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Looking at New China in its diplomatic history

Author  :  QI PENGFEI     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2019-10-10

In the past 70 years since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, China’s comprehensive national strength, including its hard power, soft power and smart power, has gradually increased. China is now approaching the center of the world stage as a responsible major country as well as a builder of world peace, a contributor to global development and a defender of the international order.

China’s progress in the last 70 years has been accompanied by a tremendous transformation: It has stood up and grown rich and is becoming strong. China’s foreign policy in the past 70 years can be divided into three major historical periods. The first is the “peaceful coexistence period,” from 1949 to 1978. The second stage was the “peace and development period,” from 1978 to 2012. From 2012, Chinese diplomacy has entered a “major-country diplomacy with Chinese features” period. In every historical period, China has made great achievements in its peaceful diplomatic mission. 

Historical development

During the peaceful coexistence period, China restored and rebuilt its independence and dignity as a sovereign country.

From 1949 to 1959, the peaceful coexistence diplomacy laid a foundation for itself and gradually came into being. In the early years of China’s founding period, the major task of China’s diplomatic works was to safeguard the national security and interests as well as China’s territorial integrity, restoring and rebuilding China’s independence and dignity as a sovereign state in the international community. In addition, China strived to return to the international arena with an “entirely equal” identity and position, with the aspiration to have a positive role and influence. 

From 1959 to 1969, the peaceful coexistence diplomacy encountered some setbacks. China gradually turned to opposing the hegemonism of both the United States and the Soviet Union, aiming to develop diplomatic relations with countries from the “two intermediate zones.”

In the period from 1969 to 1978, the peaceful coexistence diplomacy entered a major adjustment stage. The relations between China and the United States made a great breakthrough, encouraging a comprehensive improvement in China’s relations with Western developed countries. Meanwhile, the resumption of China’s legitimate seat in the United Nations in 1971 opened a new situation for China’s multilateral diplomacy. 

During the peace and development period, in the first sub-stage from 1978 to 1989, in addition to traditional diplomatic goals, China gradually set up an entirely new goal of “creating a peaceful and stable international environment” for China’s reform and opening up, socialist modernization and national development.

From 1989 to 2002, China’s diplomacy prioritized the task of safeguarding national sovereignty and interest while staying centered on economic development. Meanwhile, China continued to promote the construction of a fair and rational new international political and economic order.

From 2002 to 2012, China upheld the banner of peace, development and cooperation, adhered to the independent foreign policy of peace and outlined a general diplomatic layout, aiming to create a good international environment for the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects.

The successful 18th CPC National Congress in 2012 marked the enter of socialism with Chinese characteristics into the New Era. The nation began to construct the “major-country diplomacy with Chinese features” in a comprehensive way. 

In the last seven years, the CPC has made comprehensive theoretical and practical innovations in terms of the ideas, thought and strategy behind China’s diplomacy. First, China has seriously contemplated major topics such as “what kind of world should the mankind build and how can the mankind build such a world?” and specified the strategic goal and historical mission of building “major-country diplomacy with Chinese features” under new circumstances. Second, China has promoted the establishment of a fairer and more just international order, continuing to contribute Chinese wisdom and solutions to major practical problems and challenges facing global governance. Third, China has proactively explored solutions with Chinese features to hot problems and global issues, making new contributions to international and regional peace. The Belt and Road initiative has injected enormous momentum into world development by sharing the opportunities brought by China’s development.

Important experience

China’s foreign policy in the past 70 years, in terms of both theory and practice, has experienced ups and downs, leaving us rich and profound historical lessons and inspirations.

First, independence is the basic standpoint and spiritual essence of China’s diplomatic thought. This is the result of applying the idea of “maintaining independence, keeping the initiative in our own hands and relying on our own efforts” to Chinese diplomacy. This idea was developed during the long-term struggles of the New Democratic Revolution period (1919-1949)which led to the founding of the People’s Republic of China. This guiding principle is what distinguishes the foreign policy of the new China from that of China before 1949. In the new era of major-country diplomacy with Chinese features, this basic standpoint and spiritual essence has been carried forward. 

Second, the independent foreign policy of peace adopted by the PRC requires that China should determine its position and policies on the basis of the fundamental interests of the people in China and across the world, as well as based on what is right and wrong. The development of the relations between China and other countries has not depended on ideological factors or social institutional systems. The supremacy of the national interest, rather than ideological factors or social systems, has served as the starting point for China’s independent foreign policy of peace.

Third, opposing hegemonism and safeguarding world peace have been the most important strategic goals and tasks of the PRC’s foreign policy. In order to fulfill this long-term and arduous mission, we have no other choice but to establish and consolidate an international united front against hegemonism. During this process, the PRC upholds that China, first of all, will always be a staunch force for safeguarding world peace. China would never pursue aggression or expansion, nor would we contend for or seek a hegemonic position. Even today after great changes have occurred in the “post-Cold War” era, the nature, function and form of the “international united front” has become different from that of the past. However, “opposing hegemonism and safeguarding world peace” remains the most important strategic goal and task of China’s peaceful foreign policy, and the international united front remains an important strategic principle with unique value and meaning. 

Fourth, identifying peace and development as the theme of the times has been the most important theoretical basis and ideological foundation for China’s comprehensive transformation from “peaceful coexistence” diplomacy to “peace-and-development” diplomacy. This identification of the theme of the times made by the CPC systemically summarizes the basic outline and major features of the development and evolution of prior international situations. It also provides an in-depth analysis on the basic trends and major roads of the future development and evolution of the international situation.

Fifth, “partnership” is a necessary direction for Chinese diplomacy in order to uphold the principle of “maintaining independence and keeping the initiative in our own hands” under the new historical conditions. In the new period, the most notable adjustment and innovation of thought, strategy and policy of China’s diplomacy has been reflected in the comprehensive transformation from the “alignment model” and “non-alignment model” in the Cold War period and early years of the post-Cold War period to the “partnership model” of the post-Cold War period. China’s diplomacy has made great breakthroughs and progress under the guidance of this new diplomatic thought, strategy and policy. The establishment of many kinds of partnerships between China and other countries in the world was a diplomatic choice that China proactively made to better safeguard and fulfill its own national interests and address the complex international environment as its comprehensive national strength and international status continues to grow. China’s partnership diplomacy is a new type of cooperation diplomacy. It is a new development in China’s independent foreign policy of peace. It also adheres directly to “the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence” under new historical conditions. 

Sixth, the construction of a community of shared future for mankind is a top-level design of the major-country diplomacy with Chinese features in the New Era. It calls on the people of all countries to work together to build an open, inclusive, clean and beautiful world that enjoys lasting peace, universal security and common prosperity. Since the 18th CPC National Congress, the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core has proposed the building of a new-type international relations based on win-win cooperation and the building of a community of shared future for mankind. It points out the direction of and outlines a blueprint for the common development and lasting prosperity and peace of human society. It demonstrates the global vision of China and China’s sense of responsibility as a major country, because China has united its own development with the development of the world. This provides China’s diplomacy a role in the frontier of the development trends of the times, radiating an enormous force of attraction, inspiration and vitality. The unique theoretical values behind the idea of a community of shared future for mankind enrich and develop Marxist theories about community and broaden the road for the common development of human society. It also increases China’s international power of discourse and provides lasting spiritual forces and intellectual support for rebuilding a new type of international relations and achieving the great rejuvenation of Chinese civilization.


Qi Pengfei is a professor from the School of Marxism Studies at Renmin University of China.


(Edited by CHEN ALONG)

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