Sunday, April 5, 2015

Chinese Foreign Policy Comes of Age


The New York Times - MARCH 26, 2015

WASHINGTON — China’s public offer to mediate peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government marks a notable departure in Chinese foreign policy. It is the first time Beijing is taking a genuine leadership role, on its own initiative, on a geopolitical issue both sensitive and significant.

If Beijing has alarmed its neighbors in East Asia with its assertiveness over contested territory, elsewhere it is its policy of noninterference that has been criticized, especially by Western governments, as a form of free-riding or obstructionism. But now its efforts in Afghanistan suggest it will no longer leave all the diplomatic heavy-lifting to other states. Beijing is finally easing into its role as a great power.

China’s noninterventionism has been a diplomatic mantra since Zhou Enlai laid out the “five principles of peaceful coexistence” over half a century ago. The policy didn’t stop Mao Zedong from sending Chinese troops into India in 1962 and supporting revolutionary movements across the globe, nor Deng Xiaoping from invading Vietnam in 1979 and providing arms to the mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Yet noninterference remained a defining feature of China’s foreign policy mind-set.

In more recent decades, it was coupled with Deng’s injunctions to “hide our capabilities and bide our time” and “never claim leadership.” Partly a means of distinguishing China’s identity as a developing country from Western powers, partly a strategy to minimize risk, these principles have also been an excuse for inaction, and for protecting China’s commercial interests abroad, especially in the world’s trouble spots.