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 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” (p. 65-66).
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.
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 likewise 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.
Beijing has since 2000 resolved territorial disputes by demarcating boundaries with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Vietnam. Land boundary negotiations continue with Bhutan and India. China established a maritime boundary with Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin in 2000 but has no maritime boundaries in the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and South China Sea, where it lays competing claims to islands and waters.
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