China has unveiled a sweeping foreign relations law enshrining its right to impose “countermeasures” against actions that it deems a threat – in Beijing’s latest bid to bolster its position amid strained relations with the West.
The law, approved on Wednesday and entering into force July 1, comes as China’s authoritarian government pushes back against what it sees as American efforts to suppress its development, following US export controls on some high-tech goods and efforts to reduce reliance on Chinese suppliers in sensitive sectors.
The two countries have entered a period of deep suspicion and tension that marks a low point in their relations, even as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Beijing earlier this month in an effort to stabilize ties.
The new law stresses its right “to take corresponding countermeasures and restrictive measures” against acts that violate international law and norms and that “endanger China’s sovereignty, security and development interests,” according to a copy of the text published by state media.
It is China’s first foreign policy legislation of this scope and lands as Xi Jinping – the country’s most powerful leader in decades – has seen his drive to amplify China’s power and influence on the world stage clash with concern from the US and other nations over Beijing’s ambitions and increasingly assertive foreign policy.
The legislation was approved by a top decision-making body within China’s rubber-stamp parliament on Wednesday. Its chairman Zhao Leji hailed the law as having “great significance” for safeguarding the country and supporting “national rejuvenation” – a nod to Xi’s vision for a powerful, modern China.
The release comes “amid new challenges in foreign relations, especially when China has been facing frequent external interference in its internal affairs under the Western hegemony with unilateral sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction,” China’s state-run tabloid Global Times said.
It “provides a legal basis for the diplomatic struggle against sanctions, anti-intervention and long-arm jurisdiction” and enriches the “legal toolbox” to safeguard national interest, the outlet added, citing experts.
In recent months, the United States has blacklisted Chinese companies over their alleged participation in surveillance programs and Russia’s war in Ukraine, pushed allies to restrict semiconductor exports to China, and rallied other advanced economies to counter Beijing’s “economic coercion” and “de-risk” supply chains – amid concerns about a security challenge posed by Beijing.
Chinese officials have viewed this as a direct attack. When meeting with Blinken earlier this month, Xi told the US envoy that Washington “must not hurt China’s legitimate rights and interests” or deprive it of its “legitimate right to development.”
Beijing has also long decried Washington’s use of economic sanctions as a tool of US foreign policy and in 2021 enacted an anti-foreign sanctions law aimed at combating overseas measures imposed on Chinese interests.
It has even begun imposing sanctions of its own.
In February, Beijing sanctioned US defense firms Lockheed Martin and Raytheon ostensibly over arms sales to Taiwan, the self-ruling democracy China’s ruling Communist Party claims but has never controlled.
The new law, however, doesn’t appear to add any additional anti-sanctions tools, according to Suisheng Zhao, director of the Center for China-US Cooperation at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies.
“This is the first comprehensive foreign relations law … but it (reads) more like Xi Jinping’s foreign policy declaration,” Zhao said, adding that its release comes at a moment when Xi is focused on countering what it sees as US efforts to contain China.
“In order to counter the ‘Western containment,’ Xi tries to mobilize everything available to him – including so-called legal instruments,” he said.
The new legislation also enshrines the promotion of several of Xi’s signature foreign policy initiatives on global security, development and “civilization” into law, and affirms China’s stated opposition to “hegemony” and “power politics.”
While the Communist Party, not the state, is ultimately in charge of China’s policy in general, the law also explicitly places control of international relations into the hands of the party. It names the party committee focused on foreign affairs as responsible for such decision making – following a trend of the consolidation of power across society and industry by the party and its leader.
“The party, not the government, runs China’s foreign relations. If this was mainly an unwritten ‘shared understanding’ before, this is now codified into hard law,” said Wen-Ti Sung, a political scientist with the Australian National University’s Taiwan Studies Program.
This and the inclusion of Xi’s global initiatives in the law is the Chinese leader’s “way of reminding officials to obey the top leadership’s orders and be consistent with the top leadership” on foreign policy, Sung said, pointing to times when China’s so-called “wolf-warrior” diplomats have been seen as overstepping or missing the mark.
The law also includes China’s pledge to promote “high-level opening-up” of its economy, develop foreign trade and encourage and legally protect foreign investment.
In recent months, a campaign against consulting and due diligence firms has unnerved foreign businesses in China.
Chinese Premier Li Qiang stressed a similiar message at a World Economic Forum summit in the city of Tianjin this week and during a trip to Europe earlier this month, where he also pushed back on countries’ efforts to “de-risk” their supply chains by reducing reliance on China in certain sectors.
Amid concerns about tensions with the US and its own domestic economic woes, China has increased its engagement with Europe in an attempt to repair relationships that fractured when it failed to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“But in the meantime, they would not want to make any concessions,” said Zhao in Denver. And for Xi, “because he has so many domestic troubles, he cannot afford to show any weakness.”
“That’s why he has to move forward on all fronts – including those legal documents to demonstrate his position and his determination to defend China’s so-called national interest,” he said.
CNN’s Mengchen Zhang contributing reporting.