Baku Dialogues: CHINA'S GEOSTRATEGY IN EURASIA

27-01-2015

Thank you very much Ambassador Pashayev, and Mr. Ismailzade, and thank you all here for attending this event and listening to me. I cannot claim to know much about this region, or about Azerbaijan. All of you have some knowledge about China, and I have to humble myself to your knowledge base, so I will present my views about China's geostrategy and then I will welcome your remarks, questions, and criticism. I will be very brief, and I will discuss China's geopolitical position by dividing my my remarks into three paths: firstly, China between east and west, then China between the north and south, and finally China's geopolitical strategy.

We call ourselves “Zhōngguo” in Chinese, which means “Central State”. But China was invaded and humiliated in the 19th century, and when China called itself “Zhōngguo” that was 1911; before that, China was known by its Dynasties: Qing Dynasty, Ming Dynasty. By the time China called itself the “Central State”, it was actually marginalized by world politics because at that time, the center of world politics and economics was Europe and then the United States. So China was regarded as a Far Eastern country at that period, and during the Cold War, China was considered alongside the Soviet Union as one of the eastern, socialist countries. Mao Zedong said in 1957 that “the eastern wind prevails over the western wind”, meaning that socialism will prevail over capitalism. So that was China's identity as a part of the Soviet Block, but that changed in the 1960s and 1970s when China broke off relations with the Soviet Union and began to improve its relations with the United States. Mao Zedong put forward his very famous “three worlds” theory, and China was no longer identified as a very distinctive “eastern” country.

These are two maps. I don't know which map you use in your description of the world, but China uses the second, meaning that China is in the middle. But in the second map, I think China should see the United States as the “Far East”, rather than “Far West”. Geographically, the United States is located in the Far East. Japan should be identified as the “Near East”. That is also the position of Korea. Hawaii is the “Middle East”. Azerbaijan is our Midwest. And Europe is Far West. So, in this map, China is more than an “Eastern” nation, because part of China is located in Central Asia and South Asia. And in Xinjiang and in Tibet and in the South West, you see more similarities with China's western neighbors, rather than Japan or Korea.

Now is the time to reconsider China's geo‐economic and geopolitical position because in the past, we were too much influenced by the United States. I spent much of my time studying the United States, and I confess, I was too much influenced by the US geopolitical conception of China as an East Asian country. In the State Department, in the National Security Council, and in the Pentagon, China until today is still regarded as part of East Asia. This has some negative impact on China's strategic thinking, as if China was only part of East Asia, rather than being a Eurasian power or an Asian Power.

Because in the US, the decision-making bodies in the State Department and Pentagon put China in the general framework of Japan, China, Korea, and Southeast Asia. Also, those people who are dealing with China are East Asian specialists, or people who have been dealing with East Asia for a very long time. These people do not necessarily know much about the Middle East, South Asia, or the South Caucasus, and that means a lot, now that the United States says it should move its strategic focus back to Asia. But what is their conceptionof Asia? It is still very much East Asia. To me, the East Asian community, although some people are still seeing it favorably, is no longer very fashionable and has met with increased obstacles because, as you know, China and Japan have tensions. China also has territorial disputes with a few South East Asian countries, and it is very difficult to have a very tight, integrated economy in East Asia because of these obstacles.

The United States is putting forward its TPP program, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and China is not part of it. So East Asian community has met with a lot of obstacles. And the East Asia Summit is diluted by the participation of United States, Australia, New Zealand, India, and Russia. So I think we should look more at China's own West, and beyond China's West; that is, to this region, and Central Asia, and the greater Middle East, all the way to Africa and Latin America and, of course, Europe.

We also have to look at regional organizations. Some we participate in together with Azerbaijan. The most meaningful one is the recent conference held in Shanghai called the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia. Your president, President Aliyev, participated in it and had a wonderful meeting with our president, Mr. Xi Jinping.

So the conclusion of all this is that China should move from being a Far Eastern country, or an Eastern country, to an Asian power, or even a Eurasian power. But I also want to emphasize that we have some debates in China as to what our identity should become. And we also have debates in our strategic studies circles about whether China should become, first of all, a maritime power, or if we should remain a continental power. To me, I think we should be both. We should not put one thing against the other. We should be both a continental power and a maritime power. Many people are talking about the Diaoyu Island crisis with Japan and China's different claims in South East Asia, but I think that this region [Central Asia] is gaining importance.

So that is the discussion of China between the East and the West. Now I will move on to talk about China between the North and the South.

Geographically, China is a Northern country, most of it is in the North, but China identified itself as a developing country, having very good relationships with the group of 77 (G-77, UN). But China has moved remarkably from the South, in several dimensions. First of all, China's economy, in terms of size, is the second largest in the world, and the economy grows very fast, probably as fast as Azerbaijan's. China also has great potential to develop itself. China's GDP is larger than India, Russia, South Africa, and Brazil put together, so some people, such as my friend in the United States, Graham Allison, say that China should forget about its identity as a BRICS country because China is too large. So if we describe Russia, India, Brazil and South Africa, it becomes RIBS rather than BRICS. Allison's idea is not very favorably received in China, of course, but he describes the fact that China's exports double the rest of the BRICS countries, China's currency reserves triple the rest, and China's carbon emissions double the rest. China's foreign currency reserves have reached three trillion US dollars, and it remains number one in the world. That is very remarkable. Many people who travel to China see the major cities and will say “well, China doesn't look like a developing country.” And China also suffers an aging problem because of the one child policy, which also differs remarkably from other developing countries – for instance India, Egypt, and Turkey. Their populations grow quite fast, but China has the aging phenomenon. That is to say that in some social dimensions, China is more like a developed country.

We also have differences in economic structure. Most developing countries depend on producing energy and other natural resources, while China depends on its manufacturing industries. We are an energy importer, and one of the biggest consumers of energy. And because of all of this, China's attitude towards the existing economic and political order has moved from its previous position of opposition to the international economic order to being a reformer, being a beneficiary of the international order.

Now the last part, which is about China's geostrategic strategy in Eurasia. If we look at the Eurasian area, at large, we have the United States still very relevant to events here, and then we have the European Union, India, Russia, Japan, and others. I want to emphasize that we do have greater tensions with Japan and the United States in Eastern Asia, but if we look at this part of the world, there is no danger in the near future of having conflict with any of the great powers, between China and other great powers.

Basically, these great powers are in harmony in Central Asia, the South Caucasus, and the Eurasian Continent. In Iran, relations with the US are improving, and that is to China's benefit. So, when I put forward the idea of going West, I have several purposes in mind; first, we should avoid confrontations in East Asia and look West for our energy supply and geo-economic gains, and we should seek cooperation with other great powers in Eurasia. I call it “rebalancing” because we balanced too far toward East Asia. The United States is rebalancing from the Middle East to East Asia, so I think we should move our focus somewhat from East Asia to this part of the world.

We also should develop China's own west. China's economic center of gravity is in the East Coast: Shanghai, Jiangsu, Fujian, and so on. The Western part of China is still somewhat underdeveloped. So it is important that we secure energy supplies without any doubt and that is why China put forward the idea of a New Silk Road Economic Zone, and also we should look at the corridors all the way from China to Europe and Africa, through Central Asia, the greater Middle East, and your region.

Finally, China has faced a very great task of counter terrorism, and we see troubles in some areas of China, especially Xinjiang. We should rethink some of our principles of foreign policy. The policy of non-interference is great, I think we should stick to that, but in practice, we should also do some research about other countries, we should look at the political situations in the Middle East. And that is one of the principal reasons for my being here, which is strengthening scholarly exchanges and enhancing mutual understanding between China and your country. And we should maintain balance in regional affairs – we don't want to take sides in any possible regional conflict. And finally, we should strengthen military and security ties for security reasons.

So my conclusion: China is a Eurasian power, and we should be a responsible power in Eurasia and the Caucasus, which are increasingly important for China's geostrategy for the reasons I just described. We should continue our domestic reform, because to become a full‐fledged market economy, we have a long way to go, and we should maintain our economic growth while looking after problems like climate change. Finally, we should remind ourselves that we are still developing, and we should remain modest and prudent in our relations in the region and toward the outside world at large.

Thank you very much.