WASHINGTON - China wants a stable relationship with the United States as it grapples with difficult reforms at home, Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said as he outlined the complex internal dynamics currently at play in Beijing.
Speaking at the American Jewish Committee Global Forum in Washington on Tuesday, Mr Shanmugam offered his take on Chinese pragmatism, giving an alternative narrative on the Middle Kingdom to a US audience more used to the idea of China as a rising power looking to throw its weight around.
"China will seek to advance its interests externally in every way - but Beijing is not actively looking for trouble with the US. China continues to need US investments, trade, technology and management expertise from the US."
He added: "A Chinese leader today cannot be seen to be giving up on China's claims. He will be seen as weak and Chinese public opinion will be most unforgiving. Likewise, other countries who feel that their claims intersect with China's claims, cannot be seen to be passive either."
Yet for all the visibility of Chinese assertiveness overseas, he said that it is the reforms needed at home that are likely occupying the minds of Chinese leaders.
He said that while China has had tremendous success in the past two decades lifting 300 million of its citizens out of poverty, its next revolution will be harder to pull off given that the centralised power of the past has become more diffuse.
"They are seeking to do another revolution now, in the next 20 years, but in a very different context where people are on the Internet, where power is not so absolute any more and where every decision is subject to challenge internally."
Still, Mr Shanmugam said there was reason for cautious optimism that the Chinese government would succeed.
One of the key reasons: the quality of Chinese leaders.
"They were chosen for their ability to get things done, rather than deliver good sound bytes on television and make populist promises. They are also extremely determined to see China succeed. They are not in denial about the issues which China faces and that is already half the battle."
This article was published on May 15 in The Straits Times.
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