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Dialogue, Mutual Respect & Mutual Trust bracing Sino-U.S. Relations

Wang Li

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Authors: Wang Li & Fan Yao-tian

During August 15-17, Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited China, which was followed by the signing of the framework to build a new dialogue mechanism between two joint staff departments.

Since the JSD plays a crucial role in actual combat operations, experts said the mechanism would strengthen effective communication between the two powers, reduce miscalculations on both sides and improve risk management in view of Asia’s increasingly complex geopolitical climate. Equally, top military officials of the two countries agreed to develop military relations and exchanges amid growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula along with South China Sea and the Taiwan issue.

Gen. Dunford was not only the first top U.S. military official to visit China since Trump came to office, but also the timing of his visit is highly complex and sensitive due to the provocative moves by the DPRK (North Korea), deployment of THAAD by the U.S in the ROK (South Korea), and President Trump’s order on August 14 to investigate China’s trade practice, heralding a possible trade war. Considering all the happening, Dunford’s visit to China has drawn keen attention around the world.

Over the past months, a series of nuclear and missile tests conducted by the DPRK and the looming threat have left the United States frustrated; and Japan and the ROK worried. The complaints over the restlessness of the DPRK emerging from the nuclear-related tests have consistently embarrassed China since it is the only de jure ally of Pyongyang. In early August, the DPRK military stated it would complete a plan to strike the sea around Guam by mid-August. Following that, the US responded firmly if the DPRK does anything against or attack its allies or the US itself, things will happen to the DPRK like it never opined possible. Given this, Chinese President Xi Jinping made phone call to his U.S. counterpart to assure Trump that China was willing to keep all communications with the U. S. on the basis of mutual respect and jointly work for the proper resolution of the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue.

As always in international relations, diplomacy makes farce if no force is backed up; but force only makes catastrophe with no sound diplomacy. Since China has disputed with the United States and the ROK on the THAAD issue, the leaders of Beijing have smartly and swiftly approached their closest strategic partner — Russia. On the same day of Gen. Dunford’s arrival in Beijing, Chinese FM Wang Yi held phone talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of Russia at request, mainly exchanging views on the current Korean Peninsula situation. The two FMs reiterated that the peaceful settlement of the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue is the only way acceptable to both China and Russia; and vowed to permit no one to stir up incidents on China and Russia’s doorstep. Yet, both powers would make joint endeavor to cool down the “August crisis” including to “put the brakes” on mutually irritating rhetoric and actions between the DPRK and the U.S.A. Afterwards, FM Wang Yi also made phone talk with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who indicated full supports to China’s “suspension for suspension” proposal and called on all parties concerned to strive to promote a peaceful settlement of the issue.

With Russia and Germany standing behind, China confidently approached the United States to discuss the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue. Frankly speaking, while Beijing and Pyongyang enjoy political and cultural proximity, there have been no meetings between the leadership of the two sides since Kim came to power. It should be recalled that when Kim conducts missile tests, the security of northeast China is obviously menaced. The Chinese media openly criticize Kim for jeopardizing his country’s future. A recent Global Times editorial asserted clearly, “At least for now, what North Korea is doing goes against China’s strategic interests.” In order to keep the public opinion informed of Chinese position on the issue, Beijing agreed to the toughest UN Security Council sanctions to date against the DPRK; and its Ministry of Commerce and customs administration have jointly enforced the sanctions by fully banning imports of coal, iron, lead, ores, and seafood from the DPRK. Yet geopolitically, China is concerned about chaos on the Korean Peninsula for the U.S. military presence expands and the “regime change” prescription gains ground.

No doubt, a war on the Korean Peninsula would be anathema to China, which does not want to see North Korea completely devastated. The regional and international implications of such an outcome cannot be foreseen, the scale of the conflict cannot be anticipated, and a huge flow of refugees from North Korea to China would lead to more potential problems. China is mostly wary of the ambition in Washington to achieve “regime change”, a development that could – in its view – bring about greater instability in the whole region. As the U.S. military presence is steadily increasing—its fleet in the South China Sea and around the Pacific is growing, and the THAAD system has been deployed in the ROK, China proposes instead that the Six Party Talks be relaunched and its long-term goal would be to bring the DPRK to the negotiations table by offering it motivation to cooperate. Beijing holds that at present, the most pressing thing is to stop the DPRK’s nuclear and missile programs and the vicious circle of escalating tension on the Korean Peninsula. To that end, it is worthwhile to put aside the contention over who should take the first step.

Dunford’s visit to China came on the heels of intense exchanges between President Trump and the DPRK. Would China be able to persuade the United States, in particular the military groups, to listen to Beijing-initiated proposal of “suspension for suspension” that means both the DPRK and the U.S (and its ally) agree to suspend provocative military drills? This is the key reason that Chinese leaders paid high attention to Gen. Dunford’s visit to China.

While in Beijing, Dunford met President Xi Jinping who is also the chairman of the Chinese Central Military Commission. During the meeting, Xi stressed that China and the U.S. share common interests in achieving the denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and maintaining the status quo there. To resolve the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, it is ultimately to stick to the tenet of opening negotiation and political settlement. China is ready to keep communication with the U.S. on the basis of mutual respect, so as to jointly promote the proper settlement of the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue. Xi spoke highly of the new progress made in relations between the two armed forces, such as enhanced dialogue at all levels and improved military confidence-building mechanisms.

Also during his visit to China, Gen. Dunford and his team were invited to visit a military base in PLA Northern Theater Command on August 16 to interact with Chinese soldiers and officers, as well as to observe a military exercise by the Chinese soldiers. Tactically, this episode aims to show publicly Chinese military more open and transparent than expected. And a sound relationship between the two militaries should be founded on consistent dialogue, mutual respect and mutual trust. During all the meetings with Chinese command-in-chief, Chief of Joint Staff and chief of the Northern Theatre Command, Gen. Dunford was reported to say that the United States was willing to work with China, to follow the framework planned by and the consensus reached between the two heads of state, jointly to expand the areas for cooperation. He held that the militaries of the two countries should build and give play to the communication and coordination with a view to constructively resolving the current issues and moving towards mutual trust and interaction.

It is true that the DPRK nuclear issue has dominated the agenda of Sino-U.S. relations recently. And the cliché goes that President Trump has abandoned the “strategic patience” ethos of the Obama’s administration and criticizes Beijing for not putting greater pressure on Pyongyang. However, the United States, an established global superpower, and China, a rising power with global interests, are attempting to find a modus vivendi that will define the Korean nuclear issue. Although the situation remains highly complex and sensitive, the tensions on the Korean Peninsula have shown signs of abating. During his short stay in Beijing, Gen. Dunford stated once again that “to peacefully achieve denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is the common goal of both China and the U.S., and a military solution will be terrifying.“ The reasons behind his remarks are various, but one thing is clear that Washington and Beijing agree on the urgency of mitigating risks stemming from the unpredictable behavior of the DPRK government. To achieve that end, both sides need to make all efforts to keep dialogues open in light of mutual respect and mutual trust. For sure, China and the United States would not share the same perspective on many of the thorny issues involving the Korean Peninsula nuclear test issue, yet they do have the consensus in preserving the peace and stability of the world.

(*) Fan Yao-tian, MA in Finance & International Affairs Commentator

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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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East Asia

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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East Asia

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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