Op-Ed Contributors

More proactive diplomacy

By Jing Men (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-10-25 07:53
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Communique shows government making greater efforts to overcome 'foreseeable and unforeseeable risks and challenges'

The eagerly anticipated Fifth Plenary Session of the 17th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) concluded on Oct 18. Apart from addressing some major domestic issues, the Communique sent a clear message to China watchers that its diplomacy is changing from a reactive approach to a proactive approach.

Chinese foreign policy is an extension of its domestic policy. Depending on the definition of its core national interests and the changing external and internal environment, Beijing adjusts its foreign policy regularly.

In the pre-reform era, the leadership of the PRC focused on breaking the containment by the United States and obtaining international recognition and legitimacy. Before 1971, the PRC was marginalized in international relations due to the obstructive role played by the US. In other words, China was excluded from the US-dominated international stage.

Between 1971 and 2001, Beijing first secured its place in the United Nations, the most important international governmental organization, and then access to the World Trade Organization, the most important international trade body.

Those 30 years, mostly in the reform era, are seen as a learning process as Beijing adapted its policy and behavior to conform to internationally accepted rules and norms.

A review of Chinese foreign policy during the past six decades reveals a change as China became increasingly more proactive, rather than reactive, in its diplomacy.

To be reactive in diplomatic relations is to be passive. The Cold War environment and the competition between the US and the Soviet Union did not leave much space for Beijing to initiate its own diplomatic actions. Beijing was frequently obliged to react to the threat posed by one or other of the two superpowers and only in the 1980s could China start to systematically develop its independent foreign policy.

The real opportunity came after the disintegration of the Soviet Union - the collapse of bipolarity brought dramatic change to the international political structure - the Chinese leadership seized the opportunity and started to promote a multi-polar world in which China played an important role. This strategic vision ushered in a new era of Chinese diplomacy.

The adjustment of Chinese foreign policy as a consequence demonstrates China's active participation in international affairs and the transition from rule taking to rule making.

These changes are not only reflected in Beijing's diplomatic practice. Noticeably, for the first time in such an important document, the Communiqu of the Fifth Plenary Session of the 17th CPC Central Committee highlights this proactive spirit.

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