Monday, December 22, 2014

China’s Big Diplomacy Shift

China signals a change in priorities, raising the risk of tension with the developed world.

By Timothy Heath

THE DIPLOMAT - December 22, 2014

China’s decision to elevate in priority its relationship with its neighbors over that with the United States and other great powers, confirmed at the recently concluded Central Work Conference on Foreign Relations, heralds a major shift in its diplomacy. The decision reflects Beijing’s assessment that relations with countries in Asia and with rising powers will grow more important role in facilitating the nation’s revitalization than relations with the developed world. This suggests that over time, China may grow even less tolerant of Western interference in PRC interests and more confident in consolidating control of its core interests and pressing demands to reform the international order. Washington may need to step up coordination with its Asian partners to encourage Chinese behavior that upholds, rather than challenges, the principle tenets of the international order.
“General Framework for Foreign Relations”
At the Central Work Conference, Xi Jinping changed the order of the general framework for foreign relations (zongti waijiao buju). The general framework is a simple, but authoritative, list of broad categories of countries. It provides the conceptual schema upon which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) hangs general instructions on how to approach foreign policy. In itself, the general framework says very little about how to conduct foreign policy. It does, however, provide one important clue- the list’s order has long been understood to suggest a sense of priority, especially in the reform era. Relations with country types at the top of the list, in other words, are understood to have a stronger bearing on China’s prospects than those at the bottom of the list.  The general framework frames virtually all official analyses, documents, and policy directives related to diplomacy. This schema thus provides a simple, easily identifiable layout to help officials and bureaucrats prioritize foreign policy work and interpret directives from central leaders.

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