The Demarche of Chinese foreign policy in Xi’s Era

True, every turn and twist in Chinese politics has been accompanied by the compulsive projection of foreign policy in terms of principled constancy and shifts that followed. Nowadays, it is a commonplace to argue how many fundamental changes have occurred in post-Deng China since 1997.

For example, has Chinese foreign policy undergone a great change or transformation of its values, norms, security priorities and core interest over the past two decades? Given this, world media have once again focused on Chinese Communist Party (CPC) Congress held on October 18, in which Xi Jin-ping, the General Secretary of the ruling party of China, delivered the work report outlining the demarche of its foreign policy for the next 3 decades. The questions hereby involve Chinese leader’s perception of our “global community”, their development goals and means, and new tenets of foreign policy for the upcoming decades.

As China is driven by the millennium glory and the centenary shame from the beginning of the 20th century, its people have struggled consistently and persistently for realizing the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. Considering this, Xi admitted that now China has entered the crucial phase of its rise to a global power since Deng initiated the reform and openness-up in the late 1970s. He vows to continue upholding the fundamental goal of preserving world peace and promoting common development with all countries. Simultaneously, Xi reaffirmed that it is Chinese ruling party’s abiding mission to make greater contributions for building a community with a shared future for mankind in the globalized era.

To the people who hold the doctrine of realism and power politics, it is difficult for them to give up the concept of “the Thucydides trap” simply because China, like any other rising power historically, would surely challenge the ruling power’s interest, value and prestige. Accordingly, Xi appealed in his address at the Congress to reconstructing a new form of international relations featuring mutual respect, reciprocal benefits, justice, and win-win cooperation. This paper aims to interpret the demarche of Xi’s foreign policy from the concept, goal and prospect which were expounded at the CPC Congress.

Conceptually, the Chinese, both ruling and the ruled, have opined that global multi-polarity, economic globalization, IT application, and cultural diversity are the surging world trend forward. Given this, peaceful changes in the global governance system and international order are imperative. In practice, our “global community” is circumscribed by uncertainties and destabilizing factors covering from the increasing shortage of energy, widening gap between rich and poor countries, and hotspot issues in many regions; not to mention alarming unconventional security issues such as terrorism, cyber-security, climate changes and major infectious diseases. As we are living in a community with a shared future, it is feasible for all countries to work together, as “together, we never fail”, while keeping each own identity. As a matter of fact, no country alone can address so many challenges and issues; and no country can afford to retreat into self-isolation as well.

As the largest developing country in the world, China will continue to endorse trade and investment liberalization and facilitation, and strive to facilitate economic globalization more open, inclusive, and fairer so that it would benefit all countries concerned. This requires that China actively develop global partnerships and expand the convergence of interests with other countries. At the same time, as the most dynamic rising power along with others like India and Brazil, China has repeatedly declared that she will never pursue development at the expense of others’ interests, nor will China ever give up its legitimate rights and core interests. Due to this, it pursues a national security strategy that is in nature defensive, and henceforth China will never seek hegemony with a view to posing a threat to the world order.

Then, what does China want in its century-long dream for its greatness?

As one of the victims of the imperialist powers in modern history, China had suffered too much more and too much longer than any other countries. Due to this, the Chinese have never paused to pursue their national dream to be a strong power and, with such a goal, they naturally seek to develop reciprocal and friendly ties with countries around the world and eventually to be involved into the global governance. Rather than acting as a revisionist power against the status quo, China has at once demonstrated its respect for the world order, responsibilities for global issues and promotion of mutual benefits and inclusiveness in foreign affairs. More recently, Chinese leaders have expounded their rejection of the Cold War mentality or power politics, but underscored a new approach to enhance state-to-state relations through dialogues, in particular the new practice of “major power diplomacy”. Despite some still trying to accuse China for causing frictions in the region, citing its strained ties with neighbors Japan and the Republic of Korea, Beijing remains committed to the regional stability and peace as playing a more proactive role in preventing conflicts in the region including on the North Korea’s nuclear crisis.

Once again, how does China achieve its centenary mission by 2050?

Doubtless, the Chinese are not “utopian” in view of the complicated world and their still limited leverage in foreign affairs. Since they have steadily pursued national dream for a century, the leading elite in Beijing has been aware of the “global village” that is full of both hope and challenges. Then, Xi frankly admitted that China will endeavor to forge a pragmatic framework for major-power relationship featuring overall stability and mutual respects for each core interests and cardinal interests. China will deepen relations with its numerous neighbors in accordance with the principle of amity, sincerity, mutual understanding and reciprocal benefits. China will continually exercise its utmost efforts to expand and strengthen solidarity and cooperation with other developing states, which remain the foundation of Chinese foreign relations in the 21st century.

Obviously, foreign policy is always affected by the vicissitudes in foreign affairs, various priorities in domestic politics, and ruling elite’s perception of world reality. Due to this, it is self-evident that Beijing’s foreign policy will be adjusted or even shifted accordingly. But, be aware that the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation is a centenary dream which not only needs collective efforts but also closely related to the legitimacy of the ruling party of the CPC; therefore, no leading elite of China dare to change this historical task dictated by the mandate destiny. This is one of the key reasons why President Xi vows to work together through thick and thin to adhere to the fundamental strategy of opening up and pursue balanced development with its doors open wider and wider.

In retrospect, since Xi Jinping initiated the outline of the Belt and Road in 2013, Chinese government has invested tremendous energy, resources and wisdom on building up a sound platform for international cooperation in order to create new drivers of shared development, and inclusive are multiple-fields like public policy, infrastructure, trade, finance and social-cultural connectivity. All indicate that China is anxious to act as a genuine participant of the future world affairs, a responsible power involving the rules-making, and one of the key players to preserve the global order by both peace and force if necessary. No matter which is required in the future, there is no retreat or even hesitation for this giant rising power.

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