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王缉思 (进入专栏)  

Chinese views of international politics are reflected by official statements available to the general public. The “official line” of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on foreign affairs, stated by its national leaders, newspaper editorial, and government spokesmen, is generally consistent and “standard.” The general official line, however, is subject to specific interpretations and divergent deliberations, often articulated by China’s international specialists and commentators in various publications. Since the end of the Cold War, and with new international surroundings and expanding connections with the outside world, a great number of new research centers, newspapers, journals, and publications concerned with international affairs have been brought into existence. While they are all “official” in the sense of being affiliated one way or another with respective government agencies, the views they reflect are by no means unanimous.

This presentation of Chinese views is based on both the “standard” and the “divergent” levels. Although the points on the divergent level are less restricted, they rarely deviate form the standard official line, or they are made in those areas of interest where there is no clear-cut official line from which to deviate. The combination of these two levels of Chinese views can be defined as “elite views.” In addition, there are occasionally “popular views” expressed by Chinese intellectuals. One example of this is a best-selling book published in 1996 entitled China Can Say No,[2] which is emotionally nationalistic. This article will focus on the elite views but make reference to the popular views when the latter seem to be relevant to the foreign policy of China.


Chinese leaders have always looked at the world as whole and not form a partial viewpoint. What is the existing and desirable global political structure, therefore, is of great importance to the foreign policy orientation of the PRC. A key judgment in Chinese perceptions of post-Cold War international politics is that “the world is moving into multipolarization.” The prelude to the notion of “multipolarity” could be dated back to the earlier periods of the Chinese communists’ description of international structure.[3]

Even before the founding of the PRC, Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong put forward the concept of “intermediate zone” between the United States and the Soviet Union. Mao remarked in 1946 that “(t)he United States and the Soviet Union are separated by a vast zone which includes many capitalist, colonial and semi-colonial countries in Europe, Asia and Africa. Before the U.S. reactionaries have subjugated these countries, and attack on the Soviet Union is out of the question.”[4] Identifying itself with the international communist movement headed by the Soviet Union in the 1950s, the Communist Party of China nonetheless emphasized the role of the national liberation movement in the “intermediate zone,” which served as a buffer against the imperialist pressure on the socialist camp.

Also as early as the 1950s, the PRC leadership noticed the difference of position and policy between the United States on the one hand and its European allies on the other, and conceived the cleavage between them as inevitably widening. In discussing the Suez crisis in 1957, Mao Zedong noted that the United States was contending with Britain and France for domination of the large area around the Suez Canal. He observed two kinds of contradictions: first, those between the United States and British and between the United States and France and, second, those between the imperialist countries (the above three powers) and the “oppressed nations” (Egypt, Iraq, etc.). In Mao’s analysis, three kinds of forces were in conflict in the Middle East: “one, the United States, the biggest imperialist power, two, Britain and France, the second-rate imperialist powers, and three, the oppressed nations.” He concluded that Asia and Africa were “”today the main area of imperialist contention.”[5]

Events like the Suez crisis, therefore, cast a shadow on the preparedness of the intermediate capitalist powers (Britain and France) to accept their reduced world role and cooperate to some extent with the socialist countries against the biggest imperialist power, the United States.[6] Beijing saw itself as representing the interests of both the socialist countries and the oppressed nations.

How to evaluate the importance of the national liberation movement in “fighting against the imperialist bloc headed by the U.S.” became a central issue in the Sino-Soviet ideological dispute in the 1960s. The Chinese Communists held the view that national liberation revolutions in Asia, Africa, and Latin America were playing an “extremely important role” in supporting the socialist camp and safeguarding world peace. One characteristic of “Soviet revisionism,” according to the Chinese at the time, was Moscow’s downgrading of the revolutionary insurgencies and decolonization policies in the policies in the newly independent countries in these regions.[7]

In the 1970s, the Chinese leadership redefined its international strategy and its theoretical foundation. With improved relations with the United States and other Western powers, and faced with the perceived gravest security threat from the Soviet Union, Beijing formulated the “Three Worlds Theory.” This theory pointed to the Soviet Union and the United States as the First World that attempted to dominate the world. Since the two superpowers were “contending for world hegemony,” the contradiction between them was irreconcilable. The Western and Eastern European countries, Japan, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand all belonged to the Second World. These countries were “in varying degrees controlled, threatened or bullied by the one superpower or the other. ” The Third World or developing countries as a whole, according to this theory, constituted the “main force combating colonialism, imperialism, and particularly the superpowers.” The tenet of the theory was that “China forever belongs to the Third World.” The ideological rationale, known at the time as “Chairman Mao’s revolutionary line in foreign affairs,” was presented by Deng Xiaoping in a major address to the United Nations General Assembly in April 1974.[8]

During the same period, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai sanctioned China establishing closer ties with developing and developed countries of various political and ideological orientations in the interest of forming a broad international front against the “hegemonism of the two superpowers,” especially the Soviet Union. Zhou and other Chinese leaders endorsed Western European unity against superpower threats and bullying, and cultivated friendly relations with Japan. At the same time, Zhou Enlai justified China-U.S. détente by rationalizing the need for “necessary compromises between revolutionary countries and imperialist countries,” suggesting that “Soviet social imperialism” was more dangerous vis-à-vis the “decline” of U.S. power.[9] However, the Chinese media continued to play up the importance of the Third World, hailing it as “the main force” opposing superpower aggression and guaranteeing world peace, even though China’s actual policy to secure its security was mainly to practice a differentiated approach toward the superpowers.

Corresponding to the domestic reform and the movement of “emancipation of thinking,” the ideological color of China’s foreign policy, characteristic of the Mao-Zhou period, faded away in the 1980s. These trends gave impetus to the rise a more pragmatic, traditional balance-of-power approach to analyzing the international structure. “World revolution against imperialism” was no longer mentioned as a goal of China, and conscious efforts were made to avoid judging the Soviet Union in ideological terms. The discourse of “poles” in international politics (“bipolarity,” multipolarity,” “multipolarization,” etc.) thus began to be popular in the Chinese press. The officially endorsed consensus during this period was that “the trend of multipolarization has further unfolded” year after year.

In 1987, a book reflecting the view of the Chinese Foreign Ministry observed that the bipolar system had been seriously shaken. It was noted that “Japan’s mighty economic power will definitely be transformed into mighty political forces. …This is bound to weaken the two superpowers’ abilities to monopolize world affairs and … to intensify the internal economic friction and conflict of interests within the Western alliance.” Furthermore, the book saw the economic integration of Western Europe as being capable of matching the United States and Japan. Politically, Western Europe increasingly distrust the United States and would play a more important role in East-West relations. The power and influence of the Soviet Union, in turn, were diminished by its economic failure and the centrifugal force of Eastern Europe. More important, many Third World countries were more assertive in making demands for establishing a new international political and economic order.[10]

However, China’s international specialists held different views concerning what was exactly meant by multipolarization. Some argued that despite the redistribution of economic power unfavorable to the two superpowers, the US and the USSR, the world was still one of bipolarity in terms of military capabilities and security arrangements. Some others contended that no other single country or group of countries was nearly as powerful and influential as either of the superpowers, and therefore was not qualified as a “pole.” Still others discredited the notion of the Third World being an integrated “pole” in international politics considering the diversity of politics, economics and culture of Third World countries and the lack of coherent political will among them. A minority view rejected the idea of multipolarization in defense of the validity of Mao Zedong’s “Three Worlds Theory.”[11] This view contended that in spite of the popular notion of “great triangle” of China, the United States, and the Soviet Union, China was part of the Third World but not a “pole” in its own right comparable to the two “poles.”[12]

A series of similar debates continued well into the 1990s. Soon after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, it was a popular observation in China that the Cold War had reduced the two superpowers to “one dead, the other seriously wounded.” Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers[13] and other works that described the Unite States as a declining power definitely attracted more Chinese attention than their counter-arguments.[14] In Chinese analysis, notwithstanding America’s overwhelming military strength shown by the Gulf War in 1991, the fact that it had to depend on its allies for the war expenditures was a telling example that America’s economic power had been considerably debilitated. Other signs of America’s decline that the Chinese always referred to included Japan’s per capita income having surpassed that of America. A unipolar world, therefore, was not only undesirable but also impossible to most Chinese analysts.

Despite the Chinese consensus that multipolarization is the tide of the day in international politics and economics, there are different opinions with regard to whether the international structure is already multipolar today and, if not, when a multipolar world will come into being. In the early 1990s, some observers held that a multipolar structure had already become reality as the European community (or Germany), Japan, and China were respectively narrowing their power gap between them and the United States, while Russia remained a great military and geopolitical power to be reckoned with. Some others forecast a transitional period of many years to three decades before multipolarity was established. During this transitional period, they conceded, no clear-cut contour of international politics was conceived. Those who challenged this observation argued that there must some kind of structure even in a transitional period. The concept of “plurality”, some suggested, should be applied to replace “multipolarity” due to the confusion about “poles.”

Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China’s international strategy in the reform years, himself promoted the idea of multipolarization. In 1990, Deng pointed out that the old structure was undergoing changes but a new structure did not yet appear. The multipolar world structure, he remarked, be it tripolar, quadripolar, or quinquepolar, must include the Soviet Union as a pole however weakened it might become, and China should also be regarded as a pole.[15]

The perception of multipolarization is based on, and consistent with, the observed decline of the power and influence of the United States: As one leading Chinese scholar admits, “we not deny that what we mean by multipolarization in the world is the decline of the position of the United States.”[16] Many Chinese observers insist that the United States suffers from diplomatic failures, political tensions, and trade wars with other great powers in addition to the economic competitions with Japan and Europe that the United States may finally lose. The gap between its emboldened ambitions to dominate the whole world and its enfeebled capabilities will further deprive itself of the ability to keep the superpower status for very long.

However, there have also been recent Chinese observations that the political role of the United States in global affairs has not declined in measurable terms. Some commentators hold that, in contrast with the economic performances of Europe and Japan, the U.S. economy has enjoyed an obvious edge in the information revolution. In such fields as productivity, services, banking, telecommunication, and computer, the United States is retaining the status as a “super hegemon.” No other national economy in the world could possibly surpass U.S. economy in the foreseeable future.[17]

Some others note that the United States today is more assertive in intervening in regional tensions and conflicts as well as in setting rules for international security, trade and finance. As the United States will most likely remain the sole superpower for the nest one or two decades, the global political structure today should be characterized as “one superpower, several great powers.” In recent years, some argue, the United States has in fact improved its geopolitical positions in Europe and Asia, thus slowing down the pace of multipolarization and further consolidating the structure of “one superpower, several great powers.”[18] They concede that by expanding NATO and fortifying US.S-Japan security arrangements America’s leading position has been strengthened, and in the foreseeable future no other single power would obtain the capacity to challenge that position.[19] Still others, instead of flatly denying the validity of “multipolarization,” want to add three trends that they regard as also important, i.e., marketization, globalization, integration, and information interflow.[20]

Chinese analysts have expressed divergent views regarding which power or power center will pose the greatest challenge to American hegemotic potentials. The European Union, Japan, China, Russia and the developing countries as a whole are the most frequently mentioned candidates. Several Chinese scholarly discussions provide the perspective that the greatest obstacle to America’s desire to assume a leadership role in the world comes from within its own society. They argue that the only “arch enemy” of the United States is itself. In Chinese eyes, American strategic planners are also undecided about which power will become America’s major antagonist in future.

It seems that the characterization of “one superpower, several great powers” has been officially endorsed rather than rejected as contradicting to multipolarization.[21] The former may be seen as the structure today, whereas the latter is a long-term trend. Another way to defend the official line of multipolarization is to emphasize the difference of interests and policies between the United States and other great powers. It is a standard Chinese description of international affairs that more and more countries bid defiance to U.S. demands, and that contradictions among Western powers are mounting. The Chinese press repeatedly report on the common grounds between China and France, and between China and Russia, on multipolarization. Since tensions between the United States and other countries are increasingly sharpened in Chinese judgments, even the enlarging gap between the power of the United States vis-à-vis other countries would not change the general tendency.

On balance, the emphasis of Chinese official thinking about international affairs continues to be multipolarization, which is reflected in the Chinese leader Jiang Zemin’s report to the 15th National Congress of the Communist Party of China held in September 1997. According to this most authoritative report, “the trend of multipolarization has developed further globally and regionally in the political, economic, and other fields.”[22]


As to the current sources of threat to world peace and stability, Jiang Zemin reported the following to the 15th Party Congress:

(T)he Cold War mentality still exists, and hegemonism and power politics continue to be the main source of threat to world peace and stability. Expanding military blocs and strengthening military alliances will not be conducive to safeguarding peace and security. The unjust and irrational old international economic order is still harming the interests of the developing countries, and the gap between the rich and poor countries is widening. It is still serious that “human rights” and other issues are used to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. Local conflicts due to ethnic, religious and territorial factors crop up from time to time. The world is not ye tranquil.[23]

To point to “hegemonism and power politics” as the major source of threat is by no means a recent Chinese denunciation. The 1972 Shanghai Communique between the PRC and the United States stated that “neither should seek hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region and each is opposed to efforts by any other country or group of countries to establish such hegemony.”[24] The hegemony that Beijing was opposed to, in a joint effort with Washington, was clearly the Soviet Union. However, China’s reproaches on seeking world hegemony never excluded the United States, even during the most “friendly” years of the China-U.S. relationship. In Deng Xiaoping’s speech delivered to the U.N. General Assembly in 1974, the Chinese leader stated that “(t)he two superpowers, the United States and Soviet Union, are vainly seeking world hegemony. The two superpowers are the biggest international exploiters and oppressors of today. They are the source of a new world war.”[25]

In the years of reform and opening to the outside world, the Chinese moderated their attacks on the two superpowers. Beginning from the early 1980s, Beijing improved its relations with Moscow and sought a more balanced position between the two superpowers. The global contention between the United States and the Soviet Union driven by their respective hegemonic ambition, rather than the two superpowers per se, was then seen as constituting the principal source of turbulence in the world.[26] Another nuance of change was that neither the United States nor the Soviet Union was categorized as being a hegemonist power; they were instead often criticized for pursuing hegemonist policies.

“Hegemonism” has been a term not confined to the United States and the Soviet Union alone. As is stated by a Chinese author teaching at the National Defense University, “China’s opposition to hegemonism is not pointed to any specific country and is instead pointed to a certain policy. Whatever country practices hegemonism and power politics will be opposed by China.” He cites Deng Xiaoping saying in the early 1980s that China was opposed to “big hegemons” and “small hegemons” alike and would criticize all sorts of hegemonic behavior.[27] When Vietnam invaded and occupied Cambodia in the late 1970s and the early 1980s, China accused Vietnam of pursuing hegemony in Southeast Asia, and “regional hegemonism” was the word to denounce Hanoi’s ambition to dominate Indochina. Deng Xiaoping said in 1978 that “there is not only global hegemonism but also regional hegemonism in the world. In Asia, particularly in Southeast Asia, regional hegemonism exists.”[28] Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 was depicted in the same light. The most recent case in point was that when Beijing reacted angrily to India’s nuclear tests in May 1998, the Foreign Ministry spokesman condemned India as “seeking hegemony in South Asia.”[29]

However, since only the “big hegemons” would obtain the capabilities to launch a world war and have the ambition to dominate the whole world, they would pose a greater menace to general peace. In the 1970s and 1980s, “hegemonism” in China’s political vocabulary referred mainly to the behavior for militarily stronger powers to seek domination of a region or of the world. The term was connected more to international security issues than to political and economic issues.[30] The end of the Cold War has greatly reduced the chances of a global war or military conflicts between great powers. In this context, the hegemonism in the post-Cold War era is more of a political nature than a military nature. In other words, it is more threatening to the sovereignty and political stability of country than to its military security. Hegemonism in the 1990s, is defined as “a policy pursued by a few great powers to dominate and carve up the world. It is featured by relying on economic, military, and political strength to interfere in other countries’ domestic affairs, infringe on other countries’ sovereign rights, and even commit military aggression.”[31]

The disintegration of the Soviet Union eliminated the major counterweight to the power of the United States. The hegemonic ambitions of the United States in Chinese eyes, therefore, are less constrained without a major adversary. In the post-Cold War world, Chinese policy pronouncements leave little doubt that the “hegemonism and power politics” China reprimands is referred almost exclusively to the United States or the Western world it leads. As an authoritative Chinese study concludes, “in the contemporary world, the biggest representative of hegemonism and power politics is the United States.”[32] Another leading scholar, however, points out that hegemonism should be referred to a pattern of policy and behavior rather than to a specific country. “China resolutely opposes whichever global power or regional power that pursues hegemonism. But that does not mean China regards this country as its enemy. As soon as this country changes its hegemonic policy in a certain event, China will be ready to develop a friendly relationship with it”[33]

Chinese criticisms of U.S. hegemonism have varied in tone and intensity in accordance to the vacillations of bilateral China-U.S. relations. When the bilateral relationship was at its lowest ebb in the summer of 1995 after Taiwanese leader Lee Teng-hui was granted a visa to visit the United States, President Jiang Zemin issued one of the strongest statements about the dangers china was facing:

We should see soberly that in spite of the end of the Cold War the world is not in tranquility. Hegemony and power politics continue to exist. The hostile forces of the West has never for a moment given up their attempts to “Westernize” and “divide” our country. … They buttress and instigate forces for “Taiwan independence,” trying in vain to separate Taiwan from China’s territory. … In addition, some foreign forces use the issue of “human rights” and the religious issue of nationalities to exert pressure on our country and to conduct activities of penetration and subversion. We must be prepared for danger in times of peace and maintain sharp vigilance.[34]

This and similar Chinese descriptions make it clear that major external threats as seen by Beijing in the 1990s are three-fold: (1) Taiwan seeking de jure independence backed by the United States and possibly also by Japan;[35] (2) political dissension at home inspired by the United States and other Western powers, as exemplified by the Tiananmen incident in June 1989; and (3) the rise of religious forces, especially in China’s national minority areas such as Tibet and Xinjiang, that might reinforce separatist movements abetted by foreign elements. All the three dangers would be intensified if China-U.S. relations were in disarray, because a hostile United States would be the only country that could take advantage of all the three potential flashpoints and China’s expense. In contrast, during those periods when China-U.S. relations appeared less ominous or were improving, Chinese reproach of “hegemonism” and the attempts to “Westernize China” and “divide China” tended to mitigate.

The possibility of military conflict over the Taiwan Strait seems the gravest Chinese security concern in the 1990s. When U.S.-China relations deteriorated after 1989, the pro-independence movement in Taiwan stepped up its activities, which culminated in Lee Teng-hui’s visit to the United States in 1995. Many Chinese believed that Taiwan’s effort to detach itself from the mainland was encouraged by Washington as part of the American strategy to contain China. In response, Beijing make several military exercises over the Taiwan Strait in 1995 and 1996 to accentuate its determination not to allow further moves to seek Taiwan’s separation from China. On the other hand, frequent and high-level contacts with the Clinton administration since 1996 have convinced Beijing that an improved relationship with Washington may have served the purpose of checking the pro-independence elements in Taiwan.

Continued American arms sales to Taiwan constitute a related serious problem as these sales may have the effect of boosting the morale of those in Taiwan who resist the calls for negotiating with the Chinese mainland. Chinese defense planners also contend that they are therefore compelled to improve their own weaponry to keep the strategic balance over the Taiwan Strait, and China’s policies toward broader arms control issues must be made relevant to U.S. arms transfer to Taiwan. They charge that U.S. arms and technology transfers are not only booming its domestic arms industries but also serving as a tool to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs.[36]

Another Chinese security concern is exacerbated by the recent consolidation of the U.S.-Japan military alliance, which, in Chinese eyes, has serious implications for the development of the Taiwan issue. Japan’s unrepentant attitude toward its aggression and war crimes in China over fifty years agao has deepened the Chinese suspicion that Japan may become more arrogant and once again seek a hegemonic position in Asia. A U.S.-Japan alliance against China is the least development Beijing wants to see in defending itself. The Japanese statements that the scope of Japan-U.S. defense cooperation should include the Taiwan area have triggered Chinese repugnance and alert. Chinese defense planners fear that Taiwan’s separatist tendency may be encouraged by such arrangements. As Beijing sees continued Japanese assertiveness and insensitivity to Chinese feelings, it appears to be looking for a more balanced position between Tokyo and Washington by moving closer to the latter.[37]

NATO’s eastward expansion, in addition, reminds the Chinese of the weakness of Russia in its resistance to American pressures, and has complicated the strategic situations near China’s western borders. It is generally perceived in China that the enlargement of NATO and the strengthening of U.S.-Japan security alliance are two important and connected links in America’s designs to dominate the world.[38] The Chinese have taken notes that the United States is expanding its economic and political influence in Central Asia. While possibilities for Central Asian states to join NATO seem very remote, the increased American presence in this region is dubious in Chinese eyes given the vulnerabilities in some Chinese border areas where Muslim populations are dominant.

China’s perceptions of the external threats to its own security have circumscribed its deliberations of threats to global stability at large. According to Chinese interpretations of American behavior, the hegemonist strategy of the United States is designed, first of all, to “integrate the socialist countries and the whole Third World into the course of Western political and economic patterns.”[39] The Americans are carrying out more vigorously the strategy of “peaceful evolution”[40] against socialist countries by means of penetrating politically and culturally into them and applying economic sanctions against them. They have shown unprecedented enthusiasm in watching human rights records and political changes in developing countries. They impose the idea of parliamentary democracy on developing countries irrespective of their specific national conditions. In Africa, U.S. policies are intended to foster multiparty political systems to serve their own expansionist interests. In Asia and elsewhere, the United States exerts increasing pressures on the governments which do not accept American standards of human rights. It judges Asian behavior by their own human rights standards, and demand that Asian states emulate the American model of development.[41]More often than the Cold War years, the United States uses economic aid and economic sanctions as tools to interfere in developing countries’ internal political affairs. For example, the United States tries to impose the Helms-Burton Law on Latin American countries against Cuba. The Americans’ emphasis on “joint intervention” has exposed their intention of becoming an “international policeman” and controlling the Western Hemisphere.[42]

In addition, the Americans are viewed as taking advantage of regional conflicts, ethnic and religious tensions, and territorial disputes within and between developing countries that are more rampant in the post-Cold War era. They frequently send troops to the turbulent regions and use military forces to intervene in local conflicts. They resort to force to “punish” the countries they dislike and therefore create more regional tensions. In the economic realm, the United States and other Western powers force other countries to open domestic markets to them while trade protectionism is rising up in their own countries. The trade regimes and practices in favor of Western economies are discriminating many developing countries, making the disparity more acute between the rich and the poor.


Chinese perceptions of world affairs are always centered on “interstate relationships.” The importance of factors at various levels is judged by the degree of their relevance to the state and interstate relationships. In discussing the desirable international order, some Chinese analysts emphasize the necessity to make a distinction between “the new world order” advocated by American leaders like President George Bush and “the new international order” recommended by the Chinese The core difference is that “world order” connotes the relevance of domestic affairs and therefore may justify interference with other countries’ domestic affairs in establishing such an order, whereas “international order” is just the order among sovereign states.[43]

The principles in the Chinese promotion of the desirable international order include opposition to hegemonism and power politics, respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, peaceful solution to international disputes, equality among states, and non-interference in each other country’s internal affairs. It is a standard Chinese position that China itself has adhered to these principles, and thus is a major force in striving for the new international order. In an interpretive article on Deng Xiaoping’s diplomatic thinking, the Chinese author provides four reasons why a stronger China can better contribute to world peace and development: (1)China is a peaceful country, and a more developed China will add to the forces to prevent war; (2)the success of China’s reform can provide some experiences for the socialist cause in the world and the less developed countries; (3)when China becomes more powerful economically it can make larger contributions to the easing of North-South tensions; and (4)a more prosperous China will embody the advantages of the socialist system.[44]

One striking characteristic in Chinese advocacy of the new international order is its conscious identification with the Third World or the developing countries as a grouping. President Jiang Zemin stated in his 15th Party Congress report once again that “(t)he developing countries share the same fundamental goal of safeguarding their independence and developing the economy. China will, as always, join the vast number of developing countries in mutual support and close cooperation in all areas to safeguard the just rights and interests. We should further improve and develop our relations with developed countries on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.”[45]

Since the mid-1950s, and especially in China’s reform era since 1979, Chinese officials and commentators have been tirelessly exhorting the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence[46] as the most important and universally applicable principles in building a new and just international order. These principles are praised in the extreme and repeated on daily basis in China’s policy pronouncements Nonetheless, the emphasis on each of these principles shifted in different periods of Chinese foreign relations. For example, when China’s sovereignty over Taiwan or Tibet was challenged, the principle of respect for territorial integrity was stressed; when there was a danger of military conflict with the Soviet Union, the principle of using peaceful means to settle disputes was invoked. In the post-Cold War era, the principle of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs is, without any doubt, the core of the Five Principles that China is advocating.[47]

When expounding China’s notion of the new international order in 1990, the Chinese delegation to the United Nations insisted that each country should have the right to choose its own political, economic, and social systems according to its own national conditions. Since then, this insistence has been the first key element in Chinese advocacy of the new order. Later official documents added to this insistence that “no countries, particularly no great powers should interfere in other countries’ internal affairs or impose their own values, ideology, and development model on other countries.”[48] In an effort to “detail” how the new international order should be established, a book edited by the Chinese Foreign Ministry make four propositions: (1)to maintain equality between big and small countries, (2)to grant to all the countries the rights to decide on their internal affairs independently based on the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, (3)to change the unjust, unequal old international economic order and replace it with a new order based on equality and mutual benefit, and (4)to endorse a larger role of the United Nations in establishing the new order.[49]

The preoccupation with the need to fend off outside interference is consistent with China’s calls for multipolarity and criticisms of hegemonism and power politics. From the scholarly point of view, all these ideas about multipolarization, anti-hegemonism, national equality, sovereignty, independence, non-interference, no imposition of values and ideology, rights to choose the path of development, fair settlement of international disputes, etc., are largely tautological or at most overlapping in their meanings and policy implications. On the one hand, they are sincere Chinese beliefs about what should constitute the essence of international morality. The Five Principles, after all, are consistent with the existing international law. On the other hand, they are also polemics in response to the Western (mostly American) notions like globalization, America’s leadership role, interdependence between nations, the weakening of sovereignty, the information revolution that breaks down national borders, the rise of transnational corporations and non-governmental organizations, the rising consciousness of human rights, democratization, international peace-keeping or interventions in local conflicts, and so forth.

Consequently, Chinese discussions of the new international order usually do not elaborate how it can be achieved in practical terms. In making their arguments, they rarely comment on specific international or domestic conflicts in foreign countries, international arms control agreements, United Nations peacekeeping missions, trade regimes, or international financial arrangements. Still, Chinese commentators can easily find cases, such as the Helms-Burton Law and the D’Amato Law passed by U.S. Congress in 1996, to prove that many American practices are not agreeable to a just international order. To the Chinese, these laws imposed U.S. judicial powers on the international society, violated international law, and aroused enormous indignation and resistance from other countries, including some of it allies.

A noticeable change in Chinese views of world affairs is a new emphasis on economic development rather than security issues, and a more moderate attitude toward the existing international economic order as compared to a rather revolutionary stand in the 1970s when China first entered the United Nations. In viewing the current reform of the United Nations, Chinese commentators call for more attention to the need to assist the poorer countries in sustaining their economic growth and want to see less focus on regional rivalries and human rights. It is stated that “the core of establishing a new international economic order is how to narrow and gradually eliminate the gap between the North and the South.” If North-South relations are not improved, it is difficult to maintain peace and stability. The developed countries should respect and take into consideration the interests and needs of the developing countries, and should not “attach any political conditions to their aid to the recipients.”[50]


Chinese foreign policy and international behavior are, theoretically and generally, based on the Chinese elite views of international affairs. However, one should caution against the tendency to link China’s specific policies directly with its official pronouncements as discussed in this article. For example, the possible rise of a more nationalistic India and a more assertive Japan might accelerate the pace toward a multipolar world against the unipolar, U.S.-led world. In reality, however, the exhorting of multipolarity would not remove the Chinese reservations about the Indian or Japanese bid for a standing membership in the U.N. Security Council, at least not until India changes its present nuclear policy or Japan shows sincere remorse for its past aggression of China.

It may be deducted from the above presentation of Chinese views that China must regard the United States as the major source of threat to its own national security. As a matter of fact, however, Chinese official statements have consistently refrained from referring to the United States as an enemy country or the major threat. Instead, wherever applicable, “hostile forces abroad” or “hostile forces of the West” (as cited above in Jiang Zemin’s remarks in 1995) are used in the Chinese press and documents to refer to those who seek to sabotage the Chinese leadership.

The avoidance of speaking of the United States or any other country as an adversary is partly due to the increasingly sophisticated Chinese understanding, especially among the professionally trained and internationally exposed analysts, that the American polity is not a monolithic whole. There are indeed hostile forces in the United States and other countries, but it may not be intellectually accurate and politically wise to regard these countries as enemy countries.

This position is also consistent with the general foreign policy line. After all, it is not in China’s interest to antagonize the only superpower in the world. Even in the most difficult moments immediately after the Tiananmen incident in 1989, Deng Xiaoping resolutely cautioned other Chinese leaders against being agitated to antagonize the United States by trying to assume a leadership role in the Third World.[51] He argued in favor of avoiding ideological disputes and insisted that relations with the United States be developed on a steady basis. In response to the expressed anxieties about U.S. political pressures on China, Deng urged the Chinese to “observe the development soberly, meet the challenge calmly, maintain our position firmly, hide our capacities, and bide our time.”[52]

Chinese leaders insist that Deng’s call for taoguangyanghui (“hide one’s capacities and bide one’s time,” a classical Chinese proverb) should be seen as a long-term strategy rather than tactics for the short run.[53] Deng made the remarks when the Soviet Union had just collapsed and the Western world had imposed sanctions against China. China at that time certainly did not acquire the capacities to fight back against the West or project much influence abroad. However, what will China do in global and regional affairs when its international status is enhanced, economic growth sustained, military capabilities improved, and political stability ensured? Already there are talks outside of China that Chinese will become the second superpower in the next one or two decades, and many Chinese are proud to hear them. How much longer will China have to hide its capacities and bide its time before it can resist Western pressures more resolutely and pursue its international goals more vigorously?

There is no easy answer to these legitimate questions, especially because there could be alternative national goals and policy scenarios. At the popular level at least, people have asked why on earth China cannot assume a superpower position in future and become an active leader in international forces.[54] As a popular book proposes:

When our country’s comprehensive national strength is at par with that of the United States, we will not bully anybody, but nobody should expect to tell us what to do. The Americans will never again treat us the way its does to us now, because we will be fully able to deal with them as they deal with us. Just as Richard Nixon said, China can also impose economic sanctions against the United States. It can demand that Americans improve their living conditions in Detroit and the southern part of Los Angeles, otherwise China will cancel America’s Most Favored Nation status. We should strive for these days and they will surely come.[55]

Another writer provides the strategic reasoning that China should pay close attention to those countries whose interests are contradicting those of the United States, or which are potential strategic rivalries of the United States. We must understand that the enemy’s enemy is our ally. We should advice and help these countries, preventing them from being broken down one by one like the Soviet-Eastern Europe bloc. We should unite the anti-hegemony forces under the banner of opposing hegemonism. We must know that the more troubles the United States has in other parts of the world, the more difficulty it will have in concentrating its forces against China, and the more opportunities China can get to survive and develop.[56]

The book China Can Say No strongly suggests that Chinese should be prepared, and not be afraid, to wage a war to take over Taiwan, even if the United States might be involved in defending the island.[57] It further recommends that because of Japan’s (questionable) cultural affinity with China and loud voices to say “no” to the United States, China should try to form a strategic coalition with Japan against American hegemony. China should also establish a closer strategic partnership with Russia and encourage France to be more independent of the Western alliance. By working hand-in-hand with such countries as Malaysia and Singapore, China should contain U.S. hegemonism and make Asia belong to the Asians.[58]

Ideas like these are echoed in other popular publications as well. Despite their sentimental appeal, however, these publications are usually authored by people without much knowledge about international politics or the reality of China’s foreign affairs Foreign policy practitioners and professional political analysts in china do not appear to take these publications very seriously.

Some analysis of the environment in which Chinese foreign policy is made may provide a theoretical clue as to why Deng Xiaoping’s ideas are likely to guide China’s international behavior for a long time to come. Foreign policies of modern China have invariably reflecting its domestic political struggles, priorities, and fluctuations. The years after the end of the Cold War have witnessed the best international security environment for China since the Opium War one and a half centuries ago. China’s foreign policy in this period, therefore, is more prone to serve its domestic needs and readjust to its domestic changes.

China’s two top domestic priorities-maintaining political stability and sustaining economic growth – are dominating its foreign policy. In the eyes of Chinese leaders, economic reform must ba carried out by a strong political leadership, which can only be provided by the Communist Party of China. The collapse of the former Soviet Union was caused partly by economic failures and partly by the loosening of political control under Western pressures. Now a long-term challenge to the authority of the PRC leadership comes from America’s political and ideological influences that may penetrate deeply into Chinese society. In addition, Washington tries to damage Beijing’s international image by attacking China’s human rights records and use various forms of leverage to press China for political change. Out of ideological bias, U.S. media frequently demonize China and call for more efforts to make the life of the Chinese leadership more difficult. All that has convinced Chinese leaders that U.S. policy toward China is one of “Westernizing China” and “dividing China.” It is against this background that anti-hegemonism and non-interference in internal affairs have become the centerpiece of China’s foreign policy agenda and international propaganda. Naturally the Chinese are sympathetic with those countries which are under Western pressures for Western-type democracy. Hence the statement that “China will always side with the Third World.”

On the other hand, setting sustained economic growth as another top priority on China’s domestic agenda provides the necessity and rationale to hold a pragmatic attitude toward the capitalist world. To reform China’s economy along the lines of market mechanisms, integration into the world economy is a course of no return. In this sense, it would be contradictory to regard the existing international trade regimes and financial arrangements as essentially unfavorable to China and other developing countries. A manageable and steadily improving relationship with the United States and other advanced countries can provide better access to international markets, investment, high-tech know-how, and management skills. After all, Japan and the United States are the two biggest foreign economic partners of China. Their economic prosperity is, in fact, beneficial to China’s economic development. Therefore, it is in China’s long-term interest to gradually adapt to and modify, not to revolutionize, the existing international order.

As to China’s attitude toward arms control, nonproliferation, and legitimate use of force, one should bear in mind that China’s domestic agenda is also very relevant. The Taiwan problem which is seen in China as an unsettled civil conflict, looms very large in China’s calculations in international affairs. The principle of non-use of force, according to the Chinese, applies only to international disputes and should not apply to the Taiwan issue. Although the mainland hopes to see a peaceful reunification with Taiwan, it cannot make a pledge never to resort to force even if Taiwan declared independence. In addition, Beijing might have to use forceful means to crack down possible rebellions or unrest on its own territory. Thus the Chinese must be sensitive to international interventions like the peacekeeping operations here and there that may impinge upon the sovereignty of other countries.

In conclusion, Chinese perceptions of the international structure and order are largely extensions of domestic concerns. Policies based on these perceptions show a defensive posture of China in world affairs despite the much publicized nationalistic rhetoric at the popular level, which is also for domestic consumption and has not has a great impact on actual policy.


[1] 原载Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, ed., Project on Conflict or Convergence: Global Perspectives on War, Peace and International Order,为非正式出版物。1997年11月,哈佛大学亨廷顿(Samuel Huntington)教授主持召开了一个国际学术会议,要求各国学者就本国政治主流对国际冲突的看法各自撰写一篇论文。这是我对中国主流观点的评述。此后,亨廷顿将这篇论文列入其课程Global Politics in the Post-Cold War World的参考书目中。

[2] Song Qiang, Zhang Zangzang, Qiao Bian, et al., Zhongguo Keyi Shuo Bu—Lengzhan Hou Shidai de Zhengzhi yu Qinggan Xuanze [China Can Say No: Politics and Choices of Sentiment in the Post-Cold War Period], Beijing: China Industry and commerce United Press, 1996.

[3] For a discussion of the Chinese communists’ conception of world affairs from the 1940s to the 1970s, see Wang Jisi, “International Relations Theory and the Study of Chinese Foreign Policy,” in Thomas W. Robinson and David Shambaugh, eds., Chinese Foreign Policy: Theory and Practice, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994, pp.484-485.

[4] Mao Zedong, “Talk with the American correspondent Anna Louise Strong,” August 1946, Selected Works of Mao Tsetung, Volume IV, Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1975, p.99.

[5] Mao Zedong, “Talk at a conference of secretaries of provincial, municipal, and autonomous region Party committees, January 1957,” Selected Works of Mao Tsetung, Volume V, Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1977, pp. 361-362.

[6] See John Gittings, The World and China, 1922-1972, London: Eyre Methuen, 1974, pp. 212-213.

[7] See, for example, the Editorial Departments of People’s Daily and Red Flag, “The apologist for neocolonialism,” in the Propaganda Department of the Beijing Municipal Party Committee, ed., Xuexi Wenjian Huibian [A Collection of Documents to Study], Beijing: Beijing Publishing House, 1964, pp. 149-152.

[8] Speech by Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping in a special session of the U.N. General Assembly, April 10, 1974, Peking Review, April 19, 1974, pp. 6-11.

[9] For a nuanced analysis of Zhou Enlai’s foreign policy pronouncements in the mid-1970s, see Robert G. Sutter, Chinese Foreign Policy: Developments After Mao, New York: Praeger, 1986, pp. 29-43.

[10] Editorial Board of Diplomatic History, the P.R.C. Foreign Ministry: Zhoungguo Waijiao Gailan 1987 [Chinese diplomatic Survey 1987], Beijing: World Affairs Press, 1987, pp. 9-11.

[11] For the diversity of views of multipolarization, see Du Xiaoqing, “Shi Liangji haishi Duoji? [Bipolarity or multipolarity?],” Shijie Zhishi [World Affairs], No. 14, 1987, pp. 14-15; Xie Yixian, “shijie geju yu ‘liangji duoji’shuo [The world structure and the ideas of ‘bipolarity’ and ‘multipolarity’],” Shijie Zhishi [World Affairs], No. 19, 1987, pp. 16-17.

[12] Chen Zhongjing, Guoji zhanlue Wenti [International Strategic Studies], Beijing: Current Affairs Press, 1988, pp. 13-18.

[13] Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000, New York: Random House, 1987. This book was translated and published separately by two Chinese publishers in 1988.

[14] In contrast with the popularity of Paul Kennedy’s book in China, the works emphasizing America’s vitality and leadership role, such as Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power (New York: Basic Book, 1992) by Joseph S. Nye Jr., received much less publicity. Nye’s volume was translated in 1992 but circulation was limited.

[15] Deng Xiaoping Wenxuan [Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping], Beijing: the People’s Press, 1993, p. 353.

[16] Yang Jiemian, “Duojihua Beijing xia de zhongmei jianshexing zhanlue huobanguanxi [China-U.S. constructive strategic partnership against the background of multipolarization],” Guoji Wenti Luntan [International Review], No. 1, 1998, p. 11.

[17] Wang Jisi, “Gaochu bu shenghan: lengzhan hou Meiguo shijie diwei chutan [Lonely at the top: a reassessment of America’s position in the post-Cold War world],” Meiguo Yanjiu [American Studies], No. 3, 1997, pp. 1-25; Zhou Hongyang, “Chaoji daguo chengyin: fusu de meiguo jingji [The foundation of a superpower: the recovery of U.S. economy],” Zhongwai Guanli Daobao [Chinese and Foreign Management Review], No. 3, 1997, 32-35.

[18] Jiang Xiyuan, “Meiguo zai Ouya diyuan zhengzhi zhong diwei de bianhua [The change of America’s geopolitical position in Eurasia],” Guoji Wenti Luntan [International Review], No. 1, 1998, pp. 38-42.

[19] Ye Zicheng, “Tansuo mianxiang 21 shiji de Zhongguo guoji zhanlue de xin silu [Exploring new thinking in China’s international strategy facing the 21st century],” Shijie Jingji yu Zhengzhi [World Economics and Politics], No. 9, 1997, p. 68.

[20] Ye Zicheng, op. cit., p. 68.

[21] Department of Policy Research of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zhongguo Waijiao 1996 [China’s Diplomacy 1996], Beijing: Foreign Affairs Press, 1996, pp. 3-4.

[22] Jiang Zemin’s report to the 15th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, China Daily, September 23, 1997.

[23] Jiang Zemin, op. cit.

[24] DuPre Jones, ed., China: U.S. Policy Since 1945, Washington D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, 1980, p. 324.

[25] Speech by Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping to a special session of the U.N. General Assembly, April 10, 1974, Peking Review, April 19, 1974, p. 7.

[26] General Secretary Hu Yaobang’s report to the 12th Communist Party Congress, September 1, 1982, Dangyuan Bidu [Required Readings for the Communist Party member], Beijing: the People’s Press, 1983, p. 180.

[27] Gao Jindian, Deng Xiaoping Guoji Zhanlue Sixiang Yanjiu [A Study of Deng Xiaoping’s International Strategic Thinking], Beijing: National Defense University Press, 1992, p. 95.

[28] Renmin Ribao [People’s Daily], Novmber 9, 1978.

[29] Renmin Ribao [People’s Daily], May 15, 1998.

[30] See, for example, Liang Shoude, Ye Zongkui, and Feng Tejun, Dangdai Shijie Zhengzhi Jingji yu Guoji Guanxi Gailun [A General Introduction of Contemporary World Politics and Economics], Beijing: Higher Education Press, 1989, pp. 212-214, p. 347; Planning Department of the Military Academy, Zhanzheng yu Zhanlue Wenti Yanjiu [War and Strategic Studies], Beijing: Military Science Press, 1988, pp. 252-253.

[31] Gu Dexin, op. cit., p. 183.

[32] Gu Dexin, Deng Xiapping Guoji Zhanlue Sixiang Yanjiu [A Study of Deng Xiaoping’s International Strategic Thinking], Beijing: National Defense University Press, 1997, p. 193.

[33] Chen Qimao, “Daguo guanxi tiaozheng he Shijie duojihua qushi de fazhan [The adjustments in great power relations and the unfolding trend of multipolarization in the world],” Guoji Wenti Luntan [International Review], No. 1, 1998, p. 32.

[34] Jiang Zemin’s speech at a conference to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the victory of the Anti-Japanese War, August 25, 1985, Renmin Ribao [People’s Daily], August 26, 1995.

[35] Lee Teng-hui, educated in Japan and speaking perfect Japanese, allegedly has a Japanese family background. Japan’s occupation of Taiwan from 1895 to 1945 and its dubious position as of today about Taiwan’s territorial status tends to reinforce the Chinese suspicion that Japan may also see an interest in Taiwan’s separation from China.

[36] Chen Xiaogong, ed., Junbei Kongzhi yu Guoji Anquan Shouce [A Handbook for Arms Control and International Security], Beijing: World Affairs Press, 1998, p. 13.

[37] Fro Chinese views of the trilateral relationships among the United States, Japan, and Chinese, see Wang Jisi, “Building a constructive relationship,” in Japan Center for International Exchange, ed., China-Japan-U.S.: Managing the Trilateral Relationship, Tokyo: Japan Center for International Exchange, 1998, pp.21-36.

[38] Chen Qimao, op. cit., p. 27-28.

[39] Gu Dexin, op. cit., p. 186.

[40] “Peaceful evolution” is a code phrase used by the Chinese communists since the 1950s. It refers ti the plans and activities of the Western countries to change the political system, undermine the leadership, and promote capitalism in china and other socialist countries by peaceful means.

[41] Hong Guoqi and Wang Xiaode, “Kelindun Yatai zhengce shoucuo de wenhua yinsu” [The cultural factors in the frustration of Clinton’s Asia Policy], Xiandai Guoji Guanxi [Contemporary International Relations], No. 3, 1995, p. 34.

[42] Chen Darong, “Qianxi kelindun dui Lamei de waijiao zhengce” [An analysis of the Clinton administration’s policy toward Latin America], Ladingmeizhou Yanjiu [Latin American Studies].

[43] Liang Shoude and Hong Yinxian, Guoji Zhengzhixue Gailun [An Introducion to International Politics], Beijing: Zhongyang Bianyi Press, 1994, pp. 277-8.

[44] Guo Jing’an, “Zhongguo yongyuan bu chengba, yongyuan tong fazhanzhong guojia zhanzai yiqi” [China never seeks hegemony and always sides with developing countries], in Wang Taiping, op. cit., p. 277.

[45] Jiang Zemin, op. cit.

[46] The Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence are: mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence. They were first recorded in official agreements between china and India and between China and Burma in 1953-1954.

[47] An authoritative book published in 1993 argues that the principle of non-interference is “the single most important principle in contemporary international relations.” See Tian Zengpai, ed., Gaige Kaifang Yilai de Zhongguo Waijiao [Chinese Diplomacy Since the Opening and Reform], Beijing: World Affairs Press, 1993, p. 16.

[48] Wang Zhi, “Cujin heping yu fazhan shi quanshijie geguo remin de gongtong xinyuan” [Promoting peace and development is the common desire of the people of all countries in the world], in Wang Taiping, op. cit., p. 105; Liang Shoude and Hong Yinxian, op. cit., p. 282.

[49] Tian Zengpei, op. cit., pp. 636-637.

[50] Gu Dexin, op. cit., p. 116.

[51] Gao Qi, “Deng Xiaoping xin shiqi de waijiao zhanlue sixiang shulun” [A discussion of Deng Xiaoping’s diplomatic thinking in the new ear], in Wang Taiping, ed., Deng Xiaoping Waijiao Sixiang Yuanjiu Lunwenji [A Collection of Articles Studying Deng Xiaoping’s Diplomatic Thinking, Beijing: World Affairs Press, 1996, p. 47.

[52] Michael Yahude, “Deng Xiaoping: the statesman,” The China Quarterly, No. 135, Special Issue: Deng Xiaoping: An Assessment, p. 564.

[53] Qian Qichen (vice premier and foreign minister of the PRC), “Shenru xuexi Demg Xiaoping waijiao sixiang, jinyibu zuohao xin shiqi waijiao gongzuo ” [To study Deng Xiaoping’s diplomatic thinking vigorously and further improve diplomatic work in the new era], in Wang Taiping, op. cit., p. 7.

[54] Song Qiang, et al., Zhongguo Keyi Shuo Bu [China Can Say No], op. cit., p. 39.

[55] Chen Feng, ed., Zhongmei Jiaoliang Da Xiezhan [A True Account of China-U.S. Contest], Beijing: China Personnel Press, 1996, p. 661.

[56] He Xin, Zhonghua Fuxing Yu Shijie Weilai [The Rejuvenation of China and the Future of the World], Chengdu: Sichuan People’s Press, 1996, p. 41.

[57] Chen Feng, op. cit., pp. 41-42.

[58] Song Qiang, et al., pp. 61-67.

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