International relations challenged by China's rise, says analyst | Connect Asia

International relations challenged by China's rise, says analyst

International relations challenged by China's rise, says analyst

Updated 7 December 2012, 16:38 AEDT

The United States and China are holding talks on how to prevent North Korea from conducting its latest long range rocket launch.

US special representative for North Korea policy Glyn Davies says Washington will intensify contacts with China and Russia to discourage Pyongyang from what he calls a "destabilising and provocative act."

But such cooperation between the two most important states in the global system is not always easy.

Rosemary Foot, Professor of International Relations at Oxford University who has specialised in East Asia for several decades is visiting Australia.

In her view, China's rapid rise is challenging the ability of other countries to adapt.

Presenter: Karon Snowdon

Speaker: Rosemary Foot, Professor of International Relations at Oxford University

FOOT: China has, for example, become the second or first largest trading partner of 78 countries, which accounts for 55 per cent of global GDP, compared with the year, 2000, where it was the first or second largest trading partner of only 13 countries, accounting for 15 per cent of GDP. So these are remarkable transformations in a very short space of time and our ability to adapt to that, especially on the part of a major state, like the United States, used to being the preponderant power in the world, and, of course, in the Asia-Pacific region. Our ability to adapt is really challenged I think because of that rapidity and it's in this region, in particular, the most dynamic region of the world where this particular relationship rubs up against each other in often tense difficult ways, also cooperative ways.

SNOWDON: Just this week, with North Korea's threat about another missile. The US is hoping to cooperate more with China on that particular issue?

FOOT: There are only certain distances that China will go, because it's concerned about the implosion of a North Korean state.

There has been cooperation over Iran. There has been cooperation in the United Nations Security Council over the years in different kind of issues, so we shouldn't assume that they don't find coincidences of interest that bring them together. But if you think about it in sort of broad, generalised terms, then it's almost a cliche to say this, but there are high levels of distrust on both sides.

SNOWDON: For Australia being within this region, obviously there's a big focus on that particular relationship and how that is navigated and to some extent, where Australia also fits in within that. But for the world generally, is that going to be the bilateral relationship that dominates international relations for the next, however long?

FOOT: Yes, I suspect it will be. I mean I'm very reluctant always to speculate about the future, but all things being equal, I would say that that is the relationship that is of concern. I mean I'm from Europe. There is a great deal of attention paid to that particular relationship, a great deal of thought about what middle powers perhaps can do to help manage some of the relations, some of the tensions between them.

SNOWDON: In this region right now, one of the biggest concerns perhaps in relation to China is its expansion or its hopes of expansion in the South China Sea. Some describe it as aggressive. How do you see that in the context of China's power and its foreign policies? Is it simply a statement of here we are or is it all about valuable energy resources or is it something else?

FOOT: I wouldn't describe it as aggressive actually. I mean I think it's asserting its claims and that yes, Chinese behaviour is alarming in part, because it's just so much bigger than the other states that are involved in this particular dispute, and there's a fear that the ASEAN countries will not negotiate this as a common body that they will actually be somehow weakened by their inability to come together as a collective force, to try to negotiate with China on that.

But one of the things that's obviously happening is that Chinese behaviour is bringing about outcomes that cannot be favourable to it in a longer term strategic sense and it had invested a great deal of time in tying to reassure its neighbours, that it's rise was going to be different from other major powers.

Now it seems to have been generating a sentiment among its neighbours, but that's not the case actually, that China will use its powers in ways that are coercive rather than beneficial to the region.

SNOWDON: How concerning is that if it continues along this particular trajectory?

FOOT: Well, it is very concerning, because I think it could obviously polarise relationships. I think that I mean obviously the United States as a result of this increased tension has solidified its relationship with a number of states in the region, whether that's Vietnam or the Philippines, or Indonesia, and, of course, with respect to the East China Sea, the revitalisation, the strengthening of the alliance with Japan. So there is a sense in which you have begun to get the United States playing a more substantial, a more significant role in this particular issue area.

What ameliorates that, of course, is the economic interdependencies of this region, the longstanding concern to ensure economic prosperity as a vital contribution to state security and regional security. My expectation in some ways and my hope certainly, is that that kind of the resilience of those kind of values and ideas will in the end serve to calm these things down now that we've sort of moved on from leadership transition in China and so on.

SNOWDON: And finally, Australia in this region, part of Asia, but apart in some ways from the troubles, wanting to be a friend to everybody perhaps. I'm putting it all very simply. How do you rate Australia's tightrope walking so far?

FOOT: Trying to navigate that relationship with the United States, a longstanding alliance relationship, alongside a relationship with China, you're most important economic partner is a really difficult one and it requires, of course, high quality diplomacy. It requires, I think really good public diplomacy.

I mean one of the things that struck me sitting in London, in Oxford and so on, was when, for example, the Darwin Bases agreement was finalised and obviously, Obama came and spoke to Parliament and so on and the Chinese reacted very negatively and there seemed to be some surprise that the Chinese would be so negative about this and yet, it was sort of obvious to me that even though there were small numbers involved and you do far more significant things with the Americans. There was something that was really symbolically important about that decision, the timing of it, the nature of it, and so on. And I felt that Australia should have done a better job at explaining this within the overall context of their relationship with the United States and their relationship with China.

So I think that constantly being attentive to the way the world looks from the Chinese perspective is so important and that's not because I'm trying to say that that perspective is not open for criticism. Of course, it is. But in order to get your diplomacy right and so on, you have to put yourself in their shoes and to think about the way events of that kind actually look from Beijing.

Contact the studio

Got something to say about what you're hearing on the radio right now?

Send your texts to +61 427 72 72 72

Add the hashtag #raonair to add your tweets to the conversation.

Email us your thoughts on an issue. Messages may be used on air.