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The Wide-ranging Foreign Policy Law China Wants to Counter the West With

China’s decision to enact a new law governing the country’s foreign relations last weekend lays the groundwork for a stronger pushback by Beijing in response to measures — including those imposed by the U.S. — that it views as hindering its rise.

The new legislation, which was passed by the country’s top lawmaking body on June 28 and entered into force Saturday, brings together Beijing’s long-standing diplomatic principles and enriches its “legal toolbox” to “more effectively deal with risks and challenges” in the foreign policy arena, according to the Chinese government.

Analysts believe the law is intended to ensure consistency between the Chinese leadership’s thinking and diplomats’ actions on the global stage. But just how actively it will be enforced and how much of a deterrent it will be remains to be seen.

Here’s a comprehensive look at what the new Foreign Relations Law is and what it means.

What is the new law?

The Foreign Relations Law marks the first time that the country’s fundamental foreign policy principles and positions have been codified into law since communist China’s founding in 1949.

The law, consisting of six chapters and 45 articles, includes provisions for the division of authority and responsibility within the foreign policy apparatus, as well as goals, tasks, systems and safeguards for developing foreign relations.

Labeled by analysts as a type of “umbrella legislation” that covers all aspects of foreign affairs, the new law consolidates Beijing’s existing diplomatic stances, including those of nonaggression and noninterference in other countries’ internal affairs, and its opposition to “hegemony” and “power politics.”

The new legislation also enshrined into law some of leader Xi Jinping’s signature foreign diplomacy initiatives, including the Global Security Initiative, Global Development Initiative and Global Civilization Initiative, which all tout the concept of noninterference.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Chinese leader Xi Jinping at Beijing's Great Hall of the People on June 19. | POOL / VIA AFP-JIJI
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Chinese leader Xi Jinping at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on June 19. | POOL / VIA AFP-JIJI

The law should be viewed as “a comprehensive codification” of the Communist Party leadership’s “understanding of diplomacy and foreign policy,” the state-run China Daily said in an editorial last week.

In an apparent bid to appeal to growing nationalism in the country, the new law was hailed by National People’s Congress Standing Committee Chairman Zhao Leji as having “great significance” for safeguarding the country’s interests and ensuring its “national rejuvenation” — a key phrase often echoed by Xi as China’s global clout grows.

Why pass the law now?

China — and the ruling Communist Party — have long been wary of the risks and challenges associated with an unstable geopolitical environment. According to experts cited by the state-run Global Times tabloid, the legislation came in response to growing turbulence and change in the international arena. It is imperative for Beijing to use law as a tool to counter “unilateral sanctions and the long-arm jurisdiction of the West” over other countries, it said.

Meanwhile, top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi said the legislation met an “urgent need” to safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests.

“The legislation provides a legal basis for China to counter foreign sanctions and interference,” Wang said in an editorial published in the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily last week.

What is in the legislation?

Much of the public attention surrounding the law has centered on Article 33, which stresses what China says is its right “to take corresponding countermeasures and restrictive measures” against acts that violate international law and norms and that “endanger China’s sovereignty, security and development interests.”

The section was seen as an implicit condemnation of the U.S., which has slapped China with stringent measures on crucial tech exports and imposed sanctions on its defense minister in recent years. However, it does not mention any new mechanism for executing the measures in response, leaving it effectively toothless for now.

The law also explicitly puts in writing for the first time that the ruling Communist Party — not the Chinese state — is in charge of the country’s foreign policy, specifying that such decision-making must be made by the party committee focusing on foreign affairs.

The moves illustrate a clear tightening of the party’s — and Xi’s — grip on power.

“The legislation is an important measure to strengthen the Communist Party Central Committee’s centralized and unified leadership over foreign affairs,” Wang, the top diplomat, said.

Beijing views tech export regulations adopted in recent years by the U.S. and its partners as efforts to suppress China’s development. | REUTERS
Beijing views tech export regulations adopted in recent years by the U.S. and its partners as efforts to suppress China’s development. | REUTERS

It also stipulates that China’s diplomacy be conducted in accordance with the Chinese Constitution and under the guidance of Xi’s political ideology — verbosely known as “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.” Furthermore, it mandates that treaties and agreements that China concludes or accedes to must not contravene the constitution, further cementing Xi and the party’s power.

Another section that has raised eyebrows among foreign businesses in China is the vague requirement that foreign nationals and organizations in China not endanger the country’s national security, undermine social and public interests or disrupt social and public order. Critics say the vaguely worded section leaves firms unable to determine what would constitute a national security threat.

Still, the law also states that China will adhere to a “high-standard opening-up,” protecting incoming foreign investment and promoting international economic cooperation as Beijing seeks to reassure investors that the country is still open to foreign trade.

What other laws on foreign relations are there?

Beijing has enacted a slew of regulations over the past few years in response to overseas sanctions, which it perceives as efforts to suppress China’s development, including the “unreliable entity list” in 2020 and the Anti-Foreign Sanctions Law in 2021. These followed the protracted trade war between the two nations that erupted in 2016 as well as a series of U.S. export restrictions on high-tech products starting last year.

Under the entity list, Beijing sanctioned U.S. defense companies Lockheed Martin and Raytheon in February, reportedly over the firms’ arms sales to self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its territory. In May, the United States’ biggest maker of memory chips, Micron Technology, was banned from key infrastructure projects in China, in a move largely seen as a response to the U.S. tech export crackdown. On Monday, China imposed restrictions on the export of two metals, germanium and gallium, which are essential for producing electronics and semiconductors.

Alongside the Foreign Relations Act, a newly revised anti-espionage law also came into effect on Saturday. The amendments to that law broadly expand the definition of what counts as spying — including what could be regarded as regular business activities — and have sent a chill through the foreign business community in China over fears of arbitrary detentions or other punishments.

Source: The Japan Times