Chinese President Xi Jinping gave an important address at the Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs in Beijing at the end of December. President Xi’s speech is an important indicator of China’s foreign policy trajectory in the short to medium term.
As the world’s second-largest economy and one of the world’s military superpowers, China’s foreign policy actions will determine the future of the global economy, peace, and security. Hence, such pronouncements coming from the highest office in China offer an important window to China’s foreign policy thinking and an opportunity for countries around the world, especially in Africa, to take advantage of the available opportunities to maximise their interests.
In his speech, Xi took pride in how his administration had ensured the emergence of a self-confident and more assertive China as an actor on the international stage infused with Chinese characteristics. Among the notable achievements of Chinese diplomacy, Xi mentioned defining a clear vision for global development, peace, and security, protecting China’s sovereignty and security interests, leading the reform of the global governance system, conceptualising and implementing the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which has become the world’s largest infrastructure development programme, and ensuring a coordinated foreign policy approach.
Looking at the trajectory of the last decade, China’s record under President Xi speaks for itself. China has indeed become more assertive and has played an active and constructive role in international affairs and fostering a new global system. In addition to major country diplomacy with countries like Russia and the United States, China has also established robust regional diplomacy networks with regions such as Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe in a bid to strengthen South-South cooperation.
Moreover, under Xi, China has advanced a series of proposals to tackle global problems, namely the BRI, the Global Security Initiative (GSI), the Global Development Initiative (GDI), and the Global Civilization Initiative, among others, which have enjoyed significant political buy-in around the world—an indication of increasing confidence in China’s global leadership.
For example, over 140 countries in the world have joined the BRI. Further, China has played an active part in promoting peace and security in regions like Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East through diplomacy and sending peacekeeping missions. One of its most prominent achievements in this regard was bringing the Middle East’s regional powerhouses, Iran and Saudi Arabia, who had been at loggerheads for the better part of the last decade, together to restore official relations with each other.
China’s efforts as the mediator saw Tehran and Riyadh re-establishing diplomatic relations in 2023, which had been suspended in 2016. As such, there is merit and substance in the confident tone of President Xi’s speech on China’s foreign policy record over the last decade.
Looking to the future, the world should expect a more assertive China, which seems to be ready to embrace global responsibility as a major power. President Xi insisted that “on major issues concerning the future of humanity and the direction of the world, we must take a clear and firm position, hold the international moral high ground, and unite and rally the overwhelming majority in our world.” If the speech is anything to go by, China is prepared to double down on its leadership role in international affairs. The confidence espoused by Xi in his speech will obviously not go down well with the policy mandarins in Washington, who have long claimed a monopoly in global leadership.
Consequently, increased tensions are to be expected between the US and China, as the former will be ill-at-ease sharing space with the latter on the global stage. President Xi committed to bolstering China’s major country diplomacy, re-evaluating China’s diplomatic theory and practice, protecting China’s sovereignty, increasing China’s international influence, and ensuring the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. Central to China’s foreign policy actions will be building a community with a shared future for mankind, with the GSI, GDI, GCI, and BRI identified as the key pillars of this mission.
The values underlying this vision include universal security, peace, prosperity, equality, inclusiveness, and democracy. Further, President Xi argued forcefully for an equal and multipolar world order with multilateralism as its core and an equitable and fair economic globalisation from which every country in the world will benefit. In apparent reference to the US and its western allies, he said China will reject attempts to reverse globalisation and will stand against the emergence of unilateralism and protectionism.
The US and the West have, in the recent past, acted unilaterally to impose protectionist measures on supply chains that they consider critical to their security and economic interests, including the imposition of trade restrictions against China and sanctions against Russia. The Conference reaffirmed the centrality of the Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era and the Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy as the anchors of China’s foreign policy.
Overall, the world should expect a consistent but more assertive, confident, and open China in the future. Africa should take advantage of China’s willingness to play a more progressive role on the international stage and act in solidarity with it, especially on the question of reforming the international governance system. Further, as China vows to be more open, African countries should be on the lookout for trade and investment opportunities coming from the Asian giant.
* David Monyae is the Director for the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.