Xi Jinping’s Subnational Diplomacy during Trip to the U.S. Drew Attention

Release Date : 2023-11-20

Chinese President Xi Jinping held a summit with U.S. President Joe Biden and attended the 13th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Informal Leaders' Meeting in San Francisco from November 14th to 17th, 2023. Xi was also invited to attend a joint welcome banquet hosted by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, the National Committee on U.S.-China Business, the Asia Society, the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Chamber of Commerce and other groups friendly to China. Before the banquet, Xi Jinping met with representatives from the U.S. business community and other sectors as well as descendants of the Flying Tigers and General Joseph Stilwell, members of the Kuliang Friends and China-friendly representatives from the states of Iowa, Washington and California. Although these people are targets for local and civil society exchanges and do not involve in sovereignty issues or represent a country, this kind of subnational diplomacy can still be promoted if problems occur in formal diplomatic relations between countries. It may even influence the foreign policy and long-term interests of countries involved. Xi Jinping in his capacity as China’s head of state took the opportunity to engage in subnational diplomacy before the banquet. Related rhetoric and diplomatic trends attracted attention. Xi intended to highlight the banquet as a main theme of relations between China and the U.S. instead of a side event of APEC.

At the joint welcome banquet, Xi Jinping mentioned China’s targets of subnational diplomacy that he met recently. He said, "After the world emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic, I met with Dr. Kissinger and Mr. Bill Gates in Beijing. I also met with Mr. Schumer (Democratic Senate Majority Leader) and several other senators as well as (California) Governor Newsom (presented Xi Jinping with a Golden State Warriors jersey before the banquet on November 15th). I told them that the hope of the Sino-U.S. relations lies in the people, the foundation lies in the people, the future lies in the youth and the vitality lies in the localities, and I welcome more people from all walks of life in the United States to visit China." Xi also recalled the story of Milton Gardner, an American who came to Fuzhou with his parents in 1901 and moved back to the U.S. in 1911. Gardner long wanted to visit Fuzhou again but did not fulfill his wish before he passed away. Xi, who was then secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) Fuzhou Municipal Committee, invited Mrs. Gardner to visit Kuliang, Fuzhou in 1992 to help her fulfill her husband's last wish. Later the Friends of Kuliang was established. “Bond with Kuliang: 2023 China-U.S. People-to-People Friendship Forum was held in Fuzhou on June 28th and once again proved that the Chinese and American people can transcend differences in system, culture and language to forge a profound friendship,” said Xi. In sum, “amity between the people holds the key to sound state-to-state relations” will become China’s slogan for subnational diplomacy. Xi pointed out at the joint welcome banquet in San Francisco: "I also found that although our two countries have different histories, cultures, social systems and development paths, our people are kind, friendly, hardworking and pragmatic. They both love their motherland, their families and their lives. They both have a good impression and interest in each other. It is the trickle-down flow of goodwill and friendship that makes the vast Pacific no longer a natural chasm. It is the people’s two-way rush that makes the Sino-US relations return to the right track from the trough time and time again. I believe that once the door to the Sino-US relations is opened, it will never be closed again. Once the cause of friendship between the two peoples is started, it will not be abandoned halfway. The tree of people-to-people friendship has grown up and will surely withstand the ups and downs."

Newsom visited China on October 23rd. As a rising political star of the Democratic Party, Newsom is very likely to become the Democratic presidential candidate in the future. During his visit to China, Newsom met with Wang Yi, member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, director of the Office of the CPC Central Foreign Affairs Commission and China’s foreign minister, Vice President Han Zheng and Xi Jinping. Newsom again met with Xi in San Francisco on November 15th, highlighting his extraordinary political clout. It can be seen that China’s subnational diplomacy reflects its overall national interests and diplomatic strategy. In the short term, China aims to put pressure on the U.S. federal government through relations with local US officials. In the long run, China hopes to invest in and cultivate future U.S. national leaders that are friendly to China.

(Chiu-lung Huang, Adjunct Associate Professor of Department of Public Security of the Central Police University)

(Translated to English by Cindy Li)