By Tao Wenzhao
Chinese diplomacy seems to have shifted into high gear this autumn.
In October, for example, foreign dignitaries traveled to China one after another in quick succession. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited China two weeks after he took office; Republic of Korea President Roh Moo-hyun and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came for the nuclear issue of North Korea. They were followed by UN Secretary-General-to-be Ban Ki-moon and French President Jacques Chirac. They had barely left when the China-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit opened in Nanning, capital of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
In November, important diplomatic activities have continued unabated. The Beijing Summit of China-Africa Cooperation Forum was staged. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov toured to the Chinese capital for regular talks with Premier Wen Jiabao and presided over the Year of Russia closing ceremony. Virtually at the same time, US Under Secretary of State William Burns was in town for US-China strategic talks with his Chinese counterparts. Hot on their heels, US Secretary of Treasury Henry Paulson is expected in Beijing for Sino-American strategic economic dialogue.
Moreover, President Hu Jintao is embarking on his tour of Southeast Asia and the South Asian subcontinent.
Such high frequency of top diplomatic activities, which have never been seen before in the history of the People's Republic of China since its founding in 1949, signifies China's new diplomatic posture.
A number of salient features stand out.
First, an all-round diplomacy is afoot. It covers developed countries and the developing world, the countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and America in pure geographical terms. It involves small and big countries in terms of sheer size, and the countries on China's periphery and those far away, in terms of distance.
Second, the diplomacy is based on mechanisms that are working effectively. This kind of mechanism-based diplomacy finds expression in regular meetings between the Chinese and Russian premiers, the China-ASEAN summit, China-Africa Cooperation Forum, the China-US strategic talks and China-US strategic economic dialogue.
In addition to facilitating stability in bilateral relations, the diplomatic mechanisms, in turn, are pushing China's ties with these countries towards a more desirable direction. This is manifested by the ever-improving relations between China and ASEAN since entering the new century. In the course of regional or sub-regional economic integration, for example, China and ASEAN are working together on the Beibu Bay Economic Rim and the Mekong Valley sub-regional economic development.
Third, multilateral diplomatic campaigns are being launched in the context of regional integration picking up speed in the post-Cold War era.
Gaining common ground with a host of countries on a string of important issues helps cement China's good relations with them. The latest examples are the China-ASEAN summit and the China-Africa Cooperation Forum. Apart from this format of having dialogue simultaneously with leaders from many countries, sending envoys to a number of nations and addressing issues of overriding importance is another important method of multilateral diplomacy. This is demonstrated by the shuttle diplomacy used in the North Korean nuclear crisis.
Fourth, security and economics constitute the two equally important focuses of Chinese diplomacy.
The diplomatic maneuvering around the North Korean nuclear issue is, of course, all about security. Whereas both security and economics enjoyed equal priority on the agendas of the China-ASEAN summit and the China-Africa Cooperation Forum.
This is evidenced in the slogan of the Beijing summit of the forum: "Friendship, Peace, Cooperation, Development." All the important documents signed at the conference point to this, too. The participating African countries reiterated their commitment to the "one-China" principle and their support for China's reunification cause. Both China and Africa are working hard for lasting peace in the world.
In the field of economics, China offers opportunities to Africa and vice versa.
Nearly three decades of fast development have given China sizeable economic strength, which means that the country is able to provide a certain amount of aid to African nations, becomes a huge market for African goods and can make investments on the African continent.
As a matter of fact, contracts worth US$1.9 billion were signed during the China-Africa summit. No wonder foreign media commented that the capital flowing into Africa in the form of economic deals outstrips for the first time the capital in the form of aid.
This indicates that China is engaged in economic activities that help tap the internal potential of the African countries rather than providing one-way aid.
And Africa presents great opportunities to China, given its large population of 870 million, which means huge market potential, and rich natural resources.
China-ASEAN and China-Africa undertakings have opened up a new dimension for South-South Cooperation, with their mutually beneficial economic ties dominating bilateral relations as a whole.
Fifth, China's soft power is enhanced by diplomacy.
The country's experience in economic progress accumulated over the last three decades since it embarked on the road of reform and opening up in the late 1970s and its ideas on peaceful development are attractive to the developing world.
In addition, its scientific outlook and the Chinese Government's steps to improve governance may serve as a mirror for African countries confronted with the overriding task of development.
The author is a researcher with the Institute of American Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
(China Daily November 15, 2006)