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China-Africa partnership finds reciprocity

Bahauddin Foizee

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Despite concerns raised by few Western countries, such as Britain and the U.S., over the political, economic and military roles that China has been playing in Africa, China is successful in making inroads to Africa with reciprocal warm gestures from many African countries. The very visible progress in political, economic and diplomatic cooperation between Africa and China is a sheer showcase of this reality.

Why Africa is important to China?

China’s vast economy, which is the second largest economy in the world, requires huge raw materials and energy resources. As the Middle East has become a too chaotic supplier-destination for energy, China found African countries as the ideal supplier-destinations for much needed natural resources, such as oil, minerals, timber and cotton. Moreover, African markets are seriously attractive to any export-oriented industrial economy like China because of Africa’s large population (around 1.1 billion), who are potential consumers. For China, African fast-growing markets are ideal for immediate export of cheap manufactured goods that China is best in making, and also ideal for the future export of high-end products and services, towards which China is slowly moving.

Africa could be instrumental for China in its counter to the U.S.’s “pivot to Asia,” which is a diplomatic, economic and strategic offensive aimed at undermining Chinese influence and preparing for war. “One Belt, One Road” strategy, something that needs no introduction, is China’s response to U.S.’s pivot to Asia. China is seeking to include Africa within its “One Belt, One Road” strategy aimed at more closely integrating Europe and Asia via land and maritime infrastructure.

Why Africa prefers China over others?

China has adopted a flexible approach with regard to the African resource market under the “Beijing Consensus”: (i) non-interference, (ii) infrastructural development, (iii) friendship and respect (for African leaders, people and sovereignty) and (iv) Chinese model of development (operating in Africa under the influence of China’s own development history, which prioritizes “economic development” over other progress). Therefore, Beijing Consensus, according to many African intellectuals, portrays China’s intension of maintaining a strict respect for African sovereignty and China’s non-interference approach to internal issues of African countries. In line with this policy, China helps Africa with loans and infrastructure building projects without any political strings attached about democracy or transparency. Such Chinese non-interference approach gives African countries enough flexibility to work for immediate economic development.

Efforts have been made toward stronger economic integration in Africa. In 2002, the African Union was formally commenced in order to accelerate socio-economic integration and promote peace, security and stability in Africa. China has been continuously voicing in favour of such African integration in almost all China-Africa summits, symbolizing China’s intension to see Africa together as one.

China invests in the construction of African infrastructures, such as roads, railways, dams, ports and airports. Such projects create massive employments for hundreds of thousands of Africans. These (creating jobs and building a developed Africa) are very visible benefits that appeal the African people of all ages and of all walks of life towards mandating for further Chinese involvement in Africa.

China-Africa relations

The U.S., France and Britain are China’s main rivals in Africa. France and Britain were once the largest trading partners of Africa. However, from 2008 onwards, China remained Africa’s largest trading partner, while the U.S. remained the second largest. China has been giving aid to more African countries than the U.S.

China wants to move away from its low-end products manufacturing trend to high-end products. China intends to build up the low-end industrialization capacities in other countries, helping Chinese companies in their attempts to “go global” as they set up factories in other countries. And, industrialization is just the obsession that many African countries are craving for. Therefore, it seems China’s plan to build up the low-end industrialization capacities in other countries and African countries’ desire for industrialization coincides with each other, making China and Africa the ideal-most partners for each other in this regard. Chinese Foreign Minister regarded China as a most desirable and reliable long-term partner for Africa to achieve industrialization.

China has been increasing cooperation and exchanges with Africa on the cultural front, particularly in the media and education arena. Over the last decade, China extended its media presence across all major press and electronic media in Africa. The famous CCTV News Channel and China Daily have dedicated Africa editions. Africa hosts a number of Chinese cultural centres and 46 Confucius Institutes, which focuses on the promotion of the Chinese language and culture. Health care development and medical assistance have been one of the main successful areas of cooperation.

Military cooperation between China and Africa goes back to the Cold War period when China backed a number of African liberation movements, while post-cold war era witnessed a military relation based on economic interests rather than ideology. China has been sending troops to Africa to participate in peacekeeping and pledged to increase its support for the peacekeepers in Africa. Apart from peacemaking, China provides military training and equipment to a number of African countries. An increasing number of African countries have shifted their source of supply of defence hardware from traditional providers to China.

The need to protect China’s increased investments in Africa have driven China to adopt new diplomatic and military initiatives in order to try to resolve unrest in countries like South Sudan and Mali. China’s security assistance to the African Union and national militaries of many African countries is in part designed to boost their capacity to counter threats (such as attack on the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali) to their economic interests from conventional and non-conventional armed forces. China’s first ever overseas military facility is planned to be hosted in Djibouti, located in the Horn of Africa.

China-Africa Summit

The ministerial meeting in China in October 2000 was the first collective dialogue held between China and African countries, establishing the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in order to strengthen alliances, sign contracts and make important announcements. Since then Chinese and African partners meet every three years for the summit of FOCAC, or otherwise known as China-Africa Summit.

During the 2015’s summit, which was held in South Africa, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged $60 billion over a three-year deal in loans and assistance to the African countries. On the media front, Xi said that China would provide training for 1,000 African media practitioners each year, and would set up satellite TV programs in 10,000 African villages. Xi also pledged to provide funding for 200 African scholars and 500 African students to visit China each year. China would also provide 2,000 education places and 30,000 government scholarship places for Africa. China would establish regional vocational education centres and colleges, train 200,000 technicians and provide the Africans with 40,000 training opportunities in China. Xi pledged some 200 poverty reduction projects, 30 teams of agricultural experts and a limited amount of debt relief to some of the poorest African countries.

As part of China-Africa peace and security program, Xi pledged that China will provide $60 million in free assistance to the African Union to build and maintain its army, both its regular army and crisis response, as well as support UN peacekeeping in Africa. China’s new Africa policy paper pledged more military cooperation, including technological cooperation, joint exercises, personnel training and intelligence sharing. China’s goal is to build up African capabilities so that the African countries – as well as organizations like the African Union – can ensure their own stability. However, Xi made it clear that through increasing economic and military cooperation, China does not intend to colonize Africa. President Xi clearly stated that China strongly believes that Africa belongs to the African people and African problems should be handled by the African people. Xi also clarified that China’s latest military efforts are to combat militancy, and not to engage itself in the local African conflicts.

Criticisms against China

There are widespread accusations that China is a neo-colonial power in Africa. And that China-Africa cooperation have given rise to human rights abuses. Other criticisms are economic in nature. There are accusations that African workers face ill-treatment and poor pay by Chinese companies and that the influx of Chinese workers take away local jobs. The criticisms go further in alleging that African markets are harmed by low-cost Chinese-made products, which put great competitive pressure on local industries and businesses. Some argue that China’s involvement in Africa currently benefits primarily the African elites, and not the general Africans.

However, according to several African intellectual corners, these aforementioned accusations are part of a larger propaganda originating from the Western corners in order to undermine China’s influence over Africa. According to such African sources, African culture has already been plagued by centuries of Western domination and the imperial economic and social structures.

Observations

Unlike Western economic giants, China made development – not pursuing democracy and transparency – the sole model for its partnership with Africa. With such a flexible approach, China seems to anticipate that African governments would find China a better choice over the West with regard to long term partnership.

China continues to expand its influence in Africa on diplomatic, cultural and commercial fronts, while working to secure and stabilize Africa for China’s own long term gains.

It is clearly in the interest of Africa to avoid full alignment with either of China and the West, but to play one side against the other — which might work to decrease raw material prices and to earn other leverages. In this way, it would be well guaranteed that negotiating power remains in the hands of local African policy makers, ensuring end of all sort of exploitation against Africa.

Bahauddin Foizee is an international affairs analyst and columnist, and regularly writes on greater Asia-Pacific, Indian Oceanic region and greater Middle East geopolitics. He also - infrequently - writes on environment & climate change and the global refugee crisis. Besides Modern Diplomacy, his articles have appeared at The Diplomat, Global New Light of Myanmar, Asia Times, Eurasia Review, Middle East Monitor, International Policy Digest and a number of other international publications. His columns also appear in the Dhaka-based national newspapers, including Daily Observer, Daily Sun, Daily Star, The Independent, The New Nation, Financial Express, New age and bdnews24com. He previously taught law at Dhaka Centre for Law & Economics and worked at Bangladesh Institute of Legal Development.

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East Asia

China’s soft power and its Lunar New Year’s Culture

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Authors: Liu Hui & Humprey A. Russell*

As a common practice, China has celebrated its annual Lunar new year since 1984 when the leaders of the day decided to open mysterious country in a more confident and transparent way. So far, the lunar new year gala has become a part of Chinese cultural life and beyond. The question then arises why China or its people have been so thrilled to exhibit themselves to the world, as its economy has already impressed the world by its rapid pace and tremendous capacity.

As it is well-known, in international relations, peoples from different cultural and ethnical backgrounds need to enhance their understanding which eventually leads to mutual respect and tolerance as the key to the world peace and stability. China is well-aware of this norm. As a rising power with 1.3 billion people, it is necessary for China to introduce its culture and notion of the peaceful rise to the audiences globally. Joseph Nye, Jr., the founder of the concept of the soft power, has argued: “The currency of soft power is culture, political values, and foreign policies. During the information age, credibility is the scarcest resource.”In light of this, China has been steadily involved in cultural promotions abroad.

China is an ancient civilization but diplomatically it is a new global player in terms of its modern involvement into the world affairs, particularly in terms of reform and openness. Yet, since China has aspired to rejuvenate itself as one of the leading powers globally, it is natural for the world en bloc to assume Beijing’s intention and approach to the power transition between the rising power like itself and the ruling powers such as the United States and the G-7 club. Consider this, China has exerted all efforts to project but not propagate its image to the world. Here culture is bound to play the vital role in convincing the countries concerned that “culturally China has no the gene of being a threat to other peoples,” as Chinese President Xi has assured. The annual lunar gala is evidently a useful instrument to demonstrate Chinese people, culture and policies as well.

Culturally speaking, the Chinese New Year celebrations can be seen as follows. In a general sense, similar themes run through all the galas with the local cultural and ethnical ingredients, for instance, Chinese opera, crosstalk and acrobatics, as well as the lion-dancing or the dragon-dancing from time to time. Yes, the galas play the role of promoting the Chinese communities over the world to identify themselves with the Chinese culture which surely strengthen the cultural bonds among the Chinese, in particular the younger generations. Moreover, the dimension of the Chinese culture can be found beyond the country since its neighbors like Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and Malaysia, as well as Chinese communities in many other areas also perform those arts at the holiday seasons. The message here is clear that China, although it is a rising great power, has never abandoned its cultural tradition which has emphasized the harmony among the different races and ethnics.

Recently, the lunar new year celebrations across China have invited professional and amateur artists from all over the world. Those foreign guest artists and many overseas students studying in China have been able to offer their talents in either Chinese or their mother tongues. No doubt, this is a two-way to learn from each other because Chinese performers are benefited from the contacts with their counterparts globally. In terms of public diplomacy, Beijing aims to send a powerful and sincere message to the world: China can’t be in isolation from the world because it has aspired to be a great and inclusive country as well. To that end, the rise of China is not going to challenge the status quo, but will act as one of the stakeholders.

As usual, realists have difficulties and even cultural bias to accept the rhetoric from a country like China since it has been regarded by the ruling powers of the world as an ambitious, assertive and communist-ruled country with its unique culture. To that challenge, the Chinese government and the people have done a great deal of works to successfully illustrate Chinese practice of harmony at the societal level idealized by Confucius’ doctrines. This social harmony is made possible only by the realization of the Taoist ideal of harmony with nature – in this case, harmony between humans and nature. This explains why panda and many other rare animals are now viewed as new national symbol of China. Although they are unnecessarily an indispensable part of the lunar new year gala, the viewpoint is that the rise of China would not be completed at the cost of the ecological environment like many other countries did in history.

Practically speaking, the lunar new year celebrations are being conducted in a rich variety of ways such as concerts, cuisines, folk entertainments and even forums and receptions around the world. Major global commercial centers have also served to create a Chinese holiday atmosphere, adapt to the needs of Chinese tourists, attract active participation from local residents, and provide such diversities of cultural and social events. What is worth mentioning is that some Chinese-North American non-profit, non-partisan organizations are beginning to celebrate Chinese lunar gala in partnership with other local counterparts. For instance, the Chinese Inter-cultural Association based in California, recently hosted a Chinese New Year party in a Persian restaurant in partnership with a local non-profit, non-partisan organization called the Orange County Toastmaster Club, part of Toastmaster International. Also, in another Chinese New Year celebration that was open to people of all races in Pasadena, two Americans played the guitar and sang songs in fluent Chinese! Both galas were attended by people of all racial backgrounds around the world. Given this, it is fair to say that China’s soft power supported by its annual lunar new year festival is on the rise globally with a view to promoting mutual respect and friendship among the peoples of various cultural, ethnical and racial origins.

Yet, though the impressive feats are achieved, it has noted that China still has a long way to go in terms of its twin-centennial dreams. First, as a developing country with its unique culture, it is necessary for China to promote its great ancient culture abroad, but it is also imperative to avoid “introducing” China rashly into the globe. Essentially, soft power is more the ability to attract and co-opt than to use force or give money as a means of persuasion. Thereby, it is the very ability to shape the preferences of others through appeal and attraction. As cross-cultural communication is a long process, Nye admitted a few years ago, in public affairs, “the best propaganda is not propaganda.”

This is the key to all the countries. In 2014,President Xi formally stated, “China should increase its soft power, give a good Chinese narrative, and better communicate its messages to the world.” In light of this, Chinese lunar new year gala surely acts as soft power to project the image of China internationally.

* Humprey A. Russell (Indonesia), PhD candidate in international affairs, SIPA, Jilin University.

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China’s step into the maelstrom of the Middle East

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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The Middle East has a knack for sucking external powers into its conflicts. China’s ventures into the region have shown how difficult it is to maintain its principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states.

China’s abandonment of non-interference is manifested by its (largely ineffective) efforts to mediate conflicts in South Sudan, Syria and Afghanistan as well as between Israel and Palestine and even between Saudi Arabia and Iran. It is even more evident in China’s trashing of its vow not to establish foreign military bases, which became apparent when it established a naval base in Djibouti and when reports surfaced that it intends to use Pakistan’s deep sea port of Gwadar as a military facility.

This contradiction between China’s policy on the ground and its long-standing non-interventionist foreign policy principles means that Beijing often struggles to meet the expectations of Middle Eastern states. It also means that China risks tying itself up in political knots in countries such as Pakistan, which is home to the crown jewel of its Belt and Road Initiative — the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Middle Eastern autocrats have tried to embrace the Chinese model of economic liberalism coupled with tight political control. They see China’s declared principle of non-interference in the affairs of others for what it is: support for authoritarian rule. The principle of this policy is in effect the same as the decades-old US policy of opting for stability over democracy in the Middle East.

It is now a risky policy for the United States and China to engage in given the region’s post-Arab Spring history with brutal and often violent transitions. If anything, instead of having been ‘stabilised’ by US and Chinese policies, the region is still at the beginning of a transition process that could take up to a quarter of a century to resolve. There is no guarantee that autocrats will emerge as the winners.

China currently appears to have the upper hand against the United States for influence across the greater Middle East, but Chinese policies threaten to make that advantage short-term at best.

Belt and Road Initiative-related projects funded by China have proven to be a double-edged sword. Concerns are mounting in countries like Pakistan that massive Chinese investment could prove to be a debt trap similar to Sri Lanka’s experience.

Chinese back-peddling on several Pakistani infrastructure projects suggests that China is tweaking its approach to the US$50 billion China–Pakistan Economic Corridor. The Chinese rethink was sparked by political volatility caused by Pakistan’s self-serving politics and continued political violence — particularly in the Balochistan province, which is at the heart of CPEC.

China decided to redevelop its criteria for the funding of CPEC’s infrastructure projects in November 2017. This move seemingly amounted to an effort to enhance the Pakistani military’s stake in the country’s economy at a time when they were flexing their muscles in response to political volatility. The decision suggests that China is not averse to shaping the political environment of key countries in its own authoritarian mould.

Similarly, China has been willing to manipulate Pakistan against its adversaries for its own gain. China continues to shield Masoud Azhar (who is believed to have close ties to Pakistani intelligence agencies and military forces) from UN designation as a global terrorist. China does so while Pakistan cracks down on militants in response to a US suspension of aid and a UN Security Council monitoring visit.

Pakistan’s use of militants in its dispute with India over Kashmir serves China’s interest in keeping India off balance — a goal which Beijing sees as worthy despite the fact that Chinese personnel and assets have been the targets of a low-level insurgency in Balochistan. Saudi Arabia is also considering the use of Balochistan as a launching pad to destabilise Iran. By stirring ethnic unrest in Iran, Saudi Arabia will inevitably suck China into the Saudi–Iranian rivalry and sharpen its competition with the United States. Washington backs the Indian-supported port of Chabahar in Iran — a mere 70 kilometres from Gwadar.

China is discovering that it will prove impossible to avoid the pitfalls of the greater Middle East. This is despite the fact that US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman seem singularly focussed on countering Iran and Islamic militants.

As it navigates the region’s numerous landmines, China is likely to find itself at odds with both the United States and Saudi Arabia. It will at least have a common interest in pursuing political stability at the expense of political change — however much this may violate its stated commitment to non-interference.

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Chinese extradition request puts crackdown on Uyghurs in the spotlight

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A Chinese demand for the extradition of 11 Uyghurs from Malaysia puts the spotlight on China’s roll-out of one of the world’s most intrusive surveillance systems, military moves to prevent Uyghur foreign fighters from returning to Xinjiang, and initial steps to export its security approach to countries like Pakistan.

The 11 were among 25 Uyghurs who escaped from a Thai detention centre in November through a hole in the wall, using blankets to climb to the ground.

The extradition request follows similar deportations of Uyghurs from Thailand and Egypt often with no due process and no immediate evidence that they were militants.

The escapees were among more than 200 Uighurs detained in Thailand in 2014. The Uyghurs claimed they were Turkish nationals and demanded that they be returned to Turkey. Thailand, despite international condemnation, forcibly extradited to China some 100 of the group in July 2015.

Tens of Uyghurs, who were unable to flee to Turkey in time, were detained in Egypt in July and are believed to have also been returned to China. Many of the Uyghurs were students at Al Azhar, one of the foremost institutions of Islamic learning.

China, increasingly concerned that Uyghurs fighters in Syria and Iraq will seek to return to Xinjiang or establish bases across the border in Afghanistan and Tajikistan in the wake of the territorial demise of the Islamic State, has brutally cracked down on the ethnic minority in its strategic north-western province, extended its long arm to the Uyghur Diaspora, and is mulling the establishment of its first land rather than naval foreign military base.

The crackdown appears, at least for now, to put a lid on intermittent attacks in Xinjiang itself. Chinese nationals have instead been targeted in Pakistan, the $50 billion plus crown jewel in China’s Belt and Road initiative that seeks to link Eurasia to the People’s Republic through infrastructure.

The attacks are believed to have been carried out by either Baloch nationalists or militants of the East Turkestan Independence Movement (ETIM), a Uighur separatist group that has aligned itself with the Islamic State.

Various other groups, including the Pakistani Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Islamic State have threatened to attack Chinese nationals in response to the alleged repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

ETIM militants were believed to have been responsible for the bombing in August 2015 of Bangkok’s Erawan shrine that killed 20 people as retaliation for the forced repatriation of Uighurs a month earlier.

The Chinese embassy in Islamabad warned in December of possible attacks targeting “Chinese-invested organizations and Chinese citizens” in Pakistan

China’s ambassador, Yao Jing, advised the Pakistani interior ministry two months earlier that Abdul Wali, an alleged ETIM assassin, had entered the country and was likely to attack Chinese targets

China has refused to recognize ethnic aspirations of Uyghurs, a Turkic group, and approached it as a problem of Islamic militancy. Thousands of Uyghurs are believed to have joined militants in Syria, while hundreds or thousands more have sought to make their way through Southeast Asia to Turkey.

To counter ethnic and religious aspirations, China has introduced what must be the world’s most intrusive surveillance system using algorithms. Streets in Xinjiang’s cities and villages are pockmarked by cameras; police stations every 500 metres dot roads in major cities; public buildings resemble fortresses; and authorities use facial recognition and body scanners at highway checkpoints.

The government, in what has the makings of a re-education program, has opened boarding schools “for local children to spend their entire week in a Chinese-speaking environment, and then only going home to parents on the weekends,” according to China scholar David Brophy. Adult Uyghurs, who have stuck to their Turkic language, have been ordered to study Chinese at night schools.

Nightly television programs feature oath-swearing ceremonies,” in which participants pledge to root out “two-faced people,” the term used for Uyghur Communist Party members who are believed to be not fully devoted to Chinese policy.

The measures in Xinjiang go beyond an Orwellian citizen scoring system that is being introduced that scores a person’s political trustworthiness. The system would determine what benefits a citizen is entitled to, including access to credit, high speed internet service and fast-tracked visas for travel based on data garnered from social media and online shopping data as well as scanning of irises and content on mobile phones at random police checks.

Elements of the system are poised for export. A long-term Chinese plan for China’s investment in Pakistan, dubbed the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), envisioned creating a system of monitoring and surveillance in Pakistani cities to ensure law and order.

The system envisions deployment of explosive detectors and scanners to “cover major roads, case-prone areas and crowded places…in urban areas to conduct real-time monitoring and 24-hour video recording.”

A national fibre optic backbone would be built for internet traffic as well as the terrestrial distribution of broadcast media. Pakistani media would cooperate with their Chinese counterparts in the “dissemination of Chinese culture.”

The plan described the backbone as a “cultural transmission carrier” that would serve to “further enhance mutual understanding between the two peoples and the traditional friendship between the two countries.”

The measures were designed to address the risks to CPEC that the plan identified as “Pakistani politics, such as competing parties, religion, tribes, terrorists, and Western intervention” as well as security. “The security situation is the worst in recent years,” the plan said.

At the same time, China, despite official denials, is building, according to Afghan security officials, a military base for the Afghan military that would give the People’s Republic a presence in Badakhshan, the remote panhandle of Afghanistan that borders China and Tajikistan.

Chinese military personnel have reportedly been in the mountainous Wakhan Corridor, a narrow strip of territory in north-eastern Afghanistan that extends to China and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan since March last year.

The importance China attributes to protecting itself against Uyghur militancy and extending its protective shield beyond its borders was reflected in the recent appointment as its ambassador to Afghanistan, Liu Jinsong, who was raised in Xinjiang and served as a director of the Belt and Road initiative’s $15 billion Silk Road Fund.

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