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China’s new leadership should focus on foreign policies that reassure its neighbors and the international community of its intentions, according to European experts.
"This ‘strategic reassurance’ must persuade the Asia-Pacific region that China would not behave aggressively or try to coerce its neighbors, even if the US were not engaged in the region,” David Fouquet, senior associate of the Brussels-based European Institute of Asian Studies told China Daily.
"This is not easy because there will always be domestic and foreign critics of such a policy. But Asia needs a collective and cooperative security system to bring more inclusive stability and probably the most urgent priority is to persuade and join all of the East Asian neighbors, ASEAN, Japan and Korea,” Fouquet added.
As Fouquet puts it, “Territorial rivalry and nationalism must be set aside and replaced by cooperation, transparency, consultation and common objectives.”
Fouquet’s comments came ahead of China’s annual National People's Congress, which will begin on Tuesday and showcase China’s new leadership.
The meeting will elect a chair, vice-chair, secretary-general and members for the 12th NPC Standing Committee, as well as the country's president and vice-president.
It will also decide the premier and vice-premiers of the State Council as well as state councilors, ministers, the governor of the People's Bank of China and an auditor-general, as well as the State Council's secretary-general.
The meetings, which mark another major political event following the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China last November, have attracted international attention.
Other European experts echoed Fouquet’s opinion, adding a cautionary note. Nadine Godehardt, associate Asia division of Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said, “China needs to strongly engage with her immediate neighbors. If China’s neighboring states are getting increasingly afraid of the ‘Chinese dream’, it at some point could become true that China has no friends at all.”
Godehardt believes, as a further consequence, this could also align China’s neighbors closer to the US and nourish Obama’s new foreign policy pivot to Asia.
"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 would actually raise China’s image in the region and towards the US,” Godehardt explained.
The 18th National Congress of the CPC reaffirmed China’s commitment to peaceful development, one of the most important guidelines for the country's foreign policy. However, China's rise in status amid an altered international situation calls for adaptations to its diplomatic strategy.
Nicolas de Pedro, research fellow of Barcelona Centre for International Affairs, said, “Increasing tensions in the South China Sea or other regional hot-spots could clearly harm Beijing’s ability to focus on domestic development, so it would be advisable to reverse this tendency.”
De Pedro suggested, “If China wants to play a bigger role in her vicinity, military might and economic power are not enough. Soft power, the capacity to cope with other actors and attract them to one’s own agenda and views, is crucial to forge genuine and solid leadership. Hence, promoting assertive nationalist views, tacitly or explicitly, might be counterproductive for the Chinese regional agenda and interests. As a nascent global power a more conciliatory policy toward her neighbors could be more fruitful. Uncertainties or fears about China are the driving factor in the rapprochement of her neighbors towards the US.”
When it comes to international issues, all the European experts agree China could and should play a more responsible role.
Godehardt said, “China’s decision to stay indifferent or neutral regarding many foreign policy questions is actually one reason for misunderstandings that emerge between China and the US or China and Europe. Being indifferent or neutral is not a safe house.”
"To the contrary, it is at its core a political decision which 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.
On China-Europe relations, Jonathan Holslag, research fellow of the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies, said, “The world order will remain very turbulent in the years to come. This makes solid EU-China cooperation more important than ever before. We need to work towards a more durable economic partnership and tap the full potential of our partnership in addressing global challenges.
"All powers are fragile in one way or another. So is China...I also expect it to become more active in trying to influence the international rules, political standards, and technical regulations. Besides, if it remains difficult to make progress in global organizations, it will deepen its engagement bilaterally and regionally.” Holslag added.