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30 Years of China's Diplomacy (1978-2008)


December 22, 2008  NO. 52 DEC. 25, 2008   Beijing Review

In the three decades since adopting the opening-up policy, China has taken on a new international role.


[The author is president of the China Institute of International Studies and former Chinese Ambassador to Britain.]

Over the past 30 years, China's national strength, influence and international position have all increased, while the international environment has changed substantially. The shifting international environment forced Chinese leaders to evaluate and revise diplomatic policy, with positive results. Now, Chinese diplomacy is a powerful force on the international arena.

China's basic diplomatic policy and principles

In the years after China adopted its reform and opening-up policy in 1978, the international situation changed a lot, but certain complications remained. This presented China with both precious opportunities and tough challenges. Based on the changing international situation and the demands of domestic development, Chinese leaders Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao adjusted the diplomatic policies formulated by Chairman Mao Zedong in the 1950s. They made a series of proposals that guided China's diplomacy to success.

After analyzing the international situation and the major powers, Deng forecast that there would be no world war within the coming decades. He argued that China should use the peaceful decades to develop itself, an observation that set China on its future course.

Deng also concluded that peace and development are the two dominant themes of the modern world. Moreover, he stressed, the two are inextricably linked: Peace cannot exist without development, and development cannot be realized without peace. Peace is the most important precondition of human existence and development.

These conclusions not only shifted the country's internal focus from interclass struggle to economic development, but also formed a solid basis for adjusting existing diplomatic policy and setting new guidelines.

In the early 1990s, the international situation underwent seismic changes as the Soviet Union fell apart and Eastern European countries abandoned their socialist stance. The United States took the opportunity to impose strict sanctions on China in the hope that socialism there would similarly weaken. But China withstood the high pressure and achieved great progress through opening up. The Western countries soon had to repair their relations with China.

Maintaining state sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity are the core interests and common wishes of the Chinese people. Based on the policy of "one country, two systems" that Deng originally proposed in the 1980s, Hong Kong and Macao returned to China in 1997 and 1999, respectively. In 1979, China declared that its strategy in dealing with the Taiwan question was peaceful reunification. The Central Government later adjusted the policy to "peaceful reunification and one country, two systems," which reflected changes in their guidelines and thinking. China never hesitates on issues of sovereignty and territorial integrity."

The 1997 Asian financial crisis threw many economies in the region into a tailspin. The international financial system felt the impact as well. Although China was relatively unaffected, Chinese leaders urged the Asian continent to cross the river of the financial crisis on the same boat, and refused to depreciate the renminbi under pressure. China greatly stabilized the international financial market through this measure, while also trying its best to supply capital to countries in trouble. Its responsible behavior received worldwide recognition.

China responded quickly after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001, and since then has supported and coordinated with other countries in the international war on terror. China has been working with related countries to promote nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation and peaceful use of nuclear energy. It has made great contributions to the peaceful solution of the nuclear issues in North Korea and Iran. Nowadays, both traditional and non-traditional security threats seriously jeopardize human existence. China has proposed a new security concept based on mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and coordination, a concept that suggests resolving regional and global security issues by strengthening international cooperation. This concept has been widely praised in the world.

Before entering the 21st century, China summed up all the experiences and lessons of the century before. It asked the question, what kind of world should we bring into the new century? In the meantime, it strengthened relations with many countries in the world. For example, China has established strategic relationships with Russia, the European Union (EU), Japan, Pakistan, India and Brazil, and developed active relations with the United States as an international stakeholder. These relationships encourage concerned parties to view bilateral ties from a long-term, strategic perspective, thus promoting lasting and stable relationships between China and major countries in the world.

Just like every coin has two sides, economic globalization creates both opportunities and challenges for all countries in the world. As globalization has developed, its adverse effects have become more obvious. Developed countries like the United States and European countries sometimes try to pass the buck to developing countries including China. Faced with this situation, China has kept a clear head on globalization and managed to realize faster and better development. Meanwhile, China insists that all countries in the world share development opportunities and jointly cope with challenges, so as to reach the goal of common development.

China's rapid and persistent development has sparked world interest. Most countries welcome China's vigorous growth and hope to hop on China's economic express. But the Western world led by the United States also views this economic growth and the heightened power that accompanies it with suspicion and fear, leading to theories like the so-called "China threat." The West tries to press China on human rights and other issues, but the fact that China has stuck to peaceful development bursts the "China-threat" bubble. As more countries benefit from China's development, they will better understand that China is pursuing peaceful development.

To China, its domestic development has closer relations with outside world. Therefore, the Central Government stresses the communications between domestic and international situations, and unites domestic development with opening up to the outside world.

The world is now at a historical moment of reformation and adjustment, when conflicts, chances and challenges coexist. The current international order has many deficiencies that make it difficult to address problems as they emerge. Considering the future and fate of the world, China calls on the peoples of different nations to join hands to establish a harmonious world with lasting peace and common prosperity.

Diplomatic achievement

Over the past 30 years, China has developed a diplomatic system with strong Chinese characteristics. China has adhered to an independent foreign policy of peace, insisting that diplomacy always serve its modernization process. It seeks to develop friendly cooperation with all countries on the basis on the five principles of peaceful coexistence, and opposes power politics and hegemony in all forms. As China continues to develop, it is assuming the role of a big responsible country.

China's diplomatic achievements mainly fall into four areas.

First, China has actively developed friendly and mutually beneficial cooperation with neighboring countries and regions in order to build an amicable, tranquil and prosperous neighborhood. China's relations with its neighbors are now in their best period in history.

China has resolved boundary issues left over from history with its northern neighbors. By pushing forward the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, China has strengthened friendly cooperation with Central Asian countries in many aspects such as security, economy and culture.

China has also enhanced its relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), actively participated in cooperative mechanisms like the 10+1 (ASEAN plus China), 10+3 (ASEAN plus China, Japan and South Korea) and the East Asia Summit, and pushed forward the establishment of a China-ASEAN free trade zone. By strengthening cooperation and consultation in aspects including security, China and ASEAN have set up regional, sub-regional, bilateral and multilateral cooperation.

China has made great efforts to realize peace, stability and non-proliferation on the Korean Peninsular by hosting and participating in the six-party talks. It has set up a strategic and reciprocal relationship with Japan and upgraded the Sino-South Korean relations to a strategic and cooperative partnership. Furthermore, trilateral cooperation among the three East Asian countries has gained strength.

China now is an observer member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, and its relations with South Asian countries constantly make new progress. The traditional strategic relationship with Pakistan has endured tests of history. The Sino-Indian relationship has also entered a new stage of development. China supports Afghanistan in its struggle to achieve domestic stability and has provided reconstruction aid. Overall, China has maintained good cooperation with its neighbors.

Second, China has developed good and stable relations with world powers. During the past decade, the Sino-Russian relations have been upgraded from a friendly relationship to a constructive partnership, then a strategic and cooperative partnership facing the 21st century. They have completely solved their boundary dispute and enhanced strategic mutual trust.

In its relations with the United States, China has worked to stabilize and develop the relationship in accordance with the basic interests of both countries, which benefits peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. Disagreements between the two countries are inevitable, but their common interests are more important. Based on the three joint communiqué, the two sides have developed their cooperation and coordination in political, economic and security aspects and international affairs, while emphasizing common ground and reserving differences. They have established many consultation mechanisms such as the China-U.S. Strategic Dialogue and the China-U.S. Strategic Economic Dialogue, which are of great strategic and practical significance in promoting stable and healthy development of bilateral ties.

The relationship between China and Europe has also developed well. They established an overall strategic partnership in 2003, and made outstanding achievements in political, economic, scientific and technological, and cultural communication and cooperation. However, differences and disputes between China and the EU become more conspicuous, especially over trade and human rights. But there are no geopolitical conflicts between them, and economic and trade relations are healthy. Therefore, the China-EU relationship basically remains strong.

Communication and coordination between China and other big developing countries have also become stronger and deeper, which is definitely of great significance.

Third, traditional friendship, unity and cooperation between China and developing countries have greatly developed. As a developing country, China considers deepening friendship and cooperation with developing countries an important strategy for realizing common development and prosperity. To promote South-South cooperation, China established the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and the Forum on China-Arab Cooperation and strengthened cooperation with the countries involved. China has also deepened its cooperation with Latin America, the Caribbean and the South Pacific.

Fourth, China has been more actively deploying multilateral diplomatic activities and playing a more influential role on the world stage.

With one fifth of the world's population and a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, China has a responsibility for the fate of human beings and security in the world. China's first and foremost contribution to the progress of human society is steady and stable development at home. To promote world peace, development and cooperation, China shoulders more and more responsibility, seeking to establish an international order that is more equal and just.


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