The Philippines andJapan’s charm offensives towards China appear to have failed as Beijing seeksto isolate both powers within the region.
In recent weeks boththe Philippines and Japan have made a number of overtures to China aimed atmending strained bilateral ties. Just this week, for instance, the chief ofstaff of the Philippine military, Emmanuel Bautista, pledged that his countrywould continue its no-confrontation doctrine in the South China Sea, while alsosaying that it would consider allowing Chinese naval ships to use the Subicport.
"Many foreignships visit our ports and we welcome them, that is part of militarydiplomacy," Bautista told The South China Morning Post, referring to thePeople’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
Equally notable,Filipino President Benigno Aquino III announced earlier this month that he wasaccepting an invitation from China to attend a one day business expo inNanning. He was expected to be received by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang duringthe September 3 trip.
Japan has been evenbolder in its overtures to China, with numerous Japanese officials and formerofficials quietly visiting China on a number of occasions throughout thesummer. Although few specific details were revealed about the trips, there waslittle doubt that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was sending the envoys totry and improve ties with China, which have been strained since Japannationalized some of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands last September.
Indeed, Abe said asmuch himself in his numerous calls for leader or foreign minister summitsbetween China and Japan in recent months.
“I think thereshould be a summit meeting and also a foreign ministers meeting as soon aspossible … I think such meetings should be held without pre-conditions,” Abesaid at the end of July.
Other Abe administration officials have been making similar remarks, and Tokyo has expressed optimismthat these summits would soon be held.
China has now roundlyrejected the overtures from both nations. On Thursday the Philippines’ ForeignMinistry announced that Aquino was cancelling his visit to China next week atthe request of the Chinese government. Beijing, for its part, denied havinginvited Aquino in the first place.
China has alsorepeatedly rejected Japan’s calls for a leader or foreign minister summit. Mostrecently, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Li Baodong said that there would mostlikely not be a summit with Japan and the sidelines of the G20 summit in St.Petersburg next week.
“A bilateralmeeting involving leaders is not only about taking photos and shaking hands, itoffers an opportunity for leaders to work out a solution to problems,” Li saidin a press conference on Tuesday.
Beijing’s rejectionof the Filipino and Japanese overtures does not signal that China is abandoningor moving away from regional diplomacy. To the contrary, China has beenmounting something of its own charm offensive throughout the Indo-Pacific.Earlier this month, for instance, Foreign Minister Wang Yi spent six days inSoutheast Asia. While warning that ASEAN countries need to be realistic in howquickly the South China Sea dispute could be resolved, Beijing has generallyshown a greater willingness to discuss the issue over the last month or more.
This week, China evenagreed with Vietnam—the ASEAN nation it has clashed with most frequentlybesides the Philippines—to work towards resolving their row in the South ChinaSea, and next week Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra plans to visit Chinanext week for the trade fair Aquino was supposed to attend. Additionally, onThursday the Thai Foreign Minister announced that during a meeting between FMWang and his ASEAN counterparts, it was agreed that “We will not allow anyparticular issue to overshadow the ASEAN-China relations, which are progressingwell.”
After repeated PLAincursions into India earlier this year, China has been pushing ahead withprogress towards dialing down its border dispute with Delhi as well. Last weekIndia announced that China had sent it a draft border cooperation agreementthat both sides expect to sign when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visitsChina in October.
Chinese officialshave also been traveling to North Korea after a long absence, and U.S.-Chinamilitary and defense cooperation has improved markedly over the summer. Indeed,China’s Defense Minister, Chang Wanquan, traveled to Washington last week andthe two sides held their second joint naval drill last weekend. Chang and hisAmerican counterpart, Chuck Hagel, met again on the sidelines of the ASEANDefense Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM) this week, after holding talks at thePentagon last week.
Thus, China has onlybeen reluctant to engage Japan and the Philippines diplomatically. This isalmost certainly aimed at isolating Beijing’s disputes with Japan and thePhilippines from its relations with other regional powers. In other words,China hopes to reduce regional concern over its rising power and greaterassertiveness by portraying its spats with Japan and the Philippines as rareexceptions to the general rule of China maintaining positive relationships inthe region.
The aim of thispolicy is to shift the blame for the disputes onto Tokyo and Manila, reduce theamount of balancing China faces, and complicate Japanese and Filipino effortsto make common cause with other regional states.
It’s worth notingthat this is the natural state of Chinese diplomacy since ancient times, whenChinese leaders used shrewd diplomatic maneuvers to get “barbarians to checkbarbarians.”
Will this besuccessful? China is of cause becoming the biggest trading partner for a lot ofcounties and the list grows Increasingly yearly. Eventually i would imaginethey could isolate Philippines and Japan in Asia but global, no.
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