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China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ policy for Russia and Japan

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President Xi Jinping’s “One Belt, One Road” program the new name for old trade route “Silk Road” could be thought of as “killing three birds with one stone”.

Foremost, it is an effective alternative strategy to face US dominance in regions where China traditionally plays the key role. Economically, the initiative aims to help Chinese companies explore overseas markets along the ancient trade route that linked the Middle East with the larger part of Eurasia, formally established during the Han dynasty. The program is also an effort to tackle overcapacity in many industries at home, nurture domestic structural reform and boost growth.

President Xi’s recent whirlwind trip to Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt was one such mission: his aim, to rebuild the “Silk Road” routes while also seeking to promote China’s image and influence as a global power. But such a massive spending spree in politically unstable regions has raised questions about the potential risks for this investment.

Armed with more than US$3 trillion in foreign reserves, Beijing has dramatically scaled up its loan book to foreign nations, mostly developing economies that are largely ignored by international investors and Western lenders.

Russia since the end of so-called Cold War has been the most important ally of China. China uses the Kremlin as a powerful shield against any possible reversals from the western powers led by US super power.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has made it amply clear that China’s relations with Russia cannot be affected by changes in the international situation or leadership changes in Beijing and Moscow, or pressure from any third party. He lamented that though Sino-Russian ties are solid, Sino-Japanese relations, however, remained fragile and not yet solid, despite signs of improvement. Li told the media after his wrap-up speech following the National People’s Congress that China and Russia had a “comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership” – the highest level in China’s diplomatic tier. “The relationship is an all-dimensional one,” he said, adding that President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin had met “quite often”. The two leaders met five times last year – the most that Xi met any head of state. Their increasingly upgraded partnership has prompted fears in Washington of a possible Sino-Russian axis that share much common ground on such testy international issues as Syria, Ukraine, Iran and North Korea.

Russia and China have extensively enhanced economic, security and diplomatic ties in recent years as Moscow faces Western sanctions for its unilateral annexation of Crimea. There have been concerns in western capitals that the closer bond could pose a challenge to the Western-led world order. Prez Li made the remarks when responding to a Russian journalist’s question over whether China’s lack of investment in Russia was due to Western countries’ sanction and pressure from powers like Washington. “China-Russia relations will not be affected by changes in the international situation. We will continue to push for the progressive development of China-Russia relations,” Li said, ties with Moscow were improving, pointing to China’s increased oil imports from Russia, which topped eight million tonnes last year. Although overall trade volume had declined, Li attributed the fall to weaker commodity prices and not any change in relations. Due to the unlucky decline of major commodity prices, our whole export sector, not only to Russia, was falling. Trade turnover with Russia fell 27.8 per cent to US$68.07 billion last year, while exports dropped 34.4 per cent.

On Sino-Japanese relations, Li said both should uphold the consensus in principles on treating historical issues, and demonstrate consistency between words and actions.”I don’t want to see us retrace our steps again,” he said.

Chinese Li, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye are to meet this year for a trilateral summit, which was resumed last November after a nearly four-year halt due to tensions among the countries. “As to whether the [trilateral] format will enjoy a smooth development in the future, it’s much up to interaction among the three countries,” he said.

The presence of President Xi Jinping and People’s Liberation Army troops at Russia’s Victory Day parade in Moscow underscored a new era of warming ties between the two nations. While the two giant neighbours shared close relations through the 20th century, China’s high-profile participation at this month’s event was as revealing as the notable absence of many invited leaders from around the world. The line-up of leaders viewing the parade alongside Xi and Putin was a walking representation of an emerging order against the US-led Western alliance – with Xi and Putin sandwiched between Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Raul Castro of Cuba, and Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela.

Xi himself lauded the mutual support of China and Russia during the Second World War, which cost both nations more casualties than any others. “Xi’s presence and the unprecedented participation of Chinese soldiers in the parade delivered a clear message,” said Xinhua. “China and Russia are seeing eye to eye on upholding the post-war international order and safeguarding world peace.” Russia would celebrate the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany alone, adding that changes in global affairs had pushed Beijing and Moscow closer together.

The scenes of Xi taking pride of place next to his host Russian President Vladimir Putin at the event stirred up memories of the past when Mao Zedong first met his communist big brother Joseph Stalin in Moscow for his 70th birthday. But Xi’s treatment was in stark contrast to that in 1949, when Mao felt snubbed by the Russian leader. And the rivalry between Mao and Stalin’s successors over who would lead global communism led to the acrimonious breakdown of the Sino-Soviet alliance and the rapprochement with the US following President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to Beijing in 1972. The new détente helped defeat the Soviet Union in the cold war.

The upgraded ties have involved a series of joint naval exercises and a revival of arms purchases apparently designed to complicate US-led efforts to counter both nations’ military expansions. Some observers described closer Sino-Russian political and military ties as a “marriage of convenience”, but such an alliance would help shore up Beijing and Moscow’s position in their rivalry with the US-led West.

The cold shoulder given by Western leaders to the historic celebrations also underscored the tensions between Russia and the West, led by the US, over the Ukraine crisis. For Beijing, forging a closer partnership with Russia is a diplomatic gesture in response to growing military ties between the USA and Japan, plus American support of China’s regional rivals in their territorial disputes in the East and South China seas.

Many Western heads of state stayed away in protest over Russia’s support for separatist fighters in Ukraine. The only other foreign countries to send troops to the parade were Mongolia, Serbia, India and six former Soviet states. China’s state media heralded the attendance of Xi and the PLA as a significant step forward in the strategic partnership of the two big powers.

Both giant nations realize they need to set aside their differences to counter the global dominance of the USA. The theorem of realpolitik in such partnerships of conveniences simple: individually China and Russia are weak to challenge USA in the quest for global influence in all domains and both need a permanent alliance with a powerful friend.

Right now, Beijing’s relationship with most Silk Road countries, from Central Asia to the Middle East, is largely defined by its energy imports, as China gets more than half its crude oil from the region. However, oil can be bought with cash anywhere in peacetime.

Chinese companies are eager to explore overseas markets elsewhere, not least along the Silk Road. But the geographical concept of the Silk Road is irrelevant when it comes to solving China’s economic problems: one cannot compare today’s economically integrated world to the age when camels and horses were the main mode of transport to carry goods for trade through Central Asia to West Asia and Europe.

In economics, the philosophy of investment is about the trade-off between risk and return, which is not necessarily what political leaders are good at.

In many ways, “One Belt, One Road” resembles the 4 trillion yuan (HK$4.7 trillion) stimulus package launched in 2008; it is another political project that will be dominated by state-led investment, rather than private, as few investors will choose to gamble in politically unstable environments where governance and rule of law are weak and infrastructure is lacking. That is why Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing chose to invest heavily in Britain and Canada rather than nations along the belt and road, despite the government’s call to support such projects.

Politically, such investments won’t help the atheist Communist-ruled nation win the hearts and minds of people from countries where religion dominates. China’s regular and often harsh repression of any belief other than communism – from Christianity and Islam to Buddhism and the home-grown,– makes it difficult to forge close relations with countries where religion is an integral part of ideology, culture, politics and everyday life. China’s tensions with India are not based on religions or ideology but on territorial disputes.

Though a UNSC veto member, enjoying a special status in international power, sharing, among other matters, intelligence with top powers, China needs true friends and political allies to offset its ideological isolation in a post-cold-war world dominated by the USA, following the demise of socialism in the early 1990s. Beijing wants to resume its leadership status in the developing world through reviving the once widely known non-aligned movement. Diplomatically, China’s aggressive economic expansion is part of a strategy to expand its sphere of influence to forge a status equal to that of the United States and to resume China’s position as the global centre of trade, culture and politics, as it was some 2,000 years ago.

Despite maintaining good relations with most countries in the region, China is an outsider in global regional affairs as it has long maintained a diplomatically neutral stance and has taken no sides in any conflict unless it hurts national interest. Under this non-interventionist diplomacy, Chinese money can boost its influence, but it won’t buy true friends or love. Though both Russia and China have conveniently abandoned ideology to gain entry into western economic system of profit making, the relations may not stay solid forever. USA is searching for new “threat perceptions” to pursue its imperialist goals.

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East Asia

High time for India to Reconsider the One-China Policy

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Sino-Indian bilateral relations have seen major challenges in the recent years, beginning with the Doklam crisis to the current pandemic situation. The sugar-coated rhetoric of Beijing proved to be mere duplicity after tensions erupted along the Line of Actual Control where soldiers of both the states clashed in mid-2020, resulting in the martyrdom of several Indian jawans including a commanding officer. The other side also saw several casualties, though Beijing has kept the actual count under wraps. More recently, China suspended the state-run Sichuan Airlines cargo planes carrying medical supplies to India for 15 days citing the deteriorating situation in India due to COVID-19. This was after the Chinese government promised all the necessary help for India to battle the pandemic. 

The People’s Republic of China under the leadership of Xi Jinping has been maintaining an aggressive posture with India even while making calls for ‘maintaining peace’. Its support for all-weather friend Pakistan has attained new peaks when it proclaimed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor under the Belt and Road Initiative passing through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, a territory claimed by India, despite New Delhi’s staunch opposition. It is in the light of all these events that the calls of the strategic community in India to review the recognition of One China policy has gained some attention. 

India’s Sensitivity versus China’s Duplicity  

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) under the Communist Party of China (CPC) claims itself as the only representative of the Chinese nation including the territories of Tibet and Taiwan among others. Any country having formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, also known as Republic of China shall be seen by China as challenging its sovereignty. The same parameter applies to any country recognizing Tibet or similar ‘autonomous regions’ under the Chinese control. This is known as the ‘One China Principle’ or ‘One China Policy’. India was one of the first countries to recognize the PRC in 1949 after the civil war as well as to accord recognition to its occupation of Tibet. However, China claims the whole of India’s Arunachal Pradesh as ‘South Tibet’, a claim that India has always rebuffed. Moreover, it occupies Aksai Chin which it captured during the 1962 war as well as the Shaksgam valley, ceded illegally to it by Pakistan in 1963.

Even after the war and the re-establishment of cordial bilateral relations, China has continued to repeat its illegitimate claims and nibble into India’s territory.  India’s protests fell on deaf ears and this is despite India recognizing the One China Policy. India stopped mentioning the policy since 2010 in its public announcements and publications, however, without repealing it. Taking undue advantage of this China pays little concern to Indian sentiments. This view in India, to challenge China’s One China Policy, has been strengthened by aggressive diplomatic postures of China as well as its regular incursions along the disputed border while continuing to support Islamabad on all fronts – overtly and covertly, encircling India. 

The government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi refused to give in to the bullying attempts by China by allowing the Army to go ahead with offensive countermeasures against Chinese incursions in 2017 as well as in 2020, in addition to taking measures including banning dozens of Chinese mobile applications. It has also started actively taking part in initiatives like Quadrilateral Dialogue as well as strengthening relations with ASEAN states. However, a dominant section within the strategic community in India feel that these measures are not enough to knock China into its senses. 

Challenging the One China Policy 

The most significant among the measures suggested in this regard has been to review India’s adherence to the One China policy. In an atmosphere where China does not recognize the One India policy comprising of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh as Indian territories, experts argue the need of reciprocity. Initiatives such as providing greater global visibility and access for Tibetans including the 14th Dalai Lama, using Buddhist history and traditions as a trump card since New Delhi has the advantage of having the Dalai Lama on its side, provides legitimacy for India unlike China. India can facilitate the appointment of the next Dalai Lama and extend protection for the existing and the next Dalai Lama. The repeal of the recognition for Chinese occupation of Tibet can also send major tremors in Beijing but that seems to be a distant dream. The new democratic Tibetan government under President Penpa Tsering should be given greater official acknowledgment and publicity. India has already taken small steps in this regard by acknowledging the involvement of the elite Special Frontier Force (SFF), majorly comprising of exiled Tibetans, in a game changing operation to shift the balance against China during the recent border crisis. The funeral of an SFF commando attended by a Member of Parliament and leader from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Ram Madhav was an overt signaling to China that Indians are not refraining from openly recognizing Tibetan contributions to the state of India. Another sensitive issue for China is the Xinjiang’s Uyghur Muslims being allegedly tortured and deprived of their basic human rights in the ‘re-education camps’ by the CPC and a state sponsored genocide being carried out against them. India can take up the issue vigorously at international forums with like-minded countries, increasing the pressure on China. Similarly, the pro-democracy voices in Hong Kong, pro-Mongol movements such as the protest against Mandarin imposition in the school curriculum of Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, can also be encouraged or given moral support. India, a country which upholds its virtue of unity in diversity must take a strong stand against the ‘cultural assimilation’ or ‘liberation’ as the Chinese say. This is nothing but cultural destruction imposed by China using the rhetoric of ‘not being civilised’ and branding the non-Han population as barbaric in China and the regions it illegally occupies.

India can also stir the hornet’s nest by engaging more formally with the Taiwanese leadership. Taipei has always been approached by New Delhi keeping in mind the sensitivities of China in mind. However, it does not have to do so for a power that bullies both the nations with constant threats and provocations by its action. It is a well-known fact that Taiwan is a center of excellence in terms of the semi-conductor industry and high-end technology. Engaging more with Taiwan will not only hurt Beijing, but also will help India counter the strategic advantage possessed by China in terms of being the major exporters of electronic goods and telecommunication hardware to India. India can also attain more self-sufficiency by boosting its own electronics industry using the Taiwanese semiconductor bases. India can use this leverage to shed its overdependence on China in critical sectors, balance the trade deficit to some extent, while also securing its networks from Chinese intelligence. India must also focus on working with the states having stake in the South China Sea such as Philippines and Malaysia who regularly face aggression in their airspace and Exclusive Economic Zones from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces and China’s maritime militia, questioning their territorial sovereignty, imposing the One China Policy. New Delhi must pressurize China by working with the western nations, whose legislators have openly declared support for the Tibetan President in exile, to question China’s occupation of Tibet and attempts at homogenizing the population. Long term measures and strategies will have to be sought to end the dependence on China while seeking alternatives and becoming self-reliant over time. 

However, India will face several serious challenges to implement the above-mentioned measures. There is a deep lack of mutual trust among major powers like USA, UK, France and Russia through whom India can build a coalition. The American President Joe Biden is seemingly interested in partly co-operating with China and has a softer stance unlike the former President Trump. Nevertheless, the QUAD is a welcome step in this regard and India must undertake a greater role in pressurizing China through such forums, albeit not openly. India also has a serious issue of possibly having to incur heavy economic losses on having to limit Chinese goods and investments and finding similarly cheap and easy alternatives. These fault lines are exactly what is being exploited by China to its advantage. Thus, the Indian state and its diplomacy has the heavy task of working between all these hurdles and taking China to task. However, since China seems remotely interested in settling the border disputes like it did with its post-Soviet neighbours in the previous decades and instead gauge pressure against India. So, New Delhi will have to pull up its sleeves to pay back China in the same coin.  

The views expressed are solely of the author.

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East Asia

Who would bell the China cat?

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If the G-7 and NATO china-bashing statements are any guide, the world is in for another long interregnum of the Cold War (since demise of the Soviet Union). The G-7 leaders called upon China to “respect human rights in its Xinjiang region” and “allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy” and “refrain from any unilateral action that could destabilize the East and South China Seas”, besides maintaining “peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits”.

China’s tit-for-tat response

The Chinese mission to the European Union called upon the NATO not to exaggerate the “China threat theory”

Bitter truths

Amid the pandemic, still raging, the world is weary of resuscitating Cold War era entente. Even the G-7 members, Canada and the UK appear to be lukewarm in supporting the US wish to plunge the world into another Cold War. Even the American mothers themselves are in no mood to welcome more coffins in future wars. Importance of the G-7 has been whittled down by G-20. 

Presumptions about the China’s cataclysmic rise are unfounded. Still, China is nowhere the US gross National Product. China’s military budget is still the second largest after the US. It is still less than a third of Washington’s budget to be increased by 6.8 per cent in 2021.

India’s role

India claims to be a natural ally of the G-7 in terms of democratic “values”. But the US based Freedom House has rated India “partly free because of its dismal record in persecution of minorities. Weakened by electoral setbacks in West Bengal, the Modi government has given a free hand to religious extremists. For instance, two bigots, Suraj Pal Amu and Narsinghanand Saraswati have been making blasphemous statements against Islam at press conferences and public gatherings.

India’s main problem

Modi government’s mismanagement resulted in shortage of vaccine and retroviral drugs. The healthcare system collapsed under the mounting burden of fatalities.  

Media and research institutions are skeptical of the accuracy of the death toll reported by Indian government.

The New York Times dated June 13, 2021 reported (Tracking Corona virus in India: Latest Map and case Count) “The official COVID-19 figures in India grossly under-estimate the true scale of the pandemic in the country”. The Frontline dated June 4, 2021 reported “What is clear in all these desperate attempts is the reality that the official numbers have utterly lost their credibility in the face of the biggest human disaster in independent India (V. Sridhar, India’s gigantic death toll due to COVID-19 is  thrice  the official numbers”, The frontline, June 4, 2021). It adds “More than 6.5 lakh Indians, not the 2.25 lakh reported officially are estimated to have died so far and at best a million more are expected to die by September 2021. The Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that actual Indian casualties may be 0.654 million (6.54 lakh), not the official count of 0.221 million (2.21 lakh as on May 6 when the report was released. That is a whopping three times the official numbers, an indicator of the extent of under-reporting”.

Epidemiologist Dr. Feigl-ding told India Today TV on April, 16, 2021 that “actual number of COVID-19 cases in India can be five or six times higher than the tally right now” (“Actual COVID-19 cases in India may be 5 to 10 times higher, says epidemiologist. India Today TV April 16, 2021).

Concluding remarks

India’s animosity against China is actuated by expediency. There is no chance of a full-blown war between China and India as the two countries have agreed not to use firepower in border skirmishes, if any. Modi himself told the All-party conference that not an inch of Indian territory has been ceded to China. In May this year, the Army Chief General M M. Naravane noted in an interview: “There has been no transgression of any kind and the process of talks is continuing.”

It is not China but the Quad that is disturbing unrest in China’s waters.

History tells the USA can sacrifice interests of its allies at the altar of self interest. India sank billions of dollars in developing the Chabahar Port. But, India had to abandon it as the US has imposed sanctions on Iran.

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East Asia

Xinjiang? A Minority Haven Or Hell

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While the G7 meets under the shadow of Covid 19 and the leaders of the most prosperous nations on earth are focused on rebuilding their economies, a bloodless pogrom is being inflicted on a group of people on the other side of the world.

In this new era, killing people is wasteful and could bring the economic wrath of the rest of the world.  No, it is better to brainwash them, to re-educate them, to destroy their culture, to force them to mold themselves into the alien beings who have invaded their land in the name of progress, and who take the best new jobs that sprout with economic development.  Any protest at these injustices are treated severely.

Amnesty International has published a new 160-page report this week on Xinjiang detailing the horrors being perpetrated on Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.  Amnesty has simultaneously announced a campaign on their behalf.

Persecution, mass imprisonment in what can best be described as concentration camps, intensive interrogation and torture are actions that come under the definition of ‘crimes against humanity’.  More than 50 people who spent time in these camps contributed first-hand accounts that form the substance of the report.  It is not easy reading for these people have themselves suffered maltreatment even torture in many instances.

The UN has claimed that 1.5 million Muslims (Uighurs, Kazakhs, Uzbeks and Tajiks) are in these internment camps and China’s claims of re-education camps made to sound as benign as college campuses are patently false.

People report being interviewed in police stations and then transferred to the camps.  Their interrogation was frequently conducted on ‘tiger chairs’:   The interviewee is strapped to a metal chair with leg irons and hands cuffed in such a manner that the seating position soon becomes exceedingly painful.  Some victims were hooded; some left that way for 24 hours or more, and thus were forced to relieve themselves, even defecate, where they sat.  Beatings and sleep deprivation were also common.

Activities were closely monitored and they were mostly forbidden to speak to other internees including cell mates.  Trivial errors such as responding to guards or other officials in their native language instead of Mandarin Chinese resulted in punishment.

Amnesty’s sources reported the routine was relentless.  Wake up at 5am.  Make bed — it had to be perfect.  A flag-raising and oath-taking ceremony before breakfast at 7 am.  Then to the classroom.  Back to the canteen for lunch.  More classes after.  Then dinner.  Then more classes before bed.  At night two people had to be on duty for two hours monitoring the others leaving people exhausted.  You never see sunlight while you are there, they said.  That was because they were never taken outside as is done in most prisons.

The re-education requires them to disavow Islam, stop using their native language, give up cultural practices, and become Mandarin-speaking ‘Chinese’.

Such are the freedoms in Xi Jinping’s China.  If China’s other leaders prior to Mr. Xi effected moderate policies in concert with advisers, it is no longer the case.  Mr. Xi works with a small group of like minds.  He has also removed the two-term or eight-year limit on being president.  President for life as some leaders like to call themselves, then why not Mr. Xi.  His anti-democratic values make him eminently qualified. 

An enlightened leader might have used the colorful culture of these minorities to attract tourists and show them the diversity of China.  Not Mr. Xi, who would rather have everyone march in lockstep to a colorless utopia reminiscent of the grey clothing and closed-collar jackets of the Maoist era. 

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