By Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal

May 13, 2014

Since the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, held in 1978, the Chinese leadership has concentrated on economic development. This path toward modernization can be called “the development path to a peaceful rise.” China’s rapid development has attracted worldwide attention in recent years. China’s emergence thus far has been driven by capital, technology, and resources acquired through peaceful means. In pursuing the goal of rising in peace, the Chinese leadership has strived for improving China’s relations with all the nations of the world. Beijing asserts that war and coercion no longer pay off.

China’s rapid development has attracted worldwide attention during recent years. In pursuing the goal of rising in peace, the Chinese leadership has strived for improving relations with all the nations of the world. It adheres to a strict policy of strategic self-restraint. While continuing to signal its territorial and economic claims in the East and South China Seas, Beijing has concluded agreements with 12 neighbouring countries over the demarcation of its disputed land border. Chinese government has reiterated time and again that military muscle flexing offers no solution and that joint development of the abundant offshore resources could help overcome disputes.

President Obama’s April 2014 visit to Asian counties has reinforced the concerns about America letting China rise peacefully. During this visit Obama reassured Washington’s allies ‘in the face of threats to stability from North Korea and an increasingly assertive China’. He conveyed that the US is duty-bound to come to Japan’s aid in the event of a conflict with China over a group of disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Obama went further than some analysts had expected in reassuring the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, that Japan’s dispute with China over the Senkakus islands—known in China as the Diaoyu—were covered by the allies’ post-war security treaty. However, he reiterated America’s refusal to take sides in the sovereignty dispute and called on China and Japan to resolve their differences through dialogue. “Our commitment to Japan’s security is absolute and article five [of the security treaty] covers all territories under Japan’s administration, including the Senkaku islands,” Obama said during a joint press conference with Abe. “We don’t take a position on final sovereignty on the Senkakus but historically they’ve been administered by Japan and should not be subject to change unilaterally”. During this visit, America also signed a defence act with the Philippines to strengthen latter’s position in its maritime dispute with China.

Obama’s assertion that the Senkaku dispute falls under the US-Japan bilateral security treaty drew an angry response from China. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said that China had “indisputable sovereignty” over the islands and that “the so-called Japan-US alliance” should be careful not to impinge on China’s territorial rights. “The US should respect facts, take a responsible attitude, remain committed to not taking sides on territory and sovereignty issues, speak and act cautiously and earnestly play a constructive role in regional peace and stability,” the spokesman added.

Within the G-20, China plays a pivotal role in shaping the new global order. To become a mainstream player of international economy, it has also joined the World Trade Organization. According to China’s strategic plans, it will take until 2050, before it could be called a modernized, medium-level developed country. China’s rise can be seen as a typical political process. Success of economic development always has attendant political and security implications. China’s stunning economic growth has convinced the West that it is just a matter of time until China becomes a world superpower.

There are competing narratives and counter narratives to portray “China threat” thesis: first, the ideological and cultural factors; Samuel Huntington had added a cultural factor to rise of China. In his book “The Cash of Civilizations”, he mischievously constructed an “unholy alliance between Islamic and Confucian civilizations”. Secondly, the geopolitical and geo economic perspective has it that even if China sheds off its ideological straitjacket, nationalism may still drive China into a course of clash with the United States; especially if the US refuses to accommodate or share the leadership with China as a rising power.

Chinese former premier Wen Jiabao had put forward the thesis of “China’s peaceful rise” in his speech to a Harvard University audience in December 2003. Salient features of this thesis are: China’s development depends upon and in return will contribute to the world peace; China will resort to peaceful means for development; China’s development will rely more on its own resources and market; China is prepared for a long-term process of hard work, even several generations, for economic prosperity; and as China achieves its economic development, it will not seek hegemony in the world or come out as a threat to any country.

In good sprite, China played down the significance of ties between Tokyo and Washington. A commentary carried by the official Xinhua news agency described Obama’s visit “a carefully calculated scheme to cage the rapidly developing Asian giant”, adding that “the pomp and circumstance Obama receives … cannot conceal the fact that Tokyo has become a growing liability to Washington’s pursuit of long-term interests”. The state-run “Global Times” said in an editorial that the US had “basically recognised a stronger China”, adding that while Washington “explicitly shows favour for Tokyo and Manila” in territorial disputes it had also sought to avoid irritating China due to its economic importance.

The Senkakus have been a source of rising tension between the regions’ two biggest economies since 2012, when Japan effectively nationalised the uninhabited islands, which are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and large untapped deposits of natural gas. The move sparked fury in China, where protesters took to the streets in several cities, forcing the temporary closure of some Japanese businesses in the country.

Obama has come under pressure to demonstrate that the US is serious about its promised strategic “pivot” towards the Asia-Pacific. But he has to tread a fine line between reassuring allies while avoiding harming US ties with China, the world’s second-biggest economy with a growing military presence in the region.“We have strong relations with China, a critical country not just to the region but to the world,” Obama said. “We want to encourage the continued peaceful rise of China, and work together on trade and climate change”, he added. “But what we have also emphasised is that all of us have responsibility to maintain the rule of law – large and small countries have to abide by what is considered just and fair and resolve disputes in a peaceful fashion,” he added, in an apparent reference to China’s dispute with the Philippines over islands in the South China Sea.

Earlier, the United States and China clashed over Japan and other issues on April 08, as the Chinese defence minister asserted that Beijing had “indisputable sovereignty” over a group of islands in the East China Sea and that his country’s military stood ready to protect its interests in territorial disputes. The US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel responded by telling his Chinese counterpart that China does not have the right to unilaterally establish an air defence zone over disputed islands with no prior consultation, he added that America will protect Japan, the Philippines and other allies locked in disputes with China, as laid out in US treaty obligations. “Every nation has a right to establish an air defence zone, but not a right to do it unilaterally with no collaboration, no consultation. That adds to tensions, misunderstandings, and could eventually add to, and eventually get to, dangerous conflict,” said Hagel.

Chinese Defence Minister Chang Wanquan said his country will not take the initiative to stir up troubles with Japan, but warned that Beijing is ready to use its military if needed to safeguard its territory. And he said the US must “stay vigilant” against Japan’s actions and “not be permissive and supportive” of Tokyo. For his part, Chang said China stands ready to resolve the disputes diplomatically. But he made it clear that China is always ready to respond militarily to threats. Chang also complained that the Philippines illegally occupies part of China’s islands and reefs in the South China Sea. He told Hagel, “We will make no compromise, no concession, no treaty, not even a tiny … violation is allowed.” “China has indisputable sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands,” General Chang said. “The Chinese military can assemble as soon as summoned, fight any battle and win,” he added.

General Chang made his comments at a news conference with the United States defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, after a meeting at the Ministry of National Defence. It was Mr. Hagel’s first trip to China as defence secretary. While both men sought to present their meetings as constructive, they espoused divergent views on a number of issues, particularly the territorial dispute in the East China Sea, and a similar dispute between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea. At one point, Mr. Hagel appeared impatient, wagging his finger. “The Philippines and Japan are long-time allies of the United States,” he said. “We have mutual self-defence treaties with each of those countries” he continued, adding that the United States was “fully committed to those treaty obligations.”

The exchange punctuated a visit that American defence officials had sought to present as a long-awaited deepening of military relations between the two countries. However, Mr. Hagel became the first foreign military dignitary allowed on board a Chinese aircraft carrier.

At the end on the visit, the United States and China announced a series of modest steps towards improving communications. But there appeared to be no closing of the gaps on more contentious issues. Mr. Hagel, for instance, called on China to be more open about its cyber warfare capabilities, which American officials have said Beijing uses for commercial espionage. Mr. Hagel portrayed the United States as transparent about its own capabilities in telecommunications security, pointing to a recent briefing that the Defence Department gave to Chinese officials on the Pentagon’s doctrine for defending against cyber attacks. “More transparency will strengthen China-U.S. relations,” Mr. Hagel said. “Greater openness about cyber reduces the risk that misunderstanding and misperception could lead to miscalculation.” General Chang stood impassively next to Mr. Hagel during his call for more openness on cyber security. When it was his turn to talk, he said that “the defence activity of the People’s Liberation Army in cyberspace abides” by Chinese law. “It will not pose a threat to others,” he added. The disagreement with China over digital security issues puts Mr. Hagel in the difficult position of splitting hairs with Beijing over what is acceptable to spy on and what is not. American officials have maintained that a barrage of attacks that originated in China aimed to steal technology and other intellectual property from Silicon Valley and from military contractors and energy firms in the United States. Many of those attacks have been linked to cyber warfare units of the People’s Liberation Army, acting on behalf of state-owned, or state-affiliated, Chinese companies

Over decades, China’s leadership has made its case for peaceful rise by highlighting that China’s development creates great opportunities and that globalization spreads them to all corners of the world. China has persistently played a positive role during numerous international conflicts and crisis, and has earned a good repute amongst peace loving nations. China is pioneer of new style of constructive diplomacy at the UN, resulting in slashing down of frequency of veto usage by the P-5. China’s role has been quite positive during ongoing conflicts and crisis like: Arab spring; Syrian crisis; Crimean conflict; Iranian nuclear deal; post 2014 settlement of Afghanistan etc. Hopefully the receding super power— the United States— would display magnanimity to let the rise of China remain a peaceful activity and America’s “Pivot to Asia-pacific” would not turn into a “Squeeze China” activity. Pakistan wishes china well in its urge towards peaceful rise with a caution that such an effort may not totally stay peaceful as economic development and national security are always intricately linked; there is considerable overlapping in these domains, and these generally move in tandem. Economic development needs secure environment; and sustainable secure environment needs robust economic growth— akin to hen and chicken analogy.

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