Policy Alert: Asian Powers Discuss Their Foreign Policies Post Regional Summits
Following the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing two weeks ago, world leaders participated in a number of multilateral forums, including the East Asia Summit in Naypyidaw, Myanmar and the G-20 in Brisbane, Australia, as well as bilateral and trilateral meetings with allies and partners. The leaders sought to expand their interests and influence in the region as they discussed issues ranging from regional economic integration to international security. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from Russia, China, India, and Japan on the implications of this summit diplomacy for the regional order.
Russian President Vladimir Putin left the G20 meeting early in response to repeated criticism from Western leaders over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine. Putin said his decision to fly home had nothing to do with tensions over Ukraine and cited a need to catch up on sleep before returning to work. The majority of Russian media was supportive of Putin, praising him for defending Russia’s national interests.
- At a forum of the All-Russia Peoples’ Front in Moscow, Putin reflected on the outcomes of the G20, stating that the U.S. has no plans to humiliate Russia, but instead wants to subdue it. Put added that “throughout history no one has ever managed to [subdue] Russia-and no one ever will.”
- Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev responded to the West’s criticism of Russia at the G20, calling U.S. President Barack Obama a “lame duck…who decided to throw accusations at Russia…I thought better of him.”
- Political commentator Georgy Satarov, a former political adviser to the late Russian President Boris Yeltson, said Putin had deliberately snubbed the West by leaving the G20 summit early. “I think that in this case the sign was that Putin plans to behave in Ukraine as he thinks is necessary, not as the G20 leaders expect him to.”
- “Whether or not Obama or Putin emerged on top from the G20 summit in Brisbane and an Asia-Pacific summit the week before, one thing seems clear: anyone who thought the Russian leader would soon blink over Ukraine was wrong,” wrote the Moscow Times.
- Dmitry Areshkin, a Moscow political scientist and member of Putin’s Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, wrote that it is becoming “ever more obvious that Russia lacks the resources to confront the West.” Moreover, Areshkin noted that Putin has thus far followed a strategy of “raising the stakes and constant bluff” in order to get his way with the West. But “now the West has given him to understand that it sees his bluff and does not intend to fall for it.”
Chinese media credited the success of the APEC forum held early November in Beijing, as setting the stage for what it deemed a successful G20 summit. China will host the 2016 G20 summit.
- “The success of the 2014 APEC forum…in Beijing has laid a solid foundation for greater achievements in Brisbane. The development of a new type of great power relations between China and the U.S. has also created a favorable scenario for the accomplishments at the G20 summit this year,” wrote Liu Zongyi, research fellow at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.
- “Some Western media hold a negative attitude towards the ongoing G20 summit. But a simple glance back at the just-concluded Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Beijing, which achieved huge success with the joint efforts of China and its partners, shows how absurd such pessimism is. By promoting the spirit of cooperation and solving some disputes, the Beijing APEC brings hope and sets a brilliant example to the G20 summit,” said the China Daily.
- The Global Times characterized the G20 summit as having “run off the rails” due to the public’s focus on the rivalry between the West and Russia. The editorial claimed that the China-hosted APEC meetings were much more successful because, “First, China has the determination and responsibility to hold successful international conferences. Second, it is powerful enough to exert an influence on all parties. It will not act as a stage for any of these countries to play out their rivalries. Third, China is a powerful mediator. It has maintained robust relations with both developing and developed countries; therein lies its advantage.”
Following the G20 summit, Chinese president Xi Jinping embarked on a state visit to Australia, where the two countries completed negotiations on a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) and raised their relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership.
- The FTA, due to be formally signed next year, will mean that 95 per cent of Australian exports to China will be tariff-free. Australia, in return, will eliminate tariffs on imports from China.
- State-run news agency Xinhua noted that President Xi’s just-concluded trip to Australia demonstrates a “new pattern of diplomacy that features increasing soft elements and a down-to-earth manner” and praised the two countries for entering “a new era of mutually beneficial interaction.”
- Addressing the Australian Federal Parliament, President Xi likened his country to a “big guy in the crowd.” “Others will naturally wonder how the big guy will move and act, and be concerned that the big guy may push them around, stand in their way or take up their space,” he said. The Chinese president dismissed those concerns, vowing that China remains “unshakable in its resolve to pursue peaceful and common development, and to promote cooperation and development in the Asia-Pacific.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a series of summits with leaders from ASEAN, Australia, and Fiji to make progress on a variety of issues from free trade negotiations to visa liberalization to security cooperation. Indian commentators discussed the successes of India’s new Asia policy called “Act East,” focusing particularly on the India-Australia relationship.
- The Hindustan Times succinctly posited the reasons for strengthening the India-Australia ties: “New Delhi is interested in Australia’s natural resource exports while Canberra is alert to the promise of India’s vast market for its services. Both countries see themselves as Indian Ocean powers, they are interested in the emerging power-balance in the Asia-Pacific and watch the rise of China with a measure of fascinated ambivalence.”
- The Pioneer hailed that India-Australia security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, including regular ministerial meetings and maritime exercises, “can be a game changer” in the region where tensions and conflicts are emerging due to China’s rise.
- While the previous administration “had set voluntary limits to India’s defense diplomacy in the East by deferring to presumed Chinese sensitivities…Modi’s Delhi is willing to do what it thinks is right for India without second-guessing Beijing’s reaction,” explained C. Raja Mohan, a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.
- The Hindustan Times took a more benign view that India-Australia security ties are “by no means a zero-sum arrangement” since Australia has just signed a free trade deal worth of $131 billion with China. “[B]ut it does show a willingness by Canberra and New Delhi to be clearheaded and unapologetic about exploring strategic convergences with like-minded powers.”
- In an op-ed titled “Not So Easy to Act East,” Mohan argued that “Delhi has much to do before its Act East policy gains credibility in Asia.” He noted that “it is by no means clear if the ministry of defense is really prepared for a significant intensification of India’s military partnerships in Asia” as Delhi has not yet agreed on trilateral security cooperation with Australia and Japan.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held a trilateral summit with Australian counterpart Tony Abbott and American counterpart President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Brisbane.
- In a joint statement, the three leaders expressed their commitment to “ensure a peaceful, stable, and prosperous future for the Asia-Pacific region” based on shared values such as democracy and open economies, the rule of law, and the peaceful resolution of disputes.
- Australia and Japan also agreed to jointly develop military equipment, including next-generation submarines.
Japanese newspapers discussed the strengthening of the trilateral security cooperation in light of China’s rise.
- “This is serious,” a Japanese government official in charge of national security said in reaction to the Japan-Australia submarine agreement. “It lays all the cards on the table and ties the fate of our security situations as a group.”
- “Considering the high-level of secrecy surrounding submarines, providing technologies implies Japan and the U.S. place full trust in Australia, and are ready to become its closest allies,” posited the Nikkei Shimbun.
- “Following technical cooperation in submarines, Japan, the U.S. and Australia will likely start working together in the operational arena,” said Satoshi Morimoto a former defense minister under the Yoshihiko Noda administration. “Australia will be in charge of the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, [while] Japan will mainly handle the East China Sea. With the U.S. participating in and leading trilateral cooperation, it will be possible to effectively respond to movements of Chinese submarines.”
- The Yomiuri Shimbun argued that Japan-Australia defense cooperation, as part of President Obama’s “rebalance” policy, “will be effective in checking China’s self-righteous advances in the East and South China seas and North Korea’s military provocations.”
- The Sankei Shimbun agreed, claiming that trilateral security cooperation “should be at the center” of the “rebalance” policy, as President Obama reiterated his commitment to that policy in Brisbane, saying that “American leadership in the Asia Pacific will always be a fundamental focus of my foreign policy.”