December 14, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 9086

Top CCP Foreign Policy Scholar Yan Xuetong: Engaging In Ideological Disputes With The U.S. Will Bring A New Cold War – Which Will Endanger China's National Rejuvenation And Lead To Its Premature Death

December 14, 2020
China | Special Dispatch No. 9086

A top Chinese Communist Party (CCP) foreign policy scholar is reinforcing the CCP's call for de-escalating "ideological" disputes. On October 7, 2020, Yan Xuetong, distinguished professor and Dean of the Institute of International Relations at Tsinghua University, published his commentary "Why And How To Prevent Sino-U.S. Ideological Disputes From Intensifying" on the website of Tsinghua University's School of Social Sciences. The commentary supports the official CCP policy of refraining from engaging in ideological battles and from exporting political systems abroad.

In his commentary, Yan explained that refraining from engaging in ideological disputes has become a major strategic principle of the Chinese government. One of the main reasons of this strategy, he wrote, is to avoid falling into a new Cold War and proxy wars: "If a new Cold War is to be fought, a large number of proxy wars will have to be fought, which will not only bring great difficulties to the national rejuvenation of our country, but will even risk its premature death. Keeping China-U.S. strategic competition outside the ideological realm will help prevent China-U.S. proxy wars triggered by ideological disputes."

It is worth noting that three years ago, on December 1, 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping had said that the CCP would neither import foreign models of development nor export the Chinese model: "We will not ask other countries to copy the Chinese practice."[1]

The following is a translation of Yan's commentary:[2]

Yan Xuetong (Source: Li Hao/GT)

The Strategic Significance Of Preventing Intensification Of China-U.S. Ideological Disputes

"In a speech delivered on July 23, 2020, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared the Trump administration's policy of forming an ideologically based anti-China coalition. The following day, the Chinese government expressed its position of not engaging in ideological disputes with the U.S.: 'Recently, some anti-Chinese forces on the U.S. side have gone so far as to deliberately create ideological confrontation... China still hopes to achieve a relationship of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation with the U.S.... China will not dance to the tune of the U.S. side, nor will allow the U.S. side to cause mischief." Here, it is worth discussing the strategic significance of preventing the intensification of the China-U.S. ideological disputes, as well as specific measures of prevention."

Refraining From Engaging In Ideological Disputes Has, For Beijing, Become A Major Strategic Principle

"The rise of China objectively creates a structural contradiction with the U.S.'s strategic goal to maintain its hegemonic position, making strategic China-U.S. competition inevitable. However, the question of where to compete and where not to compete has become one of strategic choice. Competition in the fields of science and technology, economy, military, diplomacy, education, etc. is crucial to the success or failure of national rejuvenation, so competition in these fields is necessary. In contrast, engaging in ideological disputes is not beneficial to the national rejuvenation of our country; therefore, since our country's reform and opening up in the 1980s, refraining from engaging in ideological disputes has become a major strategic principle for our government. Its strategic significance is multiple."

"We Will Not 'Import' Foreign Models Or 'Export' The Chinese Model"

"First, [this approach] maintains an international environment that is beneficial to national rejuvenation in the long term. In 1981, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China issued the 'Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of the Party since the Founding of the People's Republic of China,' summarizing the historical experience and lessons learned since the founding of the new China, of which the most important diplomatic experience and lesson is that we cannot engage in ideological disputes with other countries. The resolution points out: 'The path of revolution and the path of development suitable to the characteristics of a country can only be found, created, and decided by its own people, and no one has the right to impose their own views on others. Only in this way can we have true internationalism – otherwise there will only be hegemonism. In our future international dealings, we will always adhere to such a principled position.'

"Following the principle of refraining from engaging in disputes over the proper path to take has bought our country more than 30 years of strategic opportunity for peaceful construction. This principle was concretized in 2017 – that is, 'We will not 'import' foreign models or 'export' the Chinese model, and we will not ask other countries to 'copy' the Chinese way.'"

"China's Adherence To The Stance Of Refraining From Engaging In Ideological Disputes Led To The Restoration Of Relations With The West In 1993"

"Second, it reduces political obstacles to international cooperation. The rationale behind the principle of refraining from engaging in ideological disputes is avoiding political obstacles to international cooperation caused by ideological disputes; doing so can in turn provide a long-term strategic opportunity for China's rise. For example, in 1989, Western countries, led by the U.S., imposed collective sanctions on China for ideological reasons. In response, Comrade Deng Xiaoping met with former U.S. President Richard Nixon and told him, 'Relations between countries should be considered mainly in the light of a particular country's own strategic interests. The focus should be on its own long-term strategic interests, while also respecting the interests of other countries, without haggling over historical grudges, or differences in social systems and ideologies.' Our country's adherence to the stance of not engaging in ideological disputes led to the restoration of relations with the West in 1993.""

"Refraining From Engaging In Ideological Disputes... [Means That Our] Cooperation With Any Country Will Not Change If The Other Country's Political System Or Ideology Does"

"Third, it enhances international strategic credibility and maintains the stability of strategic relations. Refraining from engaging in ideological disputes also means that our country's basic position on cooperation with any country will not change if the other country's political system or ideology does. Maintaining policy continuity can enhance our international strategic credibility and thus keep cooperation moving forward.

"For example, in the late 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev, secretary-general of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, introduced the 'new liberal thinking' and submitted the economy to shock therapy-style reforms. This was different from the direction of our country's socialist reform. In this regard, Comrade Deng Xiaoping said: 'No matter how the Soviet Union changes, we should develop relations with it calmly, on the basis of the five principles of peaceful coexistence, including political relations, without engaging in ideological disputes.'

"In 1991, Russia took the place of the dissolved Soviet Union, and the first Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, changed the Soviet political system. In response, China continued to adhere to the principle of no ideological disputes, facilitating Yeltsin's four visits to China during his term in office. This not only preserved the strategic cooperation between the two countries, but also led to the joint formation in 1996 of the 'Shanghai Five' meeting mechanism, which evolved into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in 2001."

The Chinese Government Is Well Aware Of The Danger Of Ideological Confrontation Leading To A New Cold War

"Fourth, it guards against falling into a new Cold War and proxy wars. The U.S.-U.S.S.R. Cold War was characterized primarily by proxy wars between the two sides in order to promote regimes in third countries that shared their ideologies. The Chinese government is well aware of the danger of ideological confrontation leading to a new Cold War; it stated: 'A few days ago, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a speech in an attempt to rekindle ideological rivalry and lead the world into a new Cold War.'

"The Cold War was not 'neither war nor peace,' but a specific form of warfare, namely proxy war. Fighting a new Cold War is to be fought will necessitate fighting a large number of proxy wars; this will not only bring great difficulties for the national rejuvenation of our country, but will even risk its premature death. Keeping China-U.S. strategic competition outside the ideological realm will help prevent China-U.S. proxy wars triggered by ideological disputes."

The U.S. Is Deliberately Stirring Up Ideological Disputes

"The Chinese government has clarified to the international community its position – [that is,] that the U.S. is 'deliberately stirring up ideological confrontation... and the Chinese side will not be sidetracked by a small number of anti-China forces in the U.S.' When we translate this position into concrete policies and actions, we will be able to reduce, by at least half, the effectiveness of the U.S. strategy of provoking ideological confrontation. Since the U.S. is deliberately stirring up ideological disputes, we can only rely on our country's unilateral action to guard against the danger of ideological disputes leading to a new Cold War."

China Should Not Give The U.S. An Excuse To Form An Anti-China Coalition On An Ideological Pretext

"First, we will not engage in ideological disputes with any country. At present, there are over 200 political entities in the world, but very few of them share our ideology and political system. Under such circumstances, avoiding ideological disputes with all countries will do more good than harm to our country. Since the U.S. is deliberately stirring up ideological disputes, it is bound to point fingers at our country's internal affairs.

"Given the large number of countries in the world whose ideologies and political systems are similar to those of the U.S., our country should remain committed to its current practice of not taking the bait, not being sidetracked, and not dancing to the U.S. tune, so as to avoid giving the U.S. an excuse to form an anti-China coalition on an ideological pretext. In the event of ideological conflicts with other countries, our country should adopt an accommodating strategy and take the initiative to play down differences and conflicts."

"Since The U.S. Cannot Change Our Country, We Need Not Fear Ideological Attacks From It"

"Second, [we will] not criticize the ideologies and political systems of other countries. In response to the ideological differences between China and the Soviet Union, Comrade Deng Xiaoping's instructions were: 'Do not criticize or accuse others arbitrarily, and don't go too far in speech or action.' This experience applies equally to all countries engaged in ideological disputes with our country. In response to the U.S.'s ideological provocations, the Chinese government responded: 'It is not necessary or possible for one party to change the other; both should respect the autonomous choices made by the people of the other country.' Since the U.S. cannot change our country, we need not fear ideological attacks from it; since our country has no intention of changing the U.S., we need not criticize its human rights situation or domestic policies. The same approach can be taken with other countries with which our country has ideological differences. When one party does not engage in the dispute, it achieves the result that the other party fails to achieve by fighting."

Our "Propaganda Work Directed At The Outside World Refrains From Comparing The Merits Of Our Political System With Those Of Other Countries"

"Third, [our] propaganda work directed at the outside world refrains from comparing the merits of our political system with that of other countries. Our country has always maintained that 'all countries and peoples should enjoy common dignity. We should insist on the equality of all countries, regardless of their size, strength or weakness, wealth or poverty, respect the right of peoples to choose their own path of development, oppose interference in the internal affairs of other countries, and uphold international fairness and justice. "Only the wearer knows whether or not the shoes fit." As for a [particular] developmental path's suitability for a particular country, the people of that country have the last say in the matter.' Given that our country's economic recovery and pandemic prevention are in better shape than those of other countries, refraining from a making a horizontal comparison of the effects of different political systems is all the more important.

"Not only does such a posture reflect our country's respect for the autonomy of the people of other countries to choose their own political systems – it also avoids arousing the antipathy of the people whose country is the object of the comparison. In order to strengthen friendly relations between our country and other countries, the relevant departments must be aware of the importance of respecting other countries' different political systems and of containing the arrogance that might belittle those political systems."

To Avoid Ideological Differences Affecting Our Foreign Relations, The Relevant Departments Should Strictly Implement The Principle Of Not Engaging In Ideological Disputes

"Fourth, we should advocate the peaceful coexistence of different political systems, and refrain from engaging in ideological disputes in the realm of public opinion. Our country's 2011 White Paper on 'China's Peaceful Development' states that China will 'vigorously promote dialogue and exchange among civilizations and eliminate ideological prejudices and barriers, so as to make human society more harmonious and peaceful and the world more diverse.' Humans entertain a wide variety of ideas, and it is impossible to eliminate ideological differences between countries. Therefore, in order to prevent ideological differences from impacting our foreign relations, the relevant departments should strictly implement the principle of refraining from engaging in ideological disputes, and should build institutional self-confidence based on the principle that our system is best suited to our country.

"In 2011, Hu Jintao, then-secretary general of the CCP Central Committee, pointed out that 'the socialist system with Chinese characteristics is the fundamental institutional guarantee for the development and progress of contemporary China. It embodies the characteristics and advantages of socialism with Chinese characteristics in a concentrated fashion.' In other words, we firmly believe that China's system can bring progress to China, but we do not assume that all foreign systems are inferior to China's. In order to enhance our country's friendly relations with other countries, we must take care to respect other countries' different political systems and restrain the arrogant mind-set that might belittle them. Our tradition of cultural self-confidence teaches us to 'refrain from rejecting those who come from outside, and from attempting to teach them our ways' – meaning that we do not take the initiative to export our ideology or political system, but at the same time do not hide it from those who wish to emulate it.

"By resolutely implementing the Party Central Committee's policy of refraining from engaging in ideological battles and not exporting political systems, the government departments will be able to demonstrate that our country's position on ideological disputes differs from the hegemony of the U.S. – while at the same time effectively avoiding a new Cold War."


[1], December 1, 2017.

[2], October 7, 2020.

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