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July 11, 2014

Chinese expansion snagged

BEIJING — Nearly three decades after Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping famously instructed his diplomats to “be good at maintaining a low profile and never claim leadership,” a new generation of rulers has made it clear that they’re ready to shed the humility and show off their country’s rising military and political power.

From Southeast Asian waters that may hold billions of barrels of oil to uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, China has stepped into territorial disputes with neighbors including Japan, South Korea and the Philippines — and in some cases, some would say, provoked them.

At the same time, Beijing has pledged to build what it says will be a new security framework for Asia, replacing U.S.-dominated alliances that have defined the post-World War II period.

“We should work for a new architecture of Asia-Pacific security cooperation that is open, transparent and equality-based,” Chinese President Xi Jinping told dignitaries from India and Myanmar last month. “The notion of dominating international affairs belongs to a different age and such an attempt is doomed to failure.”

Yet despite Xi’s depiction of China as a “peaceful, amiable and civilized lion,” the country’s moves have so far set off alarms across the region and pushed other Asian countries to seek backup from Washington. Promises to build a self-governing Asian community of nations have amounted to little more than words, while the reality has been what many see as Chinese bullying.

Xi, who has shown similar boldness at home since rising to power last year, is at the heart of the new strategy.

For the first time in decades, Chinese officials are emphasizing an “active” foreign policy that sets the regional agenda while touting China’s maritime strength.

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