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IA-Forum Interview: Prof. Wu Xinbo
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International Affairs Forum speaks with Professor Wu Xinbo about China and Asia. Prof. Wu is an associate dean of the School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Fudan University in Shanghai, China, as well as the deputy director of the Center for American Studies. He has written several dozen articles in journals such as Asian Survey, Contemporary Southeast Asia (Singapore), The Washington Quarterly, Journal of Contemporary China, American Foreign Policy Interests, and International Studies. He holds a Ph.D. in international relations from Fudan University. He is current a Jennings Randolph fellow at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington D.C. By Stefan Daniels. (IA-Forum, 03/23/2007) IA-Forum: What are the implications for American foreign policy as China establishes both economic and security alliances with its neighbors, exemplified by China’s relationship with the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)? Prof. Wu Xinbo: First, you must talk about China’s new Asian policy. What is the driving force behind China’s new Asian policy? Either with regard to SCO or to China’s relation to ASEAN countries. I think there are basically three impetuses behind China’s Asian policy; one is the security concern which is evident in the SCO, second is economic relations which has to do with the Chinese proposal for a free-trade arrangement between China and ASEAN, which will take place in 2010. The reason China proposed to open up free trade was because in 2001 China entered the World Trade Organization (WTO), and this made the ASEAN countries very concern, they thought that China would divert international investment away from ASEAN. China, therefore, proposed a free trade arrangement so that they could both benefit. Premier Zhu made this proposal in 2002, and it was accepted by ASEAN. This was the backbone to forming the China-ASEAN free trade agreement. The third impetus for China’s interest in regional cooperation was the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis, which had a major impact on China’s thinking about regional cooperation. It was after the crisis that Asian countries began to seek out cooperation on the financial front, and eventually China realized that this was good for China’s national interest. China has become more active in promoting China-ASEAN relations, the ten plus one, or ten plus three, and finally the East Asian community. So security consideration, economic consideration, and the growing interest in regional integration. So, what are the implications for the United States? First, certainly, it makes China more popular among its Asian neighbors, which may somehow compromise US influence in this regional. Especially if you look at the Southeast Asian countries, now they are less concern about the rest of China, because they believe that a rising China can bring benefits to its neighbors, so they don’t have to be that concern about China. At the same time the US is too concentrated on Iraq, and the Middle East, anti terrorism, and that makes Southeast Asian countries more reserved about US policy in this region. If conversely, the US is also popular in Southeast Asia, then Washington doesn’t have to be concerned about the rising Chinese influence. But the problem is that Chinese influence rose when the US influence relatively declined under the Bush Administration. It created a situation that sounds like a zero sum game, even though it was not the Chinese intention. The second implication is that the US must somehow find a new way to get more actively involved in Asian affairs. IA-Forum: Is it because trade has declined relatively as a priority? Prof. Wu: Not just trade, but its overall approach to Asian, because in the past the US approach to Asian has been based on bilateral alliances or regimes, the US-Japan, US-ROK, US-Philippines, these kind of relationships. But now Asian is promoting integration and East Asian Community building, and that makes the US bilateral approach kind of irrelevant, so gradually the US will now have to deal with Asia as a whole, instead of as individuals. It is just like European Union, now Asia will become a unitary actor, and this is very different compared to how it and US interacted in the past. It is this movement that the US is concern and it has not yet figured out what to do to deal with this development. IA-Forum: With this rise of East Asian integration, does it seem like Japan will get involved in this kind of China based organization, or do you see Japan and South Korean being on the fringes, do you see them coming back into the fold. Prof. Wu: The push for Asian integration comes from ASEAN, it is in the drivers seat. If China takes the lead, Japan will become suspicious. If Japan takes the lead, China may be reluctant to follow. There is an agreement that ASEAN will take the lead, to avoid this kind of great power politics. But still, for the United States, it must find a new approach to East Asia; today’s East Asia is different from the past. That is the broader implication for the United States. IA-Forum: Does the same go for Central Asia? Does the United States need a new approach to Central Asia as well because of the way China has entered into those security agreements, or is it different? Prof. Wu: It is different because the US is a new center in Central Asia. The US didn’t really have a military presence before September 11th in Central Asia. But the SCO was created well before September 11th, its predecessor was the Shanghai Five, set up in 1996. The problem for the US is that it wants to use Central Asia to somehow balance China and Russia in this region, but the problem is that China and Russia want to pursue the SCO. This will make the game of US balancing irrelevant, so the US has to rethink its strategy in Central Asia. Whether it is to pursue the US interest of fighting terrorism, as it has stated or it is for the broader pursue of playing the major powers game against China and Russia. As you recall in July 2005 the SCO issued a statement calling on the US to set a deadline for its troops to withdraw from Central Asia. That proposal was initiated by Moscow, but was supported my other parties, including China. They are gradually feeling suspicious about the US intention in Central Asia, not only to balance China and Russia, but also force some other Central Asian countries to adopt the political agenda favored by the US, a transformation of the political system, as in the color revolutions. I think the US has to figure out what it wants to do in this region, and what it can realistically achieve in Central Asia. After all, Central Asia is not a place where the US has a dominant influence; it is more a place where China and Russia have more influence than the US does. I think the US foreign policy in this region has to be more realistic. IA-Forum: It sounds like it also needs to be more coherent, unified for a goal. It seems like the US is splitting their goals, between balancing China and fighting terrorism and sometimes those might have opposite policies. Is this true? Prof. Wu: Right, the US always speaks of its interest in fighting terrorism, but actually it is more than that; balancing China and Russian, and also promoting this political transformation in certain Central Asian countries. The later two purposes will not make the US popular with China, Russia and other Central Asian countries. I think the US has to prioritize its Central Asian policy; it cannot pursue everything at the same time, that is impossible. IA-Forum: I think that is something the US has struggled with throughout this administration, is a focus in foreign policy. Do you agree? Prof. Wu: I think this administration is internally divided over its foreign policy agenda. Not just in Central Asia, but also in other places. If you look at Iran some people say that it is time to push for regime change, but then the State Department says that it wants to engage Iran on a dialogue about Iraq. It is always divided on its agenda. IA-Forum: Recently, General Peter Pace visited China after the reports came out about the increase in Chinese military spending, and he called for transparency. A lot has been made about the increase in China’s military spending, do you think transparency will really make a difference? It seems like the fear is there regardless of whether we known what the money is spent on or not. Prof. Wu: Well you ask a very good question, because my hunch is that transparency is not the core of the issue. Behind the call for transparency, is reflected a deep-rooted suspicion of China’s intention in the long-term. If China tells the US exactly how much money is being spent and what kind of weapons systems are being developed, still the US will be concerned with China’s long-term capability and intentions. IA-Forum: It seemed interesting that the General would call for transparency, when that really has nothing to do with the suspicion, it has more to do with the fact that US foreign policy makers don’t know exactly what the Chinese goals are long-term, but more of a problem is that they don’t know the long-term goals of their own policies. Prof. Wu: As I said, even with the same administration there are conflicting views. A different administration will certainly have a different foreign policy agenda. Being based in Washington I read the newspapers everyday, sometimes I am confused as to what the real issues are in US foreign policy, sometimes the Pentagon and the State Department sound like two different administrations, not just different views within one administration. The Republicans and Democrats certainly have seperate foreign policy agenda. Even within the Pentagon, there is now a new Secretary of Defense, Gates, I think he is different than Rumsfeld, a lot of people think he is balanced and reasonable. Again, back to your question, I don’t think transparency will make a lot of difference. I think what would make a real difference is if China and the US had a real candid dialogue about their respected strategic intention toward each other. IA-Forum: Is the North Korea negotiations a way to lay the groundwork for that kind of dialogue? Can the cooperation be expanded? Prof Wu: There is pretty good cooperation on North Korea, but that is not enough. The proposal here would be if the Six Party talks prove to be a success, then they can be institutionalized as a security mechanism in North East Asia. All six countries can sit down for two things, one to exchange views about their respective security policy, and increase the mutual trust among themselves, and two, to promote cooperation among themselves to deal with the regional security challenges. This is a proposal for the future, and I think it would be a good way to improve among the Six Party countries. IA-Forum: There seems to be a lot of push from the Chinese side to deal with North Korea, and there is also a push from the US, but there is not a lot it can do to leverage the North Koreans aside from freezing financial assets. It seems like the Chinese can do a lot more in negotiating. Prof. Wu: Right now the ball is in North Korea’s court. The Chinese concern is that previously the US was divided on their approach to North Korea, but then with Rumsfeld leaving the Pentagon, and Vice President Cheney weakened because of recent scandals, now the State Department is in charge of the North Korean, which is good. But still there is a lot of hawkish talk about North Korea, and China hopes that President Bush can keep the hawks in the box. IA-Forum: Is the fact that the Japanese are also becoming more hawkish factoring into the Chinese decision making? Prof. Wu: At the moment, the Chinese are not bringing the Japan factor into the Six Party talks, but in the long term certainly this will affect China’s security perception of Japan, and China’s own security policy. At the moment China’s concern is that Japan should not emphasize too much the kidnapping issue, China understands that this is an important issue but the Six Party talks are a mechanism to talk about the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, so China wants to focus on this issue first. Then the kidnapping issues can be managed between Japan and North Korea, when it comes to negotiating normalization between Japan and North Korea. The Six Party talks are not supposed to discuss the kidnapping issue. I think even some people in Washington are getting impatient with the Japan’s insistence on the kidnapping issue, it is important but its not the first priority of the Six Party talks, the denuclearization issues should be worked out first. The Chinese hope that the Japanese can broaden their mind on this issue. IA-Forum: The possibility of institutionalizing the Six Party talks, would you see their role expanding beyond security? Like economic integration? Prof Wu: I think that if the Six Party talks are to become a regional mechanism, its major purpose will be for security cooperation, then it can also expand to include some other functional areas, where the six parties have commonalities, maybe energy cooperation. But in the first stage it has to deal with security issues. IA-Forum: There is an article in Foreign Affairs about how the US is creating space in international institutions for the rise of China and India, for the emerging powers, and this is at the detriment of European powers. The US has realized that if they don’t have a place for China and India at the table, the Chinese and Indians might make their own table. Do you see that happening as well where the US is making space for China, or is it more like the Six Party talks, where the organizations already exists with the US and China involved, and that they just need to be institutionalized? Prof Wu: I think we can move forward in both ways. The Six Party talks are something that can be built upon in the future, but also for some other existing international regimes in which China and India are not at the table, I think the future membership of these two countries should be seriously considered, like the G-8. Now countries are beginning to invite China and India to participate as a dialogue partner, but not as a full member. But five years from now if G-8 leaders need to talk about international economic without the participation of China and India does not make much sense. If China is not going to be involved, then it will find a way to make sure its interests are taken care of. The International Energy Agency (IAEA) is also considering getting China involved, but first China needs to meet conditions. IA-Forum: You are saying that we can move forward on both fronts, but is that what China’s foreign policy is oriented towards? Is China looking to create new international organization that they are the head of, or are they happy with being given a dominant role in the current organizations? Prof. Wu: I think China would rather be part of the institutions that already exists, if you just look at the WTO. China’s approach was very different from the Soviet Union, what China has been doing since 1978 is to integrate itself into the existing international arrangements, politically, economically, and on the security front. Where as the Soviet Union tried to create its own international system, why is there a difference? China’s economic growth depended on access to Western markets, foreign capital and technology. To answer your question, if the G-8 is ready to accept China as a member, China would happy to be part of it. IA-Forum: Going back to the USSR, I know the Chinese study how the USSR grew and collapsed. It doesn’t seem like they are looking to the USSR as a model, they are not creating their own institutions and organizations, is that because the USSR model failed? I get the impression that a lot of Chinese intellectuals and policy makers looked to the USSR for something, and when it failed they said lets not do it the same way. Is that the mentality, learn from the mistakes of the USSR? Prof. Wu: Certainly the USSR stands as a major source for China to draw lessons, not only its foreign policy but also its internal policy. One major lesson China drew from it was Gorbachev’s push for political reform before serious economic reform was conducted, which led to the collapse of the country. China said, ‘lets do it the other way, lets do economic reform first’, our approach works, theirs failed. That means its not just foreign policy, its also domestic policy. IA-Forum: The arms race between the USSR and the US, does China want to avoid an arms race, it seems they would want to with their declaration of a non-weaponized space? Prof Wu: Yes, of course, it was one of the major reasons that the USSR collapsed, it could not afford a very expensive arms race with the US, it did not have the resources to do it. When the US decided to go ahead with a missile defense system, it made the Chinese very unhappy, but China is not going to build thousands of warheads that would be too costly. China will develop some myths that make sure that US missile defense will not one hundred percent neutralize China’s strategic capability. That partially explains China’s recent anti-satellite weapon, as long as it has that capability, its fine, you don’t not have to build more expensive weapons systems. For a long time China did not want to build aircraft carrier battle groups because they are too expensive to build and also too expensive to maintain, it would rather develop its submarines and missiles, so that it would deal with those aircraft carrier battle groups. IA-Forum: That goes well with the next question, China needs to integrate itself into the military network of the world eventually, would it integrate itself as the USSR integrated itself with a large blue water navy, or does it see itself as piggybacking or free riding on the American lock on the sea lanes? Does China look to compete with the US for dominance of the oceans? Prof. Wu: As long US dominance of the international waters do not jeopardize China’s interest, then we would not bother to build our own blue water navy. The current modernization of the military is very much driven by the Taiwan issue not driven by the desire to create our own blue water navy. That does not mean China is not willing to contribute to this public good, that now is largely offered by the US. For example Japan proposed that all the East Asian countries benefit from the Malacca’s Straight where we all import oil from the Middle East, so you have to have some countries to make sure of the safety of the Malacca’s Straight. Japan said ‘lets share the burden’, if you are not going to send ships to cruise the Straight you should contribute money. So maybe in the future, that maybe one way to work these issues out, but currently it is Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia cruising the Malacca’s Straight. These countries are sometimes not fully capable to do it, so China offered to provide some equipment or training for their navies. These are all the ideas in the air to share the burden, and Chine would certainly have to go along with the others. IA-Forum: There was a quote by Deputy Secretary of State Zoelick that China needs to become a ‘responsible stakeholder’ in both the international security and economic system, and his connotations were that China wasn’t, or wasn’t willing to become a stakeholder. It sounds like that is not the case regionally, but maybe China is not ready to become a stakeholder globally. Is that incorrect, or is it that China hasn’t gotten to that point? Prof. Wu: Zoelick’s speech, if you look at it, he mentioned six or seven areas that the US wanted to see more Chinese actions. I think his opinion is that China is a responsible stakeholder, but that China’s not yet hundred percent responsible stakeholder, as China’s capabilities grow it should do more things to helping maintain and improve the existing international system in which China has been flourishing, I think that is what he said. China certainly has become more active, both regional and global issues. The North Korean issue, China deserves a lot of credit for that progress. At the international level, I think China has become more active in international peacekeeping operations, it has sent more peacekeeping personnel than the four other permanent UN Security Council countries. China sends more peacekeepers than the US, and Russia, the US used to do a lot during the Clinton administration, but the Bush administration is not that interested. China certainly wants to do more, but it has to be commiserate to China’s capability, China is still a developing country, it does not want to overburdened, and also China wants to do it in a way that it is in China’s interests, and not just being called on by Washington. Some people in Washington called on China to help the US in Iraq by sending some troops I don’t think China would do that. Even thought China wants to be a responsible stakeholder, there are still some things it cannot do. IA-Forum: The status quo can be maintained by both the US and China, neither wants to see an upsetting of the current international order, mostly because China benefits from it so greatly and the US is the head of it. Do you see that being a common interest between Beijing and Washington? That neither wants to rock the boat. Prof. Wu: Yes I agree, in China people believe that the US is the number one beneficiary of globalization, and China is number two, because without globalization China’s economy could not have developed as fast as it has in the last 25 years. China understands this, and is now more interested in maintaining the current international system than many other countries do. IA-Forum: China would be considered a status quo power, where as the USSR was considered a revolutionary power. Prof. Wu: Yes, however the USSR had totally different interests in the international system that was dominated by the US, politically, economically, and security wise. China is different, China is within this system, and a main beneficiary of this system, it is hundred percent satisfied with the current international regimes, it has its own complaints, but overall it understands it is a major beneficiary. IA-Forum: The fear in the US is that China would eventually rock the boat. Prof. Wu: No, I don’t think so. Just to give you one example I have observed between China and the US, if you think about East Asia, China is always concern that the US will somehow contain China. The US has always said no, if I was going to contain you how can I allow such a big trade surplus with you, and such large amount of investment in China. The US is also concern that China will somehow drive it out of East Asia, and the Chinese have said no, how can I drive you out of East Asia? You have dominant influence in this region, so many alliances, and a hundred thousand military personnel, how can China drive you out? But still, Washington is still concerned with China’s intention for the future, and China also watches carefully Washington’s intentions toward China. For scholars like us, we pick up more objective assessment of the situation and tell our leaders as well as the public what the US policy toward China and Asia is, to make sure we have a good understanding of each other at the elite level if not at the public level. IA-Forum: Thank you very much for you time. Prof Wu: Thank you.

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