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China’s Dovish Generals and Hawkish Diplomats: A More Coherent Foreign Policy?

Are we witnessing some sort of policy convergence coming out of Beijing? First, Reuters is reporting that some more dovish generals are gaining prominence under new President Xi Jinping:

General Liu Yuan, a senior People’s Liberation Army (PLA) officer close to the new leader, warned of the danger of war with Japan in a series of conciliatory commentaries and public remarks at odds with earlier bellicose rhetoric from military hawks. […]

In a further sign Beijing wants to curb hawkish sentiment, one of China’s most outspoken military officers, retired Major General Luo Yuan, has been dropped from the government’s top advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Meanwhile, China’s diplomats appear to be moving in a more hawkish direction. As the NYT reports, China’s new diplomatic team is composed of individuals with a history of taking hard lines. Beijing’s next chief diplomat, Yang Jiechi, has played hardball with the US in the past, warning in a recent press conference that “the US side should respect the Chinese side’s interests and concerns” in the Asia-Pacific region.

The two stories taken together suggest that China is working on shaping a coherent, unified approach to the outside world. This is a very good thing overall, and cannot come at a better time.

In the past, the US and other countries have been exasperated by dissonance in Chinese foreign policy. Behind closed doors, leadership and diplomats would sing relatively sweet-sounding melodies, but these voices were often drowned out by the more hawkish tunes the generals sang in public. Now, with China engaged in some volatile standoffs with its neighbors, things could quickly turn ugly if Beijing ends up sending mixed signals. East Asia can no longer afford the uncertainty.

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