The "Good Neighbour Policy" in the Context of China's Foreign Relations

By Chung, Chien-peng | China: An International Journal, March 2009 | Go to article overview

The "Good Neighbour Policy" in the Context of China's Foreign Relations


Chung, Chien-peng, China: An International Journal


No major foreign policy initiatives or changes were carried out at the Chinese Communist Party's 17th National Congress in October 2007 or the first session of the 11th National People's Congress in March 2008. This was unsurprising, since they occurred around the mid-term of the tenure of China's current Hu Jintao-Wen Jiabao leadership. Yet, China's rising diplomatic, economic and strategic profile in the world means that closer attention should be paid to the continuities and adjustments in the formulation and conduct of its foreign policy, since it will have a definite effect on the international community, and particularly states in China's neighbourhood of Southeast Asia, Russia-Central Asia, Northeast Asia and South Asia.

The Evolution of China's "Good Neighbour Policy"

The Origin and Development of China's "Good Neighbour Policy" (1949-89)

A comprehensive approach to pursuing better relations with neighbouring states in the Asian and the Pacific regions, before it was labelled as the "Good Neighbour Policy" ("Mulin youhao zhengce "), has always been considered by the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) as a major part of its foreign policy interests.

In 1949, as a result of the CPC's ideological inclinations and the United States' support for the defeated Chiang Kai-shek regime, Chairman Mao Zedong adopted a foreign policy of "leaning to one side", namely towards the socialist camp under the former Soviet Union. (1) Even so, to promote friendly relations with its neighbours, China proposed the "Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence" enunciated by Premier Zhou Enlai at the Afro-Asian Solidarity Conference at Bandung in 1955 as: (a) respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, (b) mutual non-interference in domestic governance, (c) mutual nonaggression, (d) equal benefits, and (e) peaceful co-existence. (2)

With the collapse of Sino-Soviet friendship by the early 1960s, Mao stated in 1964 that Asia, Europe and Africa, together with oppressed nationalities everywhere, constituted a "Middle Belt" ("zhongjian didai ") between the socialist and capitalist blocs, which would include China, South Asia and Southeast Asia. (3) Hence, as true Marxists, the Chinese believed they should help the developing world, particularly China's neighbours, break free from American imperialists and Soviet revisionists. This hurt China's relations with non-communist Asian countries. With the death of Mao and end of the "Cultural Revolution" in late 1976, the Chinese authorities soon ceased providing moral support and material assistance to communist revolutionary movements in Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Burma and India, and clearly expressed their desire not to interfere with the domestic governance of other states.

Since the policy of reform and opening carried out under Deng Xiaoping in late 1978, pursuing stable relationships with the surrounding neighbours has become a necessary strategy for China's economic development and attraction of foreign trade and investment. This has been all the more so in the last twenty years with the rapid erosion of any form of ideological moorings for the Chinese party-state, such that economic growth to increase the material welfare of the people has become the main legitimising basis for the popular acceptance of, or at least acquiescence in, CPC rule. Since China's economic, diplomatic, cultural and even military influence will be felt first and foremost in the surrounding Asian and Pacific countries, it is important to China that they do not become its enemies.

China's Early Post-Cold War Foreign Policy Strategy (1990-96)

According to Deng Xiaoping's analysis in May 1984:

   The two major questions in the contemporary world are that of peace
   and development.... To obtain peace one must oppose hegemonism....
   While developed countries are getting wealthier, developing
   countries are getting poorer. … 

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