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.