“The love for peace is in the DNA of the Chinese people,” Xi Jinping, General Secretary of China’s Communist Party, has repeatedly asserted. This narrative, proclaiming that its subjects are harmonious, non-violent and benevolent by nature, rhymes well with the Party’s conviction that it is always morally correct. While the UN Charter does not explicitly define the term “peace”, it is generally understood as a state where war, non-state sanctioned hostility and violence are absent.
Moreover, the Chinese leadership’s notion of peace involves social stability, “harmony”, development, cooperation, and mutual benefit – but also the absence of interventionism and colonialism. Not surprisingly, the CCP’s rhetoric often emphasizes its own “peaceful” nature. As the Party characterizes China as peaceful by definition and the Chinese nationality (or race) as genetically peace-loving, its defence policy is also portrayed as defensive in nature. Speaking in Berlin in March 2014, Xi said that the pursuit of peace, amity and harmony was “an integral part of the Chinese character, which runs deep in the blood of the Chinese people”, and that it represented “the peace-loving cultural tradition of the Chinese nation over the past several thousand years”. In Xi’s rhetoric, China’s fondness for peace is explained with reference to factors related to Chinese ethnicity, tradition and history.
While Mao Zedong came to the same conclusion, his explanation was purely ideological in nature. According to Mao, all socialist countries, including China, want peace; “The only ones who crave war and do not want peace are certain monopoly capitalist groups in a handful of imperialist countries that depend on aggression for their profits.”
A government White Paper issued in 2011, “China’s Peaceful Development,” explains that China’s love for peace is based on lessons drawn from history: “From their bitter sufferings from war and poverty in modern times, the Chinese people have learned the value of peace and the pressing need of development.” As a result, China “never engages in aggression or expansion, never seeks hegemony, and remains a staunch force for upholding regional and world peace and stability.”
The White Paper stresses the importance of preserving social stability, which is tightly linked to China’s notion of peace and one of the CCP’s core objectives. In fact, “preserving peace” could also refer to the suppression of peaceful protest movements, let alone violent social unrest. The Chinese regime perceives peace and stability as the bases of its legitimacy, and therefore witnessed the “colour revolutions” in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan in the 2000s with great concern. “Preserving peace” in this context is as much about protecting the regime from its people as it is about protecting the ruling party from real or imagined foreign hostile forces. Such concerns also explain China’s investment in technologies of mass surveillance as part of its overall security apparatus.
The 2011 White Paper also explains that the overall goal of China’s pursuit of “peaceful development” is to “achieve modernization and common prosperity.” Xi Jinping’s “Thoughts on Diplomacy”, published in early 2020, stresses that China “insists on the path of peaceful development based on mutual respect, cooperation, and mutual benefit.”
Moreover, the “peaceful unification” (“和平统一”) of China is a euphemism for Taiwan’s incorporation in the People’s Republic by peaceful means. The term implies that unification could also occur by non-peaceful means, i.e. through a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. In fact, China has made it clear that it is ready to go to war if the current status quo, in which Taiwan is a de facto (but not de jure) independent state, is changed. Through the adoption of the 2005 “anti-secession law,” China clarified that it “shall employ non-peaceful means . . . . to protect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” should “secessionist forces … cause the fact of Taiwan’s secession from China” or if “possibilities for a peaceful reunification should be completely exhausted. “Meanwhile, the CCP continues to claim that “peace is in the Chinese DNA”, that its defence policy is “defensive in nature,” and that it “poses no military threat to any other country.” The logic here is that Taiwan is actually not another country from the CCP’s perspective: rather, it is portrayed as an integral part of the PRC’s territory. Hence the Chinese government’s proclaimed adherence to “the principle of not attacking others unless it is attacked” rests on the definition of what constitutes an “attack.”
This definition was written for the Decoding China project. To learn more about Decoding China, visit the project website HERE.