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"The Chinese side stated: Wherever there is oppression, there is resistance. Countries want independence, nations want liberation and the people want revolution -- this has become the irresistible trend of history. All nations, big or small, should be equal: big nations should not bully the small and strong nations should not bully the weak. China will never be a superpower and it opposes hegemony and power politics of any kind."

Joint Communique of the United States of America and
the People's Republic of China
(Shanghai Communique)
February 28, 1972

Foreign Relations

China's FuturesSince no other country claims a more powerful link to its ancient past and classical principles, any attempt to understand China's future world role must begin with an appreciation of its long history. For centuries, China rarely encountered other societies of comparable size and sophistication; it was the "Middle Kingdom," treating the peoples on its periphery as vassal states. At the same time, Chinese statesmen - facing threats of invasion from without, and the contests of competing factions within - developed a canon of strategic thought that prized the virtues of subtlety, patience, and indirection over feats of martial prowess.

Almost from the beginnings of her history, China has been the central figure in a world, largely of her own creation, in which she was the final dominant moral force. She has been the center, the powerful civilized and cultivated empire, surrounded by a circle of admiring satellite kingdoms. They flattered her by that most delicate and subtle form of flattery, imitation. They copied her form of civilization, modeled their governmental systems after hers, borrowed her religions. As one of most prominent Chinese international relations scholars, from Tsinghua University in Beijing, Yan Xuetong seeks to enrich the current study of international relations theory by drawing intellectual resources from the era before China was unified by the Qin state in 221 BC. Yan states, Should China increase its material power without at the same time increasing its political power, China will have difficulty being accepted by the international community as a major power that is more responsible than the United States.

Maoism no longer justifies the Communist Party's monopoly on power, as few Chinese believe in in Communism. Nationalism is now the dominant ideology, and the rulers have to prove their mettle, especially toward Japan. This need is particularly acute when a new leader takes power. The latest party boss, Xi Jinping, needs to show people, not least the military brass, that he is in adequate to the task at hand.

Along with rising economic development, nationalism is one of the two pillars of regime legitimacy. The marked increase in China's international prominence and national prestige over the past decade has prompted an upsurge in patriotism and nationalism among coastal urbanites and reinforced longstanding student nationalism. There is a growing sense of national pride at China's emergence as an economic and political power. China's urban population, particularly educated professional and business elites, are increasingly critical and sophisticated, knowledgeable about the outside world, and exposed to multiple sources of information. The Party has been compelled to carefully manage sporadic, emotional urban demonstrations by students over international issues, primarily anger at Japan, even as it sometimes stokes such nationalist sentiment to serve its own ends.

The Taiwan issue remains the most explosive of nationalist issues. While ordinary Chinese may not rank Taiwan at the top of their day-to-day concerns, emotions toward Taiwan run deep and would quickly come to the surface in times of crisis, with major implications for leadership legitimacy. The political cost to the Chinese leadership for mismanaging a crisis with Japan or "losing" Taiwan would be high. By 2009 China's diplomacy had taken on a tone of muscle-flexing, triumphalism and assertiveness. Foreign diplomats note that China is making no friends with its newly pugnacious attitude, but the popular assessment of China's stance, personified by the nationalistic, jingoistic and Chinese Communist Party-affiliated newspaper Global Times (Huanqiu Shibao), is "it's about time." More thoughtful observers in China argue that this attitude has more form than substance and is designed to play to Chinese public opinion.

The Europeans were among the most vocal in their criticism. EU leaders had not been happy that at the November 2009 PRC-EU Summit, Premier Wen Jiabao had stated that China "expected" the EU to lift its arms embargo before the next summit. China's behavior at the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit in December 2009 had been "truly shocking" and that Chinese officials' attitude toward other delegations had been rude and arrogant to the point where both the UK and French Embassies had been instructed to complain formally about the treatment their leaders had received from the Chinese, specifically from Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei. The MFA had not been receptive to these demarches and neither the UK nor France had received a response. Japanese corporations had been experiencing some of the same difficulties doing business in China as other international companies had reported. Japan had noted a degree of "hubris" in China's attitude.

China's more aggressive defense of its interests abroad is new; this is a change in how China presents itself abroad. This stance was popular with the Chinese public, but some wonder whether the policy had been thought through completely. The Chinese people would be disappointed if China's more aggressive stance backfired and caused China to lose face. If China were to experience diplomatic setbacks, the people would again feel that the government had overstated its strength relative to other states and exposed China to humiliation.

Some thought China was changing its diplomatic tune and re-focusing on Hu Jintao's "harmonious world" concept. Vice Premier Li Keqiang, who became Premier in 2012-13, gave a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos 28 January 2010 that stressed the importance of collaborative efforts to solve global problems, emphasized twice that "we are in the same boat" (the same metaphor the Secretary used in her public remarks in Beijing in February 2009), and reiterated that China relied on a stable international situation so that it could concentrate on its own internal development challenges. Though there were a couple of digs at the United States, such as a call for "a suitable degree of responsibility and constraint on global reserve currency issuers," the criticism was subtle compared to Chinese public statements in other international forums, such as the EU Summit.

China adopted a much more assertive international profile in 2010, to include actions such as harassing US survey vessels operating in international waters off the Chinese coast, aggressively pressing unrecognized territorial claims in the East and South China Seas, and supporting North Korea in the aftermath of unprovoked acts of aggression against South Korea.70 This behavior has unnerved neighboring countries and undone much of Chinas goodwill diplomacy of the past decade.71 Alongside these provocative actions, the messages emerging from China about its foreign and national security policy were also in a state of flux over the past year, as new policy directions were debated and a more diverse group of PRC foreign policy actors promoted their views.

Since its establishment, the People's Republic has worked vigorously to win international support for its position that it is the sole legitimate government of all China, including Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. In the early 1970s, Beijing was recognized diplomatically by most world powers. Beijing assumed the China seat in the United Nations (UN) in 1971 and has since become increasingly active in multilateral organizations. Japan established diplomatic relations with China in 1972, and the United States did so in 1979. As of March 2008, the number of countries that had diplomatic relations with Beijing had risen to 171, while 23 maintained diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

After the founding of the P.R.C., China's foreign policy initially focused on solidarity with the Soviet Union and other communist countries. In 1950, China sent the People's Liberation Army into North Korea to help North Korea halt the UN offensive that was approaching the Yalu River. After the conclusion of the Korean conflict, China sought to balance its identification as a member of the Soviet bloc by establishing friendly relations with Pakistan and other Third World countries, particularly in Southeast Asia.

In the 1960s, Beijing competed with Moscow for political influence among communist parties and in the developing world generally. Following the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and clashes in 1969 on the Sino-Soviet border, Chinese competition with the Soviet Union increasingly reflected concern over China's own strategic position.

In late 1978, the Chinese also became concerned over Vietnam's efforts to establish open control over Laos and Cambodia. In response to the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, China fought a brief border war with Vietnam (February-March 1979) with the stated purpose of "teaching Vietnam a lesson."

Chinese anxiety about Soviet strategic advances was heightened following the Soviet Union's December 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. Sharp differences between China and the Soviet Union persisted over Soviet support for Vietnam's continued occupation of Cambodia, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and Soviet troops along the Sino-Soviet border and in Mongolia--the so-called "three obstacles" to improved Sino-Soviet relations.

In the 1970s and 1980s China sought to create a secure regional and global environment for itself and to foster good relations with countries that could aid its economic development. To this end, China looked to the West for assistance with its modernization drive and for help in countering Soviet expansionism, which it characterized as the greatest threat to its national security and to world peace.

China maintained its consistent opposition to "superpower hegemony," focusing almost exclusively on the expansionist actions of the Soviet Union and Soviet proxies such as Vietnam and Cuba, but it also placed growing emphasis on a foreign policy independent of both the United States and the Soviet Union. While improving ties with the West, China continued to follow closely economic and other positions of the Third World nonaligned movement, although China was not a formal member.

In the immediate aftermath of Tiananmen crackdown in June 1989, many countries reduced their diplomatic contacts with China as well as their economic assistance programs. In response, China worked vigorously to expand its relations with foreign countries, and by late 1990, had reestablished normal relations with almost all nations. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in late 1991, China also opened diplomatic relations with the republics of the former Soviet Union.

President Hu's "Harmonious World" foreign policy, officially sanctified at the 17th Party Congress in October 2007, explicitly endorses the existing world order and declares that China's interest is in maintaining a stable international environment where it can pursue domestic economic and social development goals. China's foreign policy leaders take great pains to highlight China's "developing country" status as a way to offset international calls for China to play a more significant international role, and to expend more material and political resources, commensurate with its "emerging power" status.

Most experts in China recognize the need for a forum where leaders in Northeast Asia can address issues of common concern. "Southeast Asia has ASEAN, Europe has the OSCE, Latin America has the OAS, why is it that this region, with most of the world's economic potential and enormous strategic importance has no comparable mechanism" asked MFA Deputy Director General for Policy Planning Le Yucheng. While acknowledging regional participation in APEC, ASEAN Plus 3, the East Asia Summit and other regional fora, those groupings either too cumbersome or too large to effectively address issues unique to Northeast Asia. APEC is too big, ASEAN is too far away and the EAS hasn't demonstrated it can do anything.

In recent years, Chinese leaders have been regular travelers to all parts of the globe, and China has sought a higher profile in the UN through its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and other multilateral organizations. Closer to home, China has made efforts to reduce tensions in Asia, hosting the Six-Party Talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, cultivating a more cooperative relationship with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and participating in the ASEAN Regional Forum. China has also taken steps to improve relations with countries in South Asia, including India. Following Premier Wen's 2005 visit to India, the two sides moved to increase commercial and cultural ties, as well as to resolve longstanding border disputes. The November 2006 visit of President Hu was the first state visit by a Chinese head of state to India in 10 years.

China has improved ties with Russia, and President Hu chose Moscow for his first state visit after his election in 2003. China and Russia conducted a first round of joint military exercises in August 2005 and engaged in two further rounds in 2007 and 2009. China has played a prominent role in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a regional grouping that includes Russia and the Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Relations with Japan improved following Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's October 2006 visit to Beijing, and have continued to improve under successive Japanese administrations. Tensions persist with Japan on longstanding and emotionally charged disputes over history and competing claims to portions of the East China Sea.

While it is one of Sudan's primary diplomatic patrons, China has played a constructive role in support of peacekeeping operations in southern Sudan and deployed 315 engineering troops in support of UN-African Union (AU) operations in Darfur. China has stated publicly that it shares the international community's concern over Iran's nuclear program and has voted in support of UN sanctions resolutions on Iran, most recently voting for the June 2010 UN Security Council Resolution 1929 for further sanctions. Set against these positive developments has been an effort on the part of China to maintain close ties to countries such as Iran, Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Venezuela, which are sources of oil and other resources and which welcome China's non-conditional assistance and investment.

Since the beginning of the reform era, China has generally followed Deng Xiaoping's advice to maintain a low profile and focus on its own development. In this spirit, China's pledge of "non-interference" in other nations' affairs became a pillar of China's declared foreign policy. More recently, some have viewed President Hu Jintao's trademark "Harmonious World" policy as a subtle renunciation of non-interference that acknowledges the need for China to be engaged in a globalized world.

China remains poor and is confronted with economic development challenges on a large scale. Continued access to energy supplies and raw materials on the international market is essential to China's continued economic growth, which means continued reliance on global peace and stability and the existing global security system to protect such shipments. The frequent pious invocation of "non-interference in internal affairs" provides a thin political justification for China's fundamentally mercantile pursuit of resources in Burma, Iran, Sudan and other pariah states. The tension between China's long-term, broad global interests and its short-term, naked national interests will persist in Chinese foreign policy for some time.

China actively pursues educational exchanges, cultural performances, youth exchanges and other instruments of "soft power." Development assistance to resource-rich nations has also grown and remains generally without conditions (except with respect to the Taiwan issue). China is also making attempts to break into what it sees as an undesirable Western, and specifically American, monopoly of the international news media and to offer an alternative to ubiquitous American popular culture. Soft power is a useful arrow in the Chinese foreign policy quiver but should not be overestimated. Chinese culture tends toward exceptionalism rather than universality; i.e., many things about Chinese culture, in the Chinese view, are appropriate (or even intelligible) to Chinese alone. Moreover, China senses that its traditional low profile and attempts not to be seen as competing with the values and political systems of other countries are part of its attractiveness. The Chinese acknowledge both the limits of soft power and that China's reliance on soft power is in large measure due to the fact that China, in the near-term, lacks hard power.

China has long identified Taiwan as one of its core interests. Chinese leaders see preventing Taiwan's formal independence as crucial to their legitimacy, and the United States is committed to the defense of the status quo absent agreement to a change by the peoples on both sides of the Strait. Taiwan will continue to be the largest threat to U.S.-China relations, potentially resulting in armed conflict.

In addition to Taiwan and other sovereignty concerns (e.g., Tibet and the Dalai Lama and Xinjiang and Rebiya Kadeer), China has begun to articulate additional "core interests" in Chinese foreign policy. So far, these core interests center on China's access to energy resources.




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