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The ambition of China and its democratization issue

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Historical events are always astonishingly similar. In the early Korean War, China ruled by the Chinese Communist Party(CCP) frequently publicly warned the U.S. not to go beyond the 38th  parallel north to invade North Korea or China would send troops into North Korea in reaction. The U.S. arrogantly turned a blind eye to these admonitions. The outcome was that shortly after the U.S. military invaded, China resolutely honored its promise, with tens of thousands of troops rushing into the country. In the end, the war culminated with no winner.

Now, the same situation occurs again and with the U.S.’s disregard of China’s aspiration for world hegemony and the result would be more severe by far if the kind of disregard didn’t stop.

A historical narrative of China’s ambition

As early as in the mid and late 50s and early 60s, founder and supreme leader of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Mao Zedong constantly and openly suggested that China catch up with or outstrip the U.S. by 50 to 60, 20 to 30, or as-such years. To that end, he even launched the disastrous Great Leap Forward campaign to mushroom China’s agricultural and industrial productivity.

Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping, according to documents and records, never put up such direct proposals. But this doesn’t mean that he didn’t have analogous ideas or ambition. In 1987, Deng said that by the middle of the 21st century, China would be able to reach the economic levels of developed countries, but then lowered the target to levels of medium-developed countries. Deng also held firm to the principle that sovereignty is over human rights and time after time propounded setting up a new international political and economic order against hegemonism. However, it was his reform and opening-up policy that, until recently, brought China’s economy average annual double-digit growth for over 30 years.

Deng’s substitute, Jiang Zemin, in addition to reaffirming the new international political and economic order, first officially presented two other notions: Two Centenary Goals and The Revival of the Chinese Nation. In the face of these  perceptions, Jiang and leaders of five other nations first created a regional geopolitical international institution in China’s territory, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), to safeguard the peace and stability of Central Asian regions and to fight cross-border crimes.

Jiang’s replacement, Hu Jintao, in large measure, just echoed Jiang and Deng’s same expressions, especially Jiang’s two thoughts. Yet, it was in Hu’s times that China began to eclipse Japan to become the world’s second largest economy. And it was in this time that China and four other nations, Russia, India, Brazil, and South Africa, formed the BRICS bloc, a new international economic body and potential rival to the Group of 7(G7). Concurrently, it was in Hu’s times that the idea of being on a level with the U.S. overtly came up again. Hu’s prime minister, Wen Jiabao, at a welcoming banquet hosted by then Secretary of State Colin Powell, said that China took 50 years to run as well as medium-developed countries, needing about 100 years to be on a par with the U.S.

Incumbent President Xi Jinping, Hu’s surrogate, seems to be both a partisan of all the apprehensions above and an unwavering practitioner of them. Since taking office as China’s president, not only has Xi proponed to build a new style of great power relationships with the U.S., but he has stressed the belief that Asia is Asians’ Asia and a new Asian security notion: that Asian affairs should be handled by Asian countries themselves. Moreover, to manifest his regnal signature, he has integrated Jiang’s two notions into one, namely his China dream to resurrect the Chinese nation. Specifically, he demanded that China be a medium-developed nation by the centenary of the establishment of the CCP in 1921 and realize the splendid resuscitation of the Chinese nation by the centenary of the foundation of the PRC in 1949.

To Xi, achieving the China dream or the great revival of the Chinese nation is in fact just an euphemism for being the world’s first power; soon after Xi took over as General Secretary of the CCP, the state-controlled prestigious Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) issued a report showing that by 2049, the centenary of the foundation of the PRC, China would completely outstrip the U.S. . The diversion is that the same institution published a dissimilar report back in Hu’s time and two years after Wen’s speech, saying that China would be ahead of developed nations by 2100 in economic modernization and then be the equivalent to the U.S. around in 2110 in this aspect.

To actualize this dream, Xi has constituted the National Security Commission, a counterpart to the U.S. National Security Council (NSC), to manage overall national security affairs. And by order of Xi, China has also single-handedly created the Silk Road Fund, a state-owned financial institution, to subsidize the construction of infrastructure in countries along the Silk Road and the 21 Century Maritime Silk Road (One Belt And One Road), two modern versions of a pair of trade passages in China’s ancient times, to again link China to Southeast Asia, South Asia, West Asia, North Africa, and Europe. More noteworthy, a regional international financial organization advanced by Xi to put up and be led by China, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), though still in the making, has drawn in more than 50 countries, even including many western nations, for instance, Britain, France, Germany, and Italy and so on. For the CCP’s China, this is indubitably an enormous victory, at least on the surface, and seems to have dwarfed in gambits another kindred institution in building by the BRICS nations, the New Development Bank (NDB).

At the same time, China under Xi is intensifying its territorial claims as well: In the East China Sea, to more effectively handle disputes with Japan over the Diaoyu islands, or the Senkaku islands, China has erected its own Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and has required that all aircraft furnish self-identification information and flight plans when flying across its ADIZ, a rule clearly against international aero-custom. In the South China Sea, besides placing oil rigs in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone in 2014 sparking oil-rig crises, China has been reinforcing its construction and reclamation in contested waters, for instance, Gaven Reef, Johnson Reef, and the Fiery Cross Reef; and now all three reefs have become a sizeable man-made island, with the first having had an addition of a 114,000-square-meter land, the second, a submerged feature previously, having turned to a 100.000-square-meter island, and the third having enlarged to over 11 times its original size.

The U.S., as part of the Asia-Pacific region, has repeatedly called for a multilateral agreement on South China Sea issues and suggested that China work under such an agreement to solve territorial disputes that could further inflame tensions with countries in the sea, especially the Philippines and Vietnam. But such a proposal has bluntly been refused by China for the reason that the sea originally belongs to it or that what is within its nine-dash-line, including virtually the whole South China Sea, is just part of China’s territory. This is visibly a challenge to the current international political order built on international law as its AIIB and NDB have called into question the present international economic order founded on the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Today’s China isn’t already China in the past: with an average annual double-figure economic growth for more than 30 years and a status as the world’s second largest economy or the world’s largest one according to IMF’s purchasing power parity calculation as well as an annual double-figure growth in military spending for the last decade and a place as the world’s second largest nation in military spending, China has come to believe that it has the capability to change the existing world order at its discretion or that at least it should be included as one of the makers of world order. For China, this is just a result of a long-term strategic pursuit of all the five-generation leaders of the CCP from Mao and also a vivid embodiment of the diplomatic strategy guidelines from Deng to develop yourself and bide your time.

U.S. integration policy on China

For the U.S., this is a gnawing moment: it has to face up to the fact that the rise of the China resulted from its own blunders or ignorance and overlook. Surely, in large part, there wouldn’t be the chance for China to burgeon and present-day China’s that aggressive and assertive behaviors without the U.S.’s integration policy. The kind of chance has been called“strategic window opportunity” in China, a strategic development luck in the tranquil circumstances.

It seems that while the U.S. has contrived integration policy with the aim of eventually converting China into a liberal democracy and a responsible stakeholder by inviting it to join the liberal international system orchestrated by the West and helping it to bolster the economy, it has underestimated the CCP’s stamina and resolve against liberalization and democratization and overlooked the catastrophic failure of the Tiananmen Democracy Movement.

As early as 1989, then leader of the CCP Deng accentuated more then once that China needed to adhere to the socialist path and proletarian dictatorship, steadfastly resisting capitalist liberalization. Shortly thereafter he attested by action in the year how serious his words were, with masses of troops being deployed there and hundreds of people being killed while the democratic remonstrance erupted in and around Tiananmen Square. Never has democratic protest or demonstration come to the nation since then with the continuous tight control of the Chinese government; even if data show that the nation’s mass incidents had risen from ten thousand in 1993 to about 0.14 million in 2011 and was always in a continual and steady augmentation, none of them has been of democracy and freedom.

On the other hand, the U.S. could have missed China’s peculiar authoritarian cultural tradition while creating such a policy: the tradition itself would make any such policy seem to have an overly slim prospect of success. In over two thousand years from 221 BC to date of Chinese history, there have been solely two types of political systems: totalitarianism with socialism and communism as its main ideological characteristics and absolutism featuring Confucianism, a philosophy highlighting hierarchical relationships, observance, and compliance, as its primary ideological attribute. And the two kinds of ideologies are imposed on people as the two sorts of political systems are and at the expense of the freedoms of thought and speech. This wreaks havoc on the nation’s brainpower so badly that until the terminations of two Opium Wars, Chinese people didn’t still know what science, democracy, equality, and freedom are.

China’s this kind of authoritarian tradition with ideology has never broken. Before Mao, as a single official ideological thought, Confucianism had almost never received any pungent challenges. But when Mao, as a communist revolutionary, took on power, he launched all-out attack on it and then threw away it for his own thought and Marxism and Leninism as topmost ideological theories for the nation and from then to date, the three isms have always been part of the CCP and the nation’s fundamental ideology, irreplaceable.

Be that as it may, there are signs that, as a part of the China dream and a method of governance, Confucianism is coming back to the heart of the country’s cultural activity. Current president Xi has many times effectuated confidence in China’s traditional culture and presented himself as an ardent fan of it, oftentimes citing creeds from Confucian classics on many public occasions. More important is that the past Confucianism has been edited into schoolbooks again for present students from elementary to high school. This is a departure from Mao’s thought and for modern Chinese people, this is also the reappearance of an old specter.

The U.S. strategy intention is sowing the seeds of democratic revolution or reform in China in the economic way. But U.S decision-makers and their think tanks seem to forget that to make these seeds grow healthily, there needs to be suitable cultural soil. China isn’t such a soil: its heritage and civilization are nurseries for authoritarianism. So the secret to turn China into a liberal democracy isn’t by economic activities but by teaching and disseminating democratic and liberal thoughts to alter its tradition. Leaders of the CCP need to ameliorate the nation’s economy to consolidate their rule whereas the U.S.’s such policy just plays into their hands. Accordingly, integration policy, when being applied to a country like China, could produce a setback.

China’s developmental direction and course

In Deng’s age, as Deng himself said, China was still in a developmental state of feeling stones to wade across the river, namely a condition of lacking a crystalline national development strategy. China of the day is no longer in such a state; its leaders have expressly known how and where the country should be led.

In the next half of the 19th century, owing to humiliating defeat in the First and Second Opium Wars against western powers Britain and France, rulers of the Qing dynasty afterward mounted a reform campaign for rendering the nation prosperous and powerful to learn and introduce western sciences and technology, especially military technology. The reform campaign also first set up and develop western-style military and civilian industries and schools in China, but it failed to touch at all the ruling base of the dynasty, namely its absolutism with Confucianism. This was an immense emasculation: After the reform drive lasted 35 years, China lost the Sino-Japanese War; about 17 years after this, the Qing dynasty, the last dynasty in Chinese history, came to an end with people’s revolution for democracy.

Now, the CCP is following the same lines to run the nation: focusing on economy and trade, sciences and technology and military strength; refusing demorcratic reform bluntly and clamping down on freedom of thought and speech continuously; and renewing its totalitarianism with Confucianism again. Markedly, Xi is rebuilding an old empire and building it into a sphinx monster, a hybrid of part westernization, part socialization, and part revivalism. No one can know for sure whether or not such a China will be a huge threat to the whole world, but it certainly will be a fearsome foe to the liberal world. Oddly, it is some countries of the world that have been giving the state a leg-up.

The serial report by Reuters, “Breakout: Inside China’s military buildup”, has lucidly revealed how western countries, especially Britain, France, and Germany, have bypassed arms sanctions to help China to construct a bigger, more sophisticated weapon system. According to the report, it is inconceivable how China’s advanced military equipment, like stealth fighters and navigation satellites, would be possible without cutting-edge and precise gadgets, components, and apparatus from these nations.

Same true, the West is the cardinal exporter of knowledge to China. Data from the Institute of International Education show that in the 2013/2014 academic year, China sent over 0.27 million students to the U.S. for study and was the leading sender of students to the country for the fifth year in a row. At once, data from the Ministry of Education of the PRC indicate that in 2014, around 0.46 million Chinese students in total were studying abroad. Therefore, on count, during the time, some 60% of these students were receiving education in the U.S. Moreover, 82% of the Chinese students studying abroad in 2013 were being instructed in western nations and from 1978, the first year China started reform and opening-up policy, to 2014, over 3.5 million Chinese students were learning overseas and over half of them have returned to China now. These numbers show how crucially China rests on foreign knowledge and there is reason to believe that in the predictable future, western nations will still the central exporter of knowledge to China if they themselves don’t change policy.

China’s deadliest shortcoming is short of vital scientific and technological innovation capacity while it is bent on being the first power in the world; the kind of ability is the common stamp of all world powers in modern history. This puts the country at an acuter disadvantage in the struggle for the standing of the world’s first power than other powers in history, for instance, Germany and Japan. Yet, this is a prerequisite bitter pill it has to swallow: this is the inescapable adverse effect of its own everlasting ideological tradition strangling freedom of thought. As to its traditional ideology, Confucianism, it is still a question whether or not it itself would be welcome if it weren’t imposed on Chinese people.

Yet, to make the catchphrase “the splendid resuscitation of the Chinese nation” or “the China dream” more credible, China has also rewritten its history depending on some disputable researchs, for instance ones by British scientific historian Joseph Needham and French economic historian Paul Bairoch. In the new historical story, China is represented as a nation that was not only the world’s most powerful nation but the world’s most advanced state in science and technology in the course of a long time ago; for example, in 2014, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang said that China had led the world in the past for over 100 years in response to Obama’s remark that the U.S. would continue to shepherd the world for 100 years and in 2015, Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology vice-minister Wang Zhigang, in an interview, gave a speech saying that China had been ahead of the world in scientific and technological creation as early as in the late Ming dynasty and the early Qing dynasty.

The CCP’s target is very explicit: just effectuating China into a world’s number one power of Confucian tradition through western sciences and technology. In the predictable future, no visible strength can hamper it from fulfilling the target except western countries change existing policy. At home, the CCP even has no discernible oppositional force yet. And the failure of the last two ruling classes in Chinese history, the Qing dynasty and the Nationalist Party, is closely connected with the foreign invasion and occupation of China; today’s China isn’t in such a case. By calculation, the average life expectancy of a dynasty in the nine dynasties uniting China from the Qin to Qing dynasties is some 170 years. Hence, there is reason to believe that the liberal world will still be facing an authoritarian China for about 104 years if relevant policy doesn’t shift.

Sino-U.S. struggle

While China has vicious defects in scientific and technological creation, the U.S. doesn’t have overwhelming advantage in the Sino-U.S.struggle, specially in disposing of problems on China. The South China Sea issue is just a paradigm. In international relationships, no evidence illustrates that a developing or underdeveloped country heavily banking on other countries’sciences and technology and abundantly using simulated technological apparatus must not be able to beat at their own game a developed nation like Japan or the U.S.. China’s own history has well shown that this is possible: in the Korean War, an extremely underdeveloped China tested the U.S. and its allies’ strength and will and in the end, won a tie. The Vietnam War afterward has further proven that the potential is true, in which a badly impoverished Socialist Republic of Vietnam successfully defeated and expelled the U.S. military from its domain.

So, China has the reason to believe that it has potence to withstand, even overcome the U.S. in the future conflict; particularly when it encounters a U.S. that has been tired of and tried its damnedest to stay away from war, the kind of case is more likely to transpire. This is the reason why China would turn down the U.S.’s peaceful suggestion on the South China Sea issue and it also hints that the U.S. has no means but by concession, blockades, democratization, or war to stop China from annexing the whole South China Sea.

The U.S.’s weakness lies in it always putting its back into avoiding conflicts between major powers. This makes many international issues, for instance, the North Korea nuclear and missle issue and the Iran nuclear program issue, unable to be solved in an effective way. In the North Korea issue, on account of China’s backing for North Korea, U.S. sanctions against North Korea to hinder it from developing nukes and ballistic missiles are almost feeble. In the Iran issue, as Iran itself is a major economy in Asia, U.S, economic sanctions against it to force it into giving up its nuclear program has slight impact too. The U.S., as the present world’s sole superpower, when not able or willing to deal with international disputes on its strength all the way, looks like a paper tiger, or at least not so purportedly muscular on the surface.

At heart, the Chinese nation is an ethnic group admiring and pursuing power and influence; in Chinese history, the transitions of all dynasties and ruling classes were completed by force. So, in Chinese history, force was the source of the legality of everything, including power. This is an invariant Chinese tradition. Most of western scholars make a mistake in construing the Chinese power legitimacy source issue. They often think that Chinese rulers need to unravel what the legitimacy of their power comes from. In fact, in China, this is a false issue: in here, the law of the jungle is just the real origin of power and thus the main source of law. Therefore, according to tradition, the CCP doesn’t need to bear witness to the legality of its power as long as it has strength to seize power and keep the power. So, what it needs to do is how to manage the country well in its own way and at its own discretion; law, for it, is only a tool able to be used for its rule.

In Chinese history, corruption and poverty were two indiscerptible root causes of the collapses of all dynasties and ruling classes. In Mao’s age, very destitute as China was, it had little or no corruption; therefore, no revolution or uprising arose at the time. Rampant as corruption is in current China, present China is by far more affluent than then China; thus, it is very difficult for revolution or rebellion to come up in the time, if not impossible. So, in a sense, U.S.’s that kind of integration policy of wishful thinking is actually the momentous cause of present-day China not having democratic revolution or movements. And in another sense, a sense of international relationships, the U.S., over its such policy, also puts itself in a situation in which it is helping its rival to surpass itself. This is exactly the opposite of its post-Cold War number one defense strategy objective, to prevent the emergence of a rival superpower

By war is the critical, most efficacious, but most detrimental way to convert the old situation or order and originate the new situation or order at a nation’s or some nations’ discretion. Two Opium Wars decisively put an end to the closure of China lasting nearly 2000 years; World War Ⅱdirectly leads to much part of today’s international order. The Cold War isn’t a real war but only a rivalry between two superpowers the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. So, though its end vitally changes the old international order, the “war” doesn’t beget the new order at the U.S.’s discretion.

In international relationships, not a nation would launch or fight a war for the causes of democracy and freedom of another country. Thus, it is foreseeable that the U.S. won’t stage a war for China’s these causes. Yet, in the U.S.’s own national interests, it needs to prepare itself for a military conflict with future China. The kind of conflict becomes more likely specially over current China’s unrestrained ambition for regional and global hegemony. Nevertheless the U.S. has chances to shun the likely armed contest. With the same view of values and respect for human rights and the rule of law, democracies are more willing to solve contention and strife between or among them over peaceful approaches and never war has broken out between two democracies. So, if China is able to be transmuted into a liberal democracy, this will be a best way to avoid the China-U.S. war and in the U.S.’s permanent national interests. Thus, the kind of way deserves the U.S. trying with the most possible effort.

In the Sino-U.S. relationship, the U.S. should try its best to show the muscle matching its status as the present world’s single superpower and exercise it if need be but not always and excessively underline dialogue and contact. U.S.-China human rights dialogue has been held 18 times , but the result is that many western mainstream media’s websites that had been able to be visited in China, for instance, The New York Times’ and The Wall Street Journal’s, now have been already blocked.

A piece of advice 

To settle the Chinese democratization issue, the U.S. should first plant the seeds of democracy and freedom in Chinese’s minds. This is a thing that is right off able to embark on in the U.S.’s own home: since every year sees hundreds of thousands of Chinese students studying in the U.S., the students are just the very objects of cultivation. The U.S. should teach the students some subjects on democracy politics, democracy history, and/or democracy philosophy but not impart only some science and technology to them and if possible, such education should be compulsory. Occasion is very simple: these subjects are generally prohibited in China. Hence, the students will have little or no opportunity to learn or know the subjects before coming to the U.S. and thus will have little or no fortune to choose by their own knowledge of democracy whether to study the subjects or not further and whether to join democratic movements or not.

The kind of the lack of room flowing from the control of the nation can be made up for farthest and most effectively only by state action; for instance, in the Qin dynasty in China, Confucianism was ever atrociously forbidden and squelched by emperors to near disappearance, but in the Han dynasty therewith, it became emperors’ focus of attention and was recognized as a state belief at last. Since then until the Qing dynasty, with the continuous upholding of rulers, Confucianism was always in an universal popularity.

Resultingly, the students, if there isn’t an obligatory educational system requiring them to learn and know the subjects, will still be in innocence with democracy, largely as in the ages before the First Opium War, Chinese intelligentsia knew only Confucius, Lao Tzu, or some other Chinese thinkers of those days but not Plato, Kant, or any other western scholar or thinker of those times. Therefore, even just for its own national interests, the U.S. should help China with its democratization issue.

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Will US-China Tensions Trigger the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis?

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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

Reference

  1. 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).
  2. Mink, M. (2021). The Catalyst for Stronger US-Taiwan Ties. https://keithkrach.com/the-catalyst-for-stronger-us-taiwan-ties/
  3. 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/
  4. Global Times. (2021). Pompeo may toll the knell for Taiwan authorities. https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202101/1212378.shtml
  5. 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/
  6. Cui, J., & Zhao, Y. (2021). Boycott of Xinjiang cotton use opposed. China Daily. https://www.chinadailyhk.com/article/161495
  7. Everington, K. (2021). Former US security advisor says Taiwan in “maximum danger” from PLA. Taiwan News. https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/4189160
  8. China Daily. (2021). Preparing for Winter Olympics promotes quality development – Opinio. China Daily. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202101/22/WS600a131ba31024ad0baa44f1.html
  9. 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
  10. Roy, D. (2021). Rumors of War in the Taiwan Strait. The Diplomat. https://thediplomat.com/2021/03/rumors-of-war-in-the-taiwan-strait/
  11. 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
  12. 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

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Quad Infrastructure Diplomacy: An Attempt to Resist the Belt and Road Initiative

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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.

Beijing’s Response

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.

Conclusion

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

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East Asia

Bushido Spirit Resurrected? Japan publicly bared its swords against China

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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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