The founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949 decisively ended the old China’s long-running diplomatic humiliation and heralded a new day for China’s diplomacy. In the fluid and complex international environment of the past 70 years, China’s diplomacy has gained remarkable achievements in defending the country’s independence and sovereignty, and safeguarding the world’s peace and development. It has won China respect from the world.
“The Chinese People Have Stood Up”
At the founding ceremony of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Chairman Mao Zedong solemnly declared to the world that the Chinese people had stood up. The central tasks of New China’s diplomatic work in the early days were to smash the shackles of imperialism and colonialism, to safeguard the country’s sovereignty and security and to restore China’s presence on the international stage with a brand new look.
In this period, imperialists responded the founding of New China with political isolation, economic blockades and military threats against the country. With extraordinary courage and insight, Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, the top Chinese leaders of the generation, formed three principles for the diplomatic work of that period, namely “leaning-to-one-side” with the Soviet Union, “making a fresh start,” and “cleaning the house before hosting guests.” Guided by these principles, the country established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, other socialist countries and some friendly non-socialist countries, supported the Vietnamese people’s Anti-French Resistance War, sent the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to aid its people in resisting U.S. aggression, and waged a resolute struggle against the restrictions, blockades, and embargos of imperialism.
With deeper involvement in regional affairs, China began to play a role in the world’s multilateral arena. The principles of “peaceful coexistence” and “independence and self-reliance” in China’s diplomacy contributed greatly to the establishment of a new international order after World War II. To help settle the problem in the Korean Peninsula and restore peace in Indochina, China participated in the Geneva Conference from April 26 to July 21, 1954, and facilitated the final conclusion of the Geneva Agreement and the Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities in Vietnam. In 1955, China attended the Asian-African Conference held in Indonesia’s Bandung. At the conference, China proposed the principles of seeking common ground while shelving differences for peaceful coexistence, which resonated among Asian and African countries, deepened understanding and trust between China and other Asian and African countries and ushered in China’s first climax of establishing diplomatic relations with other countries.
From the late 1950s to the end of the 1960s, the international situation underwent drastic changes. Although the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union continued, both sides were confronted with the problem of adjusting internal and external relations. In the early 1960s, Chairman Mao proposed the theory of “two intermediate zones.” He asked China to get tighter with the majority of developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America in the “first intermediate zone,” to strive to win over developed capitalist countries represented by European countries in the “second intermediate zone,” to steadfastly oppose the hegemony of both the United States and the Soviet Union, and to support people’s fights against imperialism and colonization as well as struggles for national independence in Asia, Africa and Latin America. China resolved border issues with neighbors including Myanmar, Nepal, Mongolia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Following the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France in 1964, China’s relations with European countries, such as Italy, Austria, and the United Kingdom, made substantial progress. By 1969, China had established diplomatic ties with 50 countries.
In October 1971, China resumed its lawful seat in the United Nations, which marked complete failure of the imperialist policy of isolating China. In 1972, U.S. President Richard Nixon paid a visit to China, and the two countries signed the historic Shanghai Communiqué, which brought China-U.S. relations into a new era. In February 1974, Chairman Mao proposed the “Three Worlds” theory for the first time when he met with Zambian President Kenneth David Kaunda. The First World consisted of the two superpowers, namely the United States and the Soviet Union. The Second World was made up of developed countries, such as European countries, Japan and Canada. The Third World referred to developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and China belongs to the Third World. At that point, China began to look beyond ideology and returned to the track of pragmatic diplomacy based on national interests, which created good conditions for shifting the focus of the Party’s work. By 1979, the number of countries that established diplomatic relations with China had increased to 122. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China began to play an increasingly important role in the multilateral arena.
“Development Is the Top Priority”
As a developing country, the only way for China to avoid being bullied and settle domestic problems is through development. After the Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 1978, China began its historic reform and opening up. It successfully found a road of peaceful development suited to its own national conditions and created an economic miracle in human development history.
As the focus of the Party’s work shifted to economic development, China adjusted its domestic and foreign policies. Domestically, Deng Xiaoping emphasized that “poverty is not socialism” and “development is the key of keys.” Internationally, he pointed out that China would continue to pursue an independent foreign policy of peace. In the late 1970s, Deng reassessed the previous assertion that “the world war is inevitable and impending.” In 1987, he delivered a report at the 13th CPC National Congress, stating that “peace and development are the theme of the times.” The main goal of China’s diplomacy changed from “supporting world revolutions” to “building a favorable international environment for domestic development.” Opening up to the outside world has become a basic national policy for China’s socialist modernization drive.
At the same time, China’s strategy for handling foreign relations has transformed from “alignment and confrontation” to “non-alignment.” When dealing with foreign relations, China made policies based on national interests, looked beyond social systems and ideology, followed the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence and expressed willingness to establish and develop friendly relations with all countries. Under such guiding principles, China and the United States established diplomatic relations on January 1, 1979. In the spirit of “ending the past and opening the future,” China and the Soviet Union realized the normalization of diplomatic relations in May 1989. On the issues of Hong Kong and Macao, China signed agreements with the United Kingdom and Portugal, which advanced the great cause of reunification.
From the late 1980s to the early 1990s, China’s diplomacy experienced severe tests of the drastic changes in Eastern Europe, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the collapse of the bipolar world order. Based on the judgment that peace and development remained the main themes of the times, China considered economic globalization and multipolarity as the main trends in the development of international relations. The country actively participated in economic globalization and embraced multipolarity. In difficult circumstances, China persisted in “keeping a low profile and making a difference.” It broke through unjustified sanctions from the West, properly managed the crisis and safeguarded China’s national interests. In accordance with the principle of respecting the choices of the people of each country, China realized a smooth transition from Sino-Soviet relations to China-Russia relations, established and developed friendly relations with former Soviet republics and Eastern European countries, and overcame the adverse effects of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Hong Kong and Macao returned to the motherland smoothly. Friendship between China and its neighbors was strengthened. As of November 1998, China had established diplomatic ties with 163 countries.
By the turn of the 21st century, China’s comprehensive national strength was greatly enhanced and its connections with the world became closer. The country was fully embracing its role as a major responsible player with increasing influence in global and regional affairs. In this process, it successfully grasped strategic opportunities for national development. China has unswervingly followed the road of peaceful development as it has taken the overall international and domestic situations into consideration. It actively created a peaceful and stable international environment, a friendly neighborhood, a cooperative environment of equality and mutual benefits, a safe environment of mutual trust and collaboration, and an objective and friendly public opinion environment. When dealing with relations with other countries, China adhered to an open strategy of seeking mutual benefits and win-win results, achieving peace through cooperation, promoting development through collaboration, and resolving disputes through consultation. In practice, China has improved its diplomatic layout with “big countries as the key, neighboring countries as the priority, developing countries as the foundation, and multilateral diplomacy as the stage.” China carried out frequent strategic dialogue with major countries during the period. Its “multilateral diplomacy” and “summit diplomacy” became increasingly active. As of December 28, 2007, a total of 172 countries had established diplomatic relations with China.
“Realizing the Chinese Dream of National Rejuvenation”
After the 18th CPC National Congress, China’s diplomacy entered a new era. As the world is undergoing profound changes unseen for a century, China advocates working with other countries to build a community with a shared future for humanity, striving to build a new type of international relations and making all-out efforts to pursue major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics. China has advanced its diplomatic agenda in a comprehensive, multidimensional, and multifaceted way and created a favorable external environment for its development.
First, China is actively working to build a framework for major-country relations featuring overall stability and balanced development. China is committed to building “coordinated, cooperative and stable” China-U.S. relations. It has been handling China-U.S. trade friction with reason and self-restraint. The China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership has entered a new era. The two sides have achieved a high degree of political and strategic mutual trust and established sound high-level exchange and cooperation mechanisms across various fields. The development strategies of the two counties are connected, and cooperation between the two countries has become an important engine for regional cooperation. In the process of China-EU cooperation, the two sides are committed to building a partnership that fosters peace, growth, reform and civilization. The “16+1 Cooperation” between China and Central and Eastern European countries, represented by China-Europe freight trains, has been upgraded and accelerated.
Second, China has deepened relations with its neighboring countries in accordance with the policy of forging friendship and partnership with its neighbors. Guided by the principle of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness, China is sparing no efforts to meet the aims of the Joint Declaration on China-ASEAN Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity (2016-2020) and push for the consultations on a Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea. New progress has been made in mutually beneficial cooperation between China and ASEAN. With in-depth dialogue carried out between China and India and deepened infrastructure construction cooperation between China and Pakistan, China’s “circle of friends” in South Asia has expanded. In Central Asia, China has established strategic partnerships with every country, and the connectivity advocated by the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative has been implemented. Chinese President Xi Jinping noted that China welcomes its neighbors to board the fast train of China’s development so that they can share in China’s development.
Third, while upholding justice and pursuing shared interests, China works to strengthen solidarity and cooperation with other developing countries. Under the principle of sincerity, honesty, affinity, and good faith guiding China’s relations with Africa, China has provided US$60 billion to support China-Africa cooperation plans in 10 fields. China-Africa relations have been upgraded from a new type of strategic partnership to a “comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership.” China-Africa cooperation has reached new heights. The Forum of China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) has been established. Through various means, a new pattern for China-CELAC relations has been constructed. China and the Arab countries have established a strategic cooperative relationship of comprehensive cooperation and common development, and China-Arab cooperation has entered a new stage.
Fourth, following the principles of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, China is committed to expanding global governance platforms. Thanks in large part to the continuous improvement of its overall national strength, China is moving closer to the center of the world stage, and the world expects China to play a greater role in global governance. Today, China is the second-largest contributor to the UN regular budget. It is also the biggest troop contributor and the second-largest fund contributor to the UN peacekeeping missions among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. The Belt and Road Initiative proposed by China has become an important international public goods, which is the showcase of not only China’s new round of reform and opening up, but also a new round of globalization driven by China. China has hosted a number of major international conferences such as the First and Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, the 22nd APEC Summit, the 2016 G20 Hangzhou Summit, the BRICS Xiamen Summit and the Fourth Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia. Through these activities, China has provided its solutions to the problems plaguing the world and made its voice heard. A further rise in China’s international influence, ability to inspire and power to shape has been apparent.
Fifth, China has actively developed multi-level global partnerships. As of March 2019, China had established diplomatic relations with 178 countries. It has established different forms of partnership with more than 100 countries and international organizations, concluded more than 20,000 bilateral treaties with related countries, and joined more than 100 inter-governmental organizations and more than 500 international conventions. The CPC maintains regular contact with more than 400 political parties and political organizations in more than 160 countries around the world. China’s National People’s Congress has carried out active foreign exchanges, and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference has been making friends all over the world. The influence of China’s military diplomacy has also expanded. Local and non-governmental exchanges have become increasingly active, and China has become more connected to the outside world.
Over the past 70 years, China’s diplomacy has always regarded the country’s sovereignty, security, and development interests as top priorities, and made efforts to contribute to world peace and development. Against a backdrop of drastic changes in the international situation, China has constantly forged ahead in diplomacy, creating a favorable external environment for the country’s development and wining the respect of other countries in the world. Today, China has become the world’s second-largest economy and largest trader of goods, as well as the country with the largest foreign exchange reserves in the world. As it is being integrated deeper into the world system, China emphasizes co-evolution with the outside world. At this historic new starting point, China, as a major country, will usher its diplomacy into a new journey and continue to contribute to the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and the peaceful development of the world.
The author is vice president of China Foreign Affairs University, where he also serves as a professor and doctoral tutor.