The Bullies of Beijing: China's Image Problem
Image Credit: Flickr (Francisco Diez)

The Bullies of Beijing: China's Image Problem


One of the elementary rules of foreign policy is when you are in a hole, stop digging.  But judging by their recent behavior, Beijing’s foreign policy mandarins and national security establishment are clearly in violation of this rule. Despite the diplomat heat China has received for its tough stance on territorial disputes in recent months, the Chinese Foreign Ministry apparently seemed to believe that it could strengthen Chinese claims symbolically by issuing a new passport containing a map that claims the disputed maritime areas in the South China Sea and the contested territories along the Sino-Indian border.  The reaction was predictable.  Southeast Asian countries, particularly Vietnam and the Philippines, protested loudly.  India retaliated by promising to stamp visas containing its own map on Chinese passports.

At around the same time as the diplomatic uproar over the new Chinese passport design, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) conducted its first successful landing and take-off operations from its retrofitted aircraft carrier.  The televised test might have boosted the Chinese military’s image and self-confidence, but the message this event sent around the region, given China’s hardline position on territorial disputes and its neighbors’ fears of the PLA’s growing military capabilities, cannot be very reassuring.

But that is not the end of the actions taken by China recently that are likely to cost Beijing’s new government dearly.  A few days before Japan’s Diet elections on December 16, which are expected to produce a right-wing government with deep antipathy toward Beijing, the Chinese government escalated its challenge to Japan’s territorial claims to the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands by flying an official, albeit unarmed, maritime surveillance plane over the airspace of the disputed islands.   As expected, the move incensed Tokyo and can only be expected to bolster the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) chances and lend more credence to their call for a tougher policy toward China.

December 14, 2013 at 14:24

What astounds me is that the CCP has managed to mess up its own country while pissing off every neighbour it has. In comparison, the Nationalists in Taiwan have made a success of their country and maintain good diplomatic relations with neighbours and internationally – even drawing concessions from Japan like fishing rights in the Senkakus. The CCP could take some serious lessons from Taiwan.

October 1, 2013 at 17:41

They haven't invaded anyone if you believe that tibet, vietnam, mongolia and korea have always been part of china.

September 28, 2013 at 03:12

Oh my!The Chinese really have their own version of history.The ccp is really sick doing this to their own people. I am in awe right now….I don’t know whether to feel pity or just be indifferent knowing that nobody can change what your government has done to your minds

September 5, 2013 at 05:34

At the same time, you have to admit, that we also preach world-wide peace, while at the same time never missing a chance to demonstrate our military capabilities. Even our Navy's recruitment enbodies that its slogan 'a global force for good'. In the case of conflict with China, is there truly a 'good' availible?

Share your thoughts

Your Name
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief