Illustration: Liu Rui
If there is any change in China’s diplomacy in the new era, the answer would be China has switched on equal diplomacy, Zhang Weiwei, director of the China Institute of Fudan University in Shanghai, said in a recent TV show.
He further explained that equal diplomacy means China is turning from defensive to offensive, noting it is about time to set some rules for hegemons, such as the US, and the latter should learn to get used to it.
The US has been too arrogant. If its diplomacy needs a definition, numerous terms can be tossed out – hegemonic diplomacy, interfering diplomacy, lecturing diplomacy and condescending diplomacy. Amid rounds of diplomatic attacks by the US and its allies, China used to explain to and communicate with the Western world in an earnest and patient manner. Unfortunately, the US does not understand such language. If the law of the jungle is the only principle Washington recognizes, and if the US would only listen to a country with enough deterrent force, the best way to deal with it is treating it on an equal level. The time of US interfering in China’s domestic issues at will has gone.
Equal diplomacy means that China is dauntless confronting economic sanctions, political coercion, and military threats, and is confident in fighting back resolutely. It means China will be more proactive in promoting China’s proposals, giving full play to its responsibilities as a great power and opposing hegemony.
According to Zhang, several moves of China after the Alaska talks can be viewed as the shift in the country’s diplomacy: Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov; Wang’s trip to six Middle East countries; the signing of a 25-year agreement to enhance comprehensive cooperation with Iran; and Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe’s remarks that “The Chinese military will never allow history to repeat itself as China is capable and determined to defend its national interests” on March 26 during his visit to the site of the Chinese embassy in the former Yugoslavia, in Belgrade. Those are clear diplomatic signals, Zhang noted, “If the US keeps treating China in an overbearing way, China won’t buy it.”
China’s confidence to adopt equal diplomacy stems from its growing strength. Granted, there is still a gap in the overall strength between China and the US, yet it is narrowing. The COVID-19 epidemic has proved China’s potential. The country has demonstrated tremendous resilience under pressure when Western countries gang up against China on the economy, high-technology, tariffs and ideology.
As the US keeps sending its warships to the South China Sea under the name of so-called freedom of navigation, China now is also sending its aircraft carrier to the same waters, protecting its national interests.
Yet the US portrays it as “intimidating” the region. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian asked on April 8, “Have Chinese warships gone to the Gulf of Mexico to flex muscles?”
The US government is the least qualified to accuse China’s diplomacy as “aggressive,” as China did nothing similar to what the US has done – calling other countries “evil” at its pleasure, forcibly promoting American-style democracy on other’s soil, and launching wars across the globe.
When then British lord George Macartney led a mission over 200 years ago to Emperor Qianlong (1711-99) of the Qing Dynasty, China missed the opportunity to keep up with the times due to its arrogance. Now, it is time for the US to drop its sense of superiority to keep up with the new era – an era of equal-footing diplomatic engagement with other countries.