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SPF China Observer


No.7 2018/08/10

The Convening of the Central Diplomatic Affairs Commission and the Practice of Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy

Kazuyuki Suwa (Professor, University of Shizuoka)


 In the international political and economic arena, all eyes have been focused on the North Korea-United States summit and trade war between the United States and China since March of this year. Needless to say, the common actor in these two major events is the United States. Meanwhile, China, which focuses most of its energy on diplomacy with the United States, was a secondary player in the North Korea-United States summit but continued to boost its standing as the main player in the China-North Korea summit meetings. And in the trade war with the US, it is itself a player. Given this, China convened the Central Diplomatic Affairs Commission immediately following the North Korea-United States summit, which will likely determine the direction of its foreign affairs policy in the medium to long term. The Commission was held just before the US-China trade war started, meaning that it convened before the US’s additional tariffs on China and before China implemented retaliatory measures. This paper attempts to clarify the current state of Xi Jinping’s diplomacy focusing on relations with the United States by examining the Central Diplomatic Affairs Commission, the China-North Korea summit meetings, and the US-China trade war.

The Central Diplomatic Affairs Commission

The Central Diplomatic Affairs Commission was held over two days from June 22-23. [1] There is a reason for drawing attention to the Commission. That is because at the Commission held in August 2006, (then) General Secretary Hu Jintao stressed “maintaining and defending the advantages brought about by national sovereignty, security, and development,” which began a hard line and set a precedent in Chinese foreign affairs policy that broke from the “keep a low profile” stance in the Deng Xiaoping era.
 At the recent meeting of the Commission, the second since November 2014 for the current administration, as in the previous meeting, General Secretary Xi Jinping gave one of his “important addresses.” This was presided over by Premier Li Keqiang and was attended by the remaining five standing members of the Politburo. However, while his previous address was sweeping and lacking in specifics, it can be understood from his recent speech that Xi Jinping has become stronger diplomatically over the past three and half years, which certainly makes his address “important.”
Xi Jinping first took note of the current state of affairs commenting, “We are in a time of the most wonderful development in modern China, and a time in which the world has seen unprecedented dramatic changes over the past 100 years.” Since China is in “a time of the most wonderful development,” and the world is experiencing “unprecedented dramatic change,” this understanding of the current state of affairs logically leads to “going global.”
 Xi Jinping also applauded himself stating, “Since the 18th CPC National Congress, we have created a socialist diplomacy concept with Chinese characteristics in our “new era,” in which the achievements are summarized as “10 adherences” below (underlining by the author).
1. Adhere to “uphold the authority of the CPC Central Committee as the overarching principle and strengthen the centralized, unified leadership of the Party (direction and control) on external work;”
2. Adhere to “advance major country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics to fulfill the mission of realizing national rejuvenation;”
3. Adhere to “take preserving world peace and pursuing common development as the purpose to promote the building of a community with a shared future for humanity;”
4. Adhere to “enhance strategic confidence with the socialism with Chinese characteristics as the support;”
5. Adhere to “forge ahead the Belt and Road constructionin the principle of achieving shared growth through discussion and collaboration;”
6. Adhere to “follow the path of peaceful development on the basis of mutual respect and win-win cooperation;”
7. Adhere to “develop global partnerships while advancing diplomatic agenda;”
8. Adhere to “lead the reform of the global governance system with the concept of fairness and justice;”
9. Adhere to “take national core interests as the bottom line to safeguard China’ssovereignty, security and development interests;”
10. Adhere to “nurture a distinctive style of Chinese diplomacy by combining the fine tradition of external work and the characteristics of times.”
 These “10 adherences” have two characteristics. The first is the coexistence of different vectors such as the strong nationalistic “adherence” (centralized, unified leadership of the Party, major country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics, strategic confidence, sovereignty, security and development interests) and “adherence” to reform from a global perspective (a community with a shared future for humanity, path of peaceful development). How to reconcile these poses an ongoing challenge. The second is that they lack specificity in terms of policy. Even with Xi Jinping taking the lead in promoting the Belt and Road Initiative, while it is a provocative and strategic concept, it is still only at the proposed cooperative framework stage for a single region. Careful attention should be paid to how concrete policies and measures that go beyond abstract concepts will be launched in Chinese diplomacy.
 There is also one more focus of attention at this meeting. That is Yang Jiechi’s address. Yang also gave a general address at the previous meeting, but he was then a high-ranking state councilor. But on the occasion of this most recent meeting, he attended as the Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee. It shows an attitude that the Party is firmly driving foreign diplomatic policy. Also, it is important that Yang used the expression “Xi Jinping thought on diplomacy” (to establish a leadership position). Although the phrase “Xi Jinping thought” is currently being used as a matter of convenience, and is more formally described as “socialist ideology with Chinese characteristics in the new era of Xi Jinping,” which is a verbose expression. To make “Xi Jinping thought” part of the next National Congress, the expression “Xi Jinping thought on ●●” will probably be used in various fields [2] in an effort to connect it to establishing the sum of “Xi Jinping thought.”

The great powers relationship between China and the United States (three China-North Korea summits and the trade war with the US)

What triggered the paradigm shift of hosting the US-North Korea summit was the election of South Korean President Moon Jae-in on May 10, 2017, who favors reconciliation with North Korea. On March 8 of this year, after the high-level talks between North and South Korea in January and the Pyeong Chang Winter Olympics in February, President Trump expressed his willingness for a US-North Korea summit with Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea Kim Jong-un immediately after Chung Eui-yong, Director of the National Security Office of South Korea, traveled to the United States after visiting North Korea as a special envoy. Since then, the international community has been obsessed with the possibility of the first-ever North Korea-US summit.
 North Korea’s stability is a matter of life and death for China. That is reason enough for China to tackle the North Korean issue. However, China has also had to “sell” Trump’s trade war in the first half of this year. Since then, China has developed diplomacy with the United States while linking the US-North Korean summit with the US-China trade war.[3]

Round 1

On March 22, Trump signed an executive order that imposed sanctions on the infringement of intellectual property by China. This amounted to a 25% tariff on about 1,300 items imported from China equivalent to $50-$60 billion (about ¥5.2-¥6.3 trillion), to which China immediately announced it would take retaliatory measures. [4]
 Immediately thereafter (March 25-28), Kim Jong-un made his first-ever visit to China at the invitation of Xi Jinping. [5] Although China regarded this as an informal visit, but for North Korea, it was the first time in about seven years for a Supreme Leader to visit Beijing since General Secretary Kim Jong-il did so in May 2011, and members of the leadership that included Li Keqiang, Wang Huning (Politburo Standing Committee member), and Wang Qishan (Vice President of the People’s Republic of China) rolled out the red carpet. However, as Kim Jong-un admitted, while North Korea called it a “surprise visit,” they too regarded it as “informal,” which indicates that the decision visit to China was rushed.
 Relations between China and North Korea were exacerbated by North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and by Xi Jinping’s visit to South Korea in July 2014 ahead of North Korea. The sour mood hung over the two countries’ relationship, particularly in 2017, due to repeated criticisms between the two as reported by the media in both countries. [6]
 Thus, the two paramount leaders did their best to put aside their differences during the talks. Xi Jinping first expressed his gratitude to Kim Jong-un for his telegram congratulating Xi on being re-elected to his posts of Party general secretary and president (the former in November last year with the latter in March this year). In response, Kim Jong-un replied, “I have learned from the traditions of the friendship between North Korea and China, so it is natural that I visit China and celebrate in person. Also, the situation on the Korean Peninsula is rapidly moving forward, and there have been many important changes. Out of custom and manners, it is only natural that I quickly notify Xi Jinping as a fellow General Secretary in these current circumstances.” During his dinner address on the 26th, Xi Jinping used the phrase “amity connected by blood,” not often heard in recent years, to express the importance of the China-North Korea relationship as being “unique in the world.” [7]
 The meeting continued with the next point of focus being the situation on the Korean Peninsula, in which Xi Jinping clarified the traditional pro-North Korea stance, different from the pressure-oriented US administration, by stating, “At the beginning of this year, we have been able to see positive change in the situation on the Korean Peninsula,” and “With the issue on the Korean Peninsula, we adhere to achieving the goal of denuclearization of the peninsula, maintaining the peaceful stability of the peninsula, and resolving problems through dialogue and consultation.” Kim Jong-un replied, “We hope to have a dialogue with the US and hold a summit meeting. Denuclearization of the peninsula can be solved if South Korea and the United States respond to our efforts in good faith, create a peaceful and stable atmosphere, and take a step-by-step approach and parallel measures to realize peace.” This was likely a pre-emptive jab in anticipation of the US-North Korea talks. By portraying relations as improving in the initial phase of preparations for the US-North Korea summit meeting, China took the initiative in the process of stabilizing the situation on the Korean Peninsula and began exerting pressure on the United States to stave off a trade war. At the same time, with China covering its back, North Korea developed the pending summit with the US and negotiations with South Korea to its advantage, and worked to secure a position, assuming a breakdown in the US-North Korea summit meeting in the worst case. About one month later, on April 27, Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un met for the inter-Korean Summit and signed the Panmunjom Declaration, which contained statements such as, “South and North Korea confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.” The declaration contained no concrete path or method to denuclearization, but even if this was temporary, it was significant in easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. However, the declaration stated, “During this year that marks the 65th anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement, South and North Korea agreed to actively pursue trilateral meetings involving the two Koreas and the United States, or quadrilateral meetings involving the two Koreas, the United States and China with a view to declaring an end to the Korean War, turning the Korean Armistice Agreement into a peace treaty, and establishing a permanent and solid peace regime.” [8] China may have developed a sense of crisis about “China passing” in reaction to this passage.


Round 2

The first US-China talks aimed at avoiding a trade war took place on May 3-4 between the delegations of the two countries, headed by Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and Vice Premier Liu He. [9] On one hand, China gave high marks for the talks saying, “the discussions were frank, highly efficient, and constructive” and that “there was full exchange of opinions on issues such as mutual service trade, mutual investment, protection of intellectual property, and tariff and non-tariff measures, and a certain consensus was reached in some areas.” But on the other hand, China admitted that there were outstanding issues in that “both sides recognize that there are still relatively large differences in views on some issues, and we recognize that we must continue to accelerate work and that further progress needs to be made.” As China has not yet reached an expected agreement, there remains a need to continue to pressure the United States.
 In these circumstances, between May 7-8, Xi Jinping met with Kim Jong-un, who visited China again just over a month after his previous visit, and gave a press conference in the major northeastern city of Dalian. [10]
At this meeting, Xi Jinping reiterated China’s position from the past stating, “China supports North Korea’s adherence to the denuclearization of the peninsula and supports dialogue with the US to resolve the Korean Peninsula issue.” In response, Kim Jong-un said, “It has been the DPRK’s consistent and clear stance to achieve denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. As long as relevant parties abolish their hostile policies and remove security threats against the DPRK, there is no need for the DPRK to be a nuclear state and denuclearization can be realized. I hope that the mutual trust forged through dialogue between North Korea and the US will lead related countries to take gradual and simultaneous steps in a responsible manner through the full pursuit of a process for a political solution to issues on the Korean Peninsula and ultimately that the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and lasting peace will be achieved.” Official Chinese media typically tends to handle the content of whomever Xi Jinping speaks with indifferently and concisely, but this time, they reported Kim’s comments in great detail. Perhaps they were trying to further emphasize their support for North Korea by playing up North Korea’s “gradual and simultaneous” stance on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula issue as the host country. In addition, Xi Jinping stated his support for North Korea making economic construction a strategic focus and also showed support for North Korean domestic issues such as economic reform.
 The day that Kim Jong-un left for home, Xi Jinping held a telephone conference with President Trump at the request of the Americans. [11] During the call, Xi Jinping made clear China’s support for the “step-by-step measures” demanded by North Korea, and asked Trump to take into account “North Korea’s sensible security requirements.”
 Following the phone call, although the US-North Korea summit meeting was thrown into doubt due to comments from a high-ranking official in the North Korean Foreign Ministry, the summit was eventually held as scheduled on June 12. While there did not appear to be any high-ranking Chinese officials in the host country of Singapore, China offered a jumbo jet from its flagship carrier Air China as a special aircraft for Kim Jong-un, and made sure to show that China had good relations with North Korea right up until the very end of the summit meeting.
 At the US-North Korea summit meeting that was the focus of attention, the two leaders signed a joint statement consisting of “four agreements.” The document stated:
1. The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new US-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
2. The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
3. Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
4. The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified. [12]
As the meeting was characterized by the absence of any reference to “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” (CVID), North Korea was declared the winner of the summit. China immediately released a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that “welcomed and supported” the “positive results” at the talks. [13] It appears that this summit was sufficient for China to ingratiate itself with North Korea.

Round 3

With the “successful conclusion” of the US-North Korea summit meeting, was it no longer necessary to borrow the power of China or worry about its influence? Moreover, could it be said that Trump’s “strength” of unpredictability was fully on display? Just three days after the end of the US-North Korea summit meeting on June 15, the Trump administration announced that it would impose additional tariffs on China for “infringement of intellectual property rights.” The administration announced a 25% tariff on 1,102 import items as announced in March, totaling about $50 billion (about ¥5.5 trillion). Of that, tariffs on about 818 items amounting to $34 billion were to be phased in from July 6. [14] Meanwhile, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson immediately released a statement announcing retaliatory measures against the US that would be of “equivalent scale and strength.” The statement contained wording such as, “This move not only hurts bilateral interests, but also undermines the world trade order. The Chinese side firmly opposes that.” and “We call on all countries to take collective action to firmly curb such outdated and regressive moves and steadfastly safeguard the common interests of the mankind,” [15] which embodied the “10 adherences” that would soon be announced at the Central Diplomatic Affairs Commission.
 Kim Jong-un then visited China for the third time in three months from June 19-20, his first visit after the North Korea-United States summit. During this visit, state-owned Xinhua News Agency broke with custom and announced that Kim Jong-un was visiting China during his stay, instead of waiting for him to return to North Korea. [16] Reporting Kim’s visit while he was in China was thought to be an elaborate appeal to the international community that there were no security concerns in both countries and that North Korea was structurally stable, and intended to make a show through the media around the world that China and North Korea enjoyed friendly relations. During the talks, Xi Jinping said of the US-North Korea summit meeting, “China speaks highly of the summit and is pleased to see it achieve principled consensus and positive results in realizing the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and establishing a lasting peace mechanism on the Peninsula.” Xi also used the distinct expressions “China’s support for the socialist DPRK remains unchanged” and “socialist DPRK” to clearly signal that China was defending the North Korean regime. In turn, Kim Jong-un expressed his gratitude for Xi Jinping and China’s support, and once again made clear that the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula would be done in phases by stating, “If the two sides can implement the consensus of the summit step by step solidly, the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula will open up a new and important prospect.” As an aside, during his stay in Beijing, Kim Jong-un inspected the National Agricultural Science and Technology Demonstration Park of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Beijing Traffic Control Center. During the talks with North Korea, Xi Jinping said, “We are happy to see that the DPRK made a major decision to shift the focus to economic construction.” China determined that the economic stability of North Korea would lead to its own political and economic security and likely staged this stance of publicizing Kim’s willingness for economic reform and China’s support policy for the world. China is trying to improve the international climate for easing sanctions against North Korea through efforts such as distributing draft statements on easing North Korean sanctions to the permanent members of the UN Security Council in collaboration with Russia, [17] which is considered to be an extension of this context.
In subsequent developments, as is well known, President Trump’s additional tariffs on Chinese products took effect on July 6 as promised. This is to say that “the measures are extremely unusual…as they effectively target the nation rather than specific sectors.” [18] It may be a sign of dissatisfaction with China’s support of North Korea as the US has been unable to see any movement in advancing denuclearization that it had hoped for despite the “agreement” at the summit. [19] Not surprisingly, China immediately implemented retaliatory measures, [20] but the current state of mind of the entire Chinese leadership, including Xi Jinping, toward US-China relations is first anger, followed by helplessness and futility. Policy-wise, it seems that the adjustments in foreign policy toward the United States have emerged to be a larger-than-expected challenge. This is because the Communist Party of China gives the maximum justification for governance to the sustainable development of the economy. For Xi Jinping, his foremost concern is to prevent a situation in which the people are anxious about the future of the economy due to the effects of the trade war with the US. [21]
 In order to develop advantageous diplomacy with the foremost great power of the United States, China continues to control the important piece it has in its relationship with North Korea and will push forward with promoting “China’s major country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics to fulfill the mission of realizing national rejuvenation.”


The Chinese diplomatic scene over the last two to three years has been developing primarily around the Belt and Road Initiative, which is the only concrete item in the “10 adherences.” However, just because it is the pet policy of Xi Jinping diplomacy does not mean that everything has been smooth sailing. For example, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit was held in Qingdao from June 9-10, but as the G7 summit meeting was being held at the same time and the US-North Korea summit meeting was looming, China wanted to put pressure on the Trump administration by showing solidarity with neighboring countries. However, of the signatory countries to a press communique in support of the Belt and Road Initiative released on the final day of the summit, China’s vain effort to get India to sign was a huge failure. [22] In addition, the Malaysian government, in which Mahathir was making a comeback as prime minister, announced on July 5 that it would suspend construction of the Chinese-led high-speed rail project connecting Malaysia and Singapore. [23] Some experts point out the low demand for land transportation from the viewpoint of economic rationale. [24]
 However, China’s bullish attitude toward the Belt and Road Initiative is not going to change. A joint statement on the Belt and Road Initiative was released at the Second Ministerial Meeting of the China-CELAC Forum held on January 21-22 of this year in Santiago, Chile. According to the statement, China asked Latin American and Caribbean countries to decide for themselves if they wanted to participate in the Belt and Road Initiative, and the countries welcomed it, expressing their support. [25] IIn addition, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation will be held in September in Beijing. As “building a Belt and Road and African community bound together by a common destiny” will likely be a major theme, China will also launch a cooperative blitz. In addition, with Trump repeating his “America First” stance and unpredictable remarks and policies, some sort of expectation of Xi Jinping and China is spreading in the international community, which has undeniably given confidence to China.
 The “10 adherences” policy, which Xi Jinping touted as achievements at the Central Diplomatic Affairs Commission, will make up the core of the “Xi Jinping thought on diplomacy” in the future. Of course, we should judge for ourselves whether these achievements have been fruitful and adhered to. And if China seriously intends to realize all 10 achievements and develop them consistently, it must inculcate the elements of “tolerance and sincerity” into the “10 adherences” policy and dilute its nationalistic tinge.
 The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the end of the US-China trade war will likely take some time to realize. These trends will definitely have a large impact on the prosperity and stability of the world for better or for worse. In that sense, China’s North Korea diplomacy and diplomacy toward the US are styled to be case studies to evaluate Xi Jinping diplomacy or Xi Jinping thought on diplomacy, and it will be necessary to keep an eye on developments going forward.

(Dated Jul 18, 2018)

1 “坚持以新时代中国特色社会主义外交思想为导 努力开创中国特色大国外交新局面,” People’s Daily, June 24, 2018.

2 Such developments are already happening. “习近平新闻思想理论研讨会发言摘编,” People’s Daily, June 15, 2018. “Shuu shisou” taikeika susumu” (The Systemization of Xi Jinping Thought Continues), Yomiuri Shimbun, July 15, 2018.

3 See Rumi Aoyama, “Chuu-chou no ‘dentouteki yuukou’ wa fukkatsu suru ka,” (Will the ‘Traditional Friendship’ between China and North Korea be Revived?), Gaikou, Vol. 49, p. 50-55, for China’s diplomacy toward North Korea from last year to the start of this year.

4 “Amerika, taichuu seisai 5-6 chou-en” (US Slaps China with 5-6 Trillion Yen in Sanctions), Nihon Keizai Shimbun, March 23, 2018 evening edition. “习近平新闻思想理论研讨会发言摘编, People’s Daily, March 24, 2018.

5 “习近平同金正恩举行会谈,” People’s Daily, March 29, 2018.

6 FFor example, “朝鲜半岛需要负责任行動,” People’s Daily, April 30, 2017, and “Kitachousen Chuugoku wo chokusetsu hihan” (North Korea Directly Criticizes China), Asahi Shimbun, May 4, 2017.

7 “Shuushi “chi de musubareta shinzen” (Xi: “Amity Connected by Blood”), Yomiuri Shimbun, March 29, 2018.

8 “Hanmonten sengen no zenbun” (Full Text of the Panmunjom Declaration), Nihon Keizai Shimbun, April 28, 2018.

9 “中美经贸磋商就部分问题达成共识,” People’s Daily, May 5, 2018.

10 “习近平同朝鲜劳动党委员长金正恩在大连举行会唔,” People’s Daily, May 9, 2018.

11 “习近平应约同美国总统特朗普通电话,” People’s Daily, May 9, 2018.

12 Bei chou kyoudou seimei zenbun” (Full Text of the Joint Statement between the United States and North Korea), Mainichi Shimbun, June 13, 2018.

13 “Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,”, Accessed July 10, 2018.

14 “Bei, taichuu seisai kanzei hatsudou he” (US to Impose Tariffs on China), Nihon Keizai Shimbun, June 16, 2018.

15 “外交部发言人、商务部新闻发言人分别就美方公布对华贸易措施答记者问和发表谈话,” People’s Daily, June 16, 2018.

16 “习近平同朝鲜劳动党委员长金正恩举行会谈,” People’s Daily, June 20, 2018. “习近平会见朝鲜劳动党委员长金正恩,” People’s Daily, June 21, 2018.

17 “Kitachousen seisai kanwa he chuugoku ga houdou seimei-an (China Releases Draft Press Statements to Mitigate North Korean Sanctions), Asahi Shimbun, June 30, 2018.

18 “Beichuu, boueki sensou ni” (US and China on the Brink of Trade War), Nihon Keizai Shimbun, July 7, 2018.

19 “Ponpeo-shi ‘juuyou bun’ya de shinten’ kitachousen gaimushou bei no taido, ikan’” (Pompeo Sees ‘Progress in Critical Areas’ while North Korean Foreign Ministry Expresses Dissatisfaction with US Behavior), Asahi Shimbun, July 8, 2018.

20 “中国对美关税反制措施正式实施,” People’s Daily, July 7, 2018.

21 In that sense, much attention needs to be paid to the “criticism of Xi Jinping (or Xi Jinping worship)” movement reported after July, how authorities respond to it, and what kind of influence it has on Chinese politics in the future. For example, “Shuu-shi suuhai hihan ga funshutsu” (Criticism of Xi Worship Erupts), Asahi Shimbun, August 5, 2018.

22 “Press communique of the Meeting of the Council of Heads of Member States of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization,” People’s Daily, June 11, 2018.

23 “Chuugoku shudou no tetsudou chuushi” (Chinese-led Rail Project Suspended), Nihon Keizai Shimbun, July 6, 2018. It seems that there is a trend of shrinking development projects led by China also in Myanmar. “Ittai ichiro” ni mebuku kenen” (Concerns Arise of One Belt One Road), Nihon Keizai Shimbun, July 5, 2018.

24 Yoko Hirose, (2018) Roshia to chuugoku hanbei no senryaku (Russia and China’s Anti-American Strategy), Chikuma Shinsho, p. 84 and p. 100.

25 “中国-拉共体论坛第二届部长级会议圣地亚哥宣言”
[] (Accessed July 1, 2018).
[](Accessed June 28, 2018).

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