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'China's foreign policy-making fractured'

The secretive world of foreign policy decision-making in China now faces 'fractured authority' under the military's 'reemerging' influence, pressure from new interest groups urging Beijing to be 'less submissive' and heated internal debate on China's international role.

world Updated: Sep 15, 2010 10:22 IST
Reshma Patil

The secretive world of foreign policy decision-making in China now faces 'fractured authority' under the military's 'reemerging' influence, pressure from new interest groups urging Beijing to be 'less submissive' and heated internal debate on China's international role.

"The overwhelming majority of respondents said the power of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has declined...it's not necessarily the most important actor in shaping foreign policy," said the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in a latest analysis.

The report based on 71 interviews of Chinese insiders indicates that nations engaging with China need to interact beyond the foreign ministry as China's economic influence expands and Chinese influentials debate the country's global role.

"Since 1998, the foreign minister's power base within the Communist Party of China has continuously declined," said the report. It quoted a Chinese academician saying he 'felt sorry' for present foreign minister Yang Jiechi.

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) is a 'reemerging player' in shaping foreign policy.

"PLA officers debating foreign policy in public is a new phenomenon. The PLA no longer shies away from antagonising neighbours and the USA by displaying its power...The PLA still holds sway...particularly with respect to India, Japan, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the USA."

"One certainly should not think of China as a unitary force in foreign policy," said SIPRI China director Linda Jakobson at a media talk in Beijing on Tuesday.

For instance, foreign policy decisions are still sent to former president Jiang Zemin and he may comment and send them back, Jakobson said.

The report said that China's additional sale of nuclear reactors to Pakistan was cleared after 'Beijing's political will evaporated' after the US-India civilian nuclear deal got global approvals.

Jakobson said the new actors shaping Beijing's foreign policies include the Ministry of State Security, CEOs of state-owned energy companies, local governments of coastal provinces with overseas investment, the media, university researchers and netizens.

A Chinese government adviser told the authors that Beijing's foreign policy decision making could be 'unwieldy, messy and inefficient.' Chinese journalists, the report said, are not allowed to report on Beijing's foreign policy making process.

The report also noted that China's growing importance in ties with India and Brazil was reflected this year with the elevation of ambassadors to these nations to vice-ministerial rank.

How Beijing decides
* Foreign ministry role declining in policy-making
* PLA debating foreign policy in public is a new phenomenon
* CEOs of state-owned companies new actors in foreign policy
* Beijing afraid to dissatisfy nationalistic netizens

(SIPRI report)