In 2013, new developments suggested that major changes were afoot. Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated in September 2013, that the periphery had become the “priority direction” (youxian fangxiang) for foreign relations work. A month later, the Central Committee held an unprecedented Central Work Forum on Diplomacy to the Periphery to review policy towards countries on the periphery. Xinhua highlighted appropriate policy changes at the start of 2014 and Xi Jinping listed the periphery first when he outlined guidance in the format of the general framework at the recently concluded Central Work Conference on Foreign Relations.
As with the most important changes to the party’s directives, the main drivers are assessments of long-term economic and geo-political trends. Beijing recognizes that the region is increasingly vital to China’s future. China’s Vice Foreign Minister stated in April that the country’s trade with East and Southeast Asia totaled “$1.4 trillion, more than China’s trade with the United States and European Union combined.” He noted “half of China’s top ten trade partners are in Asia,” and that 70 percent of its outbound investment is in Asia. The trend towards regional integration will likely continue. The IMF judges that the Asia-Pacific region remains best poised to drive future global growth if it implements structural reform and infrastructure investment. PRC leaders seek to achieve this potential through the Silk Road, Maritime Silk Road, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and other initiatives.
Moreover, China realizes it must secure its geostrategic flanks to prepare the country’s ascent into the upper echelons of global power. Chinese leaders are deeply aware of historical precedents in which aspirants to regional dominance in Asia and Europe fell victim to wars kicked off by clashes involving neighboring powers. The persistence of disputes and flashpoints in the East and South China Seas makes this danger vividly real for Chinese policymakers. Finding ways to consolidate China’s influence and weaken potentially threats, such as the U.S. alliance system, offers for China hope of greater security. In the words of Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin, the “imbalance between Asia’s political security and economic development has become an increasingly prominent issue.” China’s proposal to create an Asian “community of shared destiny” aims to resolve this imbalance.
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