The ‘circle of friends’ versus the Indo-Pacific strategy
06 May 2022
By Alice Ekman
While the United States’ Indo-Pacific strategy has garnered a lot of attention, much less analysis has been devoted to China’s coalition-building efforts. However, since the ascent of Xi Jinping to the presidency, the enlargement of China’s ‘circle of friends’ has become a top priority for Beijing. For Chinese diplomacy, the goal is to convince a maximum number of countries to support China’s positions, both individually and collectively at the multilateral level, on various issues of core interest – including Xinjiang, Hong Kong and other human rights-related matters. While China is actively seeking to build coalitions, it has set about doing so pursuing an approach that is quite different from that of the United States.
This Chaillot Paper identifies the tactics and strategy used by China to expand its circle of friends. It also assesses the prospects for Beijing’s coalition-building endeavour, based on an analysis of its achievements to date, as well as the setbacks it has encountered along the way. The paper also explores the potential impact of Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine – and related sanctions – on coalition-building dynamics in the years ahead.
Executive Summary ->
Since the advent of Xi Jinping as the President of the People’s Republic of China in March 2013, China has focused on enlarging its ‘cir- cle of friends’ (中国的“朋友圈” – zhongguo de pengyou quan) (1), and on finally putting an end to the partial diplomatic isolation the coun- try inherited from the Mao and Deng eras. Opposed to the concept of ‘alliances’, Chi- nese diplomacy has been particularly active in developing a network of partnerships since 2016, taking advantage of the Trump admin- istration’s withdrawal from several multi- lateral organisations. In recent years, Beijing has often counted on a group of more than 50 countries to support its position at the United Nations (UN) on various sensitive issues – in- cluding Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
The election of Joe Biden as President of the United States has not lessened China’s diplo- matic activism, although Beijing is aware that its coalitio…