National interests are a concept, vital to the sphere of foreign policy. China’s core national interests include the defense of its sovereignty, national security, and the integrity of its territory, the reunification of the nation, the maintenance of the current political system, social stability, and social and economic development. Despite having declared the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, which regulates foreign relations, China relies primarily on its national interests and acts according to them if they contradict the Five Principles in a particular situation. The core national interests of China have a direct influence on the international relations of this country.
The definition of national interests
Before examining the influence of China’s primary national interests on its regional relations, it is necessary to define what exactly national interests are.
National interests are the main point in international relations. The primary reason for the world’s governments to have relations with other governments is the need to fulfill their national interests. National interests are the foundation of the foreign policy, and the goals of this policy are shaped by them. Additionally, governments use the concept of national interests to justify their actions.
The term “national interests” is used to identify a long-term goal or goals, which a government considers its main task to fulfill. Also, this term means the issues vital to a country’s security. Politicians often use this term for naming the parts of other governments, which, as they suppose, need to be taken by their own government. In general, “national interests” mean a set of goals and values that need to be protected and advocated by a nation in relations with other nations in order to survive and flourish (Dinesh International Politics 2015, para. 1-12).
The national interests of China
The core national interests of China mostly belong to six categories: 1) the sovereignty of the state; 3) national security; 3) the integrity of China’s territory; 4) the reunification of the nation; 5) the preservation of the political system created by the current Constitution and the maintenance of social stability; 6) securing a sufficient level of social and economic development. These primary interests interact and influence each other and have a direct and strong effect on China’s international relations (Zhaokui 2014, para. 1).
China’s national interests are in some considerable part shaped by its geographic location. China (including the territories under its jurisdiction) borders fourteen countries. Because of its vast exit to the ocean, China has a high number of maritime possessions. It creates a possibility for the appearance of territorial disputes. For the reason of national interests, participation in territorial disputes is necessary for China.
In some cases, the national interests mentioned above overlap or even contradict. For instance, China’s territorial disputes with the neighboring countries relate to both integrity of China’s territory (since a part of its territory, as the Chinese government considers, was taken away) and the security of the nation (since the nation has been divided by such acts), as well state sovereignty (since taking territory from China is a negligence to China’s sovereignty). As an example of the contradiction of different national interests, political tensions and military conflicts with other nations, which arise from a territorial dispute, are, on the one hand, consistent with the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, but they contradict the principles of social stability (since such situations put the people of China danger because of a conflict) and economic development (since a war hinders economic progress).
Another serious contradiction is the one between Chinese national interests and the official principles of foreign policy. An optimistic view exists that China rejects the rivalry model of foreign relations and tends to promote peaceful cooperation (Goldstein 2007, 641). At a 2014 Asian summit, Xi Jinping stated that the countries of Asia share the same destiny and, therefore, have to maintain peaceful and mutually beneficial relations (Jinping 2014). According to the claims of the Chinese government, its foreign policy, mainly the Asian one, derives from the prominent Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. These principles emerged as a 1954 Indo-Chinese treaty signed by Zhou Enlai from the Chinese side and Jawaharlal Nehru from the Indian side.
Later, these principles have become the defining principles of Chinese foreign policy. The Five Principles require: 1) respect of the sides for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty; 2) no aggression towards each other; 3) no interference in the internal affairs of the other side; 4) mutual benefit and equality; 5) peaceful coexistence. At a glance, the Five Principles seem consistent with China’s national interest, especially the first principle. However, if China and another country both consider some territory theirs, each side will be acting according to its national interests and accuse the other side of breaking the rules of peaceful coexistence. A further analysis of Chinese international relations proves that China follows its national interests rather than the Five Principles.
The influence of Chinese core national interests on its regional relations
Chinese national interests are translated into its regional policy. The disputes with Japan, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines over the territories in the South and East China Seas, similarly to the dispute with South Korea over the demarcation of maritime territory in the East China Sea, are manifestations of its principles of territorial integrity, national security, and state sovereignty. To protect its national interests related to the control over territories, China may use both military methods, as in counterattack at the Indian border in 1962, and peaceful methods, as in signing a border treaty with Russia in 1999.
A dispute with Japan over the control over the Diaoyu Islands is a remarkable example of China’s defense of its national interests in both military and diplomatic ways. The issue of Diaoyu islands not only touches the mentioned six categories of the core national principles, but it can also be put into the category of China’s core regional interests since it has created a serious confrontation in the region, which is a threat to all China’s interests.
Since the USA have a serious influence on the policy of the region, the relations with them need to be discussed as well. The relations between China and the United States are shaped in the following way. Since the USA are politically and militarily strong, conflicts with them are unwanted, whereas a deep collaboration, including the military one, is a major goal. Additionally, the USA is an important trading partner. By securing an alliance with the USA, China defends its national interests, particularly national security and economic stability (Johnson 2014, 18-19). Moreover, in 2014, Wang Yi, the foreign minister of China, spoke in his briefing about the relations with the USA and mentioned: “respect for each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, social system and development path, and core interests and concerns” (Johnson 2014, 19).
To defend and promote its national interests in the region, China adjusts its policy according to the requirements of the current political and economic situation in the world. As Alastair Johnston indicates, today China is more integrated into the global economic system than ever before in its history (2003, 5). China’s membership in international organizations has increased dramatically over the past few decades (Johnston 2003, 13). The country has also become an active promoter of peacekeeping measures within the activity of the United Nations Organization (Gill & Huang 2006, 22). It means that nowadays national security and economic stability, as well as the other core interests, require active participation and collaboration in the global political and economic initiatives.
Strategic partnership in Russia is directly influenced by China’s national interests. Russia is a valuable military partner, as well as one of the regional leaders. The alliance between the two states emerged in defense against the spread of domination of the US in East Asia; thus, these states united to protect their national interests. Additionally, the national security of China required that it purchased weapons from Russia (Goldstein 2005, 136-137).
The relations between China and Taiwan are strongly influenced by China’s efforts to maintain security and stability. It is a dialectic process. On the one hand, China considers Taiwan it’s part and needs to defend its own territorial integrity while the separation of Taiwan is a breach of this integrity. On the other hand, the economic development and stability of China require that the government maintain peaceful relations and promote commercial ties with the neighboring countries (Goldstein 2007, 670).
National interests have a serious value for foreign relations. China’s core national interests are related to its sovereignty, stability, and territorial integrity. It is these principles rather than the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence that shape Chinese foreign policy and dictate the methods that the government has to use in international relations.
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