President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang have been in office for one year. Their concepts and practices of diplomacy have shaken the world. Both Premier Li in his Report on the Work of the Government and Foreign Minister Wang Yi discussed these concepts and practices. But it is still necessary to have a systematic interim assessment from the policy research perspective.
Philosophically, while maintaining the stability and continuity of foreign policy, Xi has also put forward a series of new concepts, which may be termed “Xi Jinping Doctrine” of Chinese diplomacy. These are designed to explain the new leadership’s view on the relationship between China and the world and to lay out new approaches towards major issues or difficulties in that relationship. The doctrine now roughly contains six points. The first is to establish a sense of identity with the world in a “community of common destiny”. No matter how high China rises and no matter what system or development mode it adopts, it is always part of that community rather than being detached from the rest of the world. The second is to express a world dream with a “Chinese dream”. The ideal of a “harmonious world” of the last leadership might be too high and faraway to reach. And the new leadership chooses a more simple, direct, popular and clear way to talk to the world: you have your American dream, African dream, Latin American dream, etc. and I have my Chinese dream. We hope that all our dreams will come true and all of us will enjoy peace, development and prosperity. The third is to ensure peace and development with bottom-line thinking. Peace and development are not achieved without conditions and Chinese core interests of security, development and sovereignty brook no violation, just as NPC spokeswoman Fu Ying asked, in response to a question from an American journalist, “shall we have peace if we have a weak defense force?” The fourth is to improve China’s image as valuing profits more than justice with a right approach to morality and interests. Without moral guidance, how can China talk about the morality of a big developing country? The fifth is to manage relations with the US towards a new model of big country relationship, with the lowest objective of having no confrontation or conflict, medium objective of mutual respect, and the highest objective of cooperation and win-win. All three objectives can be pursued in parallel. The sixth point is to dispel misgivings of neighboring countries with the principles of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness. China will practice these principles and hope other countries will also do so to make them a common philosophy in this region.
In practice, the past year’s diplomatic actions have been largely consistent with the above-mentioned concepts. Similar to the approaches to domestic administration, efforts have been made to strengthen both top-level design and actual implementation in diplomatic work. The six concepts described above are important components of the top-level design. The conference on diplomatic work with neighboring countries held on October 24, 2013 actually announced Chinese strategy towards its neighborhood in the coming five to ten years, which stresses common development with higher aims and harder work as well as creation of a sound surrounding environment for the realization of the two centennial goals. In his visits to Central Asia and Southeast Asia, Xi envisioned the Silk Road economic belt and maritime silk road of the 21st century. Li has also proposed various economic corridors, free trade areas and connectivity projects. These are considered the mega-strategy of Xi and Li. In implementation, as Foreign Minister Wang said, “last year, the most distinctive feature of China’s diplomacy is being very proactive.” The proactivity is demonstrated in three aspects. First, attention was given to coordination and alignment between the central government, different line ministries and local authorities while preparations were made for the establishment of the National Security Commission. Second, various means were used in a comprehensive and integrated way. For example, the “five connections” for the Silk Road economic belt – policy exchange, road network, trade talks, currency circulation and people’s friendship – involve political, trade, financial, legal and non-governmental approaches. Third, strength and gentleness are combined on major hot-spot issues and questions related to China’s rights and interests. China adopts an attitude of not evading questions, welcoming political negotiation, acting in accordance with international and regional rules while making necessary military preparations and taking necessary tough measures for effective deterrence and control. In other words, it wants both Chinese prestige and Chinese rules. The latter refers to China’s move to make its own rules on the basis of international customs, such as the East China Sea air defense identification zone. The phenomenon is quite new and has caused much debate.
With their special experiences, the new leadership has a very strong sense of mission, a focus on efficiency and hard work, no shortage of risk awareness, and little fear of dangers or difficulties. Naturally, they tend to act proactively and seek steady progress on diplomatic fronts, with higher Chinese voices and rational use of Chinese power, in order to effectively safeguard Chinese interests and maximize Chinese contribution. In 2014, they will continue advancing their new diplomatic concepts and initiatives in line with international expectations. However, attention should also be given to possible reactions. In the post-Cold War and post-financial crisis age, the world’s complexity and uncertainty are beyond imagination. Countries with their own interest considerations will have their own paces and rhythms rather than dancing with China. For example, some countries may, for the time being, find it difficult to understand the new concepts, initiatives or actions of China; some may misunderstand or even resist them; and some may even deliberately distort or disrupt them.
As the proverb says, more haste and less speed. It is extremely difficult for the new leaders to make correct situational judgments and balance the timing, strength and rhythm of decision-making and implementation in a dynamic and smart way. Diplomacy is an art of experience and skills are gained through long-term practice. There is much to expect in this regard.
Zhai Kun is Director of the Institute of World Political Studies at CICIR.