Saturday, July 9, 2016

China’s Foreign Policy under President Xi

Yang Jiemian

Jiemian YANG’s Dinner Keynote Speech at the East Asian Partners Dialogue on Latin American Studies Co-Sponsored by the China Academy of Social Sciences, the Shanghai Academy and the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies on June 15, 2016
Mr. Xi Jinping became the CPC Secretary General in November 2012 and the PRC President in March 2013. In the past three years and more, China’s Foreign Policy under President Xi is both a continuity of the past and a change of the present with a view to the future developments. Here I would like to share some of my personal thoughts on the following four points: 1. Internal and External Contexts; 2. Theories and Strategies; 3. Policies and Actions; and 4. Difficulties and Challenges.
1. Internal and External Contexts
President Xi’s Foreign Policy is basically determined by both internal and external contexts. However, different leadership has its different imprints on foreign policy because of different perception, judgment and reaction.
1.1. Internal drivers for China’s foreign policy. Someone said that President Xi knows what China wants. I would put it into three groups of driving forces. Firstly, it is to strive for China’s rejuvenation and modernization. It includes economic development and defense development. Secondly, it is to pursue a better and fairer society. It is more of political and social goals. Thirdly, it is to work at a role consistent with China’s history, population and comprehensive national strength.
1.2. External Drivers. On its own initiative, China’s international positions and roles are greatly increasing. China has a built-in urge for further reform and opening up so as to go with the on-going globalization and information age. Moreover, China is more proactive in participating and promoting global governance and regional cooperation. On the outside pushers, the re-configuration of world powers is in favor of the emerging powers including China. The international community lays greater hope on China’s contribution to the peace and prosperity of the world. The West, especially the United States has heightened its strategic vigilance on China’s rising.
2. Theories and Strategies
President Xi attaches particular importance to diplomatic theory and strategy. He stresses that China’s foreign policy should be guided by the right theory and strategy. Conversely, China’s foreign policy practice should conscientiously be crystallized into theory and strategy.
2.1. Features of President Xi’s Diplomatic Theory. President Xi’s diplomatic theory is based on the basic theory of China’s overall political thinking and foreign relations principles.
Firstly, President Xi emphasizes on diplomatic philosophy that is to learn to summarize the laws and rules of developments by right positions and methodologies, especially historical and dialectical materialism. Therefore, China’s diplomatic theory is characterized with long-term vision and broad thinking of the world. China’s overall framework of the worldview is the general point of departures and arrivals.
Secondly, President Xi learns hard the fine tradition of Chinese history and cultures and adapts them to the present and future realities. Both late Chairman Mao Zedong and President Xi like to quote Chinese ancient sayings. However, Mao’s quotations are often related to political struggles but Xi’s emphasis is more on good governance and friendly neighborhood. That President Xi inherits and carries forward the Chinese culture can basically be summed up as building of fairer and better off Chinese societies, peace loving and peace defending, and orderly human community.
Thirdly, President Xi works out a number of new concepts in line with the new developments, such as right approach between virtue and interests, new type of international relations based on win-win cooperation, new model of major country relations. In a longer run, President Xi also wants to put these pieces of concepts into more systematic theories. Furthermore, Xi’s theoretic concepts are more constructive and converging to the rest of the world.
2.2. Features of President Xi’s diplomatic strategies. Strategy is a frequent reference in President Xi’s speeches and statements. Under him, more strategic elements have been added to the domestic, regional and global dimensions of China’s diplomacy.
First of all, President Xi is a man of strategy, partly attributable to his family and personal backgrounds of long evolving in China’s politics and militaries, but more because of China being at a historical turning point. Upon approaching to the center-stage of the world, China needs more strategic thinking, top-level planning and bottom-line clarity. President Xi also put forth a number of strategies of global, regional and bilateral affairs such as Belt and Road Initiative and China-Latin America and the Caribbean relations.
Secondly, President Xi’s strategy is characterized by holistic and dialectic thinking. President Xi puts all the major events and issues under broader framework of thinking, if not globally at least regionally. He also likes to deal with these events and issues in an integrated way. In the past three years, China has already convened two important national conferences on foreign strategies and policies. One is working conference on neighborhood diplomacy in October 2013. The other is Central Working Conference on Foreign Affairs in November 2014. Both of them are of great strategic significance on China’s foreign policy. As a matter of fact, they set the tone and guide the general direction of China’s diplomacy at least for the first term.
Thirdly, President Xi’s strategies are made up by both thematic diplomacy and country/regional one. China used to focus on diplomatic work towards countries and region. They are still the foci. China’s respective diplomacy is now more of global and multilateral, regional and interregional contents. In January 2015, President Xi Jinping attended in Beijing the opening ceremony of the first ministerial meeting of the Forum of China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), thus giving a final touch to the all-coverage of China’s cooperative mechanisms with all the developing regions. Additionally, China has recently developed thematic strategies in world economy, climate change and new commons. These are the new developments of China’s strategy to global governance and international system.
3. Policies and Actions
Policies are the actual carriers for translating theories and strategies into realities. Foreign policies and actions catch the most attentions of the media and people. Obviously, President Xi’s foreign policies and actions have already made them prominent among the contemporary ones.
3.1. Clear and Determined. Compared with his predecessors, President Xi’s foreign policies and actions are more of a global power’s approaches and styles.
Firstly, they are clear in purposes, visions and missions. President Xi repeatedly stresses that China’s foreign policies should show its major power’s responsibilities. He has made many speeches covering almost all the realms of global affairs and China’s diplomacy. Moreover, he is a man of action. Under his leadership, China initiated the BRICS New Development Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, enhanced its support to the UN Peace-Keeping and other expenditures, and offered substantive assistance to the developing countries, especially the least developed countries (LDCs).
Secondly, they are firm and determined. Once President Xi and his colleagues have made the decisions, they will relentlessly promote and advance them. China is firm for a relation with the United States on the equal footing. China is determined to safeguard its rights in the South China Sea. China goes all out for maintaining stability. All are very much indicative of these features.
Thirdly, they are more predictable. President Xi is a straightforward person and he calls a spade a spade. According to his Selected Works and public speeches, one is not difficult to conclude what he wants to do and what he opposes to. For instance, President Xi’s attendance of UN Summits and Paris Conference on Climate Change in September 2015 show clearly what China want to shoulder the responsibilities in global governance and international system.
3.2. Pragmatic and Economic-Oriented. China is still a developing country and its strength mainly lies in the field of economics. However, China has greatly enhanced its economic clouts and upgraded its economic ladders. Therefore, China tries to effectively use the economic leverage to promote its foreign policy. For instance, China’s relations with the Latin American countries are mostly in the economic field. Another instance is China’s four partnerships with Europe for reform, growth, peace and civilization. Mostly they are of economic nature again.
3.3. Low-Politics and Public Diplomacy. China has attached greater importance to the low politics and public diplomacy. President Xi stresses people-to-people exchanges and calls for greater roles of think tanks.
4. Difficulties and Challenges
Foreign policy goes beyond one’s own country and is affected by both domestic and international factors. President Xi’s foreign policy is also confronted with many difficulties and challenges, some of them are profound ones. Particularly the following four merit our special attention.
4.1. The first is the limits. There is still a big gap between China’s goals and capabilities in foreign policy. Firstly, it is the hard power. In terms of domestic strength, China is about 75th place in the world according to per capita in 2015. In terms of comprehensive national strength, China is still lag behind in many fields such as science, technology and military. In many cases China ranks high in the production volume but low in the qualitative terms. Secondly, it is the intellectual and cultural power. In Chinese we say Mao Zedong lifted China out of a weak position being beaten, Deng Xiaoping the poor position being starvation, and it is still expected that Xi Jinping out of the position being scolded.  Thirdly, it is the institutions and mechanisms. China is a late and new comer at the institution and mechanism building of the international community. It is inexperienced and lacks accumulation of theories, talents and practices. The most obvious example is that China hosts no substantive Asian organizations of the United Nations, although China is the most important Asian country.
4.2. The second is priorities. For an administration that is expected to serve for two terms, President Xi has put forward a long list of domestic and foreign agendas for the years between 2013 and 2020. Some are long term and grandiose ones such as China Dream, Two Centennials and Belt and Road Initiative. Some are tough ones such as China-U.S. relations and South China Sea disputes. Therefore, these agendas and goals should be prioritized and focus on those that are doable and reachable ones.
4.3. The third is capacities. On the one hand, it is important to make full use of the existing and potential capacities. China needs to further modernize its foreign policy institutions and mechanisms so as to change the ad hoc capacities to institutional ones. On the other hand, China should proceed with its future capacity building, especially on global governance, international system and order, civil society and new science and technologies.
4.4. The fourth is publicities. Publicities here mean the following three dimensions. Firstly, China needs to make its own house in good order. Domestic strength is the basis of any country’s diplomacy. China needs to maintain its economic dynamism and social vitalities. Secondly, China needs to work harder and more effectively on the rights of discourses. Chinese narratives should be more understandable to the outside world and Chinese ways of thinking should be more accommodating with the whole world. Last but not least, China needs to adapt itself with the advancing of the times. Only holding the leadership in economics, science and technologies, political thinking and strategic leadership, can China succeed in garnering the global acceptance and support for its diplomacy.