The Fundamentals of Xi Jinping's Diplomacy

Authors: Wang Li & Zhou Dongchen

More than 100 years ago, W. A. P. Martin, a widely-respected American scholar and jurist, rightly opined, “If China is to be a part of the family of civilized States— Chinese thought, the principles at the basis of Chinese history and life must be understood.” With no doubt, one essential to this intellectual interaction is mutual intellectual comprehension.

Due to this, it is necessary to approach the intellectual elements of President Xi Jinping’s diplomacy if people want to be aware of the strategic thinking of Chinese ends and means in pursuit of its greatness.

President Xi Jin-ping, who is also the General Secretary of the ruling party (CCP) and the Chairman of the Central Military Commission of China, is totally in charge of foreign affairs. As each previous leader distilled his own era’s particular vision of China’s needs to the successive generations, the Xi’s leadership has clearly sought to build on these legacies by undertaking a massive globally-oriented reform program of the Deng’s era. Belonging to the post-revolution generation after 1949, he has several unique features as the supreme leader of China today, which is the largest and economically most dynamic emerging power in the world. First he served in the Chinese military and then was on the field-study in the United States when he was a junior official in the 1980s. In addition, he was well-educated in social science rather than natural science and technology like his precedents. Given that a college degree in China is based on a Western-style curriculum, not a legacy of the old mandarin system, contemporary Chinese leaders are more influenced by their knowledge of the global affairs and domestic issues as well. The composition of the current leaders reflects China’s evolution toward participating in—and even shaping —global affairs.

Since 2012 when he took the post of General Secretary of CCP, Xi Jinping laid out a creative thinking and new strategies for China's diplomacy. In view of the historical mission of China’s rejuvenation as a great power, he frankly argued that the rise of China depends upon its participation into the world affairs, although it is pretty much dominated by the United States and its allies. Considering this, Xi has repeatedly rejected the concept of “Thucydides trap”. Rather, he puts forward that China must be able to deal with the ruling powers with Chinese distinctive vision, style and way of conducting diplomacy. As one of the major nuclear powers and the second largest economy of the world, China will persistently stick to peaceful rise and pursues its domestic development in the context of globalization with a view to actively engaging all countries for mutual benefit. To that end, China must work proactively to serve its overall economic and social development by fostering enabling conditions for Chinese businesses to go global and by fairly opening Chinese markets to foreign goods. By doing so, Beijing would be working with a pioneering spirit to break new ground in China's diplomacy and foreign relations.

Yet, in view of realism that argues against peaceful rise of any great power, China needs to identify its end as a rising power and how Beijing approaches the issues related to the current order ruled by the elite club of the G-7 headed by the United States. Due to this, Xi Jinping first proposed to build a community of shared future with China's neighborhood. He went further to call for building such a community in Asia, and eventually put forth the proposal of building a community of shared future for the globalized world at the United Nations. His overarching outline or roadmap for building this community is of five dimensions as follows, namely enduring peace, universal security, common prosperity, openness and inclusiveness, and making our world clean and beautiful. This proposal puts China's diplomacy on a moral high ground in keeping with the trend of the era. As Xi himself has interpreted on several occasions, to build up a new type of international relations featuring win-win cooperation means each country, in particular the great power, must get rid of the Cold War mentality or zero-sum game thinking since the times have changed. As we all live in the “global village”, the countries must keep pace with new trends in the 21st century and follow a win-win approach in handling external relations in the political, economic, security and cultural fields. Win-win cooperation is literally China's answer to the question "what should China want from the current world order or how would China as a rising power deal with the others’ interest in the 21st century". Given this, the global community needs to work to replace confrontation with cooperation, monopoly with shared benefits, and to jointly build a better world for all nations.

For sure, Chinese leadership is not naïve in dealing with international issues in terms of the anarchic and “power politics” nature. To that end, Xi Jinping highlights that China needs to make as many friends as possible and build a global network of partnerships while upholding the principle of non-alignment. Such partnerships are equal, peaceful and inclusive in nature. They are not dominated by any party, or draw lines of division, still less are they directed against any imaginary enemies or third parties. Pragmatically, the concept of partnerships is built upon a commitment to common ends and a readiness to seek common ground while setting aside differences. They transcend the Cold War mentality of "either with us or against us" that created confrontation between opposing alliances. China has established such partnerships with some 100 countries, regions or regional organizations, blazing a new trail in relations between countries that favor dialogue over confrontation, partnership over alliance.

Finally, since China is a rising power and a developing country as well, Xi Jinping vows to follow the well-laid tenet that more consideration should be directed to the interests of developing countries which have long been the foundations of China's foreign policy. Meanwhile, he puts forward the initiatives for the neighboring states concerning with security, development and regional stability. With the broader vision and strategic approaches, he has oriented the course of China’s peaceful rise in view of a more favorable international milieu. He calls for more proactive efforts to communicate China's views and exert its role in the international arena. Quite a few of Chinese initiatives have been accepted as international consensus that has been turned into global actions. To certain extent, this has become a hallmark of the soft power of China.

As Henry Kissinger wrote in his well-articulated book On China, “given its unique ancient pride and modern shame, China has thought of itself as a playing a special role.” Since rarely did Chinese statesmen risk the outcome of a conflict on a single all-or-nothing clash, elaborate multiyear maneuvers are closer to their style. In the meantime, the Chinese have been shrewd practitioners of Realpolitik and students of a strategic doctrine distinctly different from the strategy and diplomacy that found favor in the West. This study aims to argue that President Xi Jinping’s grand strategic thinking is that China has never been so close to the center of the world stage as a leading player, therefore, it requires the Chinese, both the leading and the ruled, to adopt a global perspective and grasp the underlying trend of the era in order to be aware of where China stands today in terms of the vicissitudes of global power. Due to this, Xi admits that China should neither take rash action nor sit by and be reactive. Rather, China should seize all opportunities and rise to challenges to pursue Chinese historical mission.

Today it is still too early to say when China will move to its national greatness once again, but one thing is certain that it is Xi Jinping who takes the whole country with 1.3 billions of people into the final stage of China’s century dream.

Wang Li is Professor of International Relations and Diplomacy at the School of International and Public Affairs, Jilin University China.

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