This leaves the thorny issues of how China deals with the responsibilities of being this new cosmopolitan, prominent power. Foreign Minister Wang mentioned some of them--the relationships with India, Russia, and Iran, for instance. The tactic hinted at for each of these was to ensure that the trade links were strong and investment flows prominent to the extent
that other partners would be at least nominally tied into responsible obligations and respectful relationships. China has maintained solid links with Russia despite the ongoing crisis over Ukraine, and has achieved a major new energy deal last May. It is also taking part in very significant negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, playing a mediating role--something that it has been able to do because of its significant investments and interests in Iran in the field of energy. In India, bilateral visits in 2014 allowed Xi to visit the giant neighbor and declare over $20 billion in new investments.
China's links with each of these countries do also expose it to becoming involved in potential crisis management in the future. For India, the main issue is the unresolved border. It would be a big diplomatic coup for India and China to be able to agree on this issue, though at the moment, there is little sign of any imminent breakthrough. But as the world's two largest developing economies continue to grow in importance, the uncertainty and instability that these border issues bring will become increasingly incongruous. Perhaps once the shared economic interests between the two are so great that they outweigh other issues, then the border will become easier to discuss, and rapidly solve itself. Late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping often talked of problems that seemed insurmountable at the time but which eventually almost solved themselves. That is what we have to hope for in this situation.
The issues with Iran and Russia are more immediately pressing, however. China has to be prepared for increasing diplomatic pressure on both of these, in the short- to medium-term future. Iran, while the most dramatic, is probably one where compromise might be most possible. The United States under Obama has run out of energy in trying to take the lead in solving the seemingly endless problems in the Middle East. It is keen to find new partners. War in Syria has become messy, creating a space for extremists and fanatics. A nuclear moratorium with Iran, despite the bellicose pressure of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he addressed U.S. Congress in early March, is still the preferred option. China's role here is evidently a very important one, and so far, as Wang made clear, it has been content to play that, holding a series of discussions with Iranian counterparts.
Russia, however, is a more problematic issue. Relations between Russia and Europe have deteriorated fast, as they have with the United States. Russian President Vladimir Putin has been heavily criticized in EU capitals, and in Washington. Figures as august as Henry Kissinger have warned of a looming new Cold War. Resentment in Moscow over interference with its neighbors by the United States and the EU in particular has grown over the last few years. A ceasefire agreed in Ukraine earlier this year looks fragile. Pressure in the United States to consider arming Ukrainian fighters has been growing. This would have unpredictable consequences in a highly volatile, unstable area.
China has uniquely maintained positive relations with all the different parties involved, from Russia to the United States. It has a strong strategic interest in the stability of the Central Asian region. It wants a benign, predictable regional environment as it continues to face the immense list of developmental challenges that Premier Li outlined on March 5. So the recent tensions between Russia and other countries are something that Beijing will be watching very anxiously. Foreign Minister Wang reaffirmed China's commitment to no interference in the internal affairs of other countries, a longstanding policy position from the mid-1950s. But issues like Russia and Ukraine's conflict show how blurred the edges are now between the inside and outside worlds for nation states. Very reluctantly, China may well find that it is called upon to take up a mediation role in international disputes far more frequently and heavily than it wants to. This is the largest single challenge for the new Chinese diplomacy we see emerging.
The author is an op-ed contributor to Beijing Review and executive director of the China Studies Center at the University of Sydney
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