On the occasion of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, held in October 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping strongly expressed China’s bold ambitions to “move closer to center stage and making greater contributions to mankind,” as “socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era.” What does “center stage” signify? In international relations discourse, taking the center stage is dominantly attributed to seeking hegemony. However, China under Mao Zedong and thereafter, has strongly endorsed the idea of “never seek hegemony.” In view of this, China’s interest to seek the “center stage” calls for a pertinent query: Will China march any differently in taking the center stage to defy hegemony? Here, the watchword is — “how.”
As Xi stated in his speech at the opening ceremony of China’s first ever “CPC in Dialogue with World Political Parties High-Level Meeting”:
“[China] will proactively push forward the construction of a global network of partners and will proactively push for political solutions for international hot issues and difficult problems … We [China] do not import foreign models, and we do not export the China model, either … We will not require other countries to copy what we do.”
Given this pretext, with the magnanimous Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) now enshrined into the Chinese Constitution, the 19th Congress has set the precedent for China’s pathway to the center stage of great power diplomacy. It reflects China’s decisive attitude in changing the rules of the game in the international order. Most specifically, China wants to play an active role in fostering a new type of international relations by "building a community of common destiny,” as Xi explained:
“Facing the fast changing international and regional landscapes, we must see the whole picture, follow the trend of our times and jointly build a regional order that is more favorable to Asia and the world.”
Under this, Beijing’s four-point proposal aims to: respect one another and treat each other as equals; win-win cooperation and common development; pursue common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security and the need to ensure inclusiveness and mutual learning among civilizations.
What necessitates China to do so is its increasing international influence, ability to inspire, and power to shape the world at large. It is further motivated by the interest of the realization of the Chinese Dream — the two centenary goals of “securing a decisive victory in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, and of moving on to all-out efforts to build a great modern socialist country” and the “great rejuvenation” of the Chinese nation. To which, Xi added a new precedent — that before building a socialist country, China under the CCP first needs to realize “socialist modernization” by 2035, which will tread the way to the second stage (2035-2050) that will mold China into a leading global power. What justifies this approach is Xi’s perception that: “The Chinese nation […] has achieved tremendous transformation — it has stood up, grown rich, and became strong; and it now embraces the brilliant prospects of rejuvenation.” This makes it important for Beijing to develop its foreign relations in an all-round manner and consolidate its global image of a responsible power.
Xi’s categorical acknowledgement of China as “great power” and “strong power”, unlike following the past norms of calling it a “developing country” — manifests the Chinese thinking of a great rising nation becoming a responsible power.
What exemplifies this Chinese foreign policy agenda is its proactive diplomacy as witnessed in: initiating the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB); setting up the Silk Road Fund; and hosting the First Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, the 22nd APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting, the G20 2016 Summit in Hangzhou, the BRICS Summit in Xiamen, the Fourth Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, and the first ever CPC in Dialogue with World Political Parties High-Level Meeting.
Apart from China’s active multilateral engagement, China’s leadership has also proactively promoted their bilateral engagements. In 2017, President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang each visited ten countries; Beijing hosted no fewer than 24 visiting presidents or prime ministers plus the Secretary-General of the United Nations (the list of state visitors included two from North America, five from Latin America, two from Africa, two from the Middle East, five from Europe, and eight from Asia); and China engaged in high-level dialogues with countries such as the United States, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, Indonesia, Singapore, South Korea, the sixteen Central-East European states, as well as the European Union.
In addition, Xi’s categorical acknowledgement of China as “great power” and “strong power”, unlike following the past norms of calling it a “developing country” — manifests the Chinese thinking of a great rising nation becoming a responsible power. This ideation itself indicates the trajectory that a confident China aims to take. To add further, Xi too emphasized building a world-class military by 2050 and most importantly, clearly spelt out China’s non-compromising attitude on Taiwan, that China will “never allow anyone, any organization or any political party, at any time or in any form, to separate any part of Chinese territory from China.”
With these initiatives and active diplomacy, Xi Jinping has staked a new ground in Chinese diplomacy. To note, China’s newfound confidence confirms Beijing’s departure from Deng Xiaoping’s dictum of “keeping a low profile.” Most importantly, this dictum has been replaced by Xi’s policy of “striving for achievement,” wherein China seeks to act as a responsible player by shaping the external environment through proactive diplomacy. In this light, the “new era,” as Xi stated, provides the “Chinese wisdom and a Chinese approach to solving the problems facing mankind,” that is, the Chinese version of a world order aiming at practicing great power diplomacy by “building a community of common destiny.” This is a new alternative to the existing western-dominated world order, and China will take the new lead towards the center stage.
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Xi, J. P. (2017, October 18). Secure a Decisive Victory in Building a Moderately Prosperous Society in All Respects and Strive for the Great Success of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era. Speech delivered at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.
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