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Foreign Policy Under Xi Jinping: China’s Strenuous Journey towards Peaceful Development

After a seemingly endless series of sabre rattling, China is finally showing progress in mitigating its territorial dispute with Japan. With the ascension of Xi Jinping to the presidency, one wonders how China’s foreign policy will change. Can we expect another hawkish leader like those belligerent military officials who warned of a possible naval war, or is he getting China out of its troubled waters and leading the nation onto a peace-seeking path?

Having observed China’s hostility over its territorial disputes lately, one would expect Chinese leaders to take hawkish stances when trying to underscore the party’s legitimacy.  However, this was not manifested during Mr. Xi’s speech on foreign policy, where he instead emphasized the idea of a “peaceful rise”. The speech revolved around both continuity and change as Mr. Xi not only reclaimed China’s determination to take a “peaceful development” approach, but also put forward the precondition that the outside world should under no circumstances violate China’s vital interests –

Foreign countries should not expect that we will trade on our own core interests, not expect that we will eat the bitter fruits of damaging our country’s sovereignty, security, and development benefits.

Xinhua, China’s official press agency, described such peaceful development as a working strategy that not only “has a blueprint and a goal, but also a bottom line”, further stressing Mr. Xi’s resolve to never compromise the nation’s core interests. Overall the speech was not(surprisingly) a mere act of namedropping based on a compilation of the preceding theories such as Deng Xiaoping Thought, Jiang Zemin’s “Three Represents,” and Hu’s “Scientific Development”. Aside from reinforcing “peaceful development” as China’s main future directory, Mr. Xi also emphasized the need for professional diplomats to become more active and the necessity for China to take advantage of the opportunities from the outside world and in turn make its own contributions.

However, there has already been criticism centered on China becoming increasingly arrogant and “outward-looking” due to the measures it has taken to defend its interests, particularly its territorial interests. After all, peace-making and national interests don’t appear to go hand in hand.  The purpose of the speech is to encourage the consideration of both sides of the scale—China will stick to the path of peaceful development while at the same time striving equally as hard to protect its core interests. The journey will be tumultuous, but time-worthy.

Many challenges are starting to surface. In light of the current situation, China is already facing an unprecedented dilemma between sticking to its ideal path and defending its vital interests—China is now in dispute with several of its neighbors over territorial sovereignty and the US has rebalanced its strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific region. When confronted with such challenge, Xi repeated that the fundamental idea is not expansion or world domination and that the goal of peaceful development is for the greater benefit of people both locally and globally.

What about ideological differences between China and other countries that might hinder the practice of China’s “peaceful development”?

As is evident, China has been following a set of “golden rules” when it has dealt with its foreign policies in the past decade, one of them being non-interference with other countries’ internal affairs. Yet on the other hand, some western communities have been advocating the so-called well-intentioned interference in the name of democracy and human rights. In keeping with the core belief reinforced by Mr. Xu, China should adhere to the principle of non-interference as chartered by the United Nation because, once the principle is cast away, it may give some nations the liberty to meddle with others’ affairs at will; this might take the form of power struggle or one nation bullying another, which may induce further conflicts between China and other countries.

Whether it’s a hard-line declaration to instill faith in the Chinese public, a long-entrenched philosophy of always taking the middle ground as well as prioritizing peaceful measures, or simply a strategy to pave way for future negotiation with China’s neighbors to thaw ties and resolve territorial disputes, President Xi Jinping’s “peaceful development” encapsulates the great wisdom of the Chinese people on peacemaking and hopefully will lead China onto the path of successful foreign relations in the foreseeable future.

 – Alison Li


(Featured photo: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works nznationalparty, Creative Commons, Flickr)



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