Xi’s foreign policy is no secret China promotes mutually beneficial cooperation to help realize the dreams of different peoples and does not seek hegemony
Is President Xi Jinping’s foreign policy really amystery, as some foreign media seem to think? Ever since Xi became China’s senior leader in November 2012, Western analysts have been trying to get the measure of the man, particularly his vision of China’s international relations.
There is little doubt that Xi is China’s strongest leader in a generation, and that Xi’s China has enacted a more proactive foreign policy: enhancing relations with Africa, strengthening the strategic partnership of cooperation with Russia, emphasizing territorial claims in the South and East China seas, proposing the development of a Silk Road economic belt and a maritime Silk Road for the 21st century, solidifying relations with Europe, and calling for a “new kind of big power relationship” with the United States.
At the just concluded fourth summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence BuildingMeasures in Asia, Xi met with the heads of almost every Asian nation, which included a high-profile joint declaration with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the signing of a huge gas deal with Russia. Speaking with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Xi said, “Displays of power and pressure and the use of external force are not acceptable.”
In his keynote address, Xi said China is a strong champion of the Asian security concept and is working to put it into practice.
While some may question China’s deep intent, Xi’s diplomatic philosophy is hardly a secret. It was prominent in hisMay 15 speech celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (underreported in global media).
Xi began by “paying tribute” to foreign friends who helped China’s construction and reform, who did China “the smallest favor”. (China is indeed loyal to its friends, even when they retire from power or fall from grace, like former US president Richard Nixon and former Japanese prime minister Kakuei Tanaka, both of whom re-opened relations with China.)
Xi outlined the key features of global affairs: a multipolar world, economic globalization, information society, converging interests, and community of destiny.
He lauded tolerance as a “virtue”, especially regarding diversity. He pledged China would be “fully open” and he promoted “mutually beneficial cooperation with other countries”.
Xi rejected the so-called “China threat” as “misleading”, having been founded on “deeply rooted prejudices”. He stressed that China has always been a peace-loving nation and Chinese culture advocates harmony; that China suffered tragically from foreign aggression and Chinese philosophy does not impose on others. Chinese patriotism “defends the homeland,” Xi said, but does not colonialize— the Silk Road exemplifies East-West exchanges for mutual benefit. Reiterating a familiar theme, Xi vowed that no matter how powerful China becomes, China will never seek hegemony over others.
He said history tells us that war is like the devil and a nightmare for all peoples, yet the world today is dangerous and in many countries wars rage or simmer. China will actively assume more international responsibility, with other countries, to jointly facilitate settlement of hotspot issues, support peacekeeping, and respond to humanitarian crises. China, Xi pledged, will continue to deal with conflicts and differences through dialogue based on equality and patience.
Xi called for more multichannel, multilevel exchanges between peoples, such as sister cities, cultural activities, civil diplomacy between non-government organizations, and public diplomacy among diverse peoples, to promote mutual understanding and learning. Xi called for “good Chinese voices” telling “good Chinese stories” to show the world the true China in a multidimensional way.
China seeks ways to unify the diverse dreams of different peoples, promoting global peace and human development. But this will not be easy, he cautioned. China, he said, has major challenges and should learn from the achievements of other countries.
Much of the world remains wary. Some wonder what to make of a peacefully developing China as seen through the prism of intensified claims and incidents in the South and East China seas. Sovereignty, from China’s perspective, is a highly charged issue, as it is in most countries, but especially in light of China’s century-long oppression by foreign powers. That said, all countries should fear the perils of tripping over small hurdles.
So should we take Xi’s foreign policy philosophy at face value? I think so, for three reasons: first, we must eschew self-fulfilling prophecies of suspicion and retaliation; second, China has huge domestic challenges and international tensions are disruptive; and third, Xi has generated genuine goodwill abroad, so it would make no sense to undermine his own leadership by making statements that turn out to be false.
It is China’s interest to help secure global peace and stability and to promote global development and prosperity. China must play an increasingly active role in the new world order. The author is an international corporate strategist and political/economics commentator. He is the author ofHow China’s Leaders Think and a biography of former president Jiang Zemin.