After the three-year-long COVID-19 pandemic, at the beginning of 2023, China, together with the rest of the world, has hit the reset bottom and attached great hope to rebuilding a world based on development, peace and prosperity. However, unfortunately, the global recovery remains fragile and uncertain.
The Russia-Ukraine conflict has become bogged in stalemate after the failed counteroffensive launched by Kiev, and the brutal war once again erupted between Israel and Palestine. Not limited to Europe and Middle East, the whole world has witnessed a year of conflict, including the civil war in Sudan which began in April and a coup in Niger in July, the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia on the disputed region Nagorno-Karabakh in Central Asia, as well as the military conflict in north Myanmar over recent months. Chinese scholars and foreign affairs experts said that the world entered “a period of great turbulence” in 2023.
China has continued to play a role as a responsible major power throughout these conflicts, making efforts like sending naval vessels to evacuate people including Chinese nationals and other countries from conflict zones, and in some cases China also actively mediating the conflict through diplomatic channels.
“Throughout history, periods of turbulence normally emerge when an old order has collapsed or becomes dysfunctional, and the newly emerging powers are trying to reshape or build up a new order to solve the problems that the old order failed to resolve,” Jin Canrong, associate dean of the School of International Studies at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times.
Nevertheless, apart from bad news like wars and tension, there is also good news about cooperation and reconciliation. From China-brokered agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran on the restoration of diplomatic relations, to the historic expansion of BRICS, as well as the Belt and Road Forum (BRF) for International Cooperation which is engendering confidence in both openness and international cooperation, China, together with its partners worldwide, is trying to keep hopes for peace and development in this period of turbulence, experts said.
The role that China plays during this period is crucial for the world. China is trying its best to avoid conflicts and manage disputes diplomatically and through political consensus. In 2023, China also contributed its wisdom and efforts to provide the valuable elements that the world is searching for: peace, openness, opportunities, responsibility, certainty and justice.
How to deal with the West?
For Chinese diplomacy in 2023, a significant question has been about how to deal with the West, experts said. There are many Western countries with different interests, preferences and priorities, and how to manage differences, avoid conflicts, rebuild mutual trusts, and seek cooperation with Western countries is key for China and the world to prevent escalation of bloc confrontation and a new cold war, they noted.
Relations between China and the West have experienced some challenges in 2023. For instance, the “China-US balloon crisis” in February, but China took a mature approach to prevent the situation from escalating.
“Interactions between China and the West this year have largely reflected the strategic calmness of China. In the past few years, the mainstream of China-West relations has become more about ‘tit-for-tat’ and ‘not yield an inch’, and these characteristics still exist today, but this year, China’s approach becomes more flexible,” Cui Hongjian, a professor with the Academy of Regional and Global Governance with Beijing Foreign Studies University, told the Global Times.
China is now trying to figure out how to shape its ties with major Western powers to establish a “global strategic stability” for itself, and this is not just about bilateral ties with other countries, but in terms of global landscape, Cui noted.
In November, a summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden that was specially arranged by the US side in San Francisco has brought a key message to the world that the two biggest economies and the two most powerful countries in this planet are able to manage their differences and competition, and also willing to seek possibilities for cooperation.
These moves that reflect Washington’s desperate demand for engagement and dialogue have not just laid ground for the Xi-Biden summit, but also prompted other Western countries, or US key allies, to recover their ties with China based on their own demands, experts said. For instance, China-Australia relations have recovered at least in terms of trade and people-to-people exchanges, while Japan and South Korea are also trying to improve their ties with China, to seek cooperation and pave way for another trilateral summit next year.
“With growing influence and power, China is becoming increasingly mature in handling its ties with the West. If we always let the competition or even confrontation dominate the relations with the West, it would definitely damage supply chains, industrial chains, trade and investment. This is not just bad for China, but also bad for the global recovery,” Cui said.
The recoveries of ties between China and many Western countries this year have reduced the danger and risk across the international landscape. But China is also prepared for potential flashpoints that might occur in the future because of the West, especially the US, given its uncertainty, and highly unpredictable domestic politics. It’s clear that the US still sees China as its top competitor, so China will maintain a clear mindset rather than being idealistic when dealing with the West, experts said.
Gifts to a turbulent world
In March, with China’s mediation, Saudi Arabia and Iran, two major powers in Middle East that suffered from long-standing confrontation, reached agreement to rebuild diplomatic ties with each other in Beijing. This is a significant gift to the world that desperately needs peace and economic recovery, and this becomes the starting point for a great reconciliation process in the Middle East, with some observers even saying that those Western media with strong bias and hostility against China have failed to find angles to undermine China on this issue.
China’s “peace-focused approach” is a prominent aspect of its 2023 diplomatic agenda, according to Xu Bu, director-general of the Institute of Global Development and Security Studies of Jiangsu University. “This approach has been widely recognized and welcomed internationally. In the context of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, China has sent the special envoy to mediate and promote negotiation-based resolutions. Similarly, China’s active role in mediating the Israel-Palestine conflict as the rotating chair of the UN Security Council has been highly commended,” he said.
From actively mediating conflicts to provide opportunities and platforms for cooperation, China has done a lot through its diplomatic efforts for the world that desperately wants peace and development this year. The year of 2023 underscores the challenges and risks in the global landscape, including economic developments and geopolitical security. “The upcoming US elections in 2024 will not only influence China-US relations but also the overall international landscape,” meaning China needs to remain vigilant and committed to its development path, contributing to global peace, stability, and the construction of a community with a shared future for humanity, Xu noted.