“China’s Century?” and “The Inevitable Superpower”: the titles of two recent additions to a vast and growing literature about the “rise of China” at the dawn of the 21st century. (Try a Google search to see just what “vast literature” means.)

Whatever one’s firm or tentative perspective may be regarding the shifting of global tectonic plates and China’s economic, political, and military trajectory – note the question mark in that “China’s Century?” article, for instance – there is little doubt that Canada and Canadians would benefit from increased awareness and knowledge.  With this in mind, the Munk School of Global Affairs is intensifying its efforts on this front: more engagement with Chinese scholars and leaders, more student exchange opportunities, more collaborative and individual research.

A recent highlight of Munk School initiatives was the January 21st lecture offered by His Excellency Junsai Zhang, the People’s Republic of China’s Ambassador to Canada.  Speaking in the jam-packed Campbell Conference Facility, Ambassador Zhang focused his remarks on “Chinese Foreign Policy Priorities and Sino-Canadian Relations.”

Ambassador Zhang emphasized that Chinese foreign policy is simple and transparent, grounded by five key principles that have formed the bedrock of Chinese foreign policy since they were developed with India in 1954 and recently reaffirmed by the 18th Communist Party of China National Congress:  mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence. These principles, he argued, have enabled China to make significant contributions to world peace, stability, and global economic growth, and should thus remain foundational to Chinese foreign policy moving forward.

Ambassador Zhang drew special attention to the multidimensional foreign policy priority of seeking mutual benefit in international relations, the importance of which is grounded in the profound changes evident in the global arena in recent decades. Increasingly, globalization has encouraged a global community based on interdependence and shared interests. Contrary to a narrow zero sum perspective, the concept of mutual benefit is based on winning the trust and respect of others through tangible contributions to the world. China’s stake in an interdependent world characterized by stability and peace is founded in the belief that Chinese development is tied to the development of all nations.

In moving towards the ultimate goals of peace, development, and cooperation, China thus seeks to achieve mutual benefit with other countries – economically, politically, and in terms of security. China seeks to promote the common development of all countries based on mutual benefit, evidenced by its stabilizing role during the global financial crisis and its commitment to bridging the north-south development gap.  Ambassador Zhang explained that this path of peaceful development is a strategic choice based on Chinese tradition and culture, as well as the Chinese reading of current trends in the global system.

While demonstrating the role China has played in influencing global peace and development, Ambassador Zhang frankly highlighted some of the challenges facing China in the twentieth century, including the uneven development that has accompanied impressive national growth rates and rapid urbanization.

Ambassador Zhang concluded by describing the strategic partnership and friendship that forms the foundation of Sino-Canadian relations. He emphasized the importance of bilateral relations being founded on mutual trust and understanding, mutual benefit, and shared responsibility on a range of issues, including traditional and non-traditional security challenges, Asia Pacific cooperation, UN reform, global finance, climate change, and energy security. Through organizations such as APEC and the G20, there is ample space for a strengthening and deepening of Sino-Canadian relations in coming years.