WASHINGTON, D.C. – China is reshaping its foreign policy to become a global economic and political power, Dr. Peng Yuan, vice president of the China Institutes for Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) in Beijing, said during a March 24 conference organized by the Institute of the Americas and the Woodrow Wilson Center.
“China’s diplomacy changed substantially after President Xi Jinping came into office, from low profile to high profile” Yuan told the audience of more than 100 government officials, journalists, representatives of NGOs, scholars and students from China, the U.S. and Latin America. “We are now changing from a regional power to a world power.”
Yuan noted that Russia was the first country Xi visited after being named China’s leader in 2012. “Our Russian relations are very visible. Why?”
“The major threats and challenges are coming from the north,” he said. “China is on the rise. Russia wants to return to its past glory. We have to find ways to resolve this security threat.”
Against that backdrop, some ask, “Where’s America?” Yuan said. He said Xi will travel to the United States this year to meet with President Obama. Next year, it is likely that Obama will travel to China for the G-20 summit. Past meetings between the two world leaders have produced significant results, he said, such as a new code of conduct on cyber security and an agreement on measures to mitigate climate change.
Yuan noted that Xi has visited more than 30 countries since 2012. He said Xi’s “personal style plays a role in the diplomacy” but said the Chinese government is also grappling with the complex question of how to sustain the country’s economic growth.
During the conference titled, “China’s Foreign Policy in a New Era of Sino-Latin American Relations,” Yuan introduced the idea of the “Belt and Road”, which is the core of China’s new economic diplomacy and signifies the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road.
The Silk Road Economic Belt focuses on bringing together China, Central Asia, Russia and the Baltic region of Europe. The Maritime Silk Road is designed to extend from China’s Southeast coast to South Pacific countries, North Africa and Europe through the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, Yuan said. This new trade route, which traces the historically important international trade route between China and the Mediterranean Sea, would allow China to expand its economic influence to new markets.
“More neighbors mean more benefits,” Yuan said.
The conference also focused on latest developments in China-Latin American relations and the political and economic logic that drive Chinese engagement in the region.
Dr. Cynthia J. Arnson, director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, introduced the background context to Sino-Latin American relations. She briefed the audience on the trade volumes between the two regions and talked about the overall economic impact of China on Latin America.
Dr. Hongying Wu, director of the Institute for Latin American Studies at CICIR, focused on the six major spheres of cooperation that drive the China-Latin America economic relationship: energy, resource, infrastructure, agriculture, manufacture, science and information technology.
Wu said more Latin American goods are entering Chinese market such as Mexican Bimbo bread and Chilean wine. She also commented on the evolving U.S.-Cuba relationship, and noted that while history is being made, normalization between the two countries still has a long way to go.
Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Woodrow Wilson Center, said he believes that China is learning to be a major power on a global stage. However, he said the Chinese government-to-government and leader-to-leader style of international cooperation will be faced with Latin America’s vibrant civil society, mature legal system and free press. Moreover, he noted, China is deeply linked to some countries in the region, such as Venezuela, and regime change could pose complications to bilateral relations.