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East Asia

China and Germany go globally and responsibly

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Authors: Wang Li & Du Hui-yan

[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] D [/yt_dropcap]uring May 30 to June 2, 2017, Chinese Premier Li Ke-qiang was invited to make an official visit to Germany, which has been the largest trade partner of China in the European Union and the one of the high-technology and Foreign Direct Investment sources of the world.

As the Chinese media stated, “China is strongly interested in German technology and aims to create a transcontinental economic space through the “Belt & Road Initiative” linking it to the Central Asia and Europe.”

Geographically separated by the Eurasian landmass, though, China and Germany have forged the mature relationship since 1972 when Beijing and Bonn accorded diplomatic recognition to each other. True, the two countries started their early relations in unequal and ironical way which was then followed by a century of the vicissitudes in history. As it was in 1897 when Imperial Germany turned to “Weltpolitik” with a view to becoming a global power, Kaiser and his generals decided to take China’s Qingdao by coercion as the first demonstration of world policy in the new era. But during 1927-1938, it was the German advisory group in China that dedicated to help Chinese troops modernized on the German model and the training doctrines. Later, during the heyday of the Cold War, China and Germany (West) belonged to the opposite camps, but the two countries had no immediate disputes over their core interests concerned. In the aftermath of the Cold War, China and Germany have developed their relations rapidly and the year of 2014 ushered in a comprehensive strategic partnership. Given this, Premier Li and Chancellor Merkel stated on June 1 that “the relations between the two countries are anything but free of friction”.

For sure, to the people who believe in realism or focus on the trade disputes between China and Germany, they are rather hesitated to accept this discourse. Particularly, the two sides do disagree on the protection of intellectual property, customs cooperation and the human rights issues, etc. Yet, if we examine the purposes of Chinese Premier’s visit to Germany and then the EU in light of what he stated in Europe, it is reasonable to see that due to the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, even though there will be no new East-West alliance in the end, Trump’s move to self-isolationism will certainly lead to closer cooperation between China, Germany and the EU in the coming years. On the global and strategic level, when the United States actually takes sharp protectionist measures, which have frustrated Germany and the EU en bloc, China has lost no time to pursue its economic and geopolitical interests with all its rigor and hardness. Thus, it is much easier for China and Germany to share the similar view on the world issues. This paper thus argues for their going globally and responsibly in view of the reasons as follows.

First of all, Germany is not only a core member of the EU, but also a very advanced world power in high-technologies. China, as a rising power, has since aspired to achieve its historical dream by 2050 that assures it as a great power in terms of sophisticated technologies rather than GDP only. Due to this, China has exercised all of its efforts to promote bilateral relationship with Germany, as the latter has been for four decades China’s most important partner of trade, invest-ment and technology in Europe. According to China’s statistics, bilateral trade volume between the two reached $151 billion in 2016; and China for the first time became Germany’s largest trade partner around the globe. Since China and Germany decided to forge all-round strategic partnership in 2014, bilateral political consultation and intergovernmental cooperation have reached an unprecedentedly high level. For example, Beijing and Berlin have set up more than 70 bilateral consultation and cooperation mechanisms, including nearly 100 pairs of sister provinces, states and municipalities.

Second, during the talks between Premier Li and Chancellor Merkel, the two leaders had an in-depth exchange of views on promoting two countries’ innovative cooperation. In addition to traditional trade and investment, multiple-cooperation in the fields of the intelligent manufacturing, energy conservation and environmental protection have become the common interests of China and Germany. As Merkel said, China is becoming an increasingly important partner to Germany since the two countries established diplomatic relationship 45 years ago, with closer communications in politics, economy and trade as well as people – to – people and cultural exchanges. Bilateral cooperation in the fields such as aerospace, aviation, automobile, recycling economy and scientific research are continuously strengthened. In face of increasing uncertainties in the world, China and Germany also have the responsibility to enhance strategic partnership. No doubts, Germany is willing to work with China to make joint contributions to building an open global economy and maintaining free trade as well.

In terms of the international milieu where still exists many uncertain factors, and the trend of anti-globalization and protectionism is rising, China and Germany agree to uphold mutual respect and equal treatment, to safeguard the rules of the UN & the WTO, and to cope with external uncertainties with the stability of bilateral relations in a bid to jointly inject a positive signal of stability, cooperation and development into the region and the world at large. Given this, China and Germany have vowed to cooperate in promotion of global economic governance within the G20 framework.

Obviously, Chinese leaders are well-aware of the issues which alienate both sides to reach the consensus in trade dispute, the status of China as a market economy and perhaps symbolic human rights. Yet, China has steadily used the Article 15 of the WTO protocol to defend its status. It is reported that Chancellor Merkel urged the EU should fulfill the responsibilities of the protocol. In the meantime, Premier Li raised the prospect that China would be willing to better align “Made in China 2025” with Germany’s “Industry 4.0”. To that end, he invited German companies to help China develop large passenger plane C-919 and get an air-worthiness certificate from the EU. In a return, China supports Germany in well hosting the G20 Hamburg Summit with a view to promoting the robust, sustainable and balanced growth of world economy. On both public and private occasions, Merkel claimed that Germany was a reliable cooperation partner of China, for both countries stand ready to uphold the spirit of mutual benefit and win-win results.

In international affairs, it is usually difficult for two powers, separated in a long-distance, to reach consensus in the bilateral, regional and global issues. Despite the disagreements aforesaid, China and Germany have lots of common interests in foreign affairs. For example, both sides wanted to commit themselves to the climate protection accord and advanced their closer cooperation in order “to show solidarity with future generations and take responsibility for the earth”. Chinese Premier and German Chancellor agreed with the EU statement that “the decision of the United States to leave the climate treaty is a big mistake”. Yet, the fight against climate change will continue “without the US”.

For sure, the leadership in Beijing now wants to push into Trump’s gaps. But considering that transatlantic unity is the most powerful and consolidated in the world, what China wants are to highlight the common issues such as climate protection, free trade and global governance. In so doing, China has high expectation for Germany as the latter has not only advanced technologies but also widely rich experience in fundamental research, so one day the ancient giant in Asia would be able to create a batch of heavyweight research achievements in cutting-edge areas. To that end, the potent innovative partnership between China and Germany has put a high-powered engine to the cooperation that can be regarded as a model of equality between developing country and developed country.

It concludes that Chinese Premier’s visit to Germany is an important constituent of high-level exchanges between the two countries this year. And it plays a significant role in consolidating and enhancing the Sino-German strategic mutual trust which assures their going globally and responsibly.

(*) Du Hui-Yan, MA in International Relations, with her dual MA degrees in both Konstanz University and Warwick University

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

Who would bell the China cat?

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If the G-7 and NATO china-bashing statements are any guide, the world is in for another long interregnum of the Cold War (since demise of the Soviet Union). The G-7 leaders called upon China to “respect human rights in its Xinjiang region” and “allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy” and “refrain from any unilateral action that could destabilize the East and South China Seas”, besides maintaining “peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits”.

China’s tit-for-tat response

The Chinese mission to the European Union called upon the NATO not to exaggerate the “China threat theory”

Bitter truths

Amid the pandemic, still raging, the world is weary of resuscitating Cold War era entente. Even the G-7 members, Canada and the UK appear to be lukewarm in supporting the US wish to plunge the world into another Cold War. Even the American mothers themselves are in no mood to welcome more coffins in future wars. Importance of the G-7 has been whittled down by G-20. 

Presumptions about the China’s cataclysmic rise are unfounded. Still, China is nowhere the US gross National Product. China’s military budget is still the second largest after the US. It is still less than a third of Washington’s budget to be increased by 6.8 per cent in 2021.

India’s role

India claims to be a natural ally of the G-7 in terms of democratic “values”. But the US based Freedom House has rated India “partly free because of its dismal record in persecution of minorities. Weakened by electoral setbacks in West Bengal, the Modi government has given a free hand to religious extremists. For instance, two bigots, Suraj Pal Amu and Narsinghanand Saraswati have been making blasphemous statements against Islam at press conferences and public gatherings.

India’s main problem

Modi government’s mismanagement resulted in shortage of vaccine and retroviral drugs. The healthcare system collapsed under the mounting burden of fatalities.  

Media and research institutions are skeptical of the accuracy of the death toll reported by Indian government.

The New York Times dated June 13, 2021 reported (Tracking Corona virus in India: Latest Map and case Count) “The official COVID-19 figures in India grossly under-estimate the true scale of the pandemic in the country”. The Frontline dated June 4, 2021 reported “What is clear in all these desperate attempts is the reality that the official numbers have utterly lost their credibility in the face of the biggest human disaster in independent India (V. Sridhar, India’s gigantic death toll due to COVID-19 is  thrice  the official numbers”, The frontline, June 4, 2021). It adds “More than 6.5 lakh Indians, not the 2.25 lakh reported officially are estimated to have died so far and at best a million more are expected to die by September 2021. The Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that actual Indian casualties may be 0.654 million (6.54 lakh), not the official count of 0.221 million (2.21 lakh as on May 6 when the report was released. That is a whopping three times the official numbers, an indicator of the extent of under-reporting”.

Epidemiologist Dr. Feigl-ding told India Today TV on April, 16, 2021 that “actual number of COVID-19 cases in India can be five or six times higher than the tally right now” (“Actual COVID-19 cases in India may be 5 to 10 times higher, says epidemiologist. India Today TV April 16, 2021).

Concluding remarks

India’s animosity against China is actuated by expediency. There is no chance of a full-blown war between China and India as the two countries have agreed not to use firepower in border skirmishes, if any. Modi himself told the All-party conference that not an inch of Indian territory has been ceded to China. In May this year, the Army Chief General M M. Naravane noted in an interview: “There has been no transgression of any kind and the process of talks is continuing.”

It is not China but the Quad that is disturbing unrest in China’s waters.

History tells the USA can sacrifice interests of its allies at the altar of self interest. India sank billions of dollars in developing the Chabahar Port. But, India had to abandon it as the US has imposed sanctions on Iran.

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East Asia

Xinjiang? A Minority Haven Or Hell

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While the G7 meets under the shadow of Covid 19 and the leaders of the most prosperous nations on earth are focused on rebuilding their economies, a bloodless pogrom is being inflicted on a group of people on the other side of the world.

In this new era, killing people is wasteful and could bring the economic wrath of the rest of the world.  No, it is better to brainwash them, to re-educate them, to destroy their culture, to force them to mold themselves into the alien beings who have invaded their land in the name of progress, and who take the best new jobs that sprout with economic development.  Any protest at these injustices are treated severely.

Amnesty International has published a new 160-page report this week on Xinjiang detailing the horrors being perpetrated on Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.  Amnesty has simultaneously announced a campaign on their behalf.

Persecution, mass imprisonment in what can best be described as concentration camps, intensive interrogation and torture are actions that come under the definition of ‘crimes against humanity’.  More than 50 people who spent time in these camps contributed first-hand accounts that form the substance of the report.  It is not easy reading for these people have themselves suffered maltreatment even torture in many instances.

The UN has claimed that 1.5 million Muslims (Uighurs, Kazakhs, Uzbeks and Tajiks) are in these internment camps and China’s claims of re-education camps made to sound as benign as college campuses are patently false.

People report being interviewed in police stations and then transferred to the camps.  Their interrogation was frequently conducted on ‘tiger chairs’:   The interviewee is strapped to a metal chair with leg irons and hands cuffed in such a manner that the seating position soon becomes exceedingly painful.  Some victims were hooded; some left that way for 24 hours or more, and thus were forced to relieve themselves, even defecate, where they sat.  Beatings and sleep deprivation were also common.

Activities were closely monitored and they were mostly forbidden to speak to other internees including cell mates.  Trivial errors such as responding to guards or other officials in their native language instead of Mandarin Chinese resulted in punishment.

Amnesty’s sources reported the routine was relentless.  Wake up at 5am.  Make bed — it had to be perfect.  A flag-raising and oath-taking ceremony before breakfast at 7 am.  Then to the classroom.  Back to the canteen for lunch.  More classes after.  Then dinner.  Then more classes before bed.  At night two people had to be on duty for two hours monitoring the others leaving people exhausted.  You never see sunlight while you are there, they said.  That was because they were never taken outside as is done in most prisons.

The re-education requires them to disavow Islam, stop using their native language, give up cultural practices, and become Mandarin-speaking ‘Chinese’.

Such are the freedoms in Xi Jinping’s China.  If China’s other leaders prior to Mr. Xi effected moderate policies in concert with advisers, it is no longer the case.  Mr. Xi works with a small group of like minds.  He has also removed the two-term or eight-year limit on being president.  President for life as some leaders like to call themselves, then why not Mr. Xi.  His anti-democratic values make him eminently qualified. 

An enlightened leader might have used the colorful culture of these minorities to attract tourists and show them the diversity of China.  Not Mr. Xi, who would rather have everyone march in lockstep to a colorless utopia reminiscent of the grey clothing and closed-collar jackets of the Maoist era. 

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Looking back on India-China ties, one year past the Galwan incident

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modi xi jinping

Two nuclear-armed neighbouring countries with a billion-plus people each, geographically positioned alongside a 3,488-km undemarcated border in the high Himalayas. This is the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. Differences in perception of alignment of this border for both sides have contributed to a seemingly unending dispute.

Chinese unilateral attempt to change status quo in 2020

One year back, on 15 June 2020, a clash between Indian and Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley of eastern Ladakh turned bloody, resulting in the death of 20 soldiers in the former side and four in the latter side. It was an unfortunate culmination of a stand-off going on since early May that year, triggered by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops encountering Indian troops who were patrolling on their traditional limits.

It was followed by amassing of troops in large number by China on its side and some of them crossed the line over without any provocation, thereby blocking and threatening India’s routine military activities on its side of the traditionally accepted border. It was a unilateral attempt by the Chinese Communist Party-run government in Beijing to forcefully alter the status quo on the ground.

The LAC as an idea

Over the years, the LAC has witnessed one major war resulting from a Chinese surprise attack on India in 1962 and periodic skirmishes along the various friction points of the border, as seen in the years 1967, 1975, 1986-87, 2013, 2017, and the most recent 2020 Galwan Valley incident, the last being the worst in five decades. Post-Galwan, the optics appeared too high on both sides.

The LAC as an idea emerged with the annexation of Buddhist Tibet by Chinese communist forces in the early 1950s, bringing China to India’s border for the first time in history. This idea just emerged and was taking shape through the Jawaharlal Nehru-Zhou Enlai letters of correspondence that followed.

In 1962, while the world was engrossed upon the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Chinese inflicted a huge military and psychological debacle on unprepared and outnumbered Indian soldiers in a month-long war along this border.

Even to this date, there is still no mutually agreeable cartographic depiction of the LAC. It varies on perceptions.

What could’ve led to 2020 stand-off?

One of the reasons that led to the current new low in India-China ties, other than differing perceptions, is the improvement in Indian infrastructure capabilities along the rough mountainous terrains of the Himalayan borders and its resolve to be on par with China in this front. This has been a cause of concern in Chinese strategic calculations for its Tibetan border.

The carving up of the Indian union territory of Ladakh with majority Buddhists from the erstwhile Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019 has indeed added to Beijing’s concerns over the area.

For the past few years, India has been upfront in scaling up its border infrastructure throughout the vast stretch of LAC, including in eastern Ladakh, where the 2020 stand-off took place. There is a serious trust deficit between India and China today, if not an evolving security dilemma.

Post-Galwan engagement

Several rounds of talks were held at the military and the diplomatic levels after the Galwan incident, the working-level mechanisms got renewed and new action plans were being formed before the process of disengagement finally began.

The foreign ministers of both countries even met in Moscow on the side-lines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meet in September, which was followed by a BRICS summit where Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping came face-to-face in November, although virtually.

By February 2021, the process of disengagement of troops gained momentum on the ground around the Pangong lake area. So far, eleven rounds of talks were held at the military level on the ground at the border. But, the disengagement is yet to be fully completed in the friction points of Hot Springs and the Depsang Plains.

Diplomacy is gone with the wind

All the bilateral border agreements and protocols for confidence-building that were signed between the both countries in the years 1993, 1996, 2005, 2012 and 2013 were rendered futile by the Chinese PLA’s act of belligerence in Galwan.

The spirit of two informal Narendra Modi-Xi Jinping summits to build trust after the 2017 Doklam standoff, one in Wuhan, China (2018) and the other in Mamallapuram, India (2019) was completely gone with the wind. This is further exacerbated by the Chinese practice of ‘wolf-warrior diplomacy’, which is clearly undiplomatic in nature.

India’s diversification of fronts

Coming to the maritime domain, India has upped the ante by the joint naval exercises (Exercise Malabar 2020) with all the Quad partners in November, last year. Thereby, New Delhi has opened a new front away from the Himalayan frontiers into the broader picture of India-China strategic rivalry. Australia joined the exercise, after 13 years, with India, Japan, and the United States, a move indicative of militarisation or securitisation of the Quad partnership.

Recently, India has been consolidating its position over the union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, lying southeast to the mainland, and close to the strategic Strait of Malacca, through which a major proportion of China’s crude oil imports pass through before venturing out to the ports of South China Sea.

Economic ties, yearning to decouple

Last year, India’s external affairs minister S. Jaishankar remarked that border tensions cannot continue along with co-operation with China in other areas. In this regard, the Narendra Modi government has been taking moves to counter China in the economic front by banning a large number of Chinese apps, citing security reasons, thereby costing the Chinese companies a billion-size profitable market. The Indian government has also refused to allow Chinese tech companies Huawei and ZTE to participate in India’s rollout of the 5G technology.

Moreover, India, Australia and Japan have collectively launched a Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI) in 2020 aimed at diversifying supply chain risks away from one or a few countries, apparently aimed at reducing their dependence on China. In terms of trade, India is still struggling to decouple with China, a key source of relatively cheap products for Indian exporters, particularly the pandemic-related pharmaceutical and related supplies in the current times.

But, the Indian government’s recent domestic policies such as “Self-Reliant India” (Atmanirbhar Bharat) have contributed to a decline in India’s trade deficit vis-à-vis China to a five-year low in 2020, falling to around $46 billion from around $57 billion in 2019.

The broader picture

The border dispute remains at the core of a range of issues that define the overall India-China bilateral relations. Other issues include trade and economics, Beijing’s close ties with Islamabad, the succession of Dalai Lama who has taken asylum in India since 1959 and the issue of Tibetan refugees living in India, educational ties, and the strategic rivalry in India’s neighbourhood, i.e., South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region, among others.

Chinese belligerence has led India to find its place easily in the evolving ‘new Cold War’

The more China turns aggressive at its border with India, the more it will bring India close to the United States and the West. Despite India’s traditional posture of indifference to allying itself exclusively with a power bloc, in the recently concluded G7 summit, India referred to the grouping of liberal democracies as a ‘natural ally’.

India has been raising the need for a free, open and rules-based Indo-Pacific in as many multilateral forums as possible, a concept which China considers as a containment strategy of the United States. Possibly, India might also join the G7’s newly announced infrastructure project for developing countries in an appropriate time, as it is initiated as a counterweight to China’s multi trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative.

There was a time in the past when the former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru sought to lead Asia by cooperating with China. Considering today’s changed geopolitical realities and power dynamics, nowhere in anyone’s wildest dreams such an idea would work out. Prime Minister Modi’s muscular foreign policy imperatives are aligning well with the Joe Biden-led Western response to the looming common threat arising from Beijing.

Today, encountering Xi Jinping’s grand strategy of Chinese domination of the world (by abandoning its yesteryear policy of ‘peaceful rise’) is a collective endeavour of peace-loving democracies around the world, to which Asia is particularly looking forward. Most notably, it comes amid an inescapable web of global economic inter-connectedness, even among rival powers.

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