Looking at China’s Foreign and Security Policies

Many international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have located their headquarters in Stockholm. One of these is SIPRI, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Last Friday SIPRI sponsored a half-day presentation by scholars from China, Finland, and the USA entitled China and Global Security: an expert seminar on current and future directions in Chinese foreign and security policy. The chairman of the seminar was Ambassador Börje Ljunggren of the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Coordinator of the Stockholm China Forum and former ambassador to China.

The expert panelists were:

Professor Jin Canrong, , Associate Dean, School of International Relations, Renmin University of China, , Beijing.

Robert S. Ross,  Professor of Political Science at Boston College,  Associate, John King Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, Harvard University, and Senior Advisor, Security Studies Program, , Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Professor Jia Qingguo. Associate Dean, School of International Relations,  Beijing University

Linda Jakobson, Senior Researcher, Programme on China and Global Security, SIPRI.

The presentation was held in the modern and airy World Trade Center in Stockholm. What follows are a few summary statements from written notes.

World Trade Center, Stockholm

According to Professor Jin Canrong, China’s way is to “exert power in a humble way.” For readers who may harrumph at this notion, it was instructive for me to hear from these experts that China is not monolithic in all things, the big exception being that its national politics reside within a single party. The phrase was interesting to me in that it resembles words attributed to the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius. This view, as stated, is not shared by others on the panel (I was told this privately).

With respect to industrial development, China stands approximately where the USA stood in the 1920s.

The total workforce of China is greater than the total population of Europe. [I was not sure I heard correctly, so I looked at data on the Internet to verify this. I find that China has 965 million people in the age group 15-64 years. The population of the 27 EU countries is 492 million. There are 18 other countries in Europe, including Russia which stands in Asia as well. I think a rough calculation on the back of an envelope would verify that the claim under review is probably close enough for government work. [If you want to know my sources, contact me].

There is a rise in nationalistic feeling in China, a pride, which in extreme expressions could work against China’s official desire for harmonious relationships with other countries. A quick reference was also made to the dominant Han portion of the population needing to recognize the value and merit of the scores of minority populations in China.

China has long had a policy, often iterated at the United Nations, of non-interference in the affairs of another country. [I thought this sounded very like the “prime directive” of the fictional Star Trek television series and movies]. With regard especially to China’s extensive investments and interests in Africa, however, it was felt by some that this policy may have to be modified in special circumstances.

There seemed to be general agreement among the presenters that there will always be a tension within and without China, given its great size, between the need for peaceful relations with other countries and the need for China to feel secure within its borders. The more China pursues security through investment in military preparedness, however, the more nervous other countries will be, thus working against peaceful relations. Security needs are in the realms of borders including coasts, airspace and better technology.

A theme that floated through the discussion, especially the extensive Q&A sessions, is that USA and China have mutual interests in cooperating, but China cannot allow itself to feel or be seen as being unduly influenced by the USA.The Taiwan issue seems to have been addressed by the USA in recent years to China’s satisfaction, if not to Taiwan’s, thus decreasing tensions between the USA and China over this long-standing point of conflict.

USA President Obama was given good marks for a new and potentially more constructive posture toward China, but it was recognized that it’s too early to see if this posture will result in tangible progress from China’s point of view and the point of view of scholars who look for win/win outcomes for both countries.

Much was said about past, current and potentially future relations with China’s nearest neighbors, especially North Korea, South Korea and Japan. In that the issues are delicate and complicated I will not try to characterize them here, but refer you the SIPRI’s China and Global Security Programme website for developments and references.

Special note was made of the recent first collaborative effort between elements of China’s navy and other navies in pursuing pirates off the eastern coast of Africa. This was a very big and popular news item in China for several days.

Toward the end of the seminar one questioner wondered about the lack of reference to China’s largest neighbor, Russia. Jia Qingguo thought the two countries had resolved, to mutual satisfaction, a variety of ancient and recent disagreements and tensions very well. Ms. Jakobson said we need to be realistic in any assessment of Russia, and that she considered the relationship between China and Russia a “marriage of convenience.” I made the inference that Russia would change the relationship when it felt in its interests to do so.

Last in this summary review of the seminar I offer the insight that despite China being a Communist country and, therefore, presumed to have a ‘socialist’ economy, a rapidly diminishing proportion of the workforce works in the public sector [*see footnote]. It is a capitalist country, according one of the Chinese scholars present. It has a large and growing middle class. Currently, 49 million Chinese travel abroad as compared with 18 million Japanese. These facts buttress the assertion by one of the speakers that a new state/society relationship is developing in which society is gaining in strength with respect to the state.

Footnote*According to a study by Li Chengshui, chief of the State Statistics Bureau (SSB) in 1981-84, that was made public on October 12, [in 2006] the public sector employed only 32% of China’s industrial and service workers, and accounted for 37% of the country’s GDP. This represents a huge change from just over a decade ago. In 1995 the public sector accounted for 78% of GDP. According to Li, between 1995 and 2005 the number of private enterprises rose from 660,000 to 4.3 million, the number of workers they employed increased from 8.2 million to 47.1 million. Their capital base rose during this period 26-fold, from 226.2 billion yuan (US$30 billion) to 6133.1 billion yuan ($829.5 billion). In a speech delivered at the Beijing University on May 19 [2007], Li pointed out that the “private sector economy signifies the formation of a new capitalist class”. [The link to this study seems unavailable now].