August 16, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9499

Renowned Chinese Academic Yan Xuetong: 'The Style Of China's Diplomacy Has Changed – And The West Needs To Adapt'

August 16, 2021
China | Special Dispatch No. 9499

The Ninth World Peace Forum, held July 2-4, 2021 at Tsinghua University in Beijing, had as its theme "International Security Cooperation in the Post-Pandemic Era: Upholding and Practicing Multilateralism." On the eve of the forum, Pengpai News ( conducted an exclusive interview with the renowned Chinese academic, Prof. Yan Xuetong, who is secretary-general of the World Peace Forum and dean of Tsinghua University's School of International Relations that focuses on the interaction between China and the West

In the interview, Prof. Yan stressed that "the style of China's diplomacy has changed" and that the West needs to adapt to this new style. The multilateralism that China upholds is "true multilateralism," he said, adding that when China refers to term multilateralism, it means cooperation, whereas when the U.S. refers to it, it means "to cooperate with some countries against the other group of countries or another country."[1]

Prof. Yan noted that at this time, China has a dual identity: one as a world power, and another as a developing country. "As a world power, China must bear more international responsibilities than other countries, but at the same time, because we are not the most powerful country in the world, we should bear less international responsibilities than the United States," he said.[2]

Below is the Pengpai News interview with Prof. Yan:[3]

(Source: YouTube)

'China Is Open And Inclusive'

Pengpai News: "The World Peace Forum has been held for many years. Focusing on the current one, what are your thoughts during the preparation process?"

Yan Xuetong: "The greatest value of hosting the World Peace Forum is that China provides an international-standard security forum to show the world that China is open and inclusive, so that people can realize that China's work also conforms to international standards, so that the international community has a more comprehensive understanding of China. Specifically this year, we felt that during the preparation stage, some of the guests who accepted our invitation obviously had some concerns due to their domestic factors. Through the preparation of the forum, we can sensitively feel the changes in the current international environment."

'People Increasingly Refer To China's Current Diplomatic Paradigm As Face-Up Diplomacy'

Pengpai News: "[CPC Political Bureau Central Committee member and Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs] Director Yang Jiechi emphasized when attending the Sino-U.S. High-level Strategic Dialogue in Anchorage in March this year that the United States is not qualified to talk to China from the perspective of strength.[4] More recently, China's ambassador to France Lu Shaye said that the style of China's diplomacy has changed, and the West needs to adapt to our new style. In your opinion, what changes have happened to the style or paradigm of Chinese diplomacy, and what will this change of style will bring to China?"

Yan Xuetong: "Now people increasingly refer to China's current diplomatic paradigm as 'face-up diplomacy.' We have stated that we will look at the world at eye level. When it comes to the United States, it is obvious that we want to be on an equal footing in the diplomatic field. A specific manifestation brought about by this so-called 'being on an equal footing' is: 'We will use the same kind of policies toward you that you use toward us.' When talking about the changes or adjustments that have happened to the paradigm of Chinese diplomacy, I think we can try to understand the personal statements expressed by Chinese diplomats according to the policies of the Chinese government. For example, when asked to comment on the statements made by a certain diplomat, the spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry said, 'we do not comment on the personal statements of the diplomats.' This means that personal statements expressed by Chinese diplomats do not represent our national policies.

"This is very different from the past. In the past, everything a Chinese diplomat said was interpreted by the international community as an expression of the Chinese government's policy, while today the international community does not necessarily consider everything a Chinese diplomat says as representing the Chinese government's policy, nor do the tweets and articles written by diplomats necessarily represent the Chinese government's policy. So I think we have reached a point where we need to be careful in identifying which words from the mouths of Chinese diplomats represent the position and policy of the Chinese government, and which words are their personal views and do not represent the position and policy of China. This situation may lead to increasing confusion for some time, as the international community has difficulty distinguishing between the two."

'China Has Dual Identities: One As A World Power, The Other As A Developing Country'

Pengpai News: "In China's current foreign relations, how can China strike a balance between its identities and responsibilities as both a 'great power' and the 'largest developing country'? How do we balance 'biding one's time' and 'making a difference'?'

Yan Xuetong: "Currently, China has dual identities: one as a world power, the other as a developing country. As a world power, China must bear more international responsibilities than other countries, but at the same time, because we are not the most powerful country in the world, we should bear fewer international responsibilities than the United States.

"On the other hand, as the largest developing country, China must safeguard the overall interests of the developing countries, not the specific interests of a particular developing country, because developing countries are a group, and we need to defend the interests of the group, not individual interests.

"Secondly, because China is a developing country, its foreign aid should not exceed the standard of developed countries. The standard for foreign aid set by the United Nations is that foreign aid from developed countries should account for 0.7 percent of their GDP. In reality, the vast majority of developed countries have failed to do that. China's foreign aid should not exceed 0.7 percent of its GDP under any circumstances. So to maintain a balance in our dual identities, we actually have to show very clearly what our identity is on specific issues."

'When Seeking International Support, We Should Not Make A Distinction Between Developed Countries And Developing Countries'

Pengpai News: "The Biden administration has publicly stated several times that it will not force other countries to choose sides between the United States and China. If the current trend continues, will the either-or 'dichotomy' be inevitable? How should multilateralism be practiced in such a situation?"

Yan Xuetong: "In my opinion, our present world has not fallen into 'two circles.' The American policy is not just to unite the developed or Western countries. For example, of the participants of the last G7 summits, South Africa and India were both developing countries. When seeking international support, the United States is not drawing a line between developed and developing countries. China should adopt the same kind of strategy. That is to say, when seeking international support, we should not make a distinction between developed countries and developing countries. That is also to say that we should also seek the support of the allies of the United States. We must not give up seeking their support just because they are allies of the United States, or even worse, to push them to the side of the United States.

"Now China has put forward the idea of 'true multilateralism,'[5] emphasizing the need to be open and inclusive. It remains to be seen what our specific policies will be. The problem for us now is not what to do in our propaganda, but how to implement specific policies. It's easy to put forward the concept of 'open and inclusive,' but it will take more effort to make our actions consistent with our policy declarations."

Pengpai News: "In the context of current Sino-U.S. relations, and at a time when Western media still dominate major international discourses, how do we 'strive to build a credible, lovable and respectable image of China'?"

Yan Xuetong: "The image of every country in the world is predominantly molded by the government of that country. The people also play a role in shaping the image of the country, but it is relatively secondary as the government has the greatest influence. What I am referring to is not the government's propaganda, nor the government's goals, but the government's specific policies and diplomatic behavior. The main body of the international image of every country in the world is shaped by the policies and behaviors of its own government. Your image is basically the product of your own behavior."

'To Deal With The U.S. Strategy, We Have To Reopen The Door And Allow Foreigners To Come In And Work In China'

Pengpai News: "You recently published an article in Foreign Affairs, a journal on international relations. The theme of that edition was whether China would continue to rise. The articles in that edition covered several specific issues, such as Taiwan and decoupling of the U.S. and China's economy and technology. What factors do you think will be the biggest variables affecting China's rise in the next stage?"

Yan Xuetong: "If we talk about external factors alone, I think the biggest influence factor is the current 'club strategy' adopted by the United States, because its 'club strategy' is to bond the world's strongest countries together to engage in a club-type industrial chain and supply chain, giving us serious difficulties in the international community in terms of scientific and technological cooperation and production of high-tech products. This means that external resources available to us will gradually dwindle in our core competition with the U.S. in the digital era - the competition for digital technology innovation. This will have a great impact on our development. In other words, assuming that the U.S. has access to all of the world's technology resources except those in China, and that China cannot access international technology resources outside of China, we would have to compete under unequal conditions.

"From another perspective, I think the reason why the U.S. approach is now effective is actually related to the reduction of 'bringing in' in our foreign policy. When we talked about reform and opening up in the 1980s and 1990s, we mainly focused on 'bringing in.' In the first decade of the new century, we focused on both 'bringing in' and 'going out.' Starting from 2014, we shifted our focus to 'going out.' To deal with the U.S. 'club strategy' in science and technology innovation, we need to intensify 'bringing in.' Specifically, the priority of 'bringing in' is to bring in more people. If there is no contact between people, then there is no cooperation. Our cooperation with the international community is between people, which means that foreigners must be allowed to enter China. So I think, to deal with the U.S. strategy, we have to reopen the door and allow foreigners to come in and work in China."


[1], July 5, 2021.

[3], July 3, 2021.

[5], July 5, 2021.

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