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[All Politics is Global] How Beijing's New Foreign Relations Law Gives the CCP Even More Power

The CCP runs China's foreign policy — the new Foreign Relations Law ensures that from being an all-pervasive, unwritten understanding, it is now a hard law.



The Great Hall of the People in Beijing (via Wikimedia Commons)

On June 28, 2023, China's national legislature, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, adopted a new Foreign Relations Law (对外关系法). The law went into force on July 1, 2023. 

As a framework law, it highlights Beijing's new priorities. These include the recently launched Global Security Initiative (全球安全倡议), Global Development Initiative (全球发展倡议), and Global Civilization Initiative (全球文明倡议).

The implications of China's new Foreign Relations Law run deep. Codification of the three identified global initiatives, namely, GDI, GSI, and GCI imply that the foundations upon which Beijing's quest for an alternative international order challenging the West have been set. 

Codifying Beijing's Alternative International Order

The GCI was announced by Xi Jinping in March 2023. It integrates Beijing's "modernization does not equal westernization" description into a structured global initiative. Beijing strives to "preserve" and "reform" aspects of the international order by injecting key elements of Sino-Marxism. And this ambition has received a politico-legal fillip through the new legislation.

Xi Jinping china
China's President Xi Jinping speaks at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 13, 2023. (©NOEL CELIS/Pool via REUTERS)

The law outlines the fundamentals of China's foreign policy framework and goals in the form of 45 articles spanning six chapters. Most importantly, it declaredly underlines the Chinese Communist Party's "centralized and overall leadership" over China's conduct of foreign relations. It codifies the fundamental role of the "central leading body on foreign affairs." This is referring to the Party's Central Foreign Affairs Commission.

Moreover, Article 10 provides that the NPC's Standing Committee shall have the authority to approve/abrogate treaties and other significant agreements concluded with foreign nations. Chapter IV reiterates the content of existing Chinese law and Beijing's foreign-related legal priorities in the garb of "promoting foreign-related rule of law" [涉外法治]. This is an essential component of Xi Jinping's Thought on the Rule of Law. It includes, among others:

  • Expanding the extraterritorial application of Chinese laws
  • Improving the ability of Chinese courts to apply foreign laws

A Rising Revisionist Power

Article 31 touches upon the implementation and application of international treaties. From an Asian security point of view, this remains a very concerning provision of the Foreign Relations Law. The language quoted in the article is vague. This almost suggests that it has deliberately been kept ambiguous to provide enough room for interpretation that suits Chinese interests and agendas.

The Foreign Relations Law places foreign policy praxis in the legal sphere. It provides "legal teeth" in the context of China's preparation for the renewed prioritization of "struggle" [斗争] — a new key foreign policy-related element. The law, perhaps, is Beijing's most potent legislative foreign policy-related tool to date. It will drive Beijing's reshaping agenda regarding the existing regional and global order. All along the past few decades, China's behavior has been more consistent with that of a revisionist state.

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress decided to dismiss China's Foreign Minister Qin Gang, on July 25. (© Xinhua via Kyodo)

This also remains relevant in terms of the power transition theory that highlights the rise in China's growth and power over the last two decades. The changes induced in terms of relative power have reduced critical constraints on Beijing's foreign policy behavior and decision-making. More so, it has amplified the incentives for revisionist elements within the Chinese state to initiate changes in international rules and norms. This is precisely what the new Foreign Relations Law argues for.

CCP's Monopolization of Foreign Policy

China has been showcasing multiple teasers of its revisionist foreign policy objectives and strategy in recent years. However, this law provides a legal basis for China's 21st-century power politics. It amplifies the arrival of Beijing's own Great Power narrative — inevitably requiring strategies to advance China's economic and security interests globally. The "going out" plan is being manifested through the Belt and Road Initiative among others.

China's military, the People's Liberation Army (PLA), is already an established "Party's Army." pledging allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party. Thereby, it aids the latter's monopolization of political power. Akin to China's ruling civilian elite, most PLA officers are Party members. They remain deeply involved in Party and domestic politics. Within the PLA, there is a military political work system that ensures the CCP's "absolute control of the gun."

In addition to the military, it is the CCP, and not the government (state) that runs China's foreign policy. The new foreign relations legislation has ensured that from being an all-pervasive, unwritten understanding, it is now a codified hard law.



Author: Dr Monika Chansoria

Dr Monika Chansoria is a Senior Fellow at The Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo and the author of five books on Asian security. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the views of any organization with which the author is affiliated. Follow her column, "All Politics is Global" on JAPAN Forward, and on X (formerly Twitter) @MonikaChansoria.

Stay informed about the latest developments in contemporary Asian security, Great Power politics in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, with insights from Dr Monika Chansoria.


Stay informed about the latest developments in contemporary Asian security, Great Power politics in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, with insights from Dr Monika Chansoria.

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