The phenomenon of globalisation has entered a new era and China is a country that will play a pivotal and leading role in the process. In the recent years, China has continued to participate in and promote the international affairs. In particular, the 2016 G20 Hangzhou Summit hosted by China had concluded 29 achievements, which significantly boosted China’s influence and positive impact on global governance. It also showcased China’s rising status on the world stage, positioning the nation as the forerunner of globalisation and global governance. And, this overwhelming role is expected to continue in the year 2017 as in face of the complex global landscape, the win-win spirit of cooperation advocated by China will be a leading force to the world.
In the year 2016, against the backdrop of changing international situation, Asia faced many instabilities and uncertainties. Regarding how to strike up the melody of peace, development and cooperation and maintain the stability and development momentum that do not come by easily in Asia, all parties shifted their attention to China. In the past year, under the strong leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core, China’s neighbourhood diplomacy has overcome many difficulties. The country made pioneering efforts and forged ahead its vigorously-safeguarded national sovereignty, security and development interests, further tightened the bond of the community of shared future with neighbouring countries and uttered the loudest voice of unity, cooperation, mutual benefit and win-win results in Asia.
Establishing and Strengthening Diplomatic Relations
In 2016, the Asian situation was quite complicated with recurring emergencies, which brought new challenges to the relations between China and neighbouring countries. China adhered to the idea of “affinity rather than enmity, partnership rather than alliance.” It kept supreme the principle of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness, and put it into practice, as well. In this way, China consolidated neighbourly friendliness and mutually-beneficial cooperation with other countries.
“Neighbours become closer with frequent exchanges.” The leading role and demonstration effect of high-level exchanges become more prominent in neighbourhood diplomacy. Cambodia has upheld justice and righteousness and maintained friendly relations with China regardless of the external situation. President Xi Jinping paid a state visit to Cambodia, which deepened China-Cambodia traditional friendship and sent out the clear signal that China cherishes and helps old friends. President Xi’s visit to Bangladesh marked the first visit to the country by a Chinese head of state in the last 3 decades. China became the first strategic cooperative partner of Bangladesh. The two countries reached important consensus on the integration of developing strategies and the joint construction of the “Belt and Road” initiative, which set a new model for South-South cooperation. On the occasion of the 55th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Laos, Premier Li Keqiang visited Laos. The two sides agreed to deepen the comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership and signed a series of important cooperation documents, which consolidated strategic mutual trust and deepened traditional friendship.
In face of the once-worsened China-Philippines relations, China pinned its hopes on the Philippine people, kept coordinating among all walks of life in the Philippines and made achievements. After President Rodrigo Duterte took office, he actively and properly dealt with the South China Sea issue, improved relations with China and chose China as the destination of his first visit outside ASEAN countries, through which the China-Philippines relationship made a “magnificent change” and returned to the right track of neighbourly friendship and healthy development. China also grasped the overall picture of China-Vietnam friendship and the development direction of socialism and promoted steady development of China-Vietnam relations after the leadership transition of the Communist Party of Vietnam and the Vietnamese government. China supported Myanmar to follow a development path that is in line with its national conditions and achieve a smooth transfer of political power, and it worked with Myanmar to maintain the big picture of bilateral friendly cooperation. After unremitting efforts, the new Sri Lankan government maintained the general direction of China-Sri Lanka friendship, and bilateral practical cooperation regained the momentum of smooth development. In fine, China kept strengthening relations with neighbouring countries so as to expand and deepen its “friend circle” in Asia.
A New Wave
The year 2016 saw profound changes in the balance of power in Asia. Whether major countries can get on well with each other directly affects regional peace and stability. China did its best to develop stable and healthy relations with major countries and played a stabilizing role in the regional situation.
It actively built a new type of China-US major-country relations featuring no conflicts, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation, carried forward the candid exchanges and strategic communication between both heads of state, expanded common interests and managed and controlled differences and contradictions, so as to build an Asia-Pacific interactive framework centred on China-US cooperation. China strengthened strategic coordination with Russia on international and regional affairs, worked together to cope with all kinds of risks and challenges, and maintained regional peace, stability as well as strategic balance. It amplified its role in leading and shaping and maintained an overall improving momentum of China-Japan relations. Bilateral exchanges in various sectors resumed in an orderly manner. China did also firmly grasp the general development direction of China-India relations. Leaders of the two countries met with each other several times in 2016, steadily pushing forward the ever-closer partnership of development.
Manage and Control Hotspot Issues
The year 2016 was not a peaceful year for China’s surrounding situation as old and new hotspot issues kept emerging, posing impacts on the peace and stability in Asia. China never tolerates any action that undermines its sovereign rights and interests and it never hesitates in the cause of maintaining regional peace and stability.
The greatest battle for China was dealing with the South China Sea arbitration case as a handful of regional and non-regional forces used this case as a cover to pursue their hidden agenda of infringing upon China’s interests and mounting an all-out smear campaign against the country. China reacted to this issue by arguing strongly on just grounds and fighting back resolutely, during which it got the understanding and support from nearly 120 countries and about 240 political parties in different countries. China actively engaged with ASEAN countries, jointly issued the “Joint Statement on the Full and Effective Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties” in the South China Sea and applied the dual-track approach to guide each party to focus on dialogue and cooperation. The country stepped forward to turn around the China-Philippine relations and guided the South China Sea issue back on the track of bilateral dialogue and negotiation, realizing a “soft landing” of the arbitration case. China’s stance is reasonable and legitimate, and its actions are above board as it resumed the visions of peace, stability and cooperation in the South China Sea while also maintaining, in a true sense, the order and dignity of the international law.
In the light of the tense situation in the Korean Peninsula, China adhered to achieving denuclearization, safeguarded peace and stability on the Peninsula and insisted on solving the issue through dialogue and negotiation. It proposed a dual-track approach in which the denuclearization of the Peninsula and transformation from armistice regime to state of peace proceed together, and took great efforts to pull the nuclear issue back to the negotiation table. Resolute in safeguarding its legitimate interests and strategic security environment, China opposed the deployment of the THAAD missile defence system on the Peninsula under the pretext of the nuclear issue. Cherishing the China-Myanmar “Pauk-Phaw” friendship and based on the will of Myanmar, China played a constructive role in the peace and national reconciliation in the country. It also actively took part in the Istanbul Process on Afghanistan by providing strong support to the domestic political reconciliation in Afghanistan.
The “Belt and Road” Initiative
In 2016, the world economy went through sluggish recovery. Asian countries faced mounting economic pressure. China, however, stuck to its mainline of the “Belt and Road” construction for docking development strategies, advancing connectivity and deepening cooperation in production capacity with neighbouring countries to add an impetus to the development of Asia.
China made steady headway in infrastructure connectivity. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor entered into the stage of comprehensive implementation and striving for early harvest, becoming the project proceeding most rapidly in the total factor construction of the “Belt and Road” initiative outside China. It formulated the outline for China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor and initiated the intergovernmental cooperation process for the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor. It held the launching ceremony of the China-Laos Railway project, signed the framework agreement of intergovernmental cooperation for China-Thailand Railway and began to build the pilot link of the Jakarta-Bandung High-speed Railway. China and Malaysia conducted cooperation on the Malaysia Southern Railway project. A Chinese enterprise won a contract to develop Myanmar’s Kyaukpyu deep water port on the Bay of Bengal and industrial zone project. The second phase of the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka advanced orderly and the Colombo port city project resumed comprehensive construction.
Production capacity cooperation was carried out comprehensively. China signed joint declarations of production capacity cooperation successively with ASEAN countries and member countries of the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation mechanism, and accelerated the construction of industrial zones, cross-border economic cooperation zones and harbour industrial park projects with Southeast Asian and South Asian countries. A batch of early-harvest projects has yielded initial benefits. Innovation in the “Belt and Road” mechanism made new progress. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has been put into operation and the first batch of projects has been successfully launched. The first investment projects of the Silk Road Fund were also officially initiated.
Consolidate Regional Cooperation Momentum
In 2016, there were many setbacks to economic globalization and regional integration. Regional cooperation in East Asia suffered from increasingly greater obstacles and difficulties. Holding high the banner of openness, inclusiveness and win-win cooperation, China played an active, leading role and took active actions to lead the construction of regional cooperation architecture.
Premier Li Keqiang, together with leaders from ASEAN member states, attended the “Commemorative Summit Marking the 25th Anniversary of China-ASEAN Dialogue Relations”. They all agreed to strengthen strategic communication, deepen practical cooperation and promote the implementation of the “Belt and Road” initiative, the “2+7 Cooperation Framework” and other important initiatives. China and ASEAN member states have held a series of events to celebrate the 25th anniversary of China-ASEAN dialogue relations and the China-ASEAN Year of Education Exchange. China-ASEAN relations clearly exhibit a positive momentum and are accelerating the transition from the “growth stage” of rapid development for the past 25 years into the “mature stage” of quality improvement in the upcoming 25 years. China has successfully held the first Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Leaders’ Meeting, formulated rules and regulations for the Lancang-Mekong cooperation, identified the “3+5 Cooperation Framework” and 45 early-harvest projects, actively led the Lancang-Mekong cooperation to enter a new phase of comprehensive implementation and put forward China’s proposal to benefit people of countries along the Lancang-Mekong River. The Lancang-Mekong Cooperation mechanism has become another important platform for China and neighbouring countries to build a community of shared future.
China firmly seized the right direction of regional cooperation in East Asia, maintained the development momentum of China-Japan-ROK cooperation, “10+3” (ASEAN plus China, Japan and ROK) cooperation and other cooperation mechanisms and guided the East Asia Summit to eliminate disturbances and focus on the “greatest common divisor” between economic development and political security cooperation. The country actively practiced the common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security concept for Asia and promoted practical cooperation in non-traditional security fields and discussions on constructing a new regional security framework based on regional realities. It continued to advance the negotiation process of China-Japan-ROK free trade area and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). It also made unrelenting efforts to achieve the goal of the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP). In this regard, the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference was successfully held with an aim to spread China’s voice and carry forward opportunities for Asia, strengthening the confidence of all sides in the development prospect of China and Asia. China actively participated in the process of the Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD), to express its devotion to promoting Pan-Asian cooperation.
In 2017, China will embrace the 19th CPC National Congress in October or November and the 13th Five-Year Plan will enter a critical year of comprehensive and in-depth implementation. The year is also for the international system to experience significant transformation and profound changes. Throughout the world, the theme of peaceful development remains unchanged, yet all kinds of chaos still exist, posing greater risks and challenges to the neighbourhood diplomacy. Amid the changing and chaotic international situation, all countries will pay more attention to Asia and expect more from China. Hence, China will coordinate the domestic and the international situation, as well as the two major interests of development and security and uphold the keynote of seeking progress in stability, so as to make greater progress in neighbourhood diplomacy.
China plans to focus on neighbouring countries to carry out high-level exchanges and strategic communication. The country also plans to also take such home-field diplomacy as the International Cooperation Summit Forum on the “Belt and Road” Initiative, the 9th BRICS Summit and the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference as opportunities to make steady headway in the “Belt and Road” construction of neighbouring countries, strengthen the bonds of interests with neighbouring countries, and stimulate the endogenous dynamics of regional cooperation. While safeguarding China’s sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, China will also properly handle disputes and differences through dialogues and negotiations. China will continue to promote peace and facilitate talks on the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, the South China Sea issue, the Afghan issue and other issues, so as to maintain regional peace and stability. It will vigorously boost regional cooperation for in-depth and substantial results, and consolidate the FTAAP system with East Asia as its centre. Besides, it will also carry forward the spirit of Asian civilization and reinforce people-to-people and cultural exchanges and civilization dialogues, so as to enhance regional identity and the sentiments among the people.
As a new year begins, everything will be fresh and new. In the year 2017, China’s neighbourhood diplomacy will continue to serve the cause of national security, reform and development, so as to create a sound environment for the successful convening of the 19th CPC National Congress and the realization of the first of the “two centenary goals”. China regards Asia’s peace, stability, prosperity and development as its own duty and it will continue to help and benefit the neighbouring countries, and add a new chapter to the construction of the community of shared future!
The text has been excerpted from a speech delivered by Vice Foreign Minister of China Mr Liu Zhenmin.