China’s Diplomacy in 2017: The “Circle of Friends” Is Growing Bigger and the “Partner Network” Is Growing Closer

The international situation in 2017 remained complexed and volatile, and significant changes happened in the internal affairs of many big countries. China, meanwhile, enriched and developed theory and practice of its diplomacy, achieving significant results in major country diplomacy and neighborhood diplomacy.

By Lin Minwang

The international situation in 2017 remained complexed and volatile, and significant changes happened in the internal affairs of many big countries. China, meanwhile, enriched and developed theory and practice of its diplomacy, achieving significant results in major country diplomacy and neighborhood diplomacy.

Major Country Diplomacy

The fundamental reason to engage in major country diplomacy is that China is entering the limelight on the world stage in a way unlike any other major country, approaching the realization of the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation and having the ability and confidence to achieve this goal.

President Xi Jinping arrives in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi on Sunday for a state visit to the southeast Asian country. [Photo/Xinhua]

Its growing strength means that China has more resources and solutions and can be more positive in shaping international environment.

This means that China has to take a more active role in international obligations, shouldering its burdens as a responsible major power so as to promote positive solutions to flashpoints and global challenges, to push ahead with a more just and rational global governance system, and to contribute more to world peace and global development.

President Xi Jinping delivers a New Year speech to extend New Year greetings to all Chinese, and best wishes to friends all over the world, in Beijing, capital of China, Dec 31, 2017. [Photo/Xinhua]

As President Xi Jinping stated in his 2016 New Year speech, “The world is so big, the challenges so complicated. China must not be absent from international affairs, as the world is looking forward to voices and answers from China.”


It is on the basis of the orientation and recognition of major country diplomacy that the socialist ideology system with Chinese characteristics in the new era positions its target as “Insisting on the road of peaceful development and to build a community of shared future for all mankind”.

To promote major country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics is to formulate an all-dimensional, multi-level and three-dimensional diplomatic structure, creating favorable external conditions for China’s development.

China has established different forms of partnership with about 100 countries, regions and regional organizations in the past five years. China’s “Circle of Friends” is growing bigger and the “Partner Network” is growing closer, achieving the full coverage of all regions and different types of countries in the world.

 Manage Major Country Relationship in a Positive Way

The major country relationship is the key to China’s diplomacy.

In 2017, China’s major country diplomacy with some big powers developed positively.

  • China-U.S. Relations have Achieved a Smooth Transition

Donald John Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on January 20th 2017.

China took the initiative, and President Xi Jinping held a phone conversation with his U.S. counterpart on February 10. Each was at ease with the other, and they had a constructive discussion.

With Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi visiting U.S. at the end of February, and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visiting China in the middle of March, the China-U.S. relationship looked positive and interactive.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (right in front) and his US counterpart Donald Trump (left in front) take a walk to further discuss bilateral cooperation issues in the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, the United States, April 7, 2017. The two leaders held their second round of talks here on Friday. [Photo/Xinhua]

The two leaders held their first face-to-face meeting in the U.S. on April 6th, at Mar-a-Lago in Florida.

President Xi Jinping (L) holds a grand ceremony to welcome US President Donald Trump at the square outside the east gate of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, Nov 9, 2017. [Photo/Xinhua]

U.S. president Trump made his first visit to China in November, 2017, which indicates that the China-U.S relationship has emerged from “uncertainty” and achieved a smooth transition.

  • China and Russia Continued to Maintain a High-level Strategic Cooperation

Both sides continued to maintain close communication and coordination on major international and regional issues, making positive progress in the areas of energy, investment and finance. In the meantime, the two sides promoted the “Belt and Road Initiative” and the cooperation of the Eurasian Economic Union.

It has to be mentioned that Russia has always been a supporter of the Belt and Road. Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the first Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in May, and President Xi Jinping also paid a state visit to Russia in early July.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, foreign delegation heads and guests walk out of the Yanqi Lake International Convention Center after the first session of the Leaders’ Roundtable Summit at the Belt and Road Forum (BRF) for International Cooperation, in Beijing, capital of China, May 15, 2017. [Photo/Xinhua] 

The two heads of state also met at the Astana Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in June, and at the BRICS Summit in Xiamen in September.

  • China-Europe: “Four Partnerships” Continues to Develop

In 2014 during his visit to Europe, President Xi Jinping proposed a partnership with Europe based on peace, growth, reform and civilization.

In 2017, China-Europe the “Four Partnerships” concept made further progress.

President Xi Jinping delivers a keynote speech at the opening plenary of the 2017 annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan 17, 2017. [Photo/Xinhua]

In January, Xi paid a state visit to Switzerland for the annual meeting of World Economic Forum in Davos, and delivered a significant speech which struck a chord with international society.

In early April, Xi paid a state visit to Finland, which was his first visit to northern Europe.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (C front) attends the 12th Summit of the Group of 20 (G20) major economies in Hamburg, Germany, July 7, 2017. [Photo/Xinhua]

In the early July, he paid a state visit to Germany, and had several in-depth exchanges of views with leaders of European countries during the G20 Summit.

In the meantime, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang paid official visits to Germany and Belgium in early June, and held the 19th China-Europe meeting between two heads of state with Donald Tusk, President of the Council of Europe, and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission.  Both sides reached a series of new cooperation proposals on extending the mutually beneficial and win-win China-Europe comprehensive strategic partnership.

Stabilizing the Neighborhood

Neighborhood diplomacy is a key issue for China. Some real progress was achieved in 2017.

  • The Improvement of China-Japan Relationship

In terms of relationships with neighboring countries, China’s relations with Japan began a try to “thaw”. Relations with India relations suffered some minor setbacks but these did not undermine the overall interests.

The year 2017 marked the 45th anniversary of the normalization of China-Japan diplomatic relations. The year 2018 marks the 40th anniversary of the signing of China-Japan Treaty of Peace and Friendship. This offers a crucial opportunity to improve bilateral ties, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was trying to do just this.

In May, Abe dispatched a delegation headed by Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai to attend the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation.

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the ongoing Group of 20 (G20) summit on July 8, 2017. [Photo/Xinhua]

On July 08, Xi Jinping met with Abe in Hamburg.

On September 28th, Abe attended the National Day Reception held by the Chinese Embassy in Japan, which showed that there is some desire on the part of Japan to improve China-Japan relations.

However, as Abe won again in the early general election, it remains to be seen whether this desire will be sustained.

  • China-India Confrontation was Resolved Peacefully

China-India relations suffered some setbacks in 2017. Ultimately, the 71-day border standoff between their troops in Donglang, in China’s south Tibet, was defused.

This event reflects a declining trend in China-India relations, as the Modi government takes a strong line in its policy towards China.

President Xi Jinping meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Xiamen, East China’s Fujian Province, Sept 5, 2017. [Photo/Xinhua]

At the BRICS summit in Xiamen on September 5, President Xi Jinping met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and proposed that China and India should adopt a basic line of looking for opportunities for mutual development and avoiding any threat to each other, hoping that India can take a sound and rational view of China’s development.

Modi agreed that China and India should not be rivals but make cooperation the primary driver of China-India relations.

As India’s presidential election enters the warm-up period in 2018, many problems in China-India relations still exist that could escalate. To control differences and stabilize the relations between the two countries still needs an all-out effort.

The relationship between China and the Philippines has been transformed since Philippine President Duterte came to power. The relationship between China and Singapore has also taken a positive turn following a period of difficulty.

Cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative

Cooperation between China and its neighbors on the Belt and Road has achieved rapid development.

The Laos-China Expressway Project, which will link the Laotian capital of Vientiane with Kunming in Yunnan province, manifests the dream of Laos to escape the fetters of a “landlocked country”.

The special economic zone in Sihanoukville has become Cambodia’s largest special economic zone, and the best model in the history of Sino-Cambodian economic cooperation.

Typical Belt and Road projects include the deep-water port in Kyauk Phyu in Myanmar, Kuantan Industrial Park in Malaysia, Yaman HSR in Indonesia, Port Colombo in Sri Lanka, and the Anglian-Pablo Railway Tunnel in Uzbekistan.

Another breakthrough is the birth and rapid progress of the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Mechanism. In March 2017 Premier Li Keqiang launched this mechanism in Sanya, Hainan, with the leaders of five Mekong countries – Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

In just a year this cooperation mechanism has achieved rapid and efficient development, and established a “3+5” communication framework for the leaders, foreign ministers, senior officials and working groups to hold meetings.  45 projects have been identified as “low-hanging fruit”, most of which have now been completed or are well under way.

Excellent progress has been made in building the corridor between China and the Indo-China Peninsula countries within this framework of cooperation.

In turning China’s diplomatic theory into practice, China’s relations with major countries and neighboring countries are making their own greater contribution to the realization of the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation and to promoting world peace and development.


By Lin Minwang

researcher of Institute of International Studies,
deputy director of Center for South Asian Studies,
Fudan University