Old problems, new diplomacy

By Shen Dingli
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, May 31, 2013
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We have seen a new trend regarding China's official exchanges with foreign countries since China's new government took office in March, and this has been especially marked in arrangements for the official visits of heads of state. It has become clear that Chinese diplomacy possesses more confidence, personality and flexibility than before.

The initial diplomatic focus of the new government has been on big countries, including the Russia and United States; and secondly on developing countries, including the three African countries President Xi visited on his first tour in March. In June, the president will also visit three developing countries in Latin America. In addition to these visits, Premier Li Keqiang recently visited India and Pakistan, two important countries bordering China. These visits emphasize China's high-level diplomatic commitment to both developed and emerging nations and economies.

The new trend in Chinese diplomacy not only embodies greater flexibility and confidence, but also puts more emphasis on mutual dialogue and trust. With regard to high-level diplomatic exchanges, the Chinese government is diversifying its methods of communication in order to ensure greater practicability and effectiveness.

The upcoming meeting between President Xi and President Obama on June 7 and 8 marks a change of tone in how state visits are conducted between the two nations. According to the Foreign Ministry, the two presidents will meet at Sunnylands, a 200-acre (80-hectare) estate on Bob Hope Drive in Rancho Mirage, California. On the surface, it appears that the estate lacks the usual high-level ceremonial honor for a visiting foreign leader; however, placing communication over mere formality, it is better that both sides are focused on the content of their dialogue than their surroundings. In addition, the sheer regularity of such bilateral cooperation and exchanges means that it is simply no longer practical for a country to treat every foreign visit with the highest ceremonial honor.

It is believed that President Xi's visit will herald a new type of regular high-level meetings between the two presidents and such informal surroundings bring to mind the meeting 11 years ago between former U.S. president George W. Bush and former Chinese president Jiang Zemin at Bush's private ranch in Crawford, Texas. No matter where or how the two sides meet, the nature of diplomacy will not change as both sides seek more bilateral or multilateral cooperation to control the endless differences between China and the U.S. through discussion and communication regarding regional and global issues.

The upcoming meeting between the two presidents has the undoubted attention of the world and all are interested to see what China's new high-level diplomacy will mean on the global stage.

There is, of course, widespread interest in the content of the meeting. For China's part, this will involve bilateral relations and China's sovereignty and core interests. China will also listen to U.S. policy intentions regarding its "rebalancing" in the Asia-Pacific region. There will also be in-depth discussions about regional and sub-regional issues including the stability of the Korean Peninsula, trilateral relations among China, U.S. and Japan, the South China Sea issue, the Iranian nuclear issue and Syria. China will also wish to discuss the balancing of global trade and finance.

The United States is also interested in discussing China's proposition of constructing a new relationship between the world's great powers. According to the mainstream U.S. public opinion, China's peaceful development is acceptable as long as China adheres to international law and doesn't challenge the international order controlled by the United States. By this rationale, the United States must also surely need to discuss matters regarding to international rules and hegemonic stability, especially the following three issues related to China's overall intentions and actions:

• China's information space strategy

China declared that its network was not established with the intention of attacking the United States, so will it work with the United States to investigate network attacks on the U.S. originating from China?

• China's space strategy

China opposes the United States' militarization of space as well as outer space militarization by any other country. How, then, does China explain its own space development strategy, including the purpose of anti-satellite tests and rocket sounding experiments in recent years.

• China's maritime strategy

China has identified its core interests in the South China Sea as the South China Sea islands and the surrounding waters. Can China explain the definition of "surrounding" and how can China and the United States find a way to work positively together on this issue as well as in China's East China Sea islands dispute with Japan?

The United States' concerns are the polar opposite of China's. American doubts about the development direction of the rising China are likely to trigger Chinese concerns regarding America's strategic intent towards China. The United States' network attack technology is unsurpassed globally and the latest network attack on Iran, which was approved by President Obama, created shockwaves and the U.S. has acknowledged its ambition to extend network attacks. In terms of maritime strategy, the United States' "return to the Asia-pacific" strategy has resulted in increasing arrogance among Japan's right-wing politicians. The U.S. should be urged to address these problems through dialogue in the hope that the White House will make policy adjustments which will help to stabilize the region.

Against this complex diplomatic backdrop, the distinct personalities of China's new leaders have come to the fore through diplomacy. When Premier Li Keqiang visited India, he communicated and made speeches in English on many occasions, which resulted in more direct communication. He commented that his regard for India began with his first visit there 27 years ago, a touching statement which underscores the successful new diplomacy undertaken by China's leaders which other officials in the country would do well to emulate.

The author is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:


This article was written in Chinese and translated by Li Jingrong, Lin Liyao and Lu Na.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.

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