China is adding to Xi Jinping’s vast powers with a new law that will assert Beijing’s interests on the world stage. The law threatens to penalize entities that operate in “detrimental” ways to China’s interests, although it does not identify which limits should not be crossed.
Experts believe the law highlights China’s aggressive diplomacy, but it’s unclear how aggressively it will be implemented when it goes into effect on July 1. After all, China has been eager to attract international investment in the aftermath of Covid.
Much of the law, according to Jacques deLisle, a law and political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, is “relatively empty rhetoric and largely familiar,” but it foreshadows a more assertive foreign policy and stronger pushback against the US.
The measure was seen as a “key step to enriching the legal toolbox against Western hegemony” by the state-run Global Times.
According to Dr. Chong Ja-Ian, a non-resident scholar at Carnegie China, the move is a “signal” of Beijing’s determination to “actively pursue their interests in ways that include more coercion and pressure, even as they hold out the attraction of cooperation and economic gains.”
China’s authorities face a “inherent tension” between pursuing economic development and safeguarding national security and interests, according to Manoj Kewalramani, director of the Takshashila Institution’s China Studies Programme.
“This push and pull is very likely to continue,” he told AP.
In recent years, relations between Beijing and Washington have been tense, with the two giants exchanging a series of tit-for-tat trade sanctions.
Worldwide conformity with China’s goals
Authorities in China have taken a number of moves against Western corporations this year, including raiding and closing the local offices of several US-based consultancy firms.
These are largely seen as retaliatory steps in response to the United States’ increasing trade and technology restrictions.
According to Dr. Chong, the new foreign relations law may result in more worldwide conformity with China’s goals, but it may also result in pushback from other governments.
“If they haven’t already, foreign businesses may want to reconsider their exposure to the Chinese market or public positions they take, including political ones.”
“The legislation provides a stronger legal foundation for the raids and investigations of foreign firms that have already occurred,” he said.
Nonetheless, the law does not guarantee that China will take stronger measures.
Xi’s growing grip on power
According to experts, it is particularly notable how the law defines China’s foreign relations in the perspective of philosophy.
“The People’s Republic of China conducts foreign relations in order to uphold its system of socialism with Chinese characteristics, safeguard its sovereignty, unification, and territorial integrity, and promote its economic and social development,” according to the legislation.
It goes on to say that China conducts foreign policy “under the guidance of” political theories such as Xi Jinping’s, Mao Zedong’s, Deng Xiaoping’s, and Marxism-Leninism, among others.
The law establishes for the first time in writing that foreign policy is directed by the ruling Communist Party rather than the state; it also shows Mr Xi’s growing grip on power.
“[The law] is strikingly explicit on party leadership over foreign relations, underscoring Xi era trends of power migration – from the state to the party, and within the party, to Xi,” Dr. deLisle said.
According to an editorial published on Thursday in the state-run daily People’s Daily, China’s top diplomat Wang Yi called it “an important measure to strengthen the Communist Party Central Committee’s centralised and unified leadership over foreign affairs.”
According to Mr Kewalramani, the new regulation may discourage debate and disagreement on foreign policy matters.
However, he warned, the total effects will only become clear over time, depending on how the courts interpret the legislation and the punitive sanctions levied.