Since 1949, China has unwaveringly followed one goal: peaceful modernization and moderate prosperity for its own people and those of other struggling nations. So China's most powerful diplomacy is not words but 7 decades of consistent actions.
Author: Dr. William N. Brown
Academic Director of Xiamen University School of Management OneMBA Program
I am honored to share my thoughts on China diplomacy. I’m not an expert, but after 40 years of witnessing China’s rise, even a novice like me can appreciate China’s unwavering pursuit of peaceful win-win relationships.
China’s most powerful diplomacy is 7 decades of consistent actions
Diplomacy is managing international relations, and this is, essentially, storytelling. Unfortunately, Western diplomacy often preaches one story while practicing a different one because such diplomacy is rooted not in morality or justice but solely in economics.
For example, In 1899, as Europe prepared to divide China as it had broken up Africa, England published the book, The Break-up of China. The West spun many stories to justify its destruction of this ancient nation. For example, my home of Fujian has grown tea for 1,000 years but Western experts claimed Chinese were inept at both growing and selling tea, so Europeans would modernize it. They of course claimed their goal was to benefit China, not themselves.
China of course objected, so the West published books such as The Yellow Danger, and China: the Yellow Peril at War with the World, even though China had never once oppressed other nations. No wonder the world misunderstands China. But even without the West’s grip on global media, Westerners would likely distrust China because they do not even trust their own governments.
China’s diplomacy, however, has one great advantage. Since 1949, China has unwaveringly followed one goal: peaceful modernization and moderate prosperity for its own people and those of other struggling nations. So China’s most powerful diplomacy is not words but 7 decades of consistent actions.
Over my 34 years in China, I’ve driven over 200,000 km around China to see how even the remotest peoples have benefited from modernization. In the early 1990s, the government’s simple but powerful motto was “Roads First, then Riches”（要想富先修路）. When I and my colleagues from School of Management at Xiamen University drove 20,000 km around China in 2019, we marveled that thanks to the world’s most extensive highway, railway and internet networks, even remote Tibetans now engage in e-commerce and people in Inner Mongolia track their sheep with cell phones and the BeiDou satellite system.
I was not surprised when I heard people say China’s precision poverty alleviation is the world’s only hope for ending poverty. Precision poverty alleviation was possible only because of the precision government that allowed precision pandemic containment, or reforestation, or new energy and new medicines—or even research from the ocean depths to the far side of the moon.
Most importantly, China is using its rich experience to help other nations. Belt and Road (BRI), for example, is sharing the “Roads First, then Riches” philosophy. China helped build African railroads even in the 1960s. Today, my African friends say that China’s BRI is their greatest hope for helping Africa escape post-colonial poverty.
China offers an alternative through its vision of win-win, peaceful cooperation
And yet in spite of this, the West continues to portray China as a threat, not a source of hope, because the world has no experience with a nation that historically has always sought peaceful, sustainable, win-win relationships. China’s only hope for bridging mistrust is to keep “lighting candles”.
In 2019, a Huawei VP’s 8-year-old daughter told her mother that Huawei’s response to U.S. restrictions should be to just “keep doing good—but also make more friends.” Or as the old saying goes, “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”
Massive protests around the world, even in Western nations, show that people are finally learning that there has never been a so-called World Order, only a Western Order enforced for centuries at gunpoint—and still enforced today by wars and proxy wars. But China offers an alternative through its vision of win-win, peaceful cooperation through such plans as the BRI or the Global Development Initiative, and domestic and international security through the Global Security Initiative.
And if the world unites behind such a vision, we might finally realize the ultimate aim: a community of common destiny for mankind.