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(Opinion) America's Next Big Challenge: Countering China’s Diplomatic Blitzkrieg

2014-11-30 10:02:47       source:National Interest

By Richard Javad Heydarian

November 30, 2014

"Much to the delight of China, recent weeks have witnessed a dramatic reorientation in the Asian strategic landscape. Demonstrating sophisticated statecraft, Chinese president Xi Jinping astutely utilized the recently concluded Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit to emphasize Beijing's centrality to regional prosperity and stability. Xi rekindled communication channels with estranged neighbors such as Japan and Vietnam, exploring various mechanisms to de-escalate territorial tensions in the Western Pacific. The summit featured icy bilateral meetings between the Chinese leader (with a poker face) and his Japanese and Vietnamese counterparts, namely Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Truong Tan Sang. The meetings came on the heels of weeks of preparation by special envoys to facilitate a formal meeting between their respective heads of states. There was also an informal talk between Xi and his Filipino counterpart, Benigno Aquino, who welcomed his first direct contact with the Chinese president.

There was a huge element of symbolism to the whole affair, and how the meetings were choreographed by Beijing and framed by the Chinese media. Xi, widely considered China's first paramount leader in decades, acted like a benevolent Chinese emperor, receiving humbled emissaries seeking more stable ties with the Middle Kingdom. But the meeting with Abe was particularly awkward. Traditionally, Chinese leaders await their guests and warmly welcome them with smiles and handshakes. The Japanese leader, however, had to anxiously wait for his Chinese host at Beijing's Great Hall of the People, settling for no smiles and a cold handshake. It marked a huge departure from Abe's very friendly, landmark meeting with Xi's predecessor, Hu Jintao, back in 2006, when both sides fervently hailed a "turning point" in their bilateral relations. This time, Xi and Abe settled for expressing their mutual interest in preventing a military conflict, preserving high-stakes economic ties and reiterating their previous agreements, over the past four decades, on friendship and cooperation. Overall, however, the meeting was shrouded in strategic ambiguity: It isn't clear whether there was any major compromise on bilateral differences, particularly on the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands dispute."

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