Diplomacy in 2021 and beyond

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By Zhong Cheng

The year 2021 brought numerous developments in international and regional arenas, from the COVID-19 worldwide spread and climate change, to the hasty withdrawal of the U.S. from Afghanistan and the renewed attention to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. From the faltering of supply chains, to the debut of the AUKUS deal, which will enable Australia to build nuclear-powered submarines with technology provided by the U.S. and Britain. Some 84 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced from their homes during the year. The persistent impact of the pandemic, setbacks in global economic recovery and widening North-South gap have all created new areas of global weakness and instability.

What all these things have in common are their crucial impact on the security and wellbeing of each and every country and the fact that no one country can handle any global challenges alone. The world is in a battle for ideas, values, and the protection of sovereign democracies from outside influence and interference, resulting in global governance undergoing profound changes.

Under the firm guidance of President Xi Jinping’s broad vision and overall leadership, China has conducted diplomacy with a global vision to serve the nation and its people, and fostered an enabling external environment through struggle and cooperation. Underlying everything China has done is one clear theme: to serve national rejuvenation amid a complex situation and advance peaceful development in a fast-changing world.

Head-of-state diplomacy 

The most dynamic guide of action is head-of-state diplomacy. China’s head-of-state diplomacy has effectively deepened the world’s understanding that China’s development is a global benefit and a common source for enrichment, promoted the overall stability of the relations among major countries and enabled China to build a more comprehensive and solid global partnership network.

President Xi, out of his keen understanding of the changing international dynamics and the trends of the times, has put forward a number of major initiatives, including building a global community of health for all, a community of life for humans and nature, and a global community of development with a shared future. In his 79 meetings and phone calls with foreign leaders and heads of international organizations, and 40 important diplomatic events chaired and attended via video link, President Xi deepened China’s friendship with its neighbors, enhanced the mutually beneficial cooperation with other developing countries, expanded the convergence of interests in win-win cooperation and forged strong synergy for building a community with a shared future for humanity.

The Chinese and Russian presidents have had four telephone conversations and virtual meetings, marking the 20th anniversary of the signing of the China-Russia Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation. They have officially announced the extension of this treaty and enriched the traditional friendship in the new era. China and Russia have advanced common development through all-round, practical cooperation, adhered to the four-point agreement on showing firm support for each other’s efforts to uphold one’s own sovereignty, security, territorial integrity and other core interests, and further deepened political mutual trust. The China-Russia Year of Scientific and Technological Innovation ended successfully, the bilateral trade volume reached a new high, and the strategic large projects in fields such as energy, aviation and aerospace, and interconnection picked up the pace. The two sides coordinated closely in international and regional affairs, practiced true multilateralism, upheld peace, development, fairness, justice, democracy and freedom, and injected valuable stability and positive energy into the complicated international situation. This relationship has set a good example for major-country relations and interactions between neighbors, and become a pillar of international fairness and justice.

In the two telephone conversations and one virtual meeting with President Joe Biden, President Xi outlined a strategic framework of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation for China-U.S. relations, charting the course for the sound and steady growth of this relationship. China has clearly set “three red lines,” urging the U.S. not to challenge China’s path and system, obstruct China’s development process, or infringe on China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The U.S. side has come to realize that China will by no means make any concessions under the threat of maximum pressure, and that such practices will ultimately hurt U.S. interests. There have been statements from the U.S. leader and some senior officials that the U.S. does not seek a new cold war, it does not seek to change China’s system, the revitalization of its alliances is not anti-China, it does not support “Taiwan independence,” and it has no intention to have a conflict or confrontation with China.

China-EU relations have been further advanced amid challenges. President Xi has attended two video summits with French and German leaders, and a China-Central and Eastern European Countries summit has been held via video link. The China-EU agreement on geographical indications has come into force. Steady progress has been made in flagship Belt and Road projects such as the Piraeus Port and the Budapest-Belgrade Railway. High-level dialogues on the environment and climate and in the digital field have been officially launched. China and the EU have achieved positive outcomes in upholding multilateralism, enhancing global governance, tackling climate change and jointly responding to COVID-19.

President Xi chaired the Special Summit to Commemorate the 30th Anniversary of China-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Dialogue Relations via video link, and announced with leaders of ASEAN countries the upgrade of China-ASEAN relations to a comprehensive strategic partnership. China and ASEAN have stepped up cooperation in the digital economy, blue economy and green economy, reached common understandings on promoting synergy between the Belt and Road Initiative and the priority areas of cooperation outlined in the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. Solid and substantive progress has been made in building the Lancang-Mekong Development Belt.

Iran has been admitted to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The first offline foreign ministers’ meeting between China and five Central Asian countries has been held. China’s friendship and cooperation with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Mongolia have maintained good momentum. Chinese and Japanese leaders have reached common understandings on developing a bilateral relationship that answers the call of the new era. China and India have effectively managed and controlled frictions in certain border areas under a shared commitment to improving bilateral relations. The two sides have stood together in fighting COVID-19. The freedom of navigation and overflight has been protected in accordance with law, and the South China Sea issue has been effectively managed under the framework of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

Cooperation between China and Africa has reached a new climax. 2021 marked the 65th anniversary of the start of diplomatic relations between China and African countries. President Xi attended the Eighth Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation via video link, highlighted the spirit of China-Africa friendship and cooperation featuring sincere friendship and equality, mutual benefit and common development, fairness and justice, progress with the times, and openness and inclusiveness. This is a new milestone in China-Africa relations.

Relations between China and Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries have made steady progress. A three-year roadmap for cooperation was formulated at the Third Ministerial Meeting of the Forum of China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. High-quality Belt and Road cooperation with LAC countries has been further substantiated. New progress has been made in energy, electricity, transportation, communications and other areas of cooperation. China’s relations with other members of the developing world, including Arab countries and Pacific island countries, have also made headway.