China's Foreign Policy under New Leadership
Yang Jiemian, Vice President of the Shanghai Institute of International Studies, analyzes the likely path of China's foreign policy in the years ahead
Published: Tuesday, February 24, 2004
[Yang Jiemian, Vice President of the Shanghai Institute of International Studies, analyzes the direction that Chinese foreign policy will take under the leadership of Hu Jintao (Party secretary general and President of the PRC) and Wen Jiaobao (Premier), who acceeded to power in November 2002. The succession of new leadership in China has coincided with fundamental changes in the international situation, namely the global war on terrorism and the increasing dominance and assertiveness of the United States. In view of all the challenges presented by the international situation, Professor Yang concludes that China and the United States will "need to build a new framework of cooperation."]
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In November 2002 and March 2003 the Chinese Communist Party 16th Congress and National People’s Congress respectively endorsed the new Chinese leadership. Hu Jintao became the Party Secretary General and PRC President and Wen Jiabao the Premier. When they assumed power, this new Chinese leadership stressed that it will continue along the lines laid out by its predecessor. However, the new Chinese leadership will, like its counterparts everywhere in the world, walk on two legs: it will both continue and adjust its predecessor’s domestic and foreign policy.
Consistent Foreign Policy
China is now in a delicate, sensitive and painful period of transition. The sheer size of China’s huge population and China’s growing power have already presented an enormous task to the new Chinese leadership. The new leadership had planned to put domestic issues such economic growth and narrowing the gap between the wealthy coast and poor inland areas at the top of it priorities. Therefore, they need to maintain stable foreign relations while going through a learning curve.
The 16th Party Congress presented a blueprint for China’s external strategy and foreign policy that the new leadership will keep to. In the short- and mid-term, China will pay special attention to improving its relations with developed countries, particularly the United States, and with its neighboring countries. These two aspects of China’s external relations are of great significance to nurturing a favorable external condition for its modernization program and building a well-off society in an all round way by 2020.
The new Chinese leadership will also follow its predecessor in adopting a low-cost and low-risk foreign policy. Both Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin had realized that such a policy would serve China’s fundamental national interests best. The new Chinese leadership is fully aware that there exists a great discrepancy between China’s major power status and its actual capabilities. Thus, the only effective way of enhancing China’s global and regional standing is to stay with existing policy. This has been clear in China’s position on the Iraqi War.
In the short- and mid-term, the new Chinese leadership will strive to enhance high level visits, especially promoting personal summits so as to enhance mutual understanding and continue strategic dialogues with other of the world’s major powers.
The new Chinese leadership will continue to be pragmatic and less ideological in handling its foreign relations. Guided by the “Three Represents” (Representing the interests of the majority of the Chinese people, advanced Chinese culture, and advanced productivity of the country) the new Chinese leadership will make foreign policy facilitate China’s modernization program. It will try its utmost to create a more favorable external environment and strive to advance its fundamental national interests.
A Sea Change in the International Situation
However, there has been a sea change in the international situation since Deng’s and even Jiang’s times. To keep pace with the times is an important task for the new leadership. First of all, the new Chinese leadership must readjust China’s relations with other major powers. The United States has emerged out of an overwhelming victory over the Iraqi War and become even more dominant and assertive. European countries headed by Germany and France are striving for a bigger say in international affairs and are criticizing the United States for its unilateralism. While the trans-Atlantic alliance will not disintegrate at the moment, its differences are increasing and the gap between the U.S. and Europe is widening. Russia is trying hard at finding a bigger role in world affairs. China must work with all the existing and potential major powers and have a say in international institutions and in the world order.
In addition, the new Chinese leadership has to balance domestic factors and foreign policy goals. The new leadership will do its best to preserve stability at home. But it has to satisfy an increasingly diverse society with multiple demands. The new leadership faces pressure from an entire spectrum of forces. It must try to strike a balance. The new leadership is racing against time: it must put its own house in order first and then devote more attention to its foreign policy agenda. However, domestic and external developments do not always follow people’s will. It is possible that the new leadership may have to re-prioritize its agenda and deal with tough and knotty international issues much earlier than it would like to. The SARS crisis is a case in point. The new Chinese leadership has to move up its agenda and meet squarely the new challenge of an increasingly blurred division between domestic and foreign affairs.
There are both traditional and non-traditional challenges down the road awaiting the new Chinese leadership as well. The biggest traditional challenges include, among others, Sino-U.S. relations, the international factors in the question of Taiwan, and Asian security issues. Sino-U.S. relations in the coming decade will undergo many significant changes. While the two countries will still bicker over their perennial differences on trade deficits, human rights, the Tibetan issue, etc., this bilateral relationship will be more characteristic of readjusting relationship between an established sole superpower and a rising power. China and the United States will give a much broader vision and perspective to this bilateral relationship. They will have to deal with more global and regional issues too. In short, both China and the United States need to build a new framework of cooperation. The new Chinese leadership should and will display its political wisdom and diplomatic competence in doing its part to keep Sino-U.S. relations on a stable and right track.
The non-traditional challenges include war on the terrorism, the struggle against trafficking, and environment protection. This new leadership will also face the challenges arising from China’s hosting the Olympics in 2008 and Shanghai’s World Expo in 2010. On the one hand, these two major events will provide China with great opportunities to enhance its international standing and recognition. They will also boost China’s modernization program. On the other hand, they can be great challenges for the new leadership in coping with the accompanying economic, social and political demands both at home and abroad.
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Yang Jiemian received an M.A. from the Shanghai Institute of International Studies (1981) and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (1984).
He has published many papers and books on international relations and American foreign policies. His most recent publications include: Sino-US Relations in Post-Cold War Era: Elaboration and Exploration (The Shanghai People’s Press, Shanghai, 1997); Sino-US Relations in Post-Cold War Era: Comparative Studies on Foreign Policies (The Shanghai People’s Press, Shanghai, 2000); The Taiwan Issue and the World Configuration of Powers: Changes and Challenges (The Shanghai People’s Press, Shanghai, 2002).