Veränderungen in Ostasien

Security in Northeast Asia 

The Changing East Asia and the Korea-China relation

 - Interview with Dr. Pang Zhongying -

Peace Network, South Korean NGO, interviewed with Dr. Pang Zhongying, the Professor of International Relations at School of International Studies, Renmin University of China in Beijing. He went to Seoul for participating in China Forum held by Asan Institute. Peace Network met him in December 10, 2012, and heard about East Asian situation and South Korea’s role for promoting cooperation and peace.

Dr. Pang’s research interests are global issues, global governance, global economy, international institutions, and diplomacy. His latest publications include Global Governance: Views from China (ed., 2006), “Assessing the Diplomatic Power of China” (2007), “China-West Cooperation” (2008), “China’s Non-intervention Question” (2009), “IPE in China” (2011), and “China and Global Governance” (2011). Pang graduated from China’s Nankai University with B.A. in economics, UK’s University of Warwick with MA in Politics and International Studies, and China’s Peking University with Ph.D. in International Relations. He served in the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS) and the Chinese Embassy in Indonesia separately. He was Professor of International Relations and Director of Global Studies Institute at Nankai University in Tianjin, China.

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Thank you for being interviewed. As a prominent scholar about a world order, what's your expectation on the future of a world order?

This is quite a hard topic. Many people concern about the future of the globalized world. Some people think that the future of the world would be more orderly and better managed in a peaceful way. But at the same time many people worry that the future of the world would be disorganized since they think there will be many challenges and problems. The climate change problem is a typical example of these challenges. I know Korea is contributing a lot to the United Nations and the Secretary General of the United Nations is also Korean. Korea is clearly contributing to the creation of an organized world and to handle difficulties such as climate change and nuclear weapons. So, considering such contribution, I agree with the idea that the future of the world will be still peaceful and cooperative and it will be managed orderly.
Yet, we still have a lot of risks, challenges and uncertainties. Therefore, from some perspective, it can be said that the future of the world is somewhat pessimistic. Because of this, I believe that the role of organizations in promoting peace is so important. I mean the role of the organizations such as the United Nations and non-governmental organizations like Peace Network. The future of the world is still undecided. It is up to us. It is up to the people of the United Nations, America, Africa, and Asia, - Korean people and Chinese people. Thus, we must realize that the current world is not ideal and there are still many problems and challenges. Although we are enjoying so many advanced technologies today, it does not mean that the world is perfect. This is why I would like to talk about how to create better global governance.
What world order does China want? Is China a stakeholder of a current order or a revisionist?
Your question is based on the dichotomy view; Chine would be a revisionist power or status quo power. Such a view is Western-style analytical framework, through which the rise of big powers (such as China) is analyzed. As a scholar in international relations, I think that in such a western-style view, China can be either a revisionist power or a status quo power. However, in my opinion, such a dichotomized view is too simple to be applied to East Asian countries like China. China will be the status quo power, meaning that China will help maintain the existing world order. China will continue to seek good relations not only with her neighboring countries in Asia, but also with other countries from the West such as the United States, European Union countries, Latin America, Africa, etc.
Last month, in November, 2012, the Chinese ruling party, Communist Party, held its 18th National Party Congress in Beijing. During the Party Congress, Chinese then President Hu Jintao delivered his final political report to the National Party Congress. This report clearly states that the Chinese current policies will be continued by the Chinese new leaders like Xi Jinping, Li Kequang. Xi Jinping received his Ph.D from Tsinghua University and Li Kequang from Peking University, which means that they are well-educated. Moreover, they have experienced so many difficulties and troubles. They are also Wu Ling Hou (people born in the 1950s). They know how to govern China better. So, Chinese current foreign policy will continue. Recently, I wrote an article in Chinese Xinhua News and the conclusion of the article was that Chinese existing foreign policy will continue. From this point of view, it can be said that China will be a status quo power.
Yet, one might say that China is a revisionist power, by changing her foreign policy and role in the world. Some people argue that, by changing her foreign policy, China will overthrow the existing world order which has been dominated by the West, especially by the United States. However, this means that China will improve or reform the existing order. For  example, China is now a member of G20, although it is not a member of G8. G20 is an expansion of G8. G20 is the new world order. So, joining G20, China became a member of this new world order. China is now a responsible stakeholder. Moreover, China is a member of other bodies. China’s voting power in the international financial institutions such as IMF and World Bank will continue to enhance her contribution to the existing world order. Through the contribution, the existing order will be revised. However, such a revision or change means that China help to improve the existing order rather than overthrowing the existing order.
Therefore, I do not think that the Western-style dichotomy view which analyzes China’s future role to be either revisionist power or status quo power is a good framework. It is too simple. In my opinion, China can be both revisionist power and status quo power. Yet, even though China revises the existing world order, it will only revise the order in a helpful way. It will clearly neither be a former militarist Japanese style revisionist power nor a Nazi German style revisionist power. It will help to improve the existing world order instead.
Isn't China becoming more assertive in the territory disputes with East Asian states?
I will give a short answer to this question. In 2012, there are so many territorial disputes between China and Japan, between Korea and Japan, and between Russia and Japan. Although there are disputes regarding South China Sea among China and some Southeast Asian countries such as the Philippines Vietnam, and Malaysia, the disputes are mainly over Japan and her neighboring countries. In my opinion, China’s policy and behavior towards territorial disputes is still defensive, not offensive.
China would think that the disputed territories have traditionally been under Chinese sovereignty and Japan continuously refuses recognizing the disputes, taking more harsh position, such as nationalizing Daoyu/Senkaku Island. Chinese people are so angry about it and they think China should also take position and policy towards such disputes. In fact, Japanese took its position firstly, and China is just responding. But China is still seen assertive. We must think clearly that who is responsible for the crisis and who triggered the crisis from the first place. We must consider the historical factor as well. Historically, Japan was an empire and China and Korea were weak countries. We are victim of Japanese imperialism and militarism. We can see from this dispute that history is still alive. After the Second World War and due to the Cold War policy, the United States’ policy toward Japan was so wrong, but the U.S. is not helping to solve these territorial disputes. If you think that China is taking assertive position toward territorial disputes, it is not a fair view. If China had been an imperialist country a hundred years ago, it is acceptable that you now think that China is becoming assertive. But China was clearly victim of Japanese imperialism. We must consider many complicated factors.
Even though Korean people know about the historical factors regarding the territorial disputes between China and Japan, many Korean people still concern that China is becoming more assertive compared to the past. For example, they believe Japan’s nationalizing the Daoyu/Senkaku Island was inevitable way to control the situation which is becoming worse and worse.
Personally, I fully understand their concerns. As you know I have visited Korea many times during the last 10 years. I also played a role in assisting very important scholars. They played the roles in resuming diplomatic relations of China and Korea in the 1990s. I am a friend of Korea and Korean people and society. But, Korean people’s view is heavily affected by the Western media. I understand your worries.
Historically and even now, there is huge interdependency between Korea and China. China is now No.1 trading partner of Korea and a number of Korean people are living in China nowadays. Every day in many Chinese cities and Korean cities, there are lots of planes and ferries, boats which are linking the two countries. Although China and Korea has differences, we share common goals and common causes fundamentally. These common goals are dominating our relations. We have so many common interests and common grounds. China tries to reassure the Korean government and Korean people that China will continue to be a friendly country to Korea even in the future. And many historical events have demonstrated this. The 1950s is a very short time and it was a tragedy in terms of relations between China and Korea. Yet, the air of this tragedy is totally over.


Next question is about “Ieodo”, the island over which China and Korea both claims sovereignty. The Chinese government claims that the island is under Chinese sovereignty. Many Korean people regard this claim as a Chinese threat. As you know, Korean people are very sensitive about territorial issue and Ieodo is one of the reasons why Korean people believe that China is becoming more offensive. So, what do you think about this issue?
I think this is a practical issue. This issue can be solved by political means such as negotiation. So, I guess we do not have to worry about this. Ieodo dispute is totally different from the cases of Chinese territorial disputes with Japan like Daoyu/Senkaku Island. I know that the governments of the two countries are trying to solve this issue peacefully. China and Korea can negotiate over this issue according to international law. Even though there are disputes between China and ROK, the disputes can be managed. It is a clearly manageable issue. Such small disputes cannot jeopardize amicable relations between China and ROK. From the geopolitical point of view, you may think that this is a very important issue. Truly, all territorial issues are very important from nationalistic point of view of both Chinese and Korean. However, this is an era of interdependence. In comparison with huge interdependency of China and ROK, Ieodo dispute is quite a small issue.
We cannot imagine the future that Korea’s economy would not rely on Chinese market, and Chinese market would not rely on Korean market. The two economies are already integrated and will be integrated even more closely. So, such a dispute, I believe, is manageable and dependent on our wisdom and skills of negotiators, scholars, and even NGOs. We can play our roles. But, our purpose must be the promotion of peace. And it should be solved by peaceful means. As long as peace is the core principle, I believe such a dispute between China and Korea can be successfully solved.
What do you think about China's soft power? Is it good idea for China's diplomatic strategy?
Last month, November 27, I went to Helsinki to talk about China’s soft power. One point that I made is that China is now using soft means and soft resources to manage China’s relations with the world. This is clearly a good development. The world should welcome such developments. However, frankly speaking, China’s soft power is still relatively weak. Maybe after several decades, China will become a leading soft power in the world and in the region of East Asia or Asia. But now, China’s soft power is still backward. This is a reality. That is why we are now discussing the importance of China’s soft power. Therefore, China‘s leadership will continue to pursue the way to develop China’s soft power. China will continue to see the value of traditional culture, traditional ways and traditional thoughts. This is the first one.
And the second one is that China will continue to promote the reform including economic and even political. The success of China’s reform would be a major source of China’s soft power.
Thirdly, China will continue to promote soft power exchanges and cooperation with others. For example, China and Korea’s soft power exchange and cooperation is so huge. Soft power of Korea in China inspires China’s soft power. People talk about soft power only from competition perspective. But, in fact, soft power also has cooperative aspects just as seen in many cases of soft power countries which cooperate with the other global soft powers. In the relations among countries, there is a soft power dimension. And this dimension includes two aspects: competition of countries over soft power, and cooperation of countries for soft power.
For example, China is competing with Korea over soft power like Korea’s Hanliu (Korea Wave). Korea’s advanced IT technology in China, universities and NGOs, Korea’s films and TV programs in China are so strong and popular that they have strengthened Korea’s soft power. But China is now catching up. This is so-called competitive dimension of soft power. But at the same time, China also seeks soft power cooperation with others including Korea. Because the West is in crisis, particularly the Western Model, so, the world in the future may rethink about the universal models of development and governance. Thus, now, both China and Korea can contribute to the future mode of governance.
By doing so, the soft power of China and Korea can be entirely different from today. The success of soft power depends on economic development, political development and cultural innovation and Renaissance of civilization. If your civilization can have Renaissance, your soft power will be so powerful and so attractive. If you make a good model for development and governance, for peace and harmony, then your governance will be so attractive. Currently, China’s reform and modernization is still unfinished and we have huge tasks to finish our reform towards the modern nation, democratic nation, and nation of advanced technology and more freedom. Yet, if China finishes such things, given Chinese long history of civilization and historical prosperity, success of such tasks would significantly contribute not only to China’s soft power but also to the global soft power. This is a very good question, and soft power issues are very difficult to answer. We need to think soft power issues more deeply.
This question is about Korea’s choice. As you know the United States is Korea’s alliance country whereas China is Korea’s no.1 trading partner. However, the United States hopes that Korea will play more active role in checking China’s increasing power. So, China is worried about the possibility of Korea’s involvement of the United States’ containing China policy. What do you think South Korea needs to do under such circumstances in order to solve this issue?
This is a dilemma that Korea is now facing. I know Korean President and a lot of Korean scholars are aware of this situation. For example, Professor Chung Jae ho, a friend of mine, published a book titled as “South Korea between Eagle and Dragon”, depicting Korea’s situation between the United States and the China. The United States is Korea’s ally while China is Korea’s partner. As Professor Chung argues in the book, Korea’s choice is really difficult and Korea must make correct choices. If Korea takes one side, then Korea may need to pay huge cost for the choice. I very much agree with Prof. Chung’s argument in the book.
I classify three kinds of nations in Asia. One kind of nations is the nation that has already made very clear position when it comes to the U.S. and China relations. One good example of such nations is the Philippines. The Philippines welcomes the U.S.’s rebalancing and Japanese rearmament. This is one kind of nations.
The second is some nations that have made clear foreign policy conclusions that they are never going to take any side while trying to maintain good relations with both China and the United States. There are two examples of these nations. First one is Australia. This year, the Australian liberal government issued its white paper which shows that Australia will maintain good relations with the two countries, China and the United States. One the one hand, Australia will continue to have strategic relations with the U.S. regarding the rebalancing strategy of the United States. One the other hand, it will maintain good relations with China. Singapore is another example. Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father Lee Kuan Yew said very clearly, with congratulate messages to China’s new leaderships, that Singapore will not take one side between China and the United States. Instead, Singapore would promote Sino-U.S cooperation, coordination, and reconciliation.
Between the first kind and the second kind is the third kind of nations. The third nations are reluctant nations. For example, South Korea is now sill reluctant to take their foreign policy stance clearly. Korea’s consideration is so complex. There are a number of factors which affect Korea’s decision-making. Such nations as Australia and Singapore have relatively less geopolitical consideration. They have no immediate geopolitical interest.
Last question is about Korea’s role. South Korea is a middle power state in Asia. What kinds of role can South Korea play in the changing Asia, esp. G2 era?
Both China and Korea are the rising power or middle power countries. So, Korea worries about this competition with China over global influences. China and Korea are competitive in so many areas , not in cooperation. From the Korea’s current presidential campaign, I could find that some people argue that Korea needs to seek more close relations with the United States against the rise of China. But at the same time, there are so many opinions being expressed in Korea that China is too important for Korea and thus Korea has no choice but to cooperate with China.
I have already paid attention to such different opinions and debates which are going on in Korea over China. I do hope in the future or the next administration of Korea, either by Park or Moon that Korea can find a new and creative foreign relation strategy with China. This is so important. This is a fundamental challenge to Korea, a fundamental dilemma that Korea is facing now. Korea has to solve dilemmas between China and the United States.
Maybe you can copy Australia model or Singapore model as I have mentioned, trying to keep good ties with both China and the United States. I know South Korea’s relations with the United States are also very problematic. You have problems with the United States over many things. This is not a “taking one side” issue. Instead, this is an innovation issue. You have to manage two important relations with China and with the United States. I do not know whether the next administration will do this. Nevertheless, at least one thing is very clear. Regardless of previous liberal government or current conservative government by President of Lee Myung-bak, the importance of China has increased and will continue to increase. This is so clear. For the next Korean government, you have no choice but to cooperate with China. Korea should think of more cooperation with China in more areas and think of more solutions to solve our differences and think of more solutions to long term arrangements between our two nations. One of the long term arrangements for stable relations or sustainable relations between China and Korea is our leadership’s roles in promoting regional integration economically, increasing investments and in promoting East Asia’s rise and regional alliance in the world. Such things as ASEAN+3, China and Korea’s Free Trade and China, Japan, and Korea’s trilateral free trade agreement can continue to be explored.

I know Korea is the secretariat of regional cooperation with China, Japan, and Korea. Korea has a strategic advantageous position in the region. Korea is between the two floating powers. This is a clear advantage, not a disadvantage. Korea must realize this. This is why China and Korea agreed that Korea needs to be the secretariat of trilateral cooperation. Tomorrow’s Korea can be like Brussels, the capital of the European Union. Like Brussels, Korea can be the capital of East Asian cooperation. If Korea does so, Korea’s future will become so bright.

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This newsletter is published by Peace Network, a peace movement organization located in Seoul, Korea. Our Movement is dedicated to realizing an active peace by promoting anti-war, anti-nuclear, disarmament, and unification of the Korean Peninsula.

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