SHANGHAI -- Asians must take responsibility for their own security, Chinese President Xi Jinping told regional leaders Wednesday, offering an alternative to a U.S.-led world order.
No country should be allowed to "monopolize" Asia's security, Xi argued here at a summit-level Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA). He let Russia and other neighbors know China is ready to work with them to keep the peace.
His remarks suggest a departure from Deng Xiaoping's foreign policy maxim of "tao guang yang hui," meaning to hide one's abilities and keep a low profile. Signs of this shift were apparent soon after Xi took office. His first trip abroad as president was to Russia, where he and counterpart Vladimir Putin spoke of creating a new framework for security, one that excludes America.
Xi seems to have hit upon the CICA, an obscure body to which none of the Group of Seven advanced economies belongs. And he appears to have been waiting until this week's summit, which comes at the start of China's presidency of the CICA, to unveil his idea of transforming it into a forum for discussing regional security. Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan's president, voiced support for the idea, saying the CICA could become an Asian version of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
Aware that Beijing is taking heat internationally for the tensions in the South China Sea, Xi emphasized the need to resolve disputes in the region peacefully. But he also spoke out against stirring up trouble for selfish reasons, showing a flash of pique at China's neighbors.
Xi uttered the word "development" 24 times in his 15-minute speech, calling it the greatest form of security. He said China stands ready to help its Asian neighbors advance their economies. But some seen the ulterior motive of amassing greater influence.
A Southeast Asian diplomat stationed in Beijing says his Chinese counterparts often question whether his country can really develop without China's assistance. He fears that the new order China seeks is really an attempt to force its neighbors into "friendly" relationships with the threat of cutbacks to economic cooperation.
It remains to be seen whether Asian countries find China a more trustworthy guarantor of their security than America. Beijing will need make an effort to win their trust, not simply try to buy it.