China right to cultivate better ties with neighbours
The focus of China's foreign policy has long been the US, Russia and a handful of other major powers or blocs like the EU. Despite diverging views, there is co-operation in many fields that serves the nations well. But giving priority to some ties has also come at a cost for other relationships, a matter that has not always served Beijing well. President Xi Jinping has realised this and directed attention towards friendships and partnerships with neighbours.
The new direction was evident at a two-day conference in Beijing last week chaired by Premier Li Keqiang and attended by the Communist Party's elite, government ministers, provincial leaders, top diplomats and the heads of key financial institutions among them. Xi had a clear objective in bringing together so many important figures at the same time and place: to ensure a co-ordinated diplomatic approach. Ministries, officials and companies in the past have too often been inconsistent when overseas. They need to be working together if Chinese foreign policy is to be effective.
A broad, all-embracing policy is what China needs if its aims of peace, development and co-operation are to be attained. Of its neighbours, it can only claim the best of relations with Cambodia, North Korea, Pakistan and Thailand. A series of trips to Southeast Asia by Xi and Li last month and visits to Beijing by the prime ministers of India, Mongolia and Russia highlighted the diplomatic shift. Billions of dollars in trade and economic deals were struck, along with an agreement to ease border tensions with india, but much more is needed for friendly ties.
While bridges are slowly being built with Vietnam, among the most sceptical of China's neighbours, all is far from well in relations with Japan and the Philippines. Ties with Japan are especially fragile as a result of the Diaoyu Islands dispute and the nationalism of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe; a war of words has been accompanied in recent days by military alerts. The posturing and rhetoric have to be replaced by reasoned diplomacy.
Domestic political bickering has kept the US from concentrating on its Asian pivot, but its economic and strategic interests in the region remain strong. Beijing and Washington have to continue building trust and co-operation. But moving economically, politically and strategically closer to neighbours is arguably more important for China. That will bring stability and greater growth and development for all in Asia.