Indian Decade

China Foreign Policy Shift?

Will China tone down its more assertive foreign policy? Straws in the wind suggest that it might.

The first indications came from Chinese-controlled state media on December 10—the day the Nobel Committee went ahead with its scheduled function to award this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident and human rights activist Liu Xiaobo. The Peace Prize is the only Nobel Prize not presented in Stockholm, but in Oslo. And, despite Chinese threats over the prize, Norway ignorered Chinese pressure and went ahead with the prestigious annual event. The presentation ceremoney was attended by representatives of 46 of the 65 countries that maintain diplomatic missions in Norway.

The same day, an article in the Communist Party of China-backed Global Times talked about the countries that succumbed to Beijing’s pressure and boycotted the ceremony. Russia, Iran and Pakistan were among the 19 absentees from the award presentation. However, the Global Times quoted Shi Yinhong, a researcher at the School of International Studies at Renmin University of China, as saying: ‘It has done harm to the bilateral relations between China and Norway. But China's expressing of discontent with Norway on this specific issue does not represent the long-term direction that China will adopt toward Norway.’

In addition, China has sought to mend fences with the United States by reviving military-to-military contacts with the United States. High-level military contacts were suspended by China earlier this year over the US announcement of a $6.4 billion sale of weapons and military hardware to Taiwan, but are now to resume. Meanwhile, China’s official Xinhua News Agency recently quoted a Chinese military spokesman as saying US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates will visit Beijing from January 10 to 14. It also added that Chen Bingde, chief of the general staff of the People's Liberation Army, will visit the United States next year at ‘a mutually convenient date.’

And on December 12, China sent some positive vibes toward neighbour India by announcing Premier Wen Jiabao’s intention to still visit India this week, despite the Indian envoy in Oslo having attended the Peace Prize presentation on instructions from New Delhi. India had made it clear that attending the Oslo function had nothing to do with India-China bilateral relations, but its decision to refuse to bow to Beijing's wishes just days ahead of Wen's visit sent a clear message of intent. And after all, Wen has already met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh almost a dozen times this year.

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It will be interesting to see now how State Councillor Dai Bingguo, one of the most influential people in China's foreign policy making process, navigates regional diplomacy in the coming months—especially in light of the alarm much of the international community has felt at Beijing’s bellicose moves this year.