Emerging China is no threat to anyone

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 July, 2009, 12:00am

Every five years or so, China gathers its overseas diplomats in the capital for an important meeting to chart the country's foreign policy in the coming years.

The recent session, which ended on July 20, seemed to be a particularly important one as it was attended by all members of the Politburo, and President Hu Jintao's speech showed a clear departure from the previous guidelines laid down by Deng Xiaoping two decades ago.

At the time of Deng's proclamation, China was only 10 years into its reform and opening-up policy and was still weak and poor, and isolated following the 1989 Tiananmen incident.

Deng instructed the Chinese government to lie low in the international arena and not stick its neck out.

This policy avoided many conflicts with the West, notably the United States, and paved the way for a peaceful and stable environment for the next two decades of rapid development.

This year, China will probably overtake Japan to become the second-largest economy in the world, after the US.

With the Western world now beginning to advocate a G2 - China and the US - and demanding that China play a bigger role in international economics and politics, it is no longer possible for the nation to keep a low profile.

Internally, events over the past two years, especially those related to Tibet and Xinjiang , have alerted the entire country to international influence in China's domestic affairs and its image abroad.

China's global interests also dictate that it cannot avoid sticking its neck out. One example is escorting its merchant ships through the troubled waters near the Horn of Africa and protecting them from heavily armed Somali pirates.

China's policies, both domestic and foreign, are guided by some basic tenets. If the underlying principles remain unchanged, the policy, on the whole, stays intact and actions are only piecemeal. The changes in important guidelines are always announced in high-level meetings.

At the diplomats' meeting, Mr Hu called on China's overseas representatives to play a bigger role in serving the country's reform and national interests, as China is seeking stable and rapid development amid the global economic downturn.

What the Western media did not pick up, as it was not reported in the Xinhua English release, was Mr Hu's exaltation to 'increasing the country's influence in politics, its competitiveness in economics, its congeniality in image, and its poignancy in morality'.

A few years ago, in the report to the 17th Party Congress, Mr Hu, in the capacity of party general secretary used the phrase 'soft power' for the first time in Chinese official documents.

The new diplomatic guideline can be regarded as an extension and a natural development along this line of thinking. It signifies a clear departure from the guidelines to lie low. It is also a new mission statement of what role the country would like to play in the international community, and how it wants to be received.

China now feels a need to proactively project its newly acquired 'big power' status in international affairs, and not have its image distorted and demonised by the usually hostile Western media.

It all boils down to the old saying: 'We come in peace.' The emerging China is definitely not a threat to anyone.

Taken this way, the world will soon find it is a new blessing.

As a firm believer in transparency, I honestly think that failing to pick up on this important message is a big mistake on the part of the Western media, and a big loss to the Western world.

Lau Nai-keung is a member of the Basic Law Committee of the NPC Standing Committee, a member of the Commission on Strategic Development