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East Asia

The Asian Square Dance – Part VIII

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The economy

Economists generally agree that the cumulative economies of China and India will be larger than that of the G7 by 2030. At present, China’s GCP stands at $9.2 trillion, or nearly 5 times that India.

The two countries have taken very different economic paths. China has chosen to become an exporter of labor-intensive products while India still relies on agriculture and services, particularly in IT.

Russia’s GDP at $2 trillion in 2013, and expected to shrink by 3 to 5% in 2015, less than a quarter of China’s. Russia is a raw material powerhouse and a manufacturing dwarf. As such it should be a natural supplier of oil and gas to China – it is a closer supplier than the Middle East. However, the pipeline that will be built across Siberia will deliver its goods to Nakhodka, a port facing Japan. Russia seems to fear that it will become dependent on China for its gas exports and that China will consider Russia as a vassal state and sideline it on the international scene as the disparities between the two countries grow. China has also to date not given a definite reply to the role Russian gas will play in its energy policy. Price is also an issue since China tends to compare the price of gas with that of domestic coal.

While economists forecast that China’s GDP will overtake that of the US, it still has some way to go as US GDP stands at $15 trillion.

By building its extremely large dollar reserves, $4 trillion, the Chinese Central Bank has allowed the US to borrow at very low interest rtes and has created a situation in which banks have searched for higher yields through lending massively to the housing market. The risk on the currency and on the value of US Treasury paper is extremely large. It is estimated that China holds over 6% of the US debt.

China could, if it so wished, put pressure on the US economic system by buying less US debt, or even selling it, thus precipitating a fall in the dollar and an increase in interest rates. Reprisals from the US could come in the form of new barriers to trade for products made in China.

Should there be a major economic recession in the US, with a consequent loss of jobs, the country may well turn to protectionism. The idea that the globalization process has been essentially beneficial to China will be a driver to reduce imports from that country.

China is also worried that US government borrowing to cover its enormous deficit will lead to high inflation and that therefore the bonds held by the Central bank will lose value.

The US has been putting considerable pressure for China to revalue its currency, the RMB, and thus reduce its competitive advantage based on cheap labor. Some economists, however, believe that a revaluation of the currency may well lead to precisely the opposite effect as funds may then float out of the RMB and into other currencies, thus leading to a de facto devaluation.

The fall of the dollar has revaluated the RMB and thus made Chinese exports more expensive, hurting mostly privately-owned SMEs and halting the modernization process of the economy. The US could allow its currency to depreciate further, to the point where its goods would be significantly more competitive than they are today.

China could take advantage of a weaker dollar to acquire assets denominated in dollars, whether in the US or in other countries. It has thus become a major lender and investor in South America – particularly in Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela where it has committed to invest $250 billion over the next 10 years. This might well be the reason for the US to have softened its stance towards Cuba.

China could also use its reserves to acquire major European corporations in the hope that they will out-compete US companies thus creating an economic war between the US and the EU. It could also use its vast financial reserves to hoard oil and uranium forcing prices of these products to reach new highs.

China feels that the US administration under President Obama has not delivered on its pledge of including China, and other emerging countries, into major economic decisions. Thus, the Obama administration has put pressure on its allies in the Asia-Pacific area to stay away from the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, one of China’s pet projects.

As of Japan’s GDP at $5 trillion stands also at four times that of South Korea.

Trade and investment

Asia is in a unique tradition with several world powers sitting on a nuclear arsenal and harboring resentments and old, deep rooted hatreds and territorial disputes. Military budgets are on the rise and economic growth has slowed considerably. Competition exists between the countries we have been considering in this series of articles – it exists in the industrial world, in cyberspace and in outer space.

Asia’s history is one of constant conflicts and long-seated hatred and there are too many potential conflicts that threaten to erupt into wars. There is also a seeming disdain of leaders towards their own people, the most flagrant case being North Korea.

There is also a major gender imbalance in favor of men and this situation has led to fears of a rise in militarism. There is contradictory evidence that unmarried men tend to be more violence-prone than married man.

Almost all the countries covered have strong economic interconnections.

India runs a major trade deficit with China which in 2013 was of over $ 30 billion, with India complaining that Chinese goods take advantage of a whole series of measures put in place by the Chinese government while Indian companies have problems entering the market.

Similarly, Indian companies have had problems entering the Japanese market, but due to quality issues.

With the opening of the Indian economy to foreign investments, Japanese corporations, catching up to a late start, are expected to invest $35 billion over the next 5 years in public-private partnerships. Japan is also expected to become a partner in a major public-private infrastructure partnership project, so large many knowledgeable observers of Indian politics doubt it can be realized, estimated at $100 billion, to create a high technology corridor – the Delhi Metro Industrial Corridor – linking Mumbai to New Delhi. Terrorist attacks have so far frightened would-be investors, however.

China has also been an important investor in India. A sustained economic cooperation between the two countries would make them less dependent on exports to the European Union and to the US.

China has regularly complained about the long delays for India to approve investments by Chinese firms and of a total ban in investments in infrastructure. Chinese workers also have difficulties in obtaining working visas.

Bilateral trade between India and Russia is much lower at $12 billion but after President Putin’s visit, ambitious targets have been set for 2030, essentially in infrastructure projects. Thus, Russia will supply four nuclear power plants.

India’s largest market is the US with bilateral trade between the two countries being of the order of $100 billion with plans to reach $500 billion. The US has thus displaced China as India’s largest trading partner in spite of India’s complaint that US subsidies to cotton farmers undermine Indian exports and that steel exports are unjustly submitted to high tariffs. In turn, the US complains at the difficulties companies face in attempting to enter the Indian market and at the limitations imposed on them when investing.

China and Japan are each other’s largest trade partners, China having replaced the US in that role. Japanese tourists are the main visitors to China. Japan is the major foreign investor in China, taking advantage of low labor costs. However, the tense situation between the two countries, and the increased cost of manpower, has led Japanese companies to sharply reduce their investments.

China is also South Korea’s main trading partner with two-way trade of $230 billion and the signing of a bilateral trade agreement that took effect in February of this year. Koreans are also large investors in China.

China and Russia, in spite of the fact that they are both export-oriented economies, are complementary in that the first is a big consumer of raw materials, primarily energy, while Russia is a major exporter of oil and gas. This has led China to increasingly see Russia as a petro-state with little technological capabilities and unable to pose any type of threat.

Hence, while in the years following the Second World War Russia saw itself dwarfed by the Western economies, the country is, today, overtaken economically by both the West and the East, the latter being represented by China, Japan and South Korea.

In the Chinese-Russian partnership, China appears to be the senior partner and it is safe to say that Russia needs China more than China needs Russia.

Russia sees China as a hedge of its European energy markets. This hedge, however, can only be fully operational in the future as building the right infrastructure that would allow Russia to move its energy exports eastwards is a long-term venture, particularly since Russia’s most productive wells are in the European part of the country while the bulk of China’s population is in the eastern part of their own country.

Two-way trade in 2014 was over $100 billion and while China is Russia’s second largest trading partner, trade with the EU is 4 times that amount. The value of trade is very dependent on the price of oil and gas. It is nevertheless expected to reach $200 billion by 2020.

On completion of the Eastern Siberian Pacific Ocean Oil Pipeline (ESPO), Russia could supply 20% of China’s imports and 33% of Japan’s on condition these two countries choose this dependency.

The two countries have launched the world’s largest joint gas project – the Sila Sibiri pipeline – which will deliver gas to the Russian Far East and to China. There are other joint projects, including in the Arctic, which have received President Putin’s blessing.

Since 2014 commercial contracts between the two countries intensified as Russia was looking for credit and investors in the face of the sanctions imposed by the EU and the US as well as the serious dip in the price of oil. The oil and gas contracts signed between the two countries are, respectively, of $270 and $400 billion over a thirty-year period with Gazprom deliveries due to start in 2019.

Chinese investments in Russia are of the order of $10 billion and new investments have been earmarked for a large variety of projects. The largest investment is a partnership with Rosneft, valued at several billion dollars meant essentially for the Sakhalin-3 block. Rosneft has also secured a $35 billion loan from China in exchange for oil supplies. This envelope is to be used to purchase several smaller oil producers.

China will also invest in a high-speed train between Kazan and Moscow – a $25 billion investment, and other major infrastructure projects are being discussed.

Russia has, in turn, agreed to supply China with the know-how to produce uranium-enrichment facilities and to supply enriched uranium.

Economic ties between China and the US are also important and the interdependence between them appears to be growing rather than slowing in spite of constant mutual accusations of retreating from free trade. The US ran in 2013 a deficit of $318 billion for merchandise trade, one third of the total trade deficit. China is the US’ biggest supplier.

Imports by the US of cheap Chinese products – essentially manufactured goods, machinery, chemicals and transport products – has been of great assistance in controlling inflation and the US has thus transferred to China increasingly large amounts of dollars. Since China is a major supplier of goods to other Asian countries, in particular in South-East Asia, that assemble products for export to the US, the US’ importance to the Chinese economy is even greater than what the above figures show. The US has started a large number of cases against China at the WTO claiming the country is practicing illegally high import tariffs on US goods while simultaneously subsidizing exports. By limiting or banning exports of raw materials, such as bauxite, and allowing prices to climb, China has been accused of developing one more strategy of subsidizing its industry.

Chinese investments in the US are of the order of $50 billion but are dwarfed by the over $400 billion invested by US corporations in China, even though the investment flow has slowed. Statistics in this respect are not meaningful, as often these investments are not reported in US statistics as the flow of funds is channeled through favorable tax havens.

A large number of American firms have established manufacturing facilities in China, and this allowed the US economy to grow with minimal inflation. There is a generally shared belief that China has entered a period of uncertainty, that local competition is adopting a more aggressive stance that in some areas there is over-capacity, that intellectual property is not respected and that the country is increasingly adopting a protectionist stance. Nevertheless, an increasing number of US corporations are dependent on the Chinese economy for their profits and sometimes on products, such as tobacco, whose sales are dwindling in traditional markets.

Also, the US is attempting to sell, in China, alternative energy sources such as solar or wind power technology. This is a major market considering that the Chinese government has announced its intention of investing $200 billion in renewable energies by 2020. US companies, however, are loath to export their latest technology in a country known for closing an eye to the trespassing of intellectual property.

Chinese investments in the US could be even bigger if they were not met by obstacles – the most glaring example being that of Huawei, the telecommunications company, which was blocked from entering the US market.

The Chinese have also become very large buyers of real estate in the US, amassing a portfolio of $22 billion.

The relationship between Japan and Russia is more complex since the two countries have never signed a final peace agreement and Japan still lays claim on the Kurile Islands. Russia is ill at ease with Japan’s future involvement in a missile defense system and has proposed to join the initiative which is led by the US.

Bilateral trade is of the order of $33 billion with oil and LNG taken an important part of this volume, in particular from the Sakhalin deposits. After the Fukushima incident Japan has felt the need to diversity its sources of energy and Russia is a natural supplier. In Russia’s eyes, supplying Japan would counterbalance the increasing dependence on China. Several cooperation agreements to develop new gas and oil fields have also been signed between the two countries.

Total Japanese investments are small, with car makers have plants in Russia, but the most likely investments will target Russia’s Far East, particularly for infrastructures. Several joint ventures have been started in agriculture, energy and infrastructure.

Japan and South Korea are each other’s fourth largest trading partners. Russia has proposed building a railway that would link North and South Korea to the European markets via Russian territory – i.e. connecting to the Trans-Siberian Railway. Such an undertaking would allow South Korea to increase trade with Europe and reduce its dependency on the American and Asian markets.

Bilateral trade between South Korea and the US amounted to $115 billion in 2014 and represented a US deficit of $25 billion. In June 2007, the two countries signed a trade agreement that phases out all tariffs, on consumer and industrial products over a period of three years. Total investments from South Korea to the US is estimated to be $25 billion while US investments in South Korea are of $35 billion.

Bilateral trade between the US and Russia was, in 2014, of $34 billion with a US deficit of $13 billion. Russians are big investors in New York – particularly Manhattan – real estate particularly since the sanctions and the decrease in the price of oil led to a collapse of the ruble. US investments in Russia stand at around $15 billion and are rather diminishing, again in view of the sanctions.

Economic growth has not eradicated poverty in East Asia and estimates of the extremely poor are of the order of 250 million persons. Although continuing economic growth should lead to a reduction in poverty, this should still touch 15 to 17% of the population. The imbalance stems in part by the fact that there is an imbalance between skilled and unskilled labor as well as regional imbalances due to the rapid industrialization of certain areas.

Demography

East Asia is today’s the world’s fastest aging. Projections show 20% of the population over 60 by 2050, or two-thirds of the world’s seniors. Already by 2040, the number of people over 60 will be higher than the people under 15.

Just as China is the world’s most populated country, India is the world’s largest democracy. They are the only two countries with a population larger than 1 billion. It is forecast that sometime between 2015 and 2025, India’s population will have overtaken China’s as the former’s population is growing at twice the rate of China’s population. Furthermore, India’s population has a low average age while China’s is aging. Therefore while India may be considered to have an infinite supply of cheap labor, this will not be the case of China in the mid-term future. Thus, while India’s dependency ratio will improve, China’s will worsen.

China’s population is aging rapidly, partly because of a vastly improved health system. This expanding health care system will require substantial additional funding. So will the pension system even though traditionally, children support their elderly parents.

Both China and India suffer from a growing ratio of males to females. The devotion of the children to their parents, when these age, will be difficult to maintain if single men, due to absence of the brides, migrate in search of employment of opportunities.

As the economies of both countries expand at a similar rate, they will need trained engineers and scientists. China graduates 600 000 engineers per year and India 350 000. However, China has a qualitative advantage due to a better educational system.

Japan’s economy is to a large extent driven by demographic change. Birthrates have collapsed with a total fertility rate dangerously approaching 1. With a life expectancy of 88 years, it has today the world’s oldest population, with the largest number of centenarians, but may well cede this place to China by 2050. By 2025 its population over 80 years of age will be equal to that under 15. Thus, two persons of working age will have to support one retiree. On the other hand, they will be a reduction in supporting children.

Older persons invest very conservatively, and therefore the economy might lack the dynamic financial markets required to fuel growth and entrepreneurship.

To a large extent, the same analysis applies to South Korea. North Korea is faring slightly better with a total fertility rate of nearly 2.

Russia has a population of 142 million for a country representing 19% of immerged land. There has been a small rebound in birth rates, but it may not be sustainable. The percentage of the population over 60 is low compared to China, Japan and South Korea, and is of only 20%. The imbalance between women and men – 1 160 women for 1 000 men – and the fact that women in rural areas are unable to find husbands who are not addicted to alcohol, contribute to a low level of marriages, and consequently low fertility. With life expectancy expected to rise in the coming years, while fertility is expected to remain at its present level, the old-age dependency ratio is expected to double by 2050. This would mean that spending on allowances and pensions would rise from the present figure of 9% to 12% by 2030 and 16% by 2050.

The situation in the US, while not as bad, is worrying. Its population of 316 million is growing at the rate of 0.7% and is expected to reach 400 million by 2050. 22% of the population will be over 65. The life expectancy is slightly higher than 78 years but the total fertility rate at 1.9% is below replacement. The reduction in birth rate applies also to immigrants, usually an important component in US demographics.

India’s demographics are quite different. Its population is only slightly below that of China, at nearly 1.3 billion, and it has the world’s largest number of young people since two thirds of its population is under 35, and the average age of the population is 27. But in India too the population is aging and is expected to reach 37 by 2050. At that time 300 million people with be over 60. The total fertility rate is 2.5. It should therefore still enjoy a demographic dividend compared to the ageing societies we have reviewed.

The Diasporas

There is a large Tibetan diaspora in India where the Dalai Lama has established his headquarters and this has been an irritant to the Chinese government while achieving little for the Tibetans. The Dalai Lama relinquished his political responsibilities in March 2014 and has been replaced by a Harvard scholar who has never visited Tibet

The presence of a Chinese diaspora in Russia is a more complex issue as there is an important labor movement, of legal and illegal immigrants, along the border and is becoming an important issue in the relations between the two countries. Migrant labor is essentially employed in agriculture and construction. The total number of Chinese in Russia is estimated to be 400 000 including nearly 20 000 Chinese students in Russian universities. The vast majority of the migrants come to make money and have no plans to settle permanently.

The Chinese diaspora in the United States is much larger with 1.6 million immigrants and just as many US citizens of Chinese origin, heavily concentrated in the states of California and New York. Several incidents have questioned the loyalty of some of the immigrants to the host country.

There is a small but concentrated Korean diaspora in China numbering approximately 600000.

There has been a considerable flow of highly qualified and entrepreneurial migrants from India to the US and the Indian diaspora amounts to 2.5 million people and this number is expected to double in the next ten years. Indians are thus the most important group of Asian immigrants in the US. The 75 000 Indian students in the US are the largest foreign group registered in colleges and universities. Indian immigrants have been, on the whole, an extremely educated and successful group with total assets estimated to total $76 billion.

There are in the US over 3 million Americans of Russian descent.

Water

There is a contentious issue between China and India regarding the latter’s water diversion plan which will shift 50 billion cubic meters of water from the Yarlung-Tsangpo, an affluent of the Brahmaputra originating on the Tibetan plateau, to the Yellow River so as to harness hydroelectric energy. This would severely restrict the flow of water to India.

Energy

As mentioned in the first part of this article, China and India, but also China and Japan, are competing to secure energy sources.

While the competition between China and India lies in securing energy sources in other countries, that with Japan is not only centred around Russian supplies, but also on the presumed hydrocarbon deposits around two rocky uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that the Japanese government purchased from a private owner and which China claims as its own.

China is uncomfortable with the long shipping route oil takes from the Middle East to its ports. The area is populated by pirates and other revolutionary or semi-revolutionary movements that could be allowed, if not encouraged, to target Chinese vessels. Ensuring the safety of the shipping routes is the official reason for China’s investments in naval power.

Central Asia

Russia fears the political influence that China may exert on the Central Asian republics, in particular through the SCO – the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – set up by China but pf which Russia is also a member. India is, incidentally, an observer, and Russia would like to invite the country to full membership status. Intriguingly, however, while Russia sees to remain the determining factor in influencing policy in Central Asia, China’s position is that these states are free to develop relations with countries not members of the SCO and that the organization is not, and should not, become an anti-Western club.

Russia opposes China’s wish of extending the SCO agreement to cover trade in the form of a free trade agreement, as Russian corporations would be unable to compete on price. It would also open the area to Chinese investments, including in energy projects. China is successful in the region due to the aid it brings, diplomatic pressure and large investments. Russia’s policy has been to prevent Central Asian countries to supply European markets by bypassing the Russian pipeline system and ensuring it has a monopsony. However, in view of the decreased quantities purchased by Russia affected by the reduced demand in Europe, these countries have looked for alternative markets, and China is the obvious one.

Russia would like to see a coordination of pricing policy on energy exports between the member countries that are energy exporters.

Another Chinese advantage is that it is perceived by Central Asian governments as a trading partner and a door to Europe and the Middle East, and not as a competitor as Russia is for gas supplies to Europe. Russia’s role as a supplier of finished goods disappeared with the downfall of communism.

China sees the pipelines for hydrocarbons from Central Asia as a hedge against possible disruptions of shipping lanes from the Middle East. However, just as it is beefing up its Navy to protect those lanes, and to rely less on US maritime power, it will have to beef up its security along the pipelines to protect them from possible attacks.

Russia sees China as a good partner in its policy of containing the US in Central Asia and elsewhere. In fact one can say that Russia sees China as a partner only when its relations with the West are less than perfect – which is the situation at present.

China has been able, so far, to restrain any influence the US could have on Central Asia thus enabling China to secure energy resources for itself and to prevent the infiltration of democratic ideas.

The US has key interests in the region: to support its military adventure in Afghanistan, to have access to energy – without relying on the Russian logistical infrastructure – and to wield political influence in the entire Central Asian area. The US also sees an opportunity to lessen Russia’s position as a gas supplier – should the Central Asian republics find alternative routes for their gas shipments, Gazprom will no longer be in a position to export as domestic demand is rising from an already important base.

Weapons

China’s strategy has been, and will continue to be in the foreseeable future, to encircle India both through its own forces and through those of its allies who neighbour India, Pakistan in in particular. China, nevertheless, contrary to the US, is not part of any defence organization and thus does not have the burden of having to defend the territories of other nations.

China’s military budget for 2015 has been increased by 10%, reaching $145 billion, a rather steep figure in regard to the slowing of the country’s economy. China has installed missile systems pointing to India’s major cities while China’s industrial heartland is very far removed from their common border.

China’s nuclear strategy is to use their missiles only for a second strike and not to use them for a first strike on any state. It may, however, rapidly change this policy if it so decided.

India is also worried with the building of a port, by China, on the coast of Myanmar, that would give China direct access to the Bay of Bengal. It is also worried by the increasing presence of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean. The submarines use Colombo as a refuelling port, leading India to fear that China was building alliances with countries surrounding India – the so-called ‘string of pearls.’ China has called this project the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, a project financed by China to the tune of $40 billion.

Indian military hardware purchases, the world’s largest with a budget of $250 billion over 10 years, are an important source of cash for the ailing Russian military manufacturers.

The two countries will be jointly developing a fighter plane of the fifth generation. India has also served Russia as a basis to enter the South East Asian markets for military hardware by servicing and training users of Russian equipment sold to those countries.

Russia has been very supportive of India in its conflict with Pakistan over Kashmir, among other things committing not to supply weapons to Pakistan, an embargo it lifted in 2014.

The US has also been a major provider of mostly defensive weapons to the Indian army and this may lead to a licensing agreement for India to manufacture American weapons.

India and Japan have reached an agreement regarding military cooperation. Japan is about to review its constitution to enable it to expand its military which is already considered as one of the world’s best and China would have problems measuring themselves to Japanese firing power in case of a conflict. It is also backed up by the US military that have bases in Japan.

The main discussions between the two countries centred on the supply of nuclear technology and fuel to India by the US. This is an important step considering the fear of nuclear proliferation pervasive in the world today and particularly considering the fact that India will be adding to an already existing nuclear capability while it has never signed the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This allows the US to put pressure on New Delhi to reduce its energy purchases from Tehran. Further, India’s rivalry with Pakistan might lead the latter to accelerate its own weapons programs should India proceed with its own purchases.

For India this is an important development as its supplies of uranium are drying out. The treaty also allows it to remain a nuclear player without signing the NPT, although the country has entered negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency to negotiate an agreement that would have clauses specific to its situation.

The US has insisted on certain clauses in the treaty such as India accepting not to undertake further nuclear testing, not reprocessing the spent fuel and accepting that the President of the United States certifies, annually, that the country is respecting these clauses.

For the US this is a major step in containing China and relations between China and India took a turn for the worse, with China supplying nuclear power plants to Pakistan, after this agreement was signed.

Another main motivation of the US has been to prevent India making up for its energy shortcomings by purchasing Iranian gas that would be routed through an Indian-Pakistani pipeline. Financial motives are not left too hard behind, considering the deal would generate close to $100 billion in sales for US corporations to which must be added large sales of defence equipment which presently India purchases from France and Russia.

India is also the country with which the US has conducted the largest number of military exercises in recent years.

Following President Obama’s visit to India in 2015, a Joint Strategic Vision for the region was agreed upon. Its objective is to support sustainable development and address poverty. However, the main objective is to ensure India’s Navy plays a dominant role in the Indian Ocean.

Japan is now allowing its military to have an activity outside the country’s territory.

China’s increased militarization worries Japan, particularly the installation of missile launching ramps, China’s declaration of an exclusive maritime and air space, and the highly vocal Chinese media constantly threatening of war with Japan.

China, in turn, fears a reunified Korea with nuclear weapons.

Russia continues to be China’s main weapons supplier as it wants the money from these exports which are of the order of $2 billion per year. Since 2006, the two countries have conducted joint manoeuvres, and intensified their military cooperation.

China, however, no longer represents an overwhelming share of Russia’s weapons exports – a mere 20% today from a high of 70% ten years ago, while the value of total exports has risen considerably, thus decreasing even more the importance of Chinese purchases. Further, with the new cold war, Russia itself is becoming its own major customer.

Russia is eager to maintain this monopoly on Chinese weapons purchases, and the EU and US embargo assist them in achieving this objective. However, inevitably, China will want to be involved in weapons development and testing rather than simply acquiring technology entirely developed in Russia. It has already indicated it does not want to buy finished weapons or assembly kits but want to build the planes in China.

On a longer term basis, it is obvious that China will develop its own military platforms and it is already successfully copying several weapons systems thus severely reducing its imports from Russia. This worries Russia as on a conventional army basis, China would have the upper hand in case of conflict, and Russia would have to rely on tactical nuclear weapons where it has the upper hand. While the INF treaty constrains Russia’s capability of deploying intermediate range nuclear missiles, Russia would probably opt out of the treaty should it feel threatened by China.

North Korea is actively developing its nuclear program and at least one estimate is that it may possess 100 nuclear heads by 2020.

On the other side of the demilitarized zone, there are US forces on the ground. The US keeps 40 000 troops in South Korea.

Border issues

China and India have fought several border wars and in November 2006 China declared one of the Indian provinces, Arunachal Pradesh, to be part of China, calling it South Tibet. India also claims China is occupying illegally an Indian province in the Himalaya.

In fact, China and India are in a constant military confrontation along their mountainous border.

China is also in a confrontation with several countries regarding their maritime borders, and particularly Japan.

The Diaoyu / Senkaku (Chinese and Japanese names, respectively) islands have been a bone of contention for 120 years but China has lately become assertive on their claims particularly as it is believed that the waters surrounding them are rich in hydrocarbons and fishing grounds.

China’s attitude is also fed by the fact that it is using Japan as a useful scapegoat that helps it maintain strong nationalist feelings of its population, an important cement in a country in which social pressures between different groups, such as rural and urban, are increasing and threatening the country’s stability. China also believes that Japan is on a long-term decline and will not be able to adequately respond to China’ bullying presence.

China’s claim that the entire South China Sea belongs to it has opened the door for the US to pose as the protector of the South East Asian countries.

The South China Sea is an important point of convergence between the interests of the two countries as well as the countries of Southeast Asia. The rise of Chinese naval power – which could become larger than that of the US in the next 5 years – could threaten the US’ dominance in the area.

The South China Sea sees the flow of half of the world’s trade and the conflictual situation could disturb the globalization process which explains why China is becoming interested in continental routes and goods are shipped by train through a new train link which is the worlds longest and reaches all the way to Madrid.

The interest in the area, however, does not stop there. China believes that it contains massive quantities of oil – approximately the same as those in the Arab Gulf.

China’s development and purchase of high-powered microwave weapons, 1500 missiles, submarines and amphibious ships seem targeted at resisting, or keeping at bay, the US Navy in case of a conflict with Taiwan. As a response, the US moved 20 vessels from the Atlantic to the Pacific fleet in 2007 and more such moves are forecasted. The South China Sea is considered by the US as a natural border China should not cross. It is a strategic passage point between the Indian Ocean and Japan and Korea.

China also has a border issue with Russia. The two countries share a 4300 km border and an important historical confrontational past.

Inside those two borders the major issues about the autonomy of certain regions and peoples – Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang for China and a considerably large number of areas in Russia and the adjoining countries in Central Asia that were once part of the Soviet Union. If China has a clear position on this issue – i.e. a total aversion to any such move including with the use of force and population movements – Russia has a more opportunistic stance. It has fought an internal war to prevent the Chechen aspirations to an independent state but intervened military outside its borders in Georgia and is the only country to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.

Russia fears that its under-populated and vast expanse of territory rich in natural resources, Siberia and the Far East, yields in the face of China’s demography while Russia is in a state of demographic collapse. These two areas have large deposits of hydrocarbons, diamonds, gold and other metals as well as large tracts of forests that provide raw materials to the Chinese paper industry.

Some of the lands forming the region of the Russian Pacific were Chinese until the eighteenth century, and while China has not made any recent claims for their return, Russians fear they may do so.

Russia and China are intent in developing their relations but simultaneously competing for domination of Central Asia and attracting Japanese and South Korean capital to develop the Far East so as not to be exclusively bound to China.

Simultaneously, Russia will redevelop China’s and North Korea’s moribund industry in the adjoining North Eastern parts of the country so as to economically integrate these areas.

Russia also has a contentious issue with Japan that has prevented the signing of a peace agreement between the two countries since the end of the Second World War. It concerns what the Russians call the Southern Kuril Islands, and the Japanese the Northern Territories.

Russia carried out military drills on the islands and announced it would spend over $1 billion between 2016 and 2025 to develop these islands. Japan would like to invest in these islands, particularly in energy projects.

While for many years neither country appeared to think, in spite of speeches to the contrary, that dealing with the other was a priority, Primer Minister Abe’s visit to Moscow in August 2013 seems to have started a different process. One thing Japan needs to avoid at all costs is a coalition between China and Russia.

A dialogue process was started between the defence and foreign ministers of the two countries to discuss measures to combat piracy and terrorism.

Russia’s strengthening of its military presence in the Arctic should also be considered as part of its Asian play, the Arctic being a possible base for ventures in Europe, the American continent and Asia.

Japan also has a territorial issue with South Korea centred around the Takeshima or Tokdo islands, as called respectively by the Japanese and Koreans, that each country claims to be a part of their territory.

These are very small volcanic islands. They are, however, of interest economically as their waters are good fishing grounds and the surrounding waters are believed to contain gas, although none has so far been found. Further, if an international arbiter would rule in favour of Korea, Japan’s case for the Kurile Islands and the Senkaku Islands would be severely affected as the country’s claims in all three cases stems from the San Francisco Peace Treaty that remained vague on this issue.

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East Asia

The Global (Dis) Order Warfare: The Chinese Way

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Since the ascension of Xi Jinping, two important developments have come to dominate the global headlines. One, the so-called wolf diplomacy of China has been on the forefront of global political relations and two, there has been a huge spurt in Chinese efforts to use disinformation and espionage, as a part of its global diplomatic-strategic plans to destabilise countries who it sees as rival or a threat, in more than one ways.

Suddenly, there are instances of greater violence, instability and conflict in countries and regions that could be considered as political/economic/military rivals or likely competitors to China. In the US, FBI has reported an increase of 1300 percent in economic espionage investigations with almost 90 percent cases having a Chinese military/government background. On an average, the US has reported registering of a new counter espionage case against China, every 12 hours. A recent report suggested the operation of about 250 MMS Chinese spies in Brussels, the capital of European Union.

 In Australia that has a continuing run-in with China in recent times, there have been instances of Chinese overt/covert interference in political/economic domain. In the UK, a highest level confirmation came in from the Home Secretary Priti Patel that confirmed the MI5 report of a Chinese government agent working in the British parliament to subvert democratic process and promote Chinese interests.

In India in particular which is virtually in a state of no-peace, no-war with China for the last 21-months, following a bloody conflict at Galwan (in which 20 Indian and 44 Chinese soldiers killed, though Chinese did not accept casualties for a long time.), the situation is quite favourable to the massive Chinese interference. The Modi-led Indian government is working at a furious pace on various fronts, economic, political, diplomatic and strategic. And that is something that is not convenient to Chinese interests.

The Chinese since 1950s have been used to an Indian government, timid and submissive and more receptive to their interests than protecting national interests of India. A big example of this self-defeating, servile and pro-communist mental make-up has been the Nehru’s support to China for a permanent UNSC seat, even in 1963 after the Indo-China war in the previous year. Successive governments since then have been following the same thinking and policy in the name of ‘continuation of foreign policy’, irrespective of changes in the government.

Hence, when Doklam happened in 2017 and Indian government for a change, showed courage and stood up against the ‘self-proclaimed super power China’ to protect the territories of a friendly Bhutan, the middle kingdom got the shock of the decade. It was used to have a southern neighbour who in spite of decades of supporting terrorism in country’s north-east, supporting Pakistani terrorism, never faced China head-on. And that brought about a change in the Chinese perception and strategic calculations vis-à-vis India.

Since Doklam face-off between India and China, the latter has been playing all games with the clear objective of preventing its rise in the word order. For reasons better known to European politicians, for some years there has been no effort from their side to compete and prevent China from spreading its aggressive strategic-diplomatic policies around the world.

Its genesis could be seen in the passive Obama-led US policy of playing a second fiddle to China. No wonder, during the eight years of Obama administration, China was not only able to strengthen its politico-strategic grip over parts of Asia and Africa but came very close to attack Taiwan. Had it not been the sudden deterioration of US-China relations during the Trump era, probably the world map could have been changed so far, particularly in the south China Sea region.

The passive Obama administration allowed China to grow impressively on the trade-economic front and emerge as the manufacturing hub of the world. It also remained indecisive, letting China develop a huge trade surplus vis-à-vis the US. And the biggest flip came when is spite of being fully aware of the likely catastrophic implications and the debt-trap strategy of the Chinese showpiece Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), it neither discouraged smaller nations nor took a stand against it.

India was the only country that spoke overtly against the concept and remained out of the BRI, even at the cost of antagonising China. Today, the world is witness to the debt trap that Chinese BRI has brought about for many countries like Pakistan, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Djibouti, Laos, Mongolia, Zambia, Montenegro, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and a few others. This grim economic scenario is almost certain to compel such countries to part with their political and economic sovereignty that could well be a 21st century model of Chinese imperialism.

Such explicit Indian opposition to China and its likely emergence as a political, economic and military rival, led China to create a host of internal disturbances in the country. It is interesting to see that most of the damning criticism against Indian government for the past three-four years are emanating from Indian intellectuals living in the US/Europe for decades and are overtly/covertly left-leaning.

Similarly, the journalists, intellectuals, academicians in India who criticise and abuse the government are having a leftist background, many of them have a record of visiting China in recent past. Some of the politicians, including the de facto opposition leader Rahul Gandhi is said to have had midnight meetings with Chinese Ambassador in New Delhi. The Chinese government has also provided funds to the main Indian National Congress (INC) opposition party, a few years ago. Some media reports suggested that was one of the reasons for INC’s pressure on the previous Dr Manmohan Singh and current Modi governments, to join the Chinese dominated trade block Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

The Chinese efforts to politically subvert the democratic countries has become more blatant. The recent anti-India resolutions in the British Parliament could well be seen in the context of MI5 report confirming the presence of Chinese agents in British legislature. In Australia, the reported offer by Chinese to Nick Zhao to run for Australian parliament as a Liberal Party member and recent statement of an apparent Chinese defector Wang Liqinag suggesting that Chinese agents are ‘operating with impunity in Australia’, need to be seen in this context.

And beyond all this politico-diplomatic moves, there have been credible reports of Chinese cyber-attacks on US, India, UK, Taiwan, Australia and others who it sees as rivals. India in the last one year, witnessed a 261 percent rise in Chinese cyber-attacks against military, scientific, banking, telecommunication systems.

To make matters worse, a detailed analysis of individuals occupying important positions in government/international organisations reveals that a few of them do have some or the other sort of Chinese support that has affected their actions or lack of it, vis-à-vis China. The tremendous suffering that the world and humanity have to endure due to Corona, clearly occurred due to deliberate or ineptness of Chinese government/military/scientific community. However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has failed to fix accountability for this pandemic on China.

All such development clearly points towards a Chinese strategy to create a global disorder, a state where democracies like the US, India, Australia, Japan, Europe, Taiwan will not be able to stand unitedly and make way for the ascent of the middle kingdom to the pinnacle of global political, economic and military hierarchy. 

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East Asia

Rebuilding the World Order

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Image: Alexandra Nicolae/Unsplash

Many in the West believe China’s economic ascendancy indicates that Beijing is covertly working to usher in a new world order in which the balance of power has shifted.

History shows that changes in the world order are inevitable, but they are not happening as quickly as some analysts think. For example, the rise of the US to the world’s primary geopolitical position took nearly half a century, from the late 19th to the mid-20th century. France’s rise to domination over western Europe in the 17th century was also a long and arduous process.

In these as well as many other cases from ancient and medieval times, the rise of a new power was facilitated by stagnation, gradual decline, and military confrontation among the various existing powers.
For instance, the US was already powerful in the early 20th century, but it was the infighting during the two world wars among the European powers that brought down the edifice of the Europe-led world order and opened a path for American ascendancy.

But while it is possible to identify the changing winds of the world order through various analytical methods, it is much harder to find ways to preserve an existing order. It requires a whole constellation of leaders from competing sides to grasp the severity of the threat posed by radical change and to pursue measures together to cool down tensions.

The key question that needs to be addressed is whether the West still possesses the necessary political, economic, and military tools to uphold the existing world order and not allow it to slip into chaos, as the world’s leaders mistakenly did in the first half of the 20th century.

The successful preservation of an existing world order is a rare event in history. Following the Congress of Vienna in 1814-15, European leaders gathered to build a long-lasting peace. They saw that the French power, though soundly defeated under Napoleon I, needed to be accommodated within the new fabric of the European geopolitical order. This meant not only inviting French representatives to conferences, but offering military and economic cooperation as well as concessions to the French to limit their political grievances.

In other words, European diplomats had an acute understanding of post-French Revolution geopolitics and understood the need to build a long-lasting security architecture through balance of power.
But such approaches are unusual. Perhaps the shock of the bloody Napoleonic Wars, as well as the presence of such brilliant diplomats such as Metternich, Talleyrand, Castlereagh, and Alexander I, assured the success of the new order.

It is far more common that challenges to the world order lead to direct military confrontation. Failure to accommodate Germany in the early 20th century led in part to WWI, and the errant diplomacy of the Treaty of Versailles led in part to WWII. The list goes on.

China’s rise to power is another case for study. The country is poised to become a powerful player in international politics thanks to its economic rise and concurrent military development. Beijing has strategic imperatives that clash with those of the US. It needs to secure procurement of oil and gas resources, which are currently most readily available through the Strait of Malacca. In an age of US naval dominance, the Chinese imperative is to redirect its economy’s dependence, as well as its supply routes, elsewhere.

That is the central motivation behind the almost trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, which is intended to reconnect the Asia-Pacific with Europe through Russia, the Middle East, and Central Asia. At the same time, Beijing has a growing ambition to thwart US naval dominance off Chinese shores.
In view of these factors, mutual suspicion between Beijing and Washington is bound to increase over the next years and decades.

Thus, we find ourselves within a changing world order. What is interesting is what the US (or the West collectively) can do to salvage the existing order.

From the US side, a strengthening of existing US-led alliance systems with Middle Eastern and Asia-Pacific states could help to retain American influence in Eurasia. Specifically, it would enable the US to limit Russia’s, Iran’s, and possibly China’s actions in their respective neighborhoods.

Another powerful measure to solidify the existing world order would be to increase Washington’s economic footprint across Eurasia. This could be similar to the Marshall Plan, with which the US saved Europe economically and attached it to the US economy. New economic measures could be even more efficient and long-lasting in terms of strengthening Western influence across Eurasia.

But no matter what economic and military moves the US makes with regard to allies such as South Korea, Japan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and others, any attempt to uphold the existing world order without China’s cooperation would be short-lived and would echo the way Germany was cast out of the Versailles negotiations, which served only to create a grievance in Berlin and prompt clandestine preparations for a new conflict. In a way, the West’s current problems with Russia can also be explained this way: Moscow was cast out of the post-Cold War order, which caused worry and a degree of revanchism among the Russian elites.

Without China’s inclusion in the world order, no feasible security conditions can be laid out. To be preserved, the world order must be adjusted to rising challenges and new opportunities. Many Western diplomats are uncomfortable dealing with China, but casting Beijing in the role of direct competitor would not solve the problem, nor would giving it large concessions, which would be too risky.
What is required is a middle road, a means of allowing China to participate in an adjusted world order in which some of its interests are secured. Only that will increase the chances for long-lasting security in Eurasia.

Pulling this off will require an incredible effort from Western and Chinese diplomats. It remains to be seen whether they will be more successful than their predecessors were in the early 20th century and other periods of history.

Author’s note: first published in Georgia today

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East Asia

The Spirit of the Olympic Games and the Rise of China

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image source: China Daily

It is fair to say that no country like China has so seriously connected its national rejuvenation to the Olympic Games for one century. It is also rare that the top leader of a major power like Chinese President Xi Jinping has paid earnest attention to the preparations for the Olympics from the very beginning in 2017. It is reported that over the five years, Xi has made five inspection tours to the sports venues. During his latest tour to the sports villages on January 4, he led his entourage to the Winter Games facilities as the opening ceremony is in one month away. During this field trip, Xi called for efforts to ensure the success of the Beijing 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in line with what China has promised for the world to host “a green, inclusive, open and corruption-free Winter Olympic Games.”

Historically speaking, China is home to a great and ancient civilization. But as a political entity in modern era, it is a newer player since it was forged after the demise of the Qing Empire in 1912. Since then, the great (and largely successful) quest of China during the following century has been committed to transforming the large country to one strong power and a respected nation-state in the world order. Coincidently, as historian William Kirby put it, the struggle for the rise of China was always linked with the rise of the modern Olympic movement and the growth of spectator sports as an international cultural scenario. To make this long history into a short story, this paper tries to explore the salient legacy of the International Olympic Games in China and its impact on the growth of Chinese nationalism during the 20th century until now.

In a review of the creation of modern China, sports have unusually played a role that has grown in dimensions. For instance, the Olympic Games have aspired the drowsy Chinese to rethink and reinforce new national identities. In 1927 when the Nationalist (KMT) elite took power in China, its early plans for the new capital city of Nanjing included an Olympic-scale stadium. Later, it sent China’s first athlete team to the Olympic Games in 1932 and 1936 for international legitimacy. But China’s inferior power and public poor health only drew international contempt and defeats. Echoing Chinese low-status of the day, Mao Zedong, who later became the leading founder of the People’s Republic of China, warned his contemporaries that “China is being drained of strength. Public interest in martial arts is flagging. The people’s health is declining with each passing day. One day our country will become even weaker if things are allowed to go unchanged for long.” Mao’s words serve us to understand that since the early 20th century, why Chinese political elite are convinced of the merits of the sports in general and the Olympic Games in particular because they would benefit public health domestically and enhance China’s image internationally.

However, it is since the foundation of the PRC that has fundamentally heralded an era of mass participation and public consumption in China as elsewhere of sporting competitions. Since the 1980s when China first participated in the Olympic Games in Los Angeles and then in Seoul, it has been involved in the IO games because sports, and the Olympics in particular, show well how nationalism and internationalism come together in China. It is self-evident that Chinese participation and interest in modern sports are largely driven by nationalism and, through taking part in world competitions, China has engaged the international community. Now Beijing is set to become the first city in the world to have hosted the summer in 2008 and soon to host the Winter Olympic Games in 2022. It is proud to say that hosting a successful Winter Olympic Games is a solemn commitment China has made to the international society. As the Olympic Games are around the corner, China’s preparation for the Games has attracted the global attention.

Now the inquiries go to what are expected for China to attain during the 2022 Olympics given that it is not only the second largest economy in the world but also a rising military power? Looking into the legacy of the Olympic Games in China and Chinese aspiration for their historical mission since the early 20th century, we can possibly suppose three results expected.

First, China aims to rebuild an image of a responsible power in light of multilateralism. With the world still battling the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis, compassion, solidarity, and friendship among nations have never been more critical. As UN head Antonio Guterres, who has accepted an invitation to attend the Beijing Winter Games, has said, “The Olympic spirit brings out humanity’s best: teamwork and solidarity plus talent and tolerance.” Echoing this call, the games organizing committee has vowed to use latest technology in Beijing’s Main Media Center which is the temporary home and office of some 3,000 journalists from more than 100 countries and regions and 12,000 broadcasters from over 200 networks. Moreover, armies of robots will help to provide a wide range of services, working as guides and doing things from those related to COVID-19 prevention and control, to food delivery and food preparation. Since the Olympic spirit of unity, friendship and peace is deeply rooted in China, sports are supposed to promote the mutual amity and respect among the athletes from diverse nations and cultures.

Second, the CPC elite aims to present a healthy and happy China to the world which has been sieged by the multiple complex challenges over the past decade. It is estimated that about 300 million Chinese will be inspired to participate in winter sports through hosting the Olympic Games. In addition, it will not only contribute substantially to the Olympic cause, but also foster domestic public engagement in sports. By hosting the summer and winter Olympic Games, Beijing and elsewhere in China will make full use of the sports venues for ordinary Chinese as they see the sports to promote the public health, to stimulate social-economic growth and to revitalize the cultural legacy of China since it has long regarded physical fitness as an essential national trait.

Third, China, both the leading elite and the led mass, has attest to the contribution of sport for sustainable economic and social development. The 2008 Olympic Games are a prime example of how the games can affect society, triggering action by the government to improve the lives of people with disabilities and protect their rights as equal members of society, along with nationwide investments in sustainable transport, public health, and renewable energy–all important legacies enjoyed by Chinese people today. Indeed, the UN Environment Program’s office in China has provided technical support and advice on the development of national policy initiatives in support of preparations for a green and sustainable Games. In this context, delivery of a Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics can be again a beacon of hope, demonstrating the value of unity, resilience and international cooperation in overcoming today’s pandemic.

In sum, this discussion on “The Olympic Games and the Rise of China” will be incomplete if it does not mention the personal ties between Chinese President Xi and the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing where they are scheduled from February 4 to 13. From bidding for the Games to the extensive preparations, he has played a leading role and vowed to present a “fantastic, extraordinary and excellent” Games to the world. An avid sports fan, Xi sees sports as a driving force for improving people’s health, an engine to stimulate social-economic growth and a showcase to project China’s cultural legacy. As a statesman, President Xi has encourage Chinese athletes to strive for excellence at the upcoming Games while vowing to deepen international cooperation for a brighter future with people of all countries: that is, harnessing the power of the Olympic spirit to promote a community of shared future for mankind.

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