On June 28, 2023, at the third meeting of the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress — the country’s top legislature — adopted “The Law on Foreign Relations of the People’s Republic of China”. Dubbed the country’s “first comprehensive foreign relations law”, the law was enacted on July 1st and would provide a framework for setting and achieving China’s foreign policy objectives in the years and decades to come.
In Article 1, the law provides general principles of Chinese foreign policy, which include among others the signature goals of Chinese President Xi Jinping: building China into a “modernized” country; realizing the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”.
Article 3 of the law outlines the guiding philosophies for China’s foreign policy. In addition to the philosophies of Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong, and Deng Xiaoping, President Xi also features in the list for his “Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”, which is reflective of President Xi’s distinguished status among the Chinese leadership. It is worth emphasizing that President Xi — after he consolidated power and lately won an unprecedented third term in the top office — is characterized as the most powerful Chinese paramount leader since Mao Zedong.
Article 4 epitomizes the ideal façade of Beijing’s foreign policy ambitions and after stressing China’s adherence to “mutual non-aggression” and “peaceful coexistence”, registers opposition to “hegemonism”
. The USA has now adapted to the inevitable reality of competition with peer-competitor China and lately under the Biden administration has been stressing placing guardrails and responsibly managing the relationship so as it does not veer into a conflict, which also dominated Secretary Blinken’s agenda during his recent visit to Beijing. China, however, continues rejecting “power politics” and relies on buzzwords like “peaceful coexistence”, promoting “global common development” and building “a new type of international relations” to characterize its foreign policy priorities.
Article 5 of the law reinforces and formalizes the influence of the Communist Party of China (CPC) over China’s foreign policy by specifying that Beijing’s foreign relations would be conducted under the “centralized and overall leadership” of the CPC.
Against the backdrop of the recent escalation in the USA’s techno-economic war against China, which involves Washington sanctioning more than 1,300 Chinese entities citing their alleged involvement in spying and aiding Russia’s war effort in Ukraine, doubling down on efforts to stifle semiconductor supplies to China and attempts aimed at de-risking the supply chains, the Article 8 of the law stipulates holding the individuals or organizations accountable that act detrimental to Chinese interests. Article 33 is more specific in this regard and recognizes Beijing’s right to undertake “measures to counter or take restrictive measures” against the acts that it deems jeopardizing its “sovereignty, national security, and development interests”.
In an article for People’s Daily China, the Director of the Foreign Affairs Commission of CPC, Wang Yi — who is the top foreign policy official of China — said that the new law will provide the legal foundation to counter sanctions and interference against China. The Chinese side is of the view that in the wake of the sanctions barrage by the USA, international law does not provide enough legal remedies and therefore, the new foreign policy law is being enacted to safeguard Chinese sovereignty and development interests. Although China has sanctioned some US companies, the USA is dominating the sanctions spiral with the Chinese on the receiving end. In March, the Chinese President lashed out at the USA-led West accusing them of implementing “all-out containment, encirclement and suppression” against China, which, he added, has brought unprecedented and severe challenges to China’s development. The senior leadership’s framing of the new law as aimed at countering the sanctions against China suggests that Beijing might be readying to up the ante in the sanctions realm.
Author’s Bio: Hamdan Khan is currently working as Research Officer at Strategic Vision Institute Islamabad. He is an alumnus of the National Defence University Islamabad and has previously worked for the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) and the Pakistan Council on China (PCC). Hamdan studies Global Affairs with a focus on Great-Power Politics, Programs and Policies of Nuclear Weapons States, and Emerging Military Technologies.