On 26 July 2018, Professor Wang Yizhou, the Vice Dean of the School of International Studies (SIS) at Peking University, shared his views on the latest developments in China’s diplomacy under Xi Jinping’s leadership, particularly regarding its relations with neighbouring countries and the possibility of China being more creatively involved in world affairs.
Prof Wang defines three stages in contemporary China’s diplomacy after 1949: Mao’s era — “the policy of constant revolution”; Deng’s era — “the theme of development”; Xi’s era — “the pursuit of China’s global interests”, which he calls the third version of China, or China 3.0.
He views the arrival of Xi’s era as the result of a natural flow of events following Deng’s “reform and opening-up” policy that led to China’s economic success in the past few decades.
In this new era, China’s excess capital needs to look for opportunities outside of the country. Chinese people are traveling all around the world for business and leisure at a record high of 130 million people last year. China’s appetite for energy sources is growing at an impressive rate and more than 70 percent of China’s crude oil in 2018 will come from imports. All this presents new opportunities to China to integrated deeply with the world. At the same time China needs to think about how to pursue its global interests.
The new era also poses new challenges which China did not anticipate. These include political turmoil at beneficiary countries, lack of transparency in the project tendering process, underestimating debt risks of counterparties, environmental issues, and tension with other major powers.
Prof Wang also addressed concerns from Southeast Asian countries regarding the rise of China. He understands its geopolitical impact in the region where the US exerts its influence traditionally. Regarding the South China Sea disputes, Prof Wang explains that as an academic, he holds the view that Southeast Asian countries and China are interdependent which requires them to solve disputes through dialogue rather than military conflicts.
He points out there is still a long way to go for China to become a top power, even though China is the second largest economy with the largest foreign exchange reserve. China lacks influence on international discourse and rules; the number of Chinese nationals working in the UN is far less than some developed countries; China is still new in participating in overseas peacekeeping activities; the promotion of its values and positive image is still insufficient. He phrases it as “China is big, but not strong yet.”
He shares his vision for China’s diplomacy in the new era as “仁智大国” (a powerful country with benevolence and wisdom), in which, on top of advancing domestic reforms, China has harmonious relationships with its neighboring countries, actively involves itself in international mediation, provides more foreign aid and public goods to the international community, and explores new frontiers such as the oceans, the polar regions, the air and outer space. China will act within the existing international system and play a more constructive role in international affairs to guard its overseas interests while restraining military confrontation with other countries. China will not repeat the path that Japan and Germany took before World War II. Instead, it will increasingly become a country contributing to global progress and prosperity.