China's President Xi Jinping
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China’s assertive diplomacy set to revitalise partnership with Kenya

China's President Xi Jinping. 

Photo credit: Noel Celis | AFP

Manifestly, China is assertively taking its mantle as a responsible superpower in the governance of our stormy multipolar world. Two crucial foreign affairs meetings on December 27-29 last year have given rise to a new assertive foreign policy strategy to revamp China’s global diplomacy.

Crafted in the post-Covid-19 era, and against the backdrop of the smoldering embers of the Ukraine crisis, the Palestine-Israeli conflict and a make-or-break presidential election in the United States looming in the horizon, Beijing’s leadership and foreign policy thinkers offer a counter-vision to the doomsday and polarizing ‘Clash of Civilizations’ thesis that depicts world civilizations as armor-plated ready for war and the ‘Thucydides Trap’ that visualise the old hegemon (America) and the rising superpower (China) as inevitably headed for war.

Instead, the movers and shakers in Beijing have fixed their eyes on building “a community of shared future” for humanity, ‘a universally beneficial and inclusive economic globalization’ and an equal, prosperous and orderly multipolar world.

Undeniably, Kenya has been sucked into the vortex of great power competition for influence in Africa.

The Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs held in Beijing on December 27-28, 2023, and attended by President Xi Jinping and other Communist Party of China (CPC) luminaries, ushers an assertive moment in Chinese diplomacy.

Together with Xi’s address to Chinese diplomats attending their annual work conference on December 29, the symposium clarified the goals, guiding principles, strategic plan, and basic tasks driving Beijing’s diplomacy in 2024 and beyond.

The real spider weaving the web is the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee. Today, with 265 bilateral missions (embassies and consulates) in 171 countries, 8 permanent missions to international and two other posts, China has the largest number of active diplomatic posts in the world followed by the United States with 249 bilateral posts in 168 countries, 11 permanent missions to international organizations and seven other posts. Since 2013, China has transformed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) into “the world’s largest platform for international cooperation”.

Intellectually, China’s foreign policy juggernaut is propelled by Xi Jinping’s ‘Thought on Diplomacy’, a core tenet of the president’s concept of “Socialism with Chinese characteristics.’ 2023 marked the 70th anniversary of “The Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence” that Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai proposed on December 31, 1953: mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence. Today, according to Foreign Minister Wang Yi, the five-point agenda of China’s revamped diplomacy is to “enhance friendship, mutual trust and integration of interests with neighboring countries,” strengthen relations with developing countries, unite and revitalize the BRICS countries, safeguard China’s sovereignty, security and development interests and work for an enabling external environment.

China’s new diplomacy rests on three-point agenda. First, in 2024 China will undertake a robust “head-of-state diplomacy” to pursue peaceful coexistence, overall stability, security, balanced development and “mutual learning between civilizations.”

Second is Beijing’s ‘major-country diplomacy’ to position China as a ‘responsible major country’ with enhanced international influence.

Third, China will host four regional and international events aligned to the four themes underpinning Chinese diplomacy. China will host the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Beijing.

Two, the Annual Boao Forum for Asia will help foster good relations with its neighbours. Three, the Annual China International Import Expo will boost trade and globalization. Both the Boao Forum and the International Import Expo will partly contribute to the implementation of the Global Security Initiative (GSI).

Finally, and related to the above, is the Forum on Global Action for Shared Development, which will help implement China’s Global Development Initiative (GDI) to spur post-Covid global recovery and growth. The implementation of GDI will actualise the outcomes of the Third Belt and Road Forum for Regional Cooperation. More than 70 countries have joined the group of friends of the China-led GDI.

Kenya cannot ignore China’s new diplomacy. The 2022 elections thrust the country into the vortex of the ‘new cold war’ geopolitics. Kenya has been a target of post-truth politics which depicts China’s development assistance to the country as a debt trap. President William Ruto attended the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing last year.

On December 14, 2023, Xi sent his congratulatory message to Ruto during the sixtieth year of Sino-Kenya diplomacy. As Chinese ambassador to Kenya, Dr Zhou Pingjian aptly remarked, “Under the strategic guidance of President Xi Jinping and President William Ruto, we have every confidence that China and Kenya will continually enrich the comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership to jointly build an even closer China-Kenya community with a shared future in the new era.”

Kenya becomes the third African country — after South Africa and Egypt — where China has invoked the idea of building a bilateral “community of shared future”. One can only conclude with President Ruto that Sino-Kenya bilateral relations “will embrace a bright future of sustainable development, prosperity, friendship and common progress.”

- Prof Peter Kagwanja is former Government Adviser (2007-2013), and currently Chief Executive at the Africa Institute (API), Adjunct Professor at the University of Nairobi and visiting scholar at the National Defence University—Kenya (NDU).