On 28 June 2023, the Law on Foreign Relations of the People's Republic of China (PRC) was adopted at the Third Meeting of the Standing Committee of the 14th National People's Congress.[i] This Law came into effect on 1 July 2023. It spreads over six chapters and is divided into 45 articles. It is for the first time that China has codified its Foreign Policy into law. China is the first major country to have a foreign relations law.[ii] The paper aims to comprehend the Law.
China’s Law on Foreign Relations
The background of the law can be traced to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), wherein the report called for framing a law. It stated, “We will step up legislation in key, emerging, and foreign-related fields and advance the rule of law in domestic and foreign-related affairs in a coordinated manner, so that good laws are made to promote development and ensure good governance.”[iii] It may be noted that the Law is an enhanced version of the Anti-Foreign-Sanctions Law (AFSL)[iv], which was passed by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC) on 10 June 2021.[v] Xinhua points out that the AFSL was passed as a reaction to hegemonism and power politics of some Western countries.[vi] Yet another legislation, although it preceded the enactment of the Law of Foreign Relations but yet can be considered a precursor to it, is the amended Anti-Espionage Law. On 26 April 2023, China amended its Anti-Espionage Law by expanding the coverage of spying charges from stealing “state secrets” to the theft of “all data and items related to national security.”[vii]
The timing of the Law on Foreign Relations is important because it was released soon after the impending visit of the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to China. The visit was important because it was earlier scheduled in February and was postponed after a Chinese spy balloon flew over the US. China has been pursuing Wolf Warrior Diplomacy and following aggressive postures in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, Taiwan Strait and India-China border. These developments have drawn international criticism of China.
The Law explains China’s major principles, policy positions, and institutional frameworks for foreign affairs. It is a blanket legislation that sets the direction of Chinese Foreign Policy. Global Times calls it as “China’s attitude on the Table”.[viii] The law has attempted to provide a clear understanding of terms such as “the community with a shared future for mankind.”[ix] The spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, the law reflects China’s diplomatic policy of maintaining world peace and promoting common development. It also represents China's strong expectations for peaceful development and win-win cooperation.[x]
China has passed the Law at this point because they are wary of the unstable geopolitical environment. Wang Yi, Foreign Minister of China, explicated that China was confronting a growing number of unpredictable factors and should continuously expand its legal “toolbox” for “foreign struggles”.[xi] Further, Wang Yi said that the Law met an “urgent need” to safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests.[xii] Reportedly, Global Times has stated that the legislation has come as a response to growing turbulence and change in the international arena. China must use the law as a tool to counter “unilateral sanctions and the long-arm jurisdiction of the West” over other countries.
“The legislation provides a legal basis for China to counter foreign sanctions and interference.”[xiii]
Notably, the Law is passed amidst the ongoing US-China rivalry. In fact, since the Meng Wanzhou (CFO of Huawei) detention in Canada in 2018, Xi Jinping had accelerated the construction of “a legal system applicable outside China’s jurisdiction” to counter America’s jurisdictional reach and “coordinate the promotion of domestic and international governance”.[xiv] Recently, the US has sanctioned almost 1300 Chinese entities for contributing to the fentanyl crisis in the US. [xv] Consequently, the Law is aimed at issuing a warning to Western countries that promote “decoupling” from China and disrupt international order. Notably, Article 33 of the Law states: “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.”[xvi] The Law can be seen as a further attempt by China to strengthen its position against extra-territoriality of laws it disagrees with ( for example; US sanctions, export control laws) , as also to allow for extra-territorial application of its own laws as a counter-measure.
The law also reinstates China’s claim on Taiwan. Article 34 of the Law states: “The People's Republic of China, on the basis of the one-China principle, establishes and develops diplomatic relations with other countries in accordance with the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.”
Although, the Law does not offer any new solutions or tools for these problems, it mentions that China has the right to take “countermeasures and restrictive measures” against acts that endanger the country’s sovereignty, security and development interests, and violate international laws or “basic norms of international relations.”[xvii]
In 2018, Xi Jinping included “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” in the Constitution of China. In the last few years, China has come out with various white papers on Global Development Initiative (2021), Global Security Initiative (2022) and Global Civilisation Initiative (2023). China also released a position paper on Ukraine this year. In his third term, Xi Jinping is codifying the Law so that he leaves his legacy even in the foreign policy domain as well. Thus, it is a codification of Xi Jinping’s thinking on Foreign Policy and also gives an insight into the Chinese perspective on international developments.
*Dr Teshu Singh is a Research Fellow at the Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi
Views expressed are personal.
[i] Huaxia, The Law on Foreign Relations of the People's Republic of China, Xinhua, 28 June 2023, https://english.news.cn/20230628/28c7aedd386440ba9c370eb22476d430/c.html (Accessed on 7 July 2023)
[ii] The foreign relations law puts China's attitude on the table: Global Times editorial, Global Times, 30 June 2023, https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202306/1293454.shtml (Accessed on 7 July 2023)
[iii] Full text of the report to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China, 25 October 2022, https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/zxxx_662805/202210/t20221025_10791908.html (Accessed on 10 July 2023)
[iv] Anti-Foreign Sanctions Law of the People's Republic of China,
http://www.npc.gov.cn/npc/c30834/202106/d4a714d5813c4ad2ac54a5f0f78a5270.shtml (Accessed on 27 July 2023)
[v] Jeff Pao, China ‘Foreign Relations Law’ to punish decoupling, Asia Times, 1 July 2023
(Accessed on 12 July 2023)
[vi] Huaxia, Anti-foreign sanctions law necessary to fight hegemonism, power politics: official, Xinhua, http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2021-06/11/c_1310001370.htm (Accessed on 22 July 2023)
[vii] Huaxia, China revises Counter-Espionage Law, Xinhua, 26 April 2023, https://english.news.cn/20230426/188903dafabf43ad89c90b02aa10a896/c.html (Accessed on 22 July 2023)
[viii] The foreign relations law puts China's attitude on the table: Global Times editorial, Global Times,
June 30, 2023, https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202306/1293454.shtml (Accessed on 25 July 2023)
[ix] New law provides an unequivocally clear picture of China's independent foreign policy of peace: China Daily editorial, China Daily, 29 June 2023, https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202306/29/WS649d735ca310bf8a75d6c60b.html (Accessed on 25 July 2023)
[x] Cao Desheng, Law on Foreign Relations to act as safeguard, People's Daily, http://en.people.cn/n3/2023/0630/c90000-20037875.html (Accessed on 27 July 2023)
[xi] Orange Wang, ‘Sanctions deterrent’: China frames new Foreign Relations Law as essential to national sovereignty, South China Morning Post, 29 June 2023, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3225935/sanctions-deterrent-china-frames-new-foreign-relations-law-essential-national-sovereignty (Accessed on 25 July 2023)
[xii] Jacob Gu, Tom Hancock, James Mayger, and Lucille Liu, China’s New Law Extends Xi’s Combative Foreign Policy Stance, The Bloomberg, 29 June 2023, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-06-28/china-enacts-foreign-relations-law-targeting-western-hegemony#xj4y7vzkg
(Accessed on 12 July 2023)
[xiii] Alyssa Chen, The wide-ranging foreign policy law China wants to counter the West with, The Japan Times, 5 July 2023, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2023/07/05/asia-pacific/politics-diplomacy-asia-pacific/china-foreign-relations-law-explainer/ (Accessed on 12 July 2023)
[xiv] Shi Jiangtao and Kandy Wong, China’s foreign relations law signals new red lines, but doesn’t say what crosses them, South China Morning Post, 10 July 2023, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3226945/chinas-foreign-relations-law-signals-new-red-lines-doesnt-say-what-crosses-them
[xv] Elizabeth Law, Beijing sets out foreign policy principles in new law, The Strait Times, 1 July 2023, https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/china-s-new-foreign-relations-law-will-provide-guidance-for-officials-ensure-consistency , (Accessed on 14 July 2023)
[xvi] Alyssa Chen, The wide-ranging foreign policy law China wants to counter the West with, The Japan Times, 5 July 2023, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2023/07/05/asia-pacific/politics-diplomacy-asia-pacific/china-foreign-relations-law-explainer/ (Accessed on 12 July 2023)
[xvii] Jacob Gu, Tom Hancock, James Mayger, and Lucille Liu, China’s New Law Extends Xi’s Combative Foreign Policy Stance, The Bloomberg, 29 June 2023, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-06-28/china-enacts-foreign-relations-law-targeting-western-hegemony#xj4y7vzkg
(Accessed on 12 July 2023)