Recent Chinese foreign policy makers may be seen to adhere to the realist rather than the liberal school of international relations theory. Thus, in sharp contrast to the former Soviet Union and the United States, China has not been devoted to advancing any higher international ideological interests such as world communism or world democracy since the Cold War; that is, ideology has been secondary to advancing its national interest.
In much of the 20th century, Chinese foreign policy was based on a sense of victimhood (of centuries-long Western and Japanese colonialism) and a determination to fight back against its perceived past humiliations.
People's Republic of China maintains the completeness of sovereignty, so the Beijing government does not allow any diplomatic partner state to make official diplomatic relationship with Taiwan (Republic of China), Government of Tibet in Exile or East Turkistan (Xinjiang) Independence Movement groups.
Unlike most other nations, much of Chinese foreign policy is formulated in think tanks sponsored and supervised by, but formally outside of the government. One distinctive aspect of Sino-American relations is that much of the foreign policy discussion takes place between interlocutors who form the think tanks. Because these discussions are unofficial, they are generally more free and less restricted than discussions between government officials. China is also distinctive for having a separate body of Chinese strategic thought and theory of international relations which is distinct from Western theory.
Since its establishment, the People's Republic of China has worked vigorously to win international support for its position that it is the sole legitimate government of all China, including Hong Kong (Foreign relations of Hong Kong), Macau (Foreign relations of Macau), and Taiwan (Foreign relations of the Republic of China). Until the early 1970s, the Republic of China government in Taipei was recognized diplomatically by most world powers and the UN. After the Beijing government assumed the China seat in the United Nations in 1971 (and the ROC government was expelled) and became increasingly more significant as a global player, most nations switched diplomatic relations from the Republic of China to the People's Republic of China. Japan established diplomatic relations with China in 1972, following the Joint Communique of the Government of Japan and the Government of the People's Republic of China, and the United States did so in 1972. The number of countries that have established diplomatic relations with Beijing has risen to 167, while 25 maintain diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (or Taiwan). (See also: Political status of Taiwan)
Both the PRC and ROC make it a prerequisite for diplomatic relations that a country does not recognize and conduct any official relations with the other party.
After its founding, China's foreign policy initially focused on its solidarity with the Soviet Union, the Eastern Bloc nations, and other communist countries, sealed with, among other agreements, the China-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assistance signed in 1950 to oppose China's chief antagonists, the West and in particular the United States. The 1950–53 Korean War waged by China and its North Korea ally against the United States, South Korea, and United Nations (UN) forces has long been a reason for bitter feelings. After the conclusion of the Korean conflict, China sought to balance its identification as a member of the Soviet bloc by establishing friendly relations with Pakistan and other Third World countries, particularly in Southeast Asia.
By the late 1950s, relations between China and the Soviet Union had become so divisive that in 1960 the Soviets unilaterally withdrew their advisers from China. The two then began to vie for allegiances among the developing world nations, for China saw itself as a natural champion through its role in the Non-Aligned Movement and its numerous bilateral and bi-party ties. In the 1960s, Beijing competed with Moscow for political influence among communist parties and in the developing world generally. In 1962, China had a brief war with India over a border dispute. By 1969 relations with Moscow were so tense that fighting erupted along their common border. Following the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and clashes in 1969 on the Sino-Soviet border, Chinese competition with the Soviet Union increasingly reflected concern over China's own strategic position. China then lessened its anti-Western rhetoric and began developing formal diplomatic relations with West European nations.
Around the same time, in 1971, that Beijing succeeded in gaining China's seat in the UN (thus ousting the Republic of China on Taiwan), relations with the United States began to thaw. In 1972 President Richard M. Nixon visited China. Formal diplomatic relations were established in 1978, and the two nations have experienced more than a quarter century of varying degrees of amiable or wary relations over such contentious issues as Taiwan, trade balances, intellectual property rights, nuclear proliferation, and human rights.
In late 1978, the Chinese also became concerned over Vietnam's efforts to establish open control over Laos and Cambodia. In response to the Soviet-backed Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, China fought a war with Vietnam (February-March 1979).
Chinese anxiety about Soviet strategic advances was heightened following the Soviet Union's December 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. Sharp differences between China and the Soviet Union persisted over Soviet support for Vietnam's continued occupation of Cambodia, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and Soviet troops along the Sino-Soviet border and in Mongolia--the so-called "three obstacles" to improved Sino-Soviet relations.
In the 1970s and 1980s China sought to create a secure regional and global environment for itself and to foster good relations with countries that could aid its economic development. To this end, China looked to the West for assistance with its modernization drive and for help in countering Soviet expansionism, which it characterized as the greatest threat to its national security and to world peace.
China maintained its consistent opposition to "superpower hegemonism," focusing almost exclusively on the expansionist actions of the Soviet Union and Soviet proxies such as Vietnam and Cuba, but it also placed growing emphasis on a foreign policy independent of both the U.S. and the Soviet Union. While improving ties with the West, China continued to closely follow the political and economic positions of the Third World Non-Aligned Movement, although China was not a formal member.
In the immediate aftermath of Tiananmen crackdown in June 1989, many countries reduced their diplomatic contacts with China as well as their economic assistance programs. In response, China worked vigorously to expand its relations with foreign countries, and by late 1990, had reestablished normal relations with almost all nations. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in late 1991, China also opened diplomatic relations with the republics of the former Soviet Union.
In recent years, China's leaders have been regular travelers to all parts of the globe, and it has sought a higher profile in the UN through its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and other multilateral organizations.
Closer to home China has made efforts to reduce tensions in Asia; its relations with its Asian neighbors have become stable during the last decades of the twentieth century. It has contributed to stability on the Korean Peninsula, cultivated a more cooperative relationship with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) (Brunei, Myanmar, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam), and participated in the ASEAN Regional Forum. In 1997, the ASEAN member nations and the People's Republic of China, South Korea and Japan agreed to hold yearly talks to further strengthen regional cooperation, the ASEAN Plus Three meetings. In 2005 the "ASEAN Plus Three" countries together with India, Australia and New Zealand held the inaugural East Asia Summit (EAS). Relations have improved with Vietnam since a border war was fought with one-time close ally Vietnam in 1979. A territorial dispute with its Southeast Asian neighbors over islands in the South China Sea remains unresolved, as does another dispute in the East China Sea with Japan.
China has improved ties with Russia. President Putin and President Jiang, in large part to serve as a counterbalance to the United States, signed a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in July 2001.The two also joined with the Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan to found the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in June 2001. The SCO is designed to promote regional stability and cooperate to combat terrorism in the region.
Relations with India have also improved considerably. After years of competition, general distrust between the two (mostly over China's close relationship with Pakistan and India's with the former Soviet Union) and a border war, relations in the twenty-first century between the world's two most populous states have never been more harmonious, as they have started to collaborate in several economic and strategic areas. Both countries have doubled their economic trade in the past few years and China is expected to become India's largest trading partner by 2008. The two countries are planning to host joint naval exercises. In 2003, China and India held negotiations for the first time since the Sino-Indian War of 1962 on a major border dispute: however, the dispute over Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh is not settled, and plagues Sino-India relations. While New Delhi has raised objections to Chinese military-aid to arch-rival Pakistan and neighboring Bangladesh, Beijing similarly objects to India's growing military collaboration with Japan, Australia and the United States.
China has border and maritime disputes, including with Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin and with Japan. Beijing has resolved many of these disputes. Notably on July 21 2008 it finally resolved the last remaining border dispute it had with Russia with Russia ceding a small amount of territory to China. There is now no border dispute between Russia and China along their 4300 km border. China also reached a 2000 agreement with Vietnam to resolve some differences over their maritime border, though disagreements remain over some islands in the South China Sea.
During the late 1990s and early 21st century, Chinese foreign policy appeared to be focused on improving relations with Russia and Europe to counterbalance the United States. This strategy was based on the premise that the United States was a hyperpower whose influence could be checked through alliances with other powers, such as Russia or the European Union. This assessment of United States power was reconsidered after the United States intervention in Kosovo, and as the 20th century drew to a close, the discussion among thinktanks in China involved how to reorient Chinese foreign policy in a unipolar world. This discussion also occurred in the context of China's new security concept, which argued that the post-Cold War era required nations to move away from thinking in terms of alliances and power blocs and toward thinking in terms of economic and diplomatic cooperation.
China had long been a close ally of North Korea but also found a valuable trading partner in South Korea and eventually took a role in the early 2000s as a proponent of "six-party talks" (North Korea, South Korea, Russia, Japan, the United States, and China) to resolve tensions on the Korean Peninsula. China was instrumental at brokering talks with North Korea over its nuclear program, and in 2003, there was a concerted effort by China to improve relations with the ASEAN nations and form a common East Asian market. These foreign policy efforts have been part of a general foreign policy initiative known as China's peaceful rise. On November 15, 2005, Hu Jintao visited Seoul and spoke of the importance of both countries' contributions for regional peace and cooperation in economic development.
However, China's opposition to the bid of two of its important neighbors - India and Japan to become permanent members of the United Nations Security Council has proved to be an irritant in their respective relationships. Japan, with its large economic and cultural influences in Asia, is seen by China as its most formidable opponent and partner in regional diplomacy. The two sides established diplomatic relations in 1972, and Japanese investment in China was important in the early years of China's economic reforms and ever since. Having fought two wars against Japan (1894–95 and 1936–45), China's long-standing concern about the level of Japan's military strength surfaces periodically, and criticism of Japan's refusal to present a full version of the atrocities of World War II in its textbooks is a perennial issue.
At a national meeting on diplomatic work in August 2004, China's President Hu Jintao reiterated that China will continue its "independent foreign policy of peaceful development," stressing the need for a peaceful and stable international environment, especially among China's neighbors, that will foster "mutually beneficial cooperation" and "common development." This policy line has varied little in intent since the People's Republic was established in 1949, but the rhetoric has varied in its stridency to reflect periods of domestic political upheaval.
Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang made a statement about the eight-point diplomatic philosophy of the People's Republic of China:
China's fast economic growth also means that it is consuming ever more energy. China is now the second largest consumer of petroleum products in the world after the United States. China has recently been carrying out a foreign policy in trying to secure and diversify sources of its energy (oil and natural gas) supplies from around the world. The Middle Eastern region, which contains the world's largest proven oil reserve, has been the focus of that policy. Roughly half of China's imported oil comes from the Middle East.
At the same time, these energy-producing Middle Eastern nations are keen to diversify their customer base away from over dependence on the Western market (Europe and North America) as a demand source and so they have begun to look at other rapidly growing markets such as China. In addition to the deepening bilateral relationship in the trade and energy sectors, China has an expanding body of other strategic interests in the greater Middle East region. This is manifested in its security relationships with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran, which entail WMD and ballistic missile cooperation. Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Pakistan are pivotal states in the region. They are increasingly likely to view China in coming years as an alternative source of security and as a counterbalance to American power.
Israel has also provided China with military assistance, expertise and technology. According to a report from the US-China Security Review Commission, "Israel ranks second only to Russia as a weapons system provider to China and as a conduit for sophisticated military technology, followed by France and Germany." Israel was ready to sell China the Phalcon, an Israeli airborne early-warning radar system (AWACS), until the United States forced it to cancel the deal.
Since the establishment of diplomatic relations, cultural exchange has been a major component of the bilateral relations, as both sides recognise the importance of creating a strong foundation based on their ancient and rich histories. In 2007, China launched a countrywide "Festival of Culture" in Israel to mark 15 years of relations.
China's current trade volume with all South Asian nations reaches close to US$20 billion a year. Within the region, China has developed a strong relationship with Pakistan. This relationship extends beyond economic, defense, social and political spheres.
Relations stem from diplomatic overtures made between Deng Xiaoping and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto during the 1970s. More recently, China has signed several free trade agreements with Pakistan as well as several bilateral trade agreements such as the Early Harvest Agreement and the establishment of a duty free export zone in Pakistan's Northern Area's. Pakistan and China continue to remain the strongest of allies and trade and contacts have steadily increased over the years. China continues to invest heavily into Pakistan, and is providing assistance in the development of that country's 2nd major port at Gwadar as well as improving infrastructure and the development of a pipeline from the said port towards China's western regions.
China's bilateral trade with India accounts for US$13.6 billion a year, a number set to grow to US$25 billion in 2010., but its relations have been troubled because of territorial disputes and past aggression through an Indian forward policy.
Except for with India, Beijing runs trade surpluses with all other partners, including Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Fast on the heels of the U.S. offer of nuclear power plants to India, China has offered Pakistan and Bangladesh nuclear power plants of its own to meet their energy needs. Beijing also showers these nations with low-cost financial capital to help their struggling development sector. The largest beneficiaries of this economic aid are Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal, in that order.
Caribbean regional relations with People's Republic of China are mostly based on trade, credits, and investments which have increased significantly since the 1990s. For many Caribbean nations the increasing ties with China have been used as a way to decrease long time over-dependence on the United States.
Additionally, China's policy in the region was the use of "dollar diplomacy" or the attempts to switch many nations from recognizing Taiwan as an independent nation instead to the recognition of the "One China" policy in exchange for Chinese investment.
US State Department Tier rating: Tier 2 Watch List - "China failed to show evidence of increasing efforts to address transnational trafficking; while the government provides reasonable protection to internal victims of trafficking, protection for Chinese and foreign victims of transnational trafficking remain inadequate."
China holds a permanent seat, which affords it veto power, on the Security Council of the United Nations (UN). Prior to 1971, the Republic of China on Taiwan held China's UN seat, but, as of that date, the People's Republic of China successfully lobbied for Taiwan's removal from the UN and took control of the seat.
China is an active member of numerous UN system organizations, including the UN General Assembly and Security Council; Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN; UN Conference on Trade and Development; UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees; UN Industrial Development Organization; UN Institute for Training and Research; UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission; and UN Truce Supervision Organization.
China also holds memberships in the African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (dialogue partner), Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum, Bank for International Settlements, Caribbean Development Bank, Group of 77, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, International Chamber of Commerce, International Civil Aviation Organization, International Criminal Police Organization, International Development Association, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, International Finance Corporation, International Fund for Agricultural Development, International Hydrographic Organization, International Labour Organization, International Maritime Organization, International Monetary Fund, International Olympic Committee, International Organization for Migration (observer), International Organization for Standardization, International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, International Telecommunication Union, Latin American Integration Association (observer), Non-Aligned Movement (observer), Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Permanent Court of Arbitration, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Universal Postal Union, World Customs Organization, World Health Organization, World Intellectual Property Organization, World Meteorological Organization, World Tourism Organization, World Trade Organization, and Zangger Committee.
Treaties signed on behalf of China before 1949 are applicable only to the Republic of China on Taiwan. Conventions signed by Beijing include: Assistance in Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency Convention; Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention; Chemical Weapons Convention; Conventional Weapons Convention; Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident Convention; Inhumane Weapons Convention; Nuclear Dumping Convention (London Convention); Nuclear Safety Convention; Physical Protection of Nuclear Material Convention; Rights of the Child and on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography Convention (signed Optional Protocol); and Status of Refugees Convention (and the 1967 Protocol).
Treaties include the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (signed but not ratified); Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous, or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare (Geneva Protocol); Treaty on the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (Treaty of Pelindaba, signed protocols 1 and 2); Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons; Treaty on Outer Space; Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco, signed Protocol 2); Treaty on Seabed Arms Control; and Treaty on the South Pacific Nuclear-Free Zone (Treaty of Rarotonga, signed and ratified protocols 2 and 3).
China also is a party to the following international environmental conventions: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, and Whaling.