Catch-22 of Modern Chinese Foreign Policy

Excerpt from Council on Foreign Relations blog:

The People’s Republic of China finds itself today in a foreign policy paradox. On the one hand, China repeatedly asserts its right to retake the world stage as a major international power and influence global standards, norms, and positions. On the other hand, China has been a staunch defender of the sovereign rights of nation-states and espouses a policy of noninterference.

With foreign policy, China wants to resolve disputes regionally where China has the most influence. Yet, when handed a golden opportunity to show themselves as leaders in the region and indeed, the world, by persuading North Korea to end its ballistic missile and nuclear programs, the most China does is issue a series of diplomatic condemnations and agree to watered-down United Nations sanctions.

The two main risk factors for China are:

  1. North Korea openness might lead eventually to regime change and reunification with the Republic of Korea
  2. China, itself, would incur new expectations with respect to living up to international agreements and norms

To be fair, China has allowed an ”increasingly dialectic domestic debate over China’s North Korea policy.” However, this debate has yet to show any effect on state policy beyond words.

Will China remain insular and hold steadfast to its non-interference principles? Or, will the benefit of continuing to grow into a stronger global power persuade new chairman Xi Jinping to take concrete steps to exert positive influence on North Korea? Time will tell, but with every passing day and each subsequent irrational act by North Korea, China loses respect from its peers and risks being identified with the rogue regime. Conversely, China could side with the overwhelming majority of nations that support new sanctions. Surely, China has come too far down the road of globalism and international cooperation to turn its back on the opportunity for recognition and power.

 

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