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Shifting dynamics in China-US foreign policy


2011 WILL BE an important year in the calendar of geopolitics with a new look Sino-US foreign policy and global diplomacy, one that focuses more on high key issues in the power relationship.

An important phenomenon is the rising prominence of PNG in geopolitics given its geostrategic-economic importance in energy resources.

It is worth elucidating the dynamics of structural power relations for ordinary Papua New Guineans to understand how states interact in the changing pattern of world politics.

A question worth positing is: how can PNG rationally position itself in the thin red line between the US and the phenomenal peaceful rising China in the east.

The year 2011 is said by the Chinese Foreign Minister to be the year of summit diplomacy, rekindling a shifting dynamics of her foreign policy and global diplomacy, in which China will play an active role as a responsible actor in the international community in resolving global issues concerning economic globalization and strategic interactions.

Meanwhile, the late recent high level state visit to US by Chinese President, Hu Jintao, appears to be a manifestation of a normal diplomatic process of appeasement eloquently engraving a positive trajectory.

In an interesting sense, by way of content intelligence, one could calculate the constellation of security dilemma propelled by relatively increasing fear and mistrust by US with the rising preponderant power in the east.

The exposition in this structural power relation sounds conflicting with China’s growing peaceful influence in global affairs. This is evidently consistent with Hillary Clinton’s late recent strategic concern over China’s growing peaceful engagement in US Pacific backyard.

Through the lens of strategic calculus, it seems obvious now with Clinton strongly voicing shifting high budget priority in real-politico than low-politico issues such as humanitarian schemes. US is extremely unsettled with Chinese growing peaceful influence in Pacific, especially in PNG, Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Tonga.

Interestingly significant, PNG has now been given high prominence and is equated as one of the key economic players in geopolitics of energy with Clinton’s high level state visit in 2010 and its eminence in U.S Congress last month.

Clinton has relentlessly observed and mirrored geostrategic-economic essence of PNG given its abundance of energy resources. PNG will become one of U.S core interests in its foreign policy as far as shifting dynamics in real-politics is concerned.

The Pacific theatre will regain international posture as one of the strategic interaction playing grounds. What we are witnessing now is well articulated by Michael Clare, US defence analyst, in his new book entitled: Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet, a competition between big and rising powers over world’s remaining energy resources. It is obvious that the stake is high. U.S foreign policy, by the assessment of Clinton’s tone, will be one of a strategic choice combining strategy of containment and a revisit of Eisenhower’s and Carter’s Doctrines.

The strategic motive and intent of U.S is clear: containing China’s peaceful access to energy sources and securing and protecting energy source sites and routes against potential adversaries. This strategy may cause tension with China and position PNG in an awkward situation, therefore, a constructive engagement strategy is strategically imperative to ensure cooperation.

Given the constellation of this new emerging security conundrum in the 21st century in the region, a major strategic reconfiguration and realignment in military structures and doctrines and alliances are also shaping strategic policy options.

The Bush’s Pacific Year reinforced by Obama’s regime, and Australia’s and New Zealand’s defence realignments with an objective to reconstruct a defensive and offensive system against China and other potential threats will be the strategic maneuvering focus in consistent with U.S core interest. Engaging China in strategic cooperation is a win-win situation for all actors concerned.

Clinton’s strategic concern in the Congress concerning PNG and Pacific region, barks at time when PNG is on air with China in a move to secure a partnership in the high impact LNG project. Although China argues its position is purely on energy security than dollar diplomacy, US on the other hand calculates it otherwise.

The US sees China’s bid as a strategic competition. The more China gain relatively, the more it poses a threat to US hegemonic leadership - relative gains matters in U.S foreign policy. US should see China as an important partner in energy cooperation.

Intrinsically, China strongly supports a multi-polar world with an equal playing field. Although, it still respects U.S global leadership, China is more concerned with persistent asymmetrical structural power relationship. China believes in a harmonious and peaceful coexistence in the international system premised on five norms and principles of her foreign policy.

With respect to the disposition of global competition, China strongly discourages discriminatory competition and calls for an equal playing field and articulates that US plays an accommodating role for developing countries in international relations. A win-win diplomacy without “upsetting the rules of the great power game” is the bedrock of Chinese smart soft power diplomacy, an approach coined by US leading neo-liberalist scholar, Prof Joseph Nye.

Given the magnitude of dramatically shifting dynamics of Sino-US foreign policy and global diplomacy, PNG must play a smart diplomacy to rationally position itself in the organizing logic of great power game. The coming 2011 APEC Summit in Hawaii is highly crucial for PNG to seize the opportunity to pursue its national interest by maneuvering the game.

China aims to achieve a win-win situation through the summit diplomacy (means using the G20, APEC, Shanghai cooperation, BRIC and other summits to pursue its interest). This is the opportunity wherein PNG could negotiate an absolute gain package. China strongly encourages a win-win situation between U.S and PNG. A zero-sum game will not be in the best interest of all parties.

More critically, PNG should play a neutral diplomacy to avoid tension between China and U.S. which could jeopardize the trilateral relations. PNG’s role in energy diplomacy has the propensity to construct a miscalculation of tension and conflict in the region. Energy diplomacy between China and U.S must be handled with great cautiousness. PNG as a neutral source partner should treat both as equally important partners through mutual cooperation to avoid future conflict.

The LNG project has greater significance than most pessimists in PNG would critically think otherwise without having a concrete knowledge of its dynamics at international political and economic playing field. The LNG projects anchored by the National Alliance Coalition Government has strategically position PNG among conventional key economic players such as the Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Libya, Venezuela, and others in the global market economy.

In essence, the LNG project could be used as a political leverage to influence policy outcomes in the global market economy. PNG could project a middle power status in the region as long as it plays smart diplomacy between US and China. What it can do is to pursue a positive-zero-sum game within the framework of energy cooperation to build and enhance strategic capability as it gain grounds in economic sphere.

The LNG project has the potential to develop a highly sustainable modern defensive military force with land, air and maritime power to safeguard economic, border and maritime interests. Security (both conventional and non-conventional) will become a growing need as PNG navigates into uncertain and hostile theatres, especially in international responsibilities under the blue beret and internal and regional non-conventional security challenges.

With increasingly important role which PNG will have to play in the new geopolitics of energy, what it also needs is an intelligent core group of Sino-U.S foreign policy specialists in analyzing and providing thoughtful, quality and timely informative policy options in pursuing its national interest in global diplomacy.

PNG needs smart thinkers with adequate knowledge and skills in current shift in international relations. In sum, cooperative diplomacy should be pursued by all parties to ensure a win-win situation.

The author is a Papua New Guinean currently studying for a Master of Arts in International Relations at the Institute of International Studies, Jilin University, China. Email address: [email protected]. Note: The views expressed here are part of author’s scholarly work and do not necessarily represent any organisation or person.


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Ako Wanpis

Well-researched. Another advice the government can't shelve away to collect dust.

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