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Weekly Column by Ravi Dutt Bajpai

Weekly Column No. 1007/2014



China aces the Asia-Pacific Diplomatic Marathon

The month of November 2014 witnessed an international diplomatic marathon in the Asia-Pacific region,hosting APEC in Beijing, East Asia Summit in Nyapyidaw and the G20 in Brisbane. In one has to pick winners from this long drawn contest of advancing one’s own agenda at the international level, then China has certainly emerged as a frontrunner. China has managed to achieve several important objectives of its self-promotional, diplomatic and strategic agenda during these international summits. It is worthwhile to mention that APEC was the first major international conference hosted by China since the appointment of President Xi Jinping in 2012. China last hosted APEC in 2001, a time when China was negotiating with World Trade Organization (WTO) to gain entry into their setup. In 2014, China used APEC meet to promote its own agenda to secure its trade objectives, successfully superimposing its Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP) architecture over US led Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)framework. China announced its Free Trade Agreement with South Korea, a masterful strategy considering South Korean manufacture and export base is quite similar to Taiwan and this deal will certainly diminish the volume of Taiwanese imports into China. Apart from trade related successes, China also managed to score some brilliant diplomatic points by prevailing upon the global leaders to adopt Chinese perspectives especially on the issues of greenhouse gas emissions.

 China demonstrated a very mature and farsighted approach in breaking the diplomatic impasse with Japan; this deadlock lasted for two years and witnessed heightened tensions and terse public bickering between the two countries. The meeting on the sidelines of APEC between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will not be remembered for its overt friendliness or exuberance but as a clear signal of China’s willingness to engage with its perceived rivals. The climate change agreement with the USA should be regarded as China’s biggest achievement during the APEC summit, this agreement may be interpreted as the endorsement of not only Chinese position on climate change but also Chinese way of achieving climate control. It is widely accepted that China’s greenhouse gas emissions would be on the way down by 2030, and thus by agreeing to the climate change deal, China has not only managed to protect its economic cycle but has also assumed the leadership role to guide climate change initiatives in the rest of the developing world. The signing of climate change deal may be the first clear signal of China’s acknowledgement of its leading position in shaping the global order.

 The Association of  South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in the Naypiydaw, the capital of Myanmar, was expected to take a firm stand on Chinese aspirations in the South China Sea, a maritime area in which several ASEAN members have territorial disputes with China. Some of the ASEAN members hoped for a legally binding Code of Conduct (COC) agreement in the sea area to check Chinese assertiveness.However, the ASEAN leaders meet delivered a much feeble statement and instead of taking tough and united stand against China’s aggressive posturing in the South China Sea, the leader’s merely agreed to ‘intensify consultation with China’. China has always insisted on dealing with ASEAN members at the bilateral level instead of dealing with them in a multilateral organisation. It may be argued that China has successfully diffused the specter of united ASEAN stand against the Chinese objectives in the South China Sea. Chinese Premier, Li Keqiangproposed a friendship treaty and offered $20 billion in loans for infrastructure development for ASEAN member states. It must be highlighted that the Chinese premier was stacking up Chinese economic diplomacy in exchange for the ASEAN member’s cooperation on strategic issues. However, the proposal of a treaty based on“Good Neighborly and Friendly Cooperation”, setting up a defense hotline between China and ASEAN member states and generous financial assistance came with a rider, Chinese Premier insisted that the maritime disputes be settled bilaterally rather than collectively or through arbitration.

 Australia takes its position in international arena quite seriously and the opportunity to host G20 in Brisbane was supposed to be a really big deal for the Australian diplomacy. However, the US-China climate change deal deprived G20 summit, the aura of preeminence so much craved by the host Australia. This deal shifted the focus of G20 summit for global economic issues to greenhouse gas emissions and its adverse impact on the environment. The US-China climate deal put pressure on Australia not only to cut back its own greenhouse gas emissions but also reduce its coal exports to decrease its contribution towards global carbon emissions. President Obama and several other leaders (Indian PM Narendra  Modi excepted) returned to their national duties immediately upon the conclusion of G20 while Chinese President Xi Jinping continued with his Asia-Pacific tour. During his address to the Australian parliament President Xi said,“We have every reason to go beyond a commercial partnership to become strategic partners who have a shared vision and pursue common goals”. Considering Australia’s close relationship with the USA, this address may be termed President Xi Jinping’s own version of ‘The Audacity of Hope’.

( Ravi Dutt Bajpai is currently pursuing a Masters in International Relations at Deakin University, Melbourne. He is associated with the Institute for Post Colonial Studies in Melbourne and is a regular social and political commentator with the Hindi daily, Prabhat Khabar, published from Bihar and Jharkhand. With expertise on China, India and Australia in world/Asian politics, he is a regular commentator on Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) in Hindi in Australia. Email id:  bajpai.ravibajpai@gmail.com. )

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