INTERNATIONAL FRAME &
STRUGGLE for Tamil Eelam: china
From "China fear" to "China fever"
Hindu, 27 February 2006
"Sri Lanka is also being treated
to a Chinese charm offensive. Mr. Wen proposed to upgrade
Sino-Sri Lankan relations to an "all-round cooperative
partnership" when he visited Colombo last year. In the aftermath
of the devastating tsunami in December 2004, China committed $19
million to the reconstruction of six fishing harbours. During
his visit. the Premier pledged an additional $8.7 million to the
tsunami-afflicted country in the spirit of "being a good
neighbour and a good partner." China has further offered a
preferential buyers' credit scheme for development projects.
Currently several such projects are under way in Sri Lanka with
Chinese financing and assistance, including the
Hambantota Bunkering System, the Puttalam Coal Power
Project, and the rail link between Katunayake and
Ratmalana...That China was able to gain observer status at the
SAARC summit in Dhaka in November 2005 as a result of pressure
from Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, despite Indian reluctance,
shows how far its influence is spreading in the region. "
China's deft diplomacy is drawing other nations to
it: as a model for development, a source and destination for
investment, and a trading partner.
IN A survey of global
opinion conducted in 2005 by the Pew Research Centre, an American
think tank, China was found to have a better public image than the
United States in almost every one of the 16 countries studied, from
Britain, France, and Poland to Turkey, Russia, and Indonesia.
For long seen as a potential military and political threat by large
parts of the world, China's new use of a sophisticated and active
diplomacy is capitalising on the country's economic dynamism and
beginning to win friends and influence people from ASEAN to Africa.
China has been able to "manage" the fears about its rise by
presenting it as a "win-win opportunity" for all, rhetoric backed by
healthy trade surpluses for the majority of its trading partners. By
taking the leadership in a variety of regional forums, initiating
bilateral security dialogues and military exchanges with hitherto
wary neighbours, and dispensing aid and technical assistance in
parts of the world where traditional powers like the United States
are cautious to tread, the country's political leadership has been
attempting, with some success, to convert "China fear" into "China
It is in Asia that China has faced some of its
toughest diplomatic challenges, needing to overcome the distrust and
animosity of its neighbours, which have historically seen the middle
kingdom as a would-be hegemon. China borders 14 countries with all
of which it has at some point had boundary disputes. It has been in
military conflict with every significant regional power including
Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and India.
Despite these formidable
obstacles, China is rapidly mending fences, having settled all but
two of its land border disputes, and is pragmatically putting trade
and investment at the centre of its foreign policy.
Across East Asia, countries from South Korea southward
to Indonesia have come to rely on China as a critical market for
exports and a source of imports that delight importers and consumers
alike with their low prices.
In the period between January
and November 2005, Sino-ASEAN trade was worth $117.24 billion, up by
23.5 per cent year-on-year. ASEAN (the Association of South East
Asian Nations), which enjoys a trade surplus with China, is today
its fifth largest trading partner and market for exports and its
third largest source of imports.
Given that ASEAN began as a
regional grouping backed by the U.S. to counter communism in the
region, its new-found friendship with China is even more striking.
Sino-ASEAN relations are at their strongest ever.
China's President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have been
clocking thousands of air miles, visiting state leaders to explain
their policies, pointing out the benefits the country's growing
economy brings to the region as a whole. In April 2005 alone they
visited Brunei, Indonesia, the Philippines, Pakistan, Bangladesh,
Sri Lanka, and India.
Last year, China took the lead in organising the East Asia
Summit in Malaysia and was able to dominate the emerging East Asian
community by dividing it into two blocs: the core or primary states
with China as the leader inside the ASEAN+3 grouping (China, South
Korea, Japan), and the secondary states of India, Australia, and New
Zealand. The Chinese have also emerged as the largest tourist group
in the region bringing with them an image of a richer, more
confident, and more influential country than just a few years ago.
Across ASEAN young people are beginning to learn Mandarin, seeing it
as the language of the future.
And its popularity is not
just limited to ASEAN countries. The Seoul National University
announced as far back as 2003 that Mandarin had replaced English as
the most popular major among liberal arts students. Some 40,000
Korean students are now studying in China.
This is not
surprising given that China has emerged as the biggest importer of
South Korean products, that country's largest investment
destination, and most popular tourist destination. Sino-South Korean
trade exceeded $100 billion in 2005.
Seoul also realises
that in Beijing lies its best hope for successful mediation on
intra-Korean stability. After a decade of passivity on the Korean
nuclear issue, Beijing began to play host to the six-party talks in
2003, winning praise for its efforts and simultaneously raising its
international profile as a "responsible" and influential player.
South Korea finds itself closer to Beijing than Washington in its
attitude to resolving the North Korean standoff. And South Korea is
not alone in increasingly seeing China, not the U.S., as a
sympathetic ally with concern for regional issues. Post 9/11, the
Bush administration's one-dimensional focus on the "war on terror"
has seen it losing popularity across the region, with the notable
exception of Japan.
Even in South Asia, the traditional preserve of India, China's
star is ascending. With bilateral trade between India and China
booming at over $18 billion in 2005, the long frosty winter that
marked relations across the Himalayas is rapidly thawing into
spring. 2006 is in fact being celebrated as the India-China
friendship year. Following Mr. Wen's visit to India in April 2005,
the two sides upgraded their relationship to a "strategic and
cooperative partnership." In the past months they conducted joint
naval exercises, signed cooperative agreements in energy, and
exchanged several high level visits. That China is now being seen as
a model rather than as a threat was underlined when Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh vowed to transform Mumbai into Shanghai.
According to the China National Tourism Administration, in 2004
China had 3.9 lakh visitors from India, up 44 per cent from 2003,
the largest increase from any country.
In addition to its
traditional allies in South Asia, Pakistan and Myanmar, China is now
assiduously cultivating Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka as well. It
is already the largest supplier of weaponry to Bangladesh and
recently overtook India as Bangladesh's number one source of
imports. Beijing and Dhaka have upgraded their ties, giving China
naval access to the Chittagong port. The two countries celebrated a
"friendship year" in 2005.
Sri Lanka is also being treated
to a Chinese charm offensive. Mr. Wen proposed to upgrade Sino-Sri
Lankan relations to an "all-round cooperative partnership" when he
visited Colombo last year. In the aftermath of the devastating
tsunami in December 2004, China committed $19 million to the
reconstruction of six fishing harbours. During his visit. the
Premier pledged an additional $8.7 million to the tsunami-afflicted
country in the spirit of "being a good neighbour and a good
China has further offered a preferential buyers'
credit scheme for development projects. Currently several such
projects are under way in Sri Lanka with Chinese financing and
assistance, including the Hambantota Bunkering System, the Puttalam
Coal Power Project, and the rail link between Katunayake and
That China was able to gain observer status at
the SAARC summit in Dhaka in November 2005 as a result of pressure
from Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, despite Indian reluctance,
shows how far its influence is spreading in the region.
It's not only to its east and south that Beijing is winning
friends. China's attempt to extend its sway over Central Asia is
evident in its active role in the Shanghai Cooperative Organisation,
a security forum comprising China, Russia, and four former Soviet
Republics along its borders.
Chasing valuable energy
resources, China's leadership has steadily courted the Central Asian
republics over the last few years, setting up trade missions,
investing in local enterprises, and donating money for aid projects.
China recently held anti-terrorism exercises with Kazakhstan and
they have agreed to build a 1,000-km pipeline from Kazakhstan's
central Karaganda region to China's northwestern Xinjiang region.
China has also offered to help Uzbekistan develop its small
oilfields in the Ferghana Valley and Chinese investment is going
into other energy resources such as hydroelectric projects in
Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, with scores of additional plans up for
The Japanese exception
The one exception to the general trend in Asia is Japan,
where bilateral ties have been distinctly frosty, following attacks
on Japanese diplomatic missions and businesses in a number of
Chinese cities last April. The protests followed the publication of
Japanese textbooks that China claimed glossed over its wartime
atrocities. In fact Japanese feelings towards China are at a 25-year
low, according to a Japanese Government poll released in December.
Nonetheless, China is Japan's largest trading partner. Sino-Japan
trade reached $189.3 billion last year, 2.7 per cent up over 2004,
hitting a new high for seven years in a row. Contracted Japanese
direct investment exceeded $8.5 billion from January to September
2005. It is this strong economic bond that has tempered the
bilateral tension and kept it from spiralling out of control.
With 1.3 billion people and 3.7 million square miles of territory,
China is today the fourth largest economy in the world. Leveraging
its economic clout, the middle kingdom's deft diplomacy is drawing
other nations to it: as a model for development, source and
destination for investment, and trading partner. That the fear and
distrust with which many used to regard China is being replaced with
admiration is evident from the changed attitudes in India alone,
where it is increasingly touted as an opportunity rather than as a
Even those who dismiss the win-win rhetoric of
Chinese diplomacy, with its emphasis on peaceful-coexistence as
propaganda, would be hard put to deny its effectiveness.