BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping feted neighbors Burma and India on Saturday, dusting off the 60th anniversary of a now rather obscure agreement signed in the early days of the Cold War to pledge a rising China’s commitment to peace.
In 1954, China, Burma and India signed the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, promising mutual non-aggression and non-interference in internal affairs, ideals then incorporated into the Non-Aligned Movement of countries who did not wish to choose between the United States and the Soviet Union.
However, China’s ties with both Burma and India soured in the 1960s, as China and India fought a border war and Burma’s military rulers oversaw torrid anti-Chinese riots, events that mar relations to this day.
More recently, China’s growing diplomatic and military clout has rattled nerves around the region, especially with Beijing’s increasingly strident moves to assert itself in territorial disputes in the East China Sea with Japan and in the South China Sea with countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines.
Xi, speaking to some 700 people in Beijing’s cavernous Great Hall of the People, including Burmese President Thein Sein and Indian Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari, said China would never try to impose its will no matter how strong it becomes.
“China does not subscribe to the notion that a country is bound to seek hegemony when it grows in strength. Hegemony or militarism is not in the genes of the Chinese. China will unswervingly pursue peaceful development because it is good for China, good for Asia and good for the world,” Xi said.
“The notion of dominating international affairs belongs to a different age, and such attempts are doomed to failure,” Xi added, in a speech strong on broad, vague statements about peace though short on detail.
“Flexing military muscles only reveals a lack of moral ground or vision, rather than reflecting one’s strength. Security can be solid and enduring only if it is based on moral high ground and vision,” he said.
Yet comments on border defense reported by the official Xinhua news agency late on Friday suggest that Xi will have his work cut out for him in trying to convince Asia that China’s intentions are really peaceful.
“Talking about frontier defense, one cannot help thinking about China’s modern history when the country was so weak and destitute that it was for everyone to bully,” Xinhua cited Xi as saying.
“Foreign aggressors broke China’s land and sea defenses hundreds of times, plunging the Chinese nation into the abysm of calamity,” Xi added, calling on people not to forget the “history of humiliation” and strengthen the borders, especially at sea.
Still, Xi was warm in his praise for India, whose new Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking to strengthen India’s armed forces and economy, in part to enable him to react more decisively in foreign relations than his predecessor, the mild-mannered Manmohan Singh.
“In one of his poems, Rabindranath Tagore, the great Indian poet, wrote that if you think friendship can be won through war, spring will fade away before your eyes,” he said, referring to the Bengali Nobel Literature laureate.
Xi noted that Burma, whose president has irritated China by suspending a major Chinese-invested dam project and seeking closer ties with the United States, was the first country to sign a border agreement with China, in 1960.
“The people of India, Myanmar and other Asian countries also cherish the values of love, kindness and peace,” he said.