The President of the Peoples’ Republic of China, PRC, is the incredibly powerful, assertive, uncompromising, and permanent Xi Jinping. China’s foreign policy has witnessed a noticeable climbing nationalist fervour since President Xi came to power. Across the board, there has been a remarkable shift in the way China sees the world. Inferring from the Indian foreign policy doyen, J. N. Dixit, it is understood that an assertive Chinese foreign policy stems from a historically nationalist mind-set of the Chinese peoples as a whole.
On the face of it, the principles laid out by China are well-attuned to a peace-abiding, genuinely-intentioned, and internationally-responsible nation-state. Characteristic Chinese foreign policy ticks off all the boxes as far as what it seeks to achieve in Asia and the world is concerned. Maintaining world peace, friendly relations with neighbouring countries, a lasting cooperation policy with all countries, and an openness policy aimed at welcoming the world to China are all part of Beijing’s foreign policy agenda. These are an honest indication of a rising power that will perform much convincingly in seeking to establish its reign worldwide. Openness, in particular, is being innovatively handled through strategies such as ‘dual circulation’. However, President Xi does appear to be interpreting, at times, that these guidelines will be interpreted to what he perceives to be in pure Chinese interests. Jagannath Panda describes this ‘new era’ foreign policy as evolving from being focussed on Asia to competing on the global stage with the United States of America (US).
From an economic perspective, Chinese foreign policy remains rabidly attuned to achieving maximum economic gains in any geography and this is even made apparent by China-led multilateralism through institutions such as Boao Forum and Shanghai Cooperation Organization. China remains geared for resource hunts anywhere in the Indo-Pacific region, while it actively ‘debt trap’s countries through a vehement economic agenda of profiteering coupled with perennial entrapment. Sri Lanka, for example, has been most afflicted by this Chinese approach and finds itself continually subordinated to Chinese Indian Ocean interests. The Indian Ocean is also subject to a Chinese foreign policy that aims to establish maritime supremacy through Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), encircle its contemporary in India through a ‘String of Pearls’, and apply the 2013 Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) paradigm to a large area in the western Indo-Pacific region. The latter aims to ascertain Chinese influence in Asia by tying down unsuspecting countries through joint infrastructural interests, ample connectivity initiatives, and several growth zones.
Some of the manifest points of Xi’s foreign policy include:
1. There is, now, a newfound keenness on the resolution of all matters pertaining to territorial acquisition, tantamount to the use of force by Beijing wherever, whenever, and howsoever mandated by the ruling state. This is exemplified by how, at one end, China irks its neighbours through state-endorsed armed entities such as its maritime mafia and their relatively low-intensity transgressions, to threatening countries such as Japan with nuclear obliteration over Tokyo's interference in the Taiwan matter.
2. China exhibits a certain boldness in military actions and activity across the entire stretch of the Indo-Pacific region: The following data gives a brief idea about Chinese military assertiveness at the expense of noble ideals furthered in the foreign policy agenda:
I. The Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) has engaged in vilification across borders, such as in Ladakh (India). The Peoples’ Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is rapidly modernizing and bulking its inventory to achieve blue-water status on an urgent basis. The Peoples' Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) routinely violates Japanese airspace in a show of territorial aggression. These are just a few examples.
II. Chinese island-building takes place through extensive land reclamation in the South China Sea and military assets such as surface-to-air missiles are deployed in this strategically-challenging environment (for China, itself, and the world)
III. Chinese military basing (Djibouti, East Africa), naval deployments (nuclear-capable submarines in the Indian Ocean), and intelligence-gathering missions (Bay of Bengal) are coupled with benevolent ventures such as anti-piracy missions off the Horn of Africa.
3. Since a while now, China has conveyed, more often than not, a tendency to want to unilaterally shape the regional and global status-quo entirely in Beijing’s favour. This is evinced from China’s outright rejection of the Indo-Pacific idea, its disregard for India’s Indian Ocean necessitation, and its desire to establish control over the South and East China Seas as also many other waters.
A Rising Assertiveness in Plenty of Foreign Policy Avenues
China’s growing foreign policy assertiveness is nothing but a crude display of firebrand realism in international relations. At present, no country epitomizes the realist diktat of the absolute centrality and primacy of a nation-nation-state as far as self-interest is concerned as does China. François Bougon says that Xi has even sought to bring China out of its ‘low profile’ abroad by tacitly encouraging young Chinese nationalists to mock and deride enemies such as Japan and the US. The Chinese self-impression, officially called Face (or mianzi, in Mandarin), is being increasingly threatened by its radical foreign policy. A time may come when China could prove to be too difficult to handle.
Chinese diplomacy, too, has gained a ferocity unlike any other phase in contemporary history. Since diplomacy is linked to the conduct of foreign policy, The pursuit of a so-called Wolf Warrior diplomacy has made a particular impression of the way the world sees China and has made the country more aggressive in the pursuit of its foreign policy objectives. Utilization of technology-oriented mechanisms such as informationization, targeted cyber espionage, and many others are integral to the Chinese agenda.
Countries across Asia remain committed to the ‘One China policy even in the wake of Chinese excesses and its hardening national commitment concerning Taiwan. Any challenge presented to the contrary is met with disdain by Beijing and accompanied by impromptu reprimand and rebuke.
Conclusion – Chinese Foreign Policy, a Rising Concern for the World
If not moderated wherever required and not brought to a screeching halt if necessary, China’s foreign policy bears the potential to alter regional and global dynamics entirely on its own. Led by Xi Jinping’s authoritarian control, China’s power projection is scaling unprecedented heights in the modern era. However, tackling China to the point of overpowering it, at least, considerably is proving to be a taxing and time-consuming endeavour of herculean proportions. How the machinations and manipulations of Chinese foreign policy are effectively dealt with, remains to be seen.