Chinese President Hu Jintao has signaled his administration's readiness to play
a bigger - and perhaps more constructive - role in global affairs through the
release of a five-pronged foreign policy game plan.
Cited by the official Outlook Weekly as "Hu Jintao's Viewpoints about the
Times", this far-reaching initiative consists of five theories on,
respectively, "the profound changes [in the world situation], constructing a
harmonious world, joint development, shared responsibilities and enthusiastic
participation [in global affairs]".
In a late November issue of Outlook Weekly (a mouthpiece of the Chinese
Communist Party - CCP), ideologue Zhang Xiaotong
indicated that the party chief and president's "viewpoints" amounted to a
"major theoretical innovation" based on the "scientific judgment of the
development and changes of the times."
This ambitious agenda has been unveiled after US President Barack Obama's visit
to China and before the Copenhagen climate change summit, two events that could
become milestones in the Middle Kingdom's quest for quasi-superpower status.
According to National College of Administration (NCOA) Professor Wang Yukai,
Hu's new-look diplomacy marked the first time that a contemporary Chinese
leader had arrived at a comprehensive set of theories with an international
perspective. He noted that the "viewpoints" would "undoubtedly provide a
theoretical guideline for China's future participation in global affairs".
More significantly, the CCP leadership's rejiggered worldview can be
interpreted as the CCP leadership's response to a key point recently raised by
Obama, that Washington "welcomes a strong, prosperous and successful China that
plays a greater role in world affairs". While Premier Wen Jiabao, a close Hu
ally, had disputed the Group of Two characterization of China and America
during his meeting with Obama, Beijing seems primed for evermore-stellar
performances on the world stage.
In his 7,000-word article, Zhang, an editor at the Party Literature Research
Center under the CCP central committee, collected foreign policy statements
that Hu made on public occasions as well as in internal party conclaves. He
cited Hu, who heads the CCP Leading Group on Foreign Affairs (which is China's
foremost policy-setting organ on the diplomatic and security fronts) as saying
that the contemporary world had experienced "historic changes" and that the
same could be said for China's relations with the world.
Saluting impressive gains in China's industrial and technological prowess, Hu
noted that the Chinese were living "in an era that is full of opportunities and
challenges" - and that "the opportunities exceed the challenges". The Chinese
"economic miracle" has made it possible for the CCP Fourth-Generation
leadership under Hu to make radical departures from late patriarch Deng
Xiaoping's famous diplomatic credo of "adopting a low profile and never taking
the lead" in international affairs.
Not all of Hu's "viewpoints" are new. The ideals of constructing a harmonious
world as well as "joint development" - especially with neighboring nations
-were first raised by former president Jiang Zemin in the late 1990s. The
harmony concept, which harks back to the Confucianist ethos of shijiedatong
("commonality of the nations"), also means that China's precipitous rise will
not lead to conflicts with other countries. "Harmony" means the minimization of
military and other conflicts. Whereas "joint development" is Beijing's
preferred solution to sovereignty disputes with Asian countries ranging from
Japan to Vietnam and the Philippines.
Of the five components of the Hu leadership's novel worldview, perhaps the twin
theories of "shared responsibility and enthusiastic participation" are most
significant. The idea that Beijing is willing to shoulder "shared
responsibilities" for global obligations reflects the CCP leadership's
readiness to become what former US deputy secretary of state, Robert Zoellick,
called a "responsible stakeholder".
The "enthusiastic participation" imperative implies that Beijing will be
acquitting itself of world affairs in a way that is commensurate with its
quasi-superpower status. Theorist Zhang quoted salient passages from Hu's
speech in December 2008, which celebrated the 30th anniversary of the start of
the reform era: "The future and fate of contemporary China is intimately linked
with the future and fate of the entire world." The supremo went on to urge
party and government officials to synthesize the goal of "upholding
independence and sovereignty" with globalization so that the country can "make
contributions to fostering humankind's peace and development".
The year 2009 has seen Beijing appear to take the lead in a plethora of world
issues. At the Group of 20 meetings in London and Pittsburg, Chinese diplomats
called for the gradual replacement of the US dollar as the "world currency".
They also lobbied successfully for an augmentation of the voting powers of
developing nations in the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Tens of
billions in aid dollars have been pledged to poor nations during Hu and Wen's
meetings with African and Southeast Asian leaders.
Most importantly, Wen will, at Copenhagen, reassure the international community
of China's commitment to fighting global warming: By 2020, China will cut
"carbon intensity" - the amount of fossil-fuel emission per unit of economic
output - by 40% to 45% from 2005 levels. At the same time, Beijing has led
developing nations including India and Brazil in pressing the industrialized
world to devote at least 0.5% of gross domestic product to helping poor nations
in areas including fostering green technology.
Moreover, Beijing seems to have made at least selective modification to its
long-standing principle of "non-interference in the internal affairs of other
countries". The Outlook Weekly article pointed out that China has joined more
than 20 peacekeeping missions mandated by the United Nations, in addition to
participation in efforts to resolve nuclear problems in North Korea and Iran,
and ethnic conflicts in Sudan.
During the China visit of Obama, Beijing apparently acceded to Washington's
demands that it use its influence with Tehran to rein in the Middle Eastern
country's nuclear-weapons program. Late last month, China joined Russia and 25
other nations in endorsing an International Atomic Energy Agency resolution
that called on Iran to immediately halt operations at its Qom uranium
enrichment plant. The resolution also expressed "serious concern" about the
military applications of the pariah state's putatively peaceful nuclear
Of course, there are limits regarding the extent to which this country with
US$2.2 trillion worth of foreign-exchange reserves and a population of 1.3
billion can do for global harmony and development. One of the five theories
under "Hu Jintao's Viewpoints" is that "various parties must observe the
principle of mutually shared responsibilities".
This refers to Beijing's insistence that its contributions to the global
commonwealth be conditional on commensurate inputs by other nations, especially
developed countries and regions such as the United States and the European
Union. Moreover, the Outlook Weekly article cited Hu as asking cadres to strike
a balance between China's internal development and its national interests on
the one hand, and its globalization commitments on the other.
Thus, Beijing has to ensure that its international contributions will not
adversely affect the country's "core interests" in both the economic and
diplomatic arenas. For example, given China's reliance on smokestacks
industries, the CCP leadership can only do so much to curb carbon emissions.
Moreover, in light of China's dependence on exports as an engine of growth, do
not expect a significant appreciation of the renminbi in the foreseeable
These considerations will also form the parameters of Beijing's international
commitments regarding Iran and North Korea. Given China's traditional
quasi-alliance relationship with Iran - and its hefty investment in the
latter's oilfields - it may be unrealistic to assume that Beijing will go the
distance in pressuring Tehran to jettison its nuclear ambitions. How the Hu
leadership will draw the line between China's dependence on Middle Eastern oil
and its cooperation with the Western alliance will become clearer when the UN
Security Council debates possible sanctions on Tehran early next year.
It is also significant that Beijing has flatly refused to heed repeated
requests from the US, Japan, South Korea and other nations to use its clout
with North Korea regarding Pyongyang's equally ambitious nuclear gambit. The
November visit to the North by Chinese Defense Minister General Liang Guanglie,
which came hot on the heels of the North Korean tour of Wen, has highlighted
the "lips-and-teeth" relationship between the two socialist neighbors.
Both in public addresses in recent years and in speeches cited by ideologue
Zhang, Hu has stressed that China's enhanced participation in global affairs
will not affect its unique model of development. One of the president's
favorite arguments is that globalization means countries should respect and
learn from each other so as to "safeguard the world's pluralism and the
multiplicity of development models".
The Fourth-Generation chieftain has also reiterated that Beijing will
"ceaselessly explore and perfect a road [map] of development that is suitable
to China's national conditions". In other words, Hu and his colleagues are
warning critics in the US and Europe that China's enhanced globalization
notwithstanding, the CCP will never introduce "Western" norms ranging from
freedom of expression to multi-party politics. This perhaps explains why even
as China's top cadres and diplomats are throwing their weight around the globe,
the country's state-security personnel are working overtime to detain or
intimidate hundreds of dissidents, activist lawyers and non-governmental
NCOA's Professor Wang has cited the possibility that "Hu Jintao's Viewpoints
about the Times" may be enshrined in the CCP charter, perhaps at the 18th Party
Congress slated for 2012. Given the unrestrained aggrandizement of Chinese
influence around the globe, Hu might go down in history as a "foreign policy
president" that has immensely raised the country's profile.
The Middle Kingdom's enhanced participation in world events, however, has
hardly been greeted with universal acclaim. The popularity of the "China
threat" theory has testified to fears on the part of nations with disparate
backgrounds about the possibility that the CCP leadership will use its
unprecedented powers to pander to the growing legions of nationalists at home.
Beijing's continuing love affair with pariah states such as North Korea and
Iran has aroused suspicions about its tendency to put narrow national interests
above international peace and development. The onus is on the Hu leadership to
convince the world that while Beijing must juggle its "core interests" and
global commitments, its "active participation" in world affairs will at least
be in line with those of the UN.
Dr Willy Wo-Lap Lam is a Senior Fellow at The Jamestown Foundation. He
has worked in senior editorial positions in international media including
Asiaweek newsmagazine, South China Morning Post, and the Asia-Pacific
Headquarters of CNN. He is the author of five books on China, including the
recently published Chinese Politics in the Hu Jintao Era: New Leaders,
New Challenges. Lam is an Adjunct Professor of China studies at Akita
International University, Japan, and at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.