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How to deal with hardline China amid insecurity regarding international order: Keio Univ. professor Kamo

  • September 10, 2020
  • , Nikkei , p. 23
  • JMH Translation

The following article was contributed by Keio University professor Tomoki Kamo, who specializes in modern Chinese politics and diplomacy.


As U.S.-China tensions rise, China’s actions in the Asia-Pacific region are exacerbating the tensions.


Why, then, does the current Chinese leadership take hardline actions against other countries, which creates conflict in the global community? I would like to address this question from the standpoint of policy decision-making.


The current Chinese leadership calls its diplomatic policy “major power diplomacy with Chinese characteristics.” The nation’s leaders are interested in expanding their power.


The current leadership has emphasized “institutional discourse power.” Institutional discourse power is the power to make other countries accept Chinese demands in agenda-setting or voting on resolutions within international frameworks that shape the world order.


The goal of Chinese diplomacy has shifted from one of adapting itself to existing international frameworks to “major power diplomacy,” which aims to insert China’s demands into existing frameworks.


Why this shift? It was to overcome the “sense of insecurity” in relation to the existing international order.


An analysis offered by a former Chinese diplomat may serve as reference here. According to the former diplomat, the existing international order, the Pax Americana, is comprised of three components: (1) American or Western values, (2) military alliances centered around the U.S., and (3) the United Nations and other international organizations. The first two are irreconcilable with China, and only the UN and other international organizations are acceptable, says the former diplomat.


The Chinese leadership views the ongoing U.S.-China conflict as a “once-in-a-century change” in international frameworks, where the power balance among nations and the rules of international politics change. There are those in China who view this shift as the decline of U.S. hegemony. Moreover, a sense of insecurity has heightened since the COVID-19 pandemic.


Major power diplomacy has two contradictory approaches: coordination and coercion. Coordination is an inclusive approach that uses economic power. Coercion is an approach that forces others to accept Chinese diplomatic principles or China’s national interests (China’s “narrative”).


China practices the diplomacy of coordination and coercion in its engagement with Africa. Joint statements by China and African nations on cooperative frameworks include support for China’s stance on issues such as Taiwan and Hong Kong. Major power diplomacy is one in which coordination and coercion coexist.


The question remains: Why does the Chinese leadership take hardline actions against other countries? One reason to protect major power diplomacy, the narrative that supports discourse power.


The narrative that China has been successful in dealing with the pandemic validates Communist Party rule and reinforces China’s discourse power. This is why Chinese diplomats have defended the country’s successes and taken aggressive actions against criticism amid international debate over responsibility for the pandemic and the name of the disease.


How should Japan deal with China? China puts emphasis on the power balance. Japan should stand up to China using the same rationale. The institutional discourse power that China pursues will affect not only security but also many other areas. Japan stand up to this power. Japan needs to show that it has the will to support the existing order with the cooperation of like-minded countries and to let China know that actions to change this order will come with a cost.


To stand up to China is not to shut out China. China is trying to build an international environment beneficial to its own development. Deterring it is not a real solution to the issue. What is necessary is to clarify what is problematic about China’s heightening technology prowess and influence and to harness and guide China. Japan should take the posture of designing an order that encompasses China based on a long-term vision and a realistic understanding of the issues. (Abridged)

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