The incorporations of Xi Jinping Thought (XJT) within China’s foreign policy heralds the formal consolidation of Xi Jinping’s legacy as the country’s paramount ruler, reinforces the rise of an assertive China, and the conclusion to the myth of “China’s Peaceful Rise”.
On June 24, President Xi Jinping addressed the Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Beijing. In his address, Xi emphasised the importance of balancing both domestic and international policies as key to the realisation of China’s rejuvenation, the promotion of world peace and common development. The address emphasised that the president’s views on diplomacy are essential in safeguarding China’s sovereignty, in the advancement of peaceful development and in realising the “Chinese dream”. In attendance were top leaders across China’s military and state, along with the entire CCP Politburo Standing Committee.
The meeting was the second such held since Xi Jinping assumed office in 2012, following upon another in 2014, and contrasted with the singular meeting hosted by then-President Hu Jintao in 2006. Whereas Hu Jintao’s meeting was centralised around the utilisation of soft power in the pursuit of China’s foreign policy objectives, the tone and nature of Xi’s address exhibited an air of firmness and assertion in firmly safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests. This illustrated both the departure from, and accomplishment of, Deng Xiaoping’s principles of “Hide your strength, bide your time”, guiding China’s foreign policy over the past several decades. This also coincides with the country’s contrasting developmental circumstances since 2006, with China having since become the world’s second largest economy.
The enshrining of XJT within China's foreign policy, as the supreme guidance to the country's foreign affairs, has profound implications which will echo over the following decades. Where autonomy and control over a nations’ foreign policy signals confidence within domestic affairs, the address has solidified Xi’s authority throughout the government and within the CCP, and finalised his consolidation of power over the nativists in the CCP – ongoing since his removal of presidential term limits from the Chinese Constitution. Further, the move provides a clear direction regarding China's assertive stance within international relations and presents a rejuvenated and coherent ideological challenge to the west.
What is Xi Jinping Thought?
XJT represents the Sinification or modernisation of Marxism, the continuation of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” first advanced by Deng Xiaoping. It should not be interpreted as cogent ideological pointers, but rather a world view seeking to reinforce the CCP and Xi Jinping as essential elements within China’s domestic politics and life, a vehicle through which Xi can establish his cult of personality and legacy and a uniform and unifying list of China’s foreign policy priorities.
The meaning which may be derived from its 14-points encompasses the 5 fundamental objectives of people orientation, national rejuvenation, optimised development, global engagement and party leadership. The extension of XJT to the achievement of these objectives in a foreign policy context calls for increased assertiveness in safeguarding territorial sovereignty, bolstering national security, and promoting the Beijing Consensus.
Under point No. 12 of XJT, the fulfilment of national rejuvenation may be achieved through the maintenance of territorial sovereignty and ultimate embracing of “complete national reunification”, with direct implications for Hong Kong.
Within Hong Kong, the mainland government has systematically reinforced its hold over the city’s Chief Executive, legislative council and courts in a bid to dismantle the separation of powers and erode the rule of law. The recent ousting of 6 pro-democracy legislators, through the central government’s strategic use of judicial review and the Hong Kong Basic Law, simultaneously stifled the voices of 180,000 voters and removed the pro-democracy bloc’s capacity to veto legislative amendments. Accordingly, China remains eager to censor any separatist elements within the city as it incrementally moves towards complete unification by superseding the Basic Law with Mainland Chinese laws.
Strengthen National Security
Per point No. 10 of XJT, the strengthening of national security may be achieved through the bolstering of China’s military capabilities and pursuit of territorial ambitions. This must be interpreted in relation to China’s core national interest and its persistent application to developments in the South China Sea (SCS) since 2015.
Following Xi’s consolidation of power in March of 2018, China’s militarisation of the SCS has assumed an increasingly militant and assertive stance. This was predicated on the possibility of replacing the current 9-dash boundary line, delineating China’s territorial claims, with a continuous boundary line which would solidify China’s claims in providing a clearly defined defensible border. Secondly, China has also stationed nuclear-capable strategic bombers within its holdings in the SCS for the first time, marking a decisive shift within its foreign policy as it actively positions weapons with offensive capabilities in the region.
With the cementing of XJT within China’s foreign policy, Xi Jinping has simultaneously reinforced his position within the CCP while strengthening his cult of personality as China’s next paramount leader. This has profound implications for China’s interests within Hong Kong, where the central government will continue to erode democratic interests and the Basic Law as a precursor to complete national unification. Consequently, China will intensify its salami-slicing tactics in the SCS in incrementally militarising its holdings in the region, while impairing the territorial sovereignty of neighbouring states.
These events represent the next phase within China’s emergence as a superpower and ideological challenger to the west, as the country moves to expand its influence through promotion of the “Beijing Consensus”, in fulfilling its ambitions under the “Chinese dream” of becoming a powerful country by 2050.
Jonathan Lim is the East Asia Fellow for Young Australians in International Affairs.