With one eye on Washington, China plots its own Asia "pivot"

Jul 04 2014, 11:05 IST
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Summary"China is trying to work out its own counterbalance strategy," said Sun Zhe, director of the Centre for U.S.-China Relations.

The Silk Road, an obscure Kazakh-inspired security forum and a $50 billion Asian infrastructure bank are just some of the disparate elements in an evolving Chinese strategy to try to counter Washington's "pivot" to the region.

While Chinese leaders have not given the government's growing list of initiatives a label or said they had an overall purpose, Chinese experts and diplomats said Beijing appeared set on shaping Asia's security and financial architecture more to its liking.

"China is trying to work out its own counterbalance strategy," said Sun Zhe, director of the Centre for U.S.-China Relations at Beijing's Tsinghua University and who has advised China's government on its foreign policy.

Added one Beijing-based Western diplomat who follows China's international relations: "This is all clearly aimed at the United States."

President Barack Obama's pivot - as the White House initially dubbed it - represented a strategy to refocus on Asia's dynamic economies as the United States disentangled itself from costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

China sees the pivot as an attempt to contain its growing influence, especially given the United States is strengthening its ties with Asian security allies such as Japan and the Philippines, which have bitter territorial disputes with Beijing in the region's waters. Washington denies this.

One key part of China's diplomatic outreach has been to breath life into the little-known Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, or CICA, which has languished since Kazakhstan proposed it in 1992 to promote peace and security.

CICA comprises two dozen mostly Asian nations, as well as Russia and some Middle Eastern countries. The United States, Japan and the Philippines are not members.

China took over chairmanship of CICA at a summit in Shanghai in May for three years. There, President Xi Jinping spoke about a new "Asian security concept", saying China would explore the formulation of a code of conduct for regional security and an Asian security partnership programme.

While Xi gave few details and made no direct mention of disputes such as in the South China Sea, he warned Asian nations about strengthening military alliances to counter China, an oblique reference to the U.S. pivot.

"Asian problems must be resolved by Asian people, and Asian security must be protected by Asian people," Xi said.

A RIVAL BANK?

Another Chinese initiative is the $50 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which Xi first proposed in October during a visit to Southeast Asia.

Finance Minister Lou Jiwei said this week Beijing would

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