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China in Hu’s Colours: Part V

(In continuation of China in Hu’s Colours: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV)

1. In the days preceding the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, the State Council Information Office and the party offices had organised a series of briefings for the local media to explain what they projected as the important role played by the party in facilitating international diplomacy by the State. Some of the interesting points from these briefings are given below:

Mr.Zhang Zhijun, deputy head in the International Department of the Party Central Committee: “The Foreign Ministry might be the symbol of Chinese diplomacy for many, but the International Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC) is playing an equally important role on the global diplomatic stage. The Party is becoming more active in developing relations with overseas political parties through the CPC Central Committee International Department.The CPC’s diplomatic work is an important component of the country’s diplomacy.The Party has forged relations with about 400 political parties or organizations in more than 160 countries and regions. Those parties include Communist or socialist parties as well as right-wing or centrist organizations; and some are in countries that do not have diplomatic relations with China. The CPC does not take into account differences in ideologies or political systems in party diplomacy while striving to establish and develop exchanges and cooperation with foreign parties. When Sino-Japanese ties hit a nadir in 2004 due to Japan’s whitewashing of atrocities committed during World War II, the CPC initiated a ruling party exchange mechanism with two rounds of meetings to tackle those thorny problems.The exchanges between the CPC and the Workers’ Party of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) facilitated the settlement of the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue.The two parties had regular exchanges in various areas and through diversified channels, and held in-depth discussions on international and regional issues, which have helped maintain peace and stability in Northeast Asia and properly settle the nuclear issue. The CPC will become more active in party diplomacy after the 17th National Congress. The CPC should not be blamed for failing to develop ties with the two major U.S. political parties. The CPC always handles the relations with American political parties with an open mind and is willing to establish exchanges and promote ties with the U.S. political parties, including the Democratic Party and the Republican Party based on CPC’s four basic principles for party relations.”

Mr.Liu Jiangyong, Dean of the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University:”Such a broad relationship between the CPC and overseas parties helps the country settle some problems where government diplomacy faces challenges. It also helps promote a better understanding of China and maintain long-term contacts despite frequent power changes.”

2. In the last week of September,2007, a delegation of the US Foreign Policy Council headed by Mr. Robert McFarlane, who was National Security Adviser to President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, had visited Beijing and met Government and party officials to discuss Sino-US relations on the eve of the Party Congress. Mr.Wang Jiarui, the head of the International Department of the CPC Central Committee, said after a meeting with the visiting US delegation: ” China is ready to enhance mutual understanding and strengthen cooperation with the United States. China attaches great importance to China-U.S. relationship and is ready to make joint efforts with the U.S. to enhance mutual understanding and strengthen cooperation.The two held positive views towards the steady development of the China-U.S. relations in recent years. Both sides should implement the consensus reached by the two Heads of State on comprehensively promoting China-U.S. constructive and cooperative ties in the 21st century, and to respect the concerns of each other and stick to peaceful diplomatic manner in promoting the settlement of international and regional issues.”

3. The Chinese media quoted Mr.McFarlane as saying as follows after the meeting: “China is emerging as a world power with increasing international influence and has played an active role in international and regional disputes. The U.S. political parties, no matter which will win the election, will all strategically attach great importance to the relationship with China and continue to maintain, deepen and expand the U.S.-China relationship.” The Xinhua news agency reported that the two also exchanged views on such questions as the Iranian nuclear issue, the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue and energy security.

4. The point, which was repeatedly stressed by Party spokesmen and others in the briefings before the Party Congress and in the margins of the Congress was that the CPC plays an important role in foreign policy formulation and often acts as a facilitator of good relations even in times of difficulty through its networking with parties in other countries. They highlighted the examples of North Korea and Japan. A greater freedom of discussion is possible during party-to-party interactions than during diplomatic interactions and this helps the State. In this connection, the visit of a delegation of India’s Congress (I) led by Mrs.Sonia Gandhi immediately after the Party Congress was as important as the visit of an American delegation a fortnight before it.

5. Having said that, it has to be noted that there were specific references to Sino-Indian relations in the briefings before and during the session of the National People’s Congress held in March,2007. There were no such references before and during the Party Congress, but there have been positive references before and during the visits of Mrs.Sonia Gandhi and Shri Pranab Mukherjee, India’s Foreign Minister, to China to participate in the India-China-Russia Foreign Ministers’ meeting.

6. Just as Mr.Hu Jintao, in his dual capacity as the President of China and the Party General Secretary, has been trying to promote a new economic development model with equal attention to the people, the natural resources and the environment, he has been trying to promote a new model of diplomacy, whose characteristics are a non-confrontational approach, avoidance of rhetoric which might create tensions, patience in dealing with long-standing problems and a greater sensitivity to the concerns of the international community on issues such as North Korea’s nuclear capability and human rights in Myanmar and the Sudan. Is this merely a tactical change in order not to foul the atmosphere before next year’s Beijing Olympics or does it indicate a durable change which would continue even after the Olympics? One can find an answer only after the Olympics.

7. Some of the points stressed by Mr.Hu in relation to China’s foreign policy in his report to the Congress are:

  1. China cannot develop in isolation from the rest of the world, nor can the world enjoy prosperity and stability without China.

  2. China follows a national defense policy that is defensive in nature, and it does not engage in an arms race or pose a military threat to any other country. China opposes all forms of hegemonism and power politics and will never seek hegemony or engage in expansion.

  3. Politically, all countries should respect each other and conduct consultations on an equal footing in a common endeavor to promote democracy in international relations.

8. The importance of the application of the principles of democracy in the conduct of international relations was a point stressed by him. It was a hint to the US to practise democracy in its relations with other countries before it preaches democracy to other countries in the conduct of their internal affairs.

9. While there were no specific references to Sino-Indian relations during the Congress, some points need to be underlined on the basis of informal interactions with non-governmental Chinese scholars:

While these scholars do not rule out a flexible policy by Beijing in relation to support for India at the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group on the question of relaxing restrictions on nuclear commerce with India, they seem skeptic of the likelihood of a similar flexibility on the question of the future of Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. While Sino-Indian trade continues to gallop towards the target of a bilateral trade value of US $ 30 billion, there could be speed-breakers after the Olympics. Presently, nearly 60 per cent of India’s exports to China consist of iron ore. The Chinese steel industry has been buying a lot of iron ore all over the word to meet the steel requirements for the construction activity related to the Olympics. The demand for iron ore may come down after the Olympics. The small and medium-scale steel enterprises in China, which had mushroomed during the days of Mao Zedong, contribute considerably to the high level of pollution. The Chinese have been thinking of re-structuring their steel industry in order to eliminate these polluters. If and when this happens, this could reduce the Chinese demand for Indian iron ore, since these small and medium enterprises are important buyers of the cheaper-priced Indian ore.

There is some satisfaction in Chinese academic circles over what seems to be a liberalisation in India’s policy regarding students’ visas. Recently, a group of about 100 Chinese students is reported to have arrived in Vellore in Tamil Nadu to study computer technology in a local institution. In the past, Indian IT companies with offices in China were getting IT experts from India to work in their offices in China. Now, to reduce their expenditure, they have reportedly started recruiting young Chinese, getting them trained in India and then employing them in China. Some Chinese analysts have also recommended the adoption of what is described as a “silver hair policy”—- that is, recruit retired Indian IT experts and take them to China to train young Chinese in China itself. (Continued in China in Hu’s Colours: Part VI)

(The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )

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