Since the October 2013 Central Conference on periphery diplomacy, Chinese diplomacy regarding neighboring countries has followed the new philosophy of “good neighborliness, sincerity, mutual benefits, and inclusiveness,” presenting a proactive “new normal” in diplomatic relations.
First, through frequent visits to neighboring countries, President Xi has been deepening bilateral cooperation, enhancing Chinese influences on the areas. From September 11 – 19, President Xi traveled to four countries in central and south Asia ahead of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Through these visits to neighboring countries, Xi Jinping formed a complete circle that covered the four geopolitical directions of central, southeast, northeast, and south Asia.
The visit to Russia and multiple meetings with Russian President Putin have solidly promoted strategic mutual confidence and cooperation between Russia and China. During Xi’s visit to Russia in March 2013, the two countries’ joint communiqué promised strong mutual support on issues regarding such core interests as sovereignty, territorial integrity and security. During his September 11, 2014 meeting with Putin, Xi stated that China and Russia should enhance mutual support to jointly cope with external risks and challenges.
With two trips to central Asia, Xi further consolidated the strategic geopolitical support zone west of China to secure its continued peaceful development. During his September 12, 2014, speech at the SCO Summit, Xi emphasized member countries’ awareness of the SCO as a “community of common destiny, and community of common interests,” and appealed for all-out efforts to promote the SCO to a higher level. Additionally, President Xi systematically expounded on China’s new central Asia policies last September in Kazakhstan.
Xi’s trip to Southeast Asia consolidated mutually beneficial cooperation with ASEAN. In October 2013, Xi’s visits to Indonesia and Malaysia upgraded bilateral relations with the two countries to all around strategic partnerships, and put forward the proposal for building a “China-ASEAN community of common destiny.”
Xi’s visits to the Republic of Korea and Mongolia, two northeast-Asian countries, enhanced Chinese initiatives in the area. His visit to the Republic of Korea improved China-ROK relations as the two parties decided to enrich their partnership of strategic cooperation, coordinate with each other to jointly boycott the rightist turn of the Japanese authorities, and stabilize the Korean Peninsula. In the same way, his trip to Mongolia raised bilateral ties to “all-round strategic partnership.”
Xi’s visit to three south Asian countries displayed China’s new south Asia and Indian Ocean policies. For example, Xi’s visit to Sri Lanka will facilitate construction of the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road.” As the world’s two largest developing countries and emerging economies, China and India have a shared interest in a fairer and more reasonable international order.
Second, Xi put forward a series of new ideas, leading the trend of peaceful development and cooperation with China’s regional neighbors. The strategic blueprint of “one belt and one road” opened up new prospects both on land and in the sea. During his September 7, 2013, speech in Kazakhstan, Xi proposed the “Silk Road Economic Belt” for expanding Euro-Asia economic cooperation. During a speech nearly a month later in Indonesia on October 3, 2013, Xi advocated to organize an “Asian infrastructure investment bank” and to jointly build a 21st-Century “Maritime Silk Road.”
Taking advantage of the Fourth Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia, Xi proposed the “Asian Outlook on Security” – consisting of “common security,” “comprehensive security,” “cooperative security,” and “sustainable security” – enhancing China’s position on regional security.
Availing himself of the visit to Mongolia, Xi put forward new concepts on China’s policies towards neighboring countries. During a speech there, Xi said China is willing to provide neighboring countries with opportunities and space for common development, and that “all are welcome to take a ride on China’s train of development.”
Third, Xi is treating neighboring countries differently in accordance with degrees of closeness. The positions of countries in the order of Xi’s overseas visits reflect that nation or region’s significance to China, the current state of relations with the country or region, and to some extent reveals the order of precedence in Chinese periphery diplomacy.
Choosing Russia as his first overseas destination, Xi realized that China-Russia ties have the highest “gold content,” and are the most “substantive” ones in China’s major-power diplomacy. Furthermore, leaders of both countries have a very high degree of consensus on independent diplomacy and the multi-polarization of the international order.
Xi has prioritized central Asia because, in the four geopolitical directions on China’s periphery, central Asia is the most stable and most friendly to China. Besides, the SCO was named after a Chinese city, and has been the most successful regional cooperation mechanism China has initiated.
President Xi’s periphery diplomacy has explicit style and characteristics: Adherence to principles, differentiated treatments, clear demarcation between what to love and what to hate, rewarding the benign and punishing evil. Xi has rewarded friendly neighbors with greater generosity and due respect, constantly expanding mutually beneficial cooperation. To the unfriendly ones like Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam, Xi has been responding tit-for-tat, carrying out rational and forceful, yet restrained struggles to resolutely safeguard maritime interests and international justice.
President Xi Jinping has already started the “new normal” of Chinese periphery diplomacy. Neighboring countries will only continue to be priorities in China’s diplomacy in the future.