Editor's Note: In April 10, 2018 5PM, the China Student Development Student Think Tank (CDSTT), GWU branch, organized a discussion panel titled "Transformation of Chinese Foreign Policy From Deng Xiaoping to Xi Jinping." in cooperation with the Sigur Center for Asian Studies. The panel of invited experts including Professor David Shambaugh, Robert Sutter, and visiting scholar professor from Fudan University to express their views on the transition of China's diplomatic strategy from Deng Xiaoping to Xi Jinping during the period. There were approximately 100 audiences, including students, scholars,researchers, and governmental officials from various departments. The expectations and importance of the event were reflected in all sectors of the community.
As the first speaker of the event, Professor David Shambaugh pointed out that China was poor and isolated during the first few years of its Opening Up and Reform. As a result, China’s main diplomatic goal during Deng’s time was to establish peaceful and stable relations with its neighbors and the West. Because of this, China under Deng’s rule turned away from revolutionary internationalism and continued its policy of cooperating with the US to contain Soviet threat during the late Mao era. After the Sino-Vietnamese War, Deng tried to stabilize China’s relationship with neighboring countries and built the foundation for China’s grand strategy of the future. According to Professor Shambaugh, from 1989 to 1995, under Jiang Zemin’s leadership, China’s strategic focus was on rapprochement with the West and regional diplomacy with other Asian countries. During this period, China regained its sovereignty over Hong Kong and Macau and offered aid to its neighbors after the Asian Financial Crisis. Relations between China and the US improved significantly, until the Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1996, which would cast a shadow over Sino-American relations once again. Since then, while Jiang strengthened US-China ties through exchanging visits with Clinton, he also made significant efforts to build up China’s close relationship with Russia, which foreshadowed China and Russia’s strategic cooperation in the future. Lastly, Professor Shambaugh praised China’s grand strategy under Hu Jintao. He believes that China’s foreign policy during this period became multi-directional as China deepened its ties with Africa, Latin America, and Europe. During this period of geographical reorientation, China shifted the focus from the West to developing countries and stressed on cooperation with the Global South. At the same time, Hu specifically mentioned the concept of soft power, which was profoundly significant in a strategic sense.
After Professor Shambaugh’s systematic overview of the evolution of China’s foreign policy from Deng to Hu era, Professor Robert Sutter voiced his opinion on China’s foreign policy during Xi Jinping’s rule. As a well-known hawk on China, Professor Sutter thought that China’s “active diplomacy” is too assertive, and acts as a challenge to US influence in East Asia. According to Professor Sutter, “China Dream” is a strategy with a grand vision, but it “only serves China’s interest’” and does not address the security concerns of China’s neighbors. These countries, such as Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, India, and Australia, will deepen their ties with the United States to counter Chinese influence and protect their national interest. After rendering China’s image as an adamant power, Professor Sutter went on to discuss several obstacles to China’s efforts to expand its influence. According to Professor Sutter, first of all, China’s internal affairs can distract China from its external ambitions as China must ensure its domestic stability and economic growth, which will serve as a constraint on China’s resources for foreign matter. Second, China is much dependent on the rest of the world as it needs foreign investments, international trade and natural resources (such as oil) from abroad, so it will be unlikely for China to engage in aggressive expansion. Third, China’s strategic focus has always been on Asia and the Pacific as the amount economic and trade exchanges between China and the rest of Asia and the Pacific far exceeds that between China and other regions, thus it will be unlikely for China to flare-up conflicts in Asia and the Pacific. Lastly, Professor Sutter believes that US involvement in Asia and the Pacific is crucial to the region’s stability. Therefore, the United States will continue to take up the role as Asia and the Pacific’s leading power.
After Prof. Sutter gave his speech, Prof. Xinqiang from Fudan University shared his views on Chinese foreign policy and provided the audience with Chinese perspectives and narratives. Professor Xin Qiang approached this topic from the aspects of continuity and flexibility of China's foreign policy. Xin Qiang pointed out that although China's foreign policy has undergone a strategic transformation from "keeping a low profile" to "active diplomacy", the core values of China's diplomacy have always been consistent. First, China has always regarded the peaceful rise as its basic foreign strategy. Whether it is before or after the transition, China insists to resolve disputes by negotiation. China maintains maximum restraint and has never sought a military solution when during with disputes over the maritime territories of the Diaoyu Islands and the Meiji Reef. Second, China has always adhered to the principle of "diplomacy serves domestic economic development" and China aims to build a stable international strategic environment for its peaceful rise. Domestic economic development and people's safety and happiness in the first place are the ultimate goals of any Chinese policy. Third, China has never been a "revisionist" country that wants to challenge the world order. China insists on joining and improving international institutions and organizations including the United Nations, the World Bank, the WTO, and the G20 Summit, and it has always embraced the wave of globalization. Prof. Xin Qiang suggested that the speech of General Secretary Xi at the Boao Forum is an important manifestation of China's support for globalization in the new era and has important historical significance. After introducing the three aspects that reflect the continuity of China's foreign policy, Prof. Xin Qiang explained the three aspects of China's strategic transformation. First, China's diplomacy is becoming more proactive. China on its road to revival will become less tolerant infringements on legitimate national interests, and it is ready to use its own power to safeguard its legitimate interests. Prof. Xin Qiang pointed out that "keeping a low profile" and "making a difference" are two aspects of the same strategy. He quoted Deng Xiaoping's classic saying that "It is impossible for China to do nothing about international issues. It has to make a difference," a strategy that has not changed. On the tactical level, it has only been more focused on "keeping a low profile" but has changed to "making a difference" only until recently. Second, China's diplomatic strategy now focuses more on its relations with developing countries than before. On the basis of good relations with neighboring countries, China has sought to aid the economic development of developing countries and common progress through various means such as the “Belt and Road Initiative”. Third, China in the new era is more active in global governance. China has participated in the Gulf of Aden escort, supported the Paris Agreement, provided medical assistance to developing countries, and had become an indispensable part of the UN peacekeeping force. At the end of the speech, Prof. Xin Qiang briefly shared his visions on the future of Sino-US relations. He pointed out that it is wrong for the US to characterize China as a "revisionist" country, which is an unfounded claim based on strategic misjudgment. He divided the different natures of Sino-US relations in different periods into five basic expressions: the alliance between World War II, the cooperation between 1978 and 1989, the conflict between 1967 and 1972, the hostile relationship during the Korean War, and the current competitive relationship. Prof. Xin Qiang believed that Sino-US relations may change from the current competitive relationship to conflicts, which are detrimental to the common interests of both China and the United States. The two sides should fully realize the importance of bilateral relations in order to seek common ground while reserving differences, avoid further deterioration of bilateral relations, and jointly build a new model of major-country relations that emphasizes cooperation.
In the Q&A session, a numbers of students expressed their thoughts that are quite different with the ones of speakers. One Japanese-American student pointed out that the views of two American Professor on China were too negative, ignoring China's remarkable contribution to global governance. He asked: "In view of the fact that many of the western theories of China's coming collapse have been repeatedly proven wrong, including one written by Professor David Shambaugh in 2015, does this reflect the West's miscalculation of China for its hostility and arrogance?" "Hearing this, David Shambaugh said:" I do not agree with you on the characterization of our views, in fact, I have spoken highly of China and Xi Jinping's contribution to global governance and I believe the Belt and Road is an unprecedented initiative. Then David Shambaugh solemnly states, “The Wall Street Journal article’s title was not made by me, it was made by a newspaper editor. I do not agree with the title and the title does not reflect the content. I do not want China to collapse, nor do I think China will collapse. A Chinese student asked, "I've noticed that the two American professors are critical of China's ‘tough’ policies, and is this just because the West wants to see a China with weak leaders?" If China is too ‘tough’ to defend its national interests, what should China do? "David Shambaugh pointed out that he and Sutter disagree on this issue." David Shambaugh stressed that the United States wants China to participate actively in global governance and establish good bilateral relations with other countries. Unlike Sutter, who is described by many as being a foreign policy hawk, David Shambaugh said: "I will give Xi Jinping a high score on foreign policy. Yang Jiechi, Wang Yi and Wang Huning have also made very positive contributions to China's foreign policy, which I think is very good." Sutter insisted that China's behavior is too" tough "and that the US needs a tough response. Finally, a Chinese-American student asked, "Professor Sutter thinks China's neighboring countries are very worried about China's rise, but now I don't think South-East Asian countries are reacting that way." The Philippines has a very good relationship with China under Duterte, and the relationship between Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia is very close to China. Does this mean that there is a trend in the Asia-Pacific region where developed countries stand on the side of the United States or the side of China? "David Shambaugh and Sutter have once again disagreed on this issue. David Shambaugh admits that China now has a good relationship with some southeast Asian countries. Saying that China's aggression, or the fact that China is a "revisionist country", is a lack of evidence. Sutter insisted that neighboring countries, including Southeast Asian countries, have strong national security concerns about China's rise.
As the first large-scale academic lecture held by CDSTT George Washington University, this event is not only a good communication platform for experts, scholars, and young talents, but also serves as a networking event that connects vast numbers of students with academics and professionals. We are willing to host more thoughtful academic activities and exchange platforms in the future. CDSTT desires to provide a global perspective and tell a good story about China.