Speech at the Seminar on New China’s People-to-people Diplomacy

Qi Zhenhong

First of all, I wish to extend warm congratulations on the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs (CPIFA). Over the past 70 years, CPIFA has played an extremely important and unique role in promoting China’s diplomatic engagement, building friendly relationship with other countries, and raising the country’s profile through greater communication for mutual understanding between our people and the world. I believe that under the leadership of President Wang Chao and with the joint efforts of all our able colleagues, CPIFA will go from strength to strength and achieve even greater success. 

People-to-people diplomacy is the hallmark of CPIFA, and more importantly, an important part of China's overall diplomacy. It is of great theoretical and practical value for us therefore to discuss the philosophy of people-to-people diplomacy of the PRC as we mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of CPIFA, as it adds new dimensions to the development of the diplomatic theory of socialism with Chinese characteristics and guides further progress of the people-to-people diplomacy.

The People-to-people diplomacy is an initiative of the Chinese Communist Party(CPC) and the People's Republic of China, which bears distinctive Chinese characteristics, and inherits fine traditional Chinese cultures and the CPC's experience in revolution and diplomacy over the years. It embodies the following features.

First, placing great importance on the role of the people. Late Premier Zhou Enlai said that, relations between the people of two countries must be built more with the initiative of the people themselves instead of relying solely on career diplomats. In his speech entitled Our Foreign Policy and Mission dated 30 April 1952, he stressed that, we must unite the people of the world, and reach out to not only those of our brotherly countries, but also the people of former colonial and semi-colonial countries and the capitalist world.…Diplomacy aims to promote state-to-state relations, but it does so through getting support from the people. The truth is state-to-state diplomacy and people-to-people diplomacy are mutually reinforcing. We should always get it right. General Secretary Xi Jinping has stated on many occasions that, it is people-to-people friendship and ultimately mutual understanding between the peoples that holds the key to good state-to-state relations. Either the principle of "amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness" guiding our relations with neighboring countries, or the guidelines of "sincerity, real results, amity and good faith" for our engagement with African countries, both emphasize the importance of friendship between peoples. People-to-people diplomacy, in the final analysis, is about building closer bonds, enhancing mutual understanding and promoting friendship and mutual trust between peoples, which helps consolidate popular support for state-to-state relations.

Second, laying equal stress on non-governmental diplomacy in supplement and promotion of governmental diplomacy. According to late Vice Premier and Foreign Minister Chen Yi, China's people-to-people diplomacy is carried out on both government and non-government tracks. The integration and flexibility of the two tracks constitutes the system of our people-to-people diplomacy and the most distinctive feature of our external relations. In the early days of the PRC, people-to-people diplomacy often acted as the forerunner of official diplomacy. By strengthening ties with the people of other countries, it helped China break the diplomatic blockade imposed by the imperialist countries and win international support. As is known to all, it played a crucial role in diplomatic recognition between China and France and the normalization of relations between China and Japan. Even today when our diplomacy has widely broadened its horizon, it continues to play an important role in promoting China's relations with other countries, especially those who have disputes or frictions with China or those yet to establish diplomatic relations with China.

Third, diplomacy with warmth of humanity. Internationally renowned political activists are among those we first reach out to in our people-to-people diplomacy. These are often former senior statesmen who have made contribution to China’s relations with their own countries. We never forget old friends when making new ones. This approach is much different from the practice of some other countries. In fact, our people-to-people diplomacy with warmth of humanity can bring into better play their unique influence in and further promoting bilateral relations between China and their own countries.

Fourth, giving full play to public diplomacy. Public diplomacy aims to help people of other countries increase knowledge and understanding of China and improve our national image. Therefore, besides internationally renowned political activists, people-to-people diplomacy also covers parliamentarians, scholars, dignitaries and young elites who, as "opinion leaders", have key voices in shaping China’s image in their own countries. These people can help the elites and the general public of their respective countries better understand China's development philosophy, its economic and social dynamics and governance experience. It is learned that the CPIFA has held many forums and international conferences on various topics in recent years, becoming another key voice of public diplomacy to tell China story and its development path.

The world today is undergoing profound changes unseen in a century. Competition among major powers is getting increasingly fierce. China is facing more complex challenges in international public opinion as the West, led by the United States, has becoming more brazen in making groundless accusations in their smear campaign against China. Against this background, people-to-people diplomacy carries a new mission of winning understanding and trust of the general public overseas. It is important to summarize the valuable experience of people-to-people diplomacy in the past 70 years, gain a thorough understanding of Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy and further enrich the philosophy of people-to-people diplomacy with Chinese characteristics. Greater efforts should be made to substantiate the content of people-to-people diplomacy while staying true to our original aspiration and mission, with a view to making greater contribution to promoting major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics and building a global community with a shared future.

Qi Zhenhong is President of China Institute of International Studies.