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Foreign Policy

Layering Major-country Diplomacy with Chinese Characteristics

Feb 08 , 2016

In face of the historic opportunity offered by a changing international order, Chinese President Xi Jinping put forward the idea of developing ‘major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics’ to guide Chinese diplomacy in this age of big changes.

At the Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs held in November 2014, Xi delivered an important statement, putting forward the concept of ‘major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics’ for the first time and explicitly requiring ‘advancing major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics and further opening up a new situation of diplomatic work’. This new positioning reflects the new consciousness, confidence and strength in the external strategy of China as a ‘rising power’. Its meaning may be summed up as ‘one path, two philosophies and one correct notion of moral values and interests’.

To be more specific, China will persistently pursue peaceful development and commit itself to achieve a peaceful rise and to break the so-called law that a strong nation is bound to seek hegemony. Meanwhile, it will absolutely neither give up its legitimate rights or interests, nor sacrifice its core interests. In the Chinese notion of righteousness, moral values and interests may both be accommodated by honoring good faith, friendship, justice and moral principles, refraining from interfering in other countries’ internal affairs and seeking negotiated and peaceful resolution to differences and disputes between countries through dialogue.

The first philosophy behind China’s new strategy: Develop a new type of international relations featuring cooperation and win-win. It is different from the old zero-sum-game mindset and consistent with the bigger trend of state-to-state inter-dependence and globalization. It also contains a desire to avoid the “Thucydides’ trap” through the new model of major-country relations and to develop together with other countries a ‘community of common destiny for all mankind’ in the political, economic, security, cultural and ecological fields.

Moreover, this approach to major-country diplomacy focuses on distinctive Chinese characteristics. The academic circle tends to be rather binary on traditional strategic culture, pursuing either kingcraft or rule of force. Such an either-or differentiation is oversimplified. I myself see three different aspects of the traditional strategic culture: pure kingcraft by Confucianist Mencius, featuring greater value on justice over material gains and excess idealism; rule of force as represented by legalist Han Fei Zi, seeking nothing but profits and engaging in unjust military ventures; and pragmatic kingcraft by Confucianist Hsun-Tzu, stressing a combination of justice with profits, moral principles with strength, and force with mercy. Pragmatic kingcraft was practiced by the Han, Tang and Qing dynasties and represented the essence of traditional Chinese strategic culture.

In his diplomatic theory, Xi pays much attention to cultural origin and historical inheritance. He stresses the need to adapt ancient forms for present-day use, to innovate on the basis of carrying forward tradition, to embrace the past but forge ahead into the future, and to benefit all people in the world. The stamp of Chinese civilization in the pursuit of pragmatic kingcraft differentiates China from the power politics and hegemony of Western powers.

Additionally, the focus of this diplomacy are major countries, indicating China’s intention to proceed from its new status and strength and to engage in foreign affairs as a major country in the Asia Pacific and the world at large. The nation now tries to strike a balance between hiding its light and making a difference, paying attention to both the influences and responsibilities of a major country and taking on a more enterprising, proactive, pioneering and innovative attitude. This was manifest in its three diplomatic achievements in 2015.

The first was an obvious attempt to guide global governance reform and reshape the international order with various advanced ideas. At the series of summits marking the 70th anniversary of the UN, the G20 and APEC summits, the Paris Climate Conference and China-Africa Cooperation Forum summit, Xi delivered a series of important speeches, stressing the need to maintain the contemporary international order — centered on the values of the UN Charter — and putting forward Chinese ideas for reforming and improving global governance and promoting healthy development of the world economy. The very positive energy contained in these actions has been luminous for the very much disturbed work at this eventful time.

The second achievement last year was to attract different parties with a series of constructive initiatives for great Sino-foreign cooperation. The AIIB, created upon Chinese initiative, received enthusiastic response as Western powers including the UK, France and Germany rushed to join despite American discontent and obstruction. Countries concerned place high hopes on the Belt and Road Initiative China has championed, with steady progress in relevant projects and construction. The ten major China-Africa cooperation plans proposed by Xi have been widely praised in Africa.

The third one was the improvement and enrichment of China’s diplomatic platform to serve both domestic and external affairs needs. On the one hand, China has made efforts to deepen relations in the neighborhood, stabilize relations with major countries, upgrade South-South cooperation and expand multilateral diplomacy. On the other hand, economic diplomacy has been used to complement security diplomacy by aligning economic development with peace and security, and to create an even more favorable external environment for reform, development and economic restructuring at home.

In the end, major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics not only represents a profound transformation of and a self challenge to the conduct of external affairs, but also critiques and transcends the existing paradigm of international relations.

Major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics is thus in keeping with the world trend of multi-polarization, globalization and diversification. Chinese philosophies are leveraged to reshape, optimize and reform the existing ecology and mindset of international relations. It will gradually dispel and weaken such obsolete concepts as the law of the jungle, hegemonism, power politics, Cold-War mentality and confrontation between military alliances so as to promote the evolution of a more communal spirit in international relations.

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