China's Second Opening Up Era
First Came Trade, Now Diplomacy
A Historic Shift in China’s Projection of Power
Many China hands are nostalgic for the time when Deng Xiaoping was opening up his country to trade and foreign direct investment after decades of near total isolation. Today however China is on the cusp of an even more significant period of engagement with the world outside its borders. In spite of the drive for economic recovery, diplomacy rather than trade seems to be Xi Jinping’s focus as he begins his third term as president. His clear goal: to reach out to the Global South to create a international order independent of the US and its allies.
The Portraits of Periodical Offering of Liang. 6th-century painting in National Museum of China. Tributary envoys from right to left: Uar (Hephthalites); Persia; Baekje (Korea); Qiuci; Wo (Japan); Langkasuka (in present-day Malaysia)
Whatever the West thinks of Xi, he is a hugely consequential figure in Chinese history. While many focus on the features of his regime at home, his lasting contribution could well be China’s second opening up to the outside world. For the first time in its millennia of history China is playing a diplomatic role, and it is scarcely regional in nature. It began with the signature project of Xi’s first term in office, the launch of the Belt & Road Initiative in 2013 which is now written into the Chinese constitution.