China Fostering ‘New Type of International Relations,’ Says Premier; Speech Stresses Ties with Global South

Ichiro Ohara / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Chinese Premier Li Qiang delivers a speech during the opening session of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Tuesday.

BEIJING — Chinese Premier Li Qiang announced China’s commitment to “promoting a new type of international relations” in a speech at the opening session of the National People’s Congress in Beijing on Tuesday. This “new type” of relations seems to refer to countering the international order led by the United States and Europe, breaking the West’s encirclement and stabilizing supply chains by strengthening relations with the so-called Global South of emerging and developing countries.

In the speech, formally known as the Report on the Work of the Government, Li said China will oppose “all hegemonic, high-handed, and bullying acts,” which was not mentioned in last year’s report. He also stated that China will work with other members of the international community to “build a human community with a shared future.” This is believed to reflect China’s goal of winning over the Global South to counter the United States.

One of the pillars of the “new type of international relations” pursued by the administration of President Xi Jinping is the idea that China will strengthen relations with emerging economies while protecting their interests. Xi’s meeting with the president of Sierra Leone in China and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Jamaica were based on such policies.

While China’s Belt and Road Initiative has led to concerns in the United States and Europe that the program is a “debt trap” that saddles developing countries with significant debt through large-scale infrastructure investment, Li said in his report that the initiative will focus on health, poverty reduction and other areas to improve “the people’s wellbeing.” In showing “consideration” for the countries involved in the initiative, China appears to set on continuing to use the BRI to deepen relations with those countries.

Exploiting division

The Xi administration also appears to be trying to prevent Europe and the United States from working in complete solidarity. A possible visit by Xi to France, which is being arranged for this spring, is part of such efforts.

Strengthening cooperation with Europe, where relations with China have cooled due to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, is also essential for Beijing to prevent “de-risking,” or Europe reducing its economic dependency on China. With the possibility of further restrictions on semiconductor exports by the United States looming, Li stressed in his report that China will promote innovation and upgrade supply chains.

China is also working to build a majority at the United Nations and other forums to shape global opinion in its favor. It is believed that China will seek to win support from other countries through “concepts that are abstract and difficult to oppose,” according to a diplomatic source in Beijing. One such example is its Global Development Initiative, which calls for the elimination of development imbalances among and within nations.

It remains to be seen, however, whether China will be able to shape the global environment to its liking. Set against it are deep-rooted suspicions about its unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the waters surrounding the Senkaku Islands and Taiwan, as well as in the South China Sea.