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USA-Japan relations: Joint conduct test of anti-ballistic missile reveals deep military ties

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] L [/yt_dropcap]iterally the NATO led by USA dictates its terms to entire world, including former super power Russia. End of cold war gave rise to emergence of unipolar power balance under US power.

The super power United States and its major Asian ally Japan have been working together since 2006 to develop a variant of the Standard Missile-3, a ship-launched missile that operates as part of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System and eventually have conducted on February 07 the first interception of a ballistic missile target using a jointly built system, amid heightened tensions over North Korea’s missile program.

Projecting North Korean nukes as being dangerous threat, South Korea is also working with the United States to install the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to prevent against any missiles from the North. And the USA is worried that North Korea may be developing a long-range missile that could carry a nuclear warhead to reach as far as the US West Coast.

The test took place Friday night off the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The test occurred as Pentagon Chief Jim Mattis was in East Asia on his first overseas trip to South Korea and Japan as defense secretary.

The test came while new US Defense Secretary James Mattis was on his first overseas trip to South Korea and Japan. Ballistic missile defense was at the top of the agenda after North Korea’s prolific testing of short- and intermediate-range missiles last year. A focus of Mattis’ trip was the THAAD — Terminal High Altitude Area Defense — anti-missile system, which the US plans to deploy in South Korea this year.

THAAD system

The THAAD system has drawn sharp criticism from China, which sees it as part of a broader US strategy to extend its military alliance network from Japan all the way down to the South China Sea. But during his trip to South Korea, Mattis said North Korea’s “provocative behavior” was the only reason THAAD would be deployed. “There is no other nation that needs to be concerned about THAAD other than North Korea,” he said, “there is no other nation that needs to be concerned about THAAD other than North Korea”.

The Aegis system is designed to intercept ballistic missile around the middle of their flight, when the missile is at its highest point above the Earth. The system is based on the powerful AN/SPY-1 radar, which can track 100 missiles simultaneously.

About the Aegis system missile test, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said all such systems raised trust issues among the major military powers. “Countries should not only consider their own security interests but also respect other countries’ security concerns” when it comes to missile defense, Lu said. “We should follow the principles of preserving global strategic stability and doing no harm to other countries’ security.”

In a way, the USA and Japan have passed a crucial test for missile defense, shooting down a medium-range ballistic missile with a new interceptor launched from a guided-missile destroyer. The US Missile Defense Agency announced that the USS John Paul Jones detected, tracked and took out the target ballistic missile using its onboard Aegis Missile Defense System and a Standard Missile-3 Block IIA interceptor. The US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) said the Friday’s test off Kauai in Hawaii saw the Standard Missile-3 “Block IIA” successfully hit its target in space.

The US Navy has 22 guided-missile cruisers and 62 guided-missile destroyers equipped with the Aegis system. Japan has six Aegis destroyers with plans for more. South Korea also operates Aegis-equipped destroyers. The Aegis system is designed to intercept ballistic missile around the middle of their flight, when the missile is at its highest point above the Earth. The system is based on the powerful AN/SPY-1 radar, which can track 100 missiles simultaneously.

Ballistic missile defense was at the top of the agenda after North Korea’s prolific testing of short- and intermediate-range missiles last year. Mitsubishi and Raytheon make parts of the missiles, which are assembled in the United States, and which are designed to defeat medium- and intermediate-range missiles. America has so far spent about $2.2 billion on the system and Japan about $1 billion. “We are both deeply concerned about North Korea’s capabilities, and we are constantly working to improve our defense capabilities,” MDA spokesman Chris Johnson said. “It makes sense for the US and Japan to share some of that burden.”

The USS John Paul Jones launched a ballistic missile interceptor on February 3, 2017, off Hawaii. “Today’s test demonstrates a critical milestone in the cooperative development of the SM-3 Block IIA missile,” the director of the Missile Defense Agency, Vice Adm. Jim Syring, said in a statement. “The missile, developed jointly by a Japanese and US government and industry team, is vitally important to both our nations and will ultimately improve our ability to defend against increasing ballistic missile threats around the world.” He said Friday that any nuclear attack by North Korea would trigger an “effective and overwhelming” response, as he sought to reassure Asian allies rattled by President Donald Trump’s isolationist rhetoric. “Today’s test demonstrates a critical milestone in the cooperative development of the SM-3 Block IIA missile,” the director of the Missile Defense Agency, Vice Adm. Jim Syring, said in a statement. “The missile, developed jointly by a Japanese and US government and industry team, is vitally important to both our nations and will ultimately improve our ability to defend against increasing ballistic missile threats around the world.”

Foes turned allies in Cold War

Entire global politics changed its character since the end of World War two and during the Cold war. Though USA bombed Japan just before the close of WW II, they forged cooperation and alkaline targeting the Soviet System and Communism.

The biggest antagonists in the Pacific War – USA and Japan – have since forged a prosperous postwar system and a vigorous alliance. USA made possible Japan’s remarkable seven-decade-long contribution to global capitalist order, and a roadmap for how the alliance can perpetuate an imperialist rules-based system well into the 21st century. The latest evolution of the alliance is encapsulated in their new defense guidelines. The guidelines will mark a milestone along the path of converting a relationship between a victor and the vanquished into a mature security partnership between the world’s two richest democracies, capable of acting swiftly and in concert to address a full array of contingencies, from humanitarian disaster to war.

Prime Minister Abe has reified that identity and accelerated the quest of Japan’s search for an independent longstanding identity. While simultaneously putting Japan on an equal footing with other major powers, Japan is eager to retain inherent defensive posture.

Many Japanese reasonably assume their contributions to international security deserve as much respect as those of other powers. Many Japanese sense a fear that Japan could find itself marginalized on the world stage.

As the security environment in Northeast Asia is deteriorating, not least because of the uncertainty created by China’s rapid rise and growing assertiveness, Tokyo doubles down on the alliance with the United States.

Japan–US relations that began in the late 18th and early 19th century, with the diplomatic but force-backed missions, maintained relatively cordial relations after that, and Japanese immigration to the United States was prominent until the 20th century, in the period before World War II, when disputes over control of Asia led to war. The use of atomic weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki by United State ended the war and led to a military occupation of Japan by the United States; but due to the American rebuilding process and willingness to share technology with postwar Japan, the countries’ relationship prospered again, and an exchange of technology and culture produced a strong alliance. The countries’ trade relationship has particularly prospered since then, with Japanese automobiles and consumer electronics being especially popular.

Although Japan surrendered to the United States on September 2, 1945, peace between the former foes did not become official until April 28, 1952, when the San Francisco Peace Treaty signed the previous September took effect. This original alliance agreement was necessarily provisional, recognizing that Japan had been disarmed and was therefore incapable of exercising effective right of self-defense. Eight years later, the 1960 U.S.-Japan treaty took into account a more equal partnership providing Japanese bases for American defense.

The allies pledge to uphold the United Nations Charter, to settle international disputes peacefully, and to refrain from “the use of force against the territorial integrity of political independence of any state.” Both vow to strengthen “free institutions” and promote “stability and well-being.” The alliance framework has held up all these decades, but periodic guidelines have been drafted to help define the roles and missions of the two allies. In 1969, President Richard Nixon announced a new doctrine in Guam that placed called on allies to shoulder greater responsibility for their own defense.

Defending against a Soviet force invasion and tracking ballistic missile submarines brought them together. By the early 1990s, after the abrupt fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the US-Japan alliance was set adrift. China’s rise remained a work in progress. But Iraq’s invasion of neighboring Kuwait and North Korea’s nuclear program in the hands of an untested second-generation Kim family leader, Kim Jong-il, were stark reminders that international and regional security required constant vigilance and adaptation.

Adversaries in World War II, fierce economic competitors in the 1980s and early 1990s, Americans and Japanese nonetheless share a deep mutual understanding, if not respect, today. Americans generally support keeping the U.S. relationship with Japan about where it is, both economically and strategically. China looms large in the minds of both Americans and Japanese in their consideration of the US-Japan relationship.

Military ties

The United States and Japan are the key economies in an unprecedented effort — known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership — to broaden and deepen trade and investment among Pacific countries that account for more than one-third of the world’s GDP. How the American and Japanese people see these issues may go a long way toward framing the ongoing relationship of these onetime foes and now longtime allies.

Today the NATO and anti-Socialist allies United States and Japan have firm and very active political, economic and military relationships. The USA considers Japan to be one of its closest allies and partners. Japan is one of the most pro-American nations in the world, with 85% of Japanese people viewing the USA and 87% viewing Americans favorably in 2011, 73% of Japanese people viewing Americans favorably and 69% of Japanese people viewing the U.S. favorably in 2013, going down somewhat to 66% in 2014. And most Americans generally perceive Japan positively, with 81% viewing Japan favorably in 2013, the most favorable perception of Japan in the world, after Indonesia.

As of 2014 the United States had 50,000 troops in Japan, the headquarters of the US 7th Fleet and more than 10,000 Marines. In May 2014 it was revealed the United States was deploying two unarmed Global Hawk long-distance surveillance drones to Japan with the expectation they would engage in surveillance missions over China and North Korea. Japan’s limited intelligence gathering capability and personnel are focused on China and North Korea, as the nation primarily relies on the American National Security Agency

Okinawa is the site of major American military bases that have caused problems, as Japanese and Okinawans have protested their presence for decades. In secret negotiations that began in 1969 Washington sought unrestricted use of its bases for possible conventional combat operations in Korea, Taiwan, and South Vietnam, as well as the emergency re-entry and transit rights of nuclear weapons. However anti-nuclear sentiment was strong in Japan and the government wanted the U.S. to remove all nuclear weapons from Okinawa. In the end, the United States and Japan agreed to maintain bases that would allow the continuation of American deterrent capabilities in East Asia. In 1972 the Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa, reverted to Japanese control and the provisions of the 1960 security treaty were extended to cover them. The United States retained the right to station forces on these islands.

Military relations improved after the mid-1970s. In 1960 the Security Consultative Committee, with representatives from both countries, was set up under the 1960 security treaty to discuss and coordinate security matters concerning both nations. In 1976 a subcommittee of that body prepared the Guidelines for Japan-United States Defense Cooperation that were approved by the full committee in 1978 and later approved by the National Defense Council and cabinet. The guidelines authorized unprecedented activities in joint defense planning, response to an armed attack on Japan, and cooperation on situations in Asia and the Pacific region that could affect Japan’s security.

A dispute that had boiled since 1996 regarding a base with 18,000 U.S. Marines had temporarily been resolved in late 2013. Agreement had been reached to move the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a less-densely populated area of Okinawa.

Observations

The friendship between Washington and Tokyo has come a long way in 72 years, but US move towards a rising China could throw a wrench in the works. As both countries face the rising strategic and economic challenge posed by China, the United States is explicitly rebalancing its international posture toward Asia. Tokyo is debating a more active role in collective regional security un US leadership but trump asks Japan to bear all expenses.

Japan and the United States have deeply rooted economic and strategic bonds. But, since both nations are functioning “democracies”, those ties also depend on the attitudes of the Japanese and American people. Seven decades after a horrific war, and despite serious trade frictions in the past and a new challenge posed by China, Americans and Japanese share a mutual trust and respect that is the glue of the relationship.

Japan has fractious relations with US ally South Korea over unresolved issues involving their mutual history, and with US adversary China over both history and territorial disputes.

Japan claims islands now under the control of China. Japan is not happy that USA does not involve itself actively in its dispute with China over islands. And the USA is worried that North Korea may be developing a long-range missile that could carry a nuclear warhead to reach as far as the US West Coast.

The USA and Japan still need to convince their publics and the region that they share a common and far-sighted vision for an inclusive, peaceful, rules-based region. In other words, all defense preparations and bilateral coordination mechanisms are means to larger political ends. If historic Chinese strategic thinking is any guide, then Beijing ultimately seeks less to fight war than to win the peace. Americans must be equally determined and prepared to advance their interests and values for a similar end.

Of course a common strategy and common interests are necessary but USA wants to deice the course of bilateral relations with any nation, including Japan, making the bond weak, difficult for preserving an effective alliance.USA is still suspicious about the values it shares with Japan. Japan is not fully convinced about intentions of an ever assertive USA for a genuine bilateral relationship.

Japan seeks the legal right of collective-self defense, at least under specified conditions, as well as more expansive alliance integration—for instance, the right of the Maritime Self Defense Force to conduct joint patrols out to the South China Sea. In the United States, it means not just using the bilateral coordination mechanism to play point defense on territorial disputes, but using it as a basis to catalyze wider and deeper strategic discussion.

Since the world is controlled by neocolonialist, imperialist and ultra capitalist regimes, Israelis confident that Trump would not let them down. Palestinians should not be under illusion that he would force the Israeli criminal state of arrogant Jewish leaders to agree for a final settlement to let Palestine state come into being and PLO has not pursue the UN route strictly.

The way Trump, like his predecessors have done before him, has made the state criminal Netanyahu look like a US hero when he was allowed to join him for sumptuous Jewish food made in Washington, besides for photographs and speech. . Jewish fanatic state now ruled by the fascist Israeli PM Netanyahu who like Trump also seeks a war, with terror goods supplied from USA and EU, wants badly to settle the matters “right”. Unless USA adopts a normal foreign policy Israel also would not change to become a normal nation.

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East Asia

The Demise of a French Sub Deal: Is China a Threat?

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The conflict between emerging and existing powers is almost as old as time.  Labeled the Thucydides Trap, it first recounted the 5th century BC Peloponesian war and its inevitability as Sparta, the dominant power, feared the rise of Athens.  Is something similar about to transpire between the US and China?

The latest war of words is about nuclear submarines.  When armed with ballistic missiles, they become a hidden mortal danger.  So the US also deploys nuclear attack submarines which shadow rival nuclear ballistic submarines … just in case.

Australia was in the process of acquiring 12 French conventional attack submarines (a deal worth $37 billion) when the US and UK stepped in with the AUKUS deal.  Intended to counter China, it offers Australia  advanced nuclear propulsion systems and an opportunity to construct nuclear subs of their own with the technology transfer.  Australia will then become the seventh country in the world to build and operate nuclear submarines.

The fear of the ‘yellow peril’ is ingrained in the Australian consciousness from the days when they were afraid of being swamped by Chinese immigrants.  It led to restrictive immigration policies for non-whites. 

Much of the concern with China is due to the forceful nature of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s policies.  In Xinjiang the Uyghur population is a minority in its home province due to the influx of Han Chinese.  Moreover, Uyghurs feel discriminated against, in jobs and the progress they can make.  Some have rebelled causing many to be put in re-education camps where there are tales of torture although denied by Chinese authorities.  Biden has declared it a genocide and introduced sanctions on leading Chinese officials there. 

China’s proactive foreign policy, renewed interest in Afghanistan, its warships patrolling all the way across the Indian Ocean to Africa are further evidence.

The new Afghan leaders, at least many of them, spent their exile in Pakistan giving the latter influence with the new government.  And Pakistan is effectively a Chinese client state.  The mineral wealth of Afghanistan, if it is to be developed, is thus likely to include Chinese help.

The UN General Assembly holds its first debate of the new session on the third Tuesday of each year; the session then runs through to the September following.  As leaders converge, one of the questions being asked of those involved in AUKUS is how they are going to pacify an angry France.  It has recalled its ambassadors from Australia and the US — in the latter case a move without precedent in almost 250 years of diplomacy.

If the French feel the Australians have been duplicitous, the Australians for their part claim they are obligated to do the best for the people who elected them.  The new deal brings jobs, technology and a greater role for Australia in dealing with an increasingly powerful China

It would be a great shame if the West in trying to shore up its interests in the Indo-Pacific region loses a crucial ally — France — at the very least in wholehearted support.  Is Mr. Xi smiling and quoting some ancient Chinese proverb, perhaps Lao Tzu, to his colleagues?   

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Japanese firms’ slow and steady exit is sounding alarm bells in Beijing

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Last year in March, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had indicated Japan would initiate measures to reduce the country heavily relying on China for factory production. Since July 2020, Japan has rolled out subsidies totaling over 400 billion Yen to move its enterprises out of China to Southeast Asia and beyond. It is yet to be seen if the scale of incentives has actually triggered a major change in where Japanese companies relocate production.  On the other hand, experts in China continue to wonder why would Japanese companies which are on average making 17% profit diversify into the ASEAN nations, where in 2019, their rate of return on direct investment was a mere 5%?

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In less than ten days, Japan is going to have a third prime minister within a short span of twelve months. On September 1 last year, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe resigned on health grounds, Yoshihide Suga was chosen as Abe’s successor. At the time, China’s leadership did not show any worrying signs as the new Japanese leader was expected to continue with the foreign policy of the previous government. But one year later, Suga’s unexpected departure is leaving Japan’s diplomatic relations with China considerably strained over Taiwan. Yet the leadership in Beijing is not going to lose sleep over the next prime minister’s public stance on the Japan-Taiwan “alliance.” What China will be closely watching is how many more billions of Yen and for how long a new leader in Tokyo will carry on with rolling out subsidies to lure away Japanese businesses out of China?

Interestingly, on assuming office Prime Minister Suga had promised continuity in domestic policies and that he will respect Abe’s foreign policy. However, Suga’s promised commitment to further improve relations with China was viewed differently in the People’s Republic. Writing in an article on the day Yoshihide Suga took office in Tokyo, Zhou Yongsheng, professor of Japanese studies at Beijing’s China Foreign Affairs University, observed: “[Under Suga] Japan will continue to align with the US as far as international relations and security affairs are concerned, and continue to back the US policy of containing China It is under these preconditions that Japan will seek cooperation with China.”

In sharp contrast, reviewing Suga’s foreign policy performance after two months, NIKKEI Asia’s foreign affairs analyst Hiroyuki Akita wrote in November 2020: “Suga has not said much publicly about his views on diplomacy but he has urged his aids to continue Abe’s diplomacy as it is at least for one year.” Akita gave a thumbs up to this approach and recalled a Japanese saying to describe it: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, not everyone agreed with Akita praising Suga’s brief record in diplomacy as flawless. Having spent seven years in the Abe cabinet as Chief Cabinet Secretary, Suga’s image was that of “a fixer, not a leader.” Suga did everything in diplomacy in his early phase as the prime minister what Abe had been espousing for the past seven years.

But as Toshiya Takahashi, professor of IR at Shoin University in Japan had predicted within a few weeks of Suga becoming the top leader, “Abe’s shoes were too big for Suga to fill.” Why so? Mainly because unlike Abe, not only Suga was not ideological, he was also far less diplomacy driven. “Suga is not an ideologically driven revisionist — he is a conservative politician, but his attitude has no relation to ideology. He does not seem to hold any specific cherished foreign policy objectives that he is willing to push with all his political capital in the way that Abe did in 2015 with the passage of the security-related bills,” Takahashi had commented.   

To observers and experts in both Japan and China, Prime Minister Suga’s (he will relinquish office on September 30) non-enthusiastic approach to foreign policy might have much to do with the current state of strained relationship between Japan and China. Asahi Shimbun opinion poll last year claimed foreign policy and national security as among the two most popular elements of Abe’s legacy. No wonder, critics in Japan have been pointing out that Suga’s cabinet did not have the luxury and support Abe enjoyed in foreign affairs of having in the government someone like Shotaro Yachi – the former secretary general of the National Security Secretariat. In China too, reacting to Suga’s first policy speech after taking office, scholars such as Lü  Yaodong, Institute of Japanese Studies, CASS in Beijing had observed, “Suga seems not to be as enthusiastic about China-Japan ties as Abe. Compared with Abe’s administration, Suga may walk back China-Japan ties.” (Emphasis added)

Remember, as already mentioned, the LDP had succeeded in pursuing policy of (economic) cooperation and avoiding confrontationist diplomacy with China under Abe. But Suga government’s failure to effectively fight coronavirus pandemic and its perception that China was increasingly becoming aggressive in SCS, are being cited as reasons why Japan was compelled to take strong steps against China. It is too well-known by now how Tokyo angered Beijing by referring to the importance of Taiwan to regional security in the recently released 2021 Defense White Paper. In fact, a Chinese scholar had warned as early as within a month of Suga taking over as prime minister from Shinzo Abe, saying that “Japan will take a more offensive stance against China over maritime boundary disputes under the incitement of the US” (emphasis added).

Hence, it is of extreme import to mention here China’s top diplomat Wang Yi’s recent trip to four ASEAN nations. Apparently, the second visit by the Chinese foreign minister in quick succession in the neighborhood had aroused the global media attention as it was soon after the recent visit to the region by the US vice president Kamala Harris. However, according to a Chinese commentator, Wang Yi’s recent visit to ASEAN countries must be viewed in the context of the region turning into a “battle ground” for rising economic one-upmanship among big powers. “Just a day after Wang Yi’s departure, Vietnam reached an agreement on defense equipment and technology cooperation with Japan,” the commentary noted.   

Furthermore, whilst under the previous Abe government, Japan consistently increased its investments in the ASEAN nations, except in the year 2016, all through from 2014 until last year, Japan’s investment in the region far exceeded that of China’s. Contrary to his vows, since coming into office in September last year, especially following his meeting with President Biden in the White House in April this year, Prime Minister Suga’s quiet agenda has been to confront China in both political and economic arena. In Japan, the Suga agenda was interpreted by analysts as “rebuilding Japan-US industrial chain, decoupling economic ties with China.”    

A policy report released by Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) in March 2021, revealed three important facts: first, in the year 2019, total Japanese investment in ASEAN nations stood at USD 265.5 billion – 14% of the country’s overall overseas investment, i.e., USD 1,858.3 billion.; second, in 2000, Japanese investments in ASEAN totaled USD 25 billion as against its USD 8.7 billion investment in China – a gap of USD 16.3 billion. Whereas in 2019, Japan invested USD 135.2 billion more in ASEAN as compared with China. As pointed out by one Chinese analyst, this gap is hugely significant, especially as the overall size of the ASEAN economy is a little over one-fifth of China’s GDP; third, followingthegovernment’s new strategy last year to encourage Japanese businesses to move out of China to new locations in ASEAN nations, the new guidelines also entailed reducing investments into China. A large part of the investments was diversified into ASEAN markets.

Finally, what is beginning to worry the Chinese authorities is the trend and direction of slow exodus of Japanese businesses out of China going back to Japan and towards Vietnam and Indonesia on one hand, and widening gap in Japanese investments between ASEAN and the PRC, on the other hand. At the same time, it was beyond anyone’s imagination in China that Japan would be acting foolish and risking “economic security” by diversifying businesses and investments into less profitable “barren” markets. But then who could anticipate what political and economic policy-rejigging coronavirus pandemic would bring about?

Overall, China’s more immediate and bigger concerns are firstly the sudden departure of Prime Minister Suga – in spite of Suga having made it clear he had no will to change or reverse “decoupling” policy he had been pursuing, and secondly, whoever emerges as the new leader of the four contenders by the month-end, analysts in Japan believe Tokyo is unlikely to change its “anti-China” political and economic policies.  

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How China Exacerbates Global Fragility and What Can be Done to Bolster Democratic Resilience to Confront It

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Authors: Caitlin Dearing Scott and Isabella Mekker

From its declared policy of noninterference and personnel contributions to United Nations (UN) Peacekeeping Missions to its purported role in mediating conflicts, China has long sought to portray itself as a responsible global leader, pushing narratives about building a “community of common destiny” and promoting its model of governance and economic and political development as a path to stability. This narrative belies the reality. Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-style “stability,” whether to protect Belt and Road Investments (BRI) or regimes with favorable policies towards China, in practice facilitates authoritarianism and human rights violations, contributes to environmental degradation and corruption, and undermines democratic governance, all of which can fuel instability, intentionally or otherwise.

In pursuit of its true goal – “a world safe for the party” – China has leveraged its diplomatic and economic power to weaken  the international human rights system, bolstering support for illiberal regimes, contributing to democratic decline and exacerbating global fragility in the process. Nowhere is this more apparent than in conflict-affected contexts.

Conflict Resolution, CCP Style

Although China brands itself as a ‘promoter of stability, peace, and unity’, its very definition of stability is built on its authoritarian model of governance. This, plus its concerns about non-interference in its own domestic issues, informs its conflict resolution approach, which emphasizes host state consent and political settlement, two-ideas that can be laudable in theory, depending on the context. In practice, however, China’s conflict mediation efforts in some instances have provided support to incumbent regimes who are perpetuating violence and conflict, promoting a  ‘stability’ that disregards the voices of vulnerable populations and the need for inclusive governance. In the case of the Syrian civil war, China’s “political solution” meant maintaining China-friendly Bashar al-Assad’s grip on power, while blocking resolutions condemning the regime’s brutality against its citizens. 

“Stability” promoted by China can also come at the expense of human rights. China (and Russia) have previously pushed for cuts to human rights positions within peacekeeping missions, endangering the capacity of these missions to protect civilians in conflict.  In Myanmar, where the military is committing unprecedented human rights violations against its own citizens, China initially blocked a UN Security Council statement condemning the military coup and other international efforts to restore stability at a time when a strong international response was much needed. This was in line with China’s previous engagement in the country, working closely with the military regime to “mediate” conflict near the Chinese border in a way that preserved China’s interests and influence, but did little to actually address conflict. After a growing humanitarian crisis began to threaten its investments on the Myanmar side of the border, however, China changed rhetorical course, showing where human rights violations stand in its hierarchy of stability.

Advancing China’s Interests, Undermining Governance

China’s policies in fragile states mirror its unstated preference for expanding its economic and political interests, even if securing them sidelines the stated imperative of addressing fragility. In some instances, China has lobbied for UN policies in conflict-affected contexts that appear to support its own agenda rather than – or sometimes at the expense of – peace. According to the U.S. China Economic and Security Review Commission’s 2020 report to Congress, “China has shown an apparent willingness to leverage its influence in the UN peacekeeping operations system to advance its economic interests in African countries, raising the possibility that Beijing is subverting UN norms and procedures in the process.” Per the report, the most notable example of this was in 2014 when China lobbied to expand the UN Mission in South Sudan to protect oil installations of which the China National Petroleum Corporation held a 40 percent stake.

Moreover, China’s pursuit of its interests sets up countries on unstable trajectories. China’s economic investment policies and initiatives exacerbates governance deficits and increases fragility by encouraging corruption, facilitating authoritarianism and human rights violations, and contributing to environmental degradation, all key drivers of conflict. Two cases from Nigeria and Pakistan highlight the point.

In Nigeria, China’s investment projects have exacerbated corruption and fueled distrust in local government – key drivers of conflict and intercommunal violence in the country. China has exploited poor regulatory environments and worked within illegal and corrupt frameworks, often tied to armed groups and criminal networks. In one illustrative example, China state-owned timber trading companies  offered bribes to local officials to illegally harvest endangered rosewood. Members of local communities have cited feelings of exploitation by officials accepting bribes from Chinese businessmen, further stressing fragile ties between local government and citizens. Such business practices also demonstrate a blatant disregard for the environmental consequences of illegally harvesting endangered flora and fauna. Moreover, the inherently opaque nature of these projects that are tied to CCP interests makes it difficult to demand accountability.

Similarly in Pakistan, a 62-billion-dollar project known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) aimed at linking Xinjiang to the Arabian sea, has exacerbated tension in conflict-affected provinces. The project plans to build infrastructure and extract resources from several less developed regions, while overwhelmingly benefitting industrial and political hubs such as Punjab. Many provinces, including Balochistan and Sindh, have accused political elites of altering the route of the corridor in their own interests, thus further marginalizing their communities. Separatist groups have launched several attacks throughout the country, not only fueling conflict between Pakistani ethnic groups but also leading to attacks against Chinese expatriates. Recently, prominent voices from within China have called for a military intervention in Pakistan. CPEC has increased military presence throughout small villages, sparked an uptick in violent conflict along the route, and further eroded trust in local government institutions.

These cases may of course signal more opportunism and indifference by China to the impact of its engagement on stability in any given country, as opposed to an explicit attempt to undermine democratic governance (as it has done elsewhere in support of pro-China interests). Regardless of the intent, however, the impact is the same. China’s focus on political leverage and profits first and foremost undermines stability – and China likewise can benefit from instability in states with corrupt politicians interested in trading local resources for short-term political gains.

What Can be Done: Bolstering Democratic Resilience to Address Fragility and Foreign Influence

Foreign authoritarian influence has a compounding impact in conflict-affected contexts, further undermining governance structures, institutions, and processes that can mitigate or exacerbate fragility.  Good governance, on the contrary, can not only help countries prevent and manage conflict, but can also help countries address the myriad challenges associated with foreign authoritarian influence. Strong democratic institutions help societies respond positively and productively to threats both domestic and foreign.

Targeted investment in democracy in conflict-affected contexts vulnerable to foreign authoritarian influence offers an important opportunity for utilizing the Global Fragility Strategy in support of US foreign policy initiatives and advancing the Biden Administration’s policy priorities to tackle climate change, prevent authoritarian resurgence, confront corruption, and prevail in strategic competition with China.  An investment in support of democracy and good governance to address any one of these issues will reap dividends across each of these issues – engaging in conflict prevention and stabilization programming will both advance global democracy and advance US goals vis-à-vis China and other authoritarian rivals. Such investments, which must be long-term to account for the compounding impact of foreign authoritarian influence in already fragile environments, should include:

  • Supporting governments, civil society, and citizens to better understand, expose and counter foreign authoritarian influence, particularly in conflict-affected contexts where data and research efforts can be challenging. An understanding of China’s playbook is critical to countering CCP influence operations;
  • Helping independent media to investigate and expose foreign authoritarian influence and how it fuels conflict, whether through training, financial support, or other protections of the civic and information space, to raise public awareness of the impact of such engagement on conflict dynamics and promote transparency and accountability in dealings with foreign actors;  
  • Developing evidenced-based tools to prevent and mitigate foreign authoritarian influence in fragile contexts;
  • Strengthening electoral institutions, political parties, legislative bodies, and judiciaries to uproot elite capture and mitigate malign influence;
  • Leveraging diplomacy to build political will and incentives for government officials to resist foreign malign influences. Such diplomatic efforts can include increased outreach and contact with countries previously neglected by the US – but prioritized by China – and public diplomacy to both expose the CCP’s misleading narrative and advance narratives about what democracy can deliver;  and
  • Coordinating with similarly-minded donors such as the European Union, Japan, and Australia, to implement a unified approach to match the scale of Chinese investment and maximize the impact of any intervention.

Only democracy can help countries navigate the nexus of domestic and foreign threats to their stability. In the era of COVID-19, authoritarian resurgence, and climate crisis, supporting countries to develop these “resilience” fundamentals is a sound – and necessary – investment.

*Isabella Mekker is a Program Associate with IRI’s Center for Global Impact, working on countering foreign authoritarian influence and conflict prevention and stabilization programming.

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