The Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs (CPIFA), of the same age as the People's Republic of China, was founded upon the proposal of the late Premier Zhou Enlai who was then concurrently Foreign Minister. It was New China's first social institution specialising in the studies on foreign policies and international issues and conducting people's diplomacy. Premier Zhou served as its Honorary President till the end of his life and so did late Vice-Premier and Foreign Minister Chen Yi since 1964. In addition, prominent figures such as Deng Xiaoping, Ye Jianying, Wang Ming, Li Lisan, Cai Chang, Hu Yuzhi, Gao Gang, Luo Longji, Liao Chengzhi, Qiao Guanhua were also its members at one time and some of them even served at its leading posts.

The general purposes of CPIFA at its inception were to study foreign policies and international issues and provide the Central Government with suggestions on foreign policy. In pursuance of the above and in the early years of its international studies and foreign policy research, CPIFA concentrated on, inter alia, issues important, urgent and relevant to China. While airing views on major international issues, CPIFA was also engaged in compiling and publishing documents on foreign affairs and series on international studies as well as holding seminars and lectures on specific topics. At the same time, as host to many visiting foreign delegations, CPIFA made its share of contribution to the furtherance of mutual understanding, friendship and unity between the peoples of China and other countries.

People's diplomacy has become one of the important tasks of CPIFA since 1955. From then on, the studies on foreign policy and international affairs and people's diplomacy has always remained two of the basic aspects of CPIFA's work, and the hosting of foreign visitors has gradually become more and more and essential part of CPIFA's people-to-people diplomacy. By the end of 2002, CPIFA had hosted over 2,400 visiting delegations from more than 130 countries and over 20 multi-lateral organisations, involving a total of over 16,000 visitors. The majority of them were dignitaries of political circles, including former heads of state or government, cabinet members, leaders from countries without diplomatic ties with China, key Parliament members, leaders of ruling or opposition parties, royalties, and directors of international organisations. There were also social celebrities and noted figures from financial, business and academic circles.

In the '50s and '60s of last century, with the rapid development of the national democratic movements in the Third World countries, CPIFA provided moral and political support to the people of Asian, African and Latin American countries in their just struggle against imperialism, colonialism, and for national independence and safeguarding state sovereignty. These activities laid the foundation for China to establish and develop diplomatic relations with many Third World countries in the '60s.

CPIFA has made remarkable achievements in its contacts with countries without diplomatic relations with China. Take the case of Japan as an example. In the 16 years from 1952 when China and Japan restored unofficial contacts to 1968, CPIFA played host to 780 Japanese guests in 107 delegations, including celebrities in political, business and cultural circles, such as officials from political parties in or out of office, Diet members and former servicemen. CPIFA not only served as a major channel of non-governmental exchanges with Japan, but also was for a period of time authorised to perform some functions of an official nature in bilateral relations. They included granting visas for personnel exchanges, assisting expatriates to return home, and settling issues in maritime fishing, shipping, commerce and trade account, etc. Premier Zhou's thinking on peop1e's diplomacy was "to conduct both governmental and non-governmental diplomacy", and "to have the latter lead to the former". In implementing Premier Zhou's thinking, CPIFA played a great role in developing worldwide friendship and paving the way for the establishment and development of friendly relations and co-operation with other countries.

Affected by the "Cultural Revolution," CPIFA's work was suspended from 1969 until 1971. It resumed its activities in 1972.

The 1970s witnessed a big stride in the development of diplomatic relations between China and western countries. CPIFA has become one of the main channels for China to conduct non-governmental contacts with the US since 1972. According to statistics, CPIFA received 4,710 visiting American guests from 1972 to 2002. Most of them were high-level political figures and social celebrities who played an indispensable and positive role for the normalisation of China-US relations.

Along with the development of China's foreign relations, international exchanges of CPIFA have also increased. With the advantage of a non-governmental exchange channel characterised by its unique extensiveness, flexibility and diversity, CPIFA has increased its academic research and international academic exchange. CPIFA publishes an English quarterly Foreign Affairs Journal with a wide coverage of international politics, economics, foreign affairs, and security. Apart from arranging for Chinese or foreign speakers of distinction to hold seminars and lectures or discussions on major international and regional issues or bilateral relations, CPIFA also organises delegations to visit foreign countries or to attend bilateral or multi-lateral seminars at home and abroad. CPIFA is interested in entering into contacts with political leaders, international statesmen, institutions of international studies and well-known specialists and scholars for discussion of issues of common concern so as to enhance mutual understanding and friendship. From 1977 to the present, CPIFA has dispatched 165 delegations to over 30 countries and areas for more than 180 visits and academic exchanges with over 50 research institutions and more than a dozen multilateral organisations. About half of the trips were made for participation in seminars of different types and scales.

Since the 1980s, CPIFA has also expanded its functions, along with the further development of China's reform and opening up, the enhancement of its overall national strength and the adjustment of the foreign policy. While maintaining the efforts in increasing its contacts with high ranking political figures of other countries and making China's independent foreign policy of peace better known to the outside world, CPIFA has also turned its attention to the development of economic and technological co-operation with foreign countries. To this end, CPIFA has expanded contacts with eminent personages in the financial and economic fields of other countries.

The end of the Cold War resulted in multi-polarization in international politics, globalisation in world economy and readjustments in interrelations among big powers. Under the new circumstances, CPIFA has reoriented its people's diplomacy towards the whole world. An all-round people-to-people diplomacy has been shaped. It has more and more contacts with noted political figures in other countries, especially with major countries' statesmen of high prestige, more frequent exchanges with foreign think-tanks or brain trusts, much closer ties with relevant institutions of neighbouring counties. CPIFA has also established bilateral ties or started academic exchanges with countries in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. An omnidirectional pattern of people's diplomacy has gradually taken shape.
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