Is the new Chinese leadership carrying forward the legacies of Deng Xiaoping? What are the alterations to Deng’s foreign policy legacy that have shaped Chinese foreign policy to be what it is today?
As soon as Chinese President Xi Jinping assumed power, he chose to visit Shenzhen (the Special Economic Zone where the Paramount Leader of China, Deng Xiaoping, experimented his market reform) and paid respects to the latter’s statue. Since then there has been conjecture on whether Xi would take the legacy of Deng Xiaoping forward.
The trip itself is a reflection of Deng’s Southern Tour that he took 20 years ago when he launched the reform and opening-up policies. Repeatedly, in his various speeches, Xi has often reiterated Deng’s legacy of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Perhaps, the 110 birth anniversary of Deng Xiaoping is an apt time to analyse the legacies of the late leader in contemporary Chinese foreign policy. This article attempts to interpret the present-day path of Chinese foreign policy.
Chinese Foreign Policy under Deng Xiaoping
Chinese foreign policy under Deng was characterised by “Independent and Peaceful Development Strategy” for its external relations. The fundamental goals of this policy were to preserve China’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, create a favourable international environment for China’s reform and economic opening-up, and modernisation, construction, maintaining world peace and to propel common development. To come out of the isolation following the Tiananmen Square incident, he designed a 28-character foreign policy of which “keep low profile and bind your time” (tao guang Yang Hui) became extremely popular. During the early 1990s, Deng had already outlined three tasks for China in the decade ahead: oppose hegemonism and preserve world peace; work on China’s unification with Taiwan; and step up the drive for China’s modernisation.
Deng Xiaoping and the New Leadership
After the end of the annual National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, Xi visited important countries in all the continents. Additionally, during the Xi’s tenure, many foreign leaders have visited China. China is, through bilateral exchanges, trying to disburse the China Threat Theory and increasing friendly exchanges and pragmatic cooperation. China is also emphasising on its peripheral diplomacy and good neighbour policy.
Through multiple visits, China has begun taking interest in multilateralism. On close examination of Xi’s foreign policy, one can see his carefulness in partaking in multilateral organisations, i.e. Asia Bao Forum, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit and the BRICS. At the SCO summit, Xi stated that “China presents a model of Development” for all members. Furthermore, challenging Western-dominated international organisations such as the IMF and the World Bank, China, during the 2014 BRICS summit, proposed a BRICS bank. The bank would have representation from all the four continents and only economic organisations that represent developing countries. However, there is a caveat to China’s multilateral diplomacy. Although, today, China advocates multilateral diplomacy at various for a, in the South China Sea (SCS) dispute, Beijing opts for a bilateral solution.
Taking forward the legacy of Deng Xiaoping, China has been following ‘salami tactics’ in the SCS, wherein it is maintaining a low profile and taking small steps in the region. Xi, vis-à-vis Beijing’s core interest areas, reiterated that China would stick to the path of peaceful development but never give up its legitimate rights nor sacrifice core national interests. This is evident in China’s assertive role in its core interest areas, such as Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang and the SCS (the SCS was included as core interest in 2010).
Deng Xiaoping began the reform and opening-up process in 1978 and set the platform for the ‘Chinese Dream’. Taking the dividends of the reform process forward, Xi Jinping coined the term ‘Chinese Dream’. Essentially, it translates to building a moderate prosperous society and realisation of national rejuvenation. As a part of national rejuvenation, Beijing has invested heavily in the Silk Road diplomacy, dividing it into Land Silk Road and the Maritime Silk Route.
The ‘US pivot to Asia’ has initiated a new phase in the Washington-Beijing bilateral. Deng Xiaoping was opposed to hegemonism in world politics. Today, Xi Jinping is advocating the term ‘a new type of relationship’ to redefine the US- China relationship. By maintaining a low profile, China is opposing the US’s hegemony and is simultaneously playing its card safely with Washington – Beijing’s largest trading partner.
Notably, Xi’s foreign policy does have reflections of Deng Xiaoping’s policy. However, there appear to be some alterations at times. This is because, today, China is operating in a geopolitical environment very different from that which existed during Deng’s era. Xi follows Deng’s legacy as an ideal than any other leader. This is further exemplified in the editorial in Xinhua, titled “Xinhua Insight: To reignite a nation, Xi carries Deng’s torch.”