26 November 2011

Diplomacy? What is Diplomacy Now?

Questioning ´Diplomacy´ and its existence in contemporary global political order

China will tell you what it is.

For Beijing, it is more than what Ernst Gellner wrote on his masterpiece ¨Nations and Nationalism,¨ where he mentioned the term as something inseparable from a powerful political force. Diplomacy for Chinese is not through political approach, but more into its economic stance towards global order, or in a constelation of what Yale´s scholar Immanuel Wallerstein called as ¨The Modern World System.¨

When it comes to negotiation, China only has two things to say: FOLLOW ME, and seems like they already have many followers who will never be able to say (referring to twitterland) Follow Me Back. Thanks to its ability to stand strong among the global economy crisis and the continuing strength of its currency, has made economist even jokingly calculated that a year in Chinese time is equivalent to five years anywhere else . They are clearly unbeatable. Clearly.

No wonder, lately, I believe Chinese understand the idiom ¨Vini, Vidi, Vici¨ (I came, I saw, I conquered) more than the real Romans.

Apparently, when it comes to ´diplomacy,´ the use of this word are just too demanding for China. Just like now, when the never-ending disputes of South China Sea (SCS) appear and raise another tension again among its claimants (Vietnam, Philliphines, Malaysia, and Brunei), China has made it very clear that they will always be stony-hearted on this issue, even if they announced the other way around.

Henceforth, before the East Asia Summit in Bali, China´s Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin confidently asserted that disputes in the South China Sea should be resolved between the ´parties concerned´ bilaterally. This short statement, according to former secretary-Ministry of External Affairs of India, RS Kalha, showing that, clearly, China little did realize how isolated they had become in this issue.

In fact, for other claimants, this case is too severe to be solved under bilateral and so-called diplomatic way. But so far, Chinese still hold the remote control. They know how to act and when is the right time to.

In 1974, the Chinese seized the Paracels island from Vietnam, killing several Vietnamese troops. Then, in 1988, the two sides clashed in the Spratly Island, when Vietnam again came off worse, losing 70 sailors. Knowing the long dispute had stoked tensions between these Communist-ruled neighbours, the two countries signed the agreement on Oct. 2011, ¨remain committed to friendly consultations in order to properly handle maritime issues and make the South China Sea a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation,¨ said the agreement, according to China´s Xinhua news agency.

Reached the agreement with Vietnam, on the other hand, China has long been continuing its claim on Scarborough Shoal, where also contested by the Philliphines. Through its diplomat, Philliphines remains strong with its intention to bring the case into the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). The idea which obviously rejected by Chinese, bearing the probability where China may not be able to maintain its stated position in accordance with the UN Convention on The Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), would be a serious loss face for China.

Another part of the conflict is Spratly Island, claimed in whole or in part by China along with Brunei, Malaysia, Philiphines and Vietnam. Adds another reason for leaders from the region to ask for the third parties to take part as a mediator of this conflict. When China could preferably insist on taking bilateral way in Paracels island and Scarborough Shoal cases, the latest one absolutely would have to be solved under the multilateral scheme.

What happened next  immensely prove Samuel Huntington´s prediction, ¨It will take a long time, and certainly the West will remain the dominant power into the next century, but the decline is occurring.¨ The West is coming closer to the region and distracting Chinese through its participation in East Asia Summit (where the Asian leaders seem trying to gain more support for the disputes on the SCS), even when there are many problems at home.

When I say ´West,´ do not imagine European counterparts. Paraphrasing Kishore Mahbubani in his latest article on Financial Times, ¨The time when European summits provide glimpses of the future world order are gone,¨ those folks predictably are working hard not to bring back the middle ages moments into the continent, mixing and matching the puzzle of its economic crisis.

Working on the same main task to create a better economy, be compared with Europe, the United States is heading into a totally different foreign policy direction. Amid the domestic crisis, Uncle Sam shows their latest belief: After the Middle East, here comes The Real East.

From Australia to Indonesia, Obama latest trip has brought a new level of regional tensions, escalating gloomy political climate with China. Reached the deal with Julia Gillard for the brand new US navy based at the northern territory of Australia (the closest to mainland Asia, only 820 km from Indonesia) where within five years will be the new house for 2.500 US marines, Obama said it very clear in his speech to the Australian Parliament, ¨United States is shifting its military weight from the Middle East to the Pacific.¨

Another move, furthermore, burning China to the ground with the US ambitious trade initiative with 12 countries called Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which obviously seeks to keep China out.

This is more than clear for anybody who could read these paths of U.S. foreign policy. Washington done with Af-Pak (Afghanistan-Pakistan), leave it two with ambiguity of each future. In a broader context, after the glorious May when Bin Laden died, plus the Arab turmoil which has buried Ghaddafi in a history, now U.S. is craving for more delicate issue.

Thankfully, the time is so right for Obama´s government to bring back the Asians into the centre of world´s attention. As a pivotal point of current economic growth, Asia is nothing else than the essential source for the global renaissance. Too diversed and too many interests within the region, the idleness of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) as the region´s non-intervention community, plus China´s ballistic diplomacy to its neighbours, have become the reasons why U.S. smoothly re-entries the battlefield.

On his visit to Asia late October, U.S. Secretary of Defence, Leon Panetta, addressed the U.S. visionary decision to be the third party in this fruitful area, by saying, ¨I want to make very clear that the United States is going to remain a presence in the Pacific for a long time. If anything, we are going to strengthen our presence in the Pacific.¨

´Remain a presence´ and ´strengthen the presence,´ isn´t that clear enough for everybody in Asia, that the United States has officially landed its ammunition to join the races on South China Sea? The real amazing race episode is now on, everybody!

Anytime, U.S. would be easier to send their army to any country in Asia, thanks to Australia. This, once again, will make any rational people deliberately ask, ´so what is diplomacy now?´ The modern world is taking the opposite steps where the military spending in the Asia region is increasing altogether, strengthening their defence networks. Vietnam has increased its defence budget by 70 per cent this year while Indonesia announced a 35 per cent increase in its defence outlay. In the Korean peninsula, the Republic of Korea (RoK) is building a large naval base on Jeju island. Also, the U.S. has agreed to support 145 Taiwanese F-16 fighters. Similarly, Malaysia and Singapore have increased their defence purchases. Are these all among the so-called diplomatic steps?

The war is on

Now wondering what is diplomacy? Do not waste your time to open international law text books. Today, diplomacy is nothing more than a symbol of state participation in a global order, if there is any. The concrete steps are in the fields where millions of money splurged into military equipments. That is what diplomacy is now, not only for China with its latest decision on naval exercises in the Pacific Ocean amid the South China Sea conflict. All countries define the ´diplomacy´ word as an old fashioned term in a sovereign states lullaby. In fact, the next question is, ´what is sovereignty?´

Now let´s wait. Do they –who came all the way into a far away land and built its naval army base to furtherly take part in that region´s disputes- know what does that ´sovereignty´ mean? I heard the President graduated from Harvard Law School. Probably next summit, we could ask this: ´what is international law, Sir?´

Clock is ticking.


Ayunda Tafsa Afifa
ayunda.afifa [at] gmail.com

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