Thursday July 18, 2024

Five principles in modern China’s policy, practice

China’s international relations policy is distinguished by its preference for a relationship-based philosophy over an interest-based policy and practices

By Shakeel Ahmad Ramay
July 01, 2024
A Chinese flag can be seen in this image. — AFP/File
A Chinese flag can be seen in this image. — AFP/File

The concepts and practices of international relations adopted by modern China are deeply rooted in its history and the evolution of civilisation. This historical context is crucial to understanding China’s diplomatic philosophy, which follows the wisdom of Confucius, who advocated for states’ relations based on “order, harmony, respect, ethics and fraternity”.

China’s international relations policy is distinguished by its preference for a relationship-based philosophy over an interest-based policy and practices. By adhering to this philosophy, China aspires to transform enemies into friends and friendship into brotherhood, a testament to the transformative power of diplomacy.

Since its creation, modern China has adhered to this philosophy. It is reflected in the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence: 1) mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, 2) mutual non-aggression, 2) mutual non-interference in internal affairs, 4) equality and cooperation, and 5) peaceful coexistence presented by Prime Minister Zhou Enlai. The five principles were introduced at the international level during the signing of Sino-India agreement. Indian Prime Minister Nehru praised the five principles and considered them a recipe for solving the problem and ensuring sustainable peace. He said, “If these principles were recognised in the mutual relations of all countries, then indeed there would hardly be any conflict and certainly no war”.

China’s commitment to its diplomatic philosophy has not been without challenges. It has had to contend with the harsh behaviour of Western powers, including US, who initially did not recognise China and refused to establish diplomatic relations. Chairman Mao summarised the whole situation and process in “Three World Theory”.

However, China’s adherence to Five Principles policy proved successful, and the West, including US, started to build diplomatic relationships with China. This is a testament to China’s resilience and commitment to its diplomatic philosophy. President Jiang Zemin and President Hu Jintao both continued this commitment, rejecting alliance-building and arms race and promoting to work together for a better world. President Hu Jintao echoed this sentiment at the UN in 2005 by deliberating on the concept of a “harmonious world”.

The five principles of peaceful coexistence have two distinctive characteristics that attract people. First, these principles ask us to depart from the past mentality of alliances and work on building partnerships. Alliances need opponents, if not enemies, and strive to create winners and losers. In the process, they divide the world and people. We have already witnessed this phenomenon during the Cold War.

Second, the five principles encourage engagement for a win-win economic and development cooperation. These principles avoid practices that create losers and winners. China belives widespread inequality across the world is outcome of this approach. Principles are equally attentive to the principles of security, sovereignty and territorial integrity of China, but not at the cost of other countries.

All interventions and guidelines provided by five principles of peaceful coexistence aim to promote concept of peaceful co-existence. China has emphasised it on multiple occasions and at different national, regional and global forums.

China is not only using these principles as terminology or rhetoric but also taking practical actions to demonstrate its will to move on the path of peaceful co-existence. China has successfully avoided alliance-building by working on partnership-building. From the dawn of 21st century, China has accelerated the process and has built numerous partnerships in the form of forums, including Bao Forum, Macau Forum, China-Africa Cooperation, 2000, China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, 2004, China-Pacific Island Countries Economic Development & Cooperation Forum (2006), Forum of China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (2015), China-CEEC “17+1 Cooperation, China-ASEAN Cooperation Mechanism (2003) and China-EU etc.

There is consensus among the wider community of leaders, experts and policymakers that by adhering to the ”Five Principles”, China never pursued hegemony; it just strived for a fair and people-centric governance system, dignity-based interaction and win-win cooperation for mutual benefit. It helped China build its image as a partner that believes in equality and respect for sovereignty and never interferes with or bullies any country. It is a great achievement for China.

However, President Xi thinks as a major power, China will have to be more dynamic to shape a fair, equal, respectful, mutually beneficial and dignity-based global system. For that purpose, China will have to adopt a proactive approach and shared prosperity philosophy. In pursuing this goal, President Xi presented the vision of a community with a shared future.

The core characteristic of this vision is that it triggered a transition from peaceful co-existence to cooperative, peaceful, and prosperous co-existence. He started to work on the vision from his first meeting as Secretary General of the CPC with foreign delegates in 2012. He believed “International community has increasingly become a community with a shared future, with each having a stake in others”. He diligently and gradually persuaded the vision of a community with a shared future, making it a practical reality.

The community with a shared future, a key aspect of China’s evolving diplomatic philosophy, is built on five pillars: Belt and Route Initiative (BRI), Global Development Initiative (GDI), Global Security Initiative (GSI), Global Civilisation Initiative (GCI), and Ecological Civilisation. These pillars represent a specific aspect of China’s vision for a shared future: economic growth, global development, security, cultural diversity and ecological sustainability.

China launched BRI in 2013 by adhering to the Chinese philosophy of shared growth through discussion and collaboration. GDI was introduced in accordance with the vision of shared prosperity. GSI, which has been built on four pillars: common, comprehensive, coordinated, and sustainable security, was presented. GCI talked about harmony in diversity and negating the clash of civilisations. President Xi Jinping is promoting construction of ecological civilisation derived from the philosophy of harmony between the planet and humans and among humans.

The vision of a community with a shared future is helping negate End of History, Clash of Civilisations theories, and self-assumed righteous behaviour of Western Power. Therefore, overwhelming majority of countries have subscribed to the vision, hoping it will pave the way for a peaceful, dignity-based, fair, prosperous, and cooperative coexistence world. The vision has also elevated the status of President Xi as a wise and future-looking statesman.