Understanding China’s foreign policy
The CORIM hosts S. E. Peiwu Cong the new Ambassador of China to Canada
By Jean-Luc Burlone
A foreign policy peculiar to China
The Panchsheel Treaty, signed in April 1954 by China, India and Myanmar, has served as the basic norm for China’s foreign relations. More idealistic than realistic, the treaty celebrated the restored independence of China after more than a century of humiliation.
At the 1955 Asia-Africa Bandung Conference, the treaty entered the spotlight when Zhou Enlai, Mao Zedong’s prime minister, enunciated the five fundamental principles for peaceful coexistence:
- Mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity;
- Mutual non-aggression;
- Mutual non-interference in internal affairs;
- Equality and mutual benefits and;
- Peaceful coexistence.
In the 1980s, Chinese President Deng Xiaoping (President from 1978 to 1997) reformed the Chinese economy, whose growth (essential for the survival of the regime) then represented 1% of world GDP. “Hide your strength, bide your time” was his motto for China’s relations with the rest of the world. Forty years later, China’s GDP accounts for more than 15% of the world’s economy and under Xi Jinping‘s leadership China’s economic, political and military power is openly stated and operational.
The five principles for peaceful coexistence reflect both China’s ever-present international ambition and its ingrained opposition to liberal values, which are absent from the formulation.
China seeks a new world order of peace and cooperation that would be conducive to its economic development and to which the attainment of the superpower status and the reunification of the Chinese nation (Hong Kong and Taiwan) have become organically attached. The five principles for peaceful coexistence reflect both China’s ever-present international ambition and its ingrained opposition to liberal values, which are absent from the formulation.
China avails itself of these principles to justify its reaction to Western interference and to reassure its neighbours about its intentions. President Xi Jinping celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the Panchsheel treaty in the Great Hall of the People, no less. More recently in Shanghai, he recalled the five principles of coexistence as the norm for regulating state-to-state relations. He envisages the development of Asia by Asian countries according to these principles of peaceful coexistence and under China’s aegis.
S. E. Peiwu Cong, China’s new Ambassador to Canada
At the CORIM’s December 5 luncheon, the Chinese ambassador reminded his audience of China’s traditional opposition to any foreign interference in its domestic affairs. He even warned that Canadian intrusions – in any shape or form – with respect to the treatment of Uyghur in the province of Xinjiang or to the fate of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong would be very detrimental to bilateral relations between the two countries.
It must be remembered that human rights in China boils down to improving the standard of living of the population. In compliance with this view, S. E. Peiwu Cong pointed out that China is improving the lot of Uighurs and that Xinjiang’s economy is growing. These facts, according to him, deserve an international appreciation. The ambassador used foreign visitors to support his argument, pointing out that 2.4 million tourists enjoyed visiting Xinjiang and that several Muslim countries supported government action in the province.
‘… the Chinese ambassador reminded his audience of China’s traditional opposition to any foreign interference in its domestic affairs. He even warned that Canadian intrusions… would be very detrimental to bilateral relations between the two countries.’
Adequately, the diplomat reminded the audience of 350 business people that social stability since 1997 was instrumental in Hong Kong’s success as it allowed the island to weave strong and numerous ties with the mainland. During his subsequent media scrum, S. E. Peiwu Cong reminded reporters again and again that China opposes any interference by a foreign country in its internal affairs.
It is unfortunate that no journalist has alluded to Chinese interference in other countries’ affairs.
“Arbitrary” principles of peaceful coexistence
Strong and proud of its economic success, China buys its way into the affairs of other countries. It uses the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) – that finances infrastructure projects in sixty or more countries – to influence its partners’ policies. While China claims to serve the economic development of African countries, it shuns Burkina Faso and Swaziland, as both countries still recognize the independence of Taiwan.
Some countries find themselves in a dire situation after accepting an infrastructure project that it is useful for their country but that is linked to inappropriate financial terms for their situation. In Sri Lanka, China has built a $1.5 billion port in Hambantota and has obtained the management of the port site for 99 years in return. Similarly, the province of Baluchistan has ceded for 43 years the management of the deepwater port of Gwadar to a Chinese company. To repay the construction cost, Pakistan needs to generate substantial traffic revenues from the new Silk Road. Djibouti has granted a territory for the first Chinese military base abroad and the list goes on along the new Silk Road.
‘Strong and proud of its economic success, China buys its way into the affairs of other countries. It uses the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) – that finances infrastructure projects in sixty or more countries – to influence its partners’ policies.’
Australia had taken advantage of the Chinese windfall before realizing its hidden cost. A third of its exports go to China, whose investments represent more than 7 billion Euros in tourism revenue, 9 to 24 million Euros in education and 9.76 billion Euros in real estate. It is notable that various companies, related to China, bought more than 14 million hectares only a few kilometres from a US military base of 1,250 soldiers. What an error!
Since 2015, successive Australian governments have been requesting reports on China’s activities in its territory. They reveal industrial spying activities, a lobbying network and pressure tactics at Beijing’s disposal to gain Australia’s support for China’s positions on the international stage. Australia has reacted by sanctioning over 38 new laws to counter Chinese interference. They target espionage in all its forms with 15-year prison terms as well as laws prohibiting direct or indirect political funding from foreign sources (read China).
Because it accepted the US defence system on its territory in 2016, South Korea suffered a Chinese boycott of its products as well as a drop in Chinese tourists from eight million in 2016 to four million visitors in 2017 but with a rise to five million in 2019.
As well, Canada felt China’s economic pinch following the arrest, at the request of the United States, of Huawei’s chief financial officer by the RCMP. Under various pretexts, China reacted by arresting Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Then it boycotted Canadian exports of soya, canola and meat, a reaction that reveals more a lack of principles than a policy of mutual respect.
China is also using its military might to impose its presence in the China Sea. Since last year, a war of influence between China and the United States, Japan and South Korea is waged around Shima Island in the East China Sea.
‘…following the arrest… of Huawei’s chief financial officer… China reacted by arresting Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Then it boycotted Canadian exports of soya, canola and meat, a reaction that reveals more a lack of principles than a policy of mutual respect.’
In the South China Sea, China expanded its reach to the detriment of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of neighbouring countries. The seizure of atolls (Spratley Islands, Paracel Islands, Pratas Islands, Scarborough Reef and Macclesfield Bank) by China was carried out without agreements with the neighbouring countries (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam) that claim their respective sovereignty over these islets.
The use of the principles for peaceful coexistence by China seems consequent to its unilateral perception of any situation and to the possibilities its economic and military capabilities offer. China may be justified to expand its influence in Asia and wanting to replace the American hegemony. (The United States, as well, has reneged on some of its principles after the 9/11 attacks – particularly with the treatment of Guantanamo prisoners.)
China already plays a leading role in international missions; it has initiated the six-party multilateral negotiations, held in Beijing, for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. It may be in the order of things to grant a rising power the place it deserves by its demographic and economic weight.
President Xi has repeatedly expressed the view that it is China’s destiny to be a world power on an equal footing with any other one. In addition, Xi wants China to remain free from any strategic alliance in order to act to serve its interests without any other consideration.
It is to be feared that the principles for peaceful coexistence will remain the ideal rather than the reality of international relations, though not alien to it. As T. S. Eliot would put it: ”There is no absolute point of view from which real and ideal can be finally separated and labelled.”
Liberation, August 16, 2018
Radio Canada, on the Chinese Ambassador’s Conference in Canada, December 6, 2019
The Diplomat, Reflecting on China’s Five Principles, 60 Years Later, June 26, 2014
The Indu Report, In China’s new diplomacy, a revival of Panchsheel, October 18, 2016
Res Publica Foundation, A prudent and pragmatic Chinese foreign policy, December 14, 2015
Liberation, In Australia, the Chinese friend seen from another eye, August 16, 2018
Encyclopedia Britannica, Deng Xiaoping, Chinese Leader, November 1, 2019
The World, In Australia, the shadow of the Chinese Communist Party, December 13, 2017
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of WestmountMag.ca or its publishers.
Image: Public DomainRead also: other articles by Jean-Luc Burlone