The future direction of Chinese policies
China is currently focused on realizing the Second Centenary Goal of becoming a great modern socialist country in all respects and advancing the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation on all fronts through a path to modernization, for which a two-step strategic plan has been adopted.
The first step is to realize the socialist modernization from 2020 through 2035. And the second is to build China into a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful from 2035 through the middle of this century.
China will make high-quality development its top priority and will continue reforms to develop the socialist market economy, promote high-standard opening up and accelerate efforts to foster a new pattern of development that is focused on the domestic economy and features positive interplay between domestic and international economic flows.
Pursuing high-quality development as the overarching task, China will make sure that the implementation of the strategy to expand domestic demand is integrated with the efforts to deepen supply-side structural reform and boost the dynamism and reliability of the domestic economy, while engaging at a higher level in the global economy.
In the future, China will expand its institutional opening up in a two-pronged manner. On the one hand, by constantly reducing the negative list of market access, implementing the principle of competition neutrality and other measures, it will continue to optimize the business environment and integrate with the world’s advanced rules and regulations. On the other hand, in the process of international economic and trade cooperation, China should promote the “going global” of Chinese management and standards that have proven effective in practice.
Biden’s reiteration of the one China policy was of great significance and will promote more bilateral talks between China and the US
China has signed 19 free trade agreements with 26 countries and regions and its accession bids to the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement and the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement are also being actively promoted. China is expected to sign higher-level free trade agreements with more willing trade partners in the future, further increase the zero tariff ratio of goods trade and make the free trade agreements better benefit China’s foreign trade.
China will promote the internationalization of the renminbi in an orderly way, get more deeply involved in the global industrial division of labor and cooperation, and endeavor to preserve the diversity and stability of the international economic landscape and economic and trade relations. This means that, in the future, China will pay more attention to firmly embedding itself into the global industrial supply chain, integrate with it in depth and prevent “decoupling.” While maintaining economic and trade cooperation with developed economies, China will also pay more attention to close trade and investment exchanges with developing countries.
In addition, China regards science and technology as a primary productive force, talent as a primary resource and innovation as a primary driver of growth, and will fully implement the strategy for invigorating China through science and education, the workforce development strategy and the innovation-driven development strategy.
During their meeting in Bali, Indonesia, in November, Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden expressed their willingness to manage their countries’ differences, continue dialogue and hope that China-US relations return to the right track. At a time when China-US relations are facing unprecedented serious challenges, the meeting released positive signals.
However, whether China-US relations can get back on track still depends on whether the US side will return to a rational and pragmatic policy toward China as soon as possible. President Xi pointed out during the face-to-face meeting that “China-US relations should not be a zero-sum game in which one side out-competes or thrives at the expense of the other.”
Both sides spoke frankly about their major differences and challenges in the hope of “controlling competition” in China-US relations, which is very necessary to avoid conflict in the future. Biden also frankly said that the US and China will continue to compete fiercely, while reiterating that such competition should not turn into conflict. It is obvious that, in the future, the competition between China and the US will be normalized. In the short term or during a visit, this will not and cannot solve the deep-seated and structural problems between China and the US.
However, we should also note that, during the Bali meeting, the US reiterated its “one China” policy. The US understands that, if it does not support this policy, it will lead to tension. The meeting was held after then-House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan caused tension in China-US relations. But Biden’s reiteration of the one China policy was of great significance and will promote more bilateral talks between China and the US.
China and Russia took a clear stand against the continued expansion of NATO and called on it to abandon the ideology of the Cold War
The management, control and resolution of China-US differences is a step-by-step process, and each small step is the preparation for each big step. Therefore, the Bali meeting not only cleared the red line for both sides to avoid any further deterioration of China-US relations. China naturally does not want its relationship with Washington to deteriorate and the US is not only willing to meet and talk, but is also willing to find a common bottom line for the bilateral relationship. This means that the two countries have actually reached a tacit understanding and consensus, or have found a bottom line — that is, no matter how the China and US compete, or even confront, it cannot eventually lead to conflict. We still need to take a more long-term and systematic view of this meeting.
On the other hand, if the strategic game between China and the US continues, the latter will not give up the “Taiwan card” as a tool to contain China, nor will it give up its scientific and technological blockade against China. As long as Taiwan does not move toward or declare independence in any form, there will be peace on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
Meanwhile, China is working on elevating its armed forces to world-class standards in order to safeguard the country’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity, to provide strategic support for the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, and to make even greater contributions to world peace and development. China’s development of large ocean-going ships, including aircraft carriers, is based on its own need to build a navy moving toward the middle and far seas, so as to safeguard the maritime rights and interests of the surrounding areas and the maritime traffic lanes of the 21st century. China has no intention or need to engage in an arms race at sea with other countries.
A US aircraft carrier battle group last year entered the waters around the South China Sea, which aroused great concern in the international community. However, one reality is that the US is now in the stage of military surplus and is seeking to use that surplus strength. As a developing country with limited resources, China must not fall into the trap of launching an arms race around the South China Sea, because such a cat and mouse game would consume a large amount of China’s military resources.
On the issue of military bases, China’s first overseas military base is in Djibouti, which is an Arab country and a traditional friend. To be precise, the Djibouti military base should be called an overseas support base. The main task of this base is to provide China with escort operations in the Gulf of Aden and Somali waters, as well as logistical support for international peacekeeping forces in Africa.
As for whether China will establish more overseas military bases in the future, first of all, it depends on whether China has relevant needs in implementing the tasks entrusted to it by the UN. Secondly, whether it is possible to establish a military base in a certain country depends on whether that country agrees. Objectively speaking, the Chinese military will not establish Western-style overseas military bases, but it does not exclude the establishment of a number of overseas strategic support points in accordance with international practices.
As China’s national strength continues to grow, more and more countries hope that Beijing will undertake international obligations such as overseas humanitarian assistance and anti-piracy missions. Therefore, on the basis of equality, mutual benefit and friendly negotiation, it is also reasonable for China to establish a relative overseas strategic fulcrum in a country to supply overseas ships and aircraft.
In terms of relations with Moscow, the Chinese and Russian air forces hold annual joint aerial strategic patrols, but the military aircraft of the two countries strictly comply with the relevant provisions of international law and do not enter the airspace of other countries during these flights. The joint patrols carried out by the Chinese and Russian militaries, aiming to further develop the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation, improve the level of strategic cooperation and joint action capabilities of both sides. This action is within the annual cooperation plan between the Chinese and Russian militaries and is not aimed at a third party.
China has always adhered to the principle of “non-alignment, non-confrontation and non-targeting of any third party” in its relations with Russia, aiming to weaken and attack the so-called China-Russia axis theories in the West.
However, China and Russia took a clear stand against the continued expansion of NATO and called on it to abandon the ideology of the Cold War.
The Chinese and Russian heads of state have said there is no upper limit for bilateral cooperation, which means there is no upper limit to their efforts to strive for peace, maintain security and oppose hegemony. The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has not changed the nature of the China-Russia strategic partnership of coordination. At the same time, China has always stood on the peaceful side and opposed unilateral sanctions. This is the major premise for understanding the current and future stages of China-Russia joint action in any form.
Although China and Russia have different power models and influence roles in resolving regional and global crises, they must also coordinate their positions and cooperate closely. Therefore, non-alignment does not mean that there is no consensus or close cooperation on relevant issues. On the contrary, China and Russia actively discuss the coordination of their positions in dealing with the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and the world situation, expand cooperation between the two countries in various fields, seek reasonable solutions to the surrounding countries represented by Japan, and give appropriate deterrence and response to countries trying to impose unilateral sanctions.
For China, the path of promoting peace, opposing sanctions and strengthening cooperation is not an alliance road, but a pragmatic way to maximize the protection of national interests, maintain a neutral image and fulfill the responsibilities of a major country.
China and Russia have maintained high-level exchanges and deepened their comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination. Their economies are highly complementary, so the two sides are steadily promoting cooperation projects in key areas, constantly improving the level of economic and trade cooperation, optimizing the customs clearance process at ports, and jointly maintaining the stability and smoothness of the industrial supply chain.
China is also dedicated to promoting a human community with a shared future and will continue to promote the high-quality development of the Belt and Road Initiative.
- Wang Guangda is Executive Director of the China-Arab Research Center on Reform and Development and a professor at Shanghai International Studies University.
This article first appeared in Asharq. It is part of a series titled “2023: A year of difficult questions.”