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Foreign Policy

What the Two Sessions Reveal about Foreign Policy

Mar 25, 2024
  • Zhu Zhongbo

    Director, Department for International and Strategy Studies, China Institute of International Studies

During this year’s two sessions, Chinese Premier Li Qiang delivered the Government Work Report, and Foreign Minister Wang Yi answered foreign policy questions from journalists during a news conference. Combining the related content, one gets a clear sense of the direction of China’s foreign policy for 2024. China will continue to make progress while ensuring stability.  It will break new ground while keeping to its founding principles in steering China’s relations with the world. 

I. The continuity and stability of China’s foreign policy will provide some certainty in a world of change and disarray

In presenting the Government Work Report, Premier Li Qiang noted: “We will stay committed to an independent foreign policy of peace and peaceful development. We will remain firm in pursuing a strategy of opening-up for mutual benefit.”

This is consistent with the statement in the 2023 report, which reflected on the strategic autonomy, peaceful nature and high degree of certainty in Chinese diplomacy. It committed China to being a builder of world peace, a contributor to global development and a defender of the international order, and it underscored China’s desire to promote peaceful development in the world and to facilitate shared peace and prosperity for the global community.

Foreign Minister Wang noted in his question-and-answer session that the global landscape is undergoing a profound transformation, as human society is confronted with multiple challenges. In this changing and turbulent international environment, China will remain a staunch force for peace, stability and progress of the world. 

II. The innovative strategic features of China’s diplomacy will become more prominent

The 2024 Government Work Report underlined the achievements of China’s diplomatic theory and practice in 2023. First of all, the report said, “We call for an equal and orderly multipolar world and universally beneficial and inclusive economic globalization” —which are the two main propositions from the Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs. It represents China’s responses to a series of major challenges for world peace and development, such as hegemonism, power politics, intensified global turbulence, rising headwinds against globalization, abusing the concept of security and the spread of unilateralism and protectionism. China also wants to actively participate in global governance and to lead reforms.

Second, the Government Work Report alluded to the Global Development Initiative, the Global Security Initiative and the Global Civilization Initiative. These three initiatives are major concepts proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2021, 2022 and 2023 that have attracted great attention and appreciation from the international community and have been incorporated into bilateral and multilateral documents between China and many countries and international organizations. Important progress has been made in advancing the three initiatives.

Third, the work report highlighted building a community with a shared future for mankind as the primary task of China’s foreign policy and top-level design. Building that community is the noble goal of Chinese diplomacy in the new era, and also the primary task of China’s foreign policy work in the foreseeable future. The relevant paragraphs in the work report focused on the building of a community with a shared future for mankind — the most distinctive signature of Chinese diplomacy. 

III. Higher-standard opening-up and China’s confidence, openness and enterprising spirit

The 2024 Government Work Report emphasizes a “higher-standard” of opening-up, sending key messages about advancing China’s relations with the world, launching a number of important initiatives aimed at promoting China’s trade and investment cooperation and promoting people-to-people exchanges.

China will further align with high-standard international economic and trade rules, expand institutional opening-up, promote the quality and quantity of foreign trade, increase foreign investment, strive for solid progress in high-quality Belt and Road cooperation and deepen bilateral, multilateral and regional economic cooperation.

Some specific measures have attracted attention, including making it easier for foreign nationals to work, study and travel in China, fully applying the negative list for cross-border trade in services; abolishing restrictive measures on foreign investment in manufacturing; easing market access in telecommunications, healthcare and some service sectors; and reaching more high-standard FTAs and investment agreements with more countries and regions.

Since last year, China has realized full mutual visa exemptions with more than 20 countries, including Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Foreign Minister Wang announced at the news conference that China will implement a visa-free policy on a trial basis with six European countries, including Switzerland and Ireland. On March 7, the Opinions of the General Office of the State Council on Further Optimizing Payment Services to Enhance Payment Convenience was released, with the aim of upgrading the level of elder-friendly and internationalized payment services, removing barriers for payments for the elderly and foreign nationals coming to China, bringing about seamless connections for domestic and international payments, optimizing the business environment and promoting high-level opening-up. China will also expedite the resumption of international passenger flights.

These initiatives will undoubtedly give a big boost to exchanges between China and the rest of the world, ushering in a surge of people-to-people exchanges in the post-pandemic era. 

IV. Carry forward the fighting spirit and resolutely defend national sovereignty, security and development interests

The section on national defense in the Government Work Report said that the armed forces will “firmly safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests.” In the news conference of the foreign minister, it was mentioned that we must resolutely oppose Taiwan independence and foreign interference.

Replying to a reporter’s question, Wang said this sufficiently proves that the one-China principle is already a prevailing international consensus. Those who connive and support Taiwan independence are challenging China’s sovereignty. Certain countries that continue to insist on maintaining official relations with Taiwan are interfering in China’s internal affairs. Someday, there will be a family photo of the whole international community in which all members uphold the one-China principle. Whoever in the world connives at and supports Taiwan independence will get burned for playing with fire and will taste the bitter fruit of their own doing.

 According to the budget announced during the two sessions, the country will set aside 1.69 trillion yuan as national defense expenditure in 2024, of which 1.67 trillion yuan will be spent at the central government level, showing China’s determination to safeguard its national interests and the dignity of the nation. However, China’s defense expenditure as a percentage of GDP is only about 1.3 percent, and has remained below 2 percent for nearly 40 years, far below the global average, indicating that China’s defense expenditure is moderate and reasonable and that it has no intention of engaging in any arms race. 

V. Maintain strategic poise and historical self-confidence

The 2024 Government Work Report laid out a clear-eyed and sober assessment of the difficulties and challenges ahead. When talking about the international environment facing China’s development, it used the expression “unusually complex international environment,” referring to the external environment having an “adverse impact on China’s development” and noting that China’s external environment “has become more complex, severe and uncertain.”

All this is consistent with the statement of the Central Working Conference about challenges related to the strategic environment and China’s future development, as profound global changes are unfolding at an accelerated pace. Changes altering our immediate situation, as well as the trajectory of history, are taking place in ways never before seen. The world has entered a new period of turbulence and change, and the external environment is one of high winds and choppy waters.

Nevertheless, the Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs stressed that the general direction of human development and progress will not change; the prevailing logic of world history (despite its twists and turns) will not change; and the overall intertwining trend of the international community will not change. Therefore, we should have confidence.

These three “will not change” trends were also reflected in the 2024 Government Work Report, which concluded that comprehensive analysis and assessment shows that China’s development environment this year will continue to feature both strategic opportunities and challenges, with favorable conditions outweighing unfavorable ones. These include China’s significant institutional advantages, its level of demand as a supersize market, its talent pool of high-quality workers and the continuous improvement of its scientific and technological innovation capacity. In addition, it is steadily accumulating internal driving forces for growth as it rides a general long-term wave of economic growth.

This is why China’s GDP growth target for 2024 was set at around 5 per cent, with an expected economic output of about $875.1 billion, leading the annual GDP of most countries in the world. China is set to maintain its 30 percent contribution to global economic growth, to give strong impetus to world development and to bring great growth opportunities to the rest of the world.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. It is also a pivotal year for the comprehensive advancement on its path to modernization. China’s diplomacy will hold high the banner of building a community with a shared future for mankind; it will align itself with the goals and tasks of modernization; and it will join hands with the international community to promote its three Global Initiatives: It will build a new type of international relations, promote a high-quality Belt and Road and shape a new pattern for relations between China and the world while promoting the cause of peace and development for mankind.

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