In a major speech, Chinese President Xi Jinping laid out a plan for a more diplomatic Chinese foreign policy. This is another big sign that Beijing is moving away from the confrontational stance it struck after the 2008 financial collapse. Reuters reports:
China should “promote peaceful resolution of differences and disputes between countries through dialogue and consultation, and oppose the willful use of threat of force,” Xi said in a major policy address this weekend, according to a report by the official Xinhua News Agency late on Saturday.“We have advocated the building of a new type of international relations underpinned by win-win cooperation,” Xi told a meeting of top leaders convened by the Communist Party to discuss foreign policy. China championed “a new vision featuring common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security.”
Following the two other high-profile nods to Japan and the U.S., this is further evidence that Xi understands China needs to soften its regional image. (Note, however, that Xi’s speech contained nothing about reducing defense spending or compromising on territorial claims.)The U.S. goal isn’t to heighten tensions or make trouble between China and its neighbors. But the key question for the future of the region remains open: as China’s power grows, will it work cooperatively with its neighbors to settle issues like the territorial disputes on the basis of compromise and adjustment? Or will it seek to impose its will? If China chooses the former course, Asia can look forward to stability and prosperity. If it chooses the latter, the future is much more uncertain.Helping China make the right choice for Asia’s future and its own must be the central focus of American policy in the Pacific. That means pursuing two simultaneous policies: one of engaging China as deeply and effectively as possible, working to make participation in the current world system in China’s interest; and one of making sure that the strength of the United States and its allies in the region is sufficient to make the path of confrontation less tempting to China’s ultra-nationalists.While conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans may disagree on the details of this approach, overall there is something of an American consensus that this is the right path for American policy in Asia. The hardest question for Democrats is whether they are willing to support the defense budgets and the sometimes muscular and assertive diplomacy that this course of action requires. Given the realities of China’s accelerating military buildup there is simply no way the U.S. can hold up its end of the arrangement without spending more money on defense than most liberal Democrats would like. Republicans will have to disregard protests from some of their own budget hawks, and will also have to embrace the kind of institution-building foreign policy more associated with George H. W. Bush than with Robert Taft to create the kind of robust and resilient international realities in Asia and elsewhere that this strategy requires. Both parties will have to embrace something that Americans often find difficult: making and keeping long term commitments. China will certainly test American resolve and allied cohesion by probing and pushing—for example, by working to build up its presence in the disputed island groups—and Americans will have to respond. Patient pushing is China’s best strategy to test the U.S. and our allies; we will have to respond with patient resolve.But Asia is important enough, and enough Americans are realistic enough about the challenges there, that Pacific policy is likely to remain less contentious in American foreign policy debates than are policies in other parts of the world.That is good news for the billions of people in the world’s most dynamic and potentially most explosive region. America is likely to stay engaged, and, based on the evidence to date, China is likely to remain realistic.