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Dispute with Japan highlights China's foreign-policy power struggle

Countering military

China's government cancels high-level talks with Japan, following Japan's announcement that it will hold a Chinese fishing boat captain for another ten days.
Disputed island chain, Senkakus or Diaoyu Islands
Gene Thorp/ The Washington Post

Not all of the military statements went over well in China. In recent weeks, the Foreign Ministry has begun to push back against the military. In recent interviews in Beijing, officials and senior advisers to the government excoriated the military for making policy pronouncements.

"For me, it is surprising that I'm seeing a general from the People's Liberation Army making a public statement regarding foreign policy, but this is China today," said Wu Jianmin, a former ambassador who helps run a think tank and advises China's leadership on foreign policy.

"This is not something the military should do," said Chu Shulong, professor of international relations at Tsinghua University. "These people don't represent the government, but it creates international repercussions when they speak out."

China's media is another factor in the fracturing of China's foreign policy. Another foreign policy player, the Ministry of Propaganda, has allowed the state-run press to criticize foreign governments as a way to bolster the Communist Party's position at home. As a result, China's newer publications, such as the mass-circulation Global Times, cover international affairs - in particular relations with the United States and Japan - with all the verve that People magazine pours into the adventures of Paris Hilton.

"We are not happy about many of the stories published today," Wu said. "We Foreign Ministry people have told them you shouldn't do that, but they say, 'So what? Let the Americans hear a different voice.' "

Shen, the American studies scholar, said some in China's leadership may support the idea of sending mixed messages on foreign policy as a way of testing the United States or Japan.

"The civilian government may think it does no harm," he said. "After all, if they succeed, it may advance China's interests."

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