During President Xi Jinping's visit to Latin America, China's "strategic partnership" with Argentina and Venezuela was raised to a "comprehensive strategic partnership". To date, China has established comprehensive strategic partnerships with 18 countries and organizations worldwide. In addition, China also has 40 partners of other types. As China's influence grows, relationships between China and its partners are becoming increasingly close, with all parties seeking common goals in political, economic, cultural and other areas.
What is partnership between countries?
The concept of "partnership" originated at the end of the Cold War, when NATO implemented the "Partnership for Peace program" to build trust with non-NATO countries.
"Partnership refers to a type of international cooperative relationship between countries (regions, organizations) based on mutual trust, within the framework of which the entities cooperate in political, economic, scientific, cultural and other areas," says Liu Yuqin, researcher with the China Foundation for International Studies and former Chinese ambassador to Ecuador, Chile and Cuba.
An article from People's Daily has categorized major power relations into three types – namely partnership, alliance, and non-alliance partnership.
The most essential features of partnerships between major countries identified by the article are: equality between partners, non-alignment, and not targeting or jeopardizing the position of a third country.
Compared to the alliances and hostile relations between major powers in the Cold War era, partnership represents progress in international relations and a step forward in promoting equal and cooperative governmental relationships.
How many types of partnerships?
To date, China has established partnerships with 58 countries and organizations. Major forms of these partnerships include cooperative partnership, comprehensive partnership of cooperation, strategic partnership of cooperation, comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation.
Strategic partnership suggests the two parties share common objectives overall and in terms of core interests, whereas comprehensive strategic partnership entails more extensive cooperation and constitutes a higher form of strategic relationship.
18 countries and organizations have so far become comprehensive strategic partners of China, and the EU was the first to enter into a comprehensive strategic partnership with China.
Strategic collaborative partnership differs from strategic partnership in that the former requires follow-up activities after the bilateral relationship has been specified. Neither of them is necessarily "closer" than the other, but the former will increase the sense of trust between countries.
When to upgrade to "comprehensive strategic"
2014 marks the 10th and the 13th anniversary of China's strategic partnerships with Argentina and Venezuela respectively.
"Since the establishment of the strategic partnerships, China's relations with the two countries have been advancing steadily," says Liu. However, according to Liu, the lifting of ties during Xi's visit to Latin America is not necessarily the prelude to any major moves in bilateral relations.
"The upgrade shows the willingness of the parties involved to broaden their cooperation, and things are likely to move forward progressively rather than sharply," she says.
What do the partnerships say about China?
According to Mei Zhaorong, former Chinese ambassador to Germany, the establishment of partnerships between China and other countries reflects not only good momentum in bilateral ties, but also China's growing prominence in the international community.
"Today, China is building more and more partnerships around the world, and the level of cooperation is also getting higher and higher as well; with increased capacity in capital, technology and infrastructure construction, China now can implement long-term cooperation with its partners, and offer assistance to other countries," says Mei.