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China eyes greater global leadership role, downplays fears

Updated March 08, 2018

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China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi gestures as he speaks during a press conference on the sidelines of the National People's Congress at the media center in Beijing, Thursday, March 8, 2018. — AP
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi gestures as he speaks during a press conference on the sidelines of the National People's Congress at the media center in Beijing, Thursday, March 8, 2018. — AP

The world can only benefit as China marches toward “irresistible” national rejuvenation and assumes greater global leadership under President Xi Jinping, China's top diplomat said on Thursday as he sought to dismiss concerns about the country's rise while also underscoring its inevitability.

From providing the most peacekeepers of any United Nations (UN) Security Council member to facilitating talks in world conflicts, “the China of today should play a more active role in resolving hot issues in the region and the world,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said. “This is not only something we should do, but what is widely expected of us.”

Wang spoke on the fringes of China's annual, largely ceremonial legislative session at a news conference, where he was asked whether China's recent efforts to push for peace talks in Myanmar and between Israeli and Palestinian delegations, for instance, represented a shift in its longstanding non-interference foreign policy.

China remains committed to non-interference, Wang said, arguing that those in the West who are alarmed by China's growing clout and overseas activity are affected by bias.

“The development and rejuvenation of China is irresistible,” Wang said. “Some people in the United States (US) believe that China therefore wants to replace the role of the US in the international arena. This is a fundamental, strategic misjudgment.”

“China and the United States can compete without necessarily being opponents, they should more be partners,” he added while warning that a possible trade war mulled by President Donald Trump would hurt the US.

“Especially in today's globalised world, a trade war is the wrong prescription,” he said.

Wang emphasised what he called the key role played in China's more pro-active foreign policy by President Xi Jinping, who is likely to remain leader indefinitely after the legislature lifts presidential term limits.

“Since 2012, President Xi Jinping has been the chief architect of China's major-country diplomacy. He was personally involved in the planning and conduct of head of state diplomacy, which by world acclaim has been brilliant,” Wang said.

Xi has visited 57 countries and received more than 110 foreign heads of state, Wang said, citing Xi's “leadership and charisma".

Wang called on the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), an eight-nation group dominated by China and Russia, to play a greater role in international diplomacy, saying it has a “bounden duty to maintain peace and stability in our region and beyond".

China will host the SCO summit in the port of Qingdao in June.

The group also includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan, and China has sought to use it to ensure security along its Central Asian border, for example, by holding joint anti-terrorism exercises.

In international affairs, however, it has been a relative lightweight, and the new emphasis announced by Wang is in keeping with a Chinese push to broaden its global footprint with mega projects such as the trillion-dollar Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.

On the Korean Peninsula, Wang claimed success for China's proposal for a “dual suspension” of North Korean nuclear activities in return for a halt in South Korea-US war games.

“This proves that China's proposal of suspension for suspension was the right prescription for the problem and created basic conditions for the improvement of inter-Korean relations,” Wang said.

North Korea's security concerns should be addressed in return for a pledge to denuclearise, he said.

Wang also indicated that he expects more countries will cut formal ties with Taiwan, which China claims as its territory. China has been steadily increasing political, diplomatic and economic pressure on Taiwan to force President Tsai Ing-wen to endorse its contention that the self-governing island democracy is a part of China.

“To establish diplomatic relations with the government of the People's Republic of China that is the sole legal government to represent all China and conduct normal cooperation is apparently a right choice that conforms to the tide of times,” Wang said.