New leaders to face foreign-policy issues

Updated: 2013-03-02 02:44

By Zhang Chunyan in London, Liu Jia in Brussels and Pu Zhendong in Beijing (China Daily)

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Improving ties with neighboring states is among the many emerging challenges in Chinese foreign policy in the next five years, as Beijing anticipates new leadership this month, experts from China and abroad said.

China should concentrate first on reassuring its neighbors, and the rest of the international community, of its intentions, said David Fouquet, a senior associate of the Brussels-based European Institute of Asian Studies.

"This 'strategic reassurance' must persuade the Asia-Pacific region that China will not behave aggressively or try to coerce its neighbors, even if the United States were not engaged in the region," he added.

Fouquet's comment came before China's annual meeting of the National People's Congress, the country's top legislature, which will begin on Tuesday and will be a debut for the new leaders.

The meeting, which marks another major political event following the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in November, is attracting international attention.

It will see the election of a chairperson, vice-chairpersons, secretary-general and members of the 12th NPC Standing Committee, as well as the country's president and vice-president.

The NPC will also choose the premier and vice-premiers of the State Council, or China's cabinet, as well as State councilors, ministers for government departments, ministers in charge of commissions of the State Council, the governor of the People's Bank of China, an auditor-general, as well as the State Council's secretary-general.

Other foreign "China hands" agreed with Fouquet's opinion.

Nadine Godehardt, an associate at the Asia division of the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said: "China needs to engage even more with her immediate neighborhood.

"The Chinese leadership should clearly articulate the goals and, more importantly, the limits of China's foreign policy. Hence, clear answers to questions like what are China's core interests and what is absolutely not negotiable for the Chinese leadership will actually improve China's image in the region and in the US," Godehardt said.

Otherwise, Godehardt added, China's neighbors will align themselves closer to the US and nourish US President Barack Obama's new foreign policy direction, the so-called pivot to Asia.

The 18th Party Congress reaffirmed China's commitment to peaceful development, one of the most important guidelines for the country's foreign policy.

Li Haidong, a professor from the Institute of International Relations at China Foreign Affairs University, said harnessing the changing world situation, driven by the US strategy of its pivot to Asia, will be a major challenge for the new Chinese leadership.

"Since the outbreak of the 2008 global financial crisis, the US strategic focus has been shifting from anti-terrorism to seeking a new pivot," Li said. "Rebalancing in the Asia-Pacific region, as the outcome of this pursuit, resulted in a new round of policy adjustments of countries in the region.

"Against this backdrop, territorial disputes in the East and South China seas have been intensified to different degrees," Li added. "China needs to invest more in Sino-US ties and foster the strategic mutual trust."

When it comes to international issues, observers noted that China could, and should, play a role of more responsibility and engagement.

Godehardt said: "China's decision to stay neutral regarding many foreign-policy questions is actually one reason for misunderstandings that emerge between China and the US or China and Europe.

"Being neutral raises as many questions as any benevolent or bellicose political statement. In the case of China, it particularly leads to assumptions about whether the country actually wants to be a responsible power and what this would exactly mean," Godehardt added.

Wang Zaibang, vice-president of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, echoed those views. He said that with its rising influence, China should now actively participate in international affairs, including regional disputes like the Syrian crisis, and unconventional threats like anti-piracy operations.

"As a responsible country, China should contribute its share of strength to facilitate the establishment of a more peaceful and secure international situation, and inject sufficient impetus to the development of other countries," Wang said.

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