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Sino-Indian tensions

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China and India- the world’s two most populous nations comprise more than one-third of global humanity. Memories of border battles — the most recent in 1962 — fester, and the 4,000-km frontier, which cuts through disputed territory, remains tense.

They share a border, have fought a bitter war and continue to compete for geopolitical supremacy in the region. Political ambitions and distrust on either side have sometimes been at the cost of better economic sense.

Both have a long and chequered history dating back thousands of years. The two neighbours fought a short border war in 1962 and since then, although much water has flowed down the Yangtze, a sense of mistrust has consistently dogged their bilateral ties. Both are shy of each other.

On the positive side, India has been cooperating with China in many areas. It was one of the first countries to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Besides, India and China are part of the BRICS, along with Brazil, Russia and South Africa. They have also teamed up at global forums on climate change to resist demands from developed nations to agree to binding emission cuts. China and India, however, fear that agreeing to binding emission cuts would force them to jettison their ambitious growth targets.

New Delhi is loath to take on Beijing directly. This is seen in the recent case of India cancelling the visa issued earlier to a Uighur activist, Dolkun Isa, the Executive Committee Chairman of the World Uyghur Congress to attend a conference in India. The granting of the visa to the Uighur activist was seen as New Delhi’s riposte to being snubbed by Beijing on the Masood Azhar issue. t has shown that New Delhi is wary of upsetting Beijing, especially given its enormous clout at international forums as a permanent Security Council member and NSG entry- both China has blocked.

India and China jointly occupy parts of Jammu Kashmir along with Pakistan. India now asks Pakistan to vacate and hand over Azad Kashmir to India but it has not asked China also do the same. The reason is obvious. In fact, it was Pakistan which always demanded Kashmir region from Indian occupied Jammu Kashmir while India refused to budge and in order to retain Kashmir India even fought war with Pakistan, leading to the creation of LOC. India first acquired nukes followed later by Pakistan, further complicating the tensed situation in the region and bilateral relations between India and Pakistan.

A UN veto member China is possibly the largest global economy while as largest South Asian regional economy India tries to somehow catch the distance. Between Beijing and New Delhi, nonstop flights only run three times a week. There is not a single direct flight between two of Asia’s financial capitals, Shanghai and Mumbai. In 2013, 175,000 Chinese went on holiday in India. Thailand, meanwhile, attracted 4.6 million Chinese visitors in 2014.

Tensions

The Indian government recently has expelled three journalists of the Chinese official news agency, Xinhua. This is the first time for New Delhi to expel Chinese journalists that could kick off a diplomatic row between China and India.

India’s military buildup near Chinese border also shows that the situation has become a tinderbox. It has been revealed that the Indian Army has moved over 100 Russian tanks T-72 to Ladakh, a disputed border between Indian occupied state of Kashmir and Tibet under Chinese rule. Both countries are preparing for the worst situation they could face in the midst of deteriorating relations. In addition, Indian Navy has sent three warships to the disputed South China Sea to plan training with Malaysian Navy, showing that there’s nothing strange with seeing any military conflicts between the two countries.

India thinks it should be on the UNSC with veto handle to control the world and is annoyed that China has not supported India’s pitch for permanent membership of the UNSC (United Nations Security Council) and is the only one of the P5 members trying to stymie India’s bid. Sparks flew when in the days leading up to India’s second round of nuclear tests in May 1998, the then Indian defence minister George Fernandes, termed Beijing as India’s “potential enemy No 1” worse than Pakistan or USA.

The stumbling blocks between India and China are hard to budge. China’s historic friendship with Pakistan hasn’t helped, nor has India’s decades-long hosting of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader living in India newly sworn in PM Modi invited to his inauguration in 2014. Then there are other issues too working against any credible ties to which NSG issue has been added last year to sustain the bilateral tensions. India seeks membership of NSG without signing the NPT. USA just pretends as a “terror victim” and strategic partner against terror wars, it promotes Indian interests in nuclear domains.

In recent years there have been attempts to mend and strengthen the relationship through bilateral visits from both heads of state. And while Indian manufacturers, like their counterparts elsewhere, complain about inexpensive Chinese products flooding the market, Indian consumers are lapping up everything from cheap Chinese phones and toys to clothes made in China.

India’s military buildup near Chinese border also shows that the situation has become a tinderbox. It has been revealed that the Indian Army has moved over 100 Russian tanks T-72 to Ladakh, a disputed border between Indian occupied state of Kashmir and Tibet under Chinese rule. Both countries are preparing for the worst situation they could face in the midst of deteriorating relations. In addition, Indian Navy has sent three warships to the disputed South China Sea to plan training with Malaysian Navy, showing that there’s nothing strange with seeing any military conflicts between the two countries.

The Indian government recently has expelled three journalists of the Chinese official news agency, Xinhua. This is the first time for New Delhi to expel Chinese journalists that could kick off a diplomatic row between China and India.

Fruitless effort

Narendra Modi made his first visit to China as Prime Minister of India in May 2014. One of his first stops will be the Wild Goose Pagoda in the central Chinese city of Xi’an, which, legend has it, was originally built to store first Chinese pilgrim to India in 7th Century Xuanzang’s Buddhist treasures from India.

Much before he became India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi was already a self-professed admirer of China. “China and its people have a special place in my heart,” Modi said in 2011 while he was on his fourth visit to the country as the Gujarat chief minister. “I admire their hard working, disciplined and resilient nature and above all, their sense of history.”

So, after he took control of the government in New Delhi last May, Modi wasted little time to try and strengthen ties with Beijing. Within days of taking office, he promptly invited Chinese president Xi Jinping to India. But by the time Xi arrived in September, the tricky nature of the India-China relationship was in full display: The Chinese president conducted a state visit in India while troops from both countries squared off in Ladakh.

Though relations between these two Asian behemoths warmed up in the aftermath of the visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinping to India in September 2014 and the visit of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to China in May 2015, the relations have once again hurtled downhill as they pursue their respective foreign policy agendas. Mutual trips by Indo-China leaders therefore have not been able to improve the tensed relations.

Through the “Maritime Silk Road” initiative, China has been trying to reach out to countries such as Sri Lanka and Maldives, right in India’s immediate neighborhood. Besides, of late, relations between China and Nepal have warmed up, particularly in the aftermath of the visit to Beijing by the Nepalese Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli. Although China has asked India to be part of the Maritime Silk Road, New Delhi is in two minds over whether to join owing to the suspicion of India and other nations. Moreover, China put a “technical hold” over India’s attempts to designate the Jaish-e-Mohammed chief, Maulana Masood Azhar, as a terrorist since New Delhi views him to be the mastermind behind a host of terror attacks in India, with the most recent being the Pathankot terror attacks in early January this year.

China accused Modi of “playing little tricks” over border disputes and security issues, hoping to boost his domestic prestige while increasing his leverage in negotiations with China and went on to criticize the Indian elites’ blind arrogance and confidence in their corrupt democracy, as well as “the inferiority of India’s ordinary people.”

Political economy

China is India’s largest trading partner and like with many other countries, this relationship too is imbalanced. Trade between the two countries has been expanding annually at 15 percent since 2007. The bilateral trade between the two countries stood at $70.4bn last year with India reeling under a huge trade deficit of $52.67bn. Unfortunately for India, so has its trade deficit with China. In the financial year 2016 that ended March 31, India exported a little over $9 billion worth of goods to China, while it imported goods worth $61.7 billion, taking the trade deficit to a whopping $52.7 billion. Therefore trade experts said India’s dependence on China for export oriented growth is limited.

India mainly exports raw materials to China such as cotton and copper and as the Chinese economy rebalances to become more consumer led, there will be a further fall in exports. This is evident from the 2015-2016 figures that show Indian exports to China fell by over 24 percent.. China is a huge market for Ayurvedic and agro products and IT services India is eager to expand there in a big way.

The bilateral trade hovers around $70 billion, less than half the dollar figure of commercial ties between China and Australia. When President Xi visited India last September, the trip was hailed as groundbreaking — the first time a Chinese President had stepped on Indian soil in eight years. Yet Xi’s visit resulted in an underwhelming $20 billion in promised Chinese investment over a five-year period. By contrast, Xi vowed $46 billion in infrastructure spending for ally Pakistan during a trip there last month. As Xi was in India, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army reportedly dispatched hundreds of soldiers past the Line of Actual Control to a remote section of the India-China frontier.

Over the past 13 years, 142 Chinese companies have invested a total of $27 billion in India in sectors such as automotive parts and consumer electronics, according to CII. Top Chinese companies investing in India include Huawei Telecommunications, ZTE, Alibaba and Xiaomi. During the same period, 139 Indian companies have invested $12 billion in China, largely in the software and Information technology (IT) services sector. Many small manufacturers are sourcing products as diverse as firecrackers and religious idols from China. During Indian PM Narendra Modi’s visit to China, 24 agreements worth $22 billion were signed between Indian and Chinese companies to finance and invest in projects across sectors.

Meanwhile, China’s relations with its “all-weather friend” Pakistan are at an all-time high, with Beijing announcing that it will invest $46bn in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which will connect Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang province with the port of Gwadar in Pakistan.

Large Indian firms have traditionally been more interested in looking for mergers and acquisition in the West rather than investing in China. Dependence on China to fund the budget deficit is far more limited compared to some global peers. India’s total external borrowing as of the end of 2015 stood at $480 billion and the share of sovereign debt was just 19 percent with the rest made up of commercial borrowings and nonresident Indian deposits, according to government data.

Tourism is an area of cooperation and many Buddhists from China come to India while visiting the birthplace in neighboring Nepal of Shakyamuni Buddha, the founder of the religion.

American link

The relations between China and India are worsening rapidly as India supports US pivot in Asia against China. Unless the situation changes dramatically, the two countries could even go through armed conflict against each other. It would be no strange thing if this really happens, because they really went through armed conflict due to Sino-Indian border dispute in the early 1960s.

Part of the reason for the growing bonhomie between India and the USA is China’s growing belligerence. India and the USA say they have a common interest in ensuring the safety and security of the sea lanes of communication in the Indo-Pacific region which was reflected in the joint statement released by the two sides during the visit of the US President Barack Obama to India in January last year.

And under Modi, India has slowly, but surely, moved away from its traditional stance of non-alignment to multi-alignment. He has given a vigorous push to India’s “Act-East Policy” which aims at improving India’s ties with its neighbours in Southeast and East Asia. His first visit outside the Indian subcontinent after taking charge was to Japan, which has seen frayed ties with Beijing, of late.

The US-India Joint Statement notes that they “affirm the importance of safe-guarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea.”

Chinese leadership advocates free trade, while US President-elect Donald Trump and his team appear committed to carrying out an economic policy based on protectionism. Trump has repeatedly blamed free trade agreements for damaging the US economy. The US president-elect has announced that he will withdraw from the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Trump and any other country intent on pursuing protectionism against such policies in a speech at the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland. He compared such efforts to attempts to “divert a river into lakes and creeks” and said that it was not possible.

China will be hit the hardest if countries hide behind trade barriers and if globalization is seen as the root cause of all evil. While the shadow of a credit bubble looms large over its economy, China, driven by a low-wage, enormous workforce, has become the global factory for low-cost products which it badly needs to market. It must have noted Donald Trump’s protectionist rhetoric with horror.

Observation

The reason behind such confrontation between the two countries is not complicated. First, their disputed borders are the major cause of tensions between them. They even had a war against each other 50 years ago, but failed to make any progress on the border dispute. Besides, the gap between the positions of China and India over Tibet is wide. While China sees Tibet as one of its local governments, India sees it as a government in exile.

Other reasons such as China’s expanding footprint in Nepal and its ambition to keep Southeast Asia under its control are also driving the bilateral relationship to the gate of armed conflict. Perhaps, the relations between the two countries should pass the crisis in order to find a string of efforts for normalization.

The bilateral relationship cannot be very good unless the border dispute is solved. Yes, not just that. In order to facilitate the bilateral ties on a large scale, India has to solve the Kashmir issue as Kashmir nation lies between India and China.

China’s has opposed India’s entry into the 48-member grouping, which is one of the irritants in Sino-India ties. China on January 16 warned India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) cannot be a “farewell gift” to the outgoing US President Barack Obama. Beijing’s reaction came after US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal of Indian origin described China as an “outlier” in the process of letting India joining the nuclear trade bloc. “Regarding India’s application to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, regarding non-NPT countries admission to the NSG, we have made our position clear before so I will not repeat it,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said here. “I just want to point out that NSG membership shall not be some kind of farewell gift for countries to give to each other,” Hua said, obliquely referring to Obama who will be succeeded by Donald J. Trump. The US government, under Obama, has strongly backed India’s membership in the NSG, which regulates the global nuclear trade. Beijing objects to New Delhi’s inclusion in the bloc, citing rules that India’s non-signatory status to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

While it is unlikely that India will be a part of any Western-led attempts to bandwagon against Beijing any time soon, it also wants to ensure that Beijing does not seize the initiative in India’s backyard.

Of course, China is also preparing for the worst. According to military sources in Beijing, China has deployed more troop along the India border, showing off its will to respond immediately if the worst really happens.

India cannot take the foreign cricketers and badminton or other sports/entertainments coming to play joint sport exercises as a victory for foreign policy, after all, they come to play for money and they are trained to do exactly what the sponsors expect and the mafias want. Don’t the English cricketers now do exactly what Indian sponsors and government agencies want? Governments promote their sportsmen also to be top billionaires by all possible means.

India requires prudence and pragmatism in dealing with countries with different economic and political systems, like China and Pakistan, while core media in the country should shed extra elements of arrogance and over confidence.

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What prevents Japan from ratifying the recently assented Nuclear Ban Treaty?

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With the ratification of Honduras, a Central American country, on 24 October 2020, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), adopted in 2017 by the UN General Assembly, crosses the ’50 ratifications’ mark required for its entry-into-force, and is set to become effective on 22 January 2021. But, interestingly, how come Japan, the world’s only nuclear-attacked country, not among the 50 ratified states?

History remembers Japan as the only country in the world falling victim to a nuclear attack that happened 75 years ago, when the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were attacked using air-dropped atom bombs by the United States with the aim of forcing a surrender from the then Empire of Japan in World War-II.

The U.S. factor in Japan’s security policy

Post-war era saw Japan evolving as a strong U.S. ally, including getting security protection under U.S. nuclear umbrella, a hard fact that prevents the Asian economic powerhouse to ratify the Nuclear Ban Treaty, often abbreviated as TPNW, recently assented for entering into force in January, next year.

Despite calls from anti-nuclear activists and Hiroshima-Nagasaki survivors, both living within the country and around the world, Japan’s ruling establishment faces a big conundrum, but limited in decisional autonomy with regard to a matter involving the United States.

A politician representing the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) said that even though his party share the idea behind the treaty, it would be too unrealistic to move in the direction of ratification, hinting at Japan’s difficulty to handle how US would perceive such a move that can translate into an open disregard for US-led security arrangements in the region.

Moreover, the perceived threat from across the Sea of Japan, arising from a dictator-ruled, nuclear-armed Pyongyang and a recently more assertive Beijing looms over the island state, something that naturally brings Japan closer to the US.

Moreover, for decades, the security alliance with Japan has been a significant factor in US foreign and defence policies in East Asia, and the wider Asia-Pacific region.

Japan’s post-war security arrangements with the United States

Signed in 1951, the early ‘US-Japan Mutual Security Treaty’ was a ten-year, renewable pact that envisaged how Japan would allow U.S. forces to remain on Japanese soil after the country regained its sovereignty, in light of a new pacifist constitution.

This pact combined with the ‘Yoshida Doctrine’, a postwar policy attributed to Shigeru Yoshida, former Prime Minister of Japan, which stipulated Japan’s reliance on the US for its security needs so the government could focus on economic re-building.

The 1951 agreement was revised in 1960, granting US the right to establish military bases on Japanese islands in exchange for a renewed commitment to defend Japan in the event of an attack. These bases gave the US its first permanent military foothold in Asia.

In 1967, PM Eisaku Sato unveiled the ‘Three Non-Nuclear Principles’ (no possession, no production, and no introduction)to cool down tensions surrounding nuclear arms on US bases in Japanese soil. Since then, Japan has relied on the US nuclear umbrella for deterrence capabilities.

Today, according to a US-based think tank Council on Foreign Relations, there are more than 80 US military facilities in Japan, including key ones in Okinawa and Yokosuka. More U.S. service members are permanently stationed in Japan than in any other foreign country.

The aforementioned close security ties of Japan with the United States act as a barrier for the island state to ratify the Nuclear Ban Treaty.

What does the TPNW entail?

The treaty is going to be the first legally-binding international pact to comprehensively ban nuclear weapons, with the ultimate goal of total elimination.

As it was agreed upon, in 2017, when at least 50 countries ratify the treaty, it will qualify for entering into force within the next 90 days i.e. 22 January, next year.

Many international security analysts, however, questions the efficacy of the treaty as an instrument of war-prevention and disarmament as it does not involve any of the strongest, five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (P-5), namely, the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and China, all of them nuclear states along with India, Pakistan, North Korea, and sometimes ambiguously, Israel too.

However, over a quarter of local assemblies across Japan have adopted a written statement demanding that the national government should sign and ratify the TPNW, a difficult choice for Tokyo.

Meanwhile, the United States has been urging countries not to ratify the Treaty, and stated that itself and all the other NATO allies will stand unified in their opposition to the potential repercussions of the TPNW. Washington has also sent letters to the countries that have ratified the treaty, requesting their withdrawal from it.

TPNW requires that all ratifying states should never under any circumstances develop, test, produce, acquire, or possess nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. It also bans any potential transfer of nuclear materials among each other.

The other treaty to keep checks on horizontal spread

Year 2020 also marked 50 years since another pact aimed at preventing the horizontal spread of nuclear weapons entered into force, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons or NPT, in 1970.

While Japan has managed to ratify the NPT in 1976, six years after signing the treaty in 1970, its decisional autonomy with regard to TPNW is much more complex.

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Do not panic, we are Chinese: China’s response to the pandemic

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In Europe, in the United States and in South America, the feared second wave of Covid-19 epidemic is spreading. It is generating not only panic among the public and the institutions, but it is beginning to put health systems and economies under stress. They were starting to recover with difficulty after the impact of the first wave of the epidemic which, between the winter and spring of this year, made the pace of industrial and manufacturing production and productivity rates in the trade, tourism and catering sectors plummet globally, with figures suggesting a decidedly dark future.

In Italy, faced with the increase in infections which, however, does not mean an increase in the number of sick people, the Government has decided to delegate to the Regions’ Governors the power to implement measures to limit individual and collective freedom in the name of a “state of emergency” which has been going on since last March and seems bound to accompany us also in the coming months. For the first time since the end of the Second World War, an ominous and worrying word, “curfew”, has reappeared in official communiqués and news reports.

Over the next few days, in the Campania and Lombardy Regions, it will be forbidden to circulate in the streets from 11pm to 5am, while the purchase of alcohol and the opening hours of shopping centres, bars and restaurants will be restricted. Just to complete an increasingly tragic scenario, on October 20 last, the Italian Health Minister, Roberto Speranza, urged Italians to “stay at home as much as possible” with a voluntary lockdown that seems to be a prelude to the adoption of measures that could bring us back to the situation of last spring with incalculable social and economic damage.

Curfews, lockdowns, targeted or generalised closures are now common practice also in France, Great Britain, Ireland and Spain which, like Italy, have suffered the devastating economic impact of the first wave and could be brought to their knees by the new pandemic emergency.

At this juncture we have to ask ourselves a question: what happened and what is happening in the country where it all began? How are things going in China that in our media, obsessively focused on domestic troubles, is mentioned only superficially and in passing?

“China is Near” was the title of a 1967 movie directed by Marco Bellocchio, that evoked the unstoppable expansion of the Maoist thinking. Today we must say that “China is far away”, encapsulated in the stereotypes developed by Western culture, which prevent us from seriously analysing its political, economic and social evolution and, above all, from drawing lessons from the political and health model that has enabled China to come out of the Covid-19 emergency with its head held high.

On September 22 last, in a blunt speech – as usual -at the United Nations General Assembly, President Trump accused China of being responsible “for spreading this plague throughout the world” and – to further underline the concept -he dismissed the coronavirus as a “Chinese virus”. In the same forum, Chinese President Xi Jinping soberly urged all countries affected by the epidemic to follow his country’s example and “to abide by the indications of science without attempting to politicise the problem”.

Figures clearly demonstrate that the Chinese model is important and worthy of attention. In China, where it all began in December 2019, out of a population of about 1.4 billion inhabitants, the Covid-19 epidemic has so far caused 4,739 deaths out of 90,604 sick people. In the United States, over the same period, out of a population that is about one fifth of China’s, 7,382,194 cases of infection were recorded that led to the death of 209,382 people (data provided by the English medical journal, The Lancet, October 8, 2020).

Great Britain, with a population twenty times smaller than the Chinese population, had to deal with five times more infections than China and ten times more deaths.

These are the figures of October 20 last, referring to the whole of China: 19 cases of illness, all imported from abroad. 24 asymptomatic infections and 403 cases testing positive kept under observation. All, except one, imported from abroad(!). Figures which, as you can see, are globally lower than those recorded since the beginning of the emergency in one single Italian region!

Faced with these figures, it seems difficult to shirk a simple, dual question: how could China fight the epidemic and keep it under control? Hence why do we not follow its example by drawing on its experience?

China was accused of responding late to the first outbreak of the epidemic in December 2019 and notifying late the World Health Organization (WHO) of a new outbreak. Both accusations are completely false.

After the outbreak of the new virus in late December, Chinese scientists isolated and identified the genome sequence of Covid-19 on January 10, 2020 and a few days later, after alerting the WHO, the authorities started to take countermeasures.

China was ready for the emergency: since the SARS epidemic – a virus similar to Covid-19 – had caused just over 700 deaths in 2002, but very serious damage to the economy due to the stop of flights, tourism and exports, the government had given orders to prepare accurate contingency plans to be activated promptly in case of new epidemics. Those plans, which were not prepared and put in a drawer but updated and carefully tested, were activated immediately after the first alarm.

With its 12 million inhabitants, Wuhan – the epicentre of the first infections – was immediately imposed a total lockdown, while in the rest of the huge country the population was urged (without curfews or states of emergency) to follow the most elementary and effective prevention and self-protection measures: social distancing, use of masks and frequent hand washing. It has been said in the West that China has reacted so effectively because it is ruled by an authoritarian regime. Indeed, Confucius has counted much more than Mao for the Chinese. The Confucian social philosophy that not even 71 years of Communist rule have managed to wipe out, with its basic rules of respect for the natural hierarchical order, makes the Chinese a naturally well-behaved, orderly and obedient people. Suffice it to recall that since the beginning of the new pandemic emergency the protests in Hong Kong have decreased until disappearing, while in Europe we are witnessing massive demonstrations with diehard “no-mask” people.

It is, however, the quick response of the Chinese political and health authorities that is at the basis of the undeniable success in fighting the epidemic, at first, and later containing it.

As stated above, Wuhan was immediately isolated and subjected to total lockdown for 76 days, while targeted closures were imposed in the Hubei Province. Throughout the country, 14,000 health checkpoints were set up at the main public transport hubs and, within two weeks since the “official” outbreak of the pandemic, in the city of Wuhan alone 9 million inhabitants were tested.

As one of the main producers and exporters of health equipment, China was not caught unprepared in terms of hospital supplies and individual protection devices: in short, no mask crisis.

While in the United States and Europe, despite the lockdown, people did not seem to be inclined to wear masks (President Trump wore a mask in public only last September), the Chinese immediately followed the authorities’ guidelines with a great sense of discipline. All the municipal security cameras were “converted” to control citizens’ use of masks, while drones equipped with loudspeakers were flown over all areas of the huge country to check the inhabitants’ compliance with the rules. The Xinhua State agency released the footage taken by a drone in Inner Mongolia, showing an astonished Mongolian lady rebuked by the drone saying” Hey Auntie, you cannot go around without a mask. Put it on right away and when you go back home remember to wash your hands”. Probably media embroidered the episode a bit, but certainly in China they did not witness the summertime movida that took place in Rome, Naples or Milan, which is at the basis of the many troubles with which we are currently confronted.

On February 5, 2020 the first Fancang hospital was opened in Wuhan, a prefabricated structure dedicated to the treatment of non-severely ill people, while traditional hospitals were reserved for the treatment of severely ill people. The use of Fancang hospitals (dozens of them were built) made it possible to limit the staying at home of people with mild symptoms, but anyway sources of contagion, within their families – the opposite of what is happening in Italy where the people with mild symptoms are advised to stay at home -and prevent the quick spreading of the virus starting from families. The Fancang hospital network made 13,000 beds available and was dismantled as from May 10, 2020 when the first wave of the epidemic ended in China and was not followed by a second wave. To avert this danger, the Chinese authorities have relaxed “internal” checks and made the control measures for those coming from abroad very strict. At a time when in Spain and Italy the checks for incoming travellers are practically derisory, in China all those who enter the country, for whatever reason, are subject to tests and strictly controlled quarantine.

In essence, China has first fought and later controlled the spreading of the Covid-19 epidemic, with drastic but rational measures and above all understood and accepted by a population educated by Confucius to respect hierarchies and discipline. China can currently be an example for the rest of the world and it is there to testify that with strict, but intelligent measures even the most dangerous situations can be tackled successfully.

It is an example that should be studied and followed without the typical arrogance of the “white man”, also considering an important fact: while the economy of Italy and of its European partners is hardly growing, China’s GDP growth rate is 4.9% higher than last year.

There is much to learn from China both in terms of managing a health emergency and in terms of protecting the economic system.

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Suga Faces A Tough Road Ahead Without Enough Political Juice

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image source: japan.kantei.go.jp

Authors: Alexandre Uehara and Moises de Souza

The quantity and dimensionality of problems inherited by a sober and discrete Yoshihide Suga as the first new Japanese Prime Minister in almost a decade will demand that “Uncle Reiwa,” as the statesman is known, employ the skills that he has so amply demonstrated in the past: the ability to negotiate and find elegant solutions to complex questions. Suga’s competence as a negotiator was recognized as an important factor behind the success of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which entered into force on December 30, 2018. This agreement—considered doomed to failure after US President Donald Trump signed an executive order withdrawing the United States from the TPP in January 2017—succeeded largely thanks to the vital leadership and tenacity of Japan, with Suga playing a key role behind the scenes. Suga also took the lead during the EU and Japan’s Economic Partnership Agreement signed in 2019, considered by many as another example of outstanding negotiating performance. With such a resumé, these skills and experience proved critical in Suga’s victory in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leadership race, enabling him to garner support from a wide array of sources, ranging from LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai to various factions within the Komeito, a partner in the coalition government.

The question now is whether his past performance can be replicated as Suga targets the current challenges that so recently have fallen into his lap. He is taking the helm at a delicate moment for Japan, with uncertainties that will force him to show, domestically and abroad, what kind of leadership Japan will enjoy after a larger-than-life figure like Abe Shinzo steps down. And these challenges are coming from all quarters: the economy, public health, and regional security, just to name a few. Each of them has the potential to shape the future of the nation and the reputation of its prime minister, and certainly Yoshihide Suga is no exception. On top of that, legacy problems remain. On the one hand, the implicit promise of continuity with Shinzo Abe’s policies played a crucial role in winning the LDP the elections: on the other, this very factor is an element of concern, since opinion polls were already detecting signs of decline in the popularity of Abe’s cabinet. If Suga has any political ambition left, he cannot afford to make any mistakes in the short- and medium-term.

On the domestic front, there are two important and interrelated problems: The COVID-19 pandemic and the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games. These coterminous phenomena essentially represent a contradiction between uncertainty and reality. While few in Japan are clear about whether the current pandemic will turn into an ongoing ebb-and-flow in terms of virus contagion rates, the economic impact as a result of the response measures is already real. The profound effects have been translated into a new period of recession this year, an experience with which the Japanese a real ready very familiar, given their recent past. To make matters worse, the medicine intended to heal the wounds of economic recession was neutralized by the virus. Operating under the old adage that you have to spend money to make money, Tokyo expended over US$5 billion, with plans to spend US$2 billion more in 2020,to prepare the city to host the Olympic Games. Prospects showed that these investments would pay off. According to a report published in June 2020, it was projected that the Olympics would impact the Tokyo economy alone to the tune of almost US$190 billion, with a spill over effect on the overall Japanese economy of nearly US$300 billion and a potential impact of 0.2% of its GDP. Based on the same prospects, Japan signed an accord in 2013 with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), assuming total responsibility to bear all the costs alone in the (at that time improbable)event that the games would have to be postponed. Well, in what one might call the Forest Gump Effect, to wit: “life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get,” the games were indeed postponed. Investors, according to reporting by Bridgestone, reported losses of around US$3 billion so far as a result of the postponement. It also affected the IOC, which registered losses of more than US$800 million. For Japan’s economy, Goldman Sachs is calculating losses of about US$5.1 billion in terms of domestic consumption alone. Suga will have to find a solution for this imbroglio, which even Abe could not or did not have time to figure out.

In the international arena, Suga—like all Japanese Prime Ministers before him—will have to walk a tightrope, executing a delicate balancing act between Beijing and Washington. So far, his biggest challenge is to find his place amid the rising tensions between Japan’s two most important trading partners. On paper, the logic is simple: Tokyo has developed initiatives to strengthen its alliance with Washington concerning security, without hurting its bilateral trade with Beijing. In recent decades, the latter has become increasingly economically important to Japan. In practice, this is not an easy job for two reasons: First, the erratic temperament of Donald Trump and the tendency of his administration to play hardball even when negotiating with partners. The trade deal negotiated in 2019 stands as a case in point: Essentially, Japan walked away from the negotiating table with a commitment to give the United States access to its agricultural market in exchange for a vague promise that the Trump administration would not consider Japanese auto imports a “national security threat.” On top of that, Trump made it clear that he still wants Japan to pay for the American military bases on Japanese soil.

The second reason comes from Japan’s powerful neighbour, with an increasingly assertive China under Xi Jinping. In November 2019, after China proudly displayed its new ballistic and hypersonic cruise missile system, Taro Kono (then foreign minister and now the minister for administrative reform and regulatory reform) publicly demanded that Beijing make its military budget and strategic goals transparent, to avoid raising the level of alarm and anxiety in the region. In addition, a few weeks after taking the center seat, Suga had to deal with the presence of two Chinese ships in the disputed waters of the East China Sea—a practice that has been taking place more and more frequently since Xi became chairman of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012. It is exactly these episodes of Chinese assertiveness that motivated Yoshihide Suga to choose Vietnam and Indonesia as the destinations for his first official diplomatic trip as prime minister. As much as Abe did, Suga intends to strengthen security ties with both Southeast Asian nations. This, tempered with a degree of restraint in the use of strong anti-Chinese rhetoric, is intended as a clear signal to Beijing: the rules of the game haven’t changed, with or without the presence of Abe Shinzo.

Using the same logic, Suga did not alter the basis of Japan-Taiwan relations that developed so fruitfully on Abe’s watch. In fact, besides working for close relations with Taipei, Abe also developed a friendship with Taiwan’s current President Tsai Ing-wen. Suga’s decision to appoint Abe’s brother, Nobuo Kishi, as defense minister was a clear signal to China that, with regards to Taiwan, it will be business as usual in Tokyo despite the transfer of power. It a secret to no one in Japan (or in China, for that matter) that Kishi enjoys close ties with Taiwan, a place he has visited several times over the years, including meetings with President Tsai, as representative of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The last visit took place on the occasion of the funeral of former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui in August 2020. Such proximity makes Kishi the most trustworthy channel of communication between conservative Japanese leaders and Tsai, as well as with the Taiwanese elite itself. In response to Nobuo Kishi’s appointment, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin said in a statement that the new minister of defense of Japan must “abide by the one-China principle and refrain from any form of official exchanges with the Taiwan region.”

Few specialists in Japan believe that Yoshihide Suga will have as long a mandate as his predecessor Abe Shinzo. Despite being technically qualified, Suga still lacks enough political juice to retain the position of prime minister beyond the general elections that must take place in one year’s time. The tide may eventually turn in favour of Suga-san, depending on how well he and his new cabinet manage the daunting challenges that they inherited from the previous administration. More than mere negotiation skills are needed, however, and there is no doubt that Suga will have to make some tough decisions that will come to define, in a large measure, his political future post-2021.

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