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The two Koreas: Some considerations on the relationship between North and South Korea

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] I [/yt_dropcap]f the two Koreas reunified, as planned in 2000 with the joint declaration of June 15, we would have an unreasonable merging of two radically different political principles. South Korea has chosen to be a periphery of the American empire, which uses the US economy on the basis of its internal cycles and mature technologies that it exports by taking advantage of the low cost of manpower and of some raw materials.

North Korea played the Cold War card, supported only partially by China and Russia, which used North Korea as a block for the West and paid for said North Korea’s commitment with political stability and some economic aid.

The Cold War, however, is really over and this holds true both for North and for South Korea.

We need to think of new worlds and new “super-concept rules”, just to quote Wittgenstein.

Traditionally, unification is conceived as a Confederation, as supported by South Korea, or as a Federation with wide autonomy for both areas, as always supported by North Korea.

The two inter-Korean meetings held in 2000 and in 2007 – with the first one that even made the South Korean President be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his Sunshine Policy – recorded excellent economic results (including the free trade area of Kaesong and the tourist area of Mount Gumgang), but no effective political results.

Indeed, in November 2010, the North Korean Minister for Reunification officially dismissed the Sunshine Policy as a failure.

This always happens when politicians are only interested in conveying a good “image”.

However, let us better analyzing the reunification policies which are currently being proposed, also by authoritative US think tanks.

The excessive psychologism – the flaw Husserl saw in the European philosophy of his time – still characterizes the North American analysis of strategic phenomena in Asia and the Middle East

Hence, both in North and in South Korea, the phenomenology of elites is often quite simplified and devoid of the necessary nuances.

The “states of mind” or the subjective tendencies of the real members of the two countries’ ruling classes are not so relevant as they may appear at first sight.

“Les faits ont la tête dure” (Common sense is not so common) – just to quote Voltaire – and elites do not live on psychology, but enjoy verifiable and significant privileges that someone has to pay anyway.

Meanwhile, the Constitution establishing the North Korean Workers’ Party repeats still today that conquering South Korea militarily is the primary strategic (and economic) goal of the North Korean regime – not to mention the fact that North Korea’s ruling class is selected with military and national criteria, while South Korea’s ruling class is more technocratic and less prone to accept the line of military confrontation.

The difference is not marginal. Pending an inter-Korean conflict, South Korea’s elites would escape to the United States – thinking of being at home – while the North Korean ones would fight their war until final victory.

Furthermore, in this Asian context, our American friends quote the example of “de-Baathification” in Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s fall.

Never was an example more dangerous for the theses it intends to uphold.

The abolition of Baath, namely the Party-State, and the selective and loyalist mechanism of the ruling class in Syria and Iraq was, on the contrary, a real strategic folly which voided Iraq and certainly made it viable – just to use the typical terminology of US strategic analysis – not to the bipartite “democracy” which is so fashionable in the Anglo-Saxon world, but rather to the Iranian regime and later to the Sunni sword jihad of Daesh.

This means also viable to the division of the areas of influence in a country like Iraq, having a Shiite majority and a Sunni area which, through the jihad, has now become mass of geopolitical manoeuvre for the Gulf powers.

Every manipulation of the historical heritage of peoples and Nations is bound to lead to their fragmentation into new areas of influence, which have often not even been foreseen by the crazy “social engineers” who believe – as happened to the first US Governor of Baghdad – they can use the same laws in force in Boston to regulate road traffic in the Iraqi capital city.

Turkey, too, has got its hands on Iraq – obviously with a view to settling the Kurdish issue.

Furthermore it seems to flout any “line” worked out within NATO, of which Turkey is a member.

From the Balkans’ wars – waged to avoid the globalization of Russian oil and gas towards Europe and the Mediterranean region – to the massive use of the Afghan jihad to destabilize and disrupt the post-Yugoslav political system, to the stable destabilization – if I may use this oxymoron – of the Maghreb region with the silly “Arab Springs” to be completed with the end of Syria and its ethnic and religious splitting up, it seems that the current US global strategy is designed to disrupting every geopolitical region.

Nevertheless if all countries become “liquid” and viable, every political contagion will tend to spread and worsen.

Just think of Macedonia’s current situation and the not-so-secret plan to achieve a Great Islamized Albania, capable of standing up to the Slavic and, hence, pro-Russian Serbia.

Reverting to the US line in this Korean region, the idea is that of a reunification creating a favourable interest for the North Korean ruling classes.

How? The North Korean system based on songbun, namely the traditional caste system, is further divided into 51 subgroups.

Obviously, as everywhere, the main criterion is loyalty to the regime – hence I do not see how the North Korean elite can accept a soft reunification, in which North Korea will inevitably lose a share of power to preserve hegemony – although with fewer elitist “privileges” – in a possible peaceful reunification with South Korea.

According to the most reliable calculations, approximately 4.4 million North Koreans can be part of the local “ruling class”, but – as those who are acquainted with Pareto’s and Veblen’s theories know all too well – all elite classes are intrinsically factionist and must have strong symbolic and material incentives to back the regime that supports them.

Psychology and the democratic myth are not enough.

Suffice to recall the phenomenon of Ostalgie, namely the nostalgia felt by many German citizens and voters for aspects of life in East Germany after reunification – Nost-Algie for permanent and regular jobs, for the lack of unemployment, for the authoritarian but effective Welfare of the old Sociality Unity Party of Germany (SED).

Money, however, never pays for the symbol – hence intangible incentives must always be greater than the tangible ones.

There is also talk about a selective amnesty for North Korea’s defectors.

Why?

How could South Korea support this new share of frustrated ruling classes coming from Pyongyang and finally what would be the strategic aim of this operation?

We may assume that the aim would be voiding the North Korean regime from inside – but are we really sure that the South Korean ruling class can safely double its size, possibly incorporating the North Korean songbun classes that are already accustomed to unlawful transactions?

Furthermore, reunification would bring no concrete benefit to South Koreans.

Quite the reverse. It would be necessary to support a population – about 50% of North Korean inhabitants – who is well below the typical economic standards of South Korea’s working class.

According to our estimates, for the five years following reunification, this would create a public debt at least 24% higher than expected – which is already approximately 40% – in a situation of weak growth, due to the crisis and saturation of the US market and the contraction of the domestic market.

Being a client State never pays.

In other words, this kind of reunification would certainly lead to the default of the South Korean government.

Furthermore, currently South Korea is bearing the brunt of political uncertainty, after the impeachment of President Park Geun Hye – not to mention the already described decrease of domestic consumption, resulting from an excessive cyclical link to the US economy and the decline of exports to China.

With a 2.6% planned growth throughout 2017, South Korea certainly has not the potential to absorb or make credible its debt generated by the costs of reunification, regardless of its being an elitist or mass reunification.

Even demography does not help, as the South Korean population is expected to start falling structurally next year.

Certainly we must consider the North Korean manpower, but the labour force has a cost of training, obviously adding to the cost of the means of production which should guarantee jobs precisely to the North Korean workers.

It is worth recalling that it took over twenty years to achieve homogeneous social and economic conditions between West Germany and the old German Democratic Republic (DDR) – a goal that has not been reached yet despite the Euro manipulation and the huge German investment.

Moreover, at the time of Vereinigung, Germany was the third world economy and certainly not the respectable, but much smaller South Korea’s economy.

And what about China? Obviously it is not interested in the Korean reunification.

In fact, if this were to happen, it would be the repetition – in the Third Millennium – of the unification of Northern and Southern Italy and, in this case, the economic and political “line” would be dictated by South Korean and not by North Korea.

As can be easily imagined, China does not like this.

China has every interest in freezing any geopolitical issue in Asia, by operating with peripheral States – as in the Roman legend of the Horatii and Curiatii – by dividing and later linking them with bilateral agreements.

In Asia, China wants to avoid everything may lead to the creation of a new strategic bloc capable of dictating certain conditions to its geoeconomic and military system.

Considering that South Korea is always a US client State, China would regard reunification as an undesirable increase of the North American potential in the safety buffer zone of its Eastern and Southern coasts.

In many ways, however, not even the United States would benefit from the Korean reunification.

While there is no longer such a reason to keep large troops in South Korea, the correlation of US interests is inevitably expected to change, thus leaving the Korean Peninsula uncovered while the United States is supposed to redeploy its Armed Forces in the Pacific, around the South China Sea and in the Japanese safety buffer zone.

Currently neither China nor Japan appreciate this new scenario of the American military power in Asia.

If the United States maintained a large amount of troops in the new reunified Korea, everybody would regard this as only having the aim of opposing China.

Not even Japan would benefit from a German-style reunification between the two Koreas.

Both South Korea and, potentially, even North Korea, are now global competitors of Japan – not to mention the strategic bloc represented for the country by an imperial “co-prosperity area” that a reunited Korea would undermine.

There is no Japanese geopolitics not targeted to the whole Southeast Asia – it is not possible otherwise.

And this holds true both for the Empire – the Dai Nihon about which Haushofer spoke in the 20th century – and for the Japan regionalized by the United States.

Unlike Italy, Japan was defeated in World War II, but it is still able to think big and really understand geopolitical issues without demonizing its past and worshiping its old enemy.

Hence, what can be done? It is simple.

Reopen the Six Party Talks circle, as well as fund specific projects in North Korea and help its people with humanitarian aid, but above all, with a peaceful reindustrialization policy going towards Russia, China, the EU and, possibly, also the United States.

The Asian Bank for European Infrastructure and the European financial institutions should take immediate action – and Italy is present in the Bank of Asia. In a new type of nuclear negotiations, we should also rethink the civilian potential of North Korea’s nuclear system for it to sell energy to its neighbours.

Obviously the resumption of the Six Party Talks should be based on a reconstruction of North Korean free trade areas and on an effective relationship with Russia and China, which should become the new guarantors of the Korean Peninsula’s nuclear and economic balance.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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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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