China and the Geneva Conference of 1954
|Source:||The China Quarterly 1992|
The Geneva Conference of 1954 represented an important event in the development of China’s foreign policy. For the first time, Beijing’s diplomacy became the focus of attention in an international meeting. Despite American opposition and delaying tactics, the conference was a diplomatic triumph for China. It greatly enhanced Beijing’s international status. China’s leaders clearly perceived their role in global rather than in regional terms. Their pride and confidence were best expressed by the Renmin ribao (People’s Daily) editorial of 22 July 1954:
For the first time as one of the Big Powers, the People’s Republic of China joined the other major powers in negotiations on vital international problems and made a contribution of its own that won the acclaim of wide sections of world opinion. The international status of the People’s Republic of China as one of the big world powers has gained universal recognition. Its international prestige has been greatly enhanced. The Chinese people take the greatest joy and pride in the efforts and achievements of their delegation at Geneva.
Alone among the great powers, Beijing identified itself as a member of the Afro-Asian camp of newly independent nations. The Chinese leadership perceived China as the champion of the Afro-Asian cause against the oppression and exploitation of the west. It was within this context that China had played the major part in fashioning a new set of principles for world politics-the “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.” This emphasis on Afro-Asian solidarity would culminate in the Bandung Conference of 1955.
Zhou Enlai played an important role in the Geneva Conference. He excelled in playing British and French realism off against the rigidity and inflexibility of American Cold War policies. His diplomacy epitomized the “United Front” strategy which has been a distinct feature of the PRC’s foreign policy: to unite with all possible forces to isolate China’s most dangerous enemy. Zhou’s performance at Geneva suggests that he was a shrewd practitioner of diplomacy of the possible.