- Mon, 09/26/2011 - 12:00
Friday, 23 September 2011
By Fatih Agil, JTW
USAK Asia-Pacific Expert Associate Professor Selcuk Colakoglu answered our questions regarding the People’s Republic of China, the Arab Spring’s influence over it, The White Book recently published by its government, and so on.
Fatih Agil: Do you think that China wants to establish an organization similar to the European Union through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)? How do you evaluate Turkey’s demand to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization?
Selcuk Colakoglu: China’s main purpose in establishing the SCO was at first, starting with the Shanghai Five, to guarantee the security of borders and to prevent newly independent Central Asian countries from becoming bases of opposition movements against China, especially its Xinjiang region. So the security dimension and trying to make these countries develop their foreign policies in a way that kept them on good terms with China were priorities.
For that purpose, the Shanghai Five was established in 1996. China included Russia in this process because it realized that it’s impossible to make agreements with former Soviet Republics without Russia’s consent. The Shanghai Five proceeded successfully from 1996 to 2001, and in June 2001 it transformed itself into the SCO with the inclusion of Uzbekistan, which doesn’t share a border with China. After 9/11, U.S. bases in Afghanistan under the NATO umbrella created a third power in the region that was previously monopolized by China and Russia. In this process, Russia and China cooperated within the framework of the SCO and prevented the U.S. from gaining more power in the region. When we look at the recent picture, especially after the Andijan incident in Uzbekistan in 2005, we see that U.S. influence cannot be spread in Central Asia despite the change of power in Kyrgyzstan. Meanwhile, China started to become politically and economically stronger both in the region and the world, and became prominent in the SCO. Russia began to feel uneasy about the SCO’s expansion and its turning into a tool of Chinese influence.
It seems that this organization will maintain its presence, but how much will it expand or move toward becoming similar to the EU? In this respect, there are serious doubts. Because we know that the EU is also an organization of values such as democracy, human rights, free market economy, etc. These specific standards don’t exist in any international organization. In this regard, it doesn’t seem as though the SCO will turn into an EU-style Eurasian Union.
Regarding Turkey’s accession, Ankara repeatedly conveyed its demand for accession to its interlocutor, but neither Russia nor China want a strong state to enter their area of influence. Similarly to India, Pakistan, and Iran, which are given observer state status, it doesn’t seem possible to join the SCO in the foreseeable future. So we shouldn’t expect new members in the SCO except Mongolia, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan.
Fatih Agil: What are the possible effects of the Arab Spring on the Chinese people, since the Chinese Communist Party has been in power for 60 years? May China experience situations similar to the Middle East?
Selçuk Colakoglu: The Arab Spring was greeted with apprehension by the Chinese Communist Party. On this issue, the CCP tried to develop new strategies because China is a country sensitive about the change of power by social movements. The 1989 Tiananmen incidents, the effects of which were felt for many years, were especially very traumatic for China. After the 1989 Tiananmen incidents, China chose a statist policy instead of political freedom and thus gave importance to economic reforms and economic development. It gave great importance to the development of social rights in some areas and succeeded in some of them, but remained ill-disposed toward a multi-party system or pluralistic democracy. So today, China still stands aloof from social movements. To overcome the effects of the Arab Spring, China began to propagate that the CCP is democratic in itself since all decisions are made after consultations, etc. The CCP tried to consolidate this thesis by saying that many people are involved in the decision-making process, 5% of the population is a member of the CCP, etc. At the same time democracy being consolidated in Taiwan since the 1990s, put pressure on China. After 2008, by beginning mutual direct flights and abolishing visa requirements, many Chinese travelers from Mainland China began to visit Taiwan. When they saw that democracy and pluralism were consolidated in a society similar to theirs, they were surprised. That’s why the Arab Spring is so disturbing to the CCP.
Fatih Agil: The Chinese government has recently published The White Book. First printed in 2005, this second edition mentions the “peaceful rise” thesis. What is your comment on that?
Selcuk Colakoglu: China’s “peaceful rise” thesis is similar to Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy. Before China, Turkey pursued a policy of expanding its capacity through economic development and deferring unresolved political problems in this process. Similarly, China’s political power is increasing parallel to its economic development. Despite China’s emphasis on a “peaceful rise,” other global powers feel uneasy about China’s rise. However if we look at China’s foreign policy up to today, we see that China doesn’t intervene in issues outside its region so much. The important issues for China are its relations with bordering countries, in addition to the Taiwan problem, North Korea’s future, etc. For example, China stepped back in Iran’s nuclear negotiations and pursues a timid policy toward the Palestine issue. These examples show us that China is still pursuing the policy of standing aloof in terms of intervening outside its region.
Fatih Agil: What are your comments on China’s minority policies and its Xinjiang (East Turkistan) policy within this framework?
Selcuk Colakoglu: China’s ‘nations’ policy has changed over time. Today, it’s said that there are 56 ethnic groups in China including the majority Han Chinese, but the actual number of minority groups with relatively large populations are not more than five, including the Uyghurs living in Xinjiang, the Mongols living in Inner Mongolia, the Tibetan people living in Tibet, and the Koreans living in provinces at the border of North Korea. Majority of those 55 different ethnic groups have been assimilated into the Han Chinese population. It’s difficult for us to say that China’s minority policies have caught up with international standards. Another problem with China’s minority policies is the gap between de facto and de jure rights. In practice, the minority population can’t enjoy their rights written in the constitution. China pursues especially policies of transforming the cities where there are dense populations of minorities. For example, historically Turkic-Muslim cities in Xinjiang like Kashgar and Hotan have been destroyed in the name of “urban transformation,” and new modern buildings have been constructed in which ethnic Han people have been settled in order to dilute the Uyghur populations. This is the liquidation of neighborhoods in which Uyghur culture survives.
Fatih Agil: What is the importance of North Korea for China? Do you think that China supports North Korea in order to use it as a deterrent in the region and in the world?
Selcuk Colakoglu: China doesn’t have an expectation of direct interest from North Korea. Rather, we should say that China doesn’t need North Korea’s nuclear power because China already has much more advanced nuclear weapons. North Korea is important for China because it is a buffer zone between the U.S. bases in South Korea and Japan. China sees the Korean Peninsula as its sphere of influence. It prefers the continuation of division in that region and the survival of the communist regime in North Korea rather than the region being under the control of another big power like the U.S. or Japan. Actually, China is not happy with North Korea’s aggressive policies against the U.S., South Korea, and Japan, but China ignores them and bears the consequences. Already, it’s hardly possible for North Korea to maintain its policies without Chinese support.