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Defense White Paper, which had been approved by Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan's cabinet a week earlier. That paper described China's stance in its maritime territorial disputes with its neighbors as "assertive".

"Given the modernization of China's naval and air forces in recent years, its sphere of influence is likely to grow beyond its neighboring waters … It is expected that China will try to keep expanding the area of activities, and to make naval activities a routine practice in waters surrounding Japan including the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, as well as in the South China Sea."

China described the paper as "irresponsible", rejecting the suggestion that its ongoing military modernization would impact on its regional neighbors.

Before the Japanese paper, the Philippines dispatched five congressmen and some military officials to Zhongye Island (called Pagasa Island by the Philippines) on June 20. As these officials landed on the disputed island - some singing the national anthem with Filipino residents - China's foreign minister was at an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) forum in Bali, Indonesia, seeking ways to ease tensions in the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, territorial disputes in those waters have fueled incessant street protests in Vietnam over the past few months against a so-called "Chinese invasion".

Criticism has even come from Singapore, which has no territorial disputes with China and is considered to have a friendlier stance in Southeast Asia. Earlier this year, senior statesman Lee Kuan Yew said he would like the United States rather than China as a hegemon in Asia, because he saw the US as more benevolent.

Around the region, anti-Chinese rhetoric can often be found in government officials' speeches and media commentaries.

No other big power like the US, the European Union or even India is subject to so many unfriendly or hostile accusations from its neighbors. Such remarks don't reflect well on China's efforts to build and enhance friendly relations with its neighbors under its "good neighbor policy" policy.

The diplomatic policy is based on four strategic principles: big powers are key partners, neighboring countries are primary partners, developing countries are the foundation of China's diplomacy and multilateral institutions are important platforms.

In order to implement the strategy of making neighboring countries primary partners, Beijing adheres to the principles of "dealing with neighboring countries as partners and treating them with goodwill" and of "building an amicable, tranquil and prosperous neighborhood".

In April at the Bo'ao Asia Forum, a regional platform for economic integration, Chinese President Hu Jintao said that to build a harmonious Asia, countries needed to respect the diversity of civilizations and promote neighborly relations.

"We need to transform the development pattern and promote all-round development ... We need to share development opportunities and meet challenges together ... We need to seek common ground while shelving difference and enhancing common security ... We need to champion mutual benefit and deepen regional cooperation," said Hu.

Under its "good neighbors policy", Beijing naturally considers improving relations with ASEAN an important strategic task. China has built up a strategic partnership with the 10-member ASEAN since 2003, and also with some of its members, one after another.

Despite all China's efforts to improve relations with its neighbors, especially those in Southeast Asia, it seems many mistrust a smiling Middle Kingdom. And it seems likely that as China expands its influence due to its growing economic and military strength, these neighboring countries will dislike China even more.
So why is China failing to win these countries over? There are several reasons: some may be traced to concerned neighbors, others derive from within China itself.

Firstly, there are historical reasons. Throughout ancient history, some Asian countries under the influence of Confucian civilization would pay tribute to China's imperial courts, including in today's Vietnam, Korea and Japan. Some other non-Confucianized Southeast Asian countries (including today's Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand) also have a record of paying tributes to China as required by its emperors.

There are also more modern feuds. The Chinese people have yet to heal the psychological wounds inflicted by the Japanese invasion during World War II. Some Southeast Asia countries were under the threat of China's "export of revolution" in the 1950s and 1960s, and there was a bloody border war between China and Vietnam in 1979.

Perhaps the biggest factor damaging mutual-trust and undermining efforts to build partnerships are bilateral disputes over territorial sovereignty. China has water and/or island territorial disputes in the South China Sea or East China Sea with Vietnam, Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Japan.

For many East and Southeast Asian countries, China's growing economic, military and political influence in Asia reminds them of the China-centered tributary system in history, in which vassals around the Middle Kingdom had to acknowledge China's dominance in the region. Fears about the return of a new China-centered tributary system perhaps remain a psychological barrier for some countries when it comes to believing in Beijing's good neighbor policy.

Poor relations between China and its neighbors also partially result from China's domestic conditions. Since the 1960s, many of China's Southeast Asian neighbors have became democratized and are now influenced by so-called cosmopolitan values, especially "democratic peace" that maintains that democratic states will never be at war. Under this doctrine, a non-democratic state is naturally, and constantly, on the offensive.

Unfortunately, China under the rule of the Chinese Communist Party is considered by its neighbors as an undemocratic state, despite its pledges of a peaceful rise. While China has long given up the "export of revolution", it has yet to clarify its strategic intent of military modernization. For many neighboring countries, for such a big power to lack a clearly defined global strategy is dangerous.

Naturally, given China's size and population, as well as its deep cultural influence, strong economic muscle and military power, any relatively smaller and weaker country in Asia is suspicious and frightened over what move the big dragon will take.

To address this, in addition to making verbal pledges, China has to make real efforts to show it will contribute to the benefit and stability of the region when needed. For instance, in the aftermath of the ongoing global financial crisis, China should have taken the lead to jointly build a sound regional financial system that stabilized the regional financial market.

China should honor its commitment to a peaceful rise with concrete measures to help safeguard regional security and ensure peace in the region.

As in China, nationalistic sentiments are growing across Asia, with economic reasons encouraging governments - backed by the US - to take more adventurous policy steps and challenge China.

Needless to say, Asia's current political tensions, arms races, hostility and long-lasting disputes are not the ideal choice for the region. Because of the complex state of relations, China and its neighbors must devote more time and effort to building genuine partnerships.

China should act as a responsible actor that consistently adheres to shared principles; it should have a clear-cut, operational and pragmatic Asia strategy.

Under this policy, Beijing should function as a stabilizing economic power. This would require China to be more innovative in international finance areas, and more courageous in initiating reforms of existing financial systems.

China should help ensure regional public security with its growing military capability. Beijing should be broader-minded than its neighbors in regard to the use of its military to maintain regional stability by fighting piracy, terrorism and other international crimes in the Pacific Ocean. Instead of flexing its military muscle in territorial disputes, China should encourage political, economic and cultural integration in East and Southeast Asia.

All in all, China should reshape its Asia strategy with an aim to functioning as a stabilizing force, while maintaining its strategy to keep a balance with the influence of the US in this region.

China must show its goodwill and sincerity with words and deeds in carrying out these policies to the letter. Only in this way can it rise peacefully without causing alarm and be considered as a friend by its Asian neighbors.

China's Asia strategy should go beyond only seeking mutual economic benefits and encompass the responsibility to help maintain financial, maritime and political stability. If China as a socialist state with Confucian traditions can become a sophisticated player in a capitalist-style market economy, it has the ability to harmonize an Asia in diversity.

Dr Jian Junbo, an assistant professor of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University, Shanghai, China, is currently an academic visitor at London School of Economics and Political Science, United Kingdom.

The latest challenge came from Japan. On August 10, chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano said Japan would dispatch its Self-Defense Forces should a foreign country invade the (disputed) Senkaku Islands (called Diaoyu islands by China). "If other countries invade the islands, [Japan will] invoke the right of self-defense and remove them by making any sacrifice," Edano said in Tokyo, apparently referring to China's naval activities in the region.
Edano made the remarks after the publication of the 2011 Japan