[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] O [/yt_dropcap]n April 15 last, North Korea celebrated the 105th birth anniversary of Kim-Il-Sung, the “Eternal Leader” and founder of the new republic of North Korea.”The Day of the Sun” was the opportunity to remember the Eternal Leader, who has always been compared to this bright star, but it was above all the optimum time for a missile test.
The launch was carried out in the morning of April 16, just a day after the huge military parade in Pyongyang and, particularly, few hours before US Vice-President Mike Pence was due to arrive in Seoul, South Korea, at the start of a 10-day trip to Asia.
The medium-range KN-15 missile targeted to the Sea of Japan was launched at around 7:18 a.m.
The missile blew up almost immediately, but the political fact – also represented by the massive show of strength, displaying a bevy of new missiles and launchers during the giant military parade the day before – is that, as stated by the North Korean Deputy-Foreign Minister, Han Song-Ryol, “there will be ever more missile tests on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis.”
We do not know whether the fall of the missile carrier was caused by a fault of the North Korean planning or by a US cyber-warfare action, as many Western sources maintained.
The Deputy Minister also added that any further US pressure would be interpreted as an act of war and as an opportunity for final bilateral confrontation between North Korea and the United States.
Shortly before the statement made by the North Korean Deputy-Minister, while speaking from South Korea, Mike Pence had said that the “the era of strategic patience” of the United States vis-à-vis Kim Jong-Un’s regime was over.
The matter here is not about anger or patience. The issue is eminently geopolitical and – never as in these cases – multilateral.
In the days before the “Day of the Sun”, the US President had sent a naval squadron to the Korean peninsula, made up of the 97,000 ton USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier, accompanied by a missile cruiser, the Lake Champlain, and two destroyers, the Wayne Meyer and the Michael Murphy.
The geopolitical and military significance is clear: the United States penetrates into an area in which North Korea can easily launch missiles or anyway carry out military actions.
And, if it did so, the North American naval squadron would be able to launch a counterforce strike of considerable importance and accuracy.
An aircraft carrier, however, has scarce offensive potential, because its aircraft are still vulnerable to the strikes of the North Korean military forces, while US-South Korean joint operations have always favoured a scenario of ground attack from the coast.
The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier will perform exercises with the Australian forces and, in the near future, with the Japanese marines.
The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier, however, is a US strong sign of strength that must not be overlooked: it carries 60 aircraft and 5,000 marines but, while it is true that the naval group can hit several strategic centers in North Korea, it is equally true that the North Korean response must be taken into account and it will certainly not be negligible.
However, as already said, the US-North Korea confrontation can never be interpreted in bilateral terms. The issue at stake is control over the China Sea and Southeast Asia – regions that no major Asian nation wants to leave only in US hands and the United States would be very naive to interpret the tension with North Korea as a “gunfight at the O.K. Corral”.
China, the only power having a full vision of the balance of power in the region, has recently asked the United States to immediately open direct diplomatic negotiations with North Korea.
Furthermore China has not changed its relationship with North Korea since the last contact between Trump and President Xi Jinping.
However, as some US Defense officers maintain, the issue does not lie in forcing North Korea to stop its nuclear and missile program, considering that weapons “cannot be disinvented”
In a new US strategic horizon, the issue would rather lie in dissuading North Korea by granting some kind of geoeconomic asset, thus also gaining support from the major countries of the region.
Nor the issue at stake is only the survival of the North Korean regime, which would probably remain stable, even after an enemy nuclear strike.
Moreover, are we really interested in a regime change in North Korea? Is it not enough to have experienced the disasters of the “Arab springs” or Syria? Regimes have always changed on their own.
Indeed, the real issue is the strategic relationship between China, the Russian Federation, Iran and, of course, North Korea.
Currently Russia is the most linked to North Korea, as often reported by the agencies of the North Korean regime.
Even over the last few months the Kremlin has strongly reduced the North Korean economic crisis and it is expanding the Hasan-Rajin railway network between the two countries – a project from which South Korea withdrew in March 2016.
At energy level, Russia supports North Korea also during the recurrent crises of commercial relations between China and North Korea, with oil and gas transfers from Siberia to Rajin, starting from Vladivostok.
The Russian oil has often been processed in North Korean plants and it has brought hard currency to North Korea, as well as particularly enabling it to resell to China precisely the Russian oil by-products.
At least 10,000 North Korean workers have already been posted to Russia, with a view to developing the Siberian infrastructure.
In this case, the Russian strategic idea is to become a strategic partner both for South Korea and North Korea, thus playing a unique role between the two countries that no naïve naval group can play in the long run.
Moreover, Russia blocks any illegal migration between North Korea and its territory, thus ensuring to Kim Jong-un strong demographic stability, which is essential for the country.
Paradoxically, another crucial fact for relations between Russia and North Korea is the presence, in South Korea, of the US THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Aerial Defense) anti-ballistic missile system, which is seen by Russia both as an incentive for North Korea to continue the missile program and as a real threat to the Russian-Korean relations in the North of the Peninsula.
For China, the relationship with the North Korean regime is even more complex.
China is linked to North Korea by the Sino-Korean Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance of 1961 and China imports and exports approximately three-quarters of North Korea’s production.
Hence China does not seek the collapse of Kim Jong-un’s regime because, obviously, it does not want a flood of migrants on its borders, nor a peninsular reunification led by South Korea, which would mean thousands of US soldiers close to its national territory.
Instead of sending military ships, President Donald J. Trump would do well to discuss with Russia and China the future of North Korea, by reconciling all interests: the interest of Japan and South Korea, which do not want a strategic threat on their borders, as well as the interest of Russia and China, which have a geoeconomic interest and want a friendly country directed towards the South China Sea.
As Napoleon used to say, it is geography which guides and directs military strategy.
Gunboat diplomacy is also a relic of the nineteenth century or of the time when the United States forcibly opened new markets for their goods, as when Commodore Perry opened Japan to international trade in 1853.
Nevertheless also China supports and votes the resolutions on North Korea’s missile and nuclear activities and expands its relations with South Korea, thus playing a broker role that could be essential in the future.
As is the case with the Russian Federation.
North Korea, however, has never made concessions to its big neighbouring country, namely China.
In 2006, for example, it informed China of its nuclear test only twenty minutes in advance and so far there has been no official meeting between Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping.
China, inter alia, does not want a North Korea increasingly dependent on foreign aid, while international sanctions block the North Korean-Chinese trade despite the increase of North Korea’s production.
Hence a North Korean economic growth to absorb Chinese exports would be ideal for the CPC leaders, who have always set their relations with Pyongyang in view of making the two economies homogeneous.
This is only part of North Korean goals, since the country wants integration in the Asian coastal economic context without strategic “godfathers”.
The relationship between North Korea and Iran is even more complex.
Iran has always used the North Korean companies for acquiring the materials subject to sanctions, especially in the military sphere.
For no reason Iran will leave North Korea to its fate, while the economic relations between Iran and South Korea strengthen significantly as time goes by.
Certainly, still today the flow of funds from the Shiite theocracy to the atheist kingdom of the Korean Peninsula is focused on missile and nuclear technologies, but Iran exports large oil quantities also to South Korea.
Nevertheless, reverting to the military parade of April 15 last, it is worth recalling it had begun with an unusual climax of accusations between the United States and North Korea.
And exactly on April 11, North Korean leaders had declared that their country was ready to respond with a nuclear strike to any US conventional or non-conventional threat.
And, as it has been happening for years, China tries to pour water on the fire of tensions between North Korea and the United States.
North Korea, inter alia, has an army of approximately one million people and seven million reservists, with a thousand ballistic missiles including six hundred SCUD B, C or D missiles and four hundred Nodong missiles – an adapted version of Scud missiles – while it is supposed to have some dozens of Musudan Taepodong missiles, which are the most suitable for an extra-continental attack.
North Korea has 2,100 military vehicles, 4,000 tanks, 600 warplanes, 72 submarines and three frigates.
The ready-made nuclear warheads are supposed to be twenty, with 5,000 tons of nerve agent available.
For cyberwarfare, in the now famous “Unit 121”, North Korea has 1,800 hackers, probably trained by China, Russia and Iran.
Hence, instead of sending the current version of Commodore Perry, the United States could agree with China and Russia to define, in North Korea, an economic system open for special economic zones in Pyongyang.
Some work well, some others worse, but this is the main card to play so as to pool efforts between the United States, China and Russia in relation to North Korea.
Moreover, it would be reasonable to hold a new round of negotiations, quite different from the Six-Party Talks which have already taken place.
As is well-known, they were discontinued in 2009 following the dispute on the check and verification criteria and some missile launches by North Korea.
Now, on the one hand, it would be necessary to create such a linkage between the military structure and economy, in North Korea, as to ensure the stability of its political system and, on the other, to support the economy in exchange for verifiable and rational reductions of its nuclear apparatus.
But can this be the line of an America like the current one?
The Taliban seek cooperation with China?
How to deal with Afghanistan after the removal of US forces has become a subject that many countries are grappling with. And because Afghanistan and China are linked through Xinjiang, the Afghan Taliban aspire to cooperate with China. According to sources, on July 28, Baradar, the head of the Taliban’s Political Committee, visited China and met with Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
During the meetings, Foreign Minister Wang Yi made a personal plea to the Taliban in Afghanistan, expecting that the Taliban would draw a line with terrorist organizations like the East Iraqi Movement and actively battle them, removing barriers to regional growth and cooperation. Since the United States made it apparent that it intends to withdraw its troops, China’s position toward Afghanistan and the Taliban has become the center of all countries’ attention.
Prior to that, China simply repeated its long-standing foreign policy of non-interference in domestic matters, — in other words, China does not intervene in Afghanistan’s internal problems and expects Afghans to handle their own internal affairs. China, on the other hand, is very concerned about the situation in Afghanistan. China has not only made substantial investments in Afghanistan, but it has also sponsored several dialogues in China between Afghan parties.
Only because of the complexities of the situation in Afghanistan does China lack a clear answer. China has stated its particular needs more explicitly this time than in the past. China has far too many considerations when it comes to Afghanistan. However, in comparison to the behavior of many other nations, China’s demands for the Taliban this time have been well thought out, fair, and controlled.
First, China has maintained its previous favorable policy. Despite the fact that the Afghanistan problem is unique, China has not broken its foreign policy of non-interference in internal matters. On the basis of this strategy, China has had interactions with all parties in Afghanistan, ensuring that participation is not only voluntary, but also sufficient to ensure that all parties understand China’s position in order to avoid misunderstandings.
Second, China has stated its opinion on the subjects that most worry it. China has no space for compromise when it comes to national security. China has not raised this matter in the past, but it still needs to voice its viewpoint at the proper moment. As a result, China has the guts to demonstrate its stance, which will aid in the resolution of the situation.
Only when this issue is settled will future collaboration between China and Afghanistan be simple. The Taliban further said that no troops will be allowed to utilize Afghan territory to conduct activities that harm China. Atta regards China as a reliable ally and thinks that China would contribute to peaceful rebuilding.
Furthermore, China has not permitted certain ill-intentioned groups throughout the world to flourish. Following the withdrawal of the US troops, there was speculation in Western culture that China might become engaged in this issue and become the next growing power to enter the “empire’s tomb.” The Indian army’s recent intervention in Afghan politics appears to demonstrate that, as a powerful country around Afghanistan, it is hard to stay out of the issue.
China avoided the urge to intervene and managed its interactions with all sides sensibly, laying the ground for the next phase in the development of China-Afghan relations. So far, China has not fallen into the West’s trap, nor has the deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan harmed its relations with all parties.
As China expands its global presence, it will eventually come into contact with nations with very difficult political and economic situations, such as Afghanistan. However, China will not flee because of obstacles, because the majority of the world’s developed countries are Western countries with strong biases against China, and those wanting to have good relations with China are frequently developing countries with varied challenges. nation. As a result, China has no option.
Will US-China Tensions Trigger the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis?
Half a century ago, the then-National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger flew to Beijing in the hope of seeking China’s alliance to contain the Soviets. His visit culminated in the U.S. agreement to recognize Beijing as the only legitimate government of China instead of Taipei, going back on the promise he had made to the president of the Republic of China, Chiang Ching-kuo, merely one year previously that Taiwan would never be abandoned by the US. The realistic American diplomat may have never thought that one day Taiwan, once ruthlessly forsaken by the US, would become the latter’s most important strategic fortress in East Asia to contain a rising China.
In 2018, the passage of the Taiwan Travel Act encouraged more high-ranking American government officials to visit Taiwan and vice versa1. The US Undersecretary of State Keith Krach landed in Taiwan two years later, rendering him the highest-level State Department official to visit the island since 19792. The Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, announced the cancellation of all restrictions on official contacts between the U.S. and Taiwan in January 20213 – an action that was vehemently denounced by the Chinese government as Trump’s “last-ditch madness” that would “push the Taiwan question deeper down the road of no return”4.
Just when the world thought of Joe Biden’s ascension to power as a harbinger of softer attitudes toward Beijing, especially regarding Taiwan issues, the diplomatic muscle flexed by the newly elected US president is as eye-tingling as his aviator shades – first, his Secretary of State, Blinken and Secretary of Defense, Austin made an explicit announcement of the U.S. support for Taiwan; second, he sent former Deputy Secretaries of State Richard Armitage and James Steinberg and former senator Chris Dodd to Taiwan in honor of the 42nd anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act.
America’s incremental interest in the island is not confined to actions from its executive branches, but it has permeated its legislative system. The introduction of the confrontational “Strategic Competition Act of 2021” in April signals the anti-Soviet-style containment of China which was backed by The Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This bill echoes the “Interim National Security Strategic Guidance” released by the Biden Administration in March, and it emphasizes the urgent need to “achieve United States political objectives in the Indo-Pacific” and back closer ties with Taiwan5. With strong bipartisan support, the bill is expected to be signed into law by President Biden and to serve as a legislative compass to counter China at all levels. In that respect, Taiwan Strait is more likely than ever to become “ground zero” by the U.S. and China.
On the other hand, the crackdown on Hong Kong’s democracy movement under the new National Security Law by Beijing proved to be successful due to the limited backlash received from the West. On top of that, Beijing’s handling of Xinjiang cotton issue seems to have managed to incite nationalism among Chinese people on a short notice to boycott “anti-China forces”6. With a record of 380 incursions into Taiwan’s airspace by Chinese air force during 2020, there is reason to believe that Hong Kong and Xinjiang were “guinea pigs” used by Beijing to test its capability for the fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis, the probability of which has been enhanced by Xi Jinping’s attempt to seek reappointment and Beijing’s need to divert domestic attention away from the escalating social conflicts brought about by the stagnant economy.
So, the pertinent question is: if the fourth Taiwan Crisis does break out, when will it happen? It could be sometime after the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games7 as it is unlikely for China to discard the opportunity to showcase its image and test its comprehensive strength8. This could be déjà vu in light of Russia’s successful Blitzkrieg-style invasion of Ukraine in 2014, which occurred only three days after the end of Sochi Winter Olympics. However, China is not the only one who can learn from history. When the rest of the world anticipates China’s intent with regard to Taiwan, preemptive precautions will be taken. The game-theory-type strategic interaction may hence spur China to launch its attack before the upcoming international sports gala.
Another critical timing could be prior to the 20th National Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in October 2022. Xi Jinping’s abolishment of term limits through constitutional amendment may pave the legal foundation for his reappointment, but the “widespread opposition within the party”9 renders the legitimacy of his extended tenure unlikely. That is why some may find it hard to conceive of Xi’s attempt to “start an unnecessary war with Taiwan” before his re-appointment10, but his insatiable desire for a 3rd term may push him over the edge. For the time being, Xi seems to be seduced by his burgeoning self-confidence that China is charging into an epoch of opportunity where “the East is rising and the West is declining,”11 and what time is better than now to consolidate his authority in front of dissidents with a military show-off targeting Taiwan?
As Henry Kissinger12 said, “The historical challenge for leaders is to manage the crisis while building the future. Failure could set the world on fire.” When the leaders of the two greatest powers both see their own countries as the future “Leviathan” of the world, the definition of failure can no longer be merely confined to internal mismanagement, but being surpassed by international competitors. Kissinger may have overestimated some leaders’ senses of honor to bear the responsibility of the “historical challenge”, but he can be right about the catastrophic consequences of their failures. But this time, failure is not an option for either side across the Taiwan Strait nor across the Pacific Ocean
- Chen, Y., & Cohen, J. A. (2019). China-Taiwan Relations Re-Examined: The “1992 Consensus” and Cross-Strait Agreements. University of Pennsylvania Asian Law Review, 14(1).
- Mink, M. (2021). The Catalyst for Stronger US-Taiwan Ties. https://keithkrach.com/the-catalyst-for-stronger-us-taiwan-ties/
- Hass, R. (2021). After lifting restrictions on US-Taiwan relations, what comes next? Brookings. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2021/01/11/after-lifting-restrictions-on-us-taiwan-relations-what-comes-next/
- Global Times. (2021). Pompeo may toll the knell for Taiwan authorities. https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202101/1212378.shtml
- Zengerle, P., & Martina, M. (2021). U.S. lawmakers intensify bipartisan efforts to counter China. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/us-lawmakers-look-advance-sweeping-bid-counter-china-2021-04-21/
- Cui, J., & Zhao, Y. (2021). Boycott of Xinjiang cotton use opposed. China Daily. https://www.chinadailyhk.com/article/161495
- Everington, K. (2021). Former US security advisor says Taiwan in “maximum danger” from PLA. Taiwan News. https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/4189160
- China Daily. (2021). Preparing for Winter Olympics promotes quality development – Opinio. China Daily. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202101/22/WS600a131ba31024ad0baa44f1.html
- The Guardian. (2020). China’s Xi Jinping facing widespread opposition in his own party, insider claims. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/18/china-xi-jinping-facing-widespread-opposition-in-his-own-party-claims-insider
- Roy, D. (2021). Rumors of War in the Taiwan Strait. The Diplomat. https://thediplomat.com/2021/03/rumors-of-war-in-the-taiwan-strait/
- Buckley, C. (2021). Xi Maps Out China’s Post-Covid Ascent. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/03/world/asia/xi-china-congress.html?_ga=2.178218534.2000768907.1619749005-1359154941.1599697815
- Kissinger, H. A. (2020). The Coronavirus Pandemic Will Forever Alter the World Order. https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-coronavirus-pandemic-will-forever-alter-the-world-order-11585953005
Quad Infrastructure Diplomacy: An Attempt to Resist the Belt and Road Initiative
Over the years, the competition between the great powers in the dual space of the Indian and Pacific Oceans has been rapidly increasing. In the face of the aggravation of relations between the PRC and the United States, the defence dimension of the rivalry between the two contenders for global leadership traditionally comes to the forefront. However, in today’s context, the parties will most likely not engage in military action for the strengthening of their dominance in the region, but they will try to achieve the goals by expanding of economic influence. In this context, along with the well-known trade wars, there is an infrastructure rivalry in the region, which is enforced on Beijing by Washington and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad).
The role of Infrastructure in Indian and Pacific Oceans’ countries
The countries of Asia traditionally drawing the attention of the world community due to the high rates of economic, technological, and social development. In less than three decades, their per capita income has increased by 74%, millions of people have been lifted out of poverty, as well as a growing middle class has emerged in the region. All this became possible due to the multilateral cooperation institutionalization and the integration of the economies of the Indo-Pacific. However, the strengthening of trade and economic ties and the future prosperity of Asia largely depends on the infrastructure (ports, highways and railways, airports, pipelines, etc.), which contributes to a more active movement of goods on a regional and global scale. Moreover, back in 2009, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) published a report according to which collective investments in infrastructure in the amount of US$8 trillion will be required to maintain rapid economic growth in Asian countries.
The most prominent infrastructure initiative in recent years is the «Belt and Road Initiative» (BRI), which was launched by China’s leader Xi Jinping in 2013. The BRI helped to fill numerous infrastructure gaps, but the United States and its partners increasingly paid attention to the geostrategic aspect of China’s actions. It’s no secret that the Belt and Road plays an important role in the development and integration of China’s provinces with neighboring countries. However, with the growing number of countries participating in the BRI, as well as the strengthening of China’s influence on a regional and global scale, criticism of the strategic tools for expanding Beijing’s economic influence gradually increased. The Belt and Road has faced a number of critical remarks, including those related to accusations of purposely involving the regional countries in the so-called «debt traps». Regardless of the degree of truthfulness or study of the issue, from year to year, media reports have contributed to the building of a contradictory attitude to China’s BRI among the residents, experts, and political elites all over the world.
Moreover, as soon as Donald Trump became the U.S. President in early 2017, Washington modified the nature of its policy towards China to greater confrontation. This trend has become a direct expression of the intensified great powers’ rivalry and their struggle for hegemony in the Indo-Pacific, as well as a motivation for the revival of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), which includes the United States, Australia, India and Japan. However, the interaction of the Quad has long been built on the basis of defence.
This trend continues nowadays, as evidenced by the frequent exercises and the growing Quad naval presence in the Indo-Pacific but in 2021 the Quad countries expanded their range of issues on a multilateral basis. Now the agenda includes vaccine diplomacy (providing 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines to Indo-Pacific countries, climate change, technological cooperation, maritime security, cybersecurity, and external development assistance. According to Kurt Campbell, Indo-Pacific policy coordinator at the National Security Council, Washington is looking to convene an in-person fall summit of leaders of the Quad countries with a focus on infrastructure in the face of the challenge from China.
Quadrilateral infrastructure diplomacy as the continuing vector of the Trump’s administration
The infrastructure agenda also became an important part of the last summit of the G7 countries’ leaders, during which the parties expressed their willingness to establish a BRI counterpart called Build Back Better World (B3W). In total, there are 22 mentions of infrastructure in the final G7 Summit Communiqué. Even despite the traditionally restrained position of India, which took the time to «study the specifics of the proposal», infrastructure diplomacy of Quad is becoming a new area of geostrategic competition in the Indo-Pacific.
There’s one exception: the activities on the infrastructure track are not a new trend of U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration, but a continuation of the foreign policy vector set during the presidency of Donald Trump. It was he who turned Sino-U.S. rivalry into a geo-economic level. Back in 2017, the Foreign Ministers of the Quad countries stated the need for high-quality infrastructure development in order to ensure freedom and openness of sea routes, as well as improve intra-regional ties. In 2018, MoU was signed between the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia, aimed at implementing major infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific. Moreover, the Quad countries raised the question of the BRI countries’ growing debt during their official meeting in Singapore.
It was clear that the Belt and Road Initiative is perceived by the Quad countries as the main factor in expanding the economic and political influence of the People’s Republic of China, as well as China’s influence of the domestic political processes in the countries of Indo-Pacific. At the same time, the combination of economic and defence rivalry enforced on Beijing by Washington, as well as Quad’s efforts to build a balance of power in the region actually indicates the explicit anti-China nature of the Quad.
In this case, it’s important to note that each of the Quad countries has its own levers of influence, which they can combine in infrastructure competition with Beijing. For example, in 2015, in response to the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative and the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) by China, Japan made the Partnership for Quality Infrastructure (PQI). The United States, in turn, announced the infrastructure project Blue Dot Network (BDN), as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia established a new Partnerships for Infrastructure (P4I). All these initiatives are united by a commitment to inclusive economic growth, «quality infrastructure», climate change, disaster response, and social development. The capitalization of the Japanese, American and Australian initiatives is US $110 billion (US$50 billion from Japan and over US$50 from the Asian Development Bank), US$30-60 million, and US$383 thousand (including access to US$4 billion of foreign aid and $US2 billion from the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific), respectively. Given the ongoing discussions about debt traps, the emphasis on «high-quality infrastructure» may give special features to the initiatives of the Quad but even the total amount of funding will not be able to compete with the US$770 billion investments already made in 138 countries of the world and announced by China.
Anyway, Quad is stepping up its infrastructure diplomacy in at least three areas, including Southeast Asia, Oceania, and the Indian Ocean. For example, Australia, Germany and Switzerland have already allocated US$13 million to the Mekong River Commission For Sustainable Development (MRC) to assist Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and, Vietnam «to respond to pressing challenges while safeguarding the ecological function of the Mekong River and improving people’s livelihoods».At the same time, Australia signed US$300 million MoU with Papua New Guinea, aimed at the ports reconstruction in the major state of Oceania (the ports of Vanimo, Kimbe, Motukea, Lorengau, Oro Bay, Daru, Lae, etc.). It is important to highlight that the increasing economic and infrastructural presence of China in the countries of Oceania, energize Australia’s policy in the South Pacific, which is a traditional zone of influence of Canberra. At the same time, the expansion of Australia’s aid and investment to the broader Indo-Pacific is due to the commitment of the current Australian government to the U.S. foreign policy.
In turn, the reaction of the Southeast Asian countries to the intensification of Quad infrastructure diplomacy will be more restrained. According to the latest Pew Research Center survey, the most unfavourable view of China is in the United States (76%), Canada (73%), Germany (71%), Japan (88%), Australia (78%), and South Korea (77%), while in Singapore — the only country representing ASEAN in the survey — the percentage of unfavourable views on China is at a low level (34%). Moreover, considering the aspects of infrastructure diplomacy in the region, we should definitely refer to the survey of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) of the political elites of the region «Powers, Norms, and Institutions: The Future of the Indo-Pacific from a Southeast Asia Perspective», published in 2020. Despite the intentional exclusion of Russia from the survey, it approximately reflects the trends in the Indo-Pacific countries at the present stage. Thus, as a result of the survey, American experts revealed that the political elites of Southeast Asia positively assess China’s activities in the field of infrastructure development, which has brought tangible benefits to most Southeast Asian countries.
China is actively reacting to verbal attacks from the United States and Quad. The infrastructure agenda was no exception, but China responded by modernizing its global Belt and Road Initiative. In response to criticism about the involvement of the countries in debt traps, Beijing has developed a new Foreign Policy White Paper «China’s International Development Cooperation in the New Era». The document was published in early 2021. According to the provisions of the new White Paper, China will pay closer attention to the process of implementing projects within the aid framework, take an active part in evaluating projects in order to monitor their quality, maintain an appropriate level of confidence in its projects to China, as well as conduct bilateral consultations to identify difficulties with debt repayment and make sure that partners do not fall into a debt trap. It’s possible that the new vision of the PRC will appear especially quickly in countries where the Quad will primarily try to implement their infrastructure projects.
China is the first country in the region, which pays significant attention to the issues of large-scale infrastructure development. Moreover, Beijing has a number of advantages over its opponent — Quad. First, the Belt and Road initiative is more structured and aimed at intensifying trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation with neighboring countries, while the emerging Quad infrastructure agenda is «dispersed» among numerous individual initiatives, doesn’t have the same level of stability as the BRI, and even after 3.5 years of building the agenda is considered through the prism of expectations.
Second, China’s initiative is aimed at a single infrastructure connection between the PRC and the rest of the world and acts as a potential basis for the intensification of global trade in the future. At the same time, today’s projects of the Quad are of a “sporadic» nature and can’t contribute to the infrastructure linkage between Europe, Africa, South and Southeast Asia on a global scale.
Third, China can already offer the Belt and Road members not only logistics infrastructure but also the opportunities in the field of green energy. At the end of 2019, China produced about a third of the world’s solar energy and retained a leading position in the number of wind turbines. Within the foreseeable future, the Quad countries, and especially the United States, will have to compete with China even in the field of the climate agenda, which is so close to the new administration of the U.S. President Joe Biden.
Finally, during his recent speech on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), PRC’s Leader Xi Jinping confidently declared the great revival of the Chinese nation, its contribution to the progress of human civilization, and its readiness to build a new world, which undoubtedly indicates China’s decisiveness to respond to challenges to its address, including from the Quad.
The ongoing transformation of the regional architecture in the Indo-Pacific, both in the defence and economic areas, will be an important aspect in the post-pandemic era. China has repeatedly stated about the «covered» Quad activities to deterrence Chinese policy in the region, but the expansion of the Quad’s agenda by infrastructure diplomacy allows us to speak about the evident vector of the Quad strategy against the PRC.
However, nowadays the Quad countries had been left behind. China already has the world’s most numerous land forces, the largest navy, as well as an ambitious global Belt and Road initiative that includes almost 140 countries and a capitalization approaching US$1 trillion. Of course, Quad is moving towards the institutionalization of its infrastructure cooperation and the potential expansion of the number of participating countries to the Quad Plus format. However, to reach China’s achievements for the period 2013-2021, the new alliance will need at least a decade.
At the same time, the rivalry of the Belt and Road with the Quad’s infrastructure initiative will help the countries of the region to diversify their infrastructure ties but will make their choice even more difficult, since it will primarily be regarded as support for the foreign policy vision of one of the parties, and not a pragmatic estimate of economic benefits. All this makes the regional environment in the Indo-Pacific increasingly complex and forces middle powers and smaller countries to adapt to new geostrategic realities.
From our partner International Affairs
Sink or swim: Can island states survive the climate crisis?
Small island nations across the world are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, and their problems have been accentuated...
Delta variant, a warning the COVID-19 virus is getting ‘fitter and faster’
Cases and deaths resulting from COVID-19 continue to climb worldwide, mostly fuelled by the highly transmissible Delta variant, which has...
Investing in Key Sectors to Help Nigeriens Recover From the Health and Security Crises
The Covid-19 pandemic crisis and the security situation continue to undermine the Nigerien economy, wiping out years of hard-won gains...
Ensuring a More Inclusive Future for Indonesia through Digital Technologies
While Indonesia has one of the fastest growing digital economies in South East Asia, action is needed to ensure that...
Russia and China: Geopolitical Rivals and Competitors in Africa
The growth of neo-colonial tendencies, the current geopolitical developments and the scramble for its resources by external countries in Africa:...
India’s North East: A cauldron of resentment
The writer is of the view that the recent clash between police force of Mizoram and Assam is not an...
Bangladesh-Myanmar Economic Ties: Addressing the Next Generation Challenges
Bangladesh-Myanmar relations have developed through phases of cooperation and conflict. Conflict in this case is not meant in the sense...
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Russia’s ‘Great Game’ in Central Asia Amid the US Withdrawal from Afghanistan
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The Taliban seek cooperation with China?
Defense3 days ago
United States- Iran Nuclear Crises: Portents for Israel
Green Planet3 days ago
The problems of climate change, part 1
Arts & Culture2 days ago
Arguing Over Petty Things: Turkish Pop or Poop Art?
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DNA to rediscover a forgotten immigration
International Law2 days ago
International Criminal Court and thousands of ignored complaints
Russia2 days ago
The other side of the Olympics