Chinese President in Veiled Warning to the US: Don’t Try to ‘Monopolize Regional Affairs’

By Patrick Goodenough | May 22, 2014 | 2:50 AM EDT

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping before the opening ceremony at the Expo Center at the fourth Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) summit in Shanghai on Wednesday, May 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Ralston, Pool)

( – Buoyed by the signing of a massive deal to buy Russian natural gas for the next 30 years, Chinese President Xi Jinping called Wednesday for a new security framework for Asia, in a speech which Chinese state media said contained veiled warnings to the United States.

“Someone who tries to blow out another’s oil lamp will set his beard on fire,” Xi told a summit of regional leaders in Shanghai.

The state-run China Daily suggested that the expression, a Kazakh proverb, was directed at America: Beijing is urging Washington to get used to China’s rise and take a proper role in the region, which is the world’s economic engine but is also prone to security threats.”

That same expression – “get used to China’s rise” – made an appearance in an editorial last week in the Communist Party-affiliated Global Times, referring to territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas, where China sees the U.S. as siding with Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines in their respective tussles with Beijing.

“No country should seek the so-called absolute security of itself at the expense of the security of other countries,” Xi told the gathering in Shanghai, speaking out against what he called outdated Cold War thinking and zero-sum games.

“No country should attempt to monopolize regional affairs or infringe upon the legitimate rights and interests of other countries,” he added, calling for Asian problems to be solved by Asians themselves.

Xi was addressing a summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), a forum of 26 countries stretching from Turkey to the Far East.

China is assuming the rotating presidency of the grouping until 2016, and Xi used his keynote speech to propose an upgrading in its status. Describing it as the biggest and most representative regional security forum, he called for steps to further build CICA’s institutional arrangements and set up mechanisms for defense consultations among members.

The call to enhance CICA’s status may also be a message to “outsiders” to leave Asia to sort out Asian matters. An existing Asia-focused regional security grouping, the 27-member, 20 year-old ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), includes China, Russia and many of the other CICA members – but also the United States, Canada and European Union.

In an analysis of the new Asian security concept put forward by Xi, Beijing’s Xinhua news agency said the security situation in the region was being complicated by “secret maneuvers by players from other parts of the world.”

“Asia is the home of Asians, and Asian security immediately concerns their vital interests,” it said. “Thus, it is an inherent and inescapable duty of Asians to keep their own courtyard in order.”

Participating leaders at the two-day CICA summit included Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iranian President Hasan Rouhani and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin, and China's President Xi Jinping, right, during Wednesday's gas deal signing ceremony in Shanghai. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti)

On the sidelines, Xi and Putin oversaw the signing of a $400 billion gas deal, the biggest in the history of the Russian state-owned gas supplier Gazprom, the world’s largest gas company.

Although the two sides had been negotiating the agreement for a decade, its signing now stoked speculation about a major strengthening of Russia-China strategic ties at a time when both are going through low points in relations with the U.S., as a result of the rift over Ukraine in the case of the former, and differences over the South China Sea and U.S. cyber theft indictments against Chinese defense officials in the latter.

“Sanctions from the E.U. and the U.S. over the crisis in Ukraine have caused Russia to seek new opportunities for diplomatic relations in the East, and China has its difficulties with the U.S. pivot to Asia and its stances on China’s territorial disputes with U.S. allies in the region,” China’s CCTV state television network said in a report. “A stronger relationship would suit both Russia and China in an [effort] to counterbalance such pressure.”

The State Department played down the significance of the Russia-China developments.

“Our view is that there are global relationships that many countries have – Russia and China, the United States and Russia, the United States and China – and we, it is not a surprise to us that countries that are relative neighbors would be communicating about how to work together,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki said during a briefing.

Asked about Xi’s comments about Asian security, and whether the administration thinks there is a role for the U.S., Psaki replied, “I think most countries in Asia, including China, would say that there is. And that’s an important part of the dialogue we have with a range of countries in Asia.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow