TERRITORIAL DISPUTES

Diplomacy, not military power, key to security, veteran adviser says

While hawks rattle their sabres, veteran of international relations says game has changed

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 January, 2014, 5:42am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 January, 2014, 5:42am

Diplomacy will play a greater role in protecting China's national security as Beijing is keen to settle disputes with its neighbours through peaceful negotiations, according to a veteran diplomat.

Wu Jianmin, a member of a foreign-policy advisory committee to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the Sunday Morning Post that the use of force could harm China's interests.

"Disputes between nations should not be settled by showing your fists, but through discussions and consultation," said Wu, who is also the vice-chairman of the China Institute of Strategy and Management. "China has developed interdependent relationships with many nations, and it will only hurt its interests if it chooses to fight."

On Friday, China called on the Philippines to meet it halfway on Beijing's new fishing rules in the disputed South China Sea, where the two countries have competing territorial claims.

Wu's remarks contradicted comments by hawkish generals that China should use its military might to settle territorial disputes, which raised concerns on whether Beijing was becoming provocative and whether the military would become a dominant player in the new National Security Committee.

Several senior military figures have said it is time for the country to test its military's prowess in handling disputes with its neighbours, especially after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine on December 26.

One general, Liu Yazhou, political commissar at the People's Liberation Army National Defence University, said China had "a strategic opportunity" to boost its military capability to defend its sovereignty in the East and South China seas, where it is involved in territorial disputes with Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and other Asian countries.

Wu said China faced heightened external security risks because Asian nations were modernising their militaries after years of economic development, leading to shifts in the balance of power in the region accompanied by rising nationalism.

Beijing recently announced that it was setting up a high-level National Security Committee to pursue a more co-ordinated national security strategy.

But the structure and operations of the committee, announced after the plenum of senior leaders in November, remain a mystery as officials released no further details.

Wu said the Foreign Ministry had been calling for such a body for more than a decade, and that diplomacy would be one of the committee's main functions.

"Co-operation, development and seeking peace are world trends that no one can reverse," Wu said.

"China needs to maintain its military strength, but it still must engage in dialogue with others, and that requires diplomacy."