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MANTRAYA BRIEF#03: 09 APRIL 2015

Chinese Foreign Policy Signals for 2015

Bo Zhen

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Abstract

The annual Chinese National People’s Congress (NPC) and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference ( CPPCC) held in March 2015 provides a glimpse to what the Chinese foreign policy might look in 2015. While there is a prospect for mutual cooperation with Russia and a competitive cooperation with the United States, there is prospects for acrimony with Japan and a process of engagement with India.  

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The completion of the Chinese National People’s Congress (NPC) and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), known as the “Two Sessions”, between 3rd to 15th March, provides a clear picture regarding the nuances of Chinese foreign policy in 2015.

First, the keywords for China’s diplomacy in 2015 will be “One Focus” and “Two Main Themes”. “One Focus” is about the “Belt and Road” initiative in which the Chinese government will be making all-round progress. By further enhancing policy communication with related countries and expanding the convergence of the shared interests, China is going to promote infrastructural connectivity and build overland economic corridors and pillars of maritime cooperation. “Two Main Themes” are those of peace and development. China will work together with international community to commemorate the world’s anti-Fascist war and use the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations (UN) to actively participate in the UN development summit and international cooperation on climate change.

Second, promotion and safeguarding the current international order. China considers itself a constructive force in building the international order. It was the founding member of the UN 70 years ago. Considering the fact that the UN is the centre of international order and akin to a big boat, China would like to ensure this boat sails steadily forward and in the right direction. With a seven-decades long history, the international order today is in need of better global governance and promotion of democracy. It further needs to protect the interests of the developing countries.

Third, carrying out the practical diplomacy with great powers and neighboring countries. China views the United States, Russia, Japan and India as great powers and partners with whom close political and economic relationships have been formed. Theses countries are crucial not only for Chinese diplomacy but also for regional as well as global stability.

In the specter of China-US relations, China wishes to work closely with the United States, building on the progress made during the visit by US President Barack Obama in 2014 and his meeting with the Chinese president Xi at the Yingtai island. A new model of major-country relations is in the offing, although Beijing anticipates that such an effort will not be without challenges. However, in the face of challenges, both China and the US would need to demonstrate sincerity and buttress the bottom line of “no conflict and no confrontation”. For the two giants, the mutual disagreements must not overpower the need to take the bilateral relations forward.

In the context of the China-Russia relations, the road is comparatively smoother. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi reiterated at a press conference on the sidelines of the parliamentary session, “The China-Russia relationship is not dictated by international vicissitudes and does not target any third party. Thanks to the strong strategic trust the two sides have established.” As comprehensive strategic partners, cooperation between the two is driven by mutual need and common perceptions regarding regional security and energy issues. Under the Silk Road Economic Belt framework, the trade volume between the two is expected to reach the levels of US$ 100 billion in 2015. In terms of energy cooperation, construction of the eastern route of the natural gas pipeline is expected to resume and an agreement on the western route of the pipeline would be signed in 2015. As permanent members of the UN security Council, strengthening strategic cooperation and coordination in the critical issues like settling the nuclear issues concerning Iran as well as North Korea would remain important areas of dialogue and consultation.

Unfortunately, the China-Japan relations would remain troubled till Japan acknowledges a history that has hurtful memories for the Chinese people. Even the possibility of a healthy economic relationship (Japanese direct investment into China fell by over two-fifths in 2014 compared with 2013) would be inadequate on retrieving the icy political relations between the two, especially in view of some of the right wing assertions made by some of the Japanese politicians. Chinese foreign minister Wang emphasized, “Japan lost the war seventy years ago. Seventy years afterwards, it should not lose its conscience’. Quoting a veteran Chinese diplomat, Wang said, “The more the perpetrator is conscious of his or her guilt, the more relieved the victim can feel about the suffering.”

Regarding the Sino-India relations, progress can be expected even with the obstacles. Both countries can work together on issues such as counter-terrorism, climate change and G-20 etc. under the structure of BRICS and cooperate with each other in areas such as infrastructure, IT service and pharmacy. During his 2014 visit, first visit by a Chinese president to India in eight years, Chinese president Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s joint photo with the spinning wheel used by India’s father of nation, Mahatma Gandhi was widely circulated across China. China promised to invest US$ 20 billion in India in the next five years. As regards the border dispute, two countries have strong leaders and common will to solve this problem and must not remain hostage of the bitterness of the past.

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(Bo Zhen is a Research Scholar at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.)

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