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China: President Xi Jinping to continue Socialist path

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Highlights:  1. Chinese President Xi Jinping described a two-stage plan for China’s “socialist modernisation” by 2050, which would see it become more “prosperous and beautiful” through environmental and economic reforms;

2. He warned against separatism – in an apparent reference to movements in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong – and reiterated the government’s principle that Taiwan is part of China; 3. Xi made it clear that  China would not close its doors to the world and promised to lower barriers for foreign investors.

President Xi’s address at Chinese party congress

With thrust on a new era of Chinese power under President Xi Jinping, the Communist Party congress as China’s biggest political event, has begun in Beijing on October 18 under tight security. Chinese President Xi Jinping addressed more than 2,000 delegates in the capital for more than three hours, dwelling on the problems and prospects in China. . In his speech, Xi listed China’s recent achievements, saying that “socialism with Chinese characteristics in this new era” meant China had become a great power in the world, and the country would not copy foreign political systems. He briefly described a two-stage plan for China’s “socialist modernisation”, to be achieved by 2050. Xi also said China would further advance market economy and would not close its doors to the world, maybe an attack on Trump’s strict immigrations policy. .

Speaking in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, at the start of the week-long 19th party congress, Xi told delegates that thanks to decades of “tireless struggle” China stood “tall and firm in the east”. Now, Xi said, it was time for his nation to transform itself into “a mighty force” that could lead the world on political, economic, military and environmental issues. “This is a new historic juncture in China’s development,” China’s 64-year-old leader declared in his bold 3hr 23 minute address outlining the party’s priorities for the next five years. “The Chinese nation … has stood up, grown rich, and become strong – and it now embraces the brilliant prospects of rejuvenation … It will be an era that sees China moving closer to centre stage and making greater contributions to mankind.”

The country’s rapid progress under “socialism with Chinese characteristics” shows there is “a new choice for other countries”, he told the Communist Party congress,  the country  has played “an important role in the history of humankind”.. More than 2,200 delegates have poured into Beijing for the week-long gathering, bringing with them an effervescence of political tributes.

The closed-door summit, which takes place once every five years, determines who rules China and the country’s direction for the next term. The congress also decides on a roadmap for China for the next five years. Shortly after the congress ends, the party is expected to unveil the new members of China’s top decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee, who will steer the country.

The Communist party of China is a great party; it has the fight and mettle to win.” “The Chinese nation is a great nation; it has been through hardships and adversity but remains indomitable. The Chinese people are a great people; they are industrious and brave and they never pause in pursuit of progress,” he said. Xi said that the Chinese model of growth and socialism under Communist rule was “flourishing”, and had given “a new choice” to other developing countries.”It is time for us to take centre stage in the world and to make a greater contribution to humankind,” he added.

In the surprisingly long speech – titled “Secure a decisive victory in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and strive for the great success of socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era” – Xi struck an upbeat tone that contrasted with the grey skies and drizzle outside. He introduced measures to increase party discipline, and touched on his wide-reaching corruption crackdown that has punished more than a million officials, report BBC correspondents in Beijing.

Xi warned that corruption remained the greatest threat to the party’s survival despite a five-year war on graft that he claimed had been “built into a crushing tide”. “We must remain as firm as a rock … and secure sweeping victory,” he said, warning that “pleasure-seeking, inaction and sloth” were no longer acceptable. “We must … rid ourselves of any virus that erodes the party’s health.”

Xi warned that achieving what he has hailed the “China Dream” would be “no walk in the park”: “It will take more than drum beating and gong clanging to get there. But our mission is a call for action, let us gets behind the strong leadership of the party and engage in a tenacious struggle.”

Jinping Xi also warned against separatism – in an apparent reference to movements in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong – and reiterated the government’s principle that Taiwan is part of China.

Commentators say Chinese President Xi Jinping has heralded the dawn of a new era of Chinese politics and power at the start of a historic Communist party congress celebrating the end of his first term in office on October 18.

Beijing is decked out in welcome banners and festive displays for the congress. However, the capital is also on high alert. Long lines were seen earlier this week at railway stations due to additional checks at transport hubs. The congress has also affected businesses, with some restaurants, gyms, nightclubs and karaoke bars reportedly shutting down due to tightened security rules. An austerity drive, instituted by Xi, has meant a more pared down congress, with Chinese reports this week of delegates’ hotels cutting back on frills such as decorations, free fruit in rooms and lavish meals.

Meanwhile, state media have said the Party is expected to rewrite its constitution to include Xi’s “work report” or political thoughts, which would elevate him to the status of previous Party giants Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Some see Xi as accruing more power than any leader since Mao, and the congress will be watched closely for clues on how much control now rests in the hands of just one man

Corruption – enemy of Socialism

 China’s president, Xi Jinping, called corruption the greatest threat to the Communist party’s survival in his opening speech to the week-long congress meeting on Wednesday. However, the problem is largely a product of the one-party political system he leads. Three decades of breakneck development has produced vast wealth in China – and much of this is controlled directly or indirectly by the party. That means there are eye-watering money-making opportunities for cadres looking to supplement their modest salaries by cashing in on their positions and their contacts. 

At the same time, the party’s stranglehold on the media means that independent reporting that might expose high-level corruption is all but non-existent, unless authorised by the party itself. Impunity, therefore, has traditionally been almost guaranteed. Xi now hopes to change that with his war on graft.   “Great changes have occurred in China and we are so proud of it,” said Xue Rong, a delegate who had travelled to the capital from Henan province. “Xi Jinping is a great man. He is down-to-earth, too. He carries the people in his heart.”

Zhao Yongqing, the propaganda chief of the north-western region of Ningxia, said he had been inspired by Xi’s opening pitch to the congress. “I feel a big responsibility. As a delegate, I must study and understand Xi’s speech thoroughly, and publicize and implement it well when I return home.”

The event, which Xi will use to pack the Communist party’s upper ranks with allies, marks the official end of what is expected to be the first of his two five-year terms in power. For some though it has come to represent the advent of a new political era that could extend well beyond the originally anticipated end of Xi’s second term, in 2022.

The congress heralded the start of China’s third great political epoch since Mao Zedong’s communists seized power in 1949. The first epoch was Mao himself, a revolutionary standard-bearer who helped the country find its feet; then came Deng Xiaoping, the reformer who masterminded China’s economic opening and helped it grow rich. “Now it’s Xi Jinping’s turn to usher in … the Xi Jinping era,” said Chen.

China’s economy has continued to grow rapidly. The correspondents say the country has also become more authoritarian, with increasing censorship and arrests of lawyers and activists. Economy compared Xi’s bold political vision to a pyramid: “Xi Jinping sits on top of the Communist party, the Communist party sits on top of China, and China sits on top of the world.”

 Xi Jinping

Chinese president Xi Jinping is to be given his own political theory as the Communist Party of China has created “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”. The theory is likely to be incorporated into the constitution of the ruling Communist Party, which would strengthen Xi Jinping’s position at the top. He would be the first leader to lend his name to a political theory since Deng Xiaoping, who retired in 1989. The only other leader to do so was Mao Zedong.

Xi Jinping became president of China in 2012 – ushering in an era of increased assertiveness and authoritarianism. He has been front and centre of China’s push to cement its position as a global superpower, while also launching crackdowns on corruption and freedom of speech. A consummate political chess player who has cultivated an enigmatic strongman image, the leader of the ruling Chinese Communist Party is widely expected to stay at the helm until at least 2022.

Born in Beijing in 1953, Xi Jinping is the son of revolutionary veteran Xi Zhongxun, one of the Communist Party’s founding fathers and a vice-premier. Because of his illustrious roots, Xi is seen as a “princeling” – a child of elite senior officials who has risen up the ranks. But his family’s fortunes took a drastic turn when his father was purged in 1962 prior to the Cultural Revolution and imprisoned. At the age of 15, the younger Xi was sent to the countryside for “re-education” and hard labor in the remote and poor village of Liangjiahe for seven years – an experience that would later figure largely in his official story.

Far from turning against the Communist Party, Xi embraced it. He tried to join it several times, but was rebuffed because of who his father was. Once he was finally accepted in 1974, he worked hard to rise to the top – first as a local party secretary in Hebei province, before moving on to more senior roles in other places including party chief of Shanghai, China’s second city and financial hub. His increasing profile in the party propelled him to its top decision making body, the Politburo Standing Committee, and in 2012 he was picked as president. The Tsinghua University chemical engineering graduate is married to the glamorous singer Peng Liyuan, and the two have been heavily featured in state media as China’s First Couple. It’s a contrast from previous presidential couples, where the first lady has traditionally kept a lower profile. They have one daughter, Xi Mingze, but not much is known about her apart from the fact that she studied at Harvard University.

Xi has vigorously pursued what he has called a “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” with his China Dream vision. Under him, China has enacted economic reform to combat slowing growth, such as cutting down bloated state-owned industries and reducing pollution, as well as its One Belt One Road trade project. The country has become more assertive on the global stage, from its continued dominance in the South China Sea despite international protestations, to its exercise of soft power by pumping billions of dollars into Asian and African investments. This has been accompanied by a resurgence in patriotic nationalism whipped up by state media, with a particular focus on Mr Xi as China’s strongman leader, leading some to accuse him of developing a personality cult like that of former leader Mao Zedong.

Xi, who has sought to portray himself as a strong and stable international statesman since last year’s election of Donald Trump, also painted China as a responsible global power that was committed to tackling shared dangers such as climate change.  “No country alone can address the many challenges facing mankind. No country can afford to retreat into self-isolation,” he said.

Since becoming president, Jinping Xi has tightened control within the Party and also in Chinese society, with increasing censorship and arrests of lawyers and activists. Under Xi, China’s modernisation and reform has also accelerated, as has its assertiveness on the world stage. He continues to enjoy widespread support among ordinary citizens in China.

Xi Jinping is a much more assertive leader than his predecessors. In a long and confident speech, he looked back on his first five years in office, saying the party had achieved miracles and China’s international standing had grown. But the most striking thing in his mission statement was ideological confidence. Recently Party media have talked of crisis and chaos in western democracies compared to strength and unity in China. Xi Jinping said he would not copy foreign political systems and that the communist party must oppose anything that would undermine its leadership of China. Xi also mentioned his wide-reaching corruption crackdown within the Party that has punished more than a million officials, report BBC correspondents in Beijing.

Xi became the Communist party’s general secretary – and thus China’s leader – at the last party congress in 2012, and has since emerged as one of China’s most dominant rulers since Mao Zedong. Xi has been consolidating power and is expected to remain as party chief. Since Xi took power in 2012,

Xi Jinping is a much more assertive leader than his recent predecessors. In a long and confident speech, he looked back on his first five years in office, saying the party had achieved miracles and China’s international standing had grown. But the most striking thing in his mission statement was ideological confidence. Recently Party media have talked of crisis and chaos in western democracies compared to strength and unity in China.

At home, Xi has waged a ruthless war on corruption which has punished more than a million “tigers and flies”- a reference to both high and low-ranking party officials. Some observers believe that the campaign is aimed at rooting out opponents, and is part of a series of political manoeuvres by Xi aimed at consolidating his power. Meanwhile China has seen increasing clampdowns on freedoms, from rising online censorship to arrests of dissidents and human rights lawyers, leading some to describe Xi as “the most authoritarian leader since Chairman Mao”. Despite this, Xi is still thought to enjoy reasonably widespread support among ordinary Chinese citizens – and is expected to keep shaping the country for the next few years.

The party will reveal the new members of its pinnacle body, the Politburo Standing Committee. Xi is widely expected to remain as party leader, while prominent Xi ally and anti-corruption chief Wang Qishan has stepped down and will not be in the next formation of the committee. Those in the Standing Committee will be especially scrutinized. Analysts say its make-up may give signs of how long Xi plans to stay on at the top of the party – he is expected to remain at the helm until at least 2022 – or any possible successors.

Foreign relations

Xi Jinping said he would not copy foreign political systems and that the Communist Party must oppose anything that would undermine its leadership of China. Fighting USA or capitalism or imperialism is not on the agenda of China and therefore it does not claim any leadership of communist international.

China is eager to expand its ties across the globe and use its money power to  influence Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

Xi was similarly uncompromising on China’s overall political model, offering no hint that democratic reform was on the horizon or that the party was considering loosening its grip on power. “No one political system should be regarded as the only choice and we should not just mechanically copy the political systems of other countries,” said Xi, who has overseen one of the most severe political chills in recent Chinese history. “The political system of socialism with Chinese characteristics is a great creation.”

Xi insisted China did “not pose a threat to any other country” but his speech chimed with the increasingly assertive – some say domineering – foreign policy that has emerged on his watch. He cited Beijing’s highly controversial island-building campaign as one of the key accomplishments of his first term. “Construction on islands and reefs in the South China Sea has seen steady progress.”

Without directly mentioning Trump, he noted how China had “taken a driving seat in international cooperation to respond to climate change”. He added: “Only by observing the laws of nature can mankind avoid costly blunders in its exploitation. Any harm we inflict on nature will eventually return to haunt us. This is a reality we have to face.”

Xi took a harder line on Hong Kong, which witnessed an unprecedented 79-day pro-democracy occupation and the birth of a nascent independence movement during his first term.  He vowed that Beijing would not allow the “one country, two systems” model, under which the former British colony has operated with relative autonomy from the mainland since handover, to be “bent or distorted”. Nor would independence activists be tolerated. “We will never allow anyone, any organisation, or any political party, at any time or in any form, to separate any part of Chinese territory from China.”

Beijing did not seek global hegemony but “no one should expect China to swallow anything that undermines its interests”.

IMF warns on China’s credit boom

President Xi Jinping government’s early pledge to enhance market forces – giving them a “decisive role” has remained just that, a pledge. Thousands of factories have been closed but that’s as much about their polluting effect than their productive inefficiency. There have been consolidations in various sectors of the myriad state-owned enterprises. The (almost all state-owned) banks have come in with debt for equity deals – something close to a bail out – for the most troubled companies. But there hasn’t been a wave of bankruptcies. Preserving social stability is likely to be the main reason for this. A wave of concentrated unemployment could see protests that could threaten order.

Debt and risk are the two things that some think will combine to produce an economic catastrophe in China but the growth is still there to be able to pay off debt. When the debt gets so large it crowds out growth because of the cost of that debt – that becomes a problem. And China’s debt is huge; it is currently about 260% of annual economic output and is predicted to rise. What makes it particularly worrisome is that the bulk of this is held by state-owned corporate entities.

Risky practice has been growing too, particularly around the so called “shadow banking” sector. So much so that Beijing cracked down on the insurance market in particular, and went after some of China’s best known private firms who were deemed too risky in the way they raised money.

Firms who owned or had stakes in New York’s Waldorf Astoria, Deutsche Bank, Club Med and Wolves FC were all targeted. It’s steadied the boat, but that appears all. Other far more significant reforms have not yet happened; financial market reforms, substantial rural land reform, changes to the internal passport-like hukou welfare system.

One thing that is happening though is a deepening of the role of “the party” at the top of China’s state firms. There were reports this summer that foreign owned firms or joint ventures have been asked to give the Communist Party equal say over their major corporate decisions.

In a new report, the IMF says there is an increasing risk of a “disruptive adjustment” and/or a marked slowdown in economic growth”. The agency calls for decisive action to deflate the credit boom smoothly. Without the boom, the report suggests, China’s recent economic expansion would have been significantly slower. Since the global financial crisis, China’s economic growth has slowed, from an average of 10% a year in the previous three decades to a rate of 6.7% last year. The Chinese government expected a slowdown, since the earlier double-digit rate was not sustainable over the long term.

China has been trying to manage a transition to slower growth with a different pattern, one that is less dependent on industry and exports and has a greater role for consumer spending at home and service industries.But the IMF’s report says the slowdown would have been more pronounced, were it not for a boom in credit. It suggests that over the years 2012-16, a more sustainable pattern of debt and credit would have led to economic growth that was slower by two percentage points.

The IMF sets out some disturbing evidence from previous credit booms with similarities to China’s. It says that out of 43, only five were not followed by either a financial crisis or a major slowdown in economic growth. The report does set out a number of features of China’s situation that it says reduce the risks. One example is the surplus in China’s current account, which is its international trade plus some financial transactions. That makes it less dependent on borrowing from abroad and so less susceptible to a sudden loss of confidence on the part of foreign lenders – something that happened in many emerging-market financial crises. But for each of these relatively favourable factors, the report sets out reasons why the protection they provide may be limited.

The biggest single group of debtors are state-owned enterprises (SOEs), although there have also been large increases in the debts owed by the government, other businesses and households. SOEs are a long standing issue in China. Many are what are called zombie companies that are not financially viable and are often in industries where there is excess capacity. They account for the most pressing corporate debt issues, the report says.

There is also a warning about the housing market. A sudden “correction”, or in other words, a fall in prices, could pose a risk to financial stability. The report says that decisive action is needed.

The most general recommendation the IMF makes is that China should put less emphasis on targets for economic growth (this year it’s 7.5%), as it says these “have fostered an undesirable focus on short-term, low-quality stimulus measures”. Many of the other problems reflect that feature of China’s economic strategy. The report says the government has had the tendency of boosting infrastructure spending, real estate activity and credit during economic downturns to meet growth targets.There is also a menu of other more specific initiatives the IMF suggests, including a renewed effort to deal with the zombie companies, many of which are likely to go out of business. It says the government should consider restricting the use of unsecured loans to pay for down-payments by home buyers.

Millions of workers the Chinese government plans to lay off from failing state owned companies will be “abandoned”. China’s mountain of national debt is real worry, the possibility of bankruptcies and – ultimately – what it might mean for the thousands his multinational firm employs in China. They support reforms to overhaul China’s mammoth economy; but their stories, from three very different parts of China, reveal the consequences and anxieties associated with the changes.

The complex is home to the world’s biggest manufacturer of electric cars. BYD is a global leader in a technology that China hopes it can dominate; electric vehicles, and specifically the batteries that power them. The big push towards electric isn’t just about industrial strategy; it’s about trying to tackle China’s immense pollution problems – the most obvious of which is dirty air.

With incentives for infrastructure and aggressive quota demands for, mostly foreign, manufacturers, this is part and parcel of Beijing’s effort to make China’s economy less focused on government investment and cheap exports – and instead to one that is technologically advanced, with a sustainable base and driven by consumer spending.

Observation

Corruption is a serious crime in socialism. The mighty Soviet Union collapsed and eventually disintegrated, entire socialist system in East Europe got  wound up because of rampant corruption in Russia eating away the very system of equality. Last Soviet president Michael Gorbachev made sincere efforts to fight corruption by Perestroika and Glasnost but he failed. Corruption had reached very high level as the CPSU tolerated corruption as a necessary evil to be allowed initially but it got strong and became an institution by itself.

President Xi would be remembered as the leader who made China a strong and powerful nation: Being strong first of all means being a global power: being a world leader and therefore leading the world. It also means that the Communist party must be strong and corruption free even while maintaining one-party rule.

President Xi knows corruption in China is deep rooted and has initiated steps to contain it. Whether Xi would be successful in making China corruption free – remains to be seen. As China tries to tackle chronic over-capacity in its traditional industries it’s also moving away from dirty coal to heat homes and power its economy. Many mines are being mothballed.

President Xi is seen as a transformative figure that saw himself in the same tradition as Mao and Deng. There’s no lack of confidence in Xi Jinping. In order to reclaim China’s historic greatness, its centrality in the world China needs a strong leader – and he is the person for the job.”

Xi Jinping faces a multitude of challenges in his country’s economy as he embarks on his second term at the top. Strengthening the party’s hold on the means of production is one of Beijing’s responses.

Meanwhile, China’s ruling Communist Party has voted to enshrine Xi Jinping’s name and ideology in its constitution, elevating him to the level of founder Mao Zedong. The unanimous vote to incorporate “Xi Jinping Thought” happened at the end of the Communist Party congress, China’s most important political meeting.

Xi has steadily increased his grip on power since becoming leader in 2012. This move means that any challenge to Xi will now be seen as a threat to Communist Party rule. More than 2,000 delegates gathered in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People for the final approval process to enshrine “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era” into the Communist Party constitution of China. At the end of the process, delegates were asked if they had any objections, to which they responded with loud cries of “none”, reported journalists at the scene.

The expression “new era” is the party’s way of saying this is the third chapter of modern China. If the first was Chairman Mao uniting a country devastated by civil war, and the second was getting rich under Deng Xiaoping, this new era is about even more unity and wealth at the same time as making China disciplined at home and strong abroad. Enshrining all of this under Xi Jinping’s name in the party constitution means rivals cannot now challenge China’s strongman without threatening Communist Party rule.

US led capitalist world has pinned hopes on China to finally close socialism-communism as being utopia but the news form  the CPC Congress is not encouraging to them as China under President Xi Jinping would consolidate the gains of socialism and push further to achieve maximum for the people and nation. Unlike Soviet Russia that hurried up to end socialist ideology due to rampant corruption that had crept into  the national body, China perused, albeit slowly, the process of socialist  construction in a sustained manner. 

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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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East Asia

The 70th Anniversary of the Koreas

Gleb Ivashentsov

Published

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Seventy years ago, the Korean nation was divided into two separate states. On August 15, 1948, the Republic of Korea was founded in the south of the Korean Peninsula, and on September 9, 1948 the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was founded in the north.

A Longstanding Confrontation

The Korean War of 1950–1953, which saw the United States fighting on the side of the South under the UN flag, was the bloodiest and most destructive conflict since World War II. De jure, the two Korean states are still at war. This is because the Korean Armistice Agreement signed on July 27, 1953 to stop the war is nothing but an agreement between the commanders-in-chief of the two armies to suspend military hostilities. Two powerful military contingents with cutting-edge weapons and equipment are still at the ready on both sides of the 38th parallel that divides North and South Korea. And these contingents are not just made up of Korean troops. Under the Mutual Defense Treaty Between the United States and the Republic of Korea, U.S. contingent of 28,500 troops is deployed in South Korea. When Pyongyang started to develop nuclear weapons and missiles to prevent the United States from intervening in the inter-Korean military conflict, this further exacerbated the situation.

“The Asian Tiger” and a “Rogue State”

Today, South Korea is referred to as the “Asian Tiger.” It is a highly developed and prosperous state: it is the world’s second-largest shipbuilder; the third-largest manufacturer of semi-conductors and displays; the fifth-largest automobile manufacturer; and the six-largest producer of steel. South Korea invests 4 per cent of its GDP into research, more than any other OECD member, and it has the fourth-largest number of patent applications for inventions, behind the United States, Japan and China. Seoul has its own space programme and has plans to send its first probe to the Moon’s orbit by 2020 and another to its surface by 2025.

North Korea certainly lags behind South Korea in its economic development; however, statements about the country’s cultural and technological backwardness are largely the work of western media. And we are not only talking about the fact that Pyongyang would not have been able to develop its own nuclear programme that the world is so concerned about if it did not have a high level of scientific and industrial development. No one can deny that the new blocks of high-rise buildings in Pyongyang are practically indistinguishable from those in Seoul, that Pyongyang’s metro is a year older than Seoul’s, and that North Korea launched its artificial satellite before South Korea did.

Since North Korea has its own nuclear programme, the United States has declared it a “rogue state” and has not only imposed its own sanctions on the country, but has also managed to have very harsh sanctions imposed on it by the UN Security Council. It is curious, however, that the timing of the sanctions against North Korea (after the country carried out its first nuclear test) coincided with the North Korean economy emerging from the very severe economic crisis of 1995–2000, after it had overcome famine and started to show signs of economic growth. Even more paradoxically, economic growth in North Korea picked up pace significantly in 2012–2013, when the sanctions were tightened. This was primarily due to the fact that when Kim Jong-un came to power, he launched active, albeit quiet, market reforms in the country.

From Confrontation to Dialogue

The tension around Korea has been one of the greatest threats to international security in recent years. Today, the global community is focused on forcing Pyongyang to abolish its nuclear programme. However, this alone will not eliminate the threat of a new Korean war involving the United States, South Korea’s military ally. Shutting down North Korea’s nuclear programme requires, first, a reconciliation between the two Koreas and, second, solid guarantees to Pyongyang that the United States will not take aggressive measures.

2018 was marked by important positive events in Korean affairs. On April 27, President of South Korea Moon Jae-in met with the leader of North Korea Kim Jong-un in Panmunjom. Naturally, this summit between the heads of two Koreas (only the third ever) did not resolve all the problems that had accumulated in the bilateral relations over the decades of confrontation. However, it did open the way to move on to specific talks on trade and economic cooperation and a military and political détente.

We also saw the first ever U.S.–North Korea dialogue on the North Korean nuclear programme, with a summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un being held in Singapore on June 12, 2018. Even though the summit’s declaration contains nothing more than generic phrases, one thing is without doubt: no nuclear or conventional war will take place in Korea in the near future. The handshake between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un is a real contribution to the cause of peace in Korea and throughout the world.

A Complex Knot of Problems

The North Korean leadership is clearly interested in a détente on the Korean Peninsula. While the Byungjin line proclaimed by Kim Jong-un several years ago entailed building a powerful nuclear potential and creating a prosperous economy, in April 2018 the Plenum of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea said that success in building the nuclear potential allowed North Korea to focus all efforts on building a socialist economy.

The proof of Pyongyang’s words is contained in its actions. Not a single nuclear test has been carried out for almost a year now, and missile tests have not been held for over six months. North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site has been shut down.

Pyongyang appears to have a precise step-by-step programme of possible bargaining with both Seoul and Washington on mutual security commitments. Kim Jong-un, however, is clearly dragging his feet in developing the positive work started at the summits with Moon and Trump. The reason appears to be that he is not confident that both his opponents will stick to the deals. Back in the day, the conservative President of South Korea Lee Myung-bak had no qualms about abolishing his predecessor’s “sunshine policy” in the country’s relations with North Korea, while George W. Bush did not hesitate to get rid of Bill Clinton’s “North Korea Appeasement Policy.” Is there any guarantee that in a couple of years, peace-loving Moon will not be replaced with some North Korea hater, or that Trump, Kim’s counterpart in Singapore, will not be impeached?

The nuclear disarmament of North Korea and the provision of security guarantees to Pyongyang is too complicated a knot of problems to be cut in a single stoke, and by the sole hands of the United States. The solution requires multilateral international efforts, and this cannot be done without the involvement of China and Russia, two countries that have historical and geographical ties with Korea. It would appear that both the Koreas are counting on the participation of Russia and China. This much is clear from the fact that Kim Jong-un has visited China twice over the past two months, and President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea Kim Yong-nam and President of South Korea Moon Jae-in have both paid official visits to Moscow.

The optimal way would be to go back to the six-party talks on the Korean nuclear programme: the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan. The talks should be structured as step-by-step negotiations using the principle of “action in exchange for action.” It would be wise at the initial stage to propose that North Korea’s nuclear programme be separated from its missile programme. North Korea’s nuclear status is set forth in the country’s Constitution, and this subject currently appears non-negotiable for Pyongyang. At the same time, a freeze on the missile programme and guarantees of non-proliferation of missile and nuclear technologies can be negotiated. Given that Pyongyang has essentially introduced a moratorium on missile launches and nuclear tests, the issue of lifting some sanctions from North Korea may be raised at the UN Security Council to stimulate Pyongyang to further roll back on its nuclear and missile programme. For instance, to get North Korea to stop developing ICBMs, freeze the production of nuclear materials and open its nuclear facilities for international inspections.

Political Steps

Several purely political steps would also be useful. For instance, it would be good to correct the entirely unnatural situation in which the United Nations, as a party to the Korean War (in that war, Pyongyang’s enemy fought under the UN flag), is still officially at war with North Korea, one of its members. For that purpose, the upcoming session of the UN General Assembly could adopt a UN Security Council declaration stating that the Korean War is in the past and that the UN Security Council is putting an end to that chapter and, therefore, the UN Command is no longer needed in Korea.

To further promote the inter-Korean détente, it would probably be useful for North Korea and South Korea to conclude an agreement between commanders-in-chief of the two countries on preventing dangerous military activities; such an agreement could serve as a landmark on the road to concluding a Peace Treaty to replace the 1953 Armistice Agreement. This would mean that any incidents that may arise due to dangerous military activities would be promptly stopped and settled through peaceful means without resorting to the threat or use of force. The document could be based on provisions of the 2015 Agreement between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Korean Affairs and Russia

The best way to diffuse tensions between neighbouring states and establish relations based on mutual trust is to run joint, long-term and mutually profitable economic or scientific and technological projects in. Russia could play a prominent part in such work on the Korean Peninsula.

The two Korean states are immediate neighbours of Russia, and Russia is interested in having good and mutually beneficial relations with both. And there is a good basis for this to happen. Historically, Russia has never had any disputes with either of the Koreas. Russians have never set foot in Korea as an aggressor. On the contrary, the country has always welcomed Korean people into its territory: 2014 marked the 150th anniversary of Korean resettlement in Russia. In 1945, it was the Soviet Army that liberated Korea from the colonial power.

There are no disputes between Russia and either of the Koreas today either. The leadership of South Korea, for instance, stresses its interest in taking its relations with Russia to the level of “strategic partnership.” It is noteworthy that, despite the persistent pressure of the Unites States, South Korea did not join the sanctions against Russia imposed after the events in Ukraine.

During his three meetings with Vladimir Putin over the past year, Moon Jae-in has unfailingly stressed collaboration with Moscow on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, establishing peace there and developing Eurasia. Economically, South Korea that has virtually no mineral or other resources and is highly interested in exploring the natural wealth of Siberia and the Far East. At the same time, Russia is a promising market for South Korea’s industrial products.

South Korea is also ready to collaborate with Russia in those areas where Russia has globally competitive technologies. This much is evident from the participation of Roscosmos in the construction of South Korea’s Naro Space Center, the flight of a South Korean astronaut with two Russian cosmonauts in a Russian spacecraft, the launch of the Russia–South Korea Naro-1 (KSLV-1) launch vehicle, and the fact that South Korea imports Russian uranium for its nuclear power plants to meet over a third of its needs. Bilateral humanitarian ties are also being developed. South Korea is the only country in Northeast Asia that has a visa-free travel agreement with Russia.

During President Moon Jae-in’s state visit to Moscow in June 2018, the parties agreed to expand bilateral cooperation in the areas of civil aircraft building, automobile manufacturing, shipbuilding and the construction and modernization of shipyards in Russia. The parties intend to expand cooperation in space research, the exploration of the Northern Sea Route and the joint development of oil and gas fields. Concluding a Free Trade Agreement would be a landmark moment in the development of trade and economic cooperation.

As regards North Korea, Russia’s relations with the country were on a downturn in the 1990s. Vladimir Putin’s visit to Pyongyang in 2000, the signing of the Treaty on Friendship, Good-Neighbourly Relations and Cooperation in February 2000, and settling the issue of North Korea’s debt to Russia in 2012 all paved the way for the restoration a full-fledged partnership between Russia and North Korea. Such a development was intended to give a powerful impetus to trade and economic relations both in the Russia–North Korea bilateral format, and in a trilateral format with the participation of South Korea, thus contributing to building bridges in inter-Korean cooperation.

During the Russia–South Korea summit held in Moscow this past June, the two parties expressed interest in trilateral projects between Russia, South Korea and North Korea, such as: linking the Trans-Korean Main Line to the Trans-Siberian Railway; building a pipeline between Russia and North and South Korea; and connecting the power grids of the three countries. The problem is, however, that implementing these trilateral projects is currently hampered by sanctions imposed on Pyongyang due to its nuclear programme, as is the development of bilateral trade and economic cooperation between Russia and North Korea.

Further dialogue on the matter is expected at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok in September 2018, to which Vladimir Putin has invited the leaders of both Korean states.

***

The two Korean states are celebrating their 70 th anniversaries while gradually retreating from confrontation algorithms formed by the Cold War. It is in the interests of everyone that a reconciliation of the two Koreas is achieved and a solution to the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula is developed.

North and South Korea should become full-fledged members of the comprehensive security system in Northeast Asia.

First published in our partner RIAC

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