Diluting Rivalries between Great Powers

Since  China  is  one  of  the  main  major  powers  in  the  Indo-Pacific, understanding its interests is a significant part of finding options for cooperation in the region. Therefore, one of the initial steps is to understand what are considered as “core  interests”  for  China.  While  there  are  arguments  that  the definition of China’s core interests is still vague, there have  been  several  hints  from  its  government.  According  to  China’s official document “China’s Peaceful Development” in  2011,  there  are  several  core  interests  upheld  by  China  including  “...  state  sovereignty,  national  security,  territorial  integrity and national reunification, China’s political system established  by  the  Constitution  and  overall  social  stability,  and the basic safeguards for ensuring sustainable economic and  social  development”. These  points  were  then  emphasized in article 2 of China's national security law in 2015 that identified the country’s core interests as the political regime, sovereignty,  territorial  integrity,  people’s  livelihoods,  sustainable economic developments and other major interests.

It is quite clear that China’s core interests are closely related to the government regime, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and sustainable economic development. The first two main interests seem to be unarguable. First, China’s governmental regime is closely related to ideological elements that cannot be negotiated, even for the purpose of cooperation. Second, China’s territorial integrity is also difficult to compromise. The discussion about China’s territorial integrity is practically inseparable from its territorial claims, such as the South China Sea and Taiwan. In this case, Taiwan is a very sensitive  issue  for  China.  Any  attempt  that  has  ill  intention  from  China’s  perspective  will  only  worsen  the  problem. Further, from the prolonged disputes and failed arbitration, it is safe to say that China will not back down from its claim over the South China Sea. This is not to say that the dispute is to be left as it is. Nevertheless, conflict management or efforts to keep the dispute from turning into an open armed conflict can be considered as a more viable option than conflict or dispute resolution.

China’s interests in economic development are perhaps the most suitable basis for cooperation, as the country still pays significant attention to this factor. An example is China’s endorsement  of  regional  economic  cooperation,  such  as  the  Regional  Comprehensive  Economic  Partnership  (RCEP). Furthermore,  China  continues  to  implement  the  Belt  and  Road Initiative (BRI) to develop cooperation in order to boost people-to-people connectivity, finance, trade and infrastructure,  building  a  new  platform  for  international  cooperation  and creating new drivers of shared development.[1] Through BRI,  China  has  tried  to  create  a  hospitable  environment  for  its  economic  activities.[2]  Thus,  it  is  clear  that  China’s  economic  development  interests  are  probably  the  most  open and most suitable basis for building the cooperation that is urgently needed to properly shape a cooperative, rather than conflictual, atmosphere in the Indo-Pacific.

[1] Suisheng Zhao, „China’s Belt-Road Initiative as the Signature of President Xi Jinping Diplomacy: Easier Said than Done“, Journal of Contemporary China (2019): S. 4, DOI: 10.1080/10670564.2019.1645 4 83.
[2] Hideo Ohashi, „The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the context of China’s opening-up policy“, Journal of Contemporary East Asia Studies (2018): S. 7, DOI: 10.1080/24761028.2018.1564615