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Foreign Policy

Understanding China’s Diplomacy

Oct 03, 2022
  • Zhong Yin

    Research Professor, Research Institute of Global Chinese and Area Studies, Beijing Language and Culture University

Recently Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi conducted a series of important diplomatic activities at the annual UN General Assembly, delivering a speech during the general debate, meeting counterparts on the sidelines and addressing Asian society in New York. These speeches and gestures have won widespread attention at a time of global uncertainty amid the still-ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a sluggish economy and the Russia-Ukraine war. The world wants to know how China’s foreign policy is affected by these and how it may evolve in future.

First, the visit revealed China’s world vision at a time filled with pessimistic views on major power conflict and a decrease in global cooperation. The overlapping trends of COVID and rising tension between big powers have consumed and damaged China’s world standing for some time, triggered mainly by Western media and governments. China’s strict zero-COVID policy has also limited the scope and depth of face-to-face diplomatic encounters. China aims to make full use of this opportunity to express its thinking on developing trends to minimize outside suspicions and enhance mutual understanding and trust. 

As Wang put it, the world has entered a new phase of turbulence and transformation. However, the era is also full of hope, since peace and development remain the underlying trend of the times. China’s answer, Wang says, is to ride the trend of history and build the community with a shared future for mankind advocated by Chinese President Xi Jinping. These positive and dynamic words signify to the world that Xi’s thought on diplomacy, based on peace and prosperity for all humankind, will continue after China’s 20th Party Congress.

Second, China’s position on the Ukraine conflict has been clear and consistent. Since the war broke out, the West has attacked and stigmatized the Sino-Russia relationship, threatening to impose sanctions on China if it aids Russia militarily. It has spreadf the rumor that China has sided with Russia by refusing to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has pursued a close strategic alliance with Russia to counter the United States. The West even criticizes China for repeatedly calling for a peaceful resolution through dialogue, while charging that China has taken no action to facilitate such a dialogue.

On this formal occasion, Wang clarified once again China’s neutral and constructive attitude on the issue. He showed serious concern about the challenges faced on the ground and the high risks the war may impose on the fate of people across the globe. During his meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, on the sidelines of the General Assembly Wang said that the “sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries must be respected, ... the legitimate security concerns of all countries must be taken seriously and all efforts that are conducive to the peaceful settlement of the crisis must be supported.”

The underlying logic is that China supports the legitimate interests and territorial integrity of both sides, and opposes resolving the issue by coercion or force. This crushes any suspicion that China sides with either Russia or Ukraine. 

Taiwan is another focal point. Tensions have risen between Beijing and Washington in recent months, especially after the visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the highest-profile U.S. official to go to the island in 25 years. The visit prompted Beijing to launch ballistic missiles around Taiwan in a live-fire military exercise.

This month, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the Taiwan Policy Act, which complements the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979. It is aimed at boosting Taiwan’s ability to defend itself militarily against “a potential Chinese invasion of the island, while deepening symbolic U.S.-Taiwan ties.” President Joe Biden reiterated that “U.S. forces will defend Taiwan if China invades,” making the situation worse.

The upgrading of U.S.-Taiwan ties in the name of self-defense — even to the verge of de facto Taiwan independence — has shaken the fundamental basics of the Sino-U.S. relationship based on the “one China” principle. This time Wang intends to reinforce, once again, China’s resolve to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“Any scheme to interfere in China’s internal affairs is bound to meet strong opposition, and any move to obstruct China’s reunification is bound to be crushed by the wheels of history,” he said, adding that only when China is completely reunified can there be enduring peace across the Taiwan Strait.

Last is China’s attitude toward global security and development based on multilateralism. Today’s most intractable problems — from the Russia-Ukraine war and risks of clashes between NATO and Russia to global food supply chain disruptions — need innovative solutions. Based on both the Global Security Initiative and the Global Development Initiative put forward by China at the Boao Forum in April, Wang explained more of what they mean. They offer a prescription to today’s problems and will help transform the norms and efficiency of global governance.

On one hand, China advocates the rejection of Cold War thinking, unilateral sanctions and “long-arm jurisdiction.” It stands firm against any attempt to politicize human rights. It opposes bullying by any country and rejects group politics and bloc confrontation. China supports the UN-centered international system and pledges greater contributions to advancing “the noble cause of the United Nations.”

On the other hand, China has always been generous in aiding low-income countries — including the suspension of foreign debt and providing development aid. President Xi pledged $3 billion in May last year to support COVID-19 responses and economic recovery in developing countries. China has also contributed to global development and has worked to keep industrial and supply chains up and running, Wang said.

At an important historical junction, both domestically and for the world at large, Wang’s full display of China’s foreign policy provides windows of both understanding and opportunity. His message is constructive for all who really want to listen and build a bridge. 

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