China's 19th party congress

'Diplomacy with Chinese characteristics' to continue

Attendants look at sniffer dogs while posing for photos in Tiananmen Square during the opening ceremony of the 19th Communist Party Congress in Beijing. PHOTO: AFP

China will continue to engage in "major country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics" that has seen its international influence grow, said President Xi Jinping.

Delivering his report at the 19th party congress, Mr Xi stressed that China will never seek hegemony or engage in expansionism.

"We have seen a further rise in China's international influence, ability to inspire and power to shape," he noted of his first five-year term in office.

Chinese foreign policy will continue on this path, said Mr Xi, and China will increase its assistance to the world's least developed countries, support multilateral trade regimes and actively promote international cooperation through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Under Mr Xi, China has become more assertive, even aggressive, as it seeks to become a leader on the world stage, a marked departure from the late Deng Xiaoping's cardinal rule to the party to "hide your strength and bide your time".

To ensure the success of its BRI, which aims to build infrastructure such as ports and roads across Asia, China has created the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the state-owned Silk Road Fund as alternatives to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

With a more inward-looking US under President Donald Trump, China's international stature has risen. Mr Xi was in Davos in January to defend globalisation and, in June, Beijing reaffirmed its commitment to the Paris accord on climate change. But China has also become more forceful in other areas, for instance, when it ramped up its military presence in the South China Sea, also claimed in part by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

China has built landing strips and communications facilities on artificial islands it controls and increased its naval presence there.

Mr Xi said construction on islands and reefs in the South China Sea "has seen steady progress", and China will step up efforts to become "a strong maritime country".

Mr Xi, who has implemented significant reforms to the People's Liberation Army (PLA), said China aims to complete its modernisation by 2035. By 2050, the PLA will become world-class, he added.

Analysts told The Straits Times all signs are that China's foreign policy will become more robust in Mr Xi's second term. "The very idea of the Chinese Dream - a prosperous country and a powerful military - has very nationalistic overtones," said Chinese University of Hong Kong analyst Willy Lam. "He didn't use the word superpower, but it's very clear that China aspires to be a full-fledged superpower by 2050."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2017, with the headline 'Diplomacy with Chinese characteristics' to continue. Subscribe