Xue Li of CASS: Xi Jinping’s Foreign Policy Takes Shape

Xi Jinping’s Foreign Policy Takes Shape

January 9, 2015 from China Net


China is already the Number Two great power and is hoping to become Number One.  Issues for China in great power diplomacy under these circumstances have become “How does China as a great power get along with the United States?  In particular, how does China get along with large, medium and small sized states which do not have a comprehensive strength comparable to China’s?”

By Xue Li, Director of the International Strategy Research Office, World Politics and Economics Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

In the over thirty years since opening and reform began, China, a rapidly rising power, has not started a war.  This is unparalleled in the history of rising powers.  This is powerful evidence that China has in fact followed the policy it set in 1982 of conducting an “independent, sovereign and peaceful diplomacy”.  The special features of this foreign policy are not entering into alliances to avoid falling under the control of other states and stressing that diplomacy should serve the needs of economic construction.  This clearly breaks with China’s politics-driven diplomacy before opening and reform began.   Since about 1990, China has shifted its emphasis from bilateral to multilateral diplomacy.  China has become more and more skillful and confident in its multilateral diplomacy.  Since the 1990s, China has stressed building various degrees of partnership relations.  Currently China has established partnership relations with 67 countries and five local or regional organizations.

Building on these foreign policy lines and achievements, the new government has, in line with the rise in national strength and changes in international relations, has spent the last year making adjustments to its foreign policy.  The outlines of the new diplomacy, which have already emerged, show a clear Xi Jinping style.  Xi Jinping’s diplomacy has these characteristics:

  1. A steadily increasing consciousness that China is a great power

China’s leaders since Mao Zedong have stressed that China is a great power.  However China in those days was relatively backward economically and in science and technology.  The Chinese economy did not rank in the top ten.  Many countries had greater national comprehensive strength than China.  Great power diplomacy then referred to the United States, the Soviet Union, the European Union, Japan and other countries that were great powers on a global scale.  However, since 2008, China’s political and economic strength has begun to be felt around the world.  More and more countries see China as either a future superpower or already a superpower.  Since the opening of the Eighteenth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, the new Party center leaders have collectively realized that the gap between the overall comprehensive power of China and the United States has been shrinking daily and that China’s overall economy may surpass that of the United States after some years. China is already the Number Two great power and is hoping to become Number One.  Big power diplomacy under these circumstances has become “How does China as a great power get along with the United States?”  In particular how does China get along with large, medium and small sized countries which do not have comprehensive strength comparable to China’s?” This change in China’s position and roles has given rise to a number of diplomatic behaviors and characteristics.

  1. Proactive

China’s role and position have become more prominent.  China is already the largest trading partner for over 120 countries.  The influence of China’s policies on other countries is becoming clearer and clearer and so many countries pay close attention to every move that China makes.  In this atmosphere, continuing with the old foreign policy of “being modest about one’s strengths and keeping a low profile” [韬光养晦] would be unreasonable and not beneficial to China’s further development.  Therefore, China adopted active foreign policy, strengthened its own sense of responsibility and tried to provide some public goods.   China’s proactive foreign policy can be seen in its setting of the “The Silk Road Economic Belt” and “The 21st-century Maritime Silk Road” strategies,  in promoting the construction of a new kind of great power relationship and a new type of international relations,  and in taking full advantage of its special convening roles when when China hosts diplomatic activities [主场外交][i].   Naturally, these kinds of diplomatic efforts start from China’s own neighborhood.  Examples include the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Silk Road Fund and China’s proposal for a China – ASEAN free trade area.  Some regional efforts focus on regions beyond China’s own region. These include strongly promoting the creation of a BRICS Development Bank, promoting the creation of an Asia-Pacific Trading Area Security Region, strengthening the regional security organization Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia and promoting an Asian security vision based on security cooperation.

  1. Focus on Neighboring States, Reach Out to States that Can Play Pivotal Roles

In October 2013, China conducted working group discussions of unprecedented scale and scope on its diplomacy with neighboring states which propounded the ideals of “friendly, honest, kind and tolerant” and promoted a “correct view of what is proper and beneficial” and establishing a “community of common destiny” with the ASEAN countries.  These meetings arrived at a consensus on the importance of China’s relations with neighboring states.  China reached out to pivotal countries with the proposal, in Kazakhstan to build a Silk Road Economic Belt, in Indonesia proposing a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, in proposing the construction of a China – Pakistan economic corridor and a China-Mongolia-Russia economic corridor.

  1. Bottom Line Thinking

This means that we must be determined to protect China’s national interests such as:

  • Insisting that Japan recognize that a dispute exists about the Diaoyutai [Senkakus] Islands and make this a precondition for improving bilateral political relations with Japan;
  • Insisting that the Philippines give up on its law suit and return to the negotiating table; and
  • Strengthening China’s presence in the South China Sea by blowing sand to create land in the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands.
  1. Strengthening Public Diplomacy

Talks held in park-like settings and evening strolls[ii]  are innovative experiments in foreign relations.   Chinese people found something new in these meetings. They realized that diplomacy is conducted not only in formal meetings but can also be done through deep discussions in informal settings.  These meetings had an impact that would be difficult to achieve in formal negotiations.  Moreover, when Xi Jinping while on foreign travel tries to meet the ordinary people of the countries he visits.  In his speeches Xi often includes popular sayings, folk songs and greetings used in the host country.  This has made a deep impression on ordinary people who pay attention to foreign affairs.

At the Center’s late November 2014 Meeting on Foreign Affairs Work,  Xi Jinping clearly stated that China must have a great power diplomacy with special Chinese characteristics.  This applies not only China’s relations with great powers but means, for China itself as a great power, that China will not conduct a foreign policy like previous great powers.

In the discussion about I have perhaps left out some of the characteristics of China’s foreign policy and will rely on others to make up for my omissions.

Translator’s Notes:

[i]  China through “Host diplomacy”  主场外交 [zhuchang waijiao] seeks, as Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a 2013 press conference, to use the active role of the host to take a more active role in formulating responses to international issues.  Chen Dongxiao in the article “China’s ‘Host Diplomacy’: Opportunities, Challenges and Tasks” [ http://www.ciis.org.cn/gyzz/2014-10/14/content_7294218.htm ]  in the 5/2014 issue of the China Institute of International Studies journal Guoji Wenti Yanjiu examines the active role of host in convening international meetings can suit China’s increasingly proactive foreign policy and increase China’s international influence.  As host, China also has opportunities to boost the effectiveness of its public diplomacy as it hosts larger numbers of elites from developing countries, improves China’s image in the world, and get out “China’s story’.

[ii] References to the setting of the June 2013 Obama – Xi meeting  in Sunnylands Summit in California  and  the night stroll of the two leaders during 2014 Obama-Xi November 2014 meeting in Beijing.  See for example the Baidu Encyclopedia article on “park diplomacy” in Chinese at http://baike.baidu.com/subview/10683319/10894621.htm and on the evening strolls article at http://www.renminbao.com/rmb/articles/2014/11/21/60462.html

About 高大伟 David Cowhig

After retirement translated,with wife Jessie, Liao Yiwu's 2019 "Bullets and Opium", and have been studying things 格物致知. Worked 25 years as a US State Department Foreign Service Officer including ten years at US Embassy Beijing and US Consulate General Chengdu and four years as a China Analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Before State I translated Japanese and Chinese scientific and technical books and articles into English freelance for six years. Before that I taught English at Tunghai University in Taiwan for three years. And before that I worked two summers on Norwegian farms, milking cows and feeding chickens.
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