Piin-Fen Kok, director of the EastWest Institute’s China, East Asia and United States Program, spoke to Singapore’s Channel NewsAsia about Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the United States and speech at the United Nations General Assembly.
The transcript of the interview, which aired during Channel NewsAsia’s First Look Asia program, is given below.
Interviewer: Good morning to you with us on First Look Asia. This hour, there has been a major boost for the United Nations’ struggling peacekeeping missions. At the UN General Assembly, U.S. President Barack Obama has announced that more than 50 countries have offered 30,000 new troops—and amongst them, China. Its president, Xi Jinping, says that China wants to take the lead by contributing 8,000 troops; this would make Beijing one of the largest players. Mr. Xi also offered $100 million U.S. dollars of military aid to the African Union for crisis response. And amid concerns of China’s rising military might, President Xi said that China was committed to peaceful global development. Mr. Xi’s trip to the UN caps off his weeklong visit to the U.S., and at a summit with Mr. Obama, they also vowed to fight climate change that left largely unresolved the issues of cybersecurity and the South China Sea.
Let’s speak now with Ms. Kok Piin-Fen. She’s the director of the China, East Asia and United States Program at the EastWest Institute, and she joins us today from New York. Ms. Kok, President Xi says that China is committed to peaceful world development. How much of this do you think will assuage concerns about China’s military rise and the inroads into the peacekeeping missions?
Kok: I think that to the degree that the rest of the world can see that China is putting its growing military capabilities to global good, so to speak, in the area of peacekeeping, which, as you know, China has been very active in this area for years now. So I think to that degree, some of those concerns will be assuaged. But the problem is really more in China’s immediate neighborhood where other countries in Asia are still very suspicious of its strategic intentions and what it’s planning to do with its rising military, especially on the naval front with all of the territorial disputes happening in the South China Sea and East China Sea. So in that area, it is still going to be very tricky trying to persuade China’s neighbors that its intentions are really peaceful.
Interviewer: So Ms. Kok, just picking up from there, what could China do to comfort or reassure its neighbors in Asia and abroad?
Kok: I think it needs to explain itself a little better. For example, in the South China Sea, a lot of tensions recently have just revolved around China’s actions reclaiming islands and then, after the reclamation, building all sorts of infrastructure, including military infrastructure, and now we’re looking at reports saying that it has built a third airstrip in the South China Sea. I think China needs to explain more clearly and more transparently what its strategic thinking has been behind actions such as these. And it needs to use appropriate words because, to be very honest, in the area of public diplomacy I think it’s still a bit lacking, and some of the words that the Chinese government has used thus far may have come across as disingenuous and perhaps not really constructive.
Interviewer: Ms. Kok, now Chinese state media have hailed Mr. Xi’s visit to the U.S. as a success. But in your opinion, what were the hits and what were the misses?
Kok: The fact that neither side shied away from addressing the difficult issues such as cyber or the South China Sea, I think that was a good sign because it shows a mature relationship. They’re willing to focus not (only) on the positive or feel-good aspects of the relationship but really get together at the presidential level and be able to talk about the tough issues.