Seminar on “China’s Foreign Policy Transformation: What? Why? Whither? and Implications for China and Southeast Asia”

In this seminar, Prof Pang Zhongying provides an assessment of China’s foreign policy transformation over the past several years and what this means for Southeast Asia.

Regional Strategic and Political Studies Seminar

Thursday, 20 February 2020 – Professor Pang Zhongying delivered a seminar at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute on Thursday that outlined the transformation of China’s foreign policy and its implications for Southeast Asia. Professor Pang is currently a Visiting Senior Fellow at ISEAS as well as a Professor of Global Governance and International Area Studies and Dean of the National Institute of Marine Development at Ocean University in Qingdao, China. He previously taught international affairs at Renmin University in Beijing for a decade, and was the founding Dean of the Sun Yet-sen University School of International Relations in Guangzhou.

Prof Pang Zhongying (right), currently our Visiting Senior Fellow, shared on the transformations in China’s foreign policy over the last few decades under the different Chinese leaders. Mr Lye Liang Fook moderated the session. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Analysing China’s foreign policy transformation through the evolution of official narratives, from Deng Xiaoping’s “Tao Guang Yang Hui” to the new “Xin Xing” narratives of the Xi era, Prof Pang noted that China’s current foreign policy is an amalgamation of old and new elements. While there has been continued articulation of the “No”s (or “Bu”s) of the Deng era, such as “non-interference”, “not to seek Chinese hegemony”, and “no to conflict or confrontation”; new foreign policy concepts, such as “China’s constructive role”, “China’s leadership”, “China’s solutions”, and “the sharing of China’s experience”, have also emerged. The co-existence of these old and new elements in China’s foreign policy, Prof Pang argued, has resulted in ideological contradictions which the Chinese leadership has to actively manage.

Deng Xiaoping’s “Tao Guang Yang Hui”, regarded as the “old” doctrine of Chinese foreign policy, stressed the need for the country to hold its ground and act ‘calmly’ – to be “low-key”, “pragmatic”, and “careful”. This can be seen through its system of “No”s (or “Bu”s), that emerged out of the Bandung Conference and China’s “Five Principles” – including “non-interference”, “no confrontation”, “no exports”, and “no strings attached”. Some of these “No”s have persisted, most notably the principle of “non-interference”; while others have notably disappeared, such as “no exports”. New “Xin Xing” narratives that have emerged since include Chinese conceptions of “new globalisation”, and “shared-ness” – sharing of its “China model”, experience, knowledge, and “community of shared future for mankind”. These, Prof Pang noted, were Chinese responses to perceived “Da Bian Ju”s – or “unprecedented major changes in a century”.

The seminar, which was attended by some 40 participants, concluded with a Q&A session. Prof Pang fielded questions that touched on issues ranging from an increasingly aggressive US pushback by the Trump administration, the coronavirus as an internal “Da Bian Ju”, as well as China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea.

Prof Pang presented his findings to a packed seminar room. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)