China’s Asia?

CLAREMONT – Distinguishing diplomatic rhetoric from official policy is never easy. But it is especially difficult in China, where the government’s actions so often fail to match its statements. Given this, it is worth asking whether the latest slogan adopted by Chinese officials – “Asia for Asians” – is merely nationalist posturing for domestic consumption or a signal of a genuine policy shift.

The most authoritative reference to an “Asia for Asians” occurred in May, during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s keynote speech at the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia. In a carefully crafted statement, Xi laid out China’s vision for a new regional security order – one in which, as the slogan suggests, Asians are in charge.

According to Xi, at the fundamental level, “it is for the people of Asia to run the affairs of Asia, solve the problems of Asia, and uphold the security of Asia.” Fortunately, he declared, they have the “capability and wisdom” to build peace and security in the region through cooperation.

This vision, of course, entails an overhaul of the Asian security structure, with a drastically reduced role for the United States. Indeed, Xi implicitly criticized the existing US-dominated security architecture in Asia as stuck in the Cold War, and characterized “military alliance targeted at a third party” as “not conducive to maintaining common security.” Since the speech, lower-level officials and the Chinese media have reiterated similar lines.