China’s New Foreign Policy and the Implications for the Nordic Region

As China becomes an influential presence on the global stage, there are numerous questions and concerns regarding the dynamics of its foreign behaviors – what are the new mechanisms of foreign policy making? What are the new norms and policy priorities? While China has been reconfirming its strategic partnership with EU, its recent diplomatic and economic initiatives have been increasingly decentralized. Notably, there has been a growing preoccupation with China-Nordic sub-regional diplomacy.

This policy brief session – a part of the Fudan Centre’s 2018 pre-Shanghai Forum – featured two leading experts on China and its international relations. It offered a rare insight into China’s new foreign policy thinking and the synergies between China and the Nordic region.

The event was convened by the Fudan-European Centre for China Studies in collaboration with NIAS – Nordic Institute of Asian Studies and the Nordic Council of Ministers at the Nordic Council of Minister’s headquarters in Copenhagen on 8 May 2018. It was attended by the staff of the Nordic Council of Ministers as well as Nordic foreign ministry officials.


The event was officially opened with opening remarks by Dagfinn Høybråten, Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers. In his welcoming remarks, he highlighted the longstanding cooperation and good relations between China and the Nordic region, and emphasized the important contribution by academics for this development throughout the times. Furthermore, he argued that Sino-regional cooperation – such as Sino-Nordic cooperation – will complement, not eliminate, existing bilateral relations.

Prof. Song Xinning first gave a presentation entitled “Assessing the China-EU Strategic Partnership”, in which he outlined the history, current status and possible future trajectories of China-EU partnerships, and highlighted its characteristics.

Prof. Song argued that the China-EU partnership is realized in many different areas. The importance of China-EU partnership, however, is most protruding within the fields of economy, global governance, development and culture. Furthermore, he argued that, from a Chinese perspective, China-EU relations are guided by a ‘New Thinking’ introduced by the change in leadership in 2013. Under this conceptualization, China and EU are considered as two forces for global peace, two markets for world economy, and two origins of world civilization (a thinking commonly referred to as the ‘Three Two’s’).

Prof. Song concluded that China and EU’s relations should be seen as being in a new era. The two try to work more closely together, and have an overall positive interaction, which could be highly beneficial for both parties. 


Prof. Chen Zhimin then gave a talk entitled “China’s Foreign Policy in a New Era”, in which he sought to analyze and characterize China in its new role as a country assuming international leadership responsibilities.

In his talk, he defined China’s current position in the international arena as undergoing a ‘re-rise’: after having lost centrality in Asia in 1840, it has now achieved substantial economic development following economic reforms in the 1970s, and has been pushed onto the center stage in 2010 after becoming the biggest economy in Asia. A development which Chinese leadership was still unprepared for. The current state of international leadership is one which Prof. Chen characterizes as insufficient (problems, such as poverty, remain unsolved) and wrong (problems are created or worsened through international leadership). Therefore, in Prof. Chen’s mind, the question is no longer whether China should lead – it is how it should lead. In Prof. Chen’s view, China should embrace a facilitative leadership.

Prof. Chen Zhimin defines ‘facilitative leadership’ as China’s use of its substantial influence to advance the shared goals of the members of international society, to achieve joint development and progress, in a cooperative, win-win, attractive and empowering way. It is most prominent in China’s support of inclusive multilateral institutions such as UN, WTO, G20, and the Paris Agreement. It is also reflected in China’s effort to build new multilateral institutions, including the AIID, NDB, and SCO.

Prof. Chen concluded that China should take on more responsibility as an international leader. Rather than pursuing a unilateral, coercive or monopolized international leadership, it should focus on building a collective, attractive, limited and empowering facilitative leadership.

Following the two presentations, the floor was opened for questions and comments from the audience.

Later, an informal meeting took place between the presenters, Dagfinn Høybråten and Kenneth Broman of the Nordic Council of Ministers, which was joined by Chunrong Liu and Geir Helgesen.


Finally, concluding the day, Professors Chen Zhimin and Chen Yinzhang were joined by Chunrong Liu for a meeting with Troels Østergaard Sørensen, Dean of the Dept. of Political Science, and Henrik Wegner, Rector of the University of Copenhagen, for discussions on future collaborations.