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Global Power in the 21st Century: A Review Essay

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When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order by Martin Jacques (2009), “The Future of American Power. Dominance and Decline in Perspective” by Professor Joseph Nye (2010) in Foreign Affairs (Nov/Dec).

There is a close nexus between ruling and power. As Machiavelli well instructs us one cannot rule, and even less govern, without power.

To consider political-economic-military power in its various vicissitudes and intricacies conjures up not only Machiavelli’s Prince, but also Karl Marx’s Das Kapital,not to speak of Vico’s philosophy of history in his New Science concerned with the rise, dominance, decline, decay and final fall of entire civilizations. To merely repeat what these eminent authors have written on the history of power is to run the risk of reinventing the wheel. Yet, it remains beyond me how anyone can possibly grasp and explain the present status of global power without possessing at least a cursory knowledge of its historical record on a regional or global level. It would be like driving a car without a rear-view mirror; a possibility to be sure, but misguided and dangerous too. To employ another metaphor, it is not unlike a doctor prescribing a prognosis without first conducting a diagnosis.

So, as a solution to this conundrum of mine I have decided to situate my contribution within a Vichian-MacLuhan “back to the future,” framework, attempting to envision modernity as it may be lived in the 21st century. It is intriguing to me that of the two centuries within which the theme is situated, the 20th century is already in the past while the 21st century is mostly in the future. The question then is this: How does one bridge that great divide? Leonardo would have no problem with bridging any kind of divide, be it physical or mental, but he was a Renaissance man, not a logical positivist, and I am no Leonardo. Nevertheless, let us attempt it.

I will first proceed with the examination of a book and an article which take opposite views of the diagnosis of power within modernity and then propose a few interpretations and a possible prognosis of my own; which is to say that in this essay, history (which is made by man but profoundly affects man and his culture) shall take center stage as the protagonist of the human drama. I shall bypass an inane identification and description of the mediocre visionless politicians and bureaucrats who presently hold the levers of power in our brave new global world. The two nations that will be closely examined are the United States, which is still widely considered the number one superpower in the world, and China which seem to be bent on competing for that title. As far as civilizations are concerned we will of course examine and compare the age old civilization of the West and that of the far East or Asian civilization.

For over five hundred years now we have lived in a western-made world, one shaped by colonialism and imperialism wherein the very notion of being modern was synonymous with being western. It was assumed that such a state of affairs would be permanent for no other civilization could claim to be as modern and scientifically advanced as that of the West. But lo and behold, in 2009 a book came out which challenges such a taken for granted assumption. I refer to When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order by British journalist and scholar Martin Jacques.

The book has aroused a vehement debate in the United States and elsewhere about the role of China in the creation of the new 21st century world order. The book argues that the twenty-first century will be different: with the rise of increasingly powerful non-Western countries, that the west will no longer be dominant and there will be various ways of being modern. In this new era of ‘contested modernity’ the central player will be of course China which is already signaling the end of the global dominance of the West and the emergence of a world which will become increasingly disconcerting and unfamiliar to those who live in the west.

Indeed, the book’s claim was disconcerting from its first appearance, for it challenges some politically correct, almost sacred assumptions by claiming that China’s future economic strength will heavily alter the political and cultural landscape of the world. In other words, China will rule the 21st century. The book’s original subtitle is quite revealing in this respect: “The Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the End of the Western World”. So, here is a bold prediction of the end of a civilization and the rise, or perhaps we should talk of a rebirth, of another quite different civilization, one that while being intriguing to most Westerns, remains a mystery wrapped up in a riddle.

Martin Jacques forcefully argues that far from becoming a western-style society, China will remain highly distinctive. It is already having a far-reaching and much-discussed economic impact, but its political and cultural influence, which has hitherto been greatly neglected, will be at least as significant. Continental in size and mentality, and accounting for one fifth of humanity, China is not even a conventional nation-state but a ‘civilization-state’ whose imperatives, priorities and values are quite different. As it rapidly reassumes its traditional place at the centre of East Asia, the old tributary system will resurface in a modern form, contemporary ideas of racial hierarchy will be redrawn and China’s ages-old sense of superiority will reassert itself.

The whole narrative of When China Rules the World has caused a profound academic debate. This is understandable since it questions Western hegemony and the future of American power in the 21st century. On the other hand, as one could expect, the book was highly praised in China and East Asian countries, where it was perceived by some pundits as the best and most understanding analysis of Chinese society and economics. I suspect it will be mentioned by other contributors in the context of this theme too and that would be all for the good so that we don’t run the risk of reinventing the wheel. In any case, whether one agrees with it or not, the book remains a lively one full of provocations and predictions.

The book can be summarized in twelve key arguments: 1) There is not one western modernity, instead we are witnessing the birth of multiple modernities. This is perhaps the core argument. 2) Chinese modernity will be very different from western modernity. 3)We are fast moving into a world of contested modernity. 4) China will become the largest economy in the world within less than two decades and then proceed to rapidly out-distance that of the United States. 5) China’s impact on the world will not simply be economic; it will also have profound political, cultural and ideological effects. 6) For thousands of years, China was at the centre of the tributary-state system in East Asia, which only came to an end with the arrival of European colonialism at the end of the nineteenth century. 7) As the East Asian economy is rapidly reconfigured around China, we should expect elements of the tributary system to reappear 8) At its core, China is a civilization-state rather than a nation-state, a fact which will become steadily more apparent. 9) The Chinese state is very different from the western state: it has existed for over two thousand years, and for over a millennium it has had no competitors (e.g., church, merchants) nor limits to its power; it is regarded with reverence and deference by the Chinese as the guardian and protector of Chinese civilization. 10) The Chinese have a deep and living sense of their own culture and civilization which they regard as superior to all others. 11) 92% of the Chinese believe that they are of one race, the Han Chinese, unlike the other most populous nations such as India, the United States, Brazil and Indonesia, which recognize themselves to be highly multi-racial and multi-cultural. 12) The similarities between the communist period and the Confucian era are more striking than the differences. This is another intriguing assertion which belies a desire to collapse Communism into Confucianism.

What in fact strikes the reader immediately about the overall analysis is the fact that Communism, the political system which still today runs China, is somehow conceived not in Marxist-Leninist terms but a something already existing in the traditional culture of China. But the ineluctable historical fact remains that, as a philosophy and an ideology it is imported from the West unless one wishes to claim that Karl Marx was Chinese. Such an ideology, I submit, has profound western assumptions even when critical of the traditional capitalistic tenets of liberal democracy as Das Kapital indeed is. So in this book the whole issue of freedom and liberal democracy in The People’s Republic of China seems to have been side-stepped. So Jacques’ assertion that China is somehow “outside the history or experience of Western societies” is historically untenable and belies a certain disconcerting inattentiveness to both Chinese politics, from at least 1911 onwards, as well as international relations more broadly. One begins to wonder if the author has begun with a bias, conscious or unconscious, and then has gone looking for its support and justifications.

But this is not the only glaring problem with Jacques’s thesis, there are others. Take this assertion: “…China is not primarily a nation-state but a civilization-state. For the Chinese, what matters is civilization. For Westerners it is nation. The most important political value in China is the integrity and unity of the civilization-state.” He’s taking an idea – China as “civilization state” – first forwarded by Lucien Pye and misapplying it by putting it in the service of a facile historical exceptionalism. Here again history belies Jacques statement, for the very concept of nation which comes from the West is in fact very important to the Chinese. One may call the phenomenon cultural colonialism but the fact remains that following Western notions of sovereignty, many political and intellectual Chinese leaders have for over a hundred years now embraced the concept of national identity and attempted to reconcile it, as best they could, to the more international aspects of the Communist ideology. In any case both nationalism and communism happen to be distinct Western imports. This curious conundrum is in no way addressed by Jacques.

The fact that Jacques’ training is that of an economist focusing on Marxism may explain why he so cavalierly discounts the importance of nationalism in China, but he ought to know that Marxism is not an Asian ideology. The question arises: has Jacques really missed the boat here? While it is true that China has gained a great deal of economic and political and military power in the past three decades, other “Western” powers have behaved in similar ways beginning with the Romans and ending with the British Empire. It remains unclear that China will “rule the world” any time soon. It will undoubtedly be more powerful; it will get its way in some areas where in the past it did not, but global power is diffuse, capital is dynamically mobile, advantages come and go, and that pattern seems to be accelerating as globalization makes everything – production, information, understanding, faster and faster and faster.

Assertions of cultural exceptionalism thus seem untenable in a world that fragments and shifts and changes so quickly. Nostalgia for a world that never existed is simply misplaced, as with this line from Jacques: “The Chinese idea of the state could hardly be more different [than that of the “West] They do not view it from a narrowly utilitarian standpoint, in terms of what it can deliver, let alone as the devil incarnate in the manner of the American Tea Party. They see the state as an intimate, or, to be more precise, as a member of the family – the head of the family, in fact. The Chinese regard the family as the template for the state. What’s more, they perceive the state not as external to themselves but as an extension or representation of themselves.”

In this assertion we have the collapsing of Confucianism into Communism. Yet Han Feizi rejects the government-as-family metaphor, not to speak of the constant tyrannical attacks, since Mao’s era, on families and family institutions beginning with the so called “Great Leap Forward.” That misnomer is typical of a mindless progressivism that declares that anything that arrives at the end of a process is always the best and that progress always goes forward and cannot be stopped. Is Jacques asserting that the death of tens of millions of deaths is politically and culturally insignificant within the larger scheme of things? Does the refusal to answer that question make the CCP more or less legitimate than the West? So far Jacques has no ready answers to such questions.

This is not is not my lament only. There is a powerful rebuttal to Jacques’s assertions coming from a Harvard Professor Joseph Nye who wrote an article in Foreign Affairs (Nov/Dec. 2010) titled “The Future of American Power.” He begins with a definition of power as “the ability to attain the outcomes one wants, and the resources that produce it vary in different contexts…” Then he goes on to point out that “This century is marked by a burgeoning revolution in information technology and globalization, and to understand this revolution, certain pitfalls need to be avoided.”

Which exactly are those pitfalls? First, he warns against the misleading metaphors of organic decline. “Rome remained dominant for more than three centuries after the peak of its power, and even then it did not succumb to the rise of another state. For all the fashionable predictions of China, India, or Brazil surpassing the United States in the next decades, the greater threat may come from modern barbarians and non-state actors. In an information-based world, power diffusion may pose a bigger danger than power transition. Conventional wisdom holds that the state with the largest army prevails, but in the information age, the state (or the non-state actor) with the best story may sometimes win.” This is quite an eye-opener resembling Vico’s warning about the “barbarism of the intellect,” a sort of barbarism which has to do with the disappearance of the values and the narrative buttressing an entire civilization.

He then treats us to another metaphor, that of the chess game. “Power today is distributed in a pattern that resembles a complex three-dimensional chess game. On the top chessboard, military power is largely uni-polar, and the United States is likely to retain primacy for quite some time. On the middle chessboard, economic power has been multi-polar for more than a decade, with the United States, Europe, Japan, and China as the major players and others gaining in importance. The bottom chessboard is the realm of transnational relations.” He acknowledges that in the near future the most important factor will be the continuing return of Asia to the world stage. “In 1750, Asia had more than half the world’s population and economic output. By 1900, after the Industrial Revolution in Europe and the United States, Asia’s share shrank to one-fifth of global economic output. By 2050, Asia will be well on its way back to its historical share. The rise of China and India may create instability, but this is a problem with precedents, and history suggests how policies can affect the outcome.”

Next Professor Nye brands as misguided the fashionable comparison of the United States’ power to that of the United Kingdom a century ago and the prediction of a similar hegemonic decline. There will be some decline but it will not be absolute, he tells us, and it does not have to lead to decay and ultimate fall. The United States does not have geographical empire, although some have made the case for a commercial capitalistic entrepreneurial global empire. Then the Professor this to say: “Power measured in resources rarely equals power measured in preferred outcomes, and cycles of belief in decline reveal more about psychology than they do about real shifts in power resources.”

Then Professor Nye takes on frontally the issue of the rise of China and Jacques’ book asserting that “China has a long way to go to equal the power resources of the United States, and it still faces many obstacles to its development. Even if overall Chinese gdp passed that of the United States around 2030, the two economies, although roughly equivalent in size, would not be equivalent in composition. China would still have a vast underdeveloped countryside, and it would have begun to face demographic problems from the delayed effects of its one child policy… China’s authoritarian political system has shown an impressive capability to harness the country’s power, but whether the government can maintain that capability over the longer term is a mystery both to outsiders and to Chinese leaders. Unlike India, which was born with a democratic constitution, China has not yet found a way to solve the problem of demands for political participation.” So, much remains to be seen in the light of future events which remain mysterious.

On the military front Nye states that “Some have argued that China aims to challenge the United States’ position in East Asia and, eventually, the world. Even if this were an accurate assessment of China’s current intentions (and even the Chinese themselves cannot know the views of future generations), it is doubtful that China will have the military capability to make this possible anytime soon.” The U. S.- Japanese alliance and the improvement in U.S. -Indian relations mean that China cannot easily expel the Americans from Asia which validly claims to be a Pacific power. From that position of strength, the United States, Japan, India, Australia, and others can engage China and provide incentives for it to play a responsible role” Here is another eye opener for those contemplating an imminent assertion of Chinese hegemony in Asia.

On internal decay Professor Nye opines that it would be a great mistake for the US to seriously curtail immigration. “With its current levels of immigration, the United States is one of the few developed countries that may avoid demographic decline and keep its share of world population, but this could change if xenophobia or reactions to terrorism closed its borders. Although too rapid a rate of immigration can cause social problems, over the long term, immigration strengthens U.S. power. Today, the United States is the world’s third most populous country; 50 years from now, it is likely to still be third (after India and China)… When Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew concludes that China will not surpass the United States as the leading power of the twenty-first century, he cites the ability of the United States to attract the best and brightest from the rest of the world and meld them into a diverse culture of creativity. China has a larger population to recruit from domestically to be sure, but in his view, its Sinocentric culture will make it less creative than the United States, which can draw on the whole world.” This statement ought to be a warning for the EU which is considering limiting its young Moslem immigrant population as its own native population ages.

Another informative statement is this: “Today, however, even after the financial crisis and the ensuing recession, the World Economic Forum has ranked the United States fourth (after Switzerland, Sweden, and Singapore) in global economic competitiveness. (China, in comparison, was ranked 27th.)” Also important to consider those statistics: In terms of investment in research and development, the United States was the world leader in 2007, with $369 billion, followed by all of Asia (S338 billon) and the European Union ($263 billion). The United States spent 2.7 percent of its GDP on research and development, nearly double what China spent (but slightly less than the three percent spent by Japan and South Korea). In 2007, American inventors registered about 80,000 patents in the United States, or more than the rest of the world combined. A 2009 survey by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor ranked the United States ahead of other countries in opportunities for entrepreneurship because it has a favorable business culture, the most mature venture capital industry, close relations between universities and industry, and an open immigration policy.

A well-educated labor force is another key to economic success in the information age. At first glance, the United States does well in this regard. It spends twice as much on higher education as a percentage of gdp as do France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom. The London-based Times Higher Educations 2009 list of the top ten universities includes six in the United States, and a 2010 study by Shanghai Jiao Tong University places 17 U.S. universities-and no Chinese universities-among its top 20. Americans win more Nobel Prizes and publish more scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals-three times as many as the Chinese-than do the citizens of any other country. These accomplishments enhance both the country’s economic power and its soft power. American education at its best-many universities and the top slice of the secondary education system-meets or sets the global standard.

Next Professor Nye deals with the thorny issue of decline and blames the alarmists for offering misleading metaphors and warns us that “There is always a range of possible futures, not one… As for the United States’ power relative to China’s, much will depend on the uncertainties of future political change in China. Barring any political upheaval, China’s size and high rate of economic growth will almost certainly increase its relative strength vis-à-vis the United States. This will bring China closer to the United States in power resources, but it does not necessarily mean that China will surpass the United States as the most powerful country-even if China suffers no major domestic political setbacks.” Projections based on gdp growth alone are one-dimensional. They ignore U.S. advantages in military and soft power, as well as China’s geopolitical disadvantages in the Asian balance of power…American power is based on alliances rather than colonies and is associated with an ideology that is flexible. . . . Together they provide a core of relationships and values to which America can return even after it has overextended itself. The United States is well placed to benefit from such networks and alliances, if it follows smart strategies. Given Japanese concerns about the rise of Chinese power, Japan is more likely to seek U.S. support to preserve its independence than ally with China.” On the question of absolute, rather than relative, American decline, the United States faces serious problems in areas such as debt, secondary education, and political gridlock. But they are only part of the picture.

Plenty of food for thought here! I suppose what the professor is reminding us of is that civilizations have come and gone throughout history but sometimes they have also been reborn. The phenomenon of Renaissance, well known in Europe, is after all a classical Greco-Roman civilization that is reborn anew, albeit synthesized to a phenomenon the ancient Greeks and Romans did not know, Christianity. Rinascimento, after all literally means “rebirth.” So rebirths and resurrections remain historically in the realm of possibility for any civilization, Eastern or Western. As Vico has well taught us, there are recurring historical cycles and they are not deterministic since they are not closed circles.

Finally Professor Nye offers his most intriguing insight: “It is time for a new narrative about the future of U.S. power. Describing power transition in the twenty-first century as a traditional case of hegemonic decline is inaccurate, and it can lead to dangerous policy implications if it encourages China to engage in adventurous policies or the United States to overreact out of fear. The United States is not in absolute decline, and in relative terms, there is a reasonable probability that it will remain more powerful than any single state in the coming decades…Because globalization will spread technological capabilities and information technology will allow more people to communicate, U.S. culture and the U.S. economy will become less globally dominant than they were at the start of this century. Yet it is unlikely that the United States will decay like ancient Rome, or even that it will be surpassed by another state, including China.” This new narrative, professor Nye reminds us, will require a deeper understanding of power, how it is changing, and how to construct “smart power” strategies that combine hard-and soft-power resources in an information age. The country’s capacity to maintain alliances and create networks will be an important dimension of its hard and soft power.

Indeed, power is not good or bad per se, it is the intention behind it and the how it is wielded that makes all the difference. More of it is not necessarily better if the intention is to use it badly. According to professor Nye, “a smart-power narrative for the twenty-first century is not about maximizing power or preserving hegemony. It is about finding ways to combine resources in successful strategies in the new context of power diffusion and the rise of the rest…The coming decades are not likely to see a post-American world, but the United States will need a smart strategy that combines hard and soft-power resources-and that emphasizes alliances and networks that are responsive to the new context of a global information age.”

Obviously, what we have here are two differing views of who will rule, or better who will have hegemony and power to throw around in the 21st century. It remains an open question despite the views of Professor Nye or Martin Jacques. Many in the West are understandably concerned that the view they reject may come about, many in the East believe that their time for power has finally come as confirmed by Jacques’s assertions.

I am afraid they are both wrong. The real question at this point is this: can the two views be bridged and synthesized, or are they mutually exclusive? I tend to believe that a bridge between the two, a la Leonardo, or closer at home a la Edward Said is possible and desirable (see my Ovi article on Said’s bridging of East and West at http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/2112 . To build such a bridge we need to go back to the issue of “multiple modernities”; that is to say, abandon the idea that there is only one way of being modern, the Western mode. The Western mode, as a matter of fact may be flawed to begin with.

What do I mean about the flaw in the Western conception of modernity? I have already addressed this flaw in various article in Ovi over the last five years or so, but allow me to repeat it succinctly in this context. The flaw in the Western conception of modernity lies in its misguided notion that only what arrives at the end is truly progressive and the best, that what is traditional, such as religion and its practices, needs to be repudiated and jettisoned as so much obscurantism and primitivism. Here is where Jacques’ theory of multiple modernities could have been useful but he fails to carry the notion to its proper conclusion and opts to side with those who believe that China’s destiny in the 21st century is somehow inevitable and written in stone.

Nevertheless, the concept of multiple modernities which refuses to reject religion as mere superstition has been argued by influential modern philosophers such as Whitehead and Habermas and various others (the inquisitive reader may wish to consult in this regard the article I wrote on Habermas’s philosophy of multiple modernities some four years ago in Ovi magazine at the following link: http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/4225), philosophers these who have convincingly argued that multiple modernities are not only possible but desirable in the EU, the West at large as well as more traditional religious communities such as India and other Asian places.

Unfortunately that kind of hard look is found unappetizing by Western man bent on finding truth via science and ignoring a simple fundamental question such as that posed by Heidegger: why is there something rather than nothing? Since Voltaire’s age of reason and Galileo’s age of science that question appears slightly ridiculous to modern “enlightened” man, but I would submit one more time that it remains an imperative to achieve a modicum of cultural identity and a definition of what it means to be a European or a Western man in order to be then in a position to confront other cultures and other traditions and find a modus vivendi with them. As I have repeatedly in previous articles: the Enlightenment has still to enlighten itself.

So, once again let me submit to the attentive reader, and at the same time urge the inattentive reader to consider the fact that the flaw in the Western approach to modernities lies exactly in the failure to perceive that religion and faith, independent of its intrinsic spiritual value for human nature which seems to have arisen within it, can be a powerful cultural glue, a centripetal force, a center to keep disparate cultures with different languages together in any sort of planned political union. This political insight was certainly not lost on an emperor Constantine, or a Charlemagne, two political geniuses whatever their overt or covert views on religion per se.

For some strange reason this political genius which refuses to jettison religion from the body politic seems to be lost on many current intellectuals and politicians who think of themselves as moderns or post-moderns and conceive logical positivism as the non plus ultra of modernity. Alas, it seems to also have been lost on the present Communist leadership of China, bent on a Machiavellian grabbing and exercise of power and on distracting the people from their real needs with material prosperity. As already argued they tend to lose sight that Communism is an imported Western phenomenon. But then, to their credit, one must consider that they do not consider themselves Westerners and do not wish to become such, nor should they; they just need to get better informed about the West and what they have ideologically bought from it.

A concluding modest proposal: as the 21st century progresses let’s keep watching carefully those two continental nations by which I don’t mean China and the US, which will surely continue their obsessive competition for power, rather I mean India, which even more than the US honors its religious heritage and accepts multiple modernities, and China which, in embracing the the imported Western Communist ideology has jettisoned its religious heritage and accepted a modernity based on materialistic entrepreneurship and the accumulation of wealth proclaiming, via ideology if nothing else, that by bread alone does man live and democracy and freedom are mere unnecessary frosting on the cake, not really that relevant for the achievement of prosperity. In the final analysis history will tell. It always does, sooner or later, and what it reveals about the past and the future is often surprising, even miraculous. It has happened before in the West and it was called Rinascimento which translates as “rebirth.” A new Renaissance may be needed, one that places less emphasis on mere political power and consumerism and focuses on the common good. As Einstein aptly put it: when modern man will have reached the positivistic pinnacle of scientific rationality, he may be greatly surprised to find out that the philosopher and the theologian are already there waiting for him. Food for thought!

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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East Asia

Nepal-China Relations and Belt and Road Initiative

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Image source: xinhua

China appears to be more “functional” in Nepal recently. A new administration led by leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal has acted on the same pitch initially also. The Rasuwagadhi border crossing, which had been blocked for three years, has been reopened for two-way trade, and the much-anticipated Gyorong-Kathmandu train project’s final survey has also begun as of January 1, 2023. The second phase of the 10-lane ring road project from Kalanki to Chabhil is anticipated to start soon as well. All these accumulatively demonstrate the current nature of friendship between them and the profound Belt and Road Initiative is the key rostrum for the current complexion of the relationship between them. Hence, the trends are indicating a greater form of cooperation even in the regional domain as well.

Meanwhile, China and Nepal have inked a six-point agreement to strengthen bilateral collaboration and exchanges on governance, legislation, and supervisory practices, in line with Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). On September 12, 2022, in Kathmandu’s federal parliament building, Agni Prasad Sapkota, Speaker of the Parliament, and Li Zhanshu, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People’s Congress, signed the agreement. According to the agreement, the nations would exchange information about each other’s legislative, oversight, and governance activities. Five years after BRI’s founding, on May 12, 2017, Nepal formally joined the process. Nine projects – the upgrading of the Rasuwagadhi-Kathmandu road, the construction of the Kimathanka-Hile road, the construction of the road from Dipayal to the Chinese border, the Tokha-Bidur Road, the Galchhi-Rasuwagadhi-Kerung400kv transmission line, the Kerung-Kathmandu rail, the 762MW Tamor Hydroelectricity Project, the 426MW Phuket Karnali were on the to do list. However, more than any other nation, China invested US$188 million in Nepal during the 2020–21 fiscal year. During KP Sharma Oli’s visit to Beijing in 2016, Nepal and China also ratified a transit transport agreement for commerce with other parties.

However, amidst the current global tension and the changing rapport of international politics, China remains as a key investor in Nepal. Besides, the recent activities from the Nepal administration showed a shift in policy domain from the previous regime which in some cases was rigid to Chinese projects. Meanwhile, the BRI becomes more eminent in the strategic, political and economic domain of the status quo. Against such backdrop, the next sections will discuss current trends of the BRI in Nepal.

Nine Projects: Token of Continuation of the Initiative

Nepal put forward nine potential projects to be undertaken under the BRI at the beginning of 2019. These included setting up a technical institution in Nepal, building new highways, tunnels, and hydroelectricity dams, as well as conducting a feasibility assessment for a trans-Himalayan railway that would connect Jilong/Keyrung, a Chinese port of entry, with Kathmandu. This enhanced the significance of the project which will direct to more prosperous China- Nepal relations.

Nepal, the “Pillar”

Hou Yanqi, the Chinese ambassador to Nepal, stated in April 2022 that Nepal was one of the BRI’s most significant pillars and that projects were still moving forward despite the “speed of pragmatic collaboration” slowing down because of the coronavirus pandemic and Nepal’s changing political climate.

Transit Through China: Better Connectivity and Trade

Kathmandu protocol agreement with Beijing, Nepal will import and export goods from a third country through China through Tianjin, Shenzhen, Lianyungang and Zhanjiang seaports and land ports of Lanzhou, Lhasa and Shigatse. They will also get the facility of transporting goods through six dedicated transit points of the two countries. It will boost the trade for improved connectivity.

Extended Cooperation in Domains Except for BRI

In addition to the BRI projects, China is currently making significant investments in Nepal’s infrastructure, including ring road expansion, dry ports at the border crossings of Larcha and Syabrubesi, the establishment of China Study Centers, a new international airport in Pokhara, and optical fiber cable connectivity from Kathmandu to the Chinese border.

Energy Exploration: New Domain of Cooperation

China is also looking into the prospect of discovering gas and oil deposits in Nepal and is building a border river crossing at Hilsa, Humla. It will open a new domain of cooperation based on mutual interest.

Poverty Reduction and Generating Newer Income Sources

Currently, roughly six Chinese airlines offer regular flights to Nepal. Nepal has the fastest-growing Chinese tourist industry. Nepal granted China access to choose 16 Himalayan regions that border China to develop as part of a program to fight poverty.

Security: Bringing Peace

Joint military drills between China and Nepal are also a new development in security cooperation. It will bring peace in the region since the image of Nepal is very clean.

Increased Diplomatic Connectivity

The BRI appears to be one of the three priority pillars for the Chinese government’s organizing principles of foreign policy, along with the Global Development Initiatives and the Global Security Initiatives, in terms of developing successful international relations rather than just an economic endeavor. It will bring a fresh start in the diplomatic domain of both countries and the future prospects of ties in the diplomatic arena can be discussed robustly.

No More Landlockedness

Under BRI and the Trans-Himalayan Multi-dimensional Connectivity Network, which will transform Nepal from a landlocked country to a land-linked one, there are multiple road, sea, and corridor networks throughout the world. It will boost the relationship to a great extent while there will be a surge in the arena of export and import.

Regional Connectivity

The extension of the Qingzang railway from Tibet to Nepal and the border with India is among the most significant BRI projects. Three routes are being considered for this railway. The first would connect Shigatse to Kathmandu via Kerung and continue on to Pokhara and Lumbini before reaching the Indian border. The second would run from Shigatse to the Burang border and connect Humla and Darchula districts in Nepal with Pithoragdh, Uttarakhand, while the third would link Shigatse to the Yandong border of Sikkim, India.

As China and India have no trade disputes with one another, India would gain from this project as well after trading through this route. In comparison to other industrialized parts of the world, South Asia could see an increase in commerce and investment if this project is carried out on a win-win basis between China and Nepal.

Challenges

Additionally, loans are typically provided on commercial terms through the Silk Road Fund and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), both of which are led by China (SRF). Due to project site clearance delays and the nation’s political instability, along with its comparatively short repayment time, Nepal’s big projects have raised concerns that they may not get off the ground.

Besides, three primary issues with China are of particular concern to the Nepalese government. First, instead of commercial loans, the nation favors grants and lenient loans from China. Second, it wants the interest rate and repayment period to be comparable to those of multilateral funding organizations like the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank. Thirdly, it thinks that bid competitions ought to be allowed for the BRI projects. But the Chinese authorities are not responding on the same page.

The Inception of a Recommenced Cooperation

Pradeep Gawali, Foreign Minister in the KP Sharma Oli’s government, said that from the perspective of Nepal, the BRI projects were the way to be connected to the trans-Himalayan multipurpose connectivity network. Nepal had been able to select the nine projects included in the BRI with great success. However, Chinese authority said on December 26 that it looks forward to cooperating with the new government to advance projects under the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, a day after the Maoist party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda was named as Nepal’s new prime minister (BRI). China aims to develop initiatives under the Belt and Road collaboration, according to Mao Ning, the official spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, who congratulated Prachanda on his appointment. Beijing claims that as a longtime ally and neighbor of Nepal, China cherishes Nepali relations very highly. China is prepared to collaborate with the new Nepalese administration to broaden and deepen friendly relations and cooperation on all fronts, pursue high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, strategic cooperative alliance marked by enduring friendship for growth and prosperity new impetus, and bring more benefits to peoples from both sides.

Hence, it is evident that China’s policy toward Nepal is generally stable and uncomplicated, and the two countries’ bilateral relations have been cordial and shaped by Nepal’s strategy of balancing the divergent impact of China and its southern neighbor. Through BRI projects, Nepal could gain better connectivity relations with its northern neighbors, but in order to do so, Nepal must enhance its negotiations with China.

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East Asia

Territorial Rise of China: It’s Impact on International Borders

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The rise of China has had a significant impact on the international order and the way countries interact with one another. One of the main areas where this has been felt is in the realm of international borders. China has long had disputes with its neighbours over the demarcation of its borders. In recent years, it has become more assertive in advancing its territorial claims, particularly in the South China Sea. This has led to tensions and military standoffs with other countries in the region, such as the Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan.

China’s territorial claims have also been met with pushback and condemnation from the international community. Many countries and international organizations, such as the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations, have criticized China for its territorial expansion and militarization of disputed islands in the South China Sea. In addition to its territorial disputes, China’s rise has also led to increased competition and tensions with other major powers, such as the United States, over issues related to trade, technology, and influence in various regions around the world. Overall, the rise of China has led to a re-evaluation of the existing international borders and the way countries interact with one another, and has the potential to reshape the international order in the coming years.

Focus of the Study:

The territorial rise of China and its assertive actions in advancing its territorial claims have been seen by many countries as a threat to their own sovereignty and security. This is particularly true for countries in the Asia-Pacific region, who have territorial disputes with China over islands, reefs and waters in the South China Sea. The territorial disputes have led to increased military activity and a build-up of armed forces in the region, raising concerns about the potential for military conflict. The disputes have also led to economic disruption and have hindered freedom of navigation and overflight in the region.

China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea have also been met with pushback and condemnation from the international community. Many countries, including the United States, have called for China to abide by international law and respect the sovereignty of other countries in the region. The territorial disputes and assertiveness of China also have a broader impact on the global order. The strong opposition from other countries has led to the formation of alliances and partnerships between countries to counterbalance China’s rising power. In addition, China’s territorial expansion can also be seen as an attempt to gain control over the resources in the disputed areas, such as fisheries, oil, and gas reserves, which can be a major concern for the countries in the region that are dependent on these resources. This can also lead to economic disruption, as they can impede freedom of navigation and overflight in the region. This can disrupt the flow of goods and resources, and can negatively impact the global economy. China’s territorial rise and assertiveness in advancing its territorial claims have been seen as a threat to the sovereignty and security of other countries in the region and have the potential to destabilize the regional and global order.

Tensions and military standoffs between China and other countries in the region, such as the Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan, are primarily due to territorial disputes over islands, reefs, and waters in the South China Sea. China claims a large portion of the South China Sea as its territorial waters, including islands and reefs that are also claimed by other countries in the region. China and the Philippines have long-standing disputes over the Spratly and Scarborough islands, with both countries claiming sovereignty over the islands and their surrounding waters. China’s construction of military facilities on the disputed islands has led to a military standoff between the two countries and condemnation from the international community. Vietnam and China also have territorial disputes in the South China Sea, primarily over the Paracel and Spratly islands. China’s assertive actions in the region, such as oil and gas exploration and the building of military facilities on disputed islands, have led to tensions and military standoffs between the two countries. Similarly, China and Japan have a dispute over the Senkaku (Diaoyu) islands, which are uninhabited but are believed to be rich in natural resources. China’s increasing maritime activities in the area and its claim over the islands have led to tensions and military standoffs between the two countries, raising concerns about the potential for military conflict and escalating tensions between China and other countries in the region such as the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan.

In terms of trade, China’s rapid economic growth has made it a major player in the global economy, and it is now the world’s largest trading nation. However, its trade practices and economic policies have been a source of tension and disagreement with other major powers, particularly the United States. For example, the US has criticized China for its trade surplus, currency manipulation, and intellectual property theft. These tensions led to a trade war between the two countries, with tariffs and trade restrictions being imposed on each other’s goods, which affected the global economy. In terms of technology, China’s rapid technological advancements, particularly in areas such as 5G, artificial intelligence, and semiconductors have been a source of concern for other major powers, including the United States. The US has accused China of stealing intellectual property and engaging in forced technology transfer, and has imposed restrictions on Chinese companies such as Huawei in order to limit their access to American technology. In terms of influence, China’s rise has led to increased competition with other major powers for influence in various regions around the world. For example, China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a massive infrastructure and investment program, has been viewed by some countries as a way for China to expand its economic and political influence in Asia, Europe, and Africa. This has led to concerns about China’s increasing global influence and its potential to challenge the existing international order. China’s rise as a major economic and military power has led to increased competition and tensions with other major powers, particularly the United States, over issues related to trade, technology, and influence in various regions around the world. These tensions have the potential to disrupt the existing global order and have a significant impact on the global economy.

Conclusion:

The solution to the territorial rise of China and its assertive actions in advancing its territorial claims is a complex and multifaceted issue. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and a variety of approaches may be necessary to address the problem. One approach is to seek a diplomatic solution to the territorial disputes. This can involve negotiations and diplomatic efforts to resolve disputes peacefully and through international legal mechanisms, such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Another approach is to strengthen regional security and military cooperation between countries in the region to counterbalance China’s rising power. This can involve increasing military exercises, sharing intelligence, and building a regional security architecture to manage disputes and prevent conflicts.

Economic measures such as trade sanctions, tariffs, and investment restrictions can also be used to pressure China to change its behaviour. However, this approach carries the risk of economic disruption, and it is also not guaranteed to change China’s behaviour. Another alternative solution would be to involve China in multilateral organizations and global governance systems, encouraging them to play a constructive role in maintaining international peace and security, and promoting economic cooperation, this would help in tackling China’s territorial rise of borders, by making them a responsible stakeholder in the international community.

Ultimately, a comprehensive and coordinated approach, involving a combination of diplomatic, economic, and military measures, is likely to be most effective in addressing the territorial rise of China and its assertive actions in advancing its territorial claims. It’s important to understand that this is a complex issue that requires a nuanced approach and cooperation among the international community.

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East Asia

Dependency Trap: Chinese Strategy to Mute Global Response to its Multidomain Aggression

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China is known to entrap weaker economies through its debt trap, but the bigger threat, not so much talked about, is its strategy to entrap stronger economies like USA, G7 Countries as well as India into its dependency trap, which indirectly mutes counter actions against Chinese aggressive design, irrespective of its magnitude, dimension and implications.

How Grave is Chinese Aggression?

China has launched multi-domain aggression on most countries of an unprecedented magnitude, but it has not been acknowledged globally to avoid responding aggressively to it. The western world has been keenly counting the casualties in Russia Ukraine War and collectively contesting against Russia, whereas the casualties’ figures caused by China through coronavirus by direct invasion on to global health system remains unpunished. China lied, people died is common slogan but the clamor to probe into its origin seems to be waning, once USA got dragged into the controversy of gain of function research. After two years of pandemic, it appears that world has to lump the bitter pill to assume that coronavirus originated from nowhere!

While global deaths of over 6.7 million people may not be attributed to China alone but the delay in declaration of pandemic by tamed WHO and not controlling international flights two years back to avoid its economic setback by China is certainly a direct assault on global health. The death due to coronavirus certainly exceed deaths in all wars of many decades put together.  

China has once again has unleashed the infection by suddenly opening up after draconian Zero COVID Policy due to unprecedented domestic protests and has threatened countries like Japan and South Korea trying to test people arriving from China by visa stoppages, thereby forcing them to accept infected Chinese, but there is no unified global response. Many countries like Thailand have succumbed to its pressure by doing away with tests putting their people at risk. It emboldens China that the world is ready to adjust to its needs and lump its aggression. Its blatant refusal to share data which impacts global health hasn’t seen any sanctions by world community and organizations meant to take action. No-one has gone beyond expressing concerns and no resolution was sought to force China to share information to protect lives of others.

As a token Chinese reluctantly released first official deaths toll of almost 60,000 Covid-related deaths in a month, after suddenly lifting controls of Zero COVID policy with over 90 percent casualties of over 65 years as per its National Health Commission. This appears to be gross under-report by referring COVID as fever and not reporting fever deaths as COVID related deaths. Is CCP cleansing older people using COVID, who were left least vaccinated due to its awkward policy, to get the correct demographics for mass manufacturing?

In other domains too including Chinese incremental encroachment, the global response has been inadequate, be it grabbing inhabited features in South China Sea and converting them in military bases and junking all rulings of PCA on the subject. Its aggression on Himalayan borders is being responded to by India on stand-alone mode. Its fire power demonstration on Taiwan has been responded by nothing beyond posturing. Its fishing trawlers illegally fishing all over the globe have seen limited resistance by individual affected countries. It dares to operate secret police stations in all so-called powerful countries as influence operations as part of its Three warfare Strategy hasn’t seen a worthwhile push back. Its BRI projects have pushed many weak economies into unending debt trap.

Why Global Response is Muted Against China?

By design as well as default China became the global factory due to US efforts to push China up to disintegrate USSR. The investments as well as dependence of West on China grew to an extent that during coronavirus outbreak, New York had a sanitation problem when supply chain of toilet rolls from China got disrupted. The world realized its helplessness due to over-dependence on China during COVID-19 pandemic but the magnitude of dependency was such that despite strong desire/efforts to decouple, it is finding difficulty in doing so till date.

Countries suffering Chinese aggression like Japan may be criticizing it on daily basis but their trade with China continues to grow. Chinese total goods trade touched a record high in 2022, reaching 42.07 trillion yuan ($6.3 trillion), a rise of 7.7% from 2021. Measured in US dollars, exports jumped 7% in 2022, while imports increased 1.1%. That translates into a trade surplus of $877.6 billion, surpassing 2021’s record of $676 billion.

Chinese exports to Japan in 2022 saw increase of 3.87 percent over 2021. Similar is the story of most major economies including US, which suffered maximum deaths due to coronavirus. The allegation that coronavirus was a biological weapon unleashed to dislodge US from its top position in global dominance is yet not ruled out. The nature of warfare has changed and so have the instruments of war. Its certain that commercial interest of countries have overshadowed/compromised security interest and health of their people in context of China. China has thus muted global response to its unchecked aggression making full use of global commercial dependency on it. The trade figures indicated above prove that. That’s why China is again infecting world with new variants of COVID19 & no-one has stopped its flights.

The Case of India!

While troops endure freezing winters at the LAC, MEA India says its relations with China can’t be normal till border issue is resolved. However, the trade deficit has grown to $101 billion in 2022, out of bilateral trade of $126 billion, marking a sharp rise of 46 percent tells a different story. More than 160 companies in India have Chinese CEOs. The API reliance is indirectly humbling Indian border efforts. China continues to cherish such ‘not normal relations’, which in financial terms are better than normal. Indian consumers too need to set it right besides expecting concrete measures by the Government of India.

What Needs to be done?

It is necessary to pursue some initial steps taken by the Quad countries to synergize medical, scientific, financial, manufacturing, important emerging technology, and developmental capabilities in order to create an alternative supply chain, trade, technological, and health eco system that is independent of China. To send the proper signals that the intentions of a non-military grouping can alter overnight if there is interoperability between militaries of like-minded countries, Quad members must continue freedom of navigation and military drills in the Indo-Pacific.

To prevent vulnerable economies from falling into the debt trap set up by China through the BRI, an alternative infrastructure architecture in the form of the B3W, Blue Dot Network, and Friendship Highways is crucial.   It is necessary to plan a collective reaction to threats from the cyberspace,  space terrorism, biological agents, and Chinese nuclear expansion. 

India needs to be self-reliant at unprecedented speed. India must increasingly create a negative import list of all products imported from China that have been or can be manufactured in India in response to economic and digital invasion and gradually forbid their imports, as is being done to increase self-reliance in defence manufacturing.

In addition to the Quad, strategic alliances with like-minded democracies like France and the UK as well as collective naval posturing to create a multi-front situation for China in the Indo-Pacific are crucial for containing Chinese expansionism, the challenge to international law, and the threat to the global commons posed by unilaterally enforcing Coast Guard Law and Maritime Traffic Safety Laws that are China-centric. To counter Chinese military activities near India, India is appropriately forming a variety of strategic alliances with the USA and other China-wary nations.

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