With the commanding in power of China’s new leadership in the March, China has unfolded its ambitious new diplomacy with amity, accommodation and principle.
As usual, China stresses on diplomacy with major powers, neighboring countries and developing countries, but with increasing initiatives and its own style of balancing. This has been fully manifested by President Xi Jinping’s push for China’s major-country foreign policy, with top-down grand design, as illustrated in the much highlighted Peripheral Diplomacy Work Conference convened in late October.
As a key element of the major-country foreign policy making by the new administration, Beijing has been keen in conceiving and presenting its own initiatives in stabilizing the region and the world. It has persistently focused on common development and security.
During the year, President Xi has paid four trips abroad, visiting major powers, peripheral states, a number of developing countries, with both official and unofficial formality, especially to those members of crucial regional development and security organizations such as SCO and APEC.
On commanding power, President Xi staged his international debut in March as Chinese new leader, with Russia high on his agenda of foreign visit. By strengthening Beijing’s strategic partnership with Moscow, China sent an unambiguous message throughout the world that it is dedicated to global stability, as China and Russia, as key independent players of the world, bear such responsibility. Then, in his second international tour, President Xi included the US where he had a lengthy unofficial summit at Annenberg, California, to allow substantial exchange with his American counterpart, President Barack Obama.
The notion of China-US forging “new type of major-country relationship”, which President Xi first put forward two years ago and that President Obama has now become more familiarized with in Annenberg, has set the benchmark for the two countries to work together. The term of “new type” has been their mutual assurance that China and the US will collaborate for common benefit rather than engaging in counterproductive competition or even rivalry.
Turning jargon to practice entails time and action. Facing nuclear test and threat emanating from the KoreanPeninsula, China and the United States stood solidly to thwart the challenge. President Xi spoke firmly at the Bo’ao Asia Forum, indicating that this country wouldn’t allow anyone to throw the region and the entire world to chaos for its own selfishness. Despite difference on the approach to resolving Iran’s nuclear issue and Syria’s chemical weapons issue, Beijing and Washington, as well as Russia and others, have been able to find a mutually acceptable solution to peacefully tackling these challenges. Also, the US sent its Vice President Joe Biden to China in early November, partly to work with China on the latter’s launch of East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). Again, the two giants were able to finesse their difference by defining common grounds in the first place.
In his first year as the head of state, President Xi has visited 12 developing countries in 2013, covering six countries in Africa and Latin America, and another six countries in Central and Southeast Asia. Clearly the president has attached great importance to China’s neighborhood, proposing the westward Eurasian Silk Road Economic Belt, and the ocean-bound Silk Road through Southeast Asia, each with boosted communication connectedness as a key element to promote wider regional integration. Obviously China is transforming itself as new provider of international public goods, in terms of regional initiative, as well as finance and technology, which has been well received in this part of the world.
Given China’s increasing rise, the traditional America-dominated balance of power in East Asia is shifting. Other powers and China’s neighbors could have felt this, and it is crucial that each side would act sensibly to allow space of peaceful coexistence. Entering the autumn, China has accelerated its brainstorm and implementation of developing a balanced peripheral diplomacy. In October, Beijing authority convened a highly important conference on peripheral diplomacy work, proposing to develop “intimate, sincere, benefiting and tolerant” relationship with its neighbors. In such a spirit, China, for the first time, worked out in October an oil co-development agreement with Vietnam in waters out of the mouth of Beibu Bay. In the same month, China cut a Border Defense Cooperation Agreement with India, helping reducing mutual security concerns in the area. China has even started consultation with ASEAN countries on South China Sea Code of Conduct, ushering an age of incremental and multilateral process for making regional peace order with its maritime neighbors.
China’s proactive and friendly handling of foreign affairs, especially in its neighborhood, doesn’t go without reciprocity. One of the tenets its Peripheral Diplomacy Work Conference has proposed, “Benefiting,” actually means mutual benefit. For few of its neighbors’ disrespectful behaviors, such as encroachment on Diaoyu Islands, China has no unlimited tolerance. China can neither accept Japan’s placing DiaoyuIslands under its ADIZ in 1969, a change of status at that time, nor Japan’s “nationalization” of the main islands there in 2012, a current change of status quo. Then placing China’s sovereign space of DiaoyuIslands under China’s own ADIZ is a measured and restrained response. This is China’s balanced foreign policy under present administration. China doesn’t expand its territorial space but has to protect its sovereignty given Japan’s provocation. China is willing to work with Japan to prevent and control the risk given the present circumstances.
In large sense, China, under the new leadership, is shaping itself as a more amicable and respectful major power. It is also keen in sending the message that respect is not a one-way passage and has to be protected by all parties concerned. China has further emerged in 2013 and will sail into the future with sensibility and confidence.
Shen Dingli is Professor and Associate Dean of the Institute of International Studies, Fudan University.