China’s New Diplomacy: Rationale, Strategies and Significance

China's New Diplomacy

Author(s):  Zhiqun Zhu

ISBN:           9781472413680

Publisher:  Ashgate Publishing

Year:           2013

Price:           £65.00

Reviewed by BM Jain, Professor of Political Science and ICSSR’s Senior Fellow (Indian Council of Social Sciences Research, New Delhi)

China’s ascent to power has raised eye brows in the world chanceries. Its rise has been gradual and systematic. The end of the Soviet Union of course facilitated China’s rise in world politics. Today China’s economy is next to the United States. It’ s real credit goes to the visionary leadership of  Deng Xiaoping  who laid a firm foundation of a  modern and  progressive China , militarily  strong  and  economically  a powerful and self-reliant nation. His pragmatism in foreign and economic policy impelled him to adopt an “open door policy” with Chinese characteristics. Deng endeavoured to convince the world community that China had no intention to come into confrontation with any other nation. Rather, he emphasized the need for peace and tranquility on its borders, essential for China’s economic development.

The book under review has picked up the main thread from Deng Xiaoping’s philosophy. Zhiqun Zhu  attempts to apply Deng’s economic thought based on the “open door policy.” In Chapter 1, Zhu has discussed how China has successfully managed to break its diplomatic isolation by way of improving and strengthening its relations with Asian countries. Its pro-active engagement with ASEAN in economic and trade sector enabled China to replace Japan as the largest trading partner of ASEAN, enhancing its political and strategic profile in the region.  Importantly, China’s new diplomacy is aimed at integrating it’s economy into the world economy through WTO. After more than a decade’s political struggle with the United States, China was admitted to WTO in 2001. It was a major breakthrough for China. It attempted to exercise soft power by setting up Confucius institutes throughout the world. The main aim behind it is to promote Chinese language and culture with an aim to convince the world community that China’s rise has been peaceful. Zhu makes an appreciable attempt to present China’s new pro-active diplomacy in different parts of the world. He endeavors to underline that China can contribute to bringing peace in the volatile region of the Middle East. The author boasts that China’s “new diplomacy has achieved considerable success.” (p.17)

The structure of the book has been systematically designed to help us understand China’s complex relations with the volatile Asian, African and Pacific regions much better. In Chapter 2, Zhu provides a comprehensive survey of China’s multifarious interests in Africa, consisting of 54 countries. China’s interest in Africa is driven by a host of factors. First, Africa provides a growing market to China. Second, “China’s fast rising involvement with Africa grows out of its immense need for natural resources, in particular for imported oil, of which one third is already from Africa, compared with about 15 percent for the United States” (p.23). Angola has already surpassed Saudi Arabia as China’s largest supplier of oil. Third, Africa holds diplomatic importance for China. The author has rightly mentioned that African countries have helped China in safeguarding “its political and diplomatic interest in international institutions, such as the Human Rights Commission, which was replaced by the Human Rights Council in 2006. “…At every turn African countries have given China strong support in foiling anti-China motions introduced by some Western countries at the Human Rights Commission” (p.25). In return, China has been helping African countries by pumping more economic aid for development. China’s diplomatic efforts, motivated by enhancing its influence among African countries, have been virtually ignored by the United States and India.

China’s engagement with the Middle East and Central Asia is driven by its energy and security interests. Zhu very intelligently handles the complexity of China’s military, security, trade and energy ties with the Middle East. There has been a phenomenal rise in trade between China and the Middle East, overtaking the US as the world’s largest exporter. According to reliable sources, as claimed by the author, the China-Middle East trade is expected to touch $ 300 billion by 2014. Thus, by increasing engagement with the Middle East, China’s political and diplomatic influence in the region will increase. This apart, China has been transferring weapons and missiles to some countries of the region that have hostile relations with the United States. Apart from that, China’s new diplomacy also aims at winning more friends and sympathizers through soft power diplomacy. Quite interestingly, China has managed to promote its ties with Israel, which is in the state of war with the Arab countries, especially when there is a tug of war between Israel and Iran on the nuclear issue. It is China’s sagacious diplomacy with cautious optimism that Beijng’s ties with Tel Aviv have not deteriorated even though China has been consistently supporting Iran’ nuclear programme. Countries like India have to learn from Chinese diplomacy as to how to maintain the balanced relationship with the two hostile nations- Israel and Iran.

The author has brilliantly analyzed the dynamics of China-Central Asia relationships. With an aim to have access to Central Asia’s vast energy resources, Chinese diplomacy is geared to setting up trade missions in Central Asia. For instance, the author has mentioned that “Sino-Kazakh trade is the largest, constituting over 80 percent of total China-Central Asia trade.” (p.166) Equally, China has intelligently exploited Central Asia’s gas market to help fulfill its energy needs. Besides, China is a major investor in Central Asia’s oil industry. A significant portion of natural gas in the coming years will be transported through pipelines from Central Asia through Xinxiang to China. Interestingly, China  is consolidating “societal links” with Central Asia through soft power diplomacy, such as fostering cultural and educational exchanges, including opening up Confucius Institute, in Kazakhstan. In brief, China’s trade, energy and societal linkages with Central Asia will contribute to undermining the US manifold interests in the region.

As part of its new diplomacy to reach out globally, China’s relations with Latin American countries are fast expanding in energy, export and investment sectors. China has signed free trade agreements with several countries of the region, including with Chile in 2005, Peru in 2008, and Costa Rica in 2010. Besides, Venezuela has increased the supply of crude oil and products to China, estimated to reach one million barrel by 2014. Importantly, Chinese diplomacy is aimed at isolating Taiwan from Latin America, the ramifications of which are deleterious for the United States. First, China’s growing engagement with Latin American countries implies undercutting the traditional influence of the United States in the region. Second, China’s attempts at seeking diplomatic succor of Latin American countries on Taiwan are a direct challenge to US interests in Taiwan. How America will deal with the perilous situation remains to be seen.

Chapters 8 and 9 on International Responses, and China in the World of the 21st Century respectively are especially interesting. Dr. Zhu provides insightful thoughts on  many and varied challenges facing  China  on the  issues such as  Taiwan, human rights in Tibet and Xinxiang,  energy security, stability in domestic economic growth, and contest for influence between  China and the United States in  the  Asia-Pacific region. The author gives a comprehensive and critical account of China’s “peaceful rise” and its concerted efforts towards improving its international image, besmirched by the West, especially the United States. It is true that China and the United States have enormous opportunities to work closely together to combat global terrorism, to tide over global economic meltdown, meet the common threat to maritime security against piracy, drug trafficking, and nuclear terrorism. The author concludes on a positive note that China’s new diplomacy “will continue to benefit not only China itself but also the rest of the world in the 21st century and beyond” (p.243). But how? This question remains unanswered.

The book under review is profusely informative, patently comprehensive in its treatment to the subject with rich insights into the dynamics of an interface between China’s domestic and foreign policy. The book’s drawback is that South Asia has been completely left out. The region is today on the global geostrategic map. India and Pakistan being the two nuclear weapon states pose an enormous security threat to the international peace and security. How will China deal with them? Moreover, India, a preeminent power in South Asia, is China’s main competitor or even rival for the Asian leadership. This apart, China’s increasing defense, security and strategic nexus with countries such as Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka is discomfiture to India. The latter perceives it as India’s strategic encirclement by China. Another important issue left out by the author is the unresolved border dispute between India and China for over five decades.  Despite these minor lapses, the book is immensely useful for college and university students, offering the course on China and international relations .It is a well-researched, well-argued and well-analyzed volume. Also, it will prove eminently useful for academia, researchers and public policy makers.

Suggested Citation:

BM Jain (2014). Review of “China’s New Diplomacy: Rationale, Strategies and Significance”, by Zhiqun Zhu, East Asian Integration Studies Vol. 7, no.20, Internet file: https://asianintegration.org/index.php?option=com_joomlib&task=view&id=134&Itemid=75

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