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«China’s Assertive Behavior Part One: On “Core Interests” Michael D. Swaine (I am deeply indebted to Rachel Odell and Tan Weilu, Carnegie Junior ...»

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A: The Diaoyu Island and its affiliated islands have been China’s inherent territory since ancient times.” Edward Wong, “Chinese Military Seeks to Extend Its Naval Power,” New York Times, April 23, 2010.

Wong cites “an American official involved in China policy” as follows: “In March, Chinese officials told two visiting senior Obama administration officials, Jeffrey A. Bader and James B. Steinberg, that China would not tolerate any interference in the South China Sea, now part of China’s ‘core interest’ of sovereignty, said an American official involved in China policy. It was the first time the Chinese labeled the South China Sea a core interest, on par with Taiwan and Tibet, the official said.” For example, see “China tells U.S. that S. China Sea is ‘core interest’ in new policy,” Kyodo News, July 3, 2010, OSC JPP20100703969016; and John Pomfret, “U.S. takes a tougher tone with China,” Washington Post, July 30, 2010, A01.

“China Retracts Policy on S. China Sea, Tells U.S.,” Kyodo, October 22, 2010, OSC JPP20101022969102.

See Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State, Interview With Greg Sheridan of The Australian, Melbourne, Australia, November 8, 2010, available at http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2010/11/150671.htm. The transcript of the interview quotes Clinton as stating, “And when China first told us at a meeting of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue that they viewed the South China Sea as a core interest, I immediately responded and said we don’t agree with that.” The reporter then asked, “Was that Dai Bingguo that said that to you?” And Clinton replied, “Yes, yeah.

For example, see “Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Jiang Yu’s Regular Press Conference on September 21, 2010,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, September 21, 2010, available at http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/xwfw/s2510/2511/t756092.htm. In response to a specific question (“US officials said China once expressed that the South China Sea is its core interest. Please confirm.”), Jiang replied: “Each country has its own core interests. Issues concerning state sovereignty, territorial integrity and major development interests are significant to all countries. China believes the South China Sea issue is only the dispute of territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests between relevant countries rather than an issue between China and ASEAN, let alone a regional or international issue. It can only and must be settled through friendly consultations between both parties in a peaceful manner. Adhering to ‘putting aside disputes and seeking common development,’ we are always committed to proper settlement through bilateral consultations with relevant countries. The channel of communication is smooth.” John D. Banusiewicz, “Gates Receives, Accepts Invitation to Visit China,” American Forces Press Service, October 11, 2010, available at http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=61218; “China Retracts Policy on S. China Sea, Tells U.S.,” Kyodo News, October 22, 2010, OSC JPP20101022969102.

Hu stated, “Taiwan- and Tibet-related issues concern China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and they represent China’s core interests.” “Address by Chinese President Hu Jintao at a U.S.-China Business Community Luncheon on U.S.-China Relations,” Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, Washington, D.C., January 20, 2011, transcript by Federal News Service. See also Douglas H. Paal, “China and the United

Swaine, China Leadership Monitor, no. 34

States: Reining in Mutual Mistrust,” Asia Pacific Brief, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, January 31, 2010, available at http://www.carnegieendowment.org/publications/index.cfm?fa=view&id=42422.

Personal communication with senior U.S. officials. One should add that Beijing probably emphasized the importance of the South China Sea territorial issue to Chinese interests at the March 2010 meeting with Steinberg and Bader in order to deter Washington from raising the issue at the Hanoi meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), scheduled for the following July. If so, the Chinese clearly failed in that attempt, since the ARF meeting witnessed a largely U.S.-orchestrated discussion of the issue, and a clear U.S. attempt to increase its overall involvement in the controversy. This event will be discussed in greater detail in an upcoming CLM, as part of an analysis of Chinese behavior regarding maritime issues.

State Councilor Dai Bingguo, Remarks at Strategic and Economic Dialogue, “Concluding Joint Statements by Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan, Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner at the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (as released by the State Department),” Federal News Service, May 25, 2010; and Strategic and Economic Dialogue Opening Session, Remarks by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; President Hu Jintao; Vice-Premier Wang Qishan; Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner; State Councilor Dai, Great Hall of the People, Beijing, China, May 23, 2010, available at http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2010/05/142134.htm.

Personal communication, senior U.S. official.

For example, in the 2002 “Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea,” signed by all the claimants to South China Sea territories and waters (including China), the parties concerned undertook “to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea” See “Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea,” November 4, 2002, available at http://www.aseansec.org/13163.htm. A similar commitment to “negotiation [of the South China Sea dispute] according to international law” is also contained in the joint statement between China and Vietnam signed in 2008. See China-Viet Nam Joint Statement, Beijing, China, October 25, 2008, available at http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/wjb/zzjg/yzs/gjlb/2792/2793/t520438.htm.





For additional official affirmations of China’s desire to employ peaceful negotiations, talks, and consultations in addressing this issue, see “Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Jiang Yu’s Regular Press Conference on September 21, 2010,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, September 21, 2010, available at http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/xwfw/s2510/2511/t756092.htm; Yi Ling, “People’s Liberation Army Deputy Chief of General Staff Ma Xiaotian Reiterates China’s Stand on the South Sea Issue; China Protects Legitimate Navigation Freedom in the South Sea,” Xinhua, October 22, 2010, OSC CPP20101022163018; and “Chinese FM refutes fallacies on the South China Sea issue,” China Daily, July 25, 2010, available at http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2010-07/25/content_11046054.htm.

An October 2010 article in the South China Morning Post reported that the Chinese government had indeed privately included the Diaoyu Islands and South China Sea in its category of “core interests,” citing “diplomats familiar with the process.” PRC leaders allegedly “agreed in a meeting late last year to classify major foreign relations issues into two categories”: “core national interest” and “national interest.” See Cary Huang, “Diaoyus Row Marks Shift in Beijing’s Diplomatic Posture,” South China Morning Post Online, October 3, 2010, OSC CPP20101004715017. However, such a formulation, if it truly exists, has never been publicly articulated. More importantly, as explained in this CLM article, the specific issues of the Diaoyu Islands and the South China Sea have never been publicly identified by Chinese officials as core interests.

This issue will be discussed in greater detail in an upcoming CLM.

For example, see Wang Haiyun (vice president of Chinese Society for Study of the History of SinoRussian relations), “China Does Not have an ‘Anti-Intervention Strategy,” Dongfang Zaobao, October 12, 2010, OSC CPP20101018038001. Major General Wang (a former military attaché to Russia) largely agrees with the argument of these unofficial observers, stating: “The idea that ‘the South China Sea issue is a core interest for China’ has only been mentioned by individual Chinese scholars and has not been formally stated by high-level leaders; still less has it been written into national strategic reports or legal documents.” However, he then confuses the situation by adding: “The best explicit formulation is that ‘the question of South China Sea sovereignty involves China’s core interests,’ and to declare that even though it is an issue

Swaine, China Leadership Monitor, no. 34

involving China’s core interests, China advocates resolving it through peaceful and friendly consultation.” This seems like a distinction without much of a difference! In any event, Wang states that such a formulation “will not give the United States a pretext for attacking China, and [will]... reduce suspicion of China among countries around the South China Sea, and curb their irrational impulse to bring in external forces to put pressure on China.” In contrast, at least one other Chinese military officer has made a distinction between “core interests” and “important maritime interests,” placing Taiwan in the former category and the South China Sea in the latter. See “Major General Yin Zhuo, a Noted Military Expert, Comments on US-South Korean Military Exercises,” Renmin Wang, July 29, 2010, OSC CPP20100730787001.

See Chen Chenchen, “East Asian Unity Will Survive Rocky Waters,” interview with Su Hao, director of the Asia-Pacific Research Center, China Foreign Affairs University, Global Times Online, October 25, 2010, OSC CPP20101026722011. Su Hao states, “China has never said publicly that sovereignty in the South China Sea is one of China’s core interests. The concept has been hyped by the US to alienate China from its surrounding partners.” See also Wang Haiyun, “China Does Not have an ‘Anti-Intervention Strategy’,” Dongfang Zaobao, October 12, 2010, OSC CPP20101018038001. Wang accuses the United States of promoting a “false proposition” about China’s categorization of the South China Sea in order to “stir up anti-China feelings in the area and build a containment zone against China.” For example, see Da Wei, “Why Should China Declare Its Core Interests?” Huanqiu Shibao, July 28, 2010, OSC CPP20100729788013. Da warns against overasserting “core interests” or misinterpreting the meaning of the term, especially since every state has core interests and asserting them can be not only defensive (when other countries are infringing on one’s interests) but also offensive (when national strength is rising). Colonel Han Xudong of NDU argues that China should not declare its specific “core interests” at the present time because: a) China does not have the capability to militarily defend all of them; and b) it detracts from a focus on other non-core but still important interests. Han argues that China’s core interests should be announced in “batches” as China’s strength grows—hardly a reassuring thought to many foreign observers. See Han Xudong, “Prudent To Use Core National Interests,” Liaowang, no. 30, July 26, 2010, p.

64, OSC CPP20100729788017.

See endnotes 32, 52, and 54.

For example, see “A National Security Strategy for A New Century,” the White House, December 1999, pp. 1–2, available at http://www.fas.org/man/docs/nssr-1299.pdf. This Clinton administration document identified three levels of “national interest”: “vital interests,” “important national interests,” and “humanitarian and other interests.”



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