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China condemns G7 interference in South China Sea

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After a prolonged conflict between Russia-G7 (the Group of Seven advanced economies) remaining without any solution so far, now China and G7 are gearing up for a serious conflict which, if not controlled by the big powers, could escalate into a another cold war situation. America’s Asia pivot targeting China (and Russia) and China’s recent military action on South China Sea (SCS) have now placed G7 and China in a conflictual situation. The G-7 grouping comprises Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States. The EU is also represented in the club.

The 42nd G7 advanced economies’ summit, held on May 26–27, 2016 at the Shima Kanko Hotel in Kashiko Island, Shima, Mie Prefecture in central Japan, criticized and even warned against military operations on SCS. Russia is not a part of G7 as USA abandoned the G8 in March 2014 that included Russia and reverted back to G7. The G7 had then declared that a meaningful discussion was not possible with Russia in the context of the G8. Since then, meetings have continued within the G7 process, denying Russia a place on this important international forum of advanced economies.

Leaders of the G7 said they were concerned by the situation in the East China and South China Sea. They reiterated their commitment to maintaining a rules-based maritime order, according to international law, and urged the settlement of disputes by peaceful means, including judicial procedures such as arbitration. At the close of their formal session in Ise-Shima, G7 leaders fired a broadside across China’s bows over its behavior in the region, without mentioning Beijing by name. The foreign ministers had urged all states to refrain from such actions as land reclamations and “building of outposts on South China Sea for military purposes”. The G-7 leaders had stressed the importance of peaceful management and settlement of disputes through peaceful means.

Though the communiqué, issued at the end of the two-day summit on May 27, the G-7 did not mention China by name, but it is apparent the G7 is targeting only China. The G-7 leaders also condemned “in the strongest terms” North Korea’s fourth nuclear test in January and its subsequent launches using ballistic missile technology. These acts pose a grave threat to regional and international peace and security, they said, adding that they also deplored human rights violations in North Korea. On terrorism, the G-7 leaders said they will continue to work together to prevent the flow of foreign terrorist fighters and terrorism-related materials and equipment, as well as to counter terrorism financing. And, on the migrant crisis gripping Europe, the G-7 “encourages the temporary admission of refugees and establishment of resettlement schemes, to alleviate pressure on countries hosting the largest numbers of refugees”.

The G7 demanded that North Korea fully comply with UN Security Council resolutions and halt nuclear tests, missile launches and other provocative actions. The group condemned Russia’s “illegal annexation” of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. The declaration threatened further restrictive measures to raise the costs on Moscow but said sanctions could be rolled back if Russia implemented previous agreements and respected Ukraine’s sovereignty.

The G7 expressed concern over the East and South China Seas, where China has been taking more assertive action amid territorial disputes with Japan and several Southeast Asian nations. The G7 reiterated its commitment to the peaceful settlement of maritime disputes and to respecting the freedom of navigation and overflight. The group called for countries to refrain from “unilateral actions which could increase tensions” and “to settle disputes by peaceful means”.

Meanwhile, the refugee crisis gripping Europe is a problem that the whole world must deal with, G7 leaders said, as it called for beefed-up efforts to tackle the root causes of mass migration. The G7 also called large-scale immigration and migration a major challenge and vowed to increase global aid for the immediate and long-term needs of refugees and displaced people.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde and World Bank head Jim Yong Kim, the heads of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Asian Development Bank also attended the summit.

G7 summit focus on global growth

The Group of 7 industrial powers pledged on May 27 to seek strong global growth, while papering over differences on currencies and stimulus policies and expressing concern over North Korea, Russia and maritime disputes involving China. G7 leaders wrapped up a summit in central Japan vowing to use “all policy tools” to boost demand and ease supply constraints. G7 said, in a 32-page declaration, global growth remains moderate and below potential, while risks of weak growth persists.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that global growth is their urgent priority, talking up what he calls parallels to the global financial crisis that followed the 2008 Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, said the G7 shares a strong sense of crisis about the global outlook. The most worrisome risk is a contraction of the global economy, led by a slowdown in emerging economies. Abe has stressed the need for flexible fiscal policy to sustain economic recovery, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been sceptical about public spending to boost growth. The G7 called global industrial overcapacity, especially in steel, a pressing structural challenge with global implications.

Abe told a news conference after chairing the two-day summit that there is a risk of the global economy falling into crisis if appropriate policy responses are not made. In the broad-ranging, the G7 committed to market-based exchange rates and to avoiding competitive devaluation of their currencies, while warning against wild exchange-rate moves. This represents a compromise between the positions of Japan, which has threatened to intervene to block sharp yen rises, and the United States, which generally opposes market intervention.

The G7 encourages international financial institutions and bilateral donors to bolster their financial and technical assistance. It said that a resolution to Syria’s civil war was crucial to plugging the flow of desperate people fleeing across borders. “The G7 recalls that only sustainable political settlements within countries of origin, including Syria, will bring lasting solutions to the problem of forced displacement, including refugees,” the communiqué said.

Large movements of people are a multi-faceted phenomenon, which requires addressing its root causes resulting from conflicts, state fragility and insecurity, demographic, economic and environmental trends as well as natural disasters. The statement came a day after European Council President Donald Tusk warned that the crisis was not just Europe’s problem.

Later, leaders from ‘advanced democracies’ met on Friday with representatives of emerging and developing countries in Asia and Africa. The so-called outreach program involves Chad, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam and Laos. G7 host Japan said ahead of the meeting that it would zero in on Asia’s stability and prosperity including “open and stable seas” as well as United Nations sustainable development goals, with a focus on Africa.

The leaders pledged to tackle a global glut in steel, though their statement did not single out China, which produces half of the world’s steel and is blamed by many countries for flooding markets with cheap steel.

The G7 vowed a more forceful and balanced policy mix to achieve a strong, sustainable and balanced growth pattern, taking each country’s circumstances into account, while continuing efforts to put public debt on a sustainable path.

South China Sea

From economic issues, the G7 turned to a topically favourite theme of Chinese ‘interference’ in South China Sea and it appeared the issue got prominence in discussions than expected. Beijing has reiterated that it wants to protect itself from any possible US menace to protect its navigational rights on South China Sea.   China is extremely dissatisfied with what Japan and the G7 have done.

The G7 statement angered China and led to Beijing summoning top envoys from the G-7 nations. Beijing lays claim to almost all of the South China Sea, and is now embroiled in a territorial dispute with Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines over conflicting claims to territory in the waterway. Japan and China are involved in a separate dispute in the East China Sea. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said this G-7 summit organised by Japan’s hyping up of the South China Sea issue and exaggeration of tensions is not beneficial to stability in the South China Sea.

China was not pleased with the G7 stance. “This G7 summit organised by Japan’s hyping up of the South China Sea issue and exaggeration of tensions is not beneficial to stability in the South China Sea and does accord with the G7’s position as a platform for managing the economies of developed nations,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in Beijing. A ruling is expected soon on China’s claims to the South China Sea in a case that the Philippines had brought to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. Beijing has lashed out at the tribunal for “abuse of power”, and said it will ignore its decision.

China’s foreign minister fired a pre-emptive shot at G7 leaders gathering in Japan, warning them not to “escalate tensions” over territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas. Last month, foreign ministers from the G7 angered Beijing by issuing a thinly veiled statement critical of its “island building” activities in the South China Sea over recent years. The issue is expected to be raised again as G7 heads of state and prime ministers begin two days of discussions in Ise-Shima. “We hope the G7 will focus on urgent economic and financial matters,” Wang Yi said at a briefing in Beijing. “We do not want to see actions that escalate tensions in the region.”

Beijing is locked in a dispute with G7 host Japan over rocky outcroppings in the East China Sea, stoking broader concerns about Beijing’s growing regional might and threats to back up its claims with force, if necessary. China, for its part is engaged in a furious diplomatic charm offensive among developing countries, offering aid and trade in what critics see as a naked bid to rally international support to its cause. The roster of countries Beijing claims back its position on the South China Sea includes Mauritania, Togo and land-locked Niger.

Washington is not a claimant in any of the disputes but has accused Beijing of militarizing the contested waters of the South China Sea. Vietnam and the Philippines are engaged in a number of territorial disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea, where the Chinese military has recently completed airstrips and other infrastructure on contested reefs and islets. Manila has successfully rallied international support through its decision to challenge China’s actions in a tribunal at The Hague — an international legal challenge that Beijing has refused to recognize.

John Kerry, US secretary of state, said the lifting of the Vietnam arms embargo was not aimed at China, despite an increasing number of close encounters between the two countries’ militaries. Even UK PM David Cameron, wants to be now China’s “best friend” in the west, urged Beijing to be part of a “rules-based world” and “abide by these adjudications”. The Pentagon recently complained that People’s Liberation Army jet fighters conducted a dangerously close intercept of a US spy aircraft. Chinese state media reported that USA and Japanese naval vessels had kept a close eye on PLA Navy exercises in the western Pacific.

Meanwhile, reports say in September Beijing will host Obama, Cameron and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a G20 meeting of developed and developing economies in Hangzhou, where Wan will make clear that his government would not tolerate a debate over regional territorial disputes. China say the G20’s central task is to promote growth and not dispute resolutions.

China fears that Japan and the US will use the G7 meeting to further isolate Beijing over its increasingly assertive posture in the region. The two countries are also leading members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a potential trading bloc that has pointedly excluded China from joining as an inaugural member. The reference to maritime issues comes as tensions build over Beijing’s claims to almost the entire South China Sea, a strategic body of water that encompasses key global shipping lanes. China’s maritime claims and ongoing militarization of islets and outcrops have angered some of its Southeast Asian neighbours, including the Philippines and Vietnam.

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East Asia

China’s Imprint underneath the Pyongyang Joint Declaration

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On September 18, the leaders of two Koreas met each other in Pyongyang, the capital of the DPRK. The world media focused on the meeting during which the two sides issued the “Pyongyang Joint Declaration”. If we see the Panmunjom Declaration serving as the cornerstone of the dialogue between two Korea, it is necessary to say that this joint declaration took a substantial step to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula that is vital to the regional peace and beyond.

Literally speaking, the Pyongyang joint declaration highlighted the key issues as follows. First, both sides are determined to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Second, they will work together to improve their relations with a view to the existing state of war, as the defense chiefs from the DPRK and ROK earlier signed a comprehensive agreement aiming to reduce tensions on the peninsula. Third, they will promote the peace talk process of the Korean peninsula. Given that Kim pledged to work toward the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”, it would be seen as a political declaration that would mark a starting point for peace negotiations. If all goes well, a peace treaty would be sealed and then comes normalization of DPRK-US relations after it achieves complete denuclearization.

As a close neighbor to the Korean Peninsula, China always supports the DPRK and ROK as well in improving their relations through dialogue and consultation and promoting reconciliation and cooperation. This is the consistent and persistent position of Beijing, which has been playing a responsible role in politically resolving the Korean Peninsula issue and achieving the long-standing peace of the region.

In effect, prior to the leaders of two Korea met each other this week in Pyongyang, they have closely contacted their respective allies or strategic partners. Among them is China, dealing with both sides – Pyongyang and Seoul – in a unique way. It is true that China is the largest trading partner of the ROK while it is equally the only legal ally of the DPRK as well as its largest ideological partner now. If we review the bilateral relations between China and North Korea since last March, Kim Jr. has paid three significant, though unofficial, visits to President Xi of China. For example, during his March 25-28 visit, both sides vowed to continue their traditional solidarity in terms of their shared ideologies and common strategic interests. Xi especially proposed to strengthen the close ties between the two ruling parties. As he said to Kim, “party-to-party and state-to-state relations are the common treasure to both sides. And safeguarding, consolidating and developing China – DPRK relations are unswerving guidelines for China’s foreign policy and security strategy.

During his second meeting with Xi in Dalian summer resort, Kim vowed to terminate all the nuclear tests and to follow denuclearization if the United States took corresponding measures with good wishes. Then following his meeting with Trump in Singapore on June 12, Kim came to Beijing again on 19 to meet his Chinese counterpart. Xi confirmed China’s “3-no change” policy towards the DPRK, that is, political solidarity between the two parties remains unchanged, the friendship between the two peoples remains unchanged, and China’s support of a socialist Korea remains unchanged. Essentially, they serve as the foundation of the strategic consensus between Beijing and Pyongyang. In return, Kim reiterated his permanent shutdown of all nuclear tests and facilities if the US would respond sincerely and responsibly.

Given all the analysis above, it is understandable to conclude that China’s long-standing adherence to the goal of denuclearization of the Peninsula through dialogue and consultation is fully reflected in the Pyongyang Declaration. Meanwhile, China’s stance remains evident since it claims that the Korean issue must be resolved eventually by the Korean people rather than any external power. Therefore, peace not force is the only acceptable way. Also, as China and Russia have repeated that no coercive change of the regime by outside power is tolerated, North Korea can be confident and comfortable to proceed the permanent shutdown of the missile engine test site with international experts observing; and then a complete denuclearization is not too far in the future.

Here is necessary to argue that China has never claimed to play an exclusive role in the Korean Peninsula. Instead of that, China has always encouraged the DPRK to talk to the United States and other relevant parties. Since Kim has agreed to make a trip to Seoul for further talks and to meet the US high-ranking officials in Pyongyang soon, the summit between Kim and Moon marks a leap forward toward peace.

Yet, as the lessons in history show, it is better to approach realistically the Korean issue simply because it has involved too complicated concerns and memories and the overlapped interests. Therefore, we should be ready to accept trial and challenges lying ahead. China has insisted on diplomacy which means that all parties concerned should be brought to the negotiating table under the mandate of the UN Security Council.

Now, Beijing has navigated the course of denuclearization proactively to protect two sides’ common core security stakes when Kim reportedly promised to give up his nuclear program if the United States and South Korea respond to his proposal with good will. Due to this reason, China will do what it can to help ensure “no change of regime by force and denuclearization at the same time in the Korean Peninsula”. This is China’s influence or Beijing’s imprint on the Korean denuclearization issue and the regional peace.

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Middle Eastern Black Swans dot China’s Belt and Road

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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If any one part of the world has forced China to throw its long-standing foreign and defense policy principles out the window and increasingly adopt attitudes associated with a global power, it is the greater Middle East, a region that stretches from the Atlantic coast of Africa to north-western China, a swath of land populated by the Arab, Turkic and Persian worlds.

It was a series of incidents in 2011 during the popular Arab revolts that drove home the fact that China would not be able to protect with its existing foreign and defence policy kit its mushrooming Diaspora and exponentially expanding foreign investments that within a matter of a few years would be grouped as the infrastructure and connectivity-driven Belt and Road initiative linking the Eurasian landmass to the People’s Republic.

Policy principles of non-interference in the domestic affairs of others, an economically-driven win-win approach as a sort of magic wand for problem solution, and no foreign military interventions or bases needed reinterpretation if not being dumped on the dustbin of history.

The incidents included China’s approach to the revolt in Libya as it was happening when it deviated from its policy of non-interference by establishing parallel relations with the opposition National Council. The outreach to Libyan leader Col. Moammar Qadhafi’s opponents did not save it from being identified with the ancien regime once the opposition gained power. On the contrary, the Council made clear that China would be low on the totem pole because of its past support for the Qadhafi regime.

The price for supporting autocratic rule in the greater Middle East meant that overseas Chinese nationals and assets became potential targets. To ensure the safety and security of its nationals in Libya, China was forced to evacuate 35,000 people, its most major foreign rescue operation. The evacuation was the first of similar operations in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

The evacuations didn’t stop militants in Egypt’s Sinai from kidnapping 25 Chinese nationals and radicals in South Sudan from taking several Chinese hostages. The kidnappings sparked significant criticism on Chinese social media of the government’s seeming inability to protects its nationals and investments.

With Uyghurs from China’s strategic north-western province of Xinjiang joining militant jihadists in Syria and two Uyghur knife attacks in Xinjiang itself in the cities of Hotam and Kashgar, the limits of China’s traditional foreign and defense policy meshed with its increasingly repressive domestic approach towards the ethnic Turkic people.

Finally, the greater Middle East’s expectations were driven home in a brutal encounter between Arab businessmen and ethnic Chinese scholars and former officials in which the Arabs took the Chinese to task for wanting to benefit from Middle Eastern resources and trade relations without taking on political and geopolitical responsibilities they associated with a rising superpower.

Add to all of this that in subsequent years it was becoming increasingly difficult for China to remain on the sidelines of the Middle East’s multiple conflicts and rivalries. This was particularly true with President Donald J. Trump’s coming to office. The greater Middle East’s problems escalated with Mr. Trump’s abandonment of any pretence of impartiality in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; his heating up of the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran by withdrawing from the 2015 international agreement curbing Iran’s nuclear program; and his toying with attempting to change the regime in Tehran that encouraged Saudi Arabia to step up Saudi support for Pakistani militants in the province of Baluchistan; the likely return of Uyghur jihadists in Syria to Central and South Asia that has prompted the establishment of Chinese military outposts in Tajikistan and Afghanistan and consideration of direct military intervention in a possible Syrian-Russian assault on Idlib, the last rebel-held stronghold in Syria; and finally the potential fallout of China’s brutal crackdown in Xinjiang.

Already, the events in 2011 and since coupled with the mushrooming of Belt and Road-related investments has led to the creation of the country’s first foreign military base in Djibouti and the likely establishment of similar facilities in its string of pearls, the network of ports in the Indian Ocean and beyond.

China’s potential policy dilemmas in the greater Middle East were enhanced by the fact that it doesn’t really have a Middle East policy that goes beyond its shaky, traditional foreign and defence policy principles and economics. That was evident when China in January 2016 on the eve of President Xi Jinping’s visit to the Middle East, the first by a Chinese head of state in seven years, issued its first Middle East-related policy white paper that fundamentally contained no new thinking and amounted to a reiteration of a win-win-based approach to the region.

Moreover, with China dependent on the US security umbrella in the Gulf, Beijing sees itself as competitively cooperating with the United States in the Middle East. That is true despite the US-Chinese trade war; differences over the Iranian nuclear agreement which the United States has abandoned and China wants to salvage; and Mr. Trump’s partisan Middle East policy.

China shares with the United States in general and even more so with the Trump administration a fundamental policy principle: stability rather than equitable political reform. China’s principle of non-interference is little more than another label for the US equivalent of long-standing support of autocracy in the Middle East in a bid to maintain stability.

In some ways China is learning the lesson, despite recent developments in Xinjiang, that US President George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice, his national security advisor and subsequent secretary of state, learnt on 9/11. Within a matter of weeks after the Al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, Bush and Rice suggested that the United States was co-responsible for the attacks because of its support for autocracy that had fuelled anti-American and anti-Western sentiment. It was why Bush launched his ill-conceived democracy initiative.

China, as a result of its political, economic and commercial approach towards the Belt and Road, is starting to have a similar experience. Chinese overseas outposts and assets have become targets, particularly in Pakistan but also in Central Asia.

The kidnappings in 2011 in the Sinai and South Sudan were the beginning. Uyghurs joined groups like the Islamic State and Al Qaeda not because they were pan-Islamist jihadists but because they wanted to get experience they could later apply in militant struggle against the Chinese.

Beyond profiling themselves in fighting in Syria, Uyghurs have trained with Malhama Tactical, a jihadist for profit Blackwater, the private military company created by Erik Prince.

Anti-Chinese sentiment in countries like Kazakhstan and Tajikistan is on the rise.

Iranians are grateful for Chinese support not only in the current battle over the nuclear accord but also in the previous round of international and US sanctions. They feel however that last time round they were taken for a ride in terms of high Chinese interest rates for project finance, the quality of goods delivered, and a perceived Chinese laxity in adhering to deadlines.

Resentment of the fallout of the Belt and Road investment taps into the broader threat involved in supporting stability by backing autocratic regimes That is nowhere truer than in the greater Middle East, a region that is in a period of volatile, often bloody and brutal transition. It’s a transition that started with the 2011 Arab revolts and has been pro-longed by a powerful Saudi-United Arab Emirates-led counterrevolution. Transitions take anywhere from a quarter to half a century. In other words, the Middle East is just at the beginning.

China, like the United States did for decades, ignores the rumblings just below the surface even if the global trend is toward more authoritarian, more autocratic rule. 9/11 was the result of the United States and the West failing to put their ear to the ground and to take note of those rumblings.

Of course, current rumblings may never explode. But the lesson of the people’s power movement in the Philippines in 1986, the video in late 2010 of a fruit and vegetable vendor in Tunisia who set himself alight that sparked the Arab revolts, months of street and online protests in Morocco in the last year, the mass protests in Jordan earlier this year against a draft tax bill that have now restarted because of the legislation’s resurrection, and the current protests in the Iraqi city of Basra potentially are the writing on the wall.  All it takes is a black swan.

Said Financial Times columnist Jamil Anderlini:” China is at risk of inadvertently embarking on its own colonial adventure in Pakistan— the biggest recipient of BRI investment and once the East India Company’s old stamping ground… Pakistan is now virtually a client state of China. Many within the country worry openly that its reliance on Beijing is already turning it into a colony of its huge neighbour. The risks that the relationship could turn problematic are greatly increased by Beijing’s ignorance of how China is perceived abroad and its reluctance to study history through a non-ideological lens… It is easy to envisage a scenario in which militant attacks on Chinese projects overwhelm the Pakistani military and China decides to openly deploy the People’s Liberation Army to protect its people and assets. That is how ‘win-win’ investment projects can quickly become the foundations of empire.”

The Chinese crackdown in Xinjiang could just be a black swan on multiple fronts given the fact that its fallout is felt far beyond China’s borders. For starters, the wall of Western and Muslim silence is cracking with potentially serious consequences for China as well as the Islamic world.

What is happening in Xinjiang is fundamentally different from past incidents including protests against a novel by Salman Rushdie and Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa ordering his killing; the 2006 Muslim boycott of Danish products because of controversial Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, and the more recent protests sparked by the burning of a Qur’an by a Florida evangelist. The Chinese campaign in Xinjiang challenges fundamentals of the Islamic faith itself.

The earlier incidents were sparked by protests, primarily among South Asians in either Birmingham or Pakistan. This month has seen the first of Xinjiang-related anti-Chinese protests in Bangladesh and India. The first critical article on Xinjiang in the Pakistani press was published this week.

Malaysia is the first Muslim country to speak out with condemnations by a senior figure in Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s political party as well as the country’s likely next head of government, Anwar Ibrahim.

Consideration in Washington of Xinjiang-related sanctions by the Trump administration, coupled with United Nations reporting on the crackdown and a German and Swedish ban on deportations of Uyghurs, puts the issue on the map and increases pressure on Muslim nations, particularly those like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan that claim to speak on behalf of Islam.

This together with the fact that Chinese support for autocratic or authoritarian rule creates a potential opportunity to export its model of the surveillance state, the most extreme example of which is on display in Xinjiang, constitutes risks and involves potential black swans. To be sure, Pakistan can hardly be described as a liberal society, but it is also not exactly an authoritarian state, yet Pakistan is China’s first export target. And others closer to home could follow.

If all of this is more than enough to digest, factor in the geopolitics of Eurasia, certainly as they relate to the greater Middle East. The Chinese-backed Russian-Iranian-Turkish alliance is brittle at best, witness differences over the possible battle for Idlib and the post-war presence of Iran in Syria.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Iran, and to a lesser degree Israel are players in what is a 21st century Great Game. That is particularly true in the Caucasus and Central Asia as well as Pakistan and as it relates to port diplomacy in Pakistan’s Gwadar and the Indian-backed Iranian port of Chabahar.

Add to this the fact that if Saudi Arabia is the world’s swing oil producer, Iran is Eurasia’s swing gas producer with the potential to co-shape the supercontinent’s future energy architecture.

And finally, there are multiple ways that China risks being sucked into the Saudi-Iranian rivalry not least if the United States and Saudi Arabia decide to take plans off the drawing board and initiate a campaign to destabilize Iran by stirring unrest among its Baloch, Kurdish, Iranian Arab and Azeri minorities.

The long and short of this is that the Great Game in Eurasia remains largely undecided and that change in China’s foreign and defense policy is already a fact. The question is how all of this will affect China and how potential obstacles on the Belt and Road will play out.

Edited remarks at the RSIS Book Launch of China and the Middle East; Venturing into the Maelstrom (Palgrave 2018), 20 September 2018

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A de facto alliance exists between China and Russia

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From mid-August to September 15, 2018, Chinese troops went to Russia to participate in the “Vostok-2018” strategic military exercise, which was the largest strategic exercise organized by the Russian military since the 1980s. It was also the first time that China had sent such a large group of troops to attend a military exercise outside its territory. Since China and Russia have been the comprehensive strategic partners of coordination, it is supposed that the two Eurasian powers have in effect forged the allies in all terms. According to classical balance of power theory, states forms alliances in order to prevent stronger powers from dominating them. This is precisely the root cause of Beijing and Moscow having decided to move forward since the collapse of the Soviet Union toward the current strong ties.

Over the past decades, some have argued that either China or Russia, ostensibly avoiding challenging the United States, might be cautious to advance their overall strategic ties to a real military level, yet the “Vostok-2018” drill has proved that a de facto alliance between the two powers comes out of age. It is self-evident that China and Russia vowed to further deepen military ties and improve their troops’ combat abilities to respond to various security threats, as they formally concluded the “Vostok-2018” strategic drills with a military parade at the Tsugol training range in Russia’s Trans-Baikal region. President Putin praised Russian and Chinese troops who participated in high-level drills in which they demonstrated their capability to counter potential military threats.

To the realist scholars, like Kissinger, Kenna, Walt and Mearsheimer, they believe that China and the former USSR and now Russia are doomed to compete with each other in light of their geographical vicinity and the lack of mutual trust resulted from the pursuit of greatness and historical memories. Kissinger even argued that neither country will entrust the security of these borders to the continued goodwill of the other, whatever its current irritation with an allegedly hegemonic United States. Yet, the Fourth East Economic Forum held in September 13 in Vladivostok witnessed the leaders of the two countries vowed to promote their bilateral relations to a new stage in a new era, especially regarding investment, e-commerce and people-to- people exchanges in the Far East region and beyond.

China and Russia have come to so close and coordinated strategically due to primarily the hegemonic policy and conduct of Washington. For example, in 2017 U.S. National Security Paper defined China and Russia as the strategic rivals. Also the NATO headed by the US has pushed Russia to its defined red-line; and the US have tried to align Japan and India to advance what is termed the Pacific-Indian Ocean strategy that aims to “contain” the rise of China rather than engagement of China. Because of this stark reality, the strategic partnership of Beijing and Moscow has proceeded at a steady and occasionally cautious-like pace. As long as Russia struggles for advancing its legitimate national security and its economic recovery, Xi deems that China and Russia will certainly be able to provide driving forces for mutual security, regional stability and global peace and justice. Equally, China needs Russia’s support in realizing trilateral cooperation between Russia, China and Mongolia, not mention of the advanced weaponry.

In addition, the strategic consensus between China and Moscow come out of their common belief that the U.S. has consistently ignored the U.N. resolution by unilateral launch of wars against Iraq, Libya and Syria. In that context, China and Russia have the consensus to promote multilateralism rather than any single hegemony in the world. The two leaders have reiterated that they are firmly fighting against any sort of unilateralism and protectionism. In terms of the recent trade war between China and the US, China has been well-aware of the urgency to promote economic cooperation with Russia. It is true that the two Eurasian powers have huge potentials which are complementary in view of strategic resources and manufacture capabilities. As close neighbors, they bestow them a strategic depth to coordinate and support each other, including the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative and the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union. During his state visit to China this summer, President Putin stated that deepening Russia-China comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination is the priority of Moscow’s foreign policy. In order to correct the relations between the two powers in terms of “politically warm yet tepid economically, Putin’s Russia also enhances the cooperation with China in such areas as agriculture, energy and infrastructure. For example, trade between the two countries has developed remarkably over the past decade and, as a result, China was Russia’s largest trading partner in eight continuous years up to 2017. The bilateral trade volume reached over 84 billion dollars, representing a 20.8 percent increase year-on-year, and is expected to increase to as high as 100 billion dollars in 2019.

It is clear that this military exercise aims to send a signal to the world that China and Russia will continue their military cooperation and explore new possible ways to boost their combat abilities, which covers a classic anti-invasion campaign and equally shows off the two countries’ sophisticated approach to modern warfare with the ability to conduct surgical style, precision attacks. However, China and Russia have moved their strategic ties to such a historical level due to the personal contributions of President Xi and his counterpart President Putin. As Chinese FM Wang Yi said that the joint efforts by the two leaders have injected new dynamics into the relations between the two countries, and particularly propelled by the personal efforts of Xi and Putin, Sino-Russian comprehensive strategic partnership will probably set an example for building a new type of international relations and developing equality-based and mutually beneficial cooperation between major countries.

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