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While China’s foreign policy is often viewed as falling within the bounds of realist and neorealist paradigms as China strives to be one of the major poles in the global structure of international relations (IR) and advances its military capacity in order to insure its position in the balance of power, the speech by PRC’s President Xi Jinping delivered at the Meeting marking the 60th Anniversary Of the initiation of the ‘Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence’ (FPPC) held in July 2014. This speech places premium on sovereign equality, collaboration, collective peaceful development and collective security promoted by FPPC echoing largely the principles of the UN Charter. Therefore, liberalism is the appropriate paradigm to analyze Mr. Xi’s speech; particularly, we should take the liberal neoinstitutional angle. The object of our discussion is Xi Jinping’s speech with the subject being the neoliberal principles behind the speech.

Liberalism VS. Realism

First and foremost, let us justify the turn to the liberal paradigm instead of the realist paradigm. At first sight, right after a brief flick through the article, the main themes are surfaced, which can even be judged frequency of words used in the article – cooperation (17 times), mutual (15 times), common development/endeavor (9 times), moral (2 times), democracy (2 times). While all of the above are key terms within liberalism and they are used quite a number of times, such basic concepts of realism as “power” and “balance” are not mentioned in the speech even once. Henceforth, the primary suggestion to apply liberal paradigm seems so far plausible.

Moving on from this slightly superficial approach, we need to discuss contents and key ideas presented in the speech. Here two statements by Xi Jinping from the speech can be provided to show their contradiction with the realist approach. First, and most important, Mr. Xi discussing mutual trust and dialogue as a means to promote security, states: “Flexing military muscles only reveals the lack of moral ground or vision rather than reflecting one’s strength” [1]. This presents the view that it is not military capacities that should be determining a state’s position. He continues on: “Security can be solid and enduring only if it is based on moral high ground and vision” [1], thus, linking the key concept of security to the moral cause disregarded by realists.

Moreover, appeals to undisputed equality and cooperation of all countries rather than “the law of the jungle” signify footprints of liberalism, which ate largerly refuted within the realist paradigm. Finally, Mr. Xi indicates that “China does not subscribe to the notion that a country is bound to seek hegemony when it grows in strength”, which is another point conflicting with realism.

It is also worth noting that neither corporations, nor classes or any other economic actors are even mentioned in the speech, which makes the Marxist approach not applicable, either. It’s not possible to provide a disproving quote as there is literally no notion of these actors in the speech, it is concerned with government-level negotiations and cooperation, and regional and global security and peace institutions.

Given all of the above, the most pertinent theoretical framework to analyze the speech is liberalism, and ultimately, liberal institutionalism with an emphasis on interdependence claim.

Liberal Internationalism

Ideas concerned with liberalism can be found almost in every point made by Xi in his speech. There are enough claims to correspond to each of the trend in liberalism – liberal internationalism, idealism and institutionalism. First we address ideas of the founders of liberalism – Hugo Grotius, Immanuel Kant and Adam Smith.

In Kant’s paradigm there are certain criteria that distinguish liberal states from authoritarian and other nondemocratic forms of government. They include a republican form of government with primacy of the rule of law, representation and separation of powers embedded in the government system, respect for human rights; and interdependent economic and social relations. All together, these characteristics are necessary and sufficient to create “perpetual peace” between two states [2].

As the “perpetual peace” theory enforced through democratic (in Kant’s words “republican”) institutions, the ideas of democratization can be clearly seen in the speech. Starting with the idea of democracy as a part of FPPC (“open and inclusive principles of international law, embody the values of sovereignty, justice, democracy and rule of law” [1]), Mr. Xi later on directly indicates his siding with democratization: “We should jointly promote greater democracy… The notion of dominating international affairs … is doomed to failure” [1]. Therefore, democracies ensure stability in international relations and facilitate cooperation, rather than conflict. This narrative directly mirrors Kant’s “perpetual peace”.

Another adoption of traditional liberalism and Hugo Grotius’ view of law as a facilitator of international relations, concerns Xi’s firm belief in the rule of international law to ensure peace and promote international relations and equality of states within them: “We should urge all parties to abide by international law and … use widely applicable rules to tell right from wrong and pursue peace and development… We should jointly uphold the authority and sanctity of international law and the international order … and reject any attempt to undermine… other countries’ legitimate rights and interests as well as peace and stability”.

 The notion of a win-win cooperation in Xi Jinping’s speech resembles the economic benefits of cooperation in times when war expenses are too high. Adam Smith compares war to “a project which has cost, which continues to cost, and which, if pursued in the same way as it has been hitherto, is likely to cost, immense expense, without being likely to bring any profit” [4]. While for Adam Smith the basic idea is that the war is not profitable, Xi Jinping does not directly compare benefits of cooperation to those of war, but still stresses that cooperation is a win-win. “Cooperation generates strength while isolation only leads to weakness. Win-win cooperation should be the basic policy goal of all countries in handling international affairs”. Therefore, we see the prevailing of cooperation over conflicts and isolation because of the benefits it provides.

Liberal Idealism

As far as idealism is concerned, there are several concepts in the speech that are based on this trend in liberalism. They include the issue of collective (or in the speech “common”) security stemming from Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations after World War I, the right of nations to self-determination and view of the balance of powers as an unfair IR structure.

Woodrow Wilson in his speech including the famous 14 points set the foundation for the first supranational collective security organ – the League of Nations. The idea is suggested in the 14th point: “A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike” [5]. This lay the first brick to establish collective security organization to prevent war and ensure peace and stability. Xi Jinping’s address also embodies the idea of collective security:  “We should uphold common security. Security should be universal. All countries… shoulder the shared responsibility to maintain security both internationally and in various regions”.

In his address to Congress, Wilson underscored the importance for nations to have the right to self-determination: “National aspirations must be respected; peoples may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent. Self-determination is not a mere phrase. It is an imperative principle of actions which statesmen will henceforth ignore at their peril” [6].  Mr. Xi’s speech remarkably echoes the very same idea that debunking colonialism and ensuring the right to self-determination increased international stability: FPPC “have played a positive role in building a more equitable and rational international political and economic order. … The Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence strengthened the movement against imperialism and colonialism that eventually brought colonialism to an end”.

Key concept – Liberal Institutionalism

Last but not least, even quite on the contrary, we need to view the ‘Five Principles’ address by Xi Jinping under the angle of neoinstitutional liberalism and, in particular, the interdependence theory by Keohane & Nye [3]. Something that hasn’t been mentioned yet is the contents of the very five principles of peaceful coexistence that are featured in the China’s President’s address. According to Mr. Xi reference of the principles in the speech, they are “mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence”.

These principle do not only resemble but directly reproduce the founding principles of the UN recorded in the UN Charter, namely, the objective legal principles of sovereignty and equality, and non-interference in internal affairs, and the moral principle of resorting to peaceful means only to resolve conflicts. Just like the UN Charter, the five principles of peaceful coexistence include both legal and moral aspects making them a subject of analysis for liberalism, rather than realism. Moreover, since we are talking about the UN, the major international organization, we are not within the bounds of the institutional approach in liberalism.

Next interdependence theory has to be mentioned. Keohane and Nye, the founders of the theory, place “the liberal emphasis on institutions, interdependence, and regularized transnational contacts into a sophisticated” [3, p. 752] underscoring that complex interdependence acts as an additional incentive to cooperate. Linked to interdependence are global challenges that set the agenda for international cooperation, too. Mr. Xi outlined these issues in his speech, as well:  “Countries are bound together in this community of common destiny… Global challenges keep emerging, so do conflicts and local wars in various regions”. Consequently, China’s President sees the “five principles” as the basis to encourage collaboration in addressing “global challenges”, he calls them “as relevant as ever”. Just like Keohane & Nye view interdependence as a factor facilitating cooperation, so does Xi Jinping.


All in all, it can be said that Mr. Xi Jinping’s Address at the Meeting marking the 60th anniversary of the Initiation of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence explicitly falls within the bounds of the liberal paradigm in international relations. However, its extensive utilizing of a wide range of liberal concepts makes it impossible to analyze the speech from the angle of only one of the trend, either liberal internationalism or idealism or institutionalism. On the contrary, there is support for features of each of the branches in the speech making it more multifaceted. Following this lead, we separately analyze Mr. Xi’s address for each of the three core concepts with their key terms.

We found that the remnants of liberal internationalism can be found in Xi Jinping’s view on the primacy of international law, democratization priority and the concept of win-win cooperation. Furthermore, liberal idealism is presented in the idea of “common” (collective) security and in the appeal to a nation’s right to self-determination. Finally, the most recent trend of neoinstitutional approach can also be recognized from the very topic of the President’s Address – the 5 principles that embody the basic ideas of the UN codified in its Charter – and also from view of interdependence as a stimulus for cooperation. Henceforth, our hypothesis concerning applying liberalism as the ideological paradigm to analyze the speech has proven to be correct.

  1. Address by H.E. Mr. Xi Jinping President of the People’s Republic of China at the Meeting Marking the 60th Anniversary of the Initiation of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. July 7, 2014, http://www.china.org.cn/world/2014-07/07/content_32876905.htm
  2. Kant, I., & Humphrey, T. (1983). Perpetual peace, and other essays on politics, history, and morals. Hackett Publishing.
  3. Keohane, R. O., & Nye, J. S. (1987). Power and Interdependence revisited. International Organization, 41(04), 725-753.
  4. Smith, A. The wealth of nations [1776]. Section ‘The Cost of Empire’ http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/documents/1776-1785/adam-smith-from-the-wealth-of-nations-1776-the-cost-of-empire.php
  5. Wilson, Woodrow. Fourteen Points Speech. Delivered on January 8, 1918.
  6. Wilson, Woodrow. President Wilson’s Address to Congress, Analyzing German and Austrian Peace Utterances. Delivered on February 11, 1918.
    Written by: Idaliya Grigoryeva
    Date Published: 05/22/2017
    Edition: ЕВРАЗИЙСКИЙ СОЮЗ УЧЕНЫХ_ 30.01.2015_01(10)
    Available in: Ebook