Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua recently disclosed that China has four secrets, which have made it possible for China to rise and become a global economic power: (1) good leaders; (2) good policies consistently followed over a long-term period; (3) a hard working population; and (4) a peaceful and secure environment.
The tensions in the South China Sea poses a danger to the peaceful and secure environment that China needs to continue with its dynamic economic growth. In particular, China needs peaceful relations with the United States and its Asean neighbors to promote its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.
This initiative consists of the land-based Silk Road Economic Belt to join China with Central Asia and first proposed by President Xi Jinping in Kazakhstan in September 2013, and the 21st Maritime Silk Road to connect China with the Asean member-countries, the South Asian countries and with Africa and Europe, which he proposed a month later in Indonesia.
Eventually, the two new silk roads are envisioned as a grand initiative to link China not only with the continents of Eurasia and Africa but also the Americas up to Brazil, through trade, investments, transport and energy infrastructure projects, tourism, education, culture and other areas of cooperation. This grand initiative is also planned as a mega development project for the countries along the network.
This global enterprise is an incentive for China to improve relations with its Asean maritime neighbors and maintain peace and security. China cannot ignore the strategic location in the South China Sea of the Philippines, which is also situated at the heart of the archipelagic continent extending from Japan to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea with the Philippines at the center. The envisioned new maritime silk road to link China with Indonesia and Brazil will pass through the Philippines. Indeed, this is really the revival of the galleon trade that made Manila the first global city, linking the different continents of the world.
The perceived major threat to peace in Asia, disturbing the peace and security that China needs to solidify its economic gains, is its rivalry with the United States. This is discussed in an article entitled: “The Thucydides Trap Discourse in China-US Relations” by Cai Cuthong contained in the same July-August 2016 issue of China International Studies.
The article, published by the China Institute of International Studies, one of the leading think tanks in China, explains that the “Thucydides Trap” or the rivalry between a rising power (Athens) and the dominant hegemon (Sparta) made the Peloponnesian war inevitable between these two city states. Thucydides had noted that such a competition mostly ends up with war.
The article reports that Graham Allison, a Harvard professor, had proposed in his testimony to the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services that “The Thucydides Trap has been sprung in the Pacific.” Allison’s studies showed that in 12 of 16 cases in the past 500 years, when a rising power challenged a ruling power, the outcome was war. The article further notes that the “Thucydides Trap” has suddenly become a popular concept in international relations in the West. China’s rise is perceived, according to the article, as challenging the US predominance in Asia today and in the world in the future and thus constitutes today’s “Thucydides Trap.”
The article, however, expresses the opinion that the concept of the “Thucydides Trap” is not applicable to China-US relations. It is striking that the article gives the rule of law as an important reason why the situation in the world today is different from that of ancient Greece, observing that “there were no international organizations and international law as a kind of mechanism to achieve international peace.” Indeed, these play an important role in constraining inter-state conflict as the article points out.
It is interesting that the article states that “even though some people may question the actual constraint force of international law and international organizations on major countries, the US in particular, the collective security mechanism at least has reinforced the moral constraint and increased the violation costs of international profile and public opinion.” Thus, the article shares the view that the rule of law also protects the interests of major powers.
The article further reports on the progressive development of international law, stating that “the compulsory system of international law has got more rigid with the emergence of the entities of many international organizations. And more and more terms embodying the idea of “direct application” arise in the rules of international organizations. Relevant legislation and arbitration begin to be characterized by enforcement and rigidity.”
Finally, the article also observes, “Although the rigidity of international law is not comparable with that of domestic law, the international community is still able to exert influence in indirect ways so as to realize the goal of its compulsion.” This is a perceptive insight on the value of decisions and awards of international courts and arbitration tribunals, as opposed to the dismissive attitude giving little importance to their value on the ground that they are unenforceable.
It is important that China’s fourth secret for its successful emergence as a global economic power, namely the necessity of a peaceful and secure environment, be kept in mind and supported because China’s economy is one of the engines moving the global economy. Thus, the Philippine Council on Foreign Relations delegation, composed of retired ambassadors and Armed Forces and police generals, and members of the Academe and business, paid a visit to Beijing last September 13-16, 2016, upon the invitation of the Chinese Ambassador.
Engagement with China, including through Track 2 diplomacy, combined with vigilant monitoring of Chinese activities in the South China Sea, will serve to enhance our national interests, promote friendship and maintain peace and security.