Politik und Gesellschaft Online
International Politics and Society 2/1999


Qingguo Jia:

From Self-imposed Isolation to Global Cooperation:
The Evolution of Chinese Foreign Policy Since the 1980s

Vorläufige Fassung / Preliminary version

Up to and into the 1970s, China's foreign policy was governed by the idea that the global capitalist system, with its imperialist tendencies, must in the end lead to a third world war. China's endeavours were directed at preparing independently for the great "show-down" between capitalism and socialism. This point of view was ideologically-based, but was strengthened by the anti-communist policies of the US in the first phase of the Cold War. Fundamental change came with the reformulation of the economic development strategy under Deng Xiaoping. But it was introduced as early as the start of the 1970s, when China was prepared to initiate a process of rapprochement with the US in the face of the growing threat from the Soviet Union. The period of détente following the end of the Vietnam war also contributed to calming China's remaining security fears. The absolute predominance of economic development ahead of all other national objectives, announced in 1979, made an increasing openness towards the outside world inevitable. For China needed access to western technology to speed up its development and thus also to foreign capital and foreign export markets. Beyond that, China has since that time needed a stable global political environment in order to be able to put armament on the back burner. This, in turn, favoured the evolution of a new fundamental foreign policy stance requiring cooperative involvement in order to achieve a stable world order. Not least, territorial conflicts with neighbouring states had to be defused and the Taiwan issue put on ice. China's willingness to cooperate at international level has increased at the rate that Chinese diplomacy learned to preserve and promote its national interests in the international arena. China is also keen on a flourishing world economy as this will favour its national development. In this field, too, China gradually assumed greater responsibility for maintaining the system, which could be clearly seen in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis. The links to the western world, which China wants for development policy reasons, also smoothed the path in China for a gradual change of view in areas such as international environmental policy and human rights issues, even if China continues to insist on non-interference from other countries in this area. The profound changes in China contain the risk of domestic political upheaval. On balance, however, the chances are good that the policy of opening up will continue.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition juliag | April 1999