China’s Diplomacy in the Past 70 Years: Achievements and Experience

Liu Jinsong

The year 2019 marked the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Seventy years ago, the Chinese people, through arduous struggles, ended once and for all, China’s century-long history of humiliation following the Opium War and began to stand tall in the East as a completely new nation. Over the past seven decades, China’s diplomacy, by holding high the banner of independence, peace and cooperation, has helped advance China’s national renewal from having stood up, growing rich to becoming stronger and made historic contribution to world peace and development.

I. Major Diplomatic Achievementsof New China in the Past 70 Years

First achievement: firmly safeguarding China’s sovereignty and security interests. In the early years of the PRC, in order to break foreign isolation and blockade, the Chinese government adopted three guiding principles for its diplomacy, namely, to “set up a new kitchen”, “clean the house before entertaining the guests” and “lean to one side”, presenting to the world a whole new China. Since then, China’s diplomacy has always followed the independent foreign policy of peace and firmly safeguarded national independence and sovereignty, enabling the New China to gain a solid foothold and break new ground in a complex and fast-changing world.

To realize China’s complete reunification is a historic mission and responsibility of China’s diplomacy. The hard work on the diplomatic front to implement the vision of “one country, two systems” brought forth the smooth return of Hong Kong and Macao. Through its diplomacy, China has resolutely rejected external interference in China’s domestic affairs and infringement upon China’s sovereignty and security. China has said no to separatist activities aimed at “Taiwan independence” and forestalled external interference in Hong Kong and Macao affairs. It has also conducted effective diplomacy on issues concerning Tibet and Xinjiang. It has strengthened international cooperation on combating terrorism, extremism and separatism and stood firmly against politicizing human rights issues. These are all diplomatic efforts to fully defend China’s territorial sovereignty, security and national dignity. 

China’s diplomacy is committed to addressing disputes concerning territory and maritime rights and interests with neighboring countries through negotiation and consultation. Through negotiation, China has completed the survey and demarcation of land boundary with 12 out of its 14 land neighbors, which accounts for 90% of its total land boundary and effectively safeguarded China’s territorial sovereignty. When I was Ambassador to Afghanistan, my Afghan friends told me that though Afghanistan is smaller in size, China treated Afghanistan as its equal during the boundary negotiations and handled boundary affairs in a fair and friendly way. The Afghan people could feel the brotherly sentiments from China and its moral strength as a major country. China signed and effectively implemented the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) with countries concerned and, together with these countries, has launched and advanced consultations on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC). These are important steps to uphold maritime rights and interests and preserve regional maritime stability.

Second achievement: cementing and developing relations with countries around the world. In the past seven decades, the number of countries having diplomatic relations with China has expanded from 18 in the first several years of the PRC to 180. China has formed 111 partnerships in various forms and made friends all over the world, symbolizing its success in finding a new approach toward relations between countries that favors dialogue over confrontation and partnership over alliance. 

The Soviet Union recognized and established diplomatic relations with the PRC just one day after its founding. After the Soviet Union’s dissolution, this relationship smoothly transitioned into the China-Russia relationship. Having withstood the test of international vicissitudes, the China-Russia relationship has become a fine example of amicable coexistence and win-win cooperation between two large countries and neighbors. As the two countries marked the 70th anniversary of diplomatic ties, President Xi Jinping made a state visit to Russia and announced the decision to develop a China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era, elevating bilateral relations onto a new journey.

The China-US relationship is one of the most consequential bilateral relationships in the world. In the 1970s, Chairman Mao Zedong invited the American ping-pong team to China, paving the way for the development of official ties between the two countries through people-to-people exchanges. When meeting with the US delegation, Premier Zhou Enlai made the remark that “your visit to China has opened the door to friendly exchanges between our two peoples.” The ping-pong diplomacy left behind a famous historic episode of how “a small ball moved the big ball”. Since China and the US established diplomatic relations, the relationship has gone through many ups and downs, yet it has continued to move forward. To address the growing complexities in the relationship as we see right now, it is crucial for the two sides to respect each other and treat each other as equals and seek to resolve the issues through dialogue and consultation, advance the China-US relations based on coordination, cooperation and stability, and ensure the overall stability of the relationship. 

China’s relations with Europe played a unique role in advancing China’s diplomacy in the early years of the PRC and in China’s modernization. In 1964, France became the first major Western country to establish diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level with the PRC. As European integration moved forward, China-Europe relations have deepened and expanded toward partnerships for peace, growth, reform and civilization. The two sides have expanded common understanding on upholding multilateralism and improving global governance and developed all-dimensional, multi-tiered and wide-ranging exchanges and cooperation.

In the past seven decades, China has attached great importance to its neighborhood diplomacy. Committed to the principle of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness, China has pursued friendship and partnership with its neighbors to foster an amicable, secure and prosperous neighborhood. The result is greater political mutual trust and productive cooperation between China and its neighboring countries, more solid progress in regional integration and continued advancement in the building of a community with common interests and a shared future.

In the past seven decades, China has all along viewed greater solidarity and cooperation with other developing countries as a foundation of its foreign policy and supported their efforts to strive for and defend national independence and equal participation in international affairs. Following the principle of sincerity, real results, amity and good faith and that of pursuing the greater good and shared interests among countries, China has been working to build an even stronger community with a shared future between China and Africa, develop the future-oriented strategic partnership of comprehensive cooperation and common development with Arab states, deepen the comprehensive cooperative partnership of equality, mutual benefit and common development with Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) and forge a new platform for South-South cooperation among BRICS countries. These efforts have extended China’s cooperation frameworks to cover all developing countries.

Third achievement: taking an active part in shaping global governance. China is a defender of the international order. China was the first country to put its signature on the United Nations (UN) Charter. In the 1950s, Premier Zhou Enlai led the Chinese delegations to the Geneva Conference and the Bandung Conference and played a constructive role at both events, bringing China onto the world stage. A senior Chinese diplomat involved in those events recalled that during the Geneva Conference, all decisions were made by Premier Zhou himself. He engaged foreign heads of delegation extensively and spoke to them at great length. And every day he worked until three or four o’clock in the morning. He gained recognition and respect for New China’s diplomacy and established China’s image as a responsible country committed to independence, equity and justice. After restoring its lawful seat in the UN in 1971, China has fully participated in UN activities in various fields, joined almost all the intergovernmental international organizations and acceded to over 500 international conventions. In the new era, China remains a staunch defender of multilateralism and continues to support the UN in playing a positive role in international affairs. It has become the second largest contributor to the UN regular budget and peacekeeping assessment and the largest peacekeeper contributor among permanent members of the Security Council. 

China is a contributor to world peace. The Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence advocated by China, India and Myanmar in the 1950s is a basic norm governing international relations and a basic principle in international law. When meeting with UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar in 1982, Comrade Deng Xiaoping emphasized that “China’s commitment to world peace was not an empty slogan” and that “opposing hegemony and upholding world peace was China’s true policy, a guideline for conducting Chinese diplomacy.” Over the last 70 years, China has never provoked a single war or conflict, or seized a single inch of land from other countries. Since reform and opening-up began in 1978, China has voluntarily cut its armed forces by over four million. China advocates common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security. China has fully participated in the work on arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation and contributed its wisdom and resources to resolving international and regional hotspot issues such as the Korean Peninsula, the Iranian nuclear issue, Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan and the issue of Myanmar’s Rakhine State. China has been sending naval fleets to the Gulf of Aden and waters off the Somalia coast for escort missions for more than 10 consecutive years. China has extended a timely helping hand to countries and people affected by tsunamis, earthquakes, other natural disasters and the Ebola epidemic. All these endeavors have demonstrated the Chinese nation’s compassion and keen sense of responsibility for the world.

Today, the world faces a common challenge — a deficit in peace, development and governance. There is a growing call from people around the world for better global governance. China has hosted and attended a series of multilateral events such as the G20 Summits, the World Economic Forum and the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meetings, where China offered many initiatives and propositions and translated them into international consensus and global actions, contributing its part to the reform and development of the global governance system. We are also part of multilateral governance processes and cooperation on global climate change, counterterrorism, nuclear security and cybersecurity. We have actively pushed for reform of international financial institutions. China launched initiatives to set up the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), BRICS, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and other international organizations and cooperation mechanisms that focus on developing countries. More Chinese nationals have been elected to head international organizations. China is becoming the most active contributor to better global governance. 

In response to changes rarely seen in a century and existing challenges in governance and development, President Xi Jinping put forth the important vision of a community with a shared future for mankind, advocated the building of an open, inclusive, clean, and beautiful world that enjoys lasting peace, universal security, and common prosperity. He has also explicitly called for the building of “an Asia-Pacific community with a shared future”, “a China-ASEAN community with a shared future”, “a China-Africa community with a shared future” and “a China-LAC community with a shared future”. His vision of a community with a shared future for mankind illustrates the interdependence among all countries and peoples and the interconnectedness of their future. It fully reflects the long-shared aspiration of people across the world. This vision has been included in documents of the UN and other international and regional organizations. China has added a new dimension to multilateralism which reflects the trend of our times. That is, instead of letting one country or a small group of countries have all the say, international affairs should be addressed by all countries through consultation. This idea has been widely applauded by the international community. 

Fourth achievement: building an open system of win-win cooperation. China is a contributor to global development. In 70 years, it has become the world’s second largest economy, contributing over 30% to world economic growth. It is the largest trading partner of more than 130 countries. Since reform and opening-up, China has seen itself deeply integrating into the world with unprecedented pace and scale. It is a member of the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO, and almost all other important international and regional economic organizations. It has signed 17 Free Trade Agreements with 25 countries and regions. Fifteen countries of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) have concluded text-based negotiations. A network of high-standard free trade areas is in the making. Covering neighboring countries and extending to Belt and Road partners, it is truly a network with global vision.

China is actively involved in and firmly supports economic globalization. “Pursuing protectionism is like locking oneself in a dark room. While wind and rain may be kept outside, that dark room will also block light and air.” China’s firm commitment to economic globalization and to an open world economy sets the right direction for globalization, which now stands at a crossroads. We have taken real actions to uphold the rules-based multilateral trading system with the WTO at its center, and the core values and basic principles of the WTO. We have promoted economic globalization, trade and investment liberalization and facilitation, and the building of an open world economy. 

China has made huge contribution to the world’s poverty reduction and development. Since reform and opening-up, China has lifted nearly 800 million people out of poverty, contributing over 70% to poverty reduction worldwide. By 2020, China will win the critical battle against poverty, and eliminate extreme poverty for the first time in its 5,000-year history. China has provided over 400 billion yuan of assistance and sent over 600,000 aid workers to nearly 170 countries and international organizations. Its active efforts in implementing the UN’s Millennium Development Goals and 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development have been widely recognized. 

Since China proposed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013, a large number of connectivity projects have been launched, and a basic framework of international cooperation is in place. The vision of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits has been accepted, and financial support from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the Silk Road Fund and other sources has been strengthened. By the end of October 2019, China has signed 197 agreements on Belt and Road cooperation with 137 countries and 30 international organizations. Nearly 20,000 freight trains have traveled between China and European countries. Two meetings of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation were successfully held. As the biggest platform of international cooperation and the most popular international public good, the BRI has promoted economic growth and improved people’s lives in relevant countries and regions. It has even changed the destiny of many ordinary people. The Chinese Red Cross Foundation has assisted over 100 Afghan children with congenital heart diseases. With a 100% success rate of surgeries in Urumqi, Xinjiang, over 100 families have regained hope for life. “Our Chinese friends take care of our children just like their own, and we shall never forget their help”, the locals said with tears in their eyes.

Fifth achievement: actively serving domestic development. For 70 years, serving the economic and social development of the country has always been an important mission of China’s diplomacy. We have supported companies and local governments to “go global”, built platforms including multilateral events, the Belt and Road cooperation, and the MFA presenting Chinese provinces events, and contributed to high-quality development of the country and the opening-up of its different regions,   Vigorous efforts were made in fighting corruption, repatriation of fugitives, and return of their criminal proceeds, and 60 on the list of 100 most wanted fugitives have been brought back to China.

China’s diplomacy is people-centered, and is committed to serving the people and to ensuring safety and the legitimate rights and interests of overseas Chinese citizens and institutions. We have conducted more than 10 emergency evacuations of Chinese nationals from foreign countries including Yemen, and processed over 500,000 consular protection cases involving nearly one million Chinese citizens. In September 2018, when a powerful typhoon hit Japan, China’s Consulate General in Osaka helped evacuating over 1,000 stranded Chinese tourists who were from the mainland, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. It demonstrates how a major country lives up to its responsibilities, always there to help its nationals. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has established the mechanism of security and travel alerts, and launched the consular hotline 12308, the consular services website, and the “China Consular Affairs” account on WeChat and Weibo. China has signed mutual visa exemption agreements on different types of passports with 146 countries, and 70 countries and regions now grant visa-free or visa on arrival entry to Chinese citizens carrying ordinary passports.

Sixth achievement: promoting innovation in the system of diplomatic theories. Over the past 70 years, generations of Chinese leaders, diplomats, experts and scholars have worked tirelessly for the historic mission of applying diplomatic studies to the Chinese context, and have been innovating on China’s diplomatic theories. From the three major diplomatic policies to the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, from the “three worlds” theory, to standing for multi-polarity, democracy in international relations, and building a harmonious world, New China has responded both to the real needs and characteristics of the times through its diplomacy, explored and developed a system of diplomatic theories with distinctive Chinese features, and made important contribution to the innovation and development of theories on international relations.  

In June 2018, the Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs established the guiding position of Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy. With the “ten major endeavors” as its key component, Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy has set out explicitly the historic mission, overarching goal, and key policies and principles of China’s diplomacy in the new era, and profoundly revealed the essence, rules and goals of major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics in the new era. Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy is an important part of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era. It presents well the vision on governance of the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core as applied to diplomacy, and it is a fundamental guidance for China’s diplomacy in the new era. 

In October 2019, the fourth plenary session of the 19th CPC Central Committee set out the plans and goals on upholding and improving the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and modernizing China’s system and capacity for governance. Important statements were made on China’s diplomacy, including strengthening the development of theories of major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics, improving the systems and mechanisms relating to foreign affairs, and modernizing China’s system and capacity for governance as applied to diplomacy. A clear direction has been set out for diplomacy to create a peaceful international environment and favorable external conditions for the development of the Party and the country. 

II. Seventy Years of Valuable Experience on Diplomacy Since the Foundingof the People’s Republic

China has developed a fine tradition and gained valuable experience in diplomacy over its 70-year glorious journey. This is a precious legacy for the development of major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics in the new era. 

We are committed to an independent foreign policy of peace. Independence is the most salient feature of China’s diplomacy. Throughout history, not a single country or ethnic group has ever achieved prosperity or revitalization by relying on external forces or following others’ footsteps. China always decides on its positions and policies according to the merits of matters, pursues political settlement of disputes through dialogue, and develops itself by safeguarding world peace while contributing to world peace with its own development. China encourages all countries to follow the path of peaceful development, and always stands as a force for peace in the world. 

We are committed to maintaining international fairness and justice. Fairness and justice is the pursuit of all peoples, and the inherent responsibility of China’s diplomacy. China advocates and practices the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, and opposes hegemonism and power politics in all forms. China has always spoken up for justice on the political front, pursued win-win outcome and common development on economic matters, and acted in good faith and valued friendship in international affairs. China will always stand on the right side of history, of international fairness and justice, and of all other developing countries. 

We are committed to the win-win strategy of opening up. Win-win outcome is essential to China’s peaceful development and to the pursuit of China’s diplomacy. China rejects zero-sum games, and seeks no dominance. Since reform and opening-up, China has made opening-up a fundamental state policy, advocated a win-win strategy of opening-up, and pursued development with door wide open. China has taken full advantage of the favorable conditions brought by economic globalization and regional cooperation, contributed to and benefited from common development of the world with its own development, and promoted win-win cooperation and the building of an open system. 

We are committed to safeguarding the nation’s core and major interests. Safeguarding national interests is the ultimate goal of China’s foreign policy. China’s diplomacy is aimed at the overall and long-term interests of the Chinese nation. We greatly value the independence that the Chinese people have won through protracted struggles, and uphold the social system and development path independently chosen by the Chinese people. We firmly safeguard our national interests and dignity, and never negotiate on matters of principle or trade away our core interests. All this demonstrates the honor and integrity of the Chinese nation, and has won understanding and respect of the international community. 

We are committed to serving domestic development through diplomacy. Promoting development is an important, inherent mission of China’s diplomacy, and development is the number one priority of China, the largest developing country in the world. China’s diplomacy aims at promoting economic and social development of the country. We have enhanced friendship, exchanges and mutually-beneficial cooperation with other countries, and put forward new ideas and measures to serve domestic development. We have facilitated exchange of best practices, built bridges of friendship, and injected new impetus to the efforts to comprehensively deepen reform and opening-up, achieve high-quality economic development, and modernize the country’s system and capacity for governance. 

We are committed to people-centered diplomacy. Serving the people is the very purpose of China’s diplomacy. The people-centered diplomacy of New China is invincible, as it is rooted in the people and benefits the people. China’s diplomacy puts people first and at the center. Whether our people feel benefited, secure and satisfied is the important scale in measuring the success of our work. We have made great efforts to ensure that the achievements of development reach all the people, and that is why we have been recognized and supported by the people.  

Liu Jinsong is Director-General of the Policy Planning Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.