MARITIME RIGHTS: Fishing boats and patrol ships dock in the waters of Sansha City on the South China Sea (ZHA CHUNMING)
At a study session with members of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee on July 30, Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is also General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, stressed in a speech that China is preparing to cope with complexities, enhance the nation's capacity in safeguarding maritime rights and interests, and resolutely safeguard the nation's maritime rights and interests.
It was not the first time Xi publicly stressed the importance of safeguarding China's core national interests after the leadership transition. While giving a speech at a similar group study session on January 28, Xi said, "We will stick to the road of peaceful development, but will never give up our legitimate rights and will never sacrifice our national core interests. No country should presume that we will trade our core interests or that we will allow harm to be done to our sovereignty, security or development interests."
So what are China's core national interests?
On September 6, 2011, the State Council released a white paper named China's Peaceful Development, which defined China's core national interests as state sovereignty, national security, territorial integrity and national reunification, China's political system established by the Constitution, overall social stability, and the basic safeguards for ensuring sustainable economic and social development.
The concept of core national interests was first adopted in China's foreign policy around 2005. First articulated by mid-level foreign affairs officials, the set of core interests was initially raised in response to the Taiwan question in order to express China's firm stance on upholding the country's national unity and territorial integrity.
China's official documents and foreign affairs activities have incorporated the language since 2007 due to the volatile international situation. At the end of the George W. Bush administration and the beginning of the first term of Barack Obama's administration, the United States announced big arms sales plans to Taiwan. Meanwhile, some Western leaders successively met with the Dalai Lama in their offices. These actions did serious harm to China's national security as well as bilateral relations with related countries. Chinese officials have repeatedly asserted that the Taiwan and Tibet questions concern China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and that these provocations have "hurt the feelings of the Chinese people."
At the same time, the Chinese Government also began working to define and classify China's core national interests. During the first round of the China-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) in July 2009, the then Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo, co-chair of the S&ED, for the first time summarized China's core national interests: safeguarding its political and economic systems and national security, sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as sustainable economic and social development.
On December 6, 2010, Dai published an article entitled "We Must Stick to the Path of Peaceful Development" on the official website of China's Foreign Ministry. He wrote, "In my view, no development path should be chosen at the expense of major national interests, core interests in particular. What are China's core interests? My personal understanding is: First, China's form of government and political system and stability, namely the CPC leadership, the socialist system and socialism with Chinese characteristics; second, China's sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity; third, the basic guarantee for sustainable economic and social development of China. No violation of these interests will be allowed."
For any country, core national interests concern security and survival. Declaring core national interests shows a country's defensive and realist view, which aims to prevent misjudgments and reduce the possibility of conflicts.
Generally speaking, China's declaration of its core national interests is based on two considerations. On the one hand, some countries are becoming more anxious about China's rising economic status and have spurred territorial disputes with China, causing concern to both Chinese people and policymakers. Therefore, China needs to declare explicitly her core national interests in order to avoid further erosion of those interests. On the other hand, the Chinese public has become increasingly conscious of the territorial disputes, urging the government to better safeguard their national interests.