Since its establishment, the People's Republic has worked vigorously to win international support for its position that it is the sole legitimate government of all China, including Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan. In the early 1970s, Beijing was recognized diplomatically by most world powers. Beijing assumed the China seat in the United Nations in 1971 and became increasingly active in multilateral organizations. Japan established diplomatic relations with China in 1972, and the U.S. did so in 1979. The number of countries that have established diplomatic relations with Beijing has risen to 156, while 28 have diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
After the founding of the P.R.C., China's foreign policy initially focused on solidarity with the Soviet Union and other communist countries. In 1950, China sent the People's Liberation Army into North Korea as "volunteers" to help North Korea halt the UN offensive that was approaching the Yalu River. After the conclusion of the Korean conflict, China sought to balance its identification as a member of the Soviet bloc by establishing friendly relations with Pakistan and Third World countries, particularly in Southeast Asia.
In the 1960s, Beijing competed with Moscow for political influence among communist parties and in the developing world generally. Following the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and clashes in 1969 on the Sino-Soviet border, Chinese competition with the Soviet Union increasingly reflected concern over China's own strategic position.
In late 1978, the Chinese also became concerned over Vietnam's efforts to establish open control over Laos and Cambodia. In response to the Soviet-backed Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, China fought a brief border war with Vietnam (February-March 1979) with the stated purpose of "teaching Vietnam a lesson."
Chinese anxiety about Soviet strategic advances was heightened following the Soviet Union's December 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. Sharp differences between China and the Soviet Union persisted over Soviet support for Vietnam's continued occupation of Cambodia, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and Soviet troops along the Sino-Soviet border and in Mongolia--the so-called "three obstacles" to improved Sino-Soviet relations.
In the 1970s and 1980s China sought to create a secure regional and global environment for itself and to foster good relations with countries that could aid its economic development. To this end, China looked to the West for assistance with its modernization drive and for help in countering Soviet expansionism, which it characterized as the greatest threat to its national security and to world peace.
China maintained its consistent opposition to "superpower hegemonism," focusing almost exclusively on the expansionist actions of the Soviet Union and Soviet proxies such as Vietnam and Cuba, but it also placed growing emphasis on a foreign policy independent of both the U.S. and the Soviet Union. While improving ties with the West, China continued to follow closely economic and other positions of the Third World nonaligned movement, although China was not a formal member.
In the immediate aftermath of Tiananmen crackdown in June 1989, many countries reduced their diplomatic contacts with China as well as their economic assistance programs. In response, China worked vigorously to expand its relations with foreign countries, and by late 1990, had reestablished normal relations with almost all nations. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in late 1991, China also opened diplomatic relations with the republics of the former Soviet Union.
In recent years, Chinese leaders are regular travelers to all parts of the globe, and China has sought a higher profile in the UN through its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and other multilateral organizations. Closer to home, China has made efforts to reduce tensions in Asia; it has contributed to stability on the Korean Peninsula, cultivated a more cooperative relationship with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Brunei, Burma, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam), and participated in the ASEAN Regional Forum. China has improved ties with Russia. President Putin and President Jiang signed a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in July 2001. The two also joined with the Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan to found the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in June 2001. The SCO is designed to promote regional stability and cooperate to combat terrorism in the region. China has a number of border and maritime disputes, including with Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin, with a number of countries in the South China Sea, as well as with Japan and India. Beijing has resolved many of these disputes, notably including a November 1997 agreement with Russia that resolved almost all outstanding border issues and a 2000 agreement with Vietnam to resolve some differences over their maritime border, though disagreements remain over islands in the South China Sea.
Human rights: China has acknowledged in principle the importance of protection of human rights and has taken steps to bring its human rights practices into conformity with international norms. Among these steps are signature in October 1997 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ratified in March 2001) and signature in October 1998 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (not yet ratified). China also has expanded dialogue with foreign governments. These positive steps notwithstanding, serious problems remain. The government restricts freedom of assembly, expression, and the press and represses dissent.
Disputes - international: boundary with India in dispute; dispute over at least two small sections of the boundary with Russia remain to be settled, despite 1997 boundary agreement; portions of the boundary with Tajikistan are indefinite; 33-km section of boundary with North Korea in the Paektu-san (mountain) area is indefinite; involved in a complex dispute over the Spratly Islands with Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, and possibly Brunei; maritime boundary dispute with Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin; Paracel Islands occupied by China, but claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan; claims Japanese-administered Senkaku-shoto (Senkaku Islands/Diaoyu Tai), as does Taiwan; agreement on land border with Vietnam was signed in December 1999, but details of alignment have not yet been made public
Illicit drugs: major transshipment point for heroin produced in the Golden Triangle; growing domestic drug abuse problem