Beijing holds up peace-loving credentials

Beijing holds up peace-loving credentials
File photo of Xi Jinping.

BEIJING - In yet another attempt to burnish its peace-loving credentials, China is hosting a series of high- profile events this weekend to mark the 60th year of a set of peace principles it first established with India and Myanmar in the post-colonial era.

The commemorative activities, to be held in Beijing and graced by President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, come amid fears that China is growing more assertive even as tensions arising from territorial disputes with its neighbours threaten to destabilise the region.

The Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, which China says underpin its foreign policy, were first put forward by the late Chinese premier Zhou Enlai and agreed to in joint declarations with India and Myanmar in 1954.

They refer to mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity; mutual non-aggression; non-interference in each other's internal affairs; equality and mutual benefit; as well as peaceful coexistence.

Myanmar President Thein Sein, who arrives in Beijing today for a four-day visit, is to meet Mr Xi, Mr Li and legislator Zhang Dejiang for talks before taking part in the activities, which include a banquet and a photo exhibition.

India's Vice-President, Mr Mohammad Hamid Ansari, the first Indian leader to visit China since a new government was installed last month, arrived yesterday for a five-day official visit and will also join in the activities.

Mr Ansari will visit Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province, before meeting Mr Xi and Vice-President Li Yuanchao next Monday.

Experts said the commemoration is "highly relevant" for China in the light of the disputes in the South and East China seas, and the set of principles is one that Beijing is keen to push as an alternative to Western foreign policy.

Professor Zhang Mingliang, a foreign policy expert at Jinan University, said: "China will definitely use these events to show its commitment to a peaceful rise and its willingness to use peaceful means to settle any disputes it has with other states."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying told reporters last week: "(The principles have) been accepted by an increasing number of countries, become the tenets governing international relations and played an important role in safeguarding world peace and development."

Yet the anniversary takes place amid rapidly deteriorating ties between China and ASEAN countries Vietnam and the Philippines over overlapping claims in the resource-rich South China Sea.

But the weekend's events can also be seen as China signalling to the United States that the five principles, rather than Western ideals, should be the governing tenets for Asia, said East Asian Institute scholar Chen Gang.

"The principles were first established by Asian states during the Cold War and seen as targeting hegemony so, in today's context, they remain relevant," he added.

This is especially so in the light of the "Asian security concept" that Mr Xi outlined at a security forum last month, where he touched on how "Asia's matters should be handled by Asians".

But despite what seems like a chummy get-together, research fellow Alistair Cook of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies also noted the Sino-Indian rivalry for influence in emerging economy Myanmar.

"India was slow off the mark and is very far behind China in investing in Myanmar. Its 'Look East' policy (had) little tangible impact, while China's 'Go Out' strategy actually saw something happening," he said. "But with the election of a new (Indian) government, there may be a new strategic direction."

However, Dr Chen thinks Japan and Western countries are China's main rivals for influence, as India has been distracted by domestic challenges.

"But the fact that all three countries are attending the event together shows they are willing to put aside the rivalry for now and seek common ground."

esthert@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 27, 2014.
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