Students, scholars, and members of the diplomatic community attended a symposium on the 14th of August to discuss China’s post-2012 foreign policy. Organised by the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA), the event elapsed the entire day at the China in the World Auditorium.
The Chinese ambassador, HE Ma Zhaoxu, opened the symposium with an unplanned visit and promoted China’s “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) policy – a development strategy and infrastructure program designed to increase China’s global presence. It will consist of two main components: the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) and the Maritime Silk Road (MSR), which would “do something not only for Australia and China, but in third countries such as in the South Pacific.”
Ma said that China was “building something on the basis of history” and wanted to “promote mutual benefit and mutual prosperity.” He said that DFAT and other Australian agencies gave a positive response to the policy.
“Development [in OBOR states] will be open and inclusive, instead of exclusive,” Ma told the audience.
Speaking on trade relations with Australia, Ma said that “all of us will be beneficiaries of the Free Trade Agreement” which will significantly open investment opportunities between Australia and China, and in tandem with OBOR “will turn the Maritime Silk Road into a golden river.”
The ambassador’s address was followed by brief speeches from other distinguished guests, including Pro-Vice Chancellor (International and Outreach) Erik Lithander.
The introduction was followed by an academic panel on “Power Transition: Beyond Thucydides’ Trap?” with Dr Amy King, Prof Evelyn Goh, and Prof Hugh White from ANU, with Dr Chengxin Pan from Deakin University speaking. The academics spoke about the applicability of the “Trap” to China’s rise, and whether or not war with China is inevitable.
White explored the reluctance of mainly China and the US to go to war and the possibility of avoiding conflict. Pan agreed, given China’s interconnectedness, but cautioned that China’s rise was “not a single, linear, zero-sum transition.” King also concurred, and also highlighted China’s actual intentions and “the large number of voices to listen to” in regards to this.
Goh, who mediated the panel, told Woroni that OBOR, despite being promoted as beneficial, may be interpreted differently by the US and some neighbouring states.
Through OBOR, “China is seen as expanding on its influence by using profit. Don’t forget Thucydides [his motivations for gaining power]; honour, fear and profit. This is the profit part.”
On the general proceedings, Goh said “I think [the event] would be a useful exercise if we could highlight in a more equal way Chinese perceptions, as well as US and Western perceptions… there’s still a very big gap in understanding what Chinese perceptions are. And this biggest mistake to make is to think that there is one Chinese perception. China is becoming like America; the plurality of views in China is remarkable.”
After lunch Pakistan’s High Commissioner, HE Naela Chohan, spoke to the audience on Pakistan-China relations, underlining their long friendship that has fostered a relationship “as sweet as honey.”
“We became friends with China when the rest of the world didn’t understand what was going on… the younger generation must try to understand the cultural sensibilities of others,” she concluded.
Concluding the symposium was a student panel composed of postgraduates and undergraduates who discussed the rise of China and its role in the world.
Serena Lu, president of CSSA, told Woroni that ANU was the ideal location because of the high-standard of its International Relations program, and that the Chinese Embassy was helpful in the organisation.
“They helped to increase the [profile] of this event to a high level,” she said.
Ultimately she was pleased with the event, and having “[the attendees] learn something from the conference]” was what “[she] wanted to see.”