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“Bide time, conceal capabilities, but do some things.
“China should adopt a low profile and never take the lead.”

Deng Xiaoping’s famous foreign policy axioms were apparently modified, as result of China’s 11th Ambassadorial Conference in July 2009, but the new formulation is not yet known.

Hu Jintao emphasized in his speech to the conference the importance of soft power, and called upon foreign policy practitioners to adopt a more active diplomatic posture in selected areas. There appears to be a growing consensus within the Party leadership on the importance of multilateralism to China.

President Hu urged envoys and officials to make efforts to give China “more influential power in politics, more competitiveness in the economic field, more affinity in its image” and “more appealing force in morality.” (Xinhua News Agency, 20 July). These have been dubbed the “Four Strengths”.

The departure from Deng’s keeping a low profile is obvious. China seeks a bigger role in international institutions, cooperation on non-traditional security and climate change, but Hu made it clear that China must avoid a leadership role.

Hu stressed that relations between diplomatic work and national development have become closer – the internal/external linkage. The priorities of China’s diplomacy are: first, relations with major powers; second, relations with neighbouring countries; third, relations with developing countries; and fourth, multilateralism. (Xinhua, 29 August)

In sum:

• China is more assertive, but does not want to be perceived as such.
• China eschews a leadership role.

This Chinese attitude is encouraged by China’s apparent success in dealing with the financial and economic crisis, the cause of which it publicly blames on the US.

China has been more active in a number of areas, eg: China is the biggest UNSC member contribution to UN peacekeeping; disaster relief; Africa and other developing countries.

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