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China, Nepal to focus on cross-border Railway

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Like USA and Russia that have assumed Asia pivot to influence the continent, China also has its own Asia pivot but it also has South Asia pivot too trying to woo the nations to come under its  new Silk  route program nicknamed the ‘One Belt, One Road (OBOR)’ initiative. 

China’s South Asia pivot is yielding fruits as it has been able to rope in maximum of the region: Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal are now the satellite countries of Beijing, leaving very little scope for India to manipulate or maneuver. Only one country that stays behind the military prowess of India is Bhutan which maintains economic relations with New Delhi as most of the food stuff and other manufactured goods is has come from India. Afghanistan has plenty of compulsions not to annoy economic power India that liberally releases funds for Kabul and also to bowl harmless balls to Indian military batboys for 100s and 50s.

Nepal is one of nations that benefits maximum from Chinese extra enthusiasm for recapturing the Old Silk Road for making itself the real super power and for this reason Katmandu is willing to  annoy New Delhi, though it takes care not to  strain the relations with India.

China and Nepal have agreed to start technical works to build a cross-border railway link via Tibet to boost connectivity.  This was decided during the recent visit of Nepalese Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara to Beijing. “Both sides have agreed to move forward technical works relating to construction of Nepal-China cross-border railway line.

China has also developed close relations with Sri Lanka during the regime of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa whose nearly decade-long tenure was ended by Sirisena in 2015.  Also, the USD 1.5 billion Chinese-funded Colombo Port City project had sparked off security concerns in India.

China already has strong ties with Pakistan and the two countries are working closely on developing the USD 46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

 Connectivity

 The bilateral relation between Nepal and China has been friendly and is defined by the ‘Sino-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship’ signed on April 28, 1960 by the two countries. The government of Nepal, though initially unenthusiastic about its ties with People’s Republic of China, has been of late making efforts to increase trade and connectivity with China while also simultaneously trying to decrease its reliance on India.

The Araniko Highway that connects Kathmandu to Kodari and onwards to Tibet did not encourage dreams of multi-laned container traffic flowing down even before the 2015 earthquake. Post the quake, China closed the route after massive landslides in Tibet, leaving only one road that connects Kathmandu to Tibet – the Rasuwagadhi highway, built upon an old trade route that connected Nepal to Tibet via the Kerung pass.  It was through this highway – still under construction in most sections in Nepal, and perhaps the most affected highway during the quake – that petroleum arrived in Kathmandu in 2015 during the infamous Indian blockade. It is also this highway that will connect Nepal to the much-flaunted Chinese Belt Road Initiative (BRI), with the Chinese interested in building Kathmandu itself.

Relations between Nepal and China got a boost when both countries solved all border disputes along China–Nepal border by signing the Sino-Nepal boundary agreement on March 21, 1960. The government of both Nepal and China ratified the border agreement treaty on October 5, 1961. From 1975 onward, Nepal has maintained a policy of balancing the competing influence of China and Nepal’s southern neighbour India, the only two neighbors of the Himalayan country after the annexation of the Kingdom of Sikkim by India in 1975. Since 1975, Sino-Nepal relations have been close and grown significantly with China being the largest source of FDI, while India still remains one of the major sources of remittance to Nepal. As per the estimate of Nepalese government, there are around 2-3 million Nepalese migrant workers in India while the number of Nepalis in China is minuscule (3,500 in Mainland and 15,950 in Hong Kong) as of 2017.

In the late 1970s after the annexation of Kingdom of Sikkim by India, King Birendra of Nepal proposed Nepal as a “zone of peace” between India and China and in the 1980s, Nepal began importing Chinese weaponry. When the United States, United Kingdom and India refused to supply arms to the regime of King Gyanendra of Nepal, who had assumed direct rule to suppress the Maoist insurgency during the Nepalese civil war (1996–2006), China responded by dispatching arms to Nepal, in spite of the ideological affinity of the Maoists with China.

 After the peace process and national elections in Nepal in 2008, the new Maoist-led government announced its intentions to scrap Nepal’s 1950 treaty with India, indicating a stronger move towards closer ties with China. In 2007-08, China began construction of a 770-kilometre railway connecting the Tibetan capital of Lhasa with the Nepalese border town of Khasa, connecting Nepal to China’s wider national railway network   In a meeting between Chinese and Nepalese officials on 25 April 2008, the Chinese delegation announced the intention to extend the Qingzang railway to Zhangmu (Nepali: Khasa) on the Nepalese border. Nepal had requested that the railway be extended to enable trade and tourism between the two nations. On the occasion of the Nepali premier’s visit to China it was reported that construction will be completed by 2020. The section Lhasa-Shigatse opened in August 2014.

China last year agreed to consider building a railway into Nepal and to start a feasibility study for a free trade agreement with landlocked Nepal, which has been trying to lessen its dependence on its other big neighbour India.

Belt and Road

Nepal also signed up to President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road initiative which is opposed by India as it passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Of late, India takes special interest about parts of Jammu Kashmir being controlled by Pakistan while does not want anyone to mention about its own occupied and heavily militarized and hence highly terrorized parts of Jammu Kashmir. As an ambitious South Asian power  India is also engaged with both USA and Israel to jointly control the world,  It has of late developed double speaks as well. 

During the high-level talks in Beijing, Mahara had requested China to forward the work relating to preparation of a Detailed Project Report for the construction of inter-country railway line giving it high priority, it said. However, China’s state-run People’s Daily has claimed that during Mahara’s visit to China early this month a deal has been struck to establish the rail link. It said the rail link includes two lines: one connecting three of Nepal’s most important cities and two between China and Nepal.

The daily, however, did not identify the Nepalese cities. The Sino-Nepali railway, which passes through the Chinese border town of Zhangmu and connects with routes in Nepal, will be the first railway by which China enters South Asia, said Zhao Gancheng, director of the Centre for Asia-Pacific Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies. “Although the railway connection between China and Nepal is intended to boost regional development and not for military purposes, the move will still probably irritate India,” he was quoted as saying by the daily – the ruling communist party’s official mouthpiece.

Prime Minister Prachanda today said Nepal was keen to be involved in the One Belt One Road project proposed by China and reiterated Nepal’s commitment to the One China policy during a meeting with Chinese Defence Minister here.  General Chang Wanquan, who leads the 2.3-million-strong Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), the world’s largest, arrived here today with a 19-member delegation on a three-day goodwill visit at the invitation of Defence Minister Balkrishna Khand. Chang, the first Chinese Defence Minister to visit Nepal in 16 years, discussed with Prachanda bilateral military cooperation and the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, an ambitious project viewed with suspicion by India.

Prachanda said Nepal was keen to be involved in the OBOR project, a pet project of Chinese President Xi Jinping. He also reiterated Nepal’s commitment to the One China policy and said it would not tolerate any activity against Tibet and Taiwan. Prachanda also expressed his happiness over the cooperation that armies of Nepal and China have developed of late, the Prime Ministers Secretariat said in a statement after the meeting.

India has some concerns over the OBOR, which includes a maze of projects connecting China with Euro-Asia and is floated by Beijing as a connectivity and economic project. Thanking China for its support to Nepals economic development, Prachanda wished a complete success of Changs visit.

Prachanda is the first Chinese Defence Minister to visit Nepal after a gap of 16 years, which is a matter of pleasure for us,” said a senior official at the Defence Ministry.  The visit comes ahead of the Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawats four-day official visit to Nepal from March 28.

The Chinese defense ministers visit coincides with the first joint military exercise between the Nepal Army and the PLA scheduled later this year. Chang will receive a briefing on the joint exercise and also visit Nepal Army’s Kathmandu Valley unit. He called on President Bidya Devi Bhandari tomorrow and meet his Nepalese counterpart Balkrishna Khand and Nepal Army chief Rajendra Chhetri.

Chang and Nepalese officials discussed issues relating to bilateral military cooperation and proposed joint military exercise, according to officials.

The delegation accompanying Chang discussed the ideas floated last year by then Nepalese prime minister KP Sharma Oli during his visit to China. A possible support to Nepal Army from China was hinted at.

Prachanda visited China to take part in the Boao conference which is committed to promoting regional economic integration and bringing Asian countries closer to their development goals. He said that the main objective of his visit to China will be to build confidence though there is no plan to sign any new agreement. Prachanda said he will hold high-level talks with Chinese officials during the visit, which will be instrumental in strengthening bilateral relations. He will also meet Xi.

Hours before flying to China, Prachanda held discussions about agenda of the visit with former prime ministers, former foreign ministers and foreign policy experts at his official residence. 

With Nepal willingly joining the BRI, commentators in both Nepal and India have argued that the move signals Kathmandu’s willingness to move away from the Indian ‘sphere of influence’. With India and China now locked in a stand-off in Doklam, commentators are also asking what this means for smaller nations like Bhutan and Nepal to be in the midst of two clashing giants.

Military

Sino-Nepalese military ties are growing stronger of late. Nepal and China today began their first-ever joint military exercise with a special focus on combating terror, amidst Beijing’s increasing forays into South Asia causing concern in India.  The 10-day-long military drill “Sagarmatha Friendship 2017” that will last till April 25 is being organised by the two countries as part of their preparedness against terrorism that has posed as a serious security threat globally, the Nepal Army said.  Sagarmatha is the Nepali name of Mt Everest, the world’s highest peak.

The Chinese Peoples Liberation Army’s squad arrived in the capital to participate in the military exercise that will focus on counter terrorism and disaster response. The joint training with China marks Nepal Army’s extension of military diplomacy. The Nepal Army has long been conducting joint military drills with Indian and American Army. “A small Chinese troop will be participating in the first ever drill with an equal number of Nepali Army personnel,” said military spokesman Jhankar Bahadur Kadayat.  He did not mention the strength of the participating troops. The exercise will take place at the Army’s Maharajgunj-based Training School, where Yuddha Bhairab, Mahabir and Bhairabnath Battalions are located.

The Nepali Army has said the joint military exercise with China is a step towards preparations against the possible threat from terrorism.

It maintains that the drill is a part of its regular bilateral and multilateral military exercises aimed at sharing experiences, skills and professional knowledge which it has been doing regularly with the nations that Nepal shares diplomatic ties.

Nepal had proposed joint military exercises during Chinese Defence Minister General Chang Wanquans official visit to Nepal on March 24. Experts believe that the joint military exercise could make India uneasy as China attempts to exert influence in the region. Nepal, a landlocked country, is dependent on India for its imports.

Crises

 Nepal has just come out of its two greatest crises namely natural crisis in the form of earthquake & constitutional crisis. Both the events have shaken the roots of Himalayan country.  However, two events had contrastingly affected the India-Nepal relations. Cooperation & timely support during the earthquake proved India’s worth for Nepal & its irreplaceable geostrategic position. However, forming of new constitution & its implementation created a tense scenario between the two nations & overshadowed the Indian rescue efforts during earthquake.

In both the events China took advantage to deepen its ties with Nepal & put India on the strategically disadvantageous position, whereas, Nepal also seems to play the China card with India on India’s suggestions for the demands of Terai people and constitutional reforms i.e. for more representation of Terai people in parliament, provincial territory demarcations and issues related to citizenship rights.

In September 1961, King Mahendra had embarked on a 17-day state visit to China, where he was feted as an ‘esteemed friend of the Chinese people’. Mahendra had carried out his royal takeover the year before, and Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru was not happy with this new development.

Big brother

Despite talks between Nehru and Mahendra, the Delhi-Kathmandu relationship continued to deteriorate under the face of cross-border attacks by the Nepali Congress rebels, and in September 1962, India imposed an “unofficial and undeclared economic blockade on Nepal” – but even as Mahendra began to get frantic and Kathmandu’s response turned ‘hysterical’ to the blockade, the Sino-Indian war began on October 20 that year.

China proposed the establishment of an economic corridor among the three countries to promote trilateral cooperation and common prosperity. Nepal can become a stage for mutually beneficial cooperation between China and India, rather than an arena for competition.

India poses to be a Big Brother in the region and refuses to make the region tension free by quickly resolving the Kashmir issue by surrendering them their sovereignty that would eventually herald a new peaceful and genuinely surrounding in the region. India needs to work to resolve the issues through diplomacy and mutual cooperation.

Indian blockade caused economic problems and social tensions problems as well as irritation in Nepal. Nepal had witnessed a shortage in essential supplies from India during the 2015 Madhesi blockade. China at that time had extended its help to Nepal to ease the situation.

 Observation

India is treating South Asia and the Indian Ocean as its backyard with a hard-line manner and the way the Indian Pm Modi went around the region soon after his rise to power vindicates that impression. .

Now it is necessary to analyze the current situation whether growing proximity of China and Nepal is a real threat for India or it’s just an overemphasized perception and if it’s a new reality in triangular relations how India is going to be affected by it.

 Nepalese nationalists in Nepal lauded the king for taking the country away from the Indian dependence. One can conclusively argue it was the 2015 blockade that turned Kathmandu towards Beijing.

China’s deepening economic ties in South Asia – set to be further strengthened through the “One Belt, One Road” initiative – would likely be followed by closer security ties as well, despite Delhi’s unease.

China hopes India can understand the pursuit of China and regional countries for common development, and be part of it. However, New Delhi doesn’t share this thinking, instead seeking to balance China and overtake it. If such tendencies in India continue, China may even fight back, because it cannot digest if its core interests are violated. “This is not what we hope for, but the ball is in India’s court,” so reads a Chinese the commentary.

 Beijing warns India of action if its interests are threatened by New Delhi’s actions. China’s Defence Minister and People’s Liberation Army General Chang Wanquan made a rare visit to Sri Lanka and Nepal, and Chinese state media warned India that Beijing will “fight back” if Delhi interferes into China’s relations with South Asian countries.

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Chinese Game: U.S. Losing Asia and Africa

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As the US sanction pressure on Russia intensifies, the US economic and political competition with their most important economic partner, China, is noticeably getting more fierce. Simultaneously, Washington has been exchanging direct and indirect economic strikes with Turkey and the EU. (In the case of the European Union, an exchange of blows occurs in connection with Washington’s threat to punish European companies that are set to ignore the US ban on cooperation with Iran.)

Two Lines of Confrontation

The aggravation of the US-Chinese rivalry proceeds along two lines: first, the rates in the “tariff war” between the two countries are rising; second, the struggle between Washington and Beijing for lucrative markets in Asia and Africa is intensifying. Both these processes are interrelated, but in the current circumstances the main focus of the second line  is the fight for markets.

In the first place, I would like to talk briefly about the “tariff war” between the US and China as an important element in relations between the two countries, without which it is impossible to understand all the subtleties of competition between these two countries in Asia and Africa. As is known, the “tariff war” worsened after the US president first introduced a 25-percent duty on the import of 818 products from China, the total value of which was estimated at 34 billion dollars a year. Then came the even more threatening statement of the US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer: “On July 18, the President instructed me to compile the list of Chinese goods worth 200 billion dollars for imposing additional duties of 10 percent … The President ordered me to consider an increase in the proposed level from 10 to 25 percent “. After China responded with a 25-percent duty on 34 billion dollars’ worth of American goods, Trump did not rule out the possibility of raising duties on all Chinese imports in the US. The total value of Chinese commodities in the US is currently estimated at about $ 500 billion.

Simultaneously, the United States has loudly announced its intention to compete with China in influencing countries that participate in the Chinese transport project “One Belt, One Road”, which is designed to revive the Great Silk Road, which ran throughout the whole of Eurasia in the Middle Ages. As he set off for  the Regional Cooperation Forum in Singapore in July this year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced his intention to counteract China’s so-called “silk” influence. According to Pompeo’s plans, the appropriate measures should cost the US budget a trifling $ 113 million against China’s hundreds of billions which is exactly the amount Beijing is planning to allocate for the implementation of “One Belt, One Road” project.

Influence at Low Cost

If the United States intends to squeeze China out of Asia at such miniscule costs, they obviously underestimate the rival. At least two factors work for Beijing: first of all, China is one of the region’s oldest “aborigines”; besides, Washington, waging a “tariff” war against Beijing, can thus deprive itself of a part of the Chinese oil market, making China even more attractive for oil traders from Iran and Russia – the key players in the project “One Belt, One Road”.

The American Oil Price news site has described the impact of the US-China “tariff war” on the Asian oil players as follows: “China has threatened to impose a 25- percent import tariff on crude oil and oil products from the United States. If this threat comes into effect, crude oil from the US can become non-competitive in terms of value. Such a tariff from China will not only reduce the income of oil exporters from the US, forcing them to look for new markets … it can become a source of additional revenues for the OPEC countries. And the OPEC countries are the suppliers that the US has pushed into the background in recent years”, says Oil Price researcher Irina Slav. oilprice.com

Considering that for the American oil industry China is the largest export market after Canada, it becomes clear that this matter is fraught with so huge losses, billions in fact, that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with his 113 million dollars sounds ridiculous.

Psychological Error

Judging by Pompeo’s statements, Americans are committing a psychological mistake in Asia. This is the mistake that led to China pushing the US to the sidelines in many countries of Africa. The matter is that the US is trying to replace genuine assistance by self-praise, flaunting any of its measures as valuable and corruption-free, alleging that whatever it does is a good example to follow. “The world knows that with American companies you get what you see. Honest contracts, honest conditions, there is no need for behind-the-scenes machinations. Decency in business is the pillar of our economic vision in the Indo-Pacific Region”, the Secretary of State told CNN.

Meanwhile, South-East Asian nations know only too well about the US policy in this region. Alas, it is simply impossible to describe this policy as ever humanistic, open and devoid of corruption – it would mean contradicting the historical truth. The brutal war in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, the support of the dictatorial and corrupt regime of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines (1965-1986), the “secret wars” of the CIA in Laos and Cambodia during military operations in Vietnam – the memory of all these is still fresh in the region. All the countries affected (Vietnam, the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia) are members of ASEAN. In such circumstances, the self-praising speeches by American officials at ASEAN forums trigger a skeptical attitude, to say the least. And although many ASEAN countries may feel wary of China and are unlikely to have cloudless relations with Beijing in the near future, the US’ psychologically wrong tactics have already antagonized many of these states pushing them toward Russia and China. This is proved by the recent attempts by Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte to diversify the traditionally pro-American policy of his country, enlisting the support of Russia and even China, a long-term rival. Duterte’s historic visit to China in 2016 showed who had actually won the fight for the “heart and mind” of the Philippine leader – a struggle in which the United States initially had very strong positions. aljazeera.com

The anti-Duterte media campaign, which was launched in the US and the EU soon afterwards, has no direct consequences so far. American accusations against Duterte in connection with an excessively fierce fight against the drug mafia sounded hypocritical amid the “war on drugs” which was imposed by the United States on Mexico and Colombia in the 2000s and in which at least 45,000 people were killed.

Lost In Asia – Will Lose In Africa

As far as Africa is concerned, in recent years China has outplayed not only the Americans, but the seemingly familiar with the local specifics former colonial masters of this region – the French and the British.

After the first Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000, the Chinese side found the right approach to its African partners – without instruction, without interference in internal affairs, with investment proposals supported by the banking sector of the Middle Kingdom. The first ministerial meeting of FOCAC attracted representatives of 44 countries from 53 states of the African continent. Fairly soon, China made these forums pan-African by removing Taiwan. Until the middle of the 2000s Taiwan had its diplomatic missions in several African countries (including Chad and Senegal), which excluded the possibility of communication between these countries and the PRC.

Orientation – Bandung

The African-Chinese “union of values” began with the Bandung Conference of 1955, during which 29 countries of Asia and Africa proclaimed the principles of non-interference, respect for each other’s sovereignty and comprehensive economic cooperation. The figures of the Indian Jewaharlal Nehru, the Egyptian Gamal-Abdel Nasser and the Chinese Zhou Enlai, which live in the memory of many in connection with their participation in the Bandung Conference, have ‘sanctified’ a new approach to China’s cooperation with Africa. All three became heroes in their countries, and the Chinese leadership, headed by the then Secretary-General Hu Jintao, was not mistaken in the choice of a model: in the coming years China will most likely gain an economic foothold in Angola, South Africa and the Congo-Brazzaville state. According to the long-term president of this country Denis Sassou Nguesso, “Africans for the first time do not expect foul play from people with a different skin color who build their roads and power lines.” (Source: the book by French journalists Serge Michel, Michel Beuret “Cinafrica, Pechino qalla conquista del continente nero” – “Beijing in the process of conquering the black continent.” Milano, 2009, p. 23)

At present, Africa’s trade with China amounts to 220 billion dollars, with the US – 37 billion. Foreign direct investment from China to African countries is estimated at $ 50 billion, although many experts claim that the real figure is higher: too much infrastructure, new plants and modern services have appeared in Africa for such “modest” Chinese money. (Source: book by French journalists Serge Michel, Michel Beuret “Cinafrica, Pechino qalla conquista del continente nero” – “Beijing in the process of conquering the black continent.” Milano, 2009, p. 22).

It should be noted that Africa did its best to repay all their benefactors with loyalty: together with China, leaders of the African Union reacted negatively to the armed, violent overthrow of the leader of the African Union – Libyan Muammar Gaddafi. China knows that it can count on the majority of African votes in the UN. But the main thing is gratitude, which in the case of Africa-China relations is absolutely sincere.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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The Uyghur militant threat: China cracks down and mulls policy changes

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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China, responding to United Nations criticism, academic and media reports, and an embarrassing court case in Kazakhstan, has come closer to admitting that it has brutally cracked down on the strategic north-western province of Xinjiang in what it asserts is a bid to prevent the kind of mayhem that has wracked countries like Syria and Libya.

The Chinese Communist Party’s Global Times charged in its Chinese and English editions that the criticism and reports were aimed at stirring trouble and destroying hard-earned stability in Xinjiang, China’s gateway to Central Asia and home to its Turkic Uyghur and ethnic minority Central Asian Muslim communities.

The crackdown, involving introduction of the world’s most intrusive surveillance state and the indefinite internment of large numbers of Muslims in re-education camps, is designed to quell potential Uyghur nationalist and religious sentiment and prevent blowback from militants moving to Central Asia’s borders with China after the Islamic State and other jihadist groups lost most of their territorial base in Iraq and Syria.

Concern that national and religious sentiment and/or militancy could challenge China’s grip on Xinjiang, home to 15  percent of its proven oil reserves, 22  per cent of its gas reserves, and 115 of the 147 raw materials found in the People’s Republic as well as part of its nuclear arsenal, has prompted Beijing to consider a more interventionist policy in the Middle East and Central and South Asia in contradiction to its principle of non-interference in the affairs of others.

The Global Times asserted that the security situation in Xinjiang had been “turned around and terror threats spreading from there to other provinces of China are also being eliminated. Peaceful and stable life has been witnessed again in all of Xinjiang… Xinjiang has been salvaged from the verge of massive turmoil. It has avoided the fate of becoming ‘China’s Syria’ or ‘China’s Libya,’” the paper said.

Five Chinese mining engineers were wounded last week in a suicide attack in the troubled Pakistan province of Balochistan, a key node in the US$ 50 billion plus China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) intended to link the strategic port of Gwadar with Xinjiang and fuel economic development in the Chinese region. The attack was claimed by the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) rather than Uyghurs.

The Global Times admitted that the Chinese effort to ensure security had “come at a price that is being shouldered by people of all ethnicities in Xinjiang.”

China has not acknowledged the existence of re-education camps but the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said last week that it had credible reports that one million Uyghurs, were being held in what resembled a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy.”

The UN assertion of the existence of the camps is corroborated by academic research and media reports based on interviews with former camp inmates and relatives of prisoners, testimony to a US Congressional committee, and recent testimony in a Kazakh court by a former employee in one of the camps.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, US Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the chair of the congressional committee, called for the sanctioning of Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary and Politburo member Chen Quanguo and “all government officials and business entities assisting the mass detentions and surveillance”. He also demanded that Chinese security agencies be added “to a restricted end-user list to ensure that American companies don’t aid Chinese human-rights abuses.”

Stymying the international criticism and demands for action before they gain further momentum is imperative if China wants to ensure that the Muslim world continues to remain silent about what amounts to a Chinese effort, partly through indoctrination in its re-education camps, to encourage the emergence of what it would call an Islam with Chinese characteristics. China is pushing other faiths to adopt a similar approach.

Concern that Uighur militants exiting Syria and Iraq will again target Xinjiang is likely one reason why Chinese officials suggested that despite their adherence to the principle of non-interference in the affairs of others China might join the Syrian army in taking on militants in the northern Syrian province of Idlib.

Syrian forces have bombarded Idlib, a dumping ground for militants evacuated from other parts of the country captured by the Syrian military and the country’s last major rebel stronghold, in advance of an expected offensive.

Speaking to Syrian pro-government daily Al-Watan, China’s ambassador to Syria, Qi Qianjin, said that China was ‘following the situation in Syria, in particular after the victory in southern (Syria), and its military is willing to participate in some way alongside the Syrian army that is fighting the terrorists in Idlib and in any other part of Syria.”

Chinese participation in a campaign in Idlib would be China’s first major engagement in foreign battle in decades.

China has similarly sought to mediate a reduction of tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan in an effort to get them to cooperate in the fight against militants and ensure that Uyghur jihadists are denied the ability to operate on China’s borders. It has also sought to facilitate peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Chinese officials told a recent gathering in Beijing of the Afghan-Pakistan-China Trilateral Counter-Terrorism dialogue that militant cross-border mobility represented a major threat that needed to be countered by an integrated regional approach.

Potentially, there’s a significant economic upside to facilitating regional cooperation in South Asia and military intervention in Syria. Post-conflict, both countries offer enormous reconstruction opportunities.

Said Middle East scholar Randa Slim discussing possible Chinese involvement in the clearing of Idlib: “You have to think about this in terms of the larger negotiations over Chinese assistance to reconstruction. Syria doesn’t have the money, Russia doesn’t have the money. China has a stake in the fighting.” It also has the money.

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Sino-American Strategic Rivalry

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From a strategy point of view, Clausewitz and Sun Tzu are similar in least in one respect: Sun Tzu’s idea of moving swiftly to overcome resistance is similar to the one endorsed by Clausewitz and practiced by Napoleon.

The modern day example can be traced to the 2003 “shock and awe” campaign by the U.S. in Iraq and the Iraqi reliance on a strategy similar to Russian defense against Napoleon’s attack in his Russian Campaign of 1812. Napoleon’s invasion of Russia was the beginning of the end of his ambition. He won many battles but lost the war.

And America is suffering from the same fate as the struggle for a new Iraqi political identity is not going to go the American way. The same can be said about Afghanistan.

This is precisely why discussions on war must be assessed from a geopolitical point of view as Clausewitz has noted that “war is an extension of politics”. And the reverse is also true, one may add.

A quick tour of modern history reveals the true winners and losers of wars, by comparing a country’s power before and after a war. The United Kingdom and Germany were both losers of the two World Wars. And the difference of losses between them is a matter of degree.

But the U.K. suffered greater and irreversible losses than Germany.  The British ceded its number one geopolitical leadership position in the world to the United States. But Germany has been able to regain its position as Europe’s great economic and political power, while the prospects of the U.K. taking back the world leadership position from the U.S. are next to none.

America has been a geopolitical winner overall since the two World Wars. But its power has been in relative decline. It has failed to advance its power after the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and most recently Syria. It has failed so far to advance the momentum created by the Arab Spring as it has since become the Arab Winter, or to make much headway in Latin America, in Ukraine, and in Africa.

America’s key failures in the past decade are failures in being able to offer tangible economic benefits to target countries while expanding its military involvements. The country can win military battles because of its overwhelming fire power but has not been successful in its after-war “nation building” efforts.

Despite China’s numerous shortcomings, many developing countries quietly wish they could become a mini-China economically. They want to live better with more consumption but they probably want to do it by being able to build up their country’s infrastructure and an industrial base.

America’s recent announcement that it will invest $113 million in technology, energy and infrastructure initiatives in the Indo-Pacific as part of a new strategy to deepen ties with the region has received jaw-dropping reception – sarcastically speaking.

As an example, a survey of North American light rail projects shows that costs of most LRT systems range from $15 million to over $100 million per mile. So how far $113 million or even $1.13 billion can go even if one is to factor in some discounts if projects are implemented in lower cost Indo-Pacific countries? Remember, $113 million is for countries as in plural!

This pales in comparison to China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI) that ranges between $1 trillion and $8 trillion. BRI is not without its problems and critics. Concerns have been raised about increases in some participating countries’ level of national debt as a result of massive infrastructure building. But because of the scale of the initiative, even if it could only succeed at the lowest end of the range, would offer some real and substantial benefits to countries that can benefit from it.

While freedom and democracy are ideals that have universal support in the abstract – the key words here are “in the abstract” – successful nation-building efforts are realized in the nitty-gritty of people’s everyday economic well-being. This is particularly true among developing countries.

Cheap Chinese smart phones have enabled Africans to get market information to transact with one another more beneficially, to acquire news and information, to lower transaction costs through mobile payments. Inexpensive Chinese motor bikes have become life-saving vehicles for rural populations carrying goods to markets as well as the sick to clinics or hospitals many miles away that they previously could not do.

While the U.S. is no doubt keen on promoting democracy, it is the Chinese that provide affordable smart phones to the masses that allow the spread of information.

While some of the best and the brightest, the elites, the upper middle class in developing countries may desire to have an opportunity to earn an Ivey League degree, to emigrate to the U.S. for better opportunities, to acquire an American passport as an insurance policy, it’s the Chinese that are doing the grunt work of building and training local personnel to conduct trains, to train electrical power linemen to install and repair of overhead or underground power lines as well as to maintain and repair of other electrical and hydro-electrical subsystems and components.

Regardless of how one’s view of China’s strategic intents in its international involvements, the strategies between the U.S. and China cannot be more different. China builds and America destroys.

But many countries especially in the Indo-Pacific region are taking advantage of the rivalry between these two powers to extract the best deals for themselves and you can’t blame them. Economically they want to cooperate with China but militarily they want to get a free ride from the U.S. and the U.S. does not mind that as long as it falls within America’s China Containment strategy.

And time will tell which strategy will work better – economic cooperation or military encirclement?

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