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Belt and Road Initiative: An Impetus to Sino-Israeli Strategic Partnership

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Authors: Wang Li & Bokang Malefane Theoduld Ramonono

[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] S [/yt_dropcap]ince the normalization of diplomatic relations between China and Israel (1992), a steady and rapid development of mutual ties characterized contemporary interactions.

Israel’s export of sophisticated technologies involving controversially dual-used know-how of civilian products remains one of the key providers for China. Israel has been aware of China as a huge market and Chinese talents and capabilities. The bilateral recognition idea with China will make it easier for commerce to occur between the two countries, guarantee the highest standards of legal compliance. In 2013, Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated that if Israeli innovation in technologies would combine with Chinese prowess in manufacture, it would be an extraordinary union of the two competitive, innovative and advance economies. Recent conditions indicate the implementation of the previously delivered announcements.

In 2013, President Xi Jin-ping initiated the concept of the “One Belt & One Road” (OBOR) which aimed at creating a belt of railroads, highways, pipelines and broadband communications stretching from China, headed westwards through the Arabian plans and finally into Europe, whilst simultaneously embarking on the “Maritime Silk Road” initiative combining prominent sea routes with port infrastructure from the Indian Ocean to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. This project has proven captivating as the image of the United States in the Middle East continues to decline in the post-Gulf war period, and thus it would be in China’s aspirations to assume a greater role in the region. Turkey is an undisputedly big power in the Middle East, but Israel’s geo-strategic location and its technological advances have shored up its hard and soft power capabilities, essentially amassing the state with the appearance and strength of a micro-superpower with the ability and the opportunity to shape Beijing’s strategic concerns in the region for decades to come.

Firstly, Israel is associated with creative, advanced technologies and military capacities in the Middle Eastern milieu. Despite, the geopolitical challenges to Israel, the “Red-Med” rail project was a necessary essential and therefore, Israel is responsive to “OBOR” for China has plenty of seasoned labors and approximately $2 billion investment in this 300 km rail line linking Ashkelon with the Red Sea. With the specific role of Israel in the Middle East, Chinese policy-makers seek a broad swath of opportunities to build high-speed rail lines in Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East as well as China aims to double its 12,000 kilometers of railway track by 2020, with high-speed lines comprising most of the expansion.

Secondly, some Chinese strategists propose the “Red-Med” rail as emblematic of a more ambitious design for the region. In words of President Xi, “A peaceful, stable and developing Middle East meets the common interests of all parties including China and Israel”. And to that end the Sino-Israeli collaboration efforts include counterterrorism and anti-piracy operations, as well as economic support for Arab countries. Beijing looks toward Tel Aviv to provide advanced technologies, such as in agriculture and manufacture, to secure the industrialization and social stability of the region in the context of “One Belt and One Road.” Additionally, PLA Navy seeks assistance from Israeli counterparts in anti-piracy missions in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden. This indicates, the “Red-Med” project accentuates the dramatic shift in China’s perceptions of regional security in the Middle East. Given the China’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil; for instance, China’s net oil imports have nearly tripled in the past decade, with a 150% increase in tons per month spanning a decade imported from the Persian Gulf, the leaders and their security advisors in Beijing must pursue innovative avenues in order to “enhance regional security presence without, attempting to play a superpower role in the region”, as David Goldman argued recently.

Third, there is a new consensus in China that as a rising power with the second largest economy in the world, China will have to take more responsibilities in the world including the Middle East. However, the suddenness of America’s lesser role in the region has left China unprepared and unsure of its next steps; a fact, Chinese analysts quick to acknowledge. On one hand, China has proactively joined the P5+1 negotiations with Iran and offered to become a fifth member of the Quartet (UN, US, Europe, Russia), but these are pro forma proposals to assert China’s interest in the region rather than a policy per se. but on the other hand, China has voted with the Palestinians at the United Nations according to the “two states” formula over the past years, and it will not alter its diplomatic position in the foreseeable future.

Yet, there is an increasing level of interest in the features and characteristics of the “One Belt One Road” initiative devised by China. It sounds attractive that the transformation of the Eurasian landmass by high-speed transport and communications will lift large parts of the continent out of backwardness, as China sees the matter. But, building the transnational rail lines, though, demands the suppression of security threats that could disrupt trade flows. It is generally held that “OBOR” stems from China’s confidence in its rapidly-growing economic strengths while it also requires making long-term political stability possible. As China doesn’t want to rock the boat with any prospective adversary, Beijing’s Middle East stance is in the midst of a grand reconsideration. In the absence of overriding American influence in the Middle East, the risks of regional war and an interruption of China’s oil supplies will rise above the threshold of acceptability to Beijing. Taking the above-mentioned into consideration, The U.S. and European economies are still recovering from the 2008 crisis and growing at anemic rates. At the same time, Europe’s relationship with the Jewish state is becoming increasingly colored by anti-Israel sentiments. In this context, an Asian pivot makes sense. Israel’s desire to establish a reliable commercial corridor with the Far East dates back to the David Ben-Gurion (Israeli Prime Minister) administration. But now in both respects, Beijing sizes up Israel as a strategic partner since it clearly has an important prowess in the regional security and in meeting China’s technological needs.

Frankly speaking, China still has a long way to go in view of completion of the grand “OBOR, as the potential challenges are from both the Islamist extremism and the common practices of the geopolitical game. First, as the largest power adjunct to China’s Tibet, how India will interact with the “OBOR” is not yet clear, though it seems increasingly likely that India and China will collaborate rather than quarrel. After President Xi’s state visit to India in 2014, the new government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi may draw on Chinese expertise and financing to alleviate critical infrastructure bottlenecks. The two countries are negotiating a $33 billion high-speed rail scheme, for example, the first major improvement in a rail system built by the British in the 19th century. Economics trumps petty concerns over borders in the mountainous wasteland that separates the world’s two most populous nations. Yet, there is also a strategic dimension to the growing sense of agreement between China and India. From India’s vantage point, China’s support for Pakistan’s military has been a grave concern, but it cuts both ways. First, Pakistan remains at perpetual risk of tipping over towards militant Islam, and the main guarantor of its stability is the army. China wants to strengthen Pakistani army as a bulwark against the Islamic radicals, who threaten China’s Xinjiang province as much as they do India, and that probably serves India’s interests as well as any Chinese policy might.

The more dangerous prospect to China comes from the rise of Islamist extremism that has evidently worried Beijing. At least a hundred or even many more Chinese Uyghurs are reportedly fighting with Islamic State, presumably in order to acquire terrorist skills to bring back home to China’s homeland. Chinese analysts have a very low opinion of the Obama administration’s approach to dealing with IS, but they did not have an alternative policy. Hopefully, there is an opportunity for low-profile but significant security cooperation between Israel and China.

In foreign affairs, China’s policy-making is careful, conservative and consensus-driven, for its overriding concern is its own economic growth which has been seen as the fundamental issue to the security of the country and the legitimacy of the ruling party. The pace of transformation of the Middle East has surprised it, and it has tried to decide what to do next. China’s short-term intension remains largely unknown. But it seems inevitable that China’s basic interests will lead it to far greater involvement in the region, all the more so as the US withdraws. Israel will remain an American ally, and this alliance strictly delimits the scope of Sino-Israeli collaboration. Within these limits, though, Israel has greater room to maneuver, and the opportunity to assist in the formation of Chinese conceptions and strategy in the region for decades to come. Chinese leaders are clearly aware of this reality.

During his second visit to China in March 2017 at the invitation of China’s President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Netanyahu signaled at an occasion marking the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations that Israel is cordial in taking a more prominent role to build the “OBOR” in the region of the Middle East and the Mediterranean. The visit to China of the Israeli PM had the anticipated positive results with regard to the development of the two sides’ financial relationship, since the Chinese government views Israel, despite its small size, as a producer of natural resources and a potential contributor to China’s grand design of the “OBOR”. For sure, several non-financial subjects also occupied the leaders during their meetings, including relations with the US, the role Russia is playing in the Middle East and terror threats from Islamic sources. As China sees matters, the Chinese government, which strives for global stability that will support its economy, wants to see the peaceful restoration in the whole region.

True, unlike Western foreign policies, which generally prioritize political issues and normal relations, Chinese foreign policy pays attention to economic issues. This is consistent with China’s adherence to nonintervention in the domestic affairs of other countries. China and Israel have worked closely with the enhancement based on terms of “innovation and cooperation”. They are asymmetrical in view of the territorial sizes and the population, but the Chinese government regards as advantageous, Israel’s potential assumption of a non-replaceable participant in the “OBOR” initiative. Due to this consideration, China and Israel provided as joint statement declaring the establishment and promotion of bilateral relations based on a “comprehensive innovative strategic partnership”.

(*) Bokang Malefane Theoduld Ramonono, PhD Candidate in International Relations at the School of International and Public Affairs,  Jilin University China

Wang Li is Professor of International Relations and Diplomacy at the School of International and Public Affairs, Jilin University China.

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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%?

***

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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