The positive signs currently coming from the Korean Peninsula, and especially from North Korea, are definitely encouraging.
In fact, the 23rd Winter Olympics, scheduled for February 9-25, will take place in the Pyeongchiang County, which is located in South Korea, or in what is officially called Republic of Korea.
Since the designation of South Korea in June 2017, the International Olympic Committee has always said explicitly it wanted North Korea to participate officially in the Winter Olympics. Hence it has obviously welcomed – although with some surprise – North Korea’s announcement of the “probable” sending of a small team of ice skaters.
Indeed, North Korea’s luge athletes and skiers had not technically qualified for the Olympics.
From the beginning, South Korea had proposed a joint team for all the specialties in South Korea’s Olympics. It had also suggested to North Korea a joint women’s team for ice hockey, as well as the sharing of costs for the participation of both countries in the 23rd Winter Olympics of Peyongchiang- and indeed the latter has been an open issue since December 2014.
At that time North Korea had refused only for organizational time reasons, without ever raising matters of principle – and this is by no means of secondary importance.
For obvious reasons of national dignity, North Korea has explicitly refused to share the participation and organization costs.
It is worth recalling, however, that, from the very beginning, North Korea had strongly supported only the candidacy of South Korea to host the 23rd Winter Olympics of 2018.
Hence the Winter Olympics will see the participation of the North Korean athletes Ryom-Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik, who had both qualified for the 2018 Olympics during the competitions held in Oberstdorf, Germany, in September 2017.
Later some problems arose in the relations between the North Korean Olympic Committee and the Lausanne’s International Olympic Committee, the highest body responsible for world sport.
However, it was the Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un, who personally announced the possibility of sending North Korea’s athletes to the 23rdWinter Olympics in South Korea – an explicit permission given on a special and highly symbolic occasion, namely the speech delivered by the Supreme Leader for the New Year.
The primary theme of the North Korean Supreme Leader is “national pride”, which counts very much for both countries – the most tragic relic of the old Cold War, a silly conflict that both Koreas want to overcome, albeit in a different way.
From this viewpoint I believe that Mao Zedong’s theory of the Cold War as a “paper tiger” holds true for both Koreas.
However, the way of overcoming it is often not too different.
Hence the meetings between the two Koreas to tackle the issue of North Korea’s participation in the 23rd Winter Olympicsare scheduled for January 9.
Both Koreas are fully aware – even in the smallest political, symbolic and ceremonial details – of what is really at stake in this negotiation, which is only apparently a sporting negotiation.
What is at stake is an agreement between the two Koreas before solving, once and for all with Japan, Russia, the United States and China, the issue of North Korea’s full return – with equal dignity -ontothe international scene and hence onto the world market.
If all goes well, in the coming years we can probably talk about a strategic and military sharing between South and North Korea – the establishment of a “nuclear and chemical-bacteriological potential” throughout the Korean peninsula, whose keys will also be held by Japan, Russia and probably the United States, if it does not make further mistakes.
As usual, the EU will have a wait-and-see attitude, believing to have a role to play in the negotiations while only practicing nursemaid diplomacy – thus ridiculously getting worked up for no purpose and pretending to have powers it has not – by probably providing “humanitarian aid” to the parties(aid possibly not even required by them).
We had already said so on other occasions in the past when no one was even barely thinking about that.
We had referred above all to the joint exercises between Russian and Chinese forces carried out last November in the Sea of Okhotsk.
For both China and Russia that sea is the optimal area to launch attacks on US bases in the Pacific.
The message was very clear: to quickly and strategically regionalize the North-South Korean issue; to strengthen Russia’s and China’s ties with both of them; to make the United States leave all hope regarding the disagreements between Kim Jong Un and Xi Jinping that can never be a useful wedge for the United States.
Hence a further message to the United States making it clear that any further increase in the US military presence in South Korea would not absolutely be accepted either by Russia or by the People’s Republic of China.
And not as protectors of North Korea, but as powers directly bordering on a nuclearized area.
We have already said so, but it is worth repeating it: China does not accept in any way a US military hegemony cancelling North Korea’s nuclear and conventional potential – the only possible rampart between China and South Korea, namely a US staunch ally.
But, in economic terms, also China’s ally.
The US military balance in the region is well known: 35,000 North American soldiers and officers in South Korea; 40,000 in Japan; nearly 4,000 in Guam, a small island 2,100 kilometers away from Pyongyang, with a surface of only 544 square kilometers.
Not to mention the five US bases in the Philippines, as well as the four US warships based in Singapore, in addition to the overflight and docking permits granted by Thailand to the North American forces.
It is also worth recalling the US significant strategic positioning in the Hawaiian islands, with further 400,000 soldiers, sailors and officers and as many as 200 military ships available, with over 1,000 thousand warplanes of various sizes and functions stationed in the atoll that saw the successful surprise attack by the Japanese Admiral Togo.
There is also the US naval base in Kadena, on the island of Okinawa, as well as some stealth bases, also located in the Japanese archipelago.
Hence, it should be honestly said to our US friends that the fact that North Korea feels to be strategically closed and severely threatened is not a paranoia of North Korea’s ruling class – it is an incontrovertible fact.
To do what? “To bring democracy” to North Korea? Most of the mistrust with which North Korea looks to US statements regards, in fact, the unpredictable, self-destructive and basically improper behavior the United States had with Saddam’s Iraq at first and with Gaddafi’s Libya later.
North Korea does not want “Korean” springs, characterized by forked tongues, leaving only rubble and splitting the old national units – well tried and tested by history – for a crazy project of continuous war.
Furthermore China did not even accept that the United States naively puts pressures on itso as to diminish the significance and scope of the North Korean nuclear missile program.
As happens in the whole Chinese and Eastern sapiental tradition, China certainly does not want to be “second” to the United States.
And, despite recent coldness, it does not even want to appear hostile or distant from North Korea, an ancient “brother country” that Xi Jinping’s leadership will never leave in Western hands.
Conversely – if and when the global equilibria allow it -China may want a rational balanced reduction of North Korea’s nuclear umbrella.
This is meant to reduce a real danger of unwanted or casual attack and to show benevolence – when needed – vis-à-vis South Korea and North America.
Hence the North Korean nuclear system is a bargaining chip that China will use at its poker table, but never against the old North Korean “comrades” that, indeed, could obtain good economic advantages from this balanced reduction of the nuclear missile and bacteriological-chemical potential, without particular reductions in the value of their threat south-eastwards.
China accounts and will account in the future for over 90% of North Korea’s trade with the other countries but – as excellent readers of Marx’s works -the Chinese never behave like “common materialists” in the analysis of international relations.
Ironically for ideologies, which have never died, currently only the big business liberals think in terms which were typical of the Communist vulgate.
Moreover there is a clear message coming from the latest joint Russian-Chinese sea operations.
The clear strategic message that we hope the United States will understand is that the first US attack parade will be almost entirely covered by the Russian-Chinese threat or reaction, which will probably oppose and cancel it before its reaching North Korean waters. Conversely, Russia and China will leave North Korea’s response on Guam free and, in all likelihood, on other US bases in the Pacific – a response which will be fully developed by North Korea alone.
Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State of Donald J. Trump, who has always been in favor of negotiations with North Korea, knows all too well to what extent it is important for the United States not to trigger an uncontrollable and useless chain reaction in Southeast Asia-a region that has never brought luck to the United States.
Why? To set fire – without any result for the United States, if not ashes – to the whole Central Asian region and get to war on the Russian-Chinese land borders?
May God protect them.
Later Russia and China will protect North Koreadiplomatically, at the level of international organizations, thus avoiding the worst of the new sanctions.
Or, even worse, the excessive reactions of some US late restless aides, of those who – as has already happened in the EU – want to repeat the Cold War at the new borders of the Russian Federation.
They emasculate themselves on their own, at least as far as the energy market is concerned and hence -almost without realizing it – they will find themselves recreating a very costly dependence only on the United States, which will certainly make no concessions or discounts for the EU powerless naivety.
Hence currently the real problem is how to get out of this second phase of Cold War – and the key is to be found once again in the Korean peninsula.
If all those who will be called upon to deal with North Korea heal the Cold War wound where it was created (in fact, the Berlin Wall came later), namely at the 38th parallel, many things will change and not only in Southeast Asia.
South Korea will never want to become a nuclear ossuary to cover the North Korean subsequent attacks on the US nuclear parade and its military positions and installations in the region.
Furthermore, Russia and China will never accept a US military operation before or after the Panmunjom line, which is still technically a “ceasefire”.
Nevertheless both Russia and China will quickly accept the proposal to reduce the relevance of the North Korean nuclear apparatus, if there are rational and verifiable exchanges.
However, in this new triangulation, even North Korea must reap its benefits, which could be ensured by a new treaty that should make North Korea enter the worldmarket without hesitations, dissimulations and pretenses and without post-factumpunishments. Why?
Obviously there should also be a treaty for mutual recognition between the United States and North Korea, in addition to the restoration of a long, but credible, sequence of joint actions between South and North Korea.
At the end of the diplomatic negotiation, the United States should be in a position to accept a North Korean share of total defense to be defined.
While, at the same time, North Korea shall agree on a wide secondary protection area for its own defense apparatus, namely a new Panmunjom line.
As already recently noted, this would mean strong gradual integration with the Russian and Chinese economies, just now that the great ride of the new Silk Road is beginning westwards.
However, I have recently become very optimistic about the whole North Korean issue.
It has happened when I learned that the negotiation, which will start with the symbolic and hence highly political Olympic issue, will be led for North Korea by Ri Su-Yol, also known as RiChol.
A high-profile institutional leader who enjoys Kim Jong-Un’s full trust – a diplomat with great culture and experience about Western and Eastern issues.
He speaks excellent French, but his professional experiences have led him to learn also the German language very well.
Obviously his English is perfect.
He served as Minister for Foreign Affairs from April 2014 until May 2016 – and this is the first aspect to consider.
Ri is a refined weaver and negotiator, as happened in the diplomatic tradition of the countries born from the continuity and break with Marxism, which was represented by the creation of the Third Leninist International.
He is a tireless man, without the inflexibility that characterized many Eastern diplomats, at least those I met when Italy still had a foreign policy – which is no longer the case.
A “revolution against Capital“, against the Third International just to use the title of an old and perhaps still famous article by Antonio Gramsci on the “New Order”.
In this respect, we note that by Capital we only mean the title of Karl Marx’s fundamental work, not one of the means of production that Marxism has always considered – with some exaggeration, but also with some good intuitions – a means of production very different from the others.
However, these are just digressions typical of an economist.
Ri was also Vice-President of the Committee for Investment and Joint Ventures, as well as Vice-President of the Communications Committee of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
He also had another key post in the North Korean’s political system, which is based on “collaborative competition” among leaders, created especially in the institutions for training and selecting the North Korean ruling class – an “alternate” candidate of the Party’s Central Committee, a role never to be forgotten in a Third International system.
He also heldanother important post, namelyVice-Director of the Organization and Guidance Department, the control axis with which Kim Jong Un, but also his predecessors, spoke with the Party’s Leadership, thus controlling it.
In short, he is Kim Jong-Un’s real trusted man and this makes us realize how important the negotiations that will begin on January 9 are for North Korea’s leadership.
We can be certain that, from the beginning, the negotiations will get off track, albeit without exaggerating.
The issue lies above all in talking by symbols and signs – just as the Gods of the ancient Latins did, according to Lucretius, persymbolum et per aenigmate.
For several yearsYi Chol also served as Ambassador to Switzerland, the country in which also Kim Jong-Un studied.
It is also worth recalling that he was also the Supreme Leader’s official representative in the EU, as well as a prudent and very cautious administrator of Kim Jong Il’s personal assets and financial affairs.
Kim Jong-Un is Kim Jong-Il’s third son.
Ri Su-Yol, also known as Yi Chol, was born in 1940. Hence he is a man of experience, without the useless haste typical of young people.
Indeed, he does not look his age.
Therefore he had an elitist and revolutionary training, but he was never the expression of a family or group tradition existing before the Party, nor was he the son of a trusted official.
In fact he studied at the Revolutionary School of Mangyo’ndae and later at the Namsan School where he was Kim Jong-Il’s classmate.
Later Riwent to study at the Kim Il Sung University and probably finished his studies at the University of Moscow.
Soon after completing his studies, he started to work for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In 1972 he was already Head of a Ministry Desk.
In 1974 he became Director General of the Office for Protocol and International Organizations.
After the Party’s Sixth Congress held in October 1980, Ri became one of the deputy-Directors of Kim Jong-Il’s Personal Secretary – a real key post.
At the same time, he took up the post of Vice-Director of the Party’s Organization and Guidance Department and, again in 1980, he was appointed Ambassador to Geneva.
It is therefore by no mere coincidence that Riwas sent to represent his country in the capital city of International Organizations which, as in the past, arethe favorite ground of confrontation or negotiation for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
In Switzerland he worked for the entire community of North Korean Party Leaders, in addition to taking care of the personal – and hence political -interest and affairs of both Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il.
Hence we can say that Ri has also become Kim Jong-Un’s trusted man, the essential advisor, the one who knows how to speak to the Westerners, to North Korea’s Friends and to the opponents.
Ri’s career continued in 1987, when he became Permanent Representative to the United Nations Mission in Geneva.
He was later recalled to his home country in March 2010 and appointed Ambassador to Iran, a place of absolute importance for those who know the particular relations existing between North Korea and Iran.
Upon returning to North Korea after his Iranian mission, Ribegan working in the Supreme Leader’s Personal Secretary’s Office.
Finally he led – with absolute correctness, propriety, wisdom and refined knowledge of Western laws and customs – the organization attracting capital into the North-Eastern region of the country.
Hence it is really easy to understand the emphasis laid by Kim Jong-Un on the new negotiations due to start on January 9, 2018.
It is worth recalling that in 2014 Ripaid, for the first time, an official visit to India, in his capacity as Foreign Minister. He was also elected as a full member of the Party’s Politburo by the 7thCentral Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea – another extremely important post for those who know the particular North Korean power elite.
It is also worth noting that the Party always prevails over the State in the political regimes resulting from the “revolution against Capital” that created the Third International.
Hence something different from traditional Marxism which – according to the so-called Austro-Marxism, much loved and studied by Giuseppe Saragat- would have resulted in socialdemocracy.
Ri is also Head of the Party’s International Relations Office and in 2017 he was appointed President of the Diplomatic Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly.
Said Assembly is the only representative House since there is no Senate in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Hence what would I like to happen if these negotiations were successful – as I sincerely hope – also on the basis of the profile and caliber of the personality to whom North Korea has entrusted this diplomatic round of negotiations?
Firstly, the mutual recognition between North Korea and the United States of America.
Secondly, an agreement between China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and the United States for the planned reduction of North Korea’s nuclear missile and bacteriological-chemical saturation.
A nuclear missile network that could be controlled by an ad hoc Agency with specific procedures, different and more up-to-date than those used by the IAEA.
Thirdly, an agreement on North Korea’s controlled opening to international capital, with the creation of a North Korean Commission for Foreign Exchange, with a view to avoiding speculative transactions such as those that characterized Russia after the CPSU’s fall.
Fourthly, a fully operational plan of targeted foreign investment for the autonomous economic zones and later for the whole North Korea.
Considering Ri Su-Yong’ skills, if all goes well, we could reach these results sooner than expected.
Will US-China Tensions Trigger the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis?
Half a century ago, the then-National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger flew to Beijing in the hope of seeking China’s alliance to contain the Soviets. His visit culminated in the U.S. agreement to recognize Beijing as the only legitimate government of China instead of Taipei, going back on the promise he had made to the president of the Republic of China, Chiang Ching-kuo, merely one year previously that Taiwan would never be abandoned by the US. The realistic American diplomat may have never thought that one day Taiwan, once ruthlessly forsaken by the US, would become the latter’s most important strategic fortress in East Asia to contain a rising China.
In 2018, the passage of the Taiwan Travel Act encouraged more high-ranking American government officials to visit Taiwan and vice versa1. The US Undersecretary of State Keith Krach landed in Taiwan two years later, rendering him the highest-level State Department official to visit the island since 19792. The Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, announced the cancellation of all restrictions on official contacts between the U.S. and Taiwan in January 20213 – an action that was vehemently denounced by the Chinese government as Trump’s “last-ditch madness” that would “push the Taiwan question deeper down the road of no return”4.
Just when the world thought of Joe Biden’s ascension to power as a harbinger of softer attitudes toward Beijing, especially regarding Taiwan issues, the diplomatic muscle flexed by the newly elected US president is as eye-tingling as his aviator shades – first, his Secretary of State, Blinken and Secretary of Defense, Austin made an explicit announcement of the U.S. support for Taiwan; second, he sent former Deputy Secretaries of State Richard Armitage and James Steinberg and former senator Chris Dodd to Taiwan in honor of the 42nd anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act.
America’s incremental interest in the island is not confined to actions from its executive branches, but it has permeated its legislative system. The introduction of the confrontational “Strategic Competition Act of 2021” in April signals the anti-Soviet-style containment of China which was backed by The Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This bill echoes the “Interim National Security Strategic Guidance” released by the Biden Administration in March, and it emphasizes the urgent need to “achieve United States political objectives in the Indo-Pacific” and back closer ties with Taiwan5. With strong bipartisan support, the bill is expected to be signed into law by President Biden and to serve as a legislative compass to counter China at all levels. In that respect, Taiwan Strait is more likely than ever to become “ground zero” by the U.S. and China.
On the other hand, the crackdown on Hong Kong’s democracy movement under the new National Security Law by Beijing proved to be successful due to the limited backlash received from the West. On top of that, Beijing’s handling of Xinjiang cotton issue seems to have managed to incite nationalism among Chinese people on a short notice to boycott “anti-China forces”6. With a record of 380 incursions into Taiwan’s airspace by Chinese air force during 2020, there is reason to believe that Hong Kong and Xinjiang were “guinea pigs” used by Beijing to test its capability for the fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis, the probability of which has been enhanced by Xi Jinping’s attempt to seek reappointment and Beijing’s need to divert domestic attention away from the escalating social conflicts brought about by the stagnant economy.
So, the pertinent question is: if the fourth Taiwan Crisis does break out, when will it happen? It could be sometime after the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games7 as it is unlikely for China to discard the opportunity to showcase its image and test its comprehensive strength8. This could be déjà vu in light of Russia’s successful Blitzkrieg-style invasion of Ukraine in 2014, which occurred only three days after the end of Sochi Winter Olympics. However, China is not the only one who can learn from history. When the rest of the world anticipates China’s intent with regard to Taiwan, preemptive precautions will be taken. The game-theory-type strategic interaction may hence spur China to launch its attack before the upcoming international sports gala.
Another critical timing could be prior to the 20th National Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in October 2022. Xi Jinping’s abolishment of term limits through constitutional amendment may pave the legal foundation for his reappointment, but the “widespread opposition within the party”9 renders the legitimacy of his extended tenure unlikely. That is why some may find it hard to conceive of Xi’s attempt to “start an unnecessary war with Taiwan” before his re-appointment10, but his insatiable desire for a 3rd term may push him over the edge. For the time being, Xi seems to be seduced by his burgeoning self-confidence that China is charging into an epoch of opportunity where “the East is rising and the West is declining,”11 and what time is better than now to consolidate his authority in front of dissidents with a military show-off targeting Taiwan?
As Henry Kissinger12 said, “The historical challenge for leaders is to manage the crisis while building the future. Failure could set the world on fire.” When the leaders of the two greatest powers both see their own countries as the future “Leviathan” of the world, the definition of failure can no longer be merely confined to internal mismanagement, but being surpassed by international competitors. Kissinger may have overestimated some leaders’ senses of honor to bear the responsibility of the “historical challenge”, but he can be right about the catastrophic consequences of their failures. But this time, failure is not an option for either side across the Taiwan Strait nor across the Pacific Ocean
- Chen, Y., & Cohen, J. A. (2019). China-Taiwan Relations Re-Examined: The “1992 Consensus” and Cross-Strait Agreements. University of Pennsylvania Asian Law Review, 14(1).
- Mink, M. (2021). The Catalyst for Stronger US-Taiwan Ties. https://keithkrach.com/the-catalyst-for-stronger-us-taiwan-ties/
- Hass, R. (2021). After lifting restrictions on US-Taiwan relations, what comes next? Brookings. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2021/01/11/after-lifting-restrictions-on-us-taiwan-relations-what-comes-next/
- Global Times. (2021). Pompeo may toll the knell for Taiwan authorities. https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202101/1212378.shtml
- Zengerle, P., & Martina, M. (2021). U.S. lawmakers intensify bipartisan efforts to counter China. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/us-lawmakers-look-advance-sweeping-bid-counter-china-2021-04-21/
- Cui, J., & Zhao, Y. (2021). Boycott of Xinjiang cotton use opposed. China Daily. https://www.chinadailyhk.com/article/161495
- Everington, K. (2021). Former US security advisor says Taiwan in “maximum danger” from PLA. Taiwan News. https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/4189160
- China Daily. (2021). Preparing for Winter Olympics promotes quality development – Opinio. China Daily. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202101/22/WS600a131ba31024ad0baa44f1.html
- The Guardian. (2020). China’s Xi Jinping facing widespread opposition in his own party, insider claims. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/18/china-xi-jinping-facing-widespread-opposition-in-his-own-party-claims-insider
- Roy, D. (2021). Rumors of War in the Taiwan Strait. The Diplomat. https://thediplomat.com/2021/03/rumors-of-war-in-the-taiwan-strait/
- Buckley, C. (2021). Xi Maps Out China’s Post-Covid Ascent. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/03/world/asia/xi-china-congress.html?_ga=2.178218534.2000768907.1619749005-1359154941.1599697815
- Kissinger, H. A. (2020). The Coronavirus Pandemic Will Forever Alter the World Order. https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-coronavirus-pandemic-will-forever-alter-the-world-order-11585953005
Quad Infrastructure Diplomacy: An Attempt to Resist the Belt and Road Initiative
Over the years, the competition between the great powers in the dual space of the Indian and Pacific Oceans has been rapidly increasing. In the face of the aggravation of relations between the PRC and the United States, the defence dimension of the rivalry between the two contenders for global leadership traditionally comes to the forefront. However, in today’s context, the parties will most likely not engage in military action for the strengthening of their dominance in the region, but they will try to achieve the goals by expanding of economic influence. In this context, along with the well-known trade wars, there is an infrastructure rivalry in the region, which is enforced on Beijing by Washington and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad).
The role of Infrastructure in Indian and Pacific Oceans’ countries
The countries of Asia traditionally drawing the attention of the world community due to the high rates of economic, technological, and social development. In less than three decades, their per capita income has increased by 74%, millions of people have been lifted out of poverty, as well as a growing middle class has emerged in the region. All this became possible due to the multilateral cooperation institutionalization and the integration of the economies of the Indo-Pacific. However, the strengthening of trade and economic ties and the future prosperity of Asia largely depends on the infrastructure (ports, highways and railways, airports, pipelines, etc.), which contributes to a more active movement of goods on a regional and global scale. Moreover, back in 2009, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) published a report according to which collective investments in infrastructure in the amount of US$8 trillion will be required to maintain rapid economic growth in Asian countries.
The most prominent infrastructure initiative in recent years is the «Belt and Road Initiative» (BRI), which was launched by China’s leader Xi Jinping in 2013. The BRI helped to fill numerous infrastructure gaps, but the United States and its partners increasingly paid attention to the geostrategic aspect of China’s actions. It’s no secret that the Belt and Road plays an important role in the development and integration of China’s provinces with neighboring countries. However, with the growing number of countries participating in the BRI, as well as the strengthening of China’s influence on a regional and global scale, criticism of the strategic tools for expanding Beijing’s economic influence gradually increased. The Belt and Road has faced a number of critical remarks, including those related to accusations of purposely involving the regional countries in the so-called «debt traps». Regardless of the degree of truthfulness or study of the issue, from year to year, media reports have contributed to the building of a contradictory attitude to China’s BRI among the residents, experts, and political elites all over the world.
Moreover, as soon as Donald Trump became the U.S. President in early 2017, Washington modified the nature of its policy towards China to greater confrontation. This trend has become a direct expression of the intensified great powers’ rivalry and their struggle for hegemony in the Indo-Pacific, as well as a motivation for the revival of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), which includes the United States, Australia, India and Japan. However, the interaction of the Quad has long been built on the basis of defence.
This trend continues nowadays, as evidenced by the frequent exercises and the growing Quad naval presence in the Indo-Pacific but in 2021 the Quad countries expanded their range of issues on a multilateral basis. Now the agenda includes vaccine diplomacy (providing 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines to Indo-Pacific countries, climate change, technological cooperation, maritime security, cybersecurity, and external development assistance. According to Kurt Campbell, Indo-Pacific policy coordinator at the National Security Council, Washington is looking to convene an in-person fall summit of leaders of the Quad countries with a focus on infrastructure in the face of the challenge from China.
Quadrilateral infrastructure diplomacy as the continuing vector of the Trump’s administration
The infrastructure agenda also became an important part of the last summit of the G7 countries’ leaders, during which the parties expressed their willingness to establish a BRI counterpart called Build Back Better World (B3W). In total, there are 22 mentions of infrastructure in the final G7 Summit Communiqué. Even despite the traditionally restrained position of India, which took the time to «study the specifics of the proposal», infrastructure diplomacy of Quad is becoming a new area of geostrategic competition in the Indo-Pacific.
There’s one exception: the activities on the infrastructure track are not a new trend of U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration, but a continuation of the foreign policy vector set during the presidency of Donald Trump. It was he who turned Sino-U.S. rivalry into a geo-economic level. Back in 2017, the Foreign Ministers of the Quad countries stated the need for high-quality infrastructure development in order to ensure freedom and openness of sea routes, as well as improve intra-regional ties. In 2018, MoU was signed between the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia, aimed at implementing major infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific. Moreover, the Quad countries raised the question of the BRI countries’ growing debt during their official meeting in Singapore.
It was clear that the Belt and Road Initiative is perceived by the Quad countries as the main factor in expanding the economic and political influence of the People’s Republic of China, as well as China’s influence of the domestic political processes in the countries of Indo-Pacific. At the same time, the combination of economic and defence rivalry enforced on Beijing by Washington, as well as Quad’s efforts to build a balance of power in the region actually indicates the explicit anti-China nature of the Quad.
In this case, it’s important to note that each of the Quad countries has its own levers of influence, which they can combine in infrastructure competition with Beijing. For example, in 2015, in response to the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative and the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) by China, Japan made the Partnership for Quality Infrastructure (PQI). The United States, in turn, announced the infrastructure project Blue Dot Network (BDN), as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia established a new Partnerships for Infrastructure (P4I). All these initiatives are united by a commitment to inclusive economic growth, «quality infrastructure», climate change, disaster response, and social development. The capitalization of the Japanese, American and Australian initiatives is US $110 billion (US$50 billion from Japan and over US$50 from the Asian Development Bank), US$30-60 million, and US$383 thousand (including access to US$4 billion of foreign aid and $US2 billion from the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific), respectively. Given the ongoing discussions about debt traps, the emphasis on «high-quality infrastructure» may give special features to the initiatives of the Quad but even the total amount of funding will not be able to compete with the US$770 billion investments already made in 138 countries of the world and announced by China.
Anyway, Quad is stepping up its infrastructure diplomacy in at least three areas, including Southeast Asia, Oceania, and the Indian Ocean. For example, Australia, Germany and Switzerland have already allocated US$13 million to the Mekong River Commission For Sustainable Development (MRC) to assist Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and, Vietnam «to respond to pressing challenges while safeguarding the ecological function of the Mekong River and improving people’s livelihoods».At the same time, Australia signed US$300 million MoU with Papua New Guinea, aimed at the ports reconstruction in the major state of Oceania (the ports of Vanimo, Kimbe, Motukea, Lorengau, Oro Bay, Daru, Lae, etc.). It is important to highlight that the increasing economic and infrastructural presence of China in the countries of Oceania, energize Australia’s policy in the South Pacific, which is a traditional zone of influence of Canberra. At the same time, the expansion of Australia’s aid and investment to the broader Indo-Pacific is due to the commitment of the current Australian government to the U.S. foreign policy.
In turn, the reaction of the Southeast Asian countries to the intensification of Quad infrastructure diplomacy will be more restrained. According to the latest Pew Research Center survey, the most unfavourable view of China is in the United States (76%), Canada (73%), Germany (71%), Japan (88%), Australia (78%), and South Korea (77%), while in Singapore — the only country representing ASEAN in the survey — the percentage of unfavourable views on China is at a low level (34%). Moreover, considering the aspects of infrastructure diplomacy in the region, we should definitely refer to the survey of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) of the political elites of the region «Powers, Norms, and Institutions: The Future of the Indo-Pacific from a Southeast Asia Perspective», published in 2020. Despite the intentional exclusion of Russia from the survey, it approximately reflects the trends in the Indo-Pacific countries at the present stage. Thus, as a result of the survey, American experts revealed that the political elites of Southeast Asia positively assess China’s activities in the field of infrastructure development, which has brought tangible benefits to most Southeast Asian countries.
China is actively reacting to verbal attacks from the United States and Quad. The infrastructure agenda was no exception, but China responded by modernizing its global Belt and Road Initiative. In response to criticism about the involvement of the countries in debt traps, Beijing has developed a new Foreign Policy White Paper «China’s International Development Cooperation in the New Era». The document was published in early 2021. According to the provisions of the new White Paper, China will pay closer attention to the process of implementing projects within the aid framework, take an active part in evaluating projects in order to monitor their quality, maintain an appropriate level of confidence in its projects to China, as well as conduct bilateral consultations to identify difficulties with debt repayment and make sure that partners do not fall into a debt trap. It’s possible that the new vision of the PRC will appear especially quickly in countries where the Quad will primarily try to implement their infrastructure projects.
China is the first country in the region, which pays significant attention to the issues of large-scale infrastructure development. Moreover, Beijing has a number of advantages over its opponent — Quad. First, the Belt and Road initiative is more structured and aimed at intensifying trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation with neighboring countries, while the emerging Quad infrastructure agenda is «dispersed» among numerous individual initiatives, doesn’t have the same level of stability as the BRI, and even after 3.5 years of building the agenda is considered through the prism of expectations.
Second, China’s initiative is aimed at a single infrastructure connection between the PRC and the rest of the world and acts as a potential basis for the intensification of global trade in the future. At the same time, today’s projects of the Quad are of a “sporadic» nature and can’t contribute to the infrastructure linkage between Europe, Africa, South and Southeast Asia on a global scale.
Third, China can already offer the Belt and Road members not only logistics infrastructure but also the opportunities in the field of green energy. At the end of 2019, China produced about a third of the world’s solar energy and retained a leading position in the number of wind turbines. Within the foreseeable future, the Quad countries, and especially the United States, will have to compete with China even in the field of the climate agenda, which is so close to the new administration of the U.S. President Joe Biden.
Finally, during his recent speech on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), PRC’s Leader Xi Jinping confidently declared the great revival of the Chinese nation, its contribution to the progress of human civilization, and its readiness to build a new world, which undoubtedly indicates China’s decisiveness to respond to challenges to its address, including from the Quad.
The ongoing transformation of the regional architecture in the Indo-Pacific, both in the defence and economic areas, will be an important aspect in the post-pandemic era. China has repeatedly stated about the «covered» Quad activities to deterrence Chinese policy in the region, but the expansion of the Quad’s agenda by infrastructure diplomacy allows us to speak about the evident vector of the Quad strategy against the PRC.
However, nowadays the Quad countries had been left behind. China already has the world’s most numerous land forces, the largest navy, as well as an ambitious global Belt and Road initiative that includes almost 140 countries and a capitalization approaching US$1 trillion. Of course, Quad is moving towards the institutionalization of its infrastructure cooperation and the potential expansion of the number of participating countries to the Quad Plus format. However, to reach China’s achievements for the period 2013-2021, the new alliance will need at least a decade.
At the same time, the rivalry of the Belt and Road with the Quad’s infrastructure initiative will help the countries of the region to diversify their infrastructure ties but will make their choice even more difficult, since it will primarily be regarded as support for the foreign policy vision of one of the parties, and not a pragmatic estimate of economic benefits. All this makes the regional environment in the Indo-Pacific increasingly complex and forces middle powers and smaller countries to adapt to new geostrategic realities.
From our partner International Affairs
Bushido Spirit Resurrected? Japan publicly bared its swords against China
Recently, Japan’s Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso declared that Japan will join forces with the US to “protect Taiwan.” There has been a lot of turmoil, but even though the US directly announced that it will follow the “One China policy,” Japan has not given up its secret intentions. Japan’s new “Defense White Paper,” which was just approved, not only continued to link the US, but also displayed greater animosity toward China.
The Japanese government just finished the 2021 version of the “Defense White Paper,” according to the Global Times, but both the cover and the substance of the white paper are full of “provocative” meaning. The first is the front cover. According to the image released by Japanese media, the cover of Japan’s new “Defense White Paper” is an ink drawing of a warrior on horseback. According to a spokesperson for Japan’s Ministry of Defense, the horse samurai on the cover represents the Japanese Self-Defense Force’s commitment to defend Japan. However, after seeing it, some Japanese netizens said that it was “extremely powerful in fighting spirit.”
From a content standpoint, the white paper keeps the substance of advocating “China menace,” talking about China’s military might, aircraft carriers, Diaoyu Islands, and so on, and also includes the significance of “Taiwan stability” for the first time. A new chapter on Sino-US ties is also included in the white paper. According to the Associated Press, the United States is expanding its assistance for the Taiwan region, while China is increasing its military actions in the region. This necessitates Japan paying attention to it with a “crisis mindset.”
Japan has recently grown more daring and rampant, thanks to a warlike cover and material that provokes China and is linked to the US. Japan has recently bared its swords against China on several occasions.
Not only did Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga take the lead in referring to the Taiwan region as a “country,” but after meeting US President Biden, he issued a joint statement referring to the Taiwan region, and tried his best to exaggerate maritime issues such as the East China Sea and the South China Sea, and Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, Deputy Defense Mizuho, and Deputy Defense Mizuho. It has all made inappropriate statements on Taiwan and publicly attacked the “One China Principle.”
After China clearly voiced its disapproval, Japan not only refused to be constrained, but actively increased its antagonism toward China. Do they truly believe China is simple to provoke? The tensions between China and Japan will undoubtedly worsen as a result of Japan’s publishing of this white paper. Although Japan has the bravery to provoke, it lacks the guts to initiate an armed war with China. After all, even the United States, on which they have traditionally counted, would not dare.
It is simple to employ force against China, and if the Japanese Self-Defense Force want to fight the People’s Liberation Army, it is preferable for them to be prepared for any catastrophic outcomes. Furthermore, China has long been Japan’s most important commercial partner. Even with Japan’s sluggish economy, they should be wary of challenging China. If they refuse to examine this, China may let them face the consequences of economics and trade.
Furthermore, the US has declared unequivocally that it will pursue the “One China Policy” and has intimated that it will not “protect Taiwan” with Japan. The stance of the United States demonstrates that, despite Japan’s determination to constrain China on the Taiwan problem and invitation to the United States to join in “safeguarding Taiwan and defending Japan,” the United States is hesitant to offer such refuge to Japan. As a result, Japan should be clear about its own place in the heart of the United States and attach itself to the United States, although it may be beaten by the United States again in the end.
In reaction to this event, the Hong Kong media stated that Japan should focus on making friends and generating money rather than intervening in Taiwan’s affairs, saying that “provoking Beijing is a fool’s errand.” As a result, if Japan continues to challenge China, they will be exposed as a total fool. And how good will a fool do in a game between countries?
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