Aimed at safeguarding its sovereignty, national security, and development interests, China recently enacted a comprehensive foreign relations law which was drafted to address perceived shortcomings in the legal framework concerning foreign affairs and to fill gaps in laws protecting China's sovereignty, security and development.
On Wednesday, 28 June, Chinese President Xi Jinping passed a new law enabling the world’s second-largest economy to respond to a growing number of sanctions imposed by the US and its allies.
The so-called Law on Foreign Relations provides a framework for China to take action against companies and countries that it considers are penalising China.
It also reflects China's response to what it perceives as efforts by the United States to hinder its progress.
This includes export controls on certain high-tech goods and endeavours to reduce dependence on Chinese suppliers in sensitive sectors. By enshrining its right to impose "countermeasures" against such “threats”, China seeks to bolster its position amid strained relations with Western countries.
The law also aims to provide legal legitimacy to key objectives of Chinese foreign policy under President Xi Jinping. It also criminalises acts by individuals or organisations that are deemed to undermine these objectives. Similarly, China adopted a border law in October 2021, which warned against any actions that undermine territorial sovereignty and land boundaries.
According to an unnamed official from the National People's Congress, concerning foreign affairs still has some shortcomings” and “gaps exist in laws safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests.” The official added that “speeding up the building of the legal system concerning foreign affairs will help China more effectively deal with risks and challenges.”
What Does the New Law Say?
In line with the trend during President Xi Jinping's era, the newly enacted foreign relations law emphasises national security-driven foreign affairs rather than economic interests. The law incorporates Xi's signature campaigns, such as the Global Security Initiative, Global Development Initiative, and Global Civilization Initiative, into China's foreign policy by extending the legal authority of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) beyond China's borders.
The law grants China the right to take "corresponding countermeasures and restrictive measures" against actions that violate international law and norms, posing a threat to China's sovereignty, security, and development interests.
The text of the law, as published by state media, emphasises China's determination to protect its core interests on the global stage.
The text of the law prominently features the term "national security" seven times, while the term "economy" is mentioned only twice. Article 26 of the law mentions the promotion of high-standard economic opening-up, but the overall focus of the new legislation is heavily tilted towards extending the reach of the national security apparatus beyond China's borders.
For the first time, the law explicitly states that China's foreign policy decision-making is led by the Central Foreign Affairs Commission (CFAC), chaired by Xi Jinping. Wang Yi, the director of the CCP and former foreign minister, serves as the director of the commission. Previously, the central role of the CFAC in China's foreign policy under Xi has been mentioned.
An explanation provided by Xinhua, a state-owned news agency, argues that China's foreign relations law will be fundamentally different from the long-arm jurisdiction practised by certain countries in their domestic laws.
This can be seen as an indirect criticism of the United States' sanctions against other nations. China's stance suggests the possibility of developing its long-arm jurisdiction, similar to the US, to target entities beyond its physical territory.
This law represents China's first comprehensive legislation on foreign policy of such magnitude. It comes at a time when Xi Jinping, who holds significant power within the country, has been actively pursuing the amplification of China's power and influence in international affairs.
However, China's ambitions and assertive foreign policy have raised concerns among the United States and other nations.
The legislation was approved by a key decision-making body within China's National People's Congress, often referred to as a rubber-stamp parliament. Zhao Leji, the chairman of the body, has hailed the law as highly significant for safeguarding the country and supporting the vision of "national rejuvenation," which aligns with Xi's aspiration for a strong and modern China.
The Impact on India
The policy resonates with China’s 2021 Border Law, emphasising sovereignty, security and territorial integrity, which has recently remained the talking point of India-China relations. Moreover, it coincides with the Border law as it describes border transgressions and territorial disputes as matters of national security.
Ever since the disputes of April 2020, diplomatic ties have remained tense, and the new policy narrows possibilities for negotiations, moving away from negotiations and possible diplomacy.
A glance at some of the clauses in the new policy clearly elucidates the PRC’s new “enhanced” approach to geopolitics.
Article 6 says that all state institutions, armed forces, political parties, people’s organisations, enterprises, public institutions, other social organisations, and citizens have an inherent “responsibility and obligation to safeguard China’s sovereignty, national security, dignity, honour and interests in the course of international exchanges and cooperation.”
Article 8 also possesses the qualities of being scrutinised by New Delhi and Indian companies in China, and claims that any individual or organisation who commits acts that are detrimental to China’s national interests” in violation of the policy “shall be held accountable by law.”
According to Article 17 of the foreign relations law, the primary objective of China's conduct of foreign relations is to uphold its socialist system with Chinese characteristics, safeguard its sovereignty, unification, and territorial integrity, and promote its economic and social development.
Additionally, the law emphasises the importance of developing relations with neighbouring countries based on principles such as amity, sincerity, mutual benefit, inclusiveness, friendship, and partnership.
Article 31 may have a potential bearing on the signing of agreements to resolve disputes, as it declares that “implementation and application of treaties and agreements shall not undermine the sovereignty of the State, national security and public interests”.
Article 33 grants the Chinese government the right to take necessary measures or restrictive actions in response to acts that endanger China's sovereignty, national security, and development interests, which violate international law or fundamental norms of international relations.
The law, however, does not clearly define what actions are considered detrimental to China's national interests, providing authorities with broad discretion in its implementation.
An explanation provided by Xinhua suggests that China's foreign relations law is fundamentally different from the long-arm jurisdiction practised by certain countries in their domestic laws.
China's stance also implies a potential inclination towards developing its own long-arm jurisdiction, similar to the United States, to target entities beyond its physical territory.
Critically, the new law attempts to reiterate Beijing’s talk of using economic methods and sanctions to target the US' allies, in this context, New Delhi, and comes off the heels of PM Modi’s grand US visit, which saw him embrace President Biden and further strengthen bilateral relations.