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Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech at the Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs in Beijing, capital of China. The conference was held in Beijing Wednesday to Thursday. Photo: Xinhua

‘Fighting spirit’: Xi Jinping reveals China’s push for global power after rare foreign policy meeting

  • World has ‘entered a new period of turbulence and transformation’, Xi says after Central Conference on Foreign Affairs Work
  • Amid Ukraine war and the Israel-Gaza conflict, China faces strategic opportunities to act as a peace broker and leader of the Global South, says analyst

Beijing has vowed to seize “strategic opportunities” and further raise its “international influence, appeal and power” to shape a rapidly changing world by strengthening Communist Party control of foreign affairs and standing firm against “bullying” and “hegemonism” from the West.

At a rare closed-door party meeting about China’s future foreign policy direction that concluded on Thursday, President Xi Jinping also urged the country’s diplomats and cadres to “break new ground”, “rally the overwhelming majority” of the world and adhere to the “fighting spirit”.

The two-day Central Conference on Foreign Affairs Work, which was last held in 2018, was attended by top party leaders such as Politburo members, senior government officials and diplomats, including dozens of Chinese ambassadors, state media reported.


Xi Jinping says Vietnam is a ‘diplomatic priority’ as Chinese leader seeks closer bilateral ties

Xi Jinping says Vietnam is a ‘diplomatic priority’ as Chinese leader seeks closer bilateral ties

Analysts said the timing of the meeting was of particular significance amid signs of socioeconomic headwinds at home and growing international scrutiny and resistance, despite Beijing’s recent efforts to dial down its rancorous rivalry with the US-led West.

In his speech, Xi touted China as a “responsible” global power rising under his head-of-state diplomacy since he took power in 2012 and said China had overcome “various difficulties and challenges” in its external work in the past decade.

But he also warned of “high winds and choppy waters” ahead because the world had “entered a new period of turbulence and transformation” – a thinly veiled reference to China’s feud with the US and its allies over ideological and geopolitical differences.

Chinese President Xi Jinping addresses the Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs in Beijing. Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang, Li Xi and Han Zheng attended the conference. Photo: Xinhua

“China has become a responsible major country with enhanced international influence, stronger capacity to steer new endeavours and greater moral appeal,” he said, according to a report by state news agency Xinhua.

“We have showcased distinct Chinese characteristics, style and ethos in our diplomacy, and established the image of a confident, self-reliant, open and inclusive major country with a global vision.”

China had taken “a holistic approach to our relations with all parties”, “expanded a comprehensive strategic layout and formed a wide-ranging, high-quality global network of partnerships”, he said.

Xi also hailed the Belt and Road Initiative, his signature foreign policy and outbound investment project, as “the world’s most broad-based and largest platform for international cooperation” and said Beijing had “shown the way in reforming the international system and order”.
The meeting came on the heels of Xi’s remarks on Tuesday hailing Mao Zedong’s legacy and vowing “to build China into a stronger country and rejuvenate the Chinese nation on all fronts by pursuing Chinese modernisation”.
And, in the countdown to Taiwan’s presidential election, Xi, who has become China’s most powerful leader since Mao after securing a third leadership term last year, also pledged on Tuesday that “the motherland must and is bound to be reunited”.

Zhiqun Zhu, an international relations professor from Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, said it was part of the party’s “efforts to further centralise decision making, to highlight Xi’s contribution to China’s diplomacy in the new era, and to elevate Xi’s political status to the level of Mao”.

He said it was clear Xi called the shots on all important matters, raising some concerns about whether the party had completely departed from collective leadership.

“It’s unclear what Chinese diplomats can do to address serious external challenges. The party’s total control over foreign affairs leaves professional diplomats with little room to manoeuvre,” Zhu said.

The official statement made no mention of former foreign minister Qin Gang and former defence minister Li Shangfu, whose removal this year grabbed international headlines. The men are yet to be accounted for.

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In the face of unprecedented challenges at home and abroad, Xi was confident China still faced “new strategic opportunities” and China’s diplomacy “will enter a new stage where much more can be accomplished”.

“We must unswervingly uphold the [party] central leadership’s ultimate authority over foreign affairs,” he said, while urging governments at all levels to “keep in mind the big picture” and implement Beijing’s decisions “in both letter and spirit”.

“We must focus on the central task of the [party] and the country, seek progress while maintaining stability, break new ground while upholding fundamental principles and firmly safeguard China’s sovereignty, security and development interests,” he said.

“We will explore new frontiers in China’s diplomatic theory and practice, foster new dynamics in the relations between China and the world and raise China’s international influence, appeal and power to shape events to a new level.

“We will create a more favourable international environment and provide more solid strategic support for building China into a great modern socialist country in all respects and advancing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation on all fronts through the Chinese path to modernisation,” Xi was quoted as saying.

He said Beijing would continue to “hold the international moral high ground and unite and rally the overwhelming majority in our world”, “carry forward our fighting spirit”, reject “all acts of power politics and bullying” and “leverage our institutional strengths” amid external uncertainties.

“An equal and orderly multipolar world is one in which all countries, regardless of size, are treated as equals, hegemonism and power politics are rejected and democracy is truly promoted in international relations,” he said.

“It is important to resolutely oppose the attempt to roll back globalisation and abuse the concept of security, oppose all forms of unilateralism and protectionism, firmly promote trade and investment liberalisation and facilitation, overcome the structural problems hindering the healthy development of the world economy, and make economic globalisation more open, inclusive, balanced and beneficial to all,” China’s president said.

“Changes of the world, of our times and of historical significance are unfolding like never before,” Xi said. “Yet the overall direction of human development and progress will not change, the overall dynamics of world history moving forward amid twists and turns will not change, and the overall trend toward a shared future for the international community will not change. We must have full confidence in these trends of historical impact.”

According to Su Hao, a diplomacy expert at China Foreign Affairs University which is affiliated with the foreign ministry, the rise of China and other developing countries has altered the global power landscape.

“Since modern times, the world has been dominated by the West. But now it seems that with the group rise of developing countries, it is obvious that the role and status of the West is declining, then the trend of multi-polarity in the world advocated by China pushes the world to form a balance of power structure,” he said in an interview with Shenzhen TV.

Su said as the world became more volatile amid the Russia-Ukraine war and the Israel-Palestinian conflict, China faced strategic opportunities to act as a peace broker and a leader of the Global South in maintaining world peace and stability.


Xi Jinping calls for Gaza ceasefire, says two-state solution only option for lasting regional peace

Xi Jinping calls for Gaza ceasefire, says two-state solution only option for lasting regional peace

The Central Conference on Foreign Affairs Work has been held three times – in 2006, 2014 and 2018 – according to state-owned Beijing Youth Daily.

Yun Sun, co-director of the East Asia programme and director of the China programme at the Washington-based Stimson Centre, said similar meetings on diplomatic work had been held almost every five years, including a meeting on periphery diplomacy in 2013.

“In 2018, it was the Central Diplomatic Work Conference. The pattern appears to be the diplomatic work conference is held the year after each party congress,” she said.

“The conference summarised the achievements of Xi’s diplomacy in the past decade and points out new priorities of Chinese diplomacy for the future. The key seems to be actively shaping China’s relationship with the outside world. The confidence in China’s path and its future is evident.”

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Shi Yinhong, a professor of international affairs at Beijing’s Renmin University, said the meeting’s readout had largely reaffirmed what the party said in its political report at the 20th national congress last year.

“Instead of rolling out new policies, the statement seems rather general, and one needs to look more at China’s specific diplomatic behaviour,” he said.

It is not clear if the meeting implies a shift in China’s foreign policy direction ahead of a potentially more tumultuous time in the lead-up to presidential elections in the US and Taiwan.

“[To discern possible changes in China’s foreign policy], we may need to look at China’s major diplomatic acts – not just one act, but acts over a period of time. While the wording may be similar, the foreign policy may contain some new features over time,” he said.

Additional reporting by Sylvia Ma