By Kenneth Black
It may seem obvious that the nation responsible for building the Great Wall felt like it wants to be cut off from the rest of the world. But at times, China also feels like it needs the world.
This split personality has made Chinese foreign policy interesting, if not a little volatile. However, as much as some countries would like to, there is no ignoring China or the influence of its foreign policy decisions. If for no other reason, China holds the keys to an economic juggernaut, one that nearly the entire world depends on.
Since its inception with the ratification of its first constitution in 1954, the People’s Republic of China has fought for legitimacy among the world’s countries as the sole ruler of all of China. This includes not only China as the West traditionally has thought of it, but also such important regions as Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Slowly, and with the help of the United Nations, the People’s Republic of China has been recognized as the legitimate government. The United States normalized relations in 1978, however it does not recognize the Chinese government’s claims on Hong Kong and some other areas.
More recently, disagreements with ethnic Tibetans and the historic leader of the group, the Dalai Lama, have caused some countries to criticize China, especially with what many consider the heavy-handed tactics the Chinese used in putting down protests in the region recently. While this has caused a hiccup in some foreign relationships, it ‘s impact is not likely to last.
China’s warming relationship with the West began in 1971, when the Chinese invited the American table tennis team to mainland China for a visit and exhibition games. It was the first visit by Americans to the Chinese mainland since 1949. The visit coined a new phrase, pingpong diplomacy.
This is a term applied to any type of nonofficial diversion used to strengthen bonds between two adversaries.
President Richard Nixon visited China two years later, and a new era in relationships between the two countries were well on their way to being formed. Many historians credit the table tennis visit, and Nixon’s followup visit, as key moments between China and the West.
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The Chinese government released an eight-point diplomatic philosophy that it says governs its international diplomacy efforts. Among they key points are:
–China will not meddle in the internal affairs of another country
–China advocates peaceful resolutions to conflicts
–All countries, regardless of size or military power, should be treated equally
–China’s judgment on international affairs will be a standard by which it would expect to hold itself
–China is opposed to terrorism and the use of weapons of mass destruction
–China respects diversity
The goal of Chinese foreign policy is two-fold. One, it wants to increase its diplomatic presence and influence around the world. Two, it wants to create more job opportunities for its citizens.
The importance of the second reason has worldwide effects. China has undergone a reform in its economic policies. While it is still officially Communist, it does allow private ownership of business, especially regarding foreign business wanting to bring jobs to China.
This change in domestic policy has, by natural result, affected a change in foreign policy. For example, it does no good for the Chinese to allow foreign investment if it does not normalize relations with those nations that serve as home to the companies. Therefore, an extensive diplomatic effort is always being practiced.
The Chinese government, and the Chinese people as a whole, have increasingly benefited from this change in foreign policy. Though the country is still agrarian based, there is extensive urbanization in some areas.
While this has led to some energy and environmental concerns, overall it has had a net positive effect on the daily lives of China’s citizens. Foreign nations also benefit from the Chinese. The relatively cheap supply of labor in the country helps bring costs down for consumers. Indeed, much of the world’s manufacturing base is in China.
China’s foreign policy poses few risks to other countries and to itself. Because of the country’s domestic policies, it often has an on-again, off-again, relationship with many western governments. This is not likely to change anytime soon.
China says it does not wish to interfere in the internal affairs of another country and certainly expects the same treatment in return. However, many countries find the human rights violations in China too extreme to ignore. This often creates potential problems between those countries and China.