My Take

China needs to deal with its own backyard rather than taking on Middle Eastern complexities

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 December, 2013, 3:44am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 December, 2013, 3:44am

Foreign minister Wang Yi is off to the Middle East to try to bring a diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one of the most intractable territorial disputes on earth. So, failed in the Far East, try the Near East perhaps?

No doubt Wang will get a much friendlier reception in that neighbourhood. He contributed earlier to the six-party nuclear deal with Iran. Benjamin Netanyahu, King Abdullah, Bashar al-Assad, Mahmoud Abbas and Hassan Rowhani may be at each other's throats, but they are all friendly with Beijing. That may give the impression among our top diplomats that they are masters at the Great Game. But it's worth remembering those guys are friendly because they are geographically far from China.

Closer to home, there are rising tensions and an unacknowledged arms race right in China's neighbourhood in the East and South China Seas, as well as a realignment of military alliances. Basically, our neighbours are all clamouring to fall under the US security umbrella, as well as bolstering their own defences. Perhaps that demands more urgent attention from Wang? Or is it that our own neighbourhood is out of his diplomatic brief and falls directly under President Xi Jinping's command?

Just this week, the Philippines announced it is strengthening military ties with the US, which will offer US$40 million in aid for its maritime security. We all know what "maritime security" means and which country it is directed against. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet has just approved a 10-year national security strategy that, for the first time, explicitly calls for a more aggressive military posture. Like the Middle Eastern countries, China's neighbours all want greater bilateral trade with it. But security and territorial disputes are tilting them towards the US.

Wang should see for himself on his current trip what a really nasty neighbourhood looks like, take that lesson to heart and tell his boss every effort must be made to avoid making our region look like theirs. It may be good propaganda, but in international politics it's not about who's right or wrong, but making sure China is not diplomatically or militarily isolated in its own backyard. At the moment, unfortunately, that's where we are heading.