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China’s Carrot and Stick Diplomacy: More Stick, Less Carrot

Cambodia took the blame for ASEAN’s recent failure, for the first time in its 45 year history, to agree on wording for a joint communique at the recent gathering in Phnom Penh. Cambodia’s strenuous objection to any mention of the territorial disputes in the South China Sea mirrored Chinese interests. This was not a coincidence, writes Bernie Glaser from the Center for Strategic and International Studies:

That the Chinese had sway over Cambodia should not come as a surprise. Beijing has provided billions in aid to Cambodia.  In 2011 alone the amount of foreign investment pledged to Phnom Penh by China was 10 times greater than that promised by the United States.

For more than a decade, China has pursued a strategy in Southeast Asia that relied heavily on economic carrots to increase the stake of the Southeast Asian countries in maintaining good relations with China.  The China-ASEAN FTA, Chinese foreign direct investment, foreign assistance, and trade have all been used to encourage countries to consider Beijing’s interests when formulating policies and eschew actions that China would view as objectionable.  In the past few years, however, China has directly used economic relations to compel target countries to alter their policies.  And this growing trend is worrisome.

Glaser lists a number of similar incidents in which China has strong-armed its neighbors:

  • Earlier this year, after a dispute with the Philippines over claims to the Scarborough Shoal, Chinese quarantine authorities allegedly blocked the import of Filipino bananas. The Philippines sends roughly 30 percent of its bananas to China, dealing the industry a major blow. Papayas, mangoes, coconuts, and pineapples came in for similar treatment as well.
  • In September 2010, China blocked shipments of rare earth minerals to Japan in retaliation for its detention of the captain of a Chinese fishing trawler near the Senkaku Islands, a group of uninhabited islets claimed by both countries (as well as Taiwan).
  • After Norway awarded Chinese dissident Liu Xiabo the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, Beijing froze trade negotiations with the country and cut back its imports of Norwegian salmon by almost 60 percent.

The U.S. needs to understand how this works and think carefully about where and how we counter it. The goal is not to prevent China from having links with its neighbors but to promote real cooperation and integration that respect the rights of the smaller countries even as it helps the prosperity of the whole region.

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  • Anthony

    Can China avoid being China in its part of the world any more than United States does in its sphere? Now, question is can we geopolitically live with it as we seek “to understand how this works.”

  • Luke Lea

    Liu Xiaobo made some acute observations ten years ago in his essay, “The Roots of Chinese ‘Patriotism’,” which you will find in his selected essays, No Enemies, No Hatred. Unfortunately Harvard University Press allows no Google preview so it is impossible to access it on the web. If my fingers and eyes hold out I’ll type a few lines from the section entitled Background to the Rise of Thuggish and Bellicose Patriotism:

    To whip up bellicose, expansionist patriotism in times of war might be easy. To do it in times of peace is not easy, but the following conditions help:

    1. A history of feelings of disdain for the world and a powerful feeling of vanity that the Son of Heaven once ruled All Under Heaven;

    2. A long history of having suffered humiliation at the hands of foreigners and the buildup of popular sentiment for revenge and settling scores;

    3. Pressure on people’s livelihood because of an extremely lard population and natural resources that are insufficient to support it;

    4. Rising diplomatic and military power in the present day;

    5. A solid record over an extended time of education-for-hatred in the school curricula and the misleading of public opinion in controlled media;

    6. A national psychology that regularly alternates between extreme self-abasement and extreme self-aggrandizement; and

    7. A dictatorial regime that can manipulate the aggregate power of the preceding six conditions.

  • Luke Lea

    [So now I’m stuck with italics just for trying a little HTML? Get some tags on these comments editors!]

    Anyway that was supposed to be “large population” above, not “lard population,” though I hear the Chinese people are starting to get fat.

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