The Continuity and Evolution of People-to-people Diplomacy since the Founding of the People's Republic of China

By Yang Jiemian

China's people-to-people diplomacy has had 70 years of extraordinary development along the path blazed by Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai. With in mind the new landscape home and abroad, we shall follow the guidance of Xi Jinping's thought on diplomacy, cherish and carry forward the fine tradition of people-to-people diplomacy, and make new contributions to major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics in the New Era.

I. Continuity in the objective and mission of people-to-people diplomacy.

Consistent with that of the nation's overall diplomacy, the objective and mission of people-to-people diplomacy in China serves China's sovereignty, security and development interests. In the first 10 to 20 years of the People's Republic of China, the unique advantages of people-to-people diplomacy was brought into full play thanks to Mao Zedong's strategizing and Zhou Enlai's direct leadership. It helped break the blockade and containment imposed by hostile international forces and enlist the understanding and support for China's revolution and development from countries across the world, especially those that didn't have diplomatic relations with China, thus becoming a frontrunner in non-governmental diplomacy and public diplomacy. 
It should be noted that, people-to-people diplomacy played a special and irreplaceable role in the establishment of relations with such nations as France, Japan and the United States. During the Reform and Opening Up, people-to-people diplomacy worked according to the shift of national priorities. A great deal of efforts were put into promoting exchanges among sister provinces and cities, enhancing trade and economic cooperation, strengthening interaction among educational and cultural communities, and increasing mutual understanding and support. Such efforts delivered remarkable success and proved to be a strong support to China's overall diplomacy. 
Since the start of the New Era, under the new circumstances, people-to-people diplomacy has also opened a new path and made new contributions to improving relations with major countries, neighboring countries and developing countries. Meanwhile, by offering Chinese wisdom and solutions in multilateral diplomacy, specific fields and the resolution of hot-button issues, people-to-people diplomacy has helped the world to better understand China and render greater support to China's foreign policy.
II. Evolving actors, targets and features of people-to-people diplomacy.
Over the past seven decades, sweeping changes have taken place in and out of China. While its basic features of non-governmental and civil engagement persist, people-to-people diplomacy has witnessed advances in its actors, targets and features.
1. All-dimensional increase of actors. When the People's Republic of China was newly founded, people-to-people diplomacy involved merely a few organizations; now, it has become far more representative since more and more local governments, ministerial authorities, elites and the general public have taken part. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, 2010 Shanghai World Expo, and other non-government diplomatic events, China’s people-to-people diplomacy embraced unprecedented width, depth and warmth.
2. Exponential growth in targets. At various historical stages including post-war national liberation movements, economic globalization and universal access to information, the targets for China's people-to-people diplomacy are no longer limited to friendship organizations, institutions and personages, but cover all sorts of entities, and even explore into the virtual world, in this way, China's network of friends has been extended to the greatest extent, and the mutual understanding and support between China and the world has been furthered.
3. Addition of contemporary features. As the domestic and international landscape changes over time, people-to-people diplomacy has taken on many contemporary features. First, more emphasis on the role of the people, therefore a stronger initiative and sense of accomplishment from the general public. Second, leveraging the economic and technological community, so that economic and financial upgrading, information revolution, artificial intelligence and cutting-edge science and technology are more closely integrated with people-to-people diplomacy. Third, stress on strategic thinking and the role of high-end think tanks and academic diplomacy in people-to-people diplomacy. The changes and progress as embodied in those features have mirrored the new historical mission and duty of people-to-people diplomacy.
III. Development and innovation of thoughts and theories on people-to-people diplomacy.
Thoughts and theories represent the soul of people-to-people diplomacy. We shall, by increasing consciousness of practice and theory, step up efforts in the development and innovation of thoughts and theories on the people-to-people diplomacy.
First, fully understand Xi Jinping's important thought on people-to-people diplomacy. Given the changes and challenges home and abroad, people-to-people diplomacy is, more than any time ever, in need of theoretical guidance. Related important thought of Xi Jinping is the crystallization of thoughts on people-to-people diplomacy since 1949. It includes the rationale behind the actions and approaches of people-to-people diplomacy, for the time being and for a long time to come.
Second, timely review and develop in depth the people-to-people diplomacy. In the face of unprecedented changes and significant increases in uncertainties and instabilities, we need to draw on history, pose questions for the present, and set course for the future. We shall, by summarizing experience, discovering patterns, and keeping on the right track, achieve more in the guiding principle, top-level design, strategic thinking and practical work on people-to-people diplomacy.
Third, increase international exchanges on the thoughts and theories of people-to-people diplomacy. People-to-people diplomacy has universal significance in international relations and global affairs. Hence it is important to step up mutual learning on people-to-people diplomacy within the region and across the world through cooperative research, international meetings, publication and events, with a view to raising the global influence and significance of China's people-to-people diplomacy, and at the same time, jointly facilitating the theory development on a new type of international relations and a community of shared future for mankind.
Looking back at the glorious 70 years of China's people-to-people diplomacy, we shall raise political awareness and be oriented towards an international perspective, strive to explore and innovate in future development, and open a new chapter in the people-to-people diplomacy of China.

Yang Jiemian is former President of the Shanghai Institute for International Studies.