The Geopolitics of Chinese Access Diplomacy
China’s continuing economic growth and expanding involvement in global affairs poses major implications for the power structure of the international system. China is taking decisive steps to improve its overall geopolitical position by securing natural resources and developing extensive transport networks, including roads, railways, ports, and energy corridors, in its neighborhood and beyond. China is also increasing its influence through a series of international investments. Developing nations appear to appreciate the contracts provided by Beijing, especially when China offers investments that, other than recognition of its “one China” policy, impose no conditions. These investments run in direct conflict with those from nations like the United States, who typically require that performance metrics be met to receive funding.
The country is now a global actor of significance and growing importance and is increasing involvement in regions and on issues that were once peripheral to its interests. It is influencing perceptions, relationships, and organizations all over the world. Thus, it becomes necessary to gain an understanding of Chinese thought concerning its implementation of access diplomacy.
China is currently involved in a deliberate identification and prioritization of its foreign policy goals through the identification of resources required to sustain its economic expansion. Beijing is, in fact, focused on improving its overall condition and strength in several areas by exercising a grand strategy that seeks to pursue national objectives through increasing access to the international system. Understanding this international environment “is essential to the formulation of any sensible strategic policy,”3 because it represents both the means for access and the desired end that a state wishes to achieve. A state’s grand strategy also provides an understanding of its long-term foreign and security policy goals. The key elements of China’s grand strategy may be described as follows:
- Acquire “comprehensive national power” (CNP)5 essential to achieving the status of a “global great power that is second to none”;
- Secure global access to natural resources, raw materials, and overseas markets to sustain China’s economic
- Pursue “three Ms”: military build-up (including a naval presence along the vital sea lanes of communication and maritime chokepoints), multilateralism, and multipolarity; and
- Build a worldwide network of friends and allies through “soft power” diplomacy, trade and economic dependencies via free trade agreements, mutual security pacts, intelligence cooperation, and arms sales.
One very important aspect of China’s grand strategy is its access diplomacy or “politics of routes.” China is aggressively securing access to natural resources, while simultaneously developing overland transport networks in pursuit of its national interest.