YANG CHENG: Chinese diplomacy shines at Sochi Winter Olympics

By By Yang Cheng / 02-26-2014 / Chinese Social Sciences Today

Yang Cheng

Completely breaking precedence, President Xi Jinping attended the opening ceremony of the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi on February 6, marking the first time a top Chinese leader has gone abroad to attend an international sporting event. In the 43 hours following the ceremony, President Xi conducted a series of intensive and efficient diplomatic activities, truly opening the year in an elegant and non-traditional fashion characteristic of Xi-style diplomacy.


Coinciding with the Chinese New Year, President Xi’s significant diplomatic move endowed the Sochi Winter Olympics with China’s mark. It not only fully displayed the personal magnetism and charisma of China’s new generation of leadership—a group characterized by its responsibility, integrity, helpfulness and open-mindedness—not to mention Xi’s diplomatic style, which focuses on new ideas of cooperation, new concepts of security, new ideas of profit and morality; it also ingeniously shaped an image of China as peace-loving, pursuing cooperation and achieving development and prosperity with the world. President Xi’s attendance at the Sochi Winter Olympics has also indicated the future direction of China’s diplomacy, one which increasingly reflects great power of diplomacy.


Historic in its implications, President Xi’s visit to Sochi also marks the second consecutive year that the top Chinese leader chose Russia as the first country to visit. His trip is all the more symbolic in its significance because the leaders of so many major Western nations were, for various reasons, absent for the opening ceremony. It communicates to the world that post-Cold War Sino-Russian relations, impervious to outside interference, are founded on independent values and unique characteristics. In embodying common interest and major issues closely related to each other, their relationship is mutually supportive and reliant.


What China and Russia hope to accomplish through their cooperation in the new era is increasingly clear. Firstly, in both regional and international security, stability and peace, they will act as great responsible nations, taking the initiative and cooperating in providing public goods, both in greater quantity and of higher quality, promoting global development and regional governance, and facilitating a more democratic order in the international system. Secondly, through aligning their development strategies and other means, China and Russia will continuously advance their advantageous political relationship, deepening cooperation on economic, human and military affairs in order to achieve a more fundamental, pragmatic, steady and far-reaching bilateral partnership.


In short, “the Age of Xi and Putin” has been successively launched. Both the leaders’ talks at the Sochi Winter Olympics’ and President Putin’s upcoming visit to China this May demonstrate the maturity and durability of the relationship between China and Russia. In the next decade, this relationship will be healthier, more rational and more influential on the international stage.


Apart from bilateral talks with Putin, President Xi has exchanged ideas with other European and Asian leaders for strengthening cooperation. The EU remains one of China’s most important economic partners in Eurasia, and as the new generation of Chinese leadership comprehensively deepens internal reforms, there will be greater, more robust development opportunities for Sino-European relations. Moreover, as transitional economies, countries in Central and Eastern Europe have been traditional friends of China.  As cooperation between these countries and China has expanded quickly and become institutionalized, they have come to serve as an important pivot-point for China in the broader framework of Eurasia.


The process of globalization leading up to the present decade has connected Europe, North America and the Asia-Pacific region in a netlike structure. This structure also includes linkages to regions that remain at the periphery of globalization, owing to relatively backward economic levels and colonial pasts. In the twenty years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Europe, North America and the Asia-Pacific region have become increasingly interdependent, and have also gradually extended their influence to surrounding regions. Emerging economies like China, Russia and India have actively developed cross-border cooperation and engaged the EU as a key partner. Of course, in no small part the EU’s expansion to and partnership with the East and their partnership also promoted this progress. For the first time, Eurasian integration is feasible.


Since taking office in 2013, President Xi has made neighborhood diplomacy a centerpiece of his diplomatic style. Stressing are “intimacy, honesty, benefaction and tolerance” as its key tenets, neighborhood diplomacy strives to adhere to a framework of harmonious, symbiotic development, and is built upon the core principles of “common destiny” and “common benefit”. The new direction of this style of diplomacy emphasizes sharing the dividends of development. Taken together, these features of a new era of Chinese engagement with its neighbors and the world mark the maturity of China as it grows into a great nation.


President Xi’s visit to Sochi and his talk with Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, are a successful demonstration of the new strategy involved in China’s neighborhood diplomacy.


How to make the world better understand the real China—to better recognize a peaceful China, further include a growing China and be more inclusive toward a malleable China—requires delicate measures of public diplomacy. A distinct feature of Xi’s diplomatic style is that it is more personal, conducted more through human feeling, and more accessible. From form to content, China’s new leadership has ceaselessly pursued a fresh and original approach to foreign affairs. These efforts have surprised the entire nation and kept the whole world all eyes and ears.


To common people throughout every country of the world, the Winter Olympics is much more of a focus than the proceedings of the general assembly of the UN and the G20 summit. Given the global influence and publicity of this sporting event, President Xi’s attendance at the opening ceremony of Sochi Winter Olympics was an exceptionally influential act of public diplomacy. 


Although President Xi had a very busy schedule when he visited Sochi, he still accepted an interview with a Russian TV station, during which he elaborated on his assessment and expectations of China and Russia’s relationship and China’s comprehensive deepening of reforms in concise and lively language, expressing his confidence in China’s development path. President Xi spoke freely about his personal life and hobbies, showing the world his sincerity and honesty.


From any point of view, President Xi’s visit to Sochi counts as a tremendously successful and significant diplomatic act. It is both rooted in and beyond the relationship between China and Russia, revealing a grand vision of building Eurasian integration, both continental and oceanic. It reflects the core values of neighborhood diplomacy and shapes a more reliable and modest image of China. The new generation of Chinese leadership has exhibited impeccable savvy in international affairs. Their evolving diplomatic style—the art of engaging the world without excessive formalism—is a great start for China’s diplomacy in 2014. There is undoubtedly reason to look forward to even greater triumphs for Xi’s diplomatic style in the future.   



Yang Cheng is from the Center for Russian Studies at East China Normal University.

The Chinese version appeared in Chinese Social Sciences Today, No. 558, Feb.12, 2014

                                                      Translated by Zhang Mengying

                                                       Revised by Charles Horne

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