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Book Review: Foreign Policy of China under Deng Xiaoping; By Devjyoti Saha



Image courtesy: Springer


Article 01/2023

Priya Suresh, Foreign Policy of China under Deng Xiaoping (Palgrave Macmillan)

ISBN: 978-981-19-4763-6



The book provides a detailed and in-depth explanation of the influences, factors and strategies involved in the reformulation of Chinese foreign policy by Deng Xiaoping. In the process of giving a descriptive account of Deng's re-defined foreign policy approach, the author highlights a clear link between the domestic political factors and the approach towards external affairs.


Through this link between the nature of political leadership, their historical and political influences and foreign policy decisions, the work highlights the reason behind the inconsistent nature of Chinese foreign policy. In the introductory part, the author highlights this inconsistency by dividing the Chinese political leadership into three phases, i.e. the imperial phase, the nationalist phase and the Marxist phase, influenced by a different set of ideologies that influenced their domestic and international outlook. But one common thing among the three is their insistence that Chinese culture is paramount, and any external culture that seeks to be incorporated within the Chinese manifold must undergo reformation or get Sinicized. Deng Xiaoping used this argument to implement the Open-Door Policy in the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee in December 1978, where he re-emphasized adopting "Socialism with Chinese characteristics".


Author Dr. Priya Suresh discusses the Open-Door Policy, but before going into the details, she deliberates upon the background details and the views that set the stage for the implementation of the policy. Focussing on Deng's diverse influences, especially his visit to France, the author reflects upon the incident that shaped his views towards modernity.


The book mainly focuses on the pragmatic path adopted by Deng Xiaoping and how pragmatism in terms of political, economic and foreign policymaking turned out to be a game-changer for China.


In domestic politics, the shift from radical Maoism to a more moderate form of Socialism with Chinese characteristics. It was this balanced stance towards socialism that uplifted the political environment of China from the horrific reigns of the Cultural Revolution. But at the same time, the author clearly mentions Deng Xiaoping's awareness of the sensitivity of the Chinese political environment, which is why he did not engage in a radical de-Maoisation campaign along the lines of de-Stalinisation by Khrushchev in the USSR. He continuously re-emphasized the ideology and teachings of Mao, but at the same time, he insisted upon the necessary political changes to help China take back its "rightful position" on the global stage. His quote "Shí shì qiú shì" that is finding truth through facts that insist on adopting domestic policies that yielded results rather than sticking with redundant political ideologies. Political pragmatism was linked to the game-changing economic reforms under the ambitious Open-Door Policy that decentralized the economic decision-making process, created SEZs and promoted the creation of Joint-Ventures through technology transfer agreements with the West. The normalization of relations with the West largely depended on his stance vis-a-vis the political system in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. Maintaining a balanced stance, he reiterated Mao's views, i.e. yì guó liǎng zhì (one country, two systems). Hence, on the one hand, he satisfied the nationalist sentiments by re-emphasizing the primacy of the One China Policy, while on the other hand, he assured the Western democracies that the democratic systems in the three regions would co-exist with the socialist system of the mainland.


Now the unique angle this book provides w.r.t the Open-Door Policy is by linking the campaign's success with the well-balanced foreign policy approach and his pragmatic decisions to let go of historical enmity and Mao's isolation policy and open the doors of China to the world. Decisions to normalize relations with archnemesis Japan and the US and normalizing ties with the USSR and European nations played a massive role in fostering technology transfers and facilitating human resource development through student-exchange programmes with Western European countries like Germany. The author has done a remarkable job of linking the political and economic aspects with the foreign policy decisions of Deng that set China towards an era of global dominance.


In the end, the author presents a concluding chapter where she summarises the entire content and presents a comparative analysis of Deng Xiaoping and Xi Jinping's approaches. While Deng was pragmatic, Xi is aggressive. Deng Xiaoping believed in the policy of "tao guang yang hui", which means hide your light and bide your time. The book provides a brilliant explanation of what this approach was all about. Deng's subtle diplomatic approach earned China friends across the world. Xi Jinping has changed that with his "Wolf Warrior" diplomatic approach that seeks to walk alone and assert China as a global power in the multipolar world order. The conclusion clearly states that Jinping's "Chinese Dream" is largely based on his predecessor Jiang Zemin's "Three Represents" and Hu Jintao's "Harmonius World" philosophies that seek a central position of Chinese leadership across the world. The only difference is that the predecessors closely followed and credited Xiaoping, while Xi initiated an era of hero-worshipping by putting himself on the same pedestal as Mao and Xiaoping. As the author states, Xi amended the policy of "tao guang yang hui" or keeping a low profile to "fen fa you wei", striving for achievement.


The book presents a comprehensive account of the close relationship between the nature of Chinese leadership and their respective foreign policy approaches. The work does absolute justice to the title by presenting a detailed account of Deng Xiaoping's pragmatism in all policymaking spheres. The book attracts the interest of readers who seek to understand the role of leadership in bringing about a paradigm change in China's global stature.


(Mr Devjyoti Saha is a Research Intern at C3S. He is pursuing his Master of Arts in International Relations from Department of Politics and Internationl Studies, Pondicherry University. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the views of C3S)

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