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Minhtran asked: What is the likelihood of China re-adjusting its policy towards the disputes in East and South China Seas as the next generation of leaders come into power? What could be the likely trend?

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  • Jagannath P. Panda replies: The dispute over East China Sea and South China Sea are vital issues in China’s national security interests and thereby in its foreign policy practice. The way China decides to handle the disputes in South China Sea and East China Sea will largely determine its strategic posture in the neighbourhood region, and more vitally, its international image in future. Even if there are new generation leaders coming to power in China, it is most unlikely that China will really relax its position or claim in brining any major modification in its strategic posture towards the conflicting issues like South China Sea and East China Sea. History suggests that China does take the conflicting security issues seriously and does not normally compromise on territorial and sovereignty issues linked to its national interests.

    Xi Jinping and Le Keqiang are no different from the outgoing leaders Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao; especially when it comes to China’s foreign policy practice. China would most probably continue to maintain its strong and rigid posture over South China and East China Sea. Yet, there may be minor ‘re-adjustment’ in showing some restraint over its ‘aggressiveness’ on the issues, because both Southeast and East Asia are vital priority neighbouring regions in Chinese foreign policy practice and politics. Despite these conflicts, China has always preferred to usually maintain good relations with the smaller and bigger countries in these regions, and China’s healthy trade and commercial contacts with these regions are strong examples of this. Besides, the Chinese leaders don’t want to loose out the economic advantages these regions may offer to China in future, especially when the Chinese economy is number two in the world, and on the ascendancy.

    However, the recent Chinese ‘assertiveness’ over these conflicting issues has severely affected China’s overall relations with the regions and countries concerned. Chinese leaders are realising that if they continue to pursue an ‘aggressive’ posture on both these issues; not only there will be a huge setback to China’s ‘peaceful rise’ conjecture in the neighbourhood region, and in due course affect China’s trade and economic contacts; but also it will be conducive for the USA to persuade smaller and bigger powers in the region to its fold. This will be against China’s strategic interests when the Americans are constantly searching for new partners in the region under their new strategic focus on Asia vis-à-vis Asia-Pacific. In short, China will not relax its position or compromise in its claim over the South China and East China Sea; but may show some restrain over its ‘assertiveness’ in coming times.