The 19th Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party was marked by events related to foreign policy. Party congress provided guidelines to the Chinese leadership to address areas relevant to foreign policy for: a) articulating Beijing’s viewpoint on evolving Asian and global diplomatic and security environment; b) realization of national development goals in the realm of foreign affairs; and c) fixation of foreign policy priorities.
In this context President Xi Jinping’s report to National Congress made a clear analysis of the emerging international politics and state of global institutions. It emphasised on the need to maintain peace and pursue development as the top-most priorities of the Chinese diplomacy. At the same time, it asserts that China will expand its cooperation with the global institutions to advance the current global order. Increasingly, President Xi is presenting China as a model nation for other countries to emulate.
A good indicator of Chinese foreign policy under President Xi is looking at high-level diplomatic engagements of China during his first term. During past five years President Xi hosted five international summits. These included, the fourth summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (May 2014), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit (November 2014), the G20 Hangzhou summit (September 2016), the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (May 2017), and the ninth BRICS summit (September 2017). In addition to this, thirty heads of state and government witnessed special military parade in Beijing on September 3, 2015 to commemorate 70th anniversary of Chinese victory over Japan in World War-II.
Meanwhile, President Xi undertook 28 international trips visiting 56 capitals across five continents during last five years. He also addressed gatherings at headquarters of international and regional organisations, thus, positioning China as the leader-in-waiting of the international community.
During past five years President Xi has emphasised on two concepts, which can be termed as foundation of modern Chinese diplomacy: first is ‘great-power diplomacy with Chinese characteristics’; and second is ‘new type of great power relations’. Former refers to the notion that China is presently a developing nation but at the same time a major power ready to play a larger role in international affairs and assume additional responsibilities. Under President Xi China has been playing a more active role in addressing existing international challenges of terrorism, climate change and cybersecurity.
On the second concept, Chinese leadership has tried to engage the United States on forming rules for the conduct of behaviour in the international realm. President Xi has had summit level talks with President Obama and President Trump on navigating US-China relations in the current era. Also, both sides have discussed avenues for collaboration and possible divergence of interests in many regions of the world, with the objective to advance goals of stability and peace.
In this connection, a textual analysis of President Xi Jinping’s report highlights that President Xi mentioned “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” twenty-seven times. While “global community of common destiny” and the “Belt and Road Initiative” was mentioned six and five times, respectively. In an important development, these three terms have been incorporated into the constitution of Communist Party of China.
These concepts have made Chinese foreign policy most proactive in recent decades. At the same time, it has opened up new opportunities for China in the its neighbouring regions and far-away countries. In recent years Belt and Road Initiative has become the corner stone of Chinese diplomacy and economic engagement with the developing world. It aims to position China as the pivot of economic development of developing nations. In past five years Beijing has directly influenced global economic order by initiating multilateral financial institutions including Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the Silk Road Fund, and the New Development Bank. These have been launched in the framework of Belt and Road Initiative for connectivity across Eurasia. China is capitalising on its policy of peaceful rise pursued during past 20 years for expanding its engagement with the world. This template of Chinese foreign policy is expected to continue during the second-term of President Xi Jinping. Beijing will actively seek to avoid getting entangled in active disputes, pursue stability in crisis-ridden regions and advance its core national interests.
Most importantly, however, is Chinese leadership at the global stage. At a time when Washington is receding from the active global engagement and is looking inwards, President Xi Jinping has stepped forward as the advocate of globalisation. This is enabling Beijing to gain more influence and leadership of the international community. In essence, these developments indicate Beijing’s top priority until 2049, the 100th anniversary of the establishment of People’s Republic, as leadership will pursue great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. President Xi has promised that by then China will emerge as a “socialist, modern, and powerful country”. Like his first term, President Xi and his foreign policy team will continue to pursue similar trajectory during the second term.
The author is a resident scholar at IPI.