In China, officials in tug of war to shape foreign policy

Sept. 24 (China Military Story cited from and written by John Pomfret) — The increasingly bitter dispute between China and Japan over a small group of islands in the Pacific is heightening concerns in capitals across the globe over who controls China’s foreign policy.

A new generation of officials in the military, key government ministries and state-owned companies has begun to define how China deals with the rest of the world. Emboldened by China’s economic expansion, these officials are taking advantage of a weakened leadership at the top of the Communist Party to assert their interests in ways that would have been impossible even a decade ago.

It used to be that Chinese officials complained about the Byzantine decision-making process in the United States. Today, from Washington to Tokyo, the talk is about how difficult it is to contend with the explosion of special interests shaping China’s worldview.

“Now we have to deal across agencies and departments and ministries,” said a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ties with China. “The relationship is extraordinarily complex.”

Said a senior Japanese diplomat: “We, too, are often confused about China’s intentions and who is calling the shots.”

Japanese officials said the People’s Liberation Army is responsible for the friction over the disputed island chain, known as the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyu islands in China. In early September, Japan’s coast guard detained the captain of a Chinese fishing trawler, accusing him of ramming a Japanese coast guard vessel. In previous crises, China’s Foreign Ministry has acted as a calming influence, but this time, Japanese diplomats said, the military led the charge.

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