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The Fundamentals of Xi Jinping’s Diplomacy

Wang Li

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Authors: Wang Li & Zhou Dongchen

More than 100 years ago, W. A. P. Martin, a widely-respected American scholar and jurist, rightly opined, “If China is to be a part of the family of civilized States— Chinese thought, the principles at the basis of Chinese history and life must be understood.” With no doubt, one essential to this intellectual interaction is mutual intellectual comprehension.

Due to this, it is necessary to approach the intellectual elements of President Xi Jinping’s diplomacy if people want to be aware of the strategic thinking of Chinese ends and means in pursuit of its greatness.

President Xi Jin-ping, who is also the General Secretary of the ruling party (CCP) and the Chairman of the Central Military Commission of China, is totally in charge of foreign affairs. As each previous leader distilled his own era’s particular vision of China’s needs to the successive generations, the Xi’s leadership has clearly sought to build on these legacies by undertaking a massive globally-oriented reform program of the Deng’s era. Belonging to the post-revolution generation after 1949, he has several unique features as the supreme leader of China today, which is the largest and economically most dynamic emerging power in the world. First he served in the Chinese military and then was on the field-study in the United States when he was a junior official in the 1980s. In addition, he was well-educated in social science rather than natural science and technology like his precedents. Given that a college degree in China is based on a Western-style curriculum, not a legacy of the old mandarin system, contemporary Chinese leaders are more influenced by their knowledge of the global affairs and domestic issues as well. The composition of the current leaders reflects China’s evolution toward participating in—and even shaping —global affairs.

Since 2012 when he took the post of General Secretary of CCP, Xi Jinping laid out a creative thinking and new strategies for China’s diplomacy. In view of the historical mission of China’s rejuvenation as a great power, he frankly argued that the rise of China depends upon its participation into the world affairs, although it is pretty much dominated by the United States and its allies. Considering this, Xi has repeatedly rejected the concept of “Thucydides trap”. Rather, he puts forward that China must be able to deal with the ruling powers with Chinese distinctive vision, style and way of conducting diplomacy. As one of the major nuclear powers and the second largest economy of the world, China will persistently stick to peaceful rise and pursues its domestic development in the context of globalization with a view to actively engaging all countries for mutual benefit. To that end, China must work proactively to serve its overall economic and social development by fostering enabling conditions for Chinese businesses to go global and by fairly opening Chinese markets to foreign goods. By doing so, Beijing would be working with a pioneering spirit to break new ground in China’s diplomacy and foreign relations.

Yet, in view of realism that argues against peaceful rise of any great power, China needs to identify its end as a rising power and how Beijing approaches the issues related to the current order ruled by the elite club of the G-7 headed by the United States. Due to this, Xi Jinping first proposed to build a community of shared future with China’s neighborhood. He went further to call for building such a community in Asia, and eventually put forth the proposal of building a community of shared future for the globalized world at the United Nations. His overarching outline or roadmap for building this community is of five dimensions as follows, namely enduring peace, universal security, common prosperity, openness and inclusiveness, and making our world clean and beautiful. This proposal puts China’s diplomacy on a moral high ground in keeping with the trend of the era. As Xi himself has interpreted on several occasions, to build up a new type of international relations featuring win-win cooperation means each country, in particular the great power, must get rid of the Cold War mentality or zero-sum game thinking since the times have changed. As we all live in the “global village”, the countries must keep pace with new trends in the 21st century and follow a win-win approach in handling external relations in the political, economic, security and cultural fields. Win-win cooperation is literally China’s answer to the question “what should China want from the current world order or how would China as a rising power deal with the others’ interest in the 21st century”. Given this, the global community needs to work to replace confrontation with cooperation, monopoly with shared benefits, and to jointly build a better world for all nations.

For sure, Chinese leadership is not naïve in dealing with international issues in terms of the anarchic and “power politics” nature. To that end, Xi Jinping highlights that China needs to make as many friends as possible and build a global network of partnerships while upholding the principle of non-alignment. Such partnerships are equal, peaceful and inclusive in nature. They are not dominated by any party, or draw lines of division, still less are they directed against any imaginary enemies or third parties. Pragmatically, the concept of partnerships is built upon a commitment to common ends and a readiness to seek common ground while setting aside differences. They transcend the Cold War mentality of “either with us or against us” that created confrontation between opposing alliances. China has established such partnerships with some 100 countries, regions or regional organizations, blazing a new trail in relations between countries that favor dialogue over confrontation, partnership over alliance.

Finally, since China is a rising power and a developing country as well, Xi Jinping vows to follow the well-laid tenet that more consideration should be directed to the interests of developing countries which have long been the foundations of China’s foreign policy. Meanwhile, he puts forward the initiatives for the neighboring states concerning with security, development and regional stability. With the broader vision and strategic approaches, he has oriented the course of China’s peaceful rise in view of a more favorable international milieu. He calls for more proactive efforts to communicate China’s views and exert its role in the international arena. Quite a few of Chinese initiatives have been accepted as international consensus that has been turned into global actions. To certain extent, this has become a hallmark of the soft power of China.

As Henry Kissinger wrote in his well-articulated book On China, “given its unique ancient pride and modern shame, China has thought of itself as a playing a special role.” Since rarely did Chinese statesmen risk the outcome of a conflict on a single all-or-nothing clash, elaborate multiyear maneuvers are closer to their style. In the meantime, the Chinese have been shrewd practitioners of Realpolitik and students of a strategic doctrine distinctly different from the strategy and diplomacy that found favor in the West. This study aims to argue that President Xi Jinping’s grand strategic thinking is that China has never been so close to the center of the world stage as a leading player, therefore, it requires the Chinese, both the leading and the ruled, to adopt a global perspective and grasp the underlying trend of the era in order to be aware of where China stands today in terms of the vicissitudes of global power. Due to this, Xi admits that China should neither take rash action nor sit by and be reactive. Rather, China should seize all opportunities and rise to challenges to pursue Chinese historical mission.

Today it is still too early to say when China will move to its national greatness once again, but one thing is certain that it is Xi Jinping who takes the whole country with 1.3 billions of people into the final stage of China’s century dream.

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East Asia

Freedom, Sovereign Debt, Generational Accounting and other Myths

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“How to draw the line between the recent and still unsettled EU/EURO crisis and Asia’s success story? Well, it might be easier than it seems: Neither Europe nor Asia has any alternative. The difference is that Europe well knows there is no alternative – and therefore is multilateral. Asia thinks it has an alternative – and therefore is strikingly bilateral, while stubbornly residing enveloped in economic egoisms. No wonder that Europe is/will be able to manage its decline, while Asia is (still) unable to capitalize its successes. Asia clearly does not accept any more the lead of the post-industrial and post-Christian Europe, but is not ready for the post-West world.” – professor Anis H. Bajrektarevic diagnosed in his well-read ‘No Asian century’ policy paper. Sino-Indian rift is not new. It only takes new forms in Asia, which – in absence of a true multilateralism – is entrenched in confrontational competition and amplifying antagonisms.  The following lines are referencing one such a rift.

At the end of 2017, Brahma Chellaney, a professor with the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, wrote an article titled “China’s Creditor Imperialism” in which he accused China of creating a “debt trap” from Argentina, to Namibia and Laos, mentioning its acquisition of, or investment in the construction of several port hubs, including Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Piraeus in Greece, Djibouti, and Mombasa in Kenya in recent years.

These countries are forced to avoid default by painfully choosing to let China control their resources and thus have forfeited their sovereignty, he wrote. The article described China as a “new imperial giant” with a velvet glove hiding iron fists with which it was pressing small countries. The Belt and Road Initiative, he concluded, is essentially an ambitious plan to realize “Chinese imperialism”. The article was later widely quoted by newspapers, websites and think tanks around the world.

When then United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Africa in March, he also said that although Chinese investment may help improve Africa’s infrastructure, it would lead to increased debt on the continent, without creating many jobs.

It is no accident that this idea of China’s creditor imperialism theory originates from India. New Delhi has openly opposed China’s Belt and Road Initiative, especially the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as it runs through Pakistan-administered Kashmir, which India regards as an integral part of its territory. India is also worried that the construction of China’s Maritime Silk Road will challenge its dominance in South Asia and the Indian Ocean. Based on such a judgment, the Indian government has worked out its own regional cooperation initiatives, and taken moves, such as the declaration of cooperation with Vietnam in oil exploration in the South China Sea and its investment in the renovation of Chabahar port in Iran, as countermeasures against the Chinese initiative.

Since January, India, the United States, Japan and Australia have actively built a “quasi-alliance system” for a “free and open Indo-Pacific order” as an alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative. In April, a senior Indian official attending the fifth China-India Strategic Economic Dialogue reiterated the Indian government’s refusal to participate in the initiative.

The “creditor imperialism” fallacy is in essence a deliberate attempt by India and Western countries to denigrate the Belt and Road Initiative, which exhibits their envy of the initial fruits the initiative has produced. Such an argument stems from their own experiences of colonialism and imperialism. It is exactly the US-led Western countries that attached their political and strategic interests to the debt relationship with debtor countries and forced them to sign unequal treaties. China’s Belt and Road Initiative is proposed and implemented in the context of national equality, globalization and deepening international interdependence, and based on voluntary participation from relevant countries, which is totally different from the mandatory debt relationship of the West’s colonialism.

It is an important “Chinese experience” to use foreign debts to solve its transportation and energy bottlenecks that restrict its economic and social development at the time of its accelerated industrialization and urbanization. By making use of borrowed foreign debts, China once built thousands of large and medium-sized projects, greatly easing the transportation and energy “bottlenecks” that long restrained its social and economic development. Such an experience is of reference significance for other developing countries in their initial stage of industrialization and urbanization along the Belt and Road routes.

In the early stage of China’s reform and opening-up, US dollar-denominated foreign debt accounted for nearly 50 percent of China’s total foreign debts, and Japanese yen close to 30 percent. Why didn’t Western countries think the US and Japan were pushing their “creditor imperialism” on China?

Some foreign media have repeatedly mentioned that Sri Lanka is trapped in a “debt trap” due to its excessive money borrowing from China. But the fact is that there are multiple reasons for Sri Lanka’s heavy foreign debt and its debt predicament should not be attributed to China. For most of the years since 1985, foreign debt has remained above 70 percent of its GDP due to its continuous fiscal deficits caused by low tax revenues and massive welfare spending. As of 2017, Sri Lanka owed China $2.87 billion, accounting for only 10 percent of its total foreign debt, compared with $3.44 billion it owed to Japan, 12 percent of its total foreign debt. Japan has been Sri Lanka’s largest creditor since 2006, but why does no foreign media disseminate the idea of “Japan’s creditor imperialism”?

In response to the accusation that China is pursuing creditor imperialism made by India and some Western countries, even former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa wrote an article in July using data to refute it.

Most of the time, the overseas large-scale infrastructure construction projects related to the Belt and Road Initiative are the ones operated by the Chinese government and Chinese enterprises under the request of the governments of involved countries along the Belt and Road routes or the ones undertaken by Chinese enterprises through bidding.

It is expected that with the construction of large-scale infrastructure projects and industrial parks under the Chinese initiative, which will cause the host country’s self-development and debt repayment ability to constantly increase, the China’s creditor imperialism nonsense will collapse.

An early version of this text appeared in China Daily

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Arrogance of force and hostages in US-China trade war

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Even before the ink on the comments made by those who (just like the author of these lines) saw the recent meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Buenos Aires as a sign of a temporary truce in the trade war between the two countries had time to dry, something like a hostage-taking and the opening of a second front happened. The recent arrest in Canada under US pressure of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of China’s telecommunications giant Huawei, is unfolding into a full-blown international scandal with far-reaching consequences.

Meng Wanzhou faces extradition to the United States where she is suspected of violating US sanctions against Iran, namely by making payments to Tehran via the UK branch of the US bank HSBC. The question is, however, how come someone is trying to indict a Chinese citizen according to the norms of American law, and not even on US territory to boot?

China’s reaction was extremely tough with Deputy Foreign Minister Le Yucheng summoning the Canadian and US ambassadors in Beijing and demanding the immediate release of the detainee, calling her detention “an extremely bad act.” First of all, because this is yet another arrogant attempt at extraterritorial use of American laws.

Other countries, above all Russia, have already experienced this arrogance more than once; suffice it to mention the cases of Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, or of the alleged “Russian hackers,” who, by hook or crook, were taken out to the United States to face US “justice”.

Enough is enough, as they say. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who is usually careful in his choice of words, said that while Russia is not involved in the US-China trade war, it still regards Meng’s arrest as “another manifestation of the line that inspires a rejection among the overwhelming majority of normal countries, normal people, the line of extraterritorial application of their [US] national laws.”

“This is a very arrogant great-power policy that no one accepts, it already causes rejection even among the closest allies of the US,” Lavrov said. “It is necessary to put an end to it,” he added.

One couldn’t agree with this more. But first, I would like to know who really is behind this provocation, even though China’s reaction would have been much anticipated. The arrest of Meng Wanzhou sent US markets into a tailspin and scared investors, who now expect an escalation of the trade war between the United States and China.

The point here, of course, is Washington’s displeasure about Huawei’s activities, with The Wall Street Journal reporting that the US Justice Department has long been conducting a probe into the Chinese company’s alleged violation of US sanctions against Iran.

There is more to this whole story than just sanctions though. The US accuses Huawei (as it earlier did the Chinese ZTE) of the potential threats the company’s attempts to use tracking devices could pose to the security of America’s telecommunications networks. The United States has demanded that its closest allies (primarily Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, with whom it has set up a system for jointly collecting and using Five Eyes intelligence) exclude 5G Huawei products from their state procurement tenders.

I still believe, however, that the true reason for this is not so much security concerns as it is a desire to beat a competitor. Huawei has become a world-renowned leader in the development and application of 5G communications technology, which looks to the future (“Internet of Things”, “Smart Cities”, unmanned vehicles and much more.)

Since technology and equipment are supplied along with standards for their use, there is a behind-the-scenes struggle going on to phase out the 5G standard developed by Huawei from global markets.

As for the need “to put an end to this,” the big question is how. Formally, detainees are extradited to the United States in line with national legislation, but at Washington’s request (which often comes with boorish and humiliating pressure from the US authorities and is usually never mentioned in public).

Add to this the US Congress’ longstanding practice of changing, unilaterally and at its own discretion, already signed international treaties and agreements as they are being ratified – another example of “arrogance of power” as mentioned before.

The question could well be raised at the UN Security Council, but its discussion is most likely to be blocked by the US representative. However, there is also a moral side to the assessment of any political practice the work on international legal norms usually starts with.

If China and Russia, as well as other countries equally fed up with the “arrogance of power” submit a draft resolution “On the inadmissibility of attempts at extraterritorial use of national legislation by UN member states” to the UN General Assembly, it would most likely enjoy the overwhelming support by most of the countries of the UNGA, maybe save for just a dozen or so of the most diehard advocates of Washington’s policy…

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Will China Save the Planet? Book Review

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Barbara Finamore has been involved in environmental policy in China for decades.  Her new book, Will China Save the Planet?,is a succinct report (120 pg.) on the short, yet promising history of China’s actions to address climate change and pollution.

Chapter 1 is about the recent global leadership role that China has taken in the fight against climate change.  At first, the PRC was hesitant to commit to specific pollution-reduction benchmarks.  After experiencing increasingly devastating bouts of industrial smog in the 1990s however, China began to take its environmental commitments more seriously.  It has set out to become the de facto leader in combatting climate change through ambitious domestic action and sponsoring international conferences.  The Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement has only furthered China’s dominance.

Chapters 2-4 give in-depth analysis on China’s efforts to wean itself off of coal, develop its renewable energy capacity and become a global leader in electric vehicle production.  China has long used coal to fuel its unprecedented rate of industrialization.  In recent years, it has pledged to wean itself off of coal dependency by enforcing coal plant efficiency standards, enacting a cap-and-trade program, managing grid output, promoting local politicians based on their success in implementing green policies and supporting green energy developments.  China is now home to many of the world’s top manufacturers of solar panels, wind turbines and commercial & private electric vehicles.

There is much to applaud China for in its efforts.  Finamore writes that, “After growing by an average of 10% annually from 2002-2012, China’s coal consumption leveled off in 2013 & decreased in each of the following three years… Largely because of the dip in China’s coal consumption, global CO2 emissions growth was basically flat between 2014-2016.”  By moving away from coal, China has been able to, “Every hour… erects a new wind turbine & installs enough solar panels to cover a soccer field.” As of last year, “Chinese solar manufacturers accounted for about 68% of global solar cell production & more than 70% of the world’s production of solar panels.”

Chapter 5 focuses on China’s mission to export its green initiatives around the world, particularly through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).  The BRI is shaping up to be the largest international infrastructure plan in history, investing trillions of dollars in 65 countries in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East.  China thus has a golden chance to help much of the developing world to adopt clean energy goals and foster economic growth.  The Chinese government is encouraging its citizens to invest in renewable energy initiatives in the BRI countries by implementing a “green finance” system.  Through its pivotal role in the G20, China can also help to lead the developed world by spearheading reports and policies among the 20 member nations.

Barbara Finamore has written a highly readable and informative overview of China’s role in the global climate change battle.  She lists the Chinese government policies that have led the world’s largest nation to meet and exceed many of the green benchmarks that it set for itself.  It would have been helpful if Finamore had written more about China’s water instability and how that ties to the Tibetan occupation, as access to drinking water is one of the top environmental issues in the world today.  As a whole, Will China Save the Planet?is a good primer for environmental policy analysts and anyone else interested in studying feasible solutions to climate change, humanity’s greatest threat.

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