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Japan’s soft power: View from Russia

Darya Gribkova

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Authors: Darya Gribkova & Viktoria Ivanchenko*

According to Joseph Nye, the pioneer of soft power concept, Japan’s attractiveness potential is one of the highest in the world. But at the same time Japan faces obstacles to its comprehensive implementation. First of all, it is a policy towards preservation of internal values ​​and the way of life, Tokyo’s aggressive policy in the first half of the 20th century still not forgotten by its milieu, demographic problems, successful competition by the rapidly developing neighbors, especially Republic of Korea and China, in the field of soft power. Today Japan’s desire to revive the status of military power makes the situation more complicated.

Japan is a convincing example of promoting the positive image by a non-great power without engaging military means. Economic success, urban development, high quality of education, futuristic technologies, mysterious culture which burst into information space by anime and manga created perception of Japan as a smart and advanced country. Demonstrative disregard of geopolitical ambitions helped Japan to keep up its stable position in the international arena for a long time.

But what components does Japan’s soft power include now? What role does the state play in it? Which regions of the world are priority-driven when choosing the directions of the Japanese soft impact? What are the prospects for Japanese soft power and which countries can compete with Japan? Let us try to examine the system carefully.

State, “soft power” and cultural diplomacy

Traditional spheres the state is in charge of are economic and military because they both guarantee state’s survival. In case of the state’s participation in public diplomacy space for activity of special-purpose funds, NGOs, media and large corporations occurs. In today’s world, one way or another, states are limited in the use of hard powerand it is soft power that becomes an instrument for creating favorable environment for foreign policy.

Japanese soft power developed independently of the state and rose from Japanese culture, national traditions, aureole of mystery and inaccessibility and later rose from modernization success and model of economic development. But at which stage did the state get involved and soft power become considered as a means of winning leading positions in the world economy, policy and culture for Japan?

After World War II Japanese government faced necessity not only to recover economy and reform governance system in the state but as well to overcome the image of aggressor in the international arena. Spheres of culture and public diplomacy offered Japan wide opportunities for such activity.

Today implementation of Japan’s soft power is under control of Foreign Affairs Ministry. In 1972 the Japan Foundation was established under the Ministry’s management for development of cultural exchange, promotion of Japanese studies abroad, researching activity of Western institutions and international cultural exchange standards and programs. In October 2003 the Foundation became an independent institution and now it has 24 offices around the world, its activity covers more than 190 countries. The main directions of Foundation’s activity are exchange programs for outstanding specialists in the field of cross-cultural communication, science and culture as well as sport exchange programs and participation of Japanese scientists in international conferences, preservation of Japanese cultural monuments by Japanese specialists , cooperation on realization of joint projects with UNESCO.

Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) regulates the issues related to the official development assistance; its goals are the reduction of poverty, increase of effectiveness of management systems, ensuring human security and stimulation of educational and cultural exchange.

In 1988 Japan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry began to publish the monthly journal on foreign affairs “Gaiko Forum”, which also covered issues related to Japanese popular culture and public diplomacy.

In 2005 the Advisory Committee  led by Tamotsu Aoki, professor of Hosei University, was formed to conceptualize the elements of Japan’s soft power. In Diplomatic Blue Book 2004 a section of the 3rd chapter dedicated to the soft power concept and public diplomacy, improvement of image of the state abroad, students exchange programs, cooperation in the cultural sphere. One of the most important part is about “Cool Japan”, public diplomacy program aimed at the promotion of Japanese popular culture. By 2014 the government’s spending for promotion of Japanese pop-culture reached almost $883 million. In 2004, ex-prime minister Aso Taro in his speech about Japan’s strategic development stressed soft power as one of the most perspective direction and Japan’s attractiveness promotion in the world as one of the resources of growth.

There is a departure in the MOFA structure, that realizes Japanese film festivals, painting exhibitions, Japanese cuisine days. The MOFA’s internet-page provides links to resources related to public relations abroad, cultural and people-to-people exchange, cooperation with international organizations (UNESCO, UNU) including WebJapan (available in Chinese, English, Arabic, Russian, Spanish, Korean, Portuguese, Danish and French) which provides information on trends in Japanese fashion, cuisine, nature, Japan’s  achievements in the field of economy, education, environmental protection and so on.

Also it is worth to note that neither the Prime Minister nor the Minister of Foreign Affairs, nor the Japanese Ambassadors refuse to give comments to the major national and foreign media on such seemingly acute issues as territorial disputes with neighbors. This looks like demonstration of Tokyo’s willingness to discuss these issues openly and confidence in the legitimacy of the territorial claims.

The state invests a lot in support of external economic activity of Japanese enterprises. In the sphere of economy attractiveness of the state and national culture are valuable as they bring significant dividends to business. At the same time the country’s economic success is already a powerful tool of positive influence which forms the attraction of Japanese corporate culture. In the Intellectual Property Strategic Program 2006 cultural and economic aspects were identified as complementary, and also there were measures proposed to improve the image of the country through the use of rich cultural potential, through support of Japanese business and promotion of Japan brand all over the world. The brand “Made in Japan” around the world is associated with the quality and reliability of Japanese products and despite the high price it is in great demand.

In 2004 the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry launched the “Japan Brand” program, aimed at promoting certain products produced in Japanese regions at the foreign markets. This program became a part of a strategy for stimulating external economic activity of small and medium-sized enterprises.

Japan became the first state in Asia which realized the opportunities that opens up the proper use of soft power as a powerful instrument of influence in the world. After the World War II Japan was a defeated aggressor, which in order to restore its economy and position in the international community needed to achieve normal relations, primarily with the countries of Asia Pacific, which suffered the most during the war.

But active state involvement and directive approach to soft power produce some serious risks. Usually, the private sector evokes more trust abroad as more independent and free in its actions.

Here other players come, for example, transnational companies. One of the strongest soft power instruments they engage is corporate social responsibility. Such big companies like Mitsubishi and Toyota take part in various projects related to the social sphere in Russia. For instance, Mitsubishi Corporation supports the Center of Japanese language and culture in Moscow State Linguistic University. As well in 2017 on the base of Far Eastern Federal University Mitsubishi Corporation and Far Eastern Federal University established the Center for study of Russian-Japanese relations. Mitsubishi’s employees visit boarding schools, organize educational and leisure activities. In December 2015 Furusawa Minoru, CEO of Mitsubishi Corporation Russia, was awarded as a “Maecenas of the year” at the St. Petersburg Cultural Forum.

Vectors of dissemination

After the World War II Japan managed to solve an extremely difficult task: in a short period of time the country not only earned the reputation of a peace-loving country and a reliable economic partner but still continues to support it successfully.

Japan’s cautious, non-assertive policy and economic assistance to the countries of Asia Pacific after the World War II played a key role. In 1954 Japan became a participant of the Colombo Plan for the joint economic and social development of Asia and the Pacific. From that moment, directly or through participation in international projects, Japan began to provide official development assistance, grants without requiring their return and long-term loans on preferential terms. Today speaking of lending Japanese banks keep a leading position in the Asia Pacific region.

The construction of Japan’s infrastructure projects is another significant area, however today Japan faces strong competition from China. Tokyo invests in the construction of schools, hospitals, purchase of equipment, construction of roads. In May 2015 Shinzo Abe announced the launch of the “Partnership for Quality Infrastructure” project which should embrace South, Southeast and Central Asia countries. Next five years Tokyo intends to invest 110 billion dollars for the project implementation. Despite the recession that has continued since the 1990s, Japan remains the main donor of economic assistance and lender in Asia, one of the founders of the Asian Development Bank and the largest contributor to infrastructure development projects.

Assistance for developing countries, financing of development programs, provision of preferential long-term loans, training of personnel and sending Japanese specialists to developing countries allows to form the positive image of the country and favorable environment for Japanese business.

During the recovery period after the World War II the cautious Tokyo’s policy, the emphasis on the provision of economic means, loans, grants, and investments in infrastructure project played an important role in spreading the so-called soft influence of Japan in North Asia and Southeast Asia – closest Japan’s neighbours. Thus, after the beginning of reforms in the People’s Republic of China in the late 1970s Japan was one of the main trading partners and still one of the main investors.

Because of geographical proximity and close historical ties China and South Korea became the first countries which felt Japanese soft power influence through the popular culture. In late 1990s Japan faced a strong competitor: South Korea film production, music (K-pop) and  tourism to Korea, Korean ethnic cuisine, electronics intercepted interest in Japan. Korean pop culture first captured China and Japan, then Vietnam, Cambodia, Taiwan, Thailand, Russia, Mongolia, European, Central Asian, Middle Eastern and African countries, America. Nevertheless, 99% of the exports of the Korean cultural industry go to Asian countries.

To some extent Japan nurtured its competitor itself: it was the Republic of Korea that was the largest consumer of the products of the Japanese popular industry, and then the imitator, subsequently adding its national flavor to the most popular samples of Japanese pop culture.

In Southeast Asia Singapore became a kind of reference point for distribution of Japanese popular culture. In November 2009 the Japan Creative Center was opened in Singapore to introduce traditional and modern Japanese culture, technological achievements, cuisine, anime, crafts, cinema and music.

In Central Asia the basis of Japanese soft power is Japan’s Asian identity, similarity. Diplomatic relations with the countries of the region Tokyo established in the 1990s, but they won attention much earlier and today they are spurred by Tokyo’s interest in energy potential and transit opportunities of these countries.

The undeniable advantage of Japan in the Central Asian region is the absence of military aggression in the past and, as a result, the absence of negative memory of the peoples regarding Japan. “Residents of Central Asia remember tens of thousands of Japanese prisoners of war on the territory of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan after the World War II. Until now buildings built by their hands have been preserved, for example, the Central Telegraph and the Ministry of Culture in Tashkent, the Academy of Sciences in Almaty, the Farhad Hydropower Station in Tajikistan”, notes Olga Dobrinskaya, Research Officer at the Department of Japanese Studies, Institute for Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

In the 1990s Central Asian countries had to choose the way for further development including economic model. The Japanese case with the leading role of the state seemed very attractive, as well as the fact that Japan acted as a carrier of Western values of democracy with some Eastern specificity.

Ryutaro Hashimoto’s concept of the “Eurasian diplomacy” meant revitalization of Japan’s relations with Central Asia, the Caspian Sea region and China. In 2004, Japan initiated the launch of the “Central Asia plus Japan” Dialogue to strengthen mutual understanding between countries. In 2006 Central Asia along with the South Eastern and Central Europe, the Caucasus, the Middle East, South, Southeast and Northeast Asia were inserted in the concept of the “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity”. Shinzo Abe’s visits to the countries of Central Asia in November 2015 became a demonstration of serious interest in cooperation with the countries of the region.

Among the examples of Japan’s soft power in Central Asia, it is significant to mention programs of official assistance to the development of the Central Asian states, projects in the field of ecology, green and energy-saving technologies, in the spheres of agriculture, education, health. Successes in these fields have strengthened Japan’s image as a state that promotes and develops non-military security.

Japan is interested in Central Asia’s transit routes and energy resources, and that’s why the Japanese government is interested in the stability of the region including environmental dimension, political, economic and social spheres.

Difficulties and prospects

In the Soft Power 30 global index of Portland in 2017 Japan ranks sixth while in 2015 it was located on the eighth position. Despite the high indices there are factors which contain the further realization of the potential of Japan’s soft power.

The most important one is related to the perception of foreign influence. Soft power becomes an unattainable ideal wherever different identities, ideologies, views collide. It becomes effective only if the ‘recipient’ of soft power shares the notions of the way of life, worldview, culture of the soft power ‘projector’. Concerning effectiveness of Japanese soft power the following question arises: how much is Japan’s soft power viable in Northeast Asia given the growth of nationalist sentiments in Asia including those in China and Korea, and Japan’s implementation of military reforms policy? Can it cope with competition from the Chinese cultural heritage which is much older than Japanese one?

Another issue concerns weakness of soft power in overcoming hostility and rivalry rooted back far in the past and kept in memory of several generations. It is evident within long-lasting memory of Japan’s militaristic and colonial policy in Asia in the first half of the 20th century.

Today in Japan military component as an invariable attribute of great power gradually displaces the ‘soft’ component, which is absolutely important in the world of international technologies and free information flows. Nevertheless, soft power cannot be disregarded, since it is one of the most important elements shaping the image of the state, which strives for a more weighty position among powerful actors and in dealing with global issues.

Moreover, the longest life expectancy results in a high rate of aging; the desire to preserve the culture, way of life, business ethics appears in rigid migration legislation, which exacerbates demographic problems. The migration legislation provides a facilitated regime for obtaining visas and citizenship for “unique” specialists, however, a language barrier remains a strong obstacle. Japanese popular culture is experiencing serious competition from the Korean one. Competition with China in Southeast Asia and Central Asia is increasing and India is rising a a new vigorous rival in the economic field.

So the question is if it is possible in the current conditions to give a new impetus to the Japanese soft power. In case Abe’s government is able to cope with domestic economic problems, Japan will be able to maintain its status as a reliable economic partner and one of the main creditors in the international community.

An important but hardly feasible step could be Japan’s willingness to discuss the issues related to its militaristic past, which the present government is trying to forget with all its might.

In cultural diplomacy Japan relies on pop-culture, the brand of anime and manga, which should promote a deeper interest in the country’s rich culture. But maybe today the world needs things which fascinated foreigners in the XIX-XX centuries? For example, traditional, authentic cultural heritage?

Today military reforms can eradicate the government’s efforts to project its soft power and their further implementation will require much more effort and resources to maintain Japan’s attractiveness in the world. A great opportunity to put life into Japanese soft power can be the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympic Games which will be held in Japan.

As well 2018 is a cross-cultural Russian-Japanese year. For both countries it is a great opportunity to better understand each other, to make people interact more often and find more common points for cooperation. Despite the Kuril issue, which is yet to be resolved, current stable and friendly relations between Russia and Japan provide great potential for dialogue and collaboration. Within the Pivot to the East Russia now makes an attempt to establish close ties with promising and highly developed Asian countries, and 2018 grants Japan a more privileged position at least in terms of people-to-people contacts.

Japan`s cultural events are warmly welcomed in Russia. For instance, in Autumn 2017 just three big events took place in Moscow: 7th Moscow Biennale, exhibitions by Takashi Murakami “There will be a gentle rain” and Keichi Tanaami “Country of mirrors”.

But opportunities granted to Japan by international large-scale sports and cultural events have temporary effects although they give a good chance to show the country at its best. Japan as an influential soft power actor requires a long-term strategy which would work in accordance with other state policies. Otherwise, Japanese government run risks to lose its positions as one of soft power leaders if it chooses hard power instruments for projecting its influence and will have to fully revise its soft power strategy.

Original pre-revised text in Russian

*Viktoria Ivanchenko, PICREADI (Creative Diplomacy) editor-in-chief, researcher at Higher School of Economics, Moscow

PICREADI (Creative Diplomacy) project coordinator; Higher School of Economics, Moscow

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East Asia

Hong Kong Developments: India’s Tactical Punch To China

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Hong Kong’s National Security Legislation: A Brief Overview

A new wide-ranging Security Law was passed by China for Hong Kong on May 28, 2020 outstripping it of its autonomy, and giving Beijing exceptional power over Hong Kong’s affairs. In the wake of growing resentment against China all over the world, owing to the pandemic and the mystery surrounding its origins in Wuhan and the bitterness against Xi Jinping’s aggressive leadership, the Hong Kong move is going to further tarnish the Dragon’s domestic and global image. With China using its destabilising power over Hong Kong by ensuring that the city has a stern law against rebellion against Beijing’s authority, policies and actions, the National Security Legislation for Hong Kong is highly problematic. The government in Beijing has repressed Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and contravened on its promised semi-autonomous status with the National People’s Congress (NCP), unilaterally introducing a new legislation that criminalises any act of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign and external forces. It curtails the freedom enjoyed by people in Hong Kong, restraining freedom of speech and the right to protest.

On December 19, 1984, the governments of the UK and China reached an agreement on Hong Kong. The Sino-British Joint Declaration was registered with the UN on June 12, 1985. It is a legally-binding international treaty that ensured that Hong Kong’s autonomy, freedom and independent judiciary, rule of law and rights would see no alteration for the next 50 years. The British handed back Hong Kong to China in 1997, under a unique agreement, the ‘Basic Law’, the ‘One country, Two systems’ framework. This was done to safeguard certain liberties for the prosperity and development of Hong Kong and needed to uphold its stability and culture: the freedom of speech and assembly, an independent judiciary and some democratic rights that people in China did not have. The same agreement gave the people of Hong Kong the right to enact their own national security law under Article 23 of the Basic Law.

China as a co-signatory of the Joint Declaration has flouted its promise, ignoring the need for constructive political dialogue and bypassing Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, by approving the new legislation that was enacted on June 30, 2020. The National security Legislation will, in time, be inserted in the Annex III of Hong Kong’s Basic Law. The anti-government demonstrations by the unhappy Hong Kong population against Beijing have been a source of discontent and embarrassment for Xi Jinping and a major “security threat” to the Dragon. The anti-Beijing protests with broader anti-China and pro-democracy movement have been gaining greater impetus than before in Hong Kong since June 2019. Xi Jinping is set to thrash this with this new legislation that is seen, more or less, as a vengeance regarding the withdrawal of Beijing’s contentious extradition bill of the previous year.

“The key provisions of the Security Legislation include that:

  • Crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces are punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison
  • Damaging public transport facilities can be considered terrorism
  • Those found guilty will not be allowed to stand for public office
  • Companies can be fined if convicted under the law
  • Beijing will establish a new security office in Hong Kong, with its own law enforcement personnel – neither of which would come under the local authority’s jurisdiction
  • This office can send some cases to be tried in mainland China – but Beijing has said it will only have that power over a “tiny number” of cases
  • In addition, Hong Kong will have to establish its own national security commission to enforce the laws, with a Beijing-appointed adviser
  • Hong Kong’s chief executive will have the power to appoint judges to hear national security cases, raising fears about judicial autonomy
  • Importantly, Beijing will have power over how the law should be interpreted, not any Hong Kong judicial or policy body. If the law conflicts with any Hong Kong law, the Beijing law takes priority
  • Some trials will be heard behind closed doors.
  • People suspected of breaking the law can be wire-tapped and put under surveillance
  • Management of foreign non-governmental organisations and news agencies will be strengthened
  • The law will also apply to non-permanent residents and people “from outside [Hong Kong]… who are not permanent residents of Hong Kong”.[i]

The Hong Kong population faces a huge blow to their civil liberties and freedoms with the enactment of this law, histrionically changing life in the region. It is clearly without any accountability and transparency, being kept as a secret from the government of Hong Kong and the public, till its enactment. There have been instances of its abuse since it has come into being, using it to clampdown on peaceful and legitimate protests and stiffens control over media, social networking, education, and the social organisations operating in the region, giving undue and extensive authority to the Chinese investigating authority to search properties, prohibit and restrict movement and travel, censor online content and engage in covert surveillance, freeze or confiscate assets, and engage in intercepting communications without a court directive. The new draconian law has set up another new body in the government of Hong Kong, the Committee for Safeguarding National Security, with a delegate from the Chinese central government to “advise” and oversee it. This body is not subject to any checks and balances, besides being not accountable to any other structure of the government, bypassing legislative scrutiny. The government in Beijing is setting up the “Office for Safeguarding National Security” in Hong Kong with the staff and the office not falling under the city’s jurisdiction, hereby ensuring that their actions cannot be reviewed by the Hong Kong local courts. The personnel of the office have complete immunity and cannot be subject to inspection, examination or custody by local law and administration in Hong Kong.

This legislation will have a huge effect on the business and financial community as well as tarnish Hong Kong’s image as a global financial hub integrating in with China. With the enragement building against China in the pandemic period, Hong Kong will drastically suffer due to this legislative imposition. It is bound to have a hugely negative impact on the educational and social systems with heavy economic and political toll for the region.

India’s Diplomatic Move against China

China is facing an image deficit, global pushback and loss of allies in a world grappling with the unprecedented, havoc wreathing COVID-19 pandemic. With this backdrop, the controversial security legislation for Hong Kong that redefines the relationship between the people of Hong Kong and mainland China has been met with great criticism from the pro-democracy parts of the world like the US, Japan, Australia and the co-signatory of the Joint Declaration, the UK, among others. There has been great pushback against Xi Jinping’s policies that seek to flout the international norms and code of conduct and significantly, India has shed its silence and raised concern against the outrageous Chinese actions that seek to mould the world led by an order dictated by it. 

India played rather tactically, breaking its silence on Hong Kong for the first time ever, raising China’s new security legislation for Hong Kong at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva. This diplomatic move by India is likely a consequence of the deteriorating Sino-Indian engagement and the recent border clashes in Galwan Valley in Ladakh. India’s permanent representative to UN in Geneva, Rajiv Chander expressed India’s optimism that “the relevant parties will take into account these views and address them properly, seriously and objectively.” Without naming the India’s hostile neighbour, Mr.Chander argued that New Delhi is engaged in “a close watch on recent developments” in Hong Kong due to the presence of the large Indian diaspora in the region. With a number of bilateral agreements and MoUs signed between Hong Kong and India, the former is host to a number of Indian companies, various professionals in sectors like IT, banking, as a centre for conferences and exhibitions and vice versa with New Delhi having huge stakes in the region in question. The India-Hong Kong relationship has a number of facets from academic collaboration, bilateral trade and investments to tourism and cultural links.

This raising up of the issue of Hong Kong, China’s Achilles Heel, comes as a surprise and is a strategic move as New Delhi in the past, remained a mute and calculated spectator of the developments in the region. As China has been overtly as well as covertly involved in the domestic issues in India stimulating unrest in various parts of the country, even raising the Kashmir issue at UN Security Council after the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019, it was imperative for New Delhi to take a firm stand against the regional bully by reviewing its approach and studied silence on Chinese matters. It landed a strategic knockback to Beijing in the aftermath of Chinese aggression in the Sino-Indian border and its belligerent approach in the South Asian region. The Sino-Indian relationship has undergone a significant technological and diplomatic tailspin, with India banning a number of Chinese applications, making it clear to Beijing to restrain from commenting on India’s internal matters and the Hong Kong reaction is another changing diplomatic stance of India, showing its firm resolve against the dictatorial and hegemonic ambitions of China. These events show New Delhi’s revised approach to the tyrant state in the aftermath of its pugnacious advances.

While India, in the past, had been unwilling to give visas to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists and even denied meeting the activists at G-20 summit last year for a petition to pressurise Beijing, the recent events at Galwan Valley have rocked the basic foundational structure of the relationship between these two neighbours.

With China acting out of line and raking up issues pertaining to India’s domestic issues and further, expanding and deepening its ruthless activities in creating troubled waters for India, both regionally and globally, New Delhi’s tactical punch is a welcome move in times of emerging uncertainties about China’s unruly and anarchic misdoings. This is an opportune moment for India, hence, to support the countries against a hegemonic China that seeks to advance a world in a mould that suits its needs and designs.


HONG KONG DEVELOPMENTS: INDIA’S TACTICAL PUNCH TO CHINA

Hong Kong’s National Security Legislation: A Brief Overview

A new wide-ranging Security Law was passed by China for Hong Kong on May 28, 2020 outstripping it of its autonomy, and giving Beijing exceptional power over Hong Kong’s affairs. In the wake of growing resentment against China all over the world, owing to the pandemic and the mystery surrounding its origins in Wuhan and the bitterness against Xi Jinping’s aggressive leadership, the Hong Kong move is going to further tarnish the Dragon’s domestic and global image. With China using its destabilising power over Hong Kong by ensuring that the city has a stern law against rebellion against Beijing’s authority, policies and actions, the National Security Legislation for Hong Kong is highly problematic. The government in Beijing has repressed Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and contravened on its promised semi-autonomous status with the National People’s Congress (NCP), unilaterally introducing a new legislation that criminalises any act of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign and external forces. It curtails the freedom enjoyed by people in Hong Kong, restraining freedom of speech and the right to protest.

On December 19, 1984, the governments of the UK and China reached an agreement on Hong Kong. The Sino-British Joint Declaration was registered with the UN on June 12, 1985. It is a legally-binding international treaty that ensured that Hong Kong’s autonomy, freedom and independent judiciary, rule of law and rights would see no alteration for the next 50 years.The British handed back Hong Kong to China in 1997, under a unique agreement, the ‘Basic Law’, the‘One country, Two systems’ framework. This was done to safeguard certain liberties for the prosperity and development of Hong Kong and needed to uphold its stability and culture: the freedom of speech and assembly, an independent judiciary and some democratic rights that people in China did not have. The same agreement gave the people of Hong Kong the right to enact their own national security law under Article 23 of the Basic Law.

China as a co-signatory of the Joint Declaration has flouted its promise, ignoring the need for constructive political dialogue and bypassing Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, by approving the new legislation that was enacted on June 30, 2020. The National security Legislation will, in time, be inserted in the Annex III of Hong Kong’s Basic Law. The anti-government demonstrations by the unhappy Hong Kong population against Beijing have been a source of discontent and embarrassment for Xi Jinping and a major “security threat” to the Dragon. The anti-Beijing protests with broader anti-China and pro-democracy movement have been gaining greater impetus than before in Hong Kong since June 2019. Xi Jinping is set to thrash this with this new legislationthat is seen, more or less, as a vengeance regarding the withdrawal ofBeijing’s contentious extradition bill of the previous year.

“The key provisions of the Security Legislation include that:

  • Crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces are punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison
  • Damaging public transport facilities can be considered terrorism
  • Those found guilty will not be allowed to stand for public office
  • Companies can be fined if convicted under the law
  • Beijing will establish a new security office in Hong Kong, with its own law enforcement personnel – neither of which would come under the local authority’s jurisdiction
  • This office can send some cases to be tried in mainland China – but Beijing has said it will only have that power over a “tiny number” of cases
  • In addition, Hong Kong will have to establish its own national security commission to enforce the laws, with a Beijing-appointed adviser
  • Hong Kong’s chief executive will have the power to appoint judges to hear national security cases, raising fears about judicial autonomy
  • Importantly, Beijing will have power over how the law should be interpreted, not any Hong Kong judicial or policy body. If the law conflicts with any Hong Kong law, the Beijing law takes priority
  • Some trials will be heard behind closed doors.
  • People suspected of breaking the law can be wire-tapped and put under surveillance
  • Management of foreign non-governmental organisations and news agencies will be strengthened
  • The law will also apply to non-permanent residents and people “from outside [Hong Kong]… who are not permanent residents of Hong Kong”.[i]”

The Hong Kong population faces a huge blow to their civil liberties and freedoms with the enactment of this law, histrionically changing life in the region. It is clearly without any accountability and transparency, being kept as a secret from the government of Hong Kong and the public, till its enactment. There have been instances of its abuse since it has come into being, using it to clampdown on peaceful and legitimate protests and stiffens control over media, social networking, education, and the social organisations operating in the region, giving undue and extensive authority to the Chinese investigating authority to search properties, prohibit and restrict movement and travel, censor online content and engage in covert surveillance, freeze or confiscate assets, and engage in intercepting communications without a court directive. The new draconian law has set up another new body in the government of Hong Kong, the Committee for Safeguarding National Security, with a delegate from the Chinese central government to “advise” and oversee it. This body is not subject to any checks and balances, besides being not accountable to any other structure of the government, bypassing legislative scrutiny. The government in Beijing is setting up the “Office for Safeguarding National Security” in Hong Kong with thestaff and the office not falling under the city’s jurisdiction, hereby ensuring that their actions cannot be reviewed by the Hong Kong local courts. The personnel of the office have complete immunity and cannot be subject to inspection, examination or custody by local law and administration in Hong Kong.

This legislation will have a huge effect on the business and financial community as well as tarnish Hong Kong’s image as a global financial hub integrating in with China. With the enragement building against China in the pandemic period, Hong Kong will drastically suffer due to this legislative imposition. It is bound to have a hugely negative impact on the educational and social systems with heavy economic and political toll for the region.

India’s Diplomatic Move against China

China is facing an image deficit, global pushback and loss of allies in a world grappling with the unprecedented, havoc wreathing COVID-19 pandemic. With this backdrop, the controversial security legislation for Hong Kong that redefines the relationship between the people of Hong Kong and mainland China has been met with great criticism from the pro-democracy parts of the world like the US, Japan, Australia and the co-signatory of the Joint Declaration, the UK, among others.There has been great pushback against Xi Jinping’s policies that seek to flout the international norms and code of conduct and significantly, India has shed its silence and raised concern against the outrageous Chinese actions that seek to mould the world led by an order dictated by it. 

India played rather tactically, breaking its silence on Hong Kong for the first time ever, raising China’s new security legislation for Hong Kong at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva. This diplomatic move by India is likely a consequence of the deteriorating Sino-Indian engagement and the recent border clashes in GalwanValley in Ladakh. India’s permanent representative to UN in Geneva, Rajiv Chanderexpressed India’s optimism that “the relevant parties will take into account these views and address them properly, seriously and objectively.” Without naming theIndia’s hostile neighbour, Mr.Chanderargued that New Delhi is engaged in “a close watch on recent developments” in Hong Kong due to the presence of the large Indian diaspora in the region. With a number of bilateral agreements and MoUs signed between Hong Kong and India, the former is host to a number of Indian companies, various professionals in sectors like IT, banking, as a centre for conferences and exhibitions and vice versa with New Delhi having huge stakes in the region in question. The India-Hong Kong relationship has a number of facets from academic collaboration, bilateral trade and investments to tourism and cultural links.

This raising up of the issue of Hong Kong, China’s Achilles Heel, comes as a surprise and is a strategic move as New Delhi in the past, remained a mute and calculated spectator of the developments in the region. As China has been overtly as well as covertly involved in the domestic issues in India stimulating unrest in various parts of the country, even raising the Kashmir issue at UN Security Council after the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019, it was imperative for New Delhi to take a firm stand against the regional bully by reviewing its approach and studied silence on Chinese matters. It landed a strategic knockback to Beijing in the aftermath of Chinese aggression in the Sino-Indian border and its belligerent approach in the South Asian region. The Sino-Indian relationship has undergone a significant technological and diplomatic tailspin, with India banning a number of Chinese applications, making it clear to Beijing to restrain from commenting on India’s internal matters and the Hong Kong reaction is another changing diplomatic stance of India, showing its firm resolve against the dictatorial and hegemonic ambitions of China. These events show New Delhi’s revised approach to the tyrant state in the aftermath of its pugnacious advances.

While India, in the past, had been unwilling to give visas to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists and even deniedmeeting the activists at G-20 summit last year for a petition to pressurise Beijing, the recent events at Galwan Valley have rocked the basic foundational structure of the relationship between these two neighbours.

With China acting out of line and raking up issues pertaining to India’s domestic issues and further, expanding and deepening its ruthless activities in creating troubled waters for India, both regionally and globally, New Delhi’s tactical punch is a welcome move in times of emerging uncertainties about China’s unruly and anarchic misdoings. This is an opportune moment for India, hence, to support the countries against a hegemonic China that seeks to advance a world in a mould that suits its needs and designs.

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East Asia

Changing equations of US-China relations and Taiwan Factor

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The relations among the two permanent members of security council have improved since the Nixon surprise visit to China in 1972 and ending the 22-year long isolation of Mainland China, although the reasons may have been many, the immediate result was consolidating the Sino-Soviet split and weakening the USSR geopolitically as well as strategically. By the next decade, China went through sweeping reforms and under Deng Xiaoping opened-up to the world. The pragmatic Deng Xiaoping’s two statements best encapsulate this period, “Poverty is not socialism, to be rich is glorious” and “Hide your capacities and bide your time”, here we can understand that he was sure that without opening-up economically and becoming an economic powerhouse, the People’s Republic of China will not be able to fulfill its objectives and while in pursuit of it, the best option is to stay humble and keep working. However, since the 2000s the policy shifted towards the peaceful rise of China, and after the 2008 financial crisis which hit western economies disproportionately, provided the opportunity for China to begin creating its sphere of influence. The accession of Premier Xi Jinping brought to fore the ambitions of China and in his inaugural address, he even talked about the China Dream. The Chinese employed the strategy of coercive economic assistance and provided pompous loans to countries in ASEAN, East Asia, South Asia, and even Eastern Europe (the 17+1 dialogue is a good example). The tools for this diplomacy are the Belt & Road Initiative and Debt diplomacy. With governments finding it difficult to get credit lines from the USA backed IMF and World Bank because they are not in a position to comply with the policy decisions which these organizations prescribe, the Chinese provide a solution that is too good to deny. Chinese say we do not care about what type of governments you have and we are ourselves an authoritarian regime, thus, it is not necessary to follow the politico-economic model prescribed by the liberal west to be successful. Although it may be music to the ears of many countries, China asks for something bigger in return; they ask for a great deal of deference and compliance as well as they, in the long run, take control of areas of strategic importance; a good example is Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka.

All the while the USA is continuously ceding space, moving inward, and creating opportunities for China to take advantage, unintentionally of course. Right from the 2008 financial crisis, the USA was embroiled with internal strife & division which culminated in the election of Donald Trump. The Trump slogan of Making America Great Again moved the US towards isolationism & made the Chinese more resolute to implement BRI and practice Debt diplomacy with greater vigor and aggression. However, although China is trying to carve out its sphere of influence (earlier covertly and now more & more overtly), USA will not likely let it happen while trying to contain China and for that, it has been supporting the claims of other party countries in South & East China seas, frequent military drills and exercises with allies, Malabar Exercise with India and Japan in the Indian Ocean, moving military assets in the South China Sea as well as tackling Chinese challenge on trade & technology front.

We know that the conflict between the two countries is on multiple fronts and as China has become more assertive amid the Pandemic, opening up border disputes with Japan in the East China Sea, ASEAN nations in the South China Sea, Taiwan in the straits and India in the Himalayas. This geo-political tango initiated by China can spiral from conflict into a confrontation. And what feeds into it is the absence of any channel of communication except the top between China and USA which if existed could have held track 1.5 or track 2 talks to reach a Modus Vivendi between these two nations. And what feeds into this fire is both the Xi and Trump administrations ceding to a discourse hyper-nationalist, which had led to further depletion for any diplomatic flexibility.

The tit for tat can only go so long without getting out of hand. We can observe, everywhere China is in confrontation, the USA is backing the aggrieved party. However, in the case of Taiwan, we can see direct confrontation among the two powers, China claims Taiwan to be its territory under One China policy and on the other hand, the USA feels it is its responsibility to honor the defense agreement with Taiwan and with the democratization, the two countries have come further close.

Taiwan factor & shrinking space for maneuverability

President of the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan) Tsai Ing-wen in her inaugural address laid out her articulation of Taiwan’s cross-strait policy – peace, parity, democracy, and dialogue. This policy statement in the wake of Hong-Kong’s new security law, confirms that Taiwan will in no way compromise with its democratic set-up which it had earned after a long 38 years of struggle against the authoritarian state.

The success of Taiwan in dealing with COVID-19 (creating a Taiwan model), its warnings to the World & WHO which were never heard and its philanthropist actions for many countries have earned a lot of goodwill and international praise. The world is now waking up to the fact that being a strait away from PRC and facing the brunt of its coercive tactics to amalgamate Taiwan with PRC, Taiwan is very experienced in the Modus operandi of CCP and can help the like-minded countries deal with the asymmetric warfare which is practiced in real-time via disinformation campaigns on social media. Taiwan can with other like-minded democracies establish a framework to counter cognitive warfare (of which disinformation is a part) by providing a proactive & accurate narrative against influence operations that are attempting to undermine democracy by trying to nudge outcomes that will affect the political process.

The Taiwanese foreign policy revolves around 4 tenants which are, maintaining status-quo with PRC, gaining goodwill among world democracies and likeminded countries, increasing defensive capabilities, and economic strength.

However, managing the four tenants with increasing animosity between China and the USA is a challenge in itself. The current shift in the Trump administration’s approach towards distinguishing the Chinese Communist Party from the Chinese people by remembering the May 4th movement and the roots of democracy, the USA is trying to counter cognitive warfare by delegitimizing CCP on mainland China (as perceived by the CCP ideologues). In addition to this, because of Taiwan, CCP is reconciling with the fact that its approach towards Taiwan has failed, and what once China considered asymmetry of interests for Taiwan to be inclined towards China, has been shifting (with the latest pew polls showing record-low support for increasing ties with CCP). All of this mixed with China’s psych of perpetual vulnerability may soon lead to China trying to alter status-quo militarily.

This tells us that space for Taiwan to maneuver has been shrinking with every passing day. In the context of the greater Indo-pacific geopolitical theatre, Taiwan has a lot to offer be it for the USA or other middle powers who would like to maintain the status quo towards free and open International waters for trade and commerce. The current world order, being unstable and challenged with non-traditional security issues (an example being COVID-19 pandemic) as well as the assertive rise of China with a proportional rise in its vulnerabilities requires a new perspective. Taiwan being a Subject Matter Expert in these issues with a unique perspective that comes from facing vulnerability because of global isolation can become an asset to the USA as well as middle powers in developing stratagem which can be successful in saving the multi-polar world order. Taiwan understands this and should move practically ahead while calculating in real-time the permutations and combinations of possibilities and take every step likewise.

The world ahead & way forward

The whole world is looking at the American elections which are 6 months away, and the policy till then would be to contain Chinese aggression. Even China would take steps calculating the impacts and will focus on the elections. The middle powers (Japan, U.K, France, Germany, India, South Korea, etc.) should work out a strategy (less dependent on the USA) to focus on maintaining the status-quo (multipolarity).

The combination of Chinese overconfidence (overt expression of its vulnerabilities) coupled with its perception of Taiwan’s under importance in the USA’s foreign policy doctrine can lead to serious conflict and which could easily spiral in this season of Nationalism.

The situation between China and the USA will deteriorate, but to which extent and what speed will depend on the shifts in Chinese aggressiveness here onwards and the American elections in November’20. Taiwanese citizens can play an important role and so do the middle-power countries if the people and government cherish and pursue to maintain its vibrant democracy and the middle powers help the Taiwanese people in this pursuit. Hopefully, it may deter the two nations from further escalations and it may very well be the only chance to contain Chinese ambitions with minimizing the Damage to Humankind.

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Filing of a petition with ICC: Beginning of Uighurs’ legal battle against China

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Uighur Muslims, a minority community in Xinjiang province of the People’s Republic of China (hereinafter China), has been subjected to state sponsored persecution by China for over past six years (It first began in 2014). Since 2017, when the reports of Chinese crackdown on Uighurs first became public; China has been attracting widespread global denunciation for subjecting this minority group to ‘arbitrary detentions, sexual abuse, forced abortions and sterilizations’. In July 2019, a group of 22 countries wrote a letter to the United Nations Human Rights  Council (UNHRC) condemning the persecution of Uighurs. In June 2020, USA imposed various sanctions on Chinese officials over Uighur abuses by enacting the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act, 2020.

The most recent attempt to hold China accountable for human rights violations entailed filing of a petition against China with the International Criminal Court (hereinafter ICC). In July 2020, Uighur exile groups ‘The East Turkistan Government in-exile’ and the ‘East Turkistan National Awakening Movement’ filed a petition against China seeking an investigation against around 30 Chinese officials for alleged repression of Uighurs. The country has been accused of committing the crimes of ‘genocide’ and ‘crimes against humanity’. The filing of petition is a first step towards tangible justice for Uighurs. At the same time however, it opens up a pandora’s box of questions: How will ICC assume jurisdiction over China, which is not a member to its Statute? Will China cooperate in the investigation?  Why wasn’t the International Court of Justice (hereinafter ICJ) approached?

Building a case for the International Criminal Court to take Jurisdiction:

China is not a signatory to the Rome Statute which governs the functioning of ICC. ICC therefore, does not have a direct Jurisdiction over China and its nationals. However, as alleged by the petitioners, China has been deporting these Muslims from Tajikistan and Cambodia – State parties to the Statute. The petitioners have thus argued that since a part of the crime has been committed on the territory of member states of ICC, it can assume jurisdiction over the case.

Interestingly, a similar set of facts and arguments have faced ICC earlier as well. In 2018, the court was approached to rule upon its jurisdiction over alleged mistreatment of Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar – a non-member state. In the said case too, it was claimed that the Court has Jurisdiction over those who committed crimes against the Rohingyas under article 12(2)(a) of the Statute “because an essential legal element of the crime- crossing an international border- occurred on the territory of a State which is a party to the Rome Statute (Bangladesh)”. ICC’s pre-trial Chamber I ruled that it “has jurisdiction over the alleged deportation of members of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh”. It further added that “If it were established that at least an element of another crime within the jurisdiction of the Court or part of such a crime is committed on the territory of a State Party, the Court might assert jurisdiction pursuant to article 12(2)(a) of the Statute”. Expecting a similar ruling in the Uighurs’ case is thus not an unrealistic dream.

In fact, from the juxtaposition of the facts, crimes and parties involved in the two cases, itcan be safely deduced that there exists a high probability of ICC assuming jurisdiction and initiating investigations into alleged criminal acts concerning Uighurs. On humanitarian grounds, it perhaps will be a step in the right direction. Indubitably, grave crimes like these cannot be avoided or deferred based on mere technicalities. However, it certainly would go against certain long-established principles of International Law.

Roadblocks

ICC’s assumption of jurisdiction would, at the very least, be in circumvention of the very spirit of Article 34 of Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties which states that “A treaty does not create either obligations or rights for a third state without its consent.” Since China is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, it must not be obligatory for it to submit to the jurisdiction of ICC. Another principle of law, which ICC would be going against is ‘Ubilexvoluit, dicit; ubinoluit, tacit’. It means ‘if the law means something, it says; if it does not mean something, it does not say it’. Now, under the Rome Statute, ICC can exercise jurisdiction only under three circumstances– where the alleged perpetrator is a national of a State Party or where the crime was committed in the territory of a State Part (1) , or a State not party to the  may decide to accept the jurisdiction of the ICC(2), or the Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, can refer a situation to the Office of the Prosecutor (3). The intention of the draftsmen with regards to Jurisdiction of ICC is thus very clear – ICC shall not exercise jurisdiction over non-member states. The written law does not provide for a jurisdiction over non-member states except by a referral from the UNSC.

It not only would reinforce wrongful persuasion but might also turn out be completely ineffective because International Tribunals do not succeed when the necessary state parties do not submit to their jurisdiction itself. In this regard, ICC itself has noted that, “as a judicial institution, the ICC does not have its own police force or enforcement body; thus, it relies on cooperation with countries worldwide for support.”Non-States parties are not obligated to cooperate with ICC for making arrests, freezing suspects’ assets etc.

It is very unlikely that China will even appear before the International Court. If it does, it surely will contest ICC’s jurisdiction. ICC would thus have to negate each of the above arguments. Given the low probability of China cooperating in an investigation initiated by ICC, Justice to Uighurs will not come easily even after the jurisdiction is taken by ICC.

A Case at the ICJ in the alternative

Chinese atrocities against Uighurs in Xinjiang are also in violation of various provisions of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (“the Genocide Convention”), to which China is a party. ‘Genocide’, under Article II of the Convention, among others includes ‘Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group’ and ‘imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group’.A study undertaken by Human Rights Watch on Chinese repression of Uighurs has reported ‘political indoctrination’, ‘deaths in custody’, ‘torture’ and ‘mistreatment’ of Uighurs. Another report gives a detailed account of forced sterilization and employment of other birth control techniques on Uighur Women to supress Uighur birth rates in the Country. These fiendish acts fall under the crime of ‘Genocide’, punishable under Article IX of the Convention.Article IX prescribes that the disputes “relating to the responsibility of a State for genocide or for any of the other acts enumerated in article III, shall be submitted to the International Court of Justice at the request of any of the parties to the dispute.”

Now, for a dispute to be adjudicated by ICJ, any of three conditions under Article 36 have to be satisfied: (1) If the state has made a declaration under Article 36, paragraph 2 of the ICJ’s statute granting the court compulsory jurisdiction over disputes under international law; or, (2) where a particular treaty provides the ICJ as its dispute resolution mechanism; or, (3) by entering into a special agreement to submit the dispute to the Court. Since China had withdrawn its declaration under Article 36(2) of the ICJ Statute, it is not under compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ. But China has ratified the Genocide Convention which prescribes ICJ as the dispute resolution body. Therefore, any Contracting Party to the Convention may bring a case against China. It thus follows that ICJ’s jurisdiction in the matter at hand can be founded under Article 36, Paragraph 1 of the ICJ Statute read with Article IX of the Genocide Convention.

Bringing China under the radar of ICJ would have been easier yet less effective. ICJ, under its statute, is not empowered to prosecute individuals. It could, at the most, order China to cease ongoing genocide and to prevent genocide from occurring in the future. Additionally, it can also order equitable remedies like ordering China to enact legislation to criminalize genocide in line with the requirements of the Genocide Convention. On the other hand, ICC’s purpose of establishment itself was prosecution of individuals. It can impose lengthy terms of imprisonment of up to 30 years, order a fine, forfeiture of proceeds, property or assets derived from the committed crime. ICC’s mechanism thus suits the best in the current scenario.

Concluding thoughts

Past precedent on China’s response to international adjudication is not very encouraging. Traditionally it has shunned all international adjudication, preferring to settle all disputes through direct negotiation. The past experiences of Chinese response to international adjudication invited remarks like “Putting ‘China’ and ‘international law’ in the same sentence is an oxymoron.”  When China lost to Philippines in the South China Sea Case, a former Chinese diplomat openly said that this judgment was “nothing more than a piece of paper”.

Even if China accede to international adjudication of any sorts, neither ICC nor ICJ has the mandate to enforce their judgments. Adding onto the misery, China being a permanent member of UNSC can veto any resolution pertaining to enforcement of a ruling against itself. Nevertheless, filing of a petition at ICC is itself a step towards justice. It sends an indication to China’s government that the international community will no longer condone its actions. In the long run, attaining justice for Uighurs might take filing of cases at multiple judicial institutions as in the case of ‘mistreatment of Rohingyas’. There is even a possibility that a parallel case may be filed at the ICJ. This is only a first step in the Uighurs’ battle against China.

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