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China and Turkey Aspiring for the Greatness in the World

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Authors: Wang Li & Fan Yao-tian

During his 2-day visit to China (August 2-3), Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu of Turkey informed the media that the two countries should take the consensus between the two heads of state as guidance to push forward the development of their strategic cooperative partnership.

Yes, over the past decades, China and Turkey, although separated by the Eurasia and differences in their cultures, have developed close ties through the win- win working relationship. They are the members of the G-20 which will be playing more significant role than the G-7 in the world affairs. Now China and Turkey agreed to integrate the “Belt & Road” initiative with the “Middle Corridor” project in terms of practical cooperation in the fields such as anti-terrorism, regional stability and global climate change. Chinese FM Wang Yi reiterated that China firmly supports Turkey’s efforts to safeguard its sovereignty, security and stability. And Turkish FM stressed that Turkey continues firmly and powerfully adhering to the one-China policy; and therefore, it will not allow any activities to undermine China’s sovereignty and security in its territory. Both sides vow to continuously take care of reciprocal core interest and enhance political mutual trust.

This is not an easy task for historically China and Turkey needed each other only in a symbolic way. During the heyday of the Cold War, the two sides were in effect within the opposed camps and even had engaged fiercely in the Korean War. A new era was not opened until the year of 1971 when the two countries extended diplomatic recognition to each other in the wake of President Nixon’s visit to Beijing. Yet, the bilateral relations between China and Turkey were still less important in view of the latter’s ties with the United States, the Soviet Union, France and Britain, all of them were the nuclear powers and the permanent members of the UN Security Council; and the mutual needs were still low in a practical sense. The significant changes took place in the 1980s when China undertook the overall reforms and openness policy with a view of a peaceful rise in the current world system, evidently dominated by the U.S. and its allies. It requires that China works intelligently and consistently to promote its new image over the world, in which Turkey is believed as a strong military power and an influential player in the Middle East and later in the Central Asian states after the Soviet Union’s collapse. Given this, the significance of Sino-Turkish relationship can be understood from two perspectives as follows.

First is the consideration of their core interest in terms of sovereignty, security and stability. It is reported that thousands of Uighurs have fled China in recent years to seek asylum in Turkey, with many traveling on to Syria to join Islamic militant groups. According to what a German—Afghan officer serving in the NATO troops observed that fairly speaking now hundreds of Uighurs, if not far more, are believed to have joined the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front while others have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group or sided with smaller militant factions in the Syrian conflict.

China has legitimate concerns about such battle-hardened extremists returning to their homeland—Xinjiang—to wage violence in pursuit of their goal of establishing an independent “East Turkestan” and recruiting more Uighurs to join ISIS’ ranks. In 2016, ISIS released its first propaganda video with Uighur subtitles directly targeting China. Considering this challenge, Chinese top leaders accept that maintaining a respectful dialogue with their counterparts in Ankara on the Uighur row is wise in terms of geopolitics and its expanding trade globally. Meanwhile Turkey is now increasingly unsettled by Central Asian and Uighur fighters from ISIS set on spilling blood at Istanbul’s Reina nightclub. There is no doubt the two countries have diverse opinions on the issues of Uighur, yet have recently warmed amid a broader political realignment. Since China, Russia and Turkey have enhanced their consultation and cooperation in the case of Syria while Erdogan has pulled away from the orbit of the EU directives amid disputes over human rights and other issues. In return, China has expressed openness toward Turkey joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional security regime comprised of Russia, the central Asian states and now India and Pakistan as well. With all the vicissitudes, FM Cavusoglu frankly said in Beijing that Turkey regarded China’s security as akin to its own and fully appreciated all the actions China has taken in combating the Islamic State group as well as reaching a political settlement in the Syrian War. Here is the point that the Turkish government under President Erdogan would root out militants plotting against Beijing, signaling closer cooperation against suspected Uighur militants hailing from China’s far west who have long been a sore point in bilateral relation.

Second is the shared desire to be great powers in the new century. As China has put forward the “Belt & Road Initiative” as the century’s project linking it to Europe, Turkey and Russia have backed some major Chinese initiatives to develop infrastructure spanning the Eurasian continent that were initially shunned by Western powers. Turkey is regarded as the key player in the Middle East and the Central Asia as well. Chinese FM Wang Yi hailed the visit of his Turkish counterpart, speaking that “deepening the collaboration on anti-terror and region’s security is the most central part of the two countries’ relationship.”

That may be a small price for Turkey to pay given the benefits it expects from a better relationship with China, the second largest economy now. Turkey has expressed a keen interest in the BRI, enticed by prospects of a high-speed railway and a nuclear plant, among other projects that China has pledged to build in Turkey. But Beijing has hinted that such projects are in part conditional on a more China- friendly security policy. President Xi talked frankly in a meeting with Erdogan at the Belt and Road Summit in May: “In order to promote even greater development of relations, China and Turkey must respect and give consideration to each other’s core concerns, and deepen security and counter-terrorism cooperation.” In other words, Turkey may opine China’s suggestion on security issues if it is serious to have a more favorable economic relationship.

Traditionally, China was not a major trade partner of Turkey, but the bilateral relations between the two have grown significantly since Turkey’s ruling Party (AKP) came to power in 2002. Economically, Turkey already represents an important market for China. By 2010 China was the third largest source of Turkey’s imports, the previous decade seeing trade between the two countries rising more than 12 fold to a value of 20 billion dollars. The signing of Strategic Agreement in Ankara (2016) included a target of 50 billion dollars of mutual trade by 2015 rising to 100 billion dollars by 2020. In addition, China’s global investment and acquisition strategies always ranked as Beijing’s top priority when it came to defining relations with Turkey, which surely creates more opportunities for stronger cooperation between the two countries in the years to come. Ultimately, Turkey and China’s deepening economic links are illustrative of Ankara’s quest to pivot east and Beijing’s drive to invest in an important country that serves as a hub for transcontinental energy and trade routes. Despite pressure from some members of a domestic constituency in Turkey, the two countries are likely to strengthen the bilateral ties without the Uighur issue derailing such progress. Clearly, it is in the area of foreign investment and joint production that Turkey’s new strategic partnership with China could really shine.

Some scholars like to argue that Turkey’s overtures to China and Russia as well may be more than idle flirtation or empty anti-Western posturing. Since the failed coup attempt of 2016, Turkey has been looking east for new partners in order to decrease its dependence on European allies. Turkey is still unable to cope with the issue of East Turkestan and the plight of the area’s security. Yet, Russia has played the most influential role in Turkey’s strategic pivot. China also factors into Ankara’s eastward shift. It is true that the ruling AKP party in Turkey has different factions, some of them nationalists who want to inflame tensions with China over Uighurs, and other pragmatic members who want to maintain good relations with China believing that the Uyghur issue is being abused to spoil relations between China and Turkey by the United States. Turkey has had to follow its own country’s interests first with a pragmatic approach to foreign affairs.

No matter how you would like to interpret the relationship between China and Turkey, one thing is assured that both sides were the ancient empires dictating the rules in each realm, and both were the underdogs at the mercy of the Western powers in modern history; and now both powers have aspired to struggle for the greatness in the era of globalization. Given this, China and Turkey are aware of the results: standing together is much stronger than walking alone.

(*) Fan Yao-tian, MA in Finance and a free-lance writer on international affairs

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East Asia

Chinese Communist Party and the path of “high-quality development” at Guangdong Province

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A night view of Shenzhen, Guangdong province, on March 10, 2018. (PHOTO / VCG)

During the meeting of “Huang Kunming”, Secretary of Guangdong Provincial Party Committee mentioned that it is significant for Guangdong embark on a path of high-quality development fit for its own situation. According to my highly understand of China’s high-quality development and analysis to the nature of the Chinese society and the polices of the Communist Party of China regarding the development is meaning (all-round building a strong modern socialist country) and all-round rejuvenation of the Chinese nation still need to rely on development.

 With the continuous development of the Chinese economy and the deepening of reforms, China put forward a new expression of “high-quality development” for the first time at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2017, which indicates that China’s economy has moved from a stage of rapid growth to a stage of high-quality development.

 Changing China’s economic development strategy is an inevitable choice in line with the law of development and the demands of its development. Now, China is seeking to change its previous development pattern of relying on a large number of factors of production to focus more on quality and efficiency.  It has begun to adhere to the implementation of the new development philosophy that emphasizes innovative, coordinated, green and open development for all, and to build a new development pattern that relies on domestic trade and promotes integration between domestic and foreign trade to enable the Chinese society to complete the building of a strong modern socialist country in an all-round way, Chinese side should stick to advancing high-quality development as the top priority, as President Comrade “Xi Jinping” stressed in the report.

 High-quality development mainly depends on the economy’s vitality, innovation and competitiveness.  In order to improve these capabilities, China is accelerating the implementation of the innovation-driven development strategy, intensifying its efforts to achieve a high level of self-reliance in scientific and technological research, mobilizing forces and focusing on solving intractable problems in original and pioneering science and technology research to achieve breakthroughs in some crucial and pivotal technologies, which are guided by these strategies, China has achieved good results in manned space industry, lunar and Mars sounding, deep-sea and land exploration, supercomputers, satellite navigation, quantum information, electro-nuclear technologies, large-scale passenger aircraft, medicine, biopharmaceuticals and other fields over the past years, and joined the ranks of innovative countries in the world.

 Green development is an important symbol of the transition of China’s economy from the stage of rapid growth to the stage of high-quality development. In recent years, China has pushed the green transition to a development mode, implemented the comprehensive rationalization strategy, developed green and low-carbon industries, and advocated green consumption.

  The bright future of China’s economy stems from more flexible and high-quality development. In 2021, China calmly responded to changes in the world as well as the COVID-19 epidemic, took new steps to build a new development pattern, achieve new results in high-quality development, and achieve a good start for the 14th Five-Year Plan. China has maintained a leading position in the world in economic development and in epidemic prevention and control, accelerated the growth of national strategic scientific and technological forces, improved the flexibility of the industrial chain, continued to deepen supply-side structural reforms, and made solid progress in the green transformation of the low-carbon economy and prosperity subscriber.

  Here, with the strong leadership of the Communist Party of China, the significant advantages of the socialist system with Chinese characteristics, the technological foundation accumulated since reform and opening up, the extremely large market advantage and domestic demand potential, and with huge human capital and human resources, the Chinese economy will continue to grow steadily on the path of high-quality development, enabling China to contribute in achieving a steady and stable progress in the recovery of the global economy.

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China’s Deflating Population: The Economic Marvel in Eclipse?

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So China’s population shrank last year. I admit my first instinct was … well, isn’t this a good thing? I mean, during the entire 1960s and 1970s, global discourse misted around how the world population kept growing beyond the finite resources of this world. And how food scarcity and poverty would create a social depression. China, with a population of roughly 1.4 billion people, was specifically a focal point of population reduction strategies. After the widespread catastrophe of the Great Leap Forward, a debilitating social program orchestrated by Mao Zedong in the late 50s, China’s population was on the up and up in the following decade, to the point that the infamous ‘One-Child Policy’ was introduced in the late 70s to inhibit the burden of a growing population – and concomitant poverty. Since then, however, China has dynamically transformed into an economic powerhouse – a factory floor for global manufacturing. And here lies the answer to this population conundrum: Shrinking population in China is a problem now!

According to the data released by the Chinese government last week, China’s population contracted by circa 850,000 people in 2022; with 9.56 million births against 10.41 million deaths, it was the first time in more than half a century that deaths outnumbered births in China. The initial thought would be to blame it on the pandemic. But that would be a blinkered assumption without gauging the stunted birth rate. It was the sixth consecutive year that the number of births fell, down from 10.6 million in 2021, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Many demographers and statisticians warned for years about a population decline on the cards, albeit much later in this decade. This presage was why the government reposed its one-child policy in 2016 and extended the limit to three children in 2021. Local governments offered tax rebates and outright cash handouts to couples having children. The source of anxiety was partly social and partly economic – or maybe socioeconomic is the correct juxtaposition.

China is a rising economic power, the world’s second-largest economy, and the strongest contender to dethrone American supremacy. But in listing all the superlatives, we sometimes forget that China is still a developing economy. Despite its phenomenal evolution from endemic poverty, its average population still earns less than the average earnings in advanced economies. And the shrinking population is a two-pronged issue that could constrict China, like other leading developing economies, into a middle-income trap.

Just by simple inference, we can judge that a declining population is also an aging population. Impressive modernity in China’s healthcare system has led to an increase in life expectancy. Meanwhile, a decades-long hiatus in birth-conducive policies and changed mores of young Chinese couples, often antipathetic to having children altogether, have led to a sharp decline in births. A combination of these factors has invited a conspicuous outcome: Shrinkage in China’s working-age population. In fact, China’s working-age population has been in decline since 2015; according to a government spokesman, it could fall to roughly 700 million (approximately 23%) by 2050. This factor would be particularly problematic for China, which has long been a competitive labor market for manufacturing heavyweights like Apple and Microsoft. But moreover, a bulging elderly population amidst falling tax receipts would pose a challenge to government finances, especially given the comparably underdeveloped social safety net programs in China. Therefore, either taxes ought to be raised sharply or state pensions to old-age dependents would hit the skids – a spartan policy dilemma either way.

We can draw apt comparisons from Japan – the world’s third largest economy – which has notoriously suffered from a lopsided aging population and accompanying anemic economic growth since the asset bubble burst of the 1990s. I mean, China’s real estate market does look like a financial crisis just waiting to happen. But post-boom Japan has tried virtually every bizarre economic strategy – from negative interest rates to yield curve control – yet has failed to spark demand-led inflation. Strangely, however, China has sustained its bustling economy on prohibitive rates of investment rather than consumer demand, which has remained relatively lukewarm due to policymakers’ reluctance to pass the complete scope of economic growth to households. Nonetheless, a contracting labor force would perhaps accelerate the exodus of manufacturing from China unless the government finds alternatives to sustain China’s unrivaled productivity levels.

We could blame China’s ‘zero Covid’ policy for strangling economic growth. It is no surprise that China’s economy grew by a modest 3% in 2022, its slowest rate in nearly four decades, barring 2020. Intermittent lockdowns and pedantic mass testing regimes cast a pall over economic activities. And higher interest rates imposed by the Federal Reserve and other central banks have dampened global demand and diluted appetite for Chinese imports. According to government officials, year-on-year Chinese exports fell by 9.9% in December. While an economic turnaround is widely expected later this year, a falling working-age population; a skyward old-age dependency ratio; and the ongoing trade tussle with the United States could cost China many more decades to supersede the American edge. However, China has been an iridescent success story, an economic miracle of sorts. And therefore, if the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) could somehow prioritize economy over national security; social reforms over governmental control; and collaboration over confrontation, I reckon China can again defy the odds and achieve its dream.

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Nepal-China Relations and Belt and Road Initiative

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Image source: xinhua

China appears to be more “functional” in Nepal recently. A new administration led by leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal has acted on the same pitch initially also. The Rasuwagadhi border crossing, which had been blocked for three years, has been reopened for two-way trade, and the much-anticipated Gyorong-Kathmandu train project’s final survey has also begun as of January 1, 2023. The second phase of the 10-lane ring road project from Kalanki to Chabhil is anticipated to start soon as well. All these accumulatively demonstrate the current nature of friendship between them and the profound Belt and Road Initiative is the key rostrum for the current complexion of the relationship between them. Hence, the trends are indicating a greater form of cooperation even in the regional domain as well.

Meanwhile, China and Nepal have inked a six-point agreement to strengthen bilateral collaboration and exchanges on governance, legislation, and supervisory practices, in line with Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). On September 12, 2022, in Kathmandu’s federal parliament building, Agni Prasad Sapkota, Speaker of the Parliament, and Li Zhanshu, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People’s Congress, signed the agreement. According to the agreement, the nations would exchange information about each other’s legislative, oversight, and governance activities. Five years after BRI’s founding, on May 12, 2017, Nepal formally joined the process. Nine projects – the upgrading of the Rasuwagadhi-Kathmandu road, the construction of the Kimathanka-Hile road, the construction of the road from Dipayal to the Chinese border, the Tokha-Bidur Road, the Galchhi-Rasuwagadhi-Kerung400kv transmission line, the Kerung-Kathmandu rail, the 762MW Tamor Hydroelectricity Project, the 426MW Phuket Karnali were on the to do list. However, more than any other nation, China invested US$188 million in Nepal during the 2020–21 fiscal year. During KP Sharma Oli’s visit to Beijing in 2016, Nepal and China also ratified a transit transport agreement for commerce with other parties.

However, amidst the current global tension and the changing rapport of international politics, China remains as a key investor in Nepal. Besides, the recent activities from the Nepal administration showed a shift in policy domain from the previous regime which in some cases was rigid to Chinese projects. Meanwhile, the BRI becomes more eminent in the strategic, political and economic domain of the status quo. Against such backdrop, the next sections will discuss current trends of the BRI in Nepal.

Nine Projects: Token of Continuation of the Initiative

Nepal put forward nine potential projects to be undertaken under the BRI at the beginning of 2019. These included setting up a technical institution in Nepal, building new highways, tunnels, and hydroelectricity dams, as well as conducting a feasibility assessment for a trans-Himalayan railway that would connect Jilong/Keyrung, a Chinese port of entry, with Kathmandu. This enhanced the significance of the project which will direct to more prosperous China- Nepal relations.

Nepal, the “Pillar”

Hou Yanqi, the Chinese ambassador to Nepal, stated in April 2022 that Nepal was one of the BRI’s most significant pillars and that projects were still moving forward despite the “speed of pragmatic collaboration” slowing down because of the coronavirus pandemic and Nepal’s changing political climate.

Transit Through China: Better Connectivity and Trade

Kathmandu protocol agreement with Beijing, Nepal will import and export goods from a third country through China through Tianjin, Shenzhen, Lianyungang and Zhanjiang seaports and land ports of Lanzhou, Lhasa and Shigatse. They will also get the facility of transporting goods through six dedicated transit points of the two countries. It will boost the trade for improved connectivity.

Extended Cooperation in Domains Except for BRI

In addition to the BRI projects, China is currently making significant investments in Nepal’s infrastructure, including ring road expansion, dry ports at the border crossings of Larcha and Syabrubesi, the establishment of China Study Centers, a new international airport in Pokhara, and optical fiber cable connectivity from Kathmandu to the Chinese border.

Energy Exploration: New Domain of Cooperation

China is also looking into the prospect of discovering gas and oil deposits in Nepal and is building a border river crossing at Hilsa, Humla. It will open a new domain of cooperation based on mutual interest.

Poverty Reduction and Generating Newer Income Sources

Currently, roughly six Chinese airlines offer regular flights to Nepal. Nepal has the fastest-growing Chinese tourist industry. Nepal granted China access to choose 16 Himalayan regions that border China to develop as part of a program to fight poverty.

Security: Bringing Peace

Joint military drills between China and Nepal are also a new development in security cooperation. It will bring peace in the region since the image of Nepal is very clean.

Increased Diplomatic Connectivity

The BRI appears to be one of the three priority pillars for the Chinese government’s organizing principles of foreign policy, along with the Global Development Initiatives and the Global Security Initiatives, in terms of developing successful international relations rather than just an economic endeavor. It will bring a fresh start in the diplomatic domain of both countries and the future prospects of ties in the diplomatic arena can be discussed robustly.

No More Landlockedness

Under BRI and the Trans-Himalayan Multi-dimensional Connectivity Network, which will transform Nepal from a landlocked country to a land-linked one, there are multiple road, sea, and corridor networks throughout the world. It will boost the relationship to a great extent while there will be a surge in the arena of export and import.

Regional Connectivity

The extension of the Qingzang railway from Tibet to Nepal and the border with India is among the most significant BRI projects. Three routes are being considered for this railway. The first would connect Shigatse to Kathmandu via Kerung and continue on to Pokhara and Lumbini before reaching the Indian border. The second would run from Shigatse to the Burang border and connect Humla and Darchula districts in Nepal with Pithoragdh, Uttarakhand, while the third would link Shigatse to the Yandong border of Sikkim, India.

As China and India have no trade disputes with one another, India would gain from this project as well after trading through this route. In comparison to other industrialized parts of the world, South Asia could see an increase in commerce and investment if this project is carried out on a win-win basis between China and Nepal.

Challenges

Additionally, loans are typically provided on commercial terms through the Silk Road Fund and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), both of which are led by China (SRF). Due to project site clearance delays and the nation’s political instability, along with its comparatively short repayment time, Nepal’s big projects have raised concerns that they may not get off the ground.

Besides, three primary issues with China are of particular concern to the Nepalese government. First, instead of commercial loans, the nation favors grants and lenient loans from China. Second, it wants the interest rate and repayment period to be comparable to those of multilateral funding organizations like the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank. Thirdly, it thinks that bid competitions ought to be allowed for the BRI projects. But the Chinese authorities are not responding on the same page.

The Inception of a Recommenced Cooperation

Pradeep Gawali, Foreign Minister in the KP Sharma Oli’s government, said that from the perspective of Nepal, the BRI projects were the way to be connected to the trans-Himalayan multipurpose connectivity network. Nepal had been able to select the nine projects included in the BRI with great success. However, Chinese authority said on December 26 that it looks forward to cooperating with the new government to advance projects under the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, a day after the Maoist party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda was named as Nepal’s new prime minister (BRI). China aims to develop initiatives under the Belt and Road collaboration, according to Mao Ning, the official spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, who congratulated Prachanda on his appointment. Beijing claims that as a longtime ally and neighbor of Nepal, China cherishes Nepali relations very highly. China is prepared to collaborate with the new Nepalese administration to broaden and deepen friendly relations and cooperation on all fronts, pursue high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, strategic cooperative alliance marked by enduring friendship for growth and prosperity new impetus, and bring more benefits to peoples from both sides.

Hence, it is evident that China’s policy toward Nepal is generally stable and uncomplicated, and the two countries’ bilateral relations have been cordial and shaped by Nepal’s strategy of balancing the divergent impact of China and its southern neighbor. Through BRI projects, Nepal could gain better connectivity relations with its northern neighbors, but in order to do so, Nepal must enhance its negotiations with China.

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