China's Peace Diplomacy

Last week at The Nixon Center, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, Zhou Wenzhong, emphasized that Beijing’s rise would be peaceful. But will harmony prevail on issues like Taiwan, Tibet and Iran’s nuclear program?

On November 6, the Nixon Center hosted a dinner with China's ambassador to the United States, Zhou Wenzhong. Having recently returned from the 17th Party Congress in Beijing, where China's leading politicians air future strategy and personnel appointments, Ambassador Zhou shared his impressions of the path the new leadership will follow. Future Chinese policy will promote cooperation, harmony and respect for differences. International affairs are not about posturing but about dialogue and diplomatic cooperation, regardless of the country. When answering questions posed by the audience, Ambassador Zhou consistently returned to this broad, core stance.

Ambassador Zhou outlined the central ideas behind China's plan for a peaceful rise. Internationally, China will continue to expand, increasing growth and foreign trade and encouraging "mutually beneficial cooperation" with the world. Underpinning this growth is a "conservation culture", a term used for the first time at this party congress.

China, Ambassador Zhou noted, recognizes the impact its growth can have on the environment and is doing what it can to help, cutting energy use and pollutant emissions, for example. But he also stressed that all countries must pull their own weight. All have a common responsibility to act and work together. In fact, in response to a question about the environmental consequences of China's reliance on the auto industry, Ambassador Zhou turned the spotlight on U.S. policy, saying if "you want us to do something, you have to do something first."

Above all, as Ambassador Zhou stressed to his audience of press, opinion- and policymakers and corporate representatives, China's development will continue to be peaceful. "China cannot develop in isolation from the rest of the world", the ambassador stated. And the rest of the world needs China, too. "China will never seek hegemony" and will remain "a staunch force safeguarding world peace."

This means that China acknowledges differences and encourages dialogue amongst all nations. In light of this focus, the audience posed questions about some of China's more difficult relationships.

Take Iran. Ambassador Zhou noted that China has the same goal as the rest of the world: preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. But, other countries, the United States in particular, do not even want Iran to develop the capacity to enrich uranium. China, as clarified by Ambassador Zhou, urges Iran to cease uranium enrichment but does respect the country's right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Surface harmony exists. But China's stance on this matter has been seen as a stop gap to progress. One issue of contention is the use of sanctions. China feels they should be suspended while the United States, and others, think they should be intensified. Restating the party congress's core policies, Ambassador Zhou believes agreement on this issue will come if talks remain open. His suggestion: The time has not come to give up hope-let's give diplomacy a chance.

Tibet is another hot issue. As the moderator Drew Thompson, Director of China Studies at the Nixon Center, has noted, the current Dalai Lama is the best chance Beijing has at settlement. The Dalai Lama has stated that Tibet is part of China. He remains open to negotiation and enjoys legitimacy amongst world leaders and exiled and Chinese Tibetans. His successor will not likely be similarly regarded, making agreement nearly impossible.

Zhou offered a nuanced assessment of the situation. The Chinese government has so far had six meetings with the Tibetan leader. But China views the Dalai Lama's plan for a "greater Tibet", an ethnic union, as disguised independence.

Dialogue is open, then, but the ball is in the Dalai Lama's court. Once he stops advocating independence, the Chinese government is ready to talk.

The question of Taiwan and whether the United States' stance on the matter has "improved" since President Bush first took office in 2001 produced the most extensive response from the ambassador.

Taiwan has long been at the center of the Sino-U.S. relationship, he noted. There will only be progress on the issue, however, when the United States returns to the "One China" policy as China defines it; when the United States recognizes that Taiwan is part of the mainland, for example. Ambassador Zhou stated that weapons sales to Taiwan, visits of Taiwan's senior leaders to the United States and support for the referendum to join the UN using the name "Taiwan" are all unacceptable. After outlining these strong stances, Ambassador Zhou echoed the party congress's report, stressing that all of China's policies toward Taiwan will remain peaceful.

Certainly, many of China's positions affect the United States. The two countries hold many common interests abroad. So is there a possibility for these two nations to work together?

Right now, China's main focus, Ambassador Zhou said, is domestic sustainable economic development. But, China does need a "peaceful environment" in which to modernize. To achieve this, China will respect a diversity of opinions and cooperate with all countries.

On all international political issues, the Ambassador stressed that give and take must exist. There is no need to agree on the minutia and there are ample opportunities for compromise and to learn from others.

So yes, cooperation with the United States is possible.