation from its beginning in 1949 until the 1970s, when the United States established diplomatic relations with China. After the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, the regime experienced isolation until the mid-1990s. And now the regime is again finding itself facing a form of isolation, as multi-lateral agreements in its own region exclude it.

These three instances of isolation have one fundamental cause: The Chinese Communist Party’s values and ways of acting are incompatible with the civilized world. The Beijing authorities have sought to shirk the responsibilities while taking advantage of the universal values and codes of conduct recognized by the international community.

President Barack Obama criticized China at the APEC meeting in Hawaii, saying that China has been playing with international rules and that China’s actions are “enough.”

He did not wrong China. China has signed 23 international conventions related to human rights. Except for “The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” the other 22 have been approved. However, a look at the practices of the Chinese regime shows that it does not carry out most of its commitments in the human rights conventions.

That China does not abide by the rules of intellectual property rights is known the world over. The Sino-U.S. disputes over intellectual property rights have long been one of the major economic conflicts.

Germany awarded 5 of the 11 prizes of the “Golden-Nosed Dwarf for Piracy” to Chinese companies in 2010. A report made by the EU in 2010 pointed out that 64 percent of the counterfeit goods imported to the European Union countries in 2009 were from China.

The Chinese regime has a famous saying about abiding by international rules: “Conceal one’s ability and bide one’s time.” The saying means that when China’s power is not strong enough, it has to show weakness and reserve power. Once the time is ripe, China will rise up abruptly.

In the five-year transition period after the CCP joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, Beijing adapted the strategy of “no confrontation.” But when the transition period came to an end and China became a formal member of the WTO, Beijing turned defense into offense.

Since 2007, China’s product quality has also become the main trade friction. The reports about a variety of harmful foods, lead toys, hazardous building materials, and so on, have become a lingering shadow for China.
The spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry, Jiang Yu, attacked foreign correspondents in March 2011, telling them, “Do not take the law as a shield.” In November, the response of the deputy director of the Foreign Ministry, Pang Sen, to Obama’s criticism at the summit in Hawaii expressed the CCP’s true voice. “If the rules are decided by one or several countries, China does not have the obligation to abide by them,” Pang said.

Pang means that Beijing agrees to join an international organization because it wants to get a ticket to take part. But since the rules were made before China joined the organization, China does not have to abide by them because it did not participate in writing the rules.

Soft Power

In recent years, the Chinese regime has proposed establishing soft power. But Beijing’s understanding of soft power is “money diplomacy plus grand overseas propaganda.” Actually, this kind of soft power can only be effective for a short period.

The Chinese regime’s biggest diplomatic gain from spreading money internationally was how it successfully used some developing countries to make trouble in the U.N. Human Rights Commission (since a 2006 name change, this body has been called the Human Rights Council). Motions condemning the Chinese regime’s violation of human rights never passed. There were no other outstanding results.

Myanmar’s drifting apart from China is an example of the limitations of the Chinese regime’s use of soft power. China has poured huge money into Myanmar for years. It also publishes a few magazines in Burmese in an attempt to brainwash the Burmese people. However, after the new prime minister, Wu Dengsheng, came to power this September, the Myanmar government declared a suspension of the dam project on the Irrawaddy River in northern Myanmar, in which China has invested $3.6 billion.

While the Southeast Asian countries depend on China in economics, they have never given up the thought that security depends on the United States.

Beijing needs to recognize that its diplomatic dilemma is not entirely because of unwise strategies and tactics, but is due to the Chinese regime’s political system and values. If Beijing can’t reform those, it can only continue to go it alone.

He Qinglian is a prominent Chinese author and economist. Currently based in the United States, she authored “China’s Pitfalls,” which concerns corruption in China’s economic reform of the 1990s, and “The Fog of Censorship: Media Control in China,” which addresses the manipulation and restriction of the press. She writes regularly on contemporary Chinese social and economic issues.

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