By Yan Xuetong
The year 2006 marks the first time the Chinese government put its harmonious world diplomacy into practice.
When the idea of a harmonious world diplomatic policy was first put forward by President Hu Jintao last May, world opinion seemed to have no clear idea of how the new Chinese diplomatic approach would be implemented. Some people believed that "harmonious world" was merely a diplomatic slogan which would not work in practice.
However, what China has done diplomatically in 2006 demonstrates that this approach can work on condition that both China's national interests and those of the international community are recognized.
Since entering the 21st century, China's economic strength has grown substantially. The country became the world's third largest trader in 2000 and the No. 1 foreign exchange reserve holder in 2006. China has now become one of the two major dynamos powering the world economy.
As a result of China's economic strength reaching the world's top level, the country shouldered a larger share of economic responsibilities in 2006.
For example, at the Beijing Summit of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum held in November, the Chinese government pledged to provide African countries with US$10 billion in aid over three years. Also, China increased its aid to countries stricken by natural disasters, including some developed nations.
At the same time, the first strategic economic dialogue was held between China and the United States to prevent Sino-US economic feuds from becoming politicized and to maintain the world economy's steady development.
China's political influence, much smaller than the influence of its economic power, is primarily focused on the areas on its borders. Consequently, the political obligations assumed by the Chinese government in 2006 are concentrated in these areas.
With regard to Central Asia, China hosted last year's summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and, together with other members, launched the drafting of legal documents involving cooperation in various fields within the SCO framework.
Where Southeast Asia is concerned, China hosted the China-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit to mark the 15th anniversary of the establishment of a dialogue partnership between the two and put forward initiatives for increased cooperation.
With regard to Northeast Asia, China has worked strenuously, offering its good offices between the United States and North Korea. Thanks largely to China's efforts, the six-party talks on the Korean Peninsula nuclear crisis reconvened in December.
In South Asia, China and India reached numerous agreements on strategic cooperation during President Hu Jintao's visit to India last year.
The two countries agreed to hold bilateral dialogues between their top leaders on a regular basis.
Chinese leaders also had talks with Japan's new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during Abe's China visit shortly after taking office in September. The talks helped improve deteriorating Chinese-Japanese ties and will be followed by Hu Jintao's visit to Japan this year.
The influence of China's military power is far less than its economic and political influence.
Owing to the fact that China's military strength is rather weak, the country shoulders much smaller international security responsibilities than economic and political obligations.
But this does not necessarily mean that China has no intention of taking on more responsibilities for international security.
Last year, China sent additional troops to United Nations peacekeeping missions. The country also staged anti-terror military exercises with other SOC members and marine rescue drills with the US and Indian navies. In addition, Chinese naval ships called at the ports of a number of countries on goodwill missions. Military exchange programs between China and other countries are also on the rise.
With the growth of the country's military power, China is expected to assume more international security responsibilities.
As a result of China's shouldering ever larger obligations in international economic, political and security affairs, more countries will receive help from China. With these developments, the country's international image can be expected to become increasingly positive, enhancing its international status and realizing its national interests.
The author is director of the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University.
(China Daily January 19, 2007)