New Chinese Leadership and its Foreign Policy

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We in Pakistan claim China as our ‘all weather’ friend but ask anybody in the streets of Islamabad, Lahore or Karachi, who rules this friendly country and you’ll turn up a blank. Even the media is only giving a cursory treatment to the change of guard in China. This is strange indeed because the new Secretary General of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping has been in the waiting for the last five years. Xi will become the President of the PeoplesRepublic of China next March. He and fellow Politburo standing committee member Li Keqiang, who is also the prime minister designate are in their late fifties and are set to replace a greying leadership. Xi has an impressive CV. He comes from an established background. He is referred to by the western press as a ‘princeling’ i.e. his father was a pioneering member of the Chinese Communist Party, fought alongside Mao and subsequently occupiedsenior party positions. Xi is chemical engineer by training and holds a doctorate in Chinese political thought. His wife is a glamorous opera singer and his daughter studies in Harvard.

Apart from this little is known about his domestic and foreign policy preferences. During the past five years vice president Xi visited over 50 countries. Surprisingly neither he nor vice premier Li visited India or Pakistan. Xi did not meet former Indian external affairs minister S M Krishna during his several visits to Beijing. He did meet former PresidentPratibhaPatil during her Beijing visit in 2010. There were initial discussions by Indian and Chineseforeign ministries on a planned visit to India by Xi but this could not be finalised and the visit never took place. However, Xi visited Bangladesh, and also hosted a dinner for Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in Beijing last June.

China watchers believe the new leadership would stick to its traditional preference for policy continuity and would refrain from making major changes. It is unlikely that would be a revision in the relationship with India and Pakistan. The trade relationsbetween India and China is likely to improve and while the Chinese would not push the border disputes with India they are not likely to forget these completely either and they would continue to monitor India’s growing military might including the development of new Agni missiles that can reach deep targets in its mainland.

The speech of the new secretary general at the conclusion of the 18th session of the Central party Session at the Great Peoples Hall focussed on domestic issues like fighting corruption and improving the life of the common people. The only part remotely concerning foreign relations was neutral and friendly. Xi concluded the speech by saying “Friends from the press, China needs to learn more about the world, and the world also needs to learn more about China. I hope you will continue to make more efforts and contributions to deepening the mutual understanding between China and the countries of the world.”

No mention about Taiwan, the dispute with Japan or the US Pacific Policy to contain China. You can draw your own conclusions

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