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Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives for a ceremony marking 70 years since the ‘Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence’ were first included in an agreement between China and India, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Friday. Photo: AFP

China’s Xi Jinping calls on nations to unite against ‘iron curtains of confrontation’

  • China will never seek hegemony on basis of strength, President Xi Jinping says in marking 70 years of ‘Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence’
China will take “major steps” to deepen reform, never stray from the path of peaceful development or seek to subjugate others, President Xi Jinping pledged on Friday.

His comments to mark a key foreign policy milestone come as Beijing continues to position itself as a leader of the Global South and an international peace broker.

Touting China as a force for peace, justice and development, Xi also called for better communication and cooperation to counter “iron curtains of confrontation” amid rising tensions in the South China Sea and Beijing’s deepening rivalry with the US-led West.

The “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence” had been “the bedrock” of Chinese foreign policy since the 1950s, Xi said in a keynote address at an event in Beijing marking the 70th anniversary of the concept.

The principles, stressing mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, were first included in an agreement between China and India in 1954, known as the “Panchsheel” treaty in India.

The principles had shown “everlasting relevance” and become “universally applicable basic norms for international relations”, Xi said.

World affairs should not be “dictated by those with more muscles”, President Xi Jinping said at Friday’s event. Photo: AFP
However, observers cautioned that they were more a lofty ideal than a reality, dimmed further by China’s assertiveness and close ties with Russia despite its invasion of Ukraine.

Xi also had a strong message on “China’s resolve to promote common development across the world” – a day after Beijing announced that the traditionally economic goal-setting third plenary session of the Communist Party would be held from July 15 to 18.

“China will only open itself ever wider to the outside world. Its door will never close,” Xi said, according to an official transcript. “We are planning to take, and in some cases are already taking, major steps to further deepen reform across the board and expand institutional opening up.”

According to China’s official Xinhua news agency, the plenum will focus on “deepening reform and advancing Chinese modernisation”.

“We will build a business environment that is more solidly based on the market and rule of law and is up to international standards,” Xi pledged.

In a thinly veiled message to the United States and Europe, which have slapped higher tariffs on a range of Chinese products and sought to cut off hi-tech access, he said: “‘Small yards with high fences’, decoupling, and severing industrial and supply chains simply run counter to the tide of history. They will do nothing but harm the common interests of the international community.”

“World affairs should be handled through extensive consultation, not dictated by those with more muscles,” he said. “In the era of economic globalisation, what is needed is not gaps of division but bridges of communication, not iron curtains of confrontation but highways of cooperation.”

Noting historical similarities between now and the 1950s, when the world was overshadowed by the Cold War and assertions such as “might is right”, he said the five principles offered “a new path towards peaceful settlement of historic issues and international disputes”.

“We will never take the trodden path of colonial plundering, or the wrong path of seeking hegemony when one becomes strong. We will stay on the right path of peaceful development,” Xi said at the event attended by former Myanmar president Thein Sein and former general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party, Nong Duc Manh.

A decade ago, Xi also invited Thein Sein, the sitting president at the time, and India’s then vice-president Mohammad Hamid Ansari to a similar event in Beijing.

China’s ties with India and several other neighbours, notably Japan and the Philippines, have soured in the past decade over intractable border disputes.

Amid its all-out rivalry with the US, Beijing is also facing intense scrutiny and resistance over Xi’s assertive “major power diplomacy”, which aims to help China “take centre stage in the world” and become a global power of “moral appeal”.

Last year, China’s top envoy to France Lu Shaye caused an uproar across Europe when he questioned the sovereignty of Ukraine and other former Soviet states, prompting Beijing to clarify that the ambassador’s remarks were “an expression of personal points of view”.

Earlier this month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky launched a broadside at Beijing at the Shangri-La Dialogue security forum in Singapore, questioning China’s claim of “neutrality” and accusing it of becoming “an instrument in the hands of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin”.


China urged to help end Ukraine war by President Volodymyr Zelensky at Shangri-La Dialogue

China urged to help end Ukraine war by President Volodymyr Zelensky at Shangri-La Dialogue

Sourabh Gupta, a senior policy specialist with the Institute for China-America Studies in Washington, said Beijing was correct in that the five principles had become part of customary international law and “ever more relevant” with the rise of the Global South, but the optics were less than ideal.

“The message embodied in the five principles is certainly alive and well; it has not lost its appeal. The political optics associated with the five principles have dimmed however, given the less-than-stellar adherence to the message of peaceful coexistence by its key messenger, China, in its neighbourhood,” he said.

In his speech on Friday, Xi hailed China’s “constructive role” on a long list of international hotspots, including Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas conflict, the Korean peninsula, Iran, Myanmar and Afghanistan.

“Among the world’s major countries, China has the best track record with respect to peace and security. It has been exploring a distinctly Chinese approach to resolving hotspot issues … Every increase of China’s strength is an increase of the prospects of world peace,” he said.

Xi also held up his signature initiative of “building a community with a shared future” as an upgraded version of the five principles, as he called on the United Nations and developing countries to step up in shaping a new international order in the face of “new developments and challenges”.

“Standing at a new historical starting point, the Global South should be more open and more inclusive, and join hands together to take the lead in building a community with a shared future for mankind,” he said.

Observers say Beijing’s repeated emphasis on non-intervention and respect for sovereignty is partly an attempt to fend off criticism of its high-handed approach to issues that it deems as internal affairs, including Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

Yun Sun, co-director of the East Asia programme and director of the China programme at the Washington-based Stimson Centre, said that, despite mounting criticism, China still believed it was following the five principles.

“In fact, China might see its various global security, development and civilisation initiatives all follow the mantra of the five principles. Those principles could apply regardless of China’s power status and there is a certain internal logic of the principles that sustain,” she said.

“The principles have been more an ideal rather than an operationalised framework, so China can always call it the desired endgame, and a work in progress.”