In an interview with Beijing-based newspaper International Herald Leader, Professor Zhu Feng at Peking University's School of International Studies said the issues included in the core national interests are those that China cannot compromise on. While the use of force is one of many possible options in protecting itself, such an outcome is not an inevitability.
China's declaration of core national interests has aroused concern of the international community, particularly the United States. The U.S. Government tried to learn about the specific content of the concept through S&EDs and military exchanges with China. From the positive point of view, listening to the legitimate concerns of one another is a productive step in preventing miscalculations that could lead to conflict.
However, some media, think tanks and military officers have misinterpreted China's announcement of its core interests as a regional policy shift and an external show of strength. Their inaccurate portrayals have undoubtedly influenced Washington's China policy.
In July 2010, the Japanese and U.S. media quoted an anonymous American expert as
saying that China has included the South China Sea in the country's core national interests, adding that the United States, Japan and India should join hands to contend against China on the issue.
However, no internal or public Chinese document or declaration at the time made claim to the entirety of the South China Sea—it has merely asserted its sovereignty over certain islands and islets in South China Sea, and stated that it will engage in negotiations and dialogues when disputes arise. China is committed to the Declaration on the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea and respects and will maintain the freedom of navigation on the sea.
Any discussion of China's core interests, without exception, falls under the framework of peaceful development. Concerning these core national interests, resolution through dialogue is always the primary option while the military approach is the last resort that has to be avoided by all means.
In his speech on July 30, Xi also promoted the building of its maritime power through mutually beneficial cooperation with other countries, and ensure that China will use nonviolent means and negotiations to settle disputes and strive to safeguard peace and stability.
The false rumors have spread from the United States, Japan and some Southeast Asian countries that China has laid claim to the entirety of the South China Sea and will commit to an area denial strategy in the region. It is believed that these inaccuracies aim to escalate maritime disputes between China and its neighboring countries around the South China Sea, creating tensions that intend to justify the U.S. "pivot to Asia."
Currently, Sino-Japanese relations have been mired in continuous tension due to Japan's so-called "nationalization" of the Diaoyu Islands last September. To protect its sovereignty, the Chinese Government strengthened patrolling and law enforcement in the waters around the islands. An article on The New York Times on May 11 said that China's inclusion of the Diaoyu Islands in its core interests suggested an implicit threat and challenge to the United States and its regional allies.
On March 7, 2010, during a news conference, the then Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said, "We stick to our principles, but that does not imply aggression by any means. It has always been China's diplomatic policy to defend its sovereignty, security and development interests, while promoting world peace and development. It is unfair to misrepresent actions taken to safeguard one's own core interests as an aggressive stance."
Those countries that feel ambivalent about China's declaration of its core interests should take Yang's remarks into account. The one-sided interpretation and demonizing of China's foreign policy is unwise, as these actions do not help with the proper resolution of the sensitive security issues afoot in the Asia-Pacific.
The author is an op-ed contributor to Beijing Review
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