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Over the past three decades, China has gone through historical changes in its’ relationship with the world (Jiechi). It has transformed from a country of isolation to a country that is deeply integrated with the international community (Jiechi). One of the main reason for this transformation can be seen in its’ direction of foreign policy (Jiechi). From President Hu Jintao to the most recent leadership change with Xi JinPing being in leadership role, China has consistently aimed towards a foreign policy strategy of “peaceful coexistence” whereby it enumerates five principles: 1) mutual respect for sovereignty and mutual respect for territorial integrity, 2) mutual non-aggression, 3) non-interference in each other's internal affairs, 4) equality and mutual benefit, 5) and peaceful coexistence ("Principles Of China's Foreign Policy | Asia For Educators | Columbia University"). While Xi Jinpin’s foreign policy today takes a surprising turn that is different from Hu Jintao’s approach, all of the aforementioned principles of peaceful coexistence continues to be exemplified through Xi Jinpin’s words and actions taken in his foreign, with only a few exceptions.
In 2006, Chinese president Hu Jintao implemented a policy of the “peaceful rise” (Pan). This policy asserted that the country will be able to thrive economically without damaging the environment and ties with other nations (Pan). While the result of this ‘peaceful rise’ was nowhere near perfect in reality as relations remained tainted with several countries including its most nearest neighbors: Japan and Taiwan, it did achieve most of its goals (Pan). Examples include settling border disputes, strengthening ties with regional organizations, as well as expanding trade through the Asian region (Pan). More significantly, China has shown its commitment to peacekeeping through its participation in international peacekeeping operations as well as multilateral cooperations (Jiechi). As a matter of fact, an article titled “China’s foreign relations in the past 60 years” published in The Telegraph stated that China is the number one, largest contributor of peacekeepers among the five members of the United Nations Security Council (Jiechi).
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While China has been seen to be maintaining its ‘peaceful rise’ under Hu Jintao and its cooperation with various peacekeeping organizations have been positively complimented, what caught the attention of more people was its’ change in political leadership in 2012 ("Principles Of China's Foreign Policy | Asia For Educators | Columbia University"). The new leader - Xi Jinping, has stirred many debates and speculations as to which direction China will take (Shi). With the country being so big - economically and in population, Xi Jinping’s stance in undertaking substantial transformation in the discourse of both domestic and foreign policy has left other nations and its partners somewhat under-prepared and confused (Shi). As Tim Summers, a professor of China studies and senior consulting fellow at Chatham House’ Asia Programme, stated, “the nature of China’s approaches to international affairs is particularly worth discussing following the completion of the latest – and important – transition in its political leadership” (Summers).
One of the main reasons in why Xi Jinping’s discourses in foreign affairs are confusing people are due to its contradictory messages it sends to the world both in words and in actions (Shi). One of the sides that Xi Jinping takes, is more realistic and is taken to be more impressive amongst other major powers (Shi). This is the more assertive stance where China asserts its influence to the world rather than biding its time (Manning and Przystup). Some actions that portray this assertiveness includes the shift in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from a simple force to a more forceful force that is ready for combat and “capable of fighting...victoriously” as well as its’ military build-up such as increasing its’ advanced weaponry (Shi). Another action of Xi Jinpin which conveys their assertiveness, is how China has demonstrated its willingness to harden and assert its position in the territorial maritime disputes such as in the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands dispute with Japan and the Philippines (Summers). Combining these assertive actions with words such as the “great resurgence of the Chinese nation,” also known as the “Chinese dream” - used recurringly in public speeches, Xi Jinpin’s hardline stance is clearly evident (Shi).
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However, there is another tone in actions and in words since the change of leadership - one of the main reasons for the confusion amongst other nations (Manning and Przystup). This is especially true since 2013 and this is the less assertive and more accommodating China (Shi). For example, Xi Jinping has dramatically increased its’ cooperation with the US such as in international security threats from North Korea, Syria, and Iran. Xi Jinping also broadened the market access greatly for the US service capital which other Chinese leaders in the past refused to cooperate in.
Today, although China under the new leader - Xi Jinpin has created some confusion and a sense of unpreparedness by other neighboring countries and major powers, it stands to be the second most powerful nation in the context of national power, and is even called the “re-awakening lion” (Shi). According to an interview conducted by the Chatam House with Summers, he claims that even in the midst of all the contradictory words and actions by Xi Jinpin, he believes China will maintain a more assertive role in the international playing field (Summers). Although relations with Japan over territorial disputes and with North Korea in regards to their nuclear programme pose the most immediate challenges and will continue to strain relationships for China, Summers believe that neither side, including China, will take any action that might deteriorate the relation to a major conflict (Summers).
In conclusion, China’s foreign policy since the 2000s perfectly exemplifies its’ converging interest with the world. Although today’s Xi Jinpin’s foreign policy stance seems to be more assertive than the previous leader - Hu Jintao who promoted the ‘peaceful rise,’ China still seems to head towards the similar direction of peaceful coexistence as it takes extra steps towards market access openness and peacemaking. All of which, indicating that while Xi Jinpin may take a different and somewhat unexpected approach in its foreign policy from the previous leader, it still places importance in taking strategic steps towards China’s long-term growth in holding a dominant role in power and influence.
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Jiechi, Yang. "China's Foreign Relations In The Past 60 Years". Telegraph.co.uk.N.p., 2009. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.
Manning, Robert and James Przystup. "How To Explain Xi Jinping’S Mounting Foreign-Policy Failures". Foreign Policy. N.p., 2016. Web. 27 Aug. 2016.
"Principles Of China's Foreign Policy | Asia For Educators | Columbia University".Asia for Educators. N.p., 2009. Web. 26 Aug. 2016.
Shi, Yinhong. "China’s Complicated Foreign Policy". ECFR
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Summers, Tim. "China’s New Leadership: Approaches To International Affairs". Chatam House. N.p., 2013. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.