The Communist Party of China brings important experience to national governance, supporting the central imperative of coordinating the international and domestic environment with the demands of development and security. The political report to the CPC’s 20th National Congress focuses on domestic issues. But it also deals with international matters. Compared with the political report to the 19th National Party Congress in 2017, the recent one leans more toward international issues. It shows both continuity and innovation in judging the current international situation and in formulating China’s foreign strategy.
The 20th National Congress report defines the current international situation as follows: “Momentous changes of a like not seen in a century are accelerating across the world.” This judgment is based not only on the profound impact of the COVID-19 pandemic but also on the big changes in relations between major powers. These include:
• First, political trends, such as those against globalization and toward populism. Some major countries simply attribute their economic and social problems to economic globalization and then revert to trade protectionism and unilateralism, which turns them from active promoters of economic globalization to standard-bearers for deglobalization. This only makes it more difficult for the global economy, which is already struggling to recover.
In addition, by inciting populism and xenophobia, exaggerating national security threats and advocating the strategic competition between great powers, some countries increasingly set foreign policy based on ideological and security concerns. This has led to sharp tensions in relations between major powers.
• Second, regional conflicts and unrest are frequent. The Russia-Ukraine conflict is the most prominent manifestation. It is taking place on the geostrategically important Eurasian continent and directly involves Russia, the United States, Europe and other major strategic forces in the world. It indirectly affects virtually all countries. The food crisis, energy crisis, and refugee crisis caused by the conflict have further increased the volatility of the international situation. The increasing risk of nuclear war has caused much concern to the international community.
• Third, global problems have intensified. Climate change and other global issues cannot be dealt with without international cooperation, especially cooperation between major powers. However, in the current context, even if cooperation between them is possible, it is extremely limited and insufficient to address major and urgent global challenges. Thus, the report to the 20th National Congress of the CPC concludes: “The deficit in peace, development, security and governance is growing. All of this is posing unprecedented challenges for human society.”
Compared with the report to the 19th National Congress, the latest report does not use the traditional expression “peace and development remain the themes of our times,” which is logically different from the language used for the 19th National Congress. It is consistent with the statements that “the world is undergoing turbulence and change” and “the world has once again reached a crossroads in history.”
Obviously, the political report to the 20th Congress reflects a grimmer assessment of the international situation and China’s external environment. In reviewing the achievements of the past five years, the 20th Congress report points out that China faces major challenges posed by “external attempts to blackmail, contain, blockade and exert maximum pressure.” In the future, these challenges will remain and even increase. Therefore, the 20th Party Congress report suggests that China needs to “be ready to withstand high winds, choppy waters and even dangerous storms.”
China is emphasizing the importance of security while focusing on development, and also the importance of independence, self-reliance and openness. At the same time, the political report of the Party Congress stresses that, “The historical trends of peace, development, cooperation and mutual benefit are unstoppable” — which means that China still believes that peaceful development and win-win cooperation represent the mainstream of public opinion in the international community and the direction of historical development, and that it is possible to strive for this outcome.
In the face of unpredictable changes in the international landscape, the 20th National Congress report clarifies the mission and tasks of China’s diplomatic strategy and the path to accomplish them. In terms of objectives and goals, “China has always been committed to its foreign policy goals of upholding world peace and promoting common development, and it is dedicated to promoting a human community with a shared future.”
As for the path, China continues to adhere to its independent foreign policy of peace and of following the path of peaceful development. In view of the major threats to international peace, the report highlights that “China's development strengthens the world’s forces for peace” and that “China stands firmly against all forms of hegemonism and power politics, the Cold War mentality, interference in other countries’ internal affairs and double standards.” In China's view, hegemonism and power politics are the greatest threat to international peace and security. As an active force in maintaining world peace and security, China is bound to fight against them.
Given that major powers are the main influence on international peace and stability, peaceful coexistence between them is also a fundamental condition. Therefore, the political report to the 20th National Congress categorically states that China will work to “build major-country relations featuring peaceful coexistence, overall stability and balanced development.” The term “peaceful coexistence” is newly included in this report, highlighting its importance.
In view of the influence of deglobalization and its policy manifestations, the report — in addition to stating that “China is committed to its fundamental national policy of opening to the outside world and pursues a mutually beneficial strategy of opening-up” — also specifically states that “China adheres to the right course of economic globalization,” which is to say that it will make economic globalization more open, inclusive, balanced and beneficial to all. Therefore, the report states: “China opposes protectionism, the erection of fences and barriers, decoupling, disruption of industrial and supply chains, unilateral sanctions and maximum-pressure tactics.”
In view of the intensification of global challenges and the inefficiency and lack of capacity in the global governance system, China will continue to actively participate in the reform and development of the global system, with the aim of “making global governance fairer and more equitable.” This refutes the erroneous assertion by some that China is a “revisionist” power. The political report makes clear the basic essence of the international system, the international order and international rules — that is, “China is firm in safeguarding the international system with the United Nations at its core, the international order underpinned by international law and the basic norms governing international relations based on the purposes and principles of the UN Charter.”
China believes that the system, order and rules represent the general consensus of the international community and that they have wide authority. Therefore, they should be maintained and strengthened. To this end, China clearly states that it “opposes all forms of unilateralism and the forming of blocs and exclusive groups targeting particular countries.”
Compared with the political report to the 19th National Congress, the report to the 20th National Congress more clearly states what China upholds and highlights what it opposes. This reflects a firmer stance and greater confidence in Chinese diplomacy.