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China Missed the Industrial Revolution, But It Won’t Miss the Digital One

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In 2016, artificial intelligence defeated a professional player at Go for the first time. The AlphaGo program, developed by DeepMind, first beat three-time European Champion Fan Hui, and a short while later bested Korean Lee Sedol, considered to be one of the best Go players in the world. Many believe that it was artificial intelligence’s conquest of the ancient Chinese game that convinced Chinese authorities to think seriously about including the development of artificial intelligence among its strategic goals. However, the importance of artificial intelligence is not a new idea. Although the foundational Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan came out in June 2017 a year after the triumph of AlphaGo, the field had already been earmarked as a priority in many earlier documents.

21st Century Electricity

Back in 2006, the State Council of the People’s Republic of China published its National Medium- and Long-Term Program for Science and Technology Development for the period up to 2020. It names smart sensors, intelligent robots, and technologies of augmented reality as areas of priority. The Made in China 2025 plan was released in 2015. It includes a USD 300 billion fund for the development of high technology and industrial manufacturing. The plan involves intensifying work in R&D, new materials, artificial intelligence, the creation of fifth generation telecommunications networks, and the manufacturing of robots. In 2016, the State Council published its Guiding Opinions on Actively Promoting the Internet Plus Action Plan. The document prioritizes artificial intelligence, along with big data, blockchain, and machine learning, for a state strategy aimed at accelerating the use of information and communication technologies for the development of the smart industry.

Why has China become so serious about developing artificial intelligence? Artificial intelligence has been called the electricity of the 21st century. It is a technology capable of spanning numerous sectors and giving rise to a new industrial revolution, which is exactly what China needs now. For some time, the country has functioned as the world’s factory; by employing cheap labour and copying foreign technology, China has supplied the entire world with inexpensive (and not always high-quality) manufactured goods. It is a model that has facilitated several decades of double-digit economic growth rates.

However, China has now fallen into the trap of average income. The population’s living standards have grown, reducing the country’s main competitive advantage – cheap labour – to naught. As a result, the only solution is to compete with developed economies and with their qualified personnel and innovations. To do so, the country needs a technological breakthrough. Artificial intelligence could play just such a part.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has noted that the leader of artificial intelligence will be the ruler of the world. Chinese authorities understand this. In June 2017, the Chinese State Council released its Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan, which states that artificial intelligence has become a new arena for international competition. It is a strategic technology that will set the stage for future development and determine a country’s international competitiveness, national security, and influence in the world. Consequently, the Chinese authorities hope artificial intelligence will help transform their economic growth model and expand geopolitical influence, as well as modernize the army and strengthen the country’s defence capabilities. Chinese President Xi Jinping has repeated on more than one occasion the importance of civil-military integration and the need to remove barriers between the commercial economy and the military-industrial base. In other words, artificial intelligence is seen as a dual-use industry. It seems that the development of military and civilian uses for these technologies will occur simultaneously.

Strategic Goals

The Chinese Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan sets three strategic goals. The first is for Chinese AI to match pace with corresponding sectors in key developed countries by 2020, with the foundational branch of AI collecting USD 22.5 billion and related industries exceeding USD 150 billion. The second goal is for China to take the lead in some areas of AI by 2025, with the foundational branch collecting USD 60 billion and those related attaining USD 745 billion. Finally, by 2030, China should become the world’s main centre for innovation in the field of AI, with the foundational branch collecting USD 150 billion and related branches reaching USD 1.5 trillion.

The programme does not explain exactly how to achieve these strategic goals, although it does officially have a section devoted to the topic, titled “objective tasks.” It is essentially a list of industries amenable to the introduction and development of artificial intelligence. These include smart cities, AI in medicine, swarm intelligence and deep semantic analysis, computer vision, and the use of AI in the defence industry and social management. It seems that the programme is not so much a practical guide to action as a general reference point for central and local authorities. Officials can select the area of the programme best suited to their particular region and develop it by adding their own initiatives. For example, authorities in the historically poor province of Guizhou chose to make it China’s data centre, enabled by the favourable cold climate and mountainous terrain. Chinese technology giant Tencent is already building a giant 30 sq. km underground data storage in the mountains of Guizhou. A similar data centre is being built in Guizhou for Apple’s iCloud. Construction is to be completed by 2020, and the centre will occupy an area of 67 hectares. Investments in the IT sector in Guizhou have grown by 378 percent. USD 2.8 billion was invested in Guizhou last year in services related to the transfer, storage, and processing of data. What was once the poorest province has become one of the few in the first quarter of 2018 with double-digit GDP growth rates of 10.1%.

The Next Generation AI Three-Year Development Plan released by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of the People’s Republic of China in December 2017 is more specific about how to develop artificial intelligence and covers a period extending up to 2020. It has set several tasks. The first is to stimulate the development of smart products. This includes, in particular, cars connected to the Internet, smart robots and drones, voice and facial recognition, and machine analysis of medical images. It also calls for a breakthrough in key fundamental technologies like the development of chips and neural networks and open source platforms. In addition, the plan provides for the development of industries using key technologies from artificial intelligence.

The three-year plan coincides with another document issued by the Ministry of Science and Technology of China listing 13 technology projects with priority over large-scale public investment. These projects are to be implemented before 2021. The most notable among them calls for the creation of an artificial intelligence chip that promises to be 20 times more productive and energy efficient than the American-produced NVIDIA Tesla M40 – one of the most widely used artificial intelligence chips at the moment.

Where Can I Get Five Million Scientists?

It’s no wonder that the Chinese authorities are focusing on chips in the development of artificial intelligence. They pose the greatest problem at present. The development of microchips is an extremely knowledge-intensive and capital-intensive process, and the results are not always manifest. China is extremely dependent on imports of foreign microchips, mainly American ones, with only 16% of its chips produced in China itself. Annual imports amount to USD 200 billion, which exceeds Chinese oil imports. China’s share in the world market is even smaller: in 2015, China accounted for only 4% of world chip production, while the USA accounted for 50%. Naturally, the Chinese authorities support local AI manufacturers and developers in every way possible, granting them tax breaks, administrative preferences, and direct financing. For example, the China Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund collected USD 31.5 billion. This is not, however, such a large amount in the industry. Intel alone spent USD 12.7 billion on research and development in 2016.

China is also experiencing an acute shortage of qualified personnel. According to estimates from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of China, about 5 million specialists will be needed to implement the tasks that have been set. At the present time, there are 1.9 million professionals specializing in the field, 850,000 of which are in the USA, with only 50,000 in China. More than 43% of those in China came from the USA. Approximately 2,500 companies worldwide are engaged in the research, development, and practical application of artificial intelligence. The Tencent Research Institute has acknowledged that US companies occupy the lion’s share of the market and outstrip China in all aspects of AI research and development. Thirty-three American and fourteen Chinese companies are occupied with the development of processors and chips. Of the companies involved in natural language processing, computer vision, and image recognition, 586 are American and 273 are Chinese. And finally, 488 American and 304 Chinese companies are working on machine learning, smart drones and robots, and self-guided cars.

The only area in which China enjoys an undeniable competitive advantage is in the colossal amount of data it possesses. The population of China is considerable, and more than half of it – 752 million people (twice the population of the United States) – uses mobile Internet. Eighty-four percent regularly make use of mobile payments. These people leave “digital footprints” behind them in their everyday lives. This is precisely the kind of big data that is so important for machine learning.

The Rest of the World Will Help

In all other areas, China relies on foreign technology and personnel. The Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan and the Three-Year Action Plan discuss the need to encourage Chinese companies to carry out mergers and acquisitions of foreign partners. This policy has been successful. A few years ago, Chinese tech company Baidu opened its Silicon Valley Artificial Intelligence Lab, and in 2017, the company opened a second centre there for research and development of self-guided cars as part of the Apollo project. Soon after that, the company’s third centre in the US, the Business Intelligence Lab, opened for research and development of big data. The other tech giant, Tencent, opened its artificial intelligence research centre in Seattle.

Foreign companies are happy to open research laboratories in China itself. Google is hiring employees for its research centre in Beijing, even though the company’s main products, the Google search engine and Gmail, are blocked in China. On the other hand, Chinese authorities are trying to create favourable conditions for the work of foreign experts. Scientists and developers in the field of high technology can obtain a Chinese visa for a period of 5 to 10 years with the ability to enter the country an unlimited number of times. Moreover, Chinese companies spare no expense to attract specialists from foreign companies and competitors: a high-level scientist in China can receive up to a million dollars a year.

The US is concerned that China will borrow American high technology and attract US scientists to work in China, which will eventually lead to Chinese supremacy in the field of AI. In the US, the development of artificial intelligence is carried out mainly by private companies, and these companies often do not agree on how to develop dual-purpose solutions and products. For example, when Google took over DeepMind, the latter forbade the use of their products in the military or to monitor citizens of the country. Moreover, when Google acquired the robot developer SCHAFT, the company declared that it would not work for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The situation in China is completely different from that of the US. Despite the fact that a third of the world’s tech startups with capital exceeding USD 1 billion are present in China, three technological giants dominate all the rest: Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent (BAT). In most of the start-ups, direct or indirect investments have come from BAT. China’s Ministry of Science and Technology formed the first working group for the development of next-generation artificial intelligence by these companies. In the group, Baidu will be responsible for self-guiding cars, Alibaba for smart cities and city think tanks, and Tencent for computer vision. What’s more, BAT has made no bones about sharing big data with the state if necessary and opening party committees within the company itself. The possibility of formalizing these relations by means of the government’s acquisition of a 1% stake in the companies has also been discussed. When Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks about the need for civil-military integration, it can be assumed that all the achievements of Chinese (and foreign) scientists and companies in the field of artificial intelligence will become available to the military.

The Race for Artificial Intelligence

There are no programmes directly involved in developing artificial intelligence in the Chinese military. However, according to Elsa B. Kania, an Adjunct Fellow with the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, the Chinese military understands the need for “intelligentization” of the military-industrial complex. Future military actions are likely to be impersonal, intangible, and inaudible. It is her opinion that China is actively developing UAVs, underwater drones, and self-guided combat vehicles.

This has the USA on edge. If the second half of the 20th century saw two superpowers, the USSR and the USA, racing after nuclear supremacy, then the 21st century will see two superpowers, this time the USA and China, racing after artificial intelligence. The US is trying to resist: President Trump has initiated an investigation into violations of intellectual property rights by China under article 301 of the 1974 US Merchant Act. This investigation has shown that China infringed on four main aspects of American intellectual property rights: compulsory transfer of technology, discriminatory licensing rules, cross-border takeovers, and theft of intellectual property. In regards to the “301 investigation”, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said: “These are things that China listed and said we’re going to take technology, spend a couple hundred billion dollars and dominate the world. These are things that if China dominates the world, it’s bad for America.” As a result, Trump announced the possibility of introducing tariffs on goods from China to the tune of USD 150 billion in order to contain the development of the Made in China 2025 programme.

It is true that China has little difficulty parrying these attacks, promising in return to limit imports of American-produced soybeans and sorghum, more than half of which is exported to China. This would seriously impact the American farmers who made up a significant part of the electorate Trump relied on in his election campaign. This has made American attempts at containment thus far unsuccessful. Following the latest round of trade negotiations between the Chinese delegation headed by Vice Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China Liu He, President Trump announced that the introduction of tariffs on Chinese goods has been postponed, as China agreed to lift restrictions on imports of American agricultural products.

China has publicly stated from the very beginning that if it is still possible to work on reducing the American trade balance deficit, then industrial and technological policy and development are an internal Chinese matter not up for discussion. In the eyes of the world community, President Trump has not appeared to be a crusader for justice, but rather an aggressor, encroaching on the basic principles of free trade and the international division of labour. If American companies willingly accept mergers and acquisitions from Chinese partners, then it must be economically profitable for them to do so.

Perhaps in the race for artificial intelligence it would be better to change tactics and move from deterrence to competition? The Obama administration developed an artificial intelligence programme and, as Western media outlets have noted, the Chinese programme for the development of next-generation artificial intelligence, established just a year after the American programme, appeared in many respects to copy it. In particular, the American programme suggested an increase in public funding for research and development in artificial intelligence. However, the Trump administration has decided to reduce the National Science Foundation’s already trifling budget for research on so-called intelligent systems by 10% to 175 million dollars. Instead of increasing their own spending on research, the US is trying to limit China’s development, but China is unlikely to make concessions. One recent article in a leading Chinese newspaper, the Guangming Daily, urged others not to miss the opportunities of a new technological revolution. It noted that China had been a strong agrarian country but had missed the opportunities provided by the industrial revolution and as a result had become passive and subject to infringements on the world stage. Thanks to the efforts of the last several generations, according to the newspaper, China has come closer than ever to bringing about the rebirth of the great Chinese nation and has never been as sure of itself as it is now. It would appear that the country’s leadership is trying to heed the lessons of the past so as not to miss the historic chance of leading the digital revolution.

First published in our partner RIAC

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A brief history of Sino-Australian political relations from 1949 to 2020

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Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and Mr Xi met for a bilateral talk during the G20 Forum in Hangzhou.(Supplied: Twitter)

To understand what is happening now requires an understanding of history. The recent Sino-Australian relations have been like a roller coaster ride, which needs to date back to history at least from 1949.

There are several characteristics worth mentioning in Sino-Australian relations. First, there have been diplomatic ups-and-downs between the two governments due to the divergence of the two countries’ political systems and ideology. Second, by comparison, bilateral ties have generally been improving for decades due to the reciprocal economic complementarities and cooperation despite the recent trade disputes. Third, Sino-Australian relations “has become more unequal with the passage of time” due to China’s rise. Fourth, the influence of the US on the foreign policy of Australia cannot be underestimated. In terms of structure, this part will be divided into four periods, posited on the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1972, the outbreak of Tiananmen Incident in 1989 and the recent decline of bilateral relations starting from 2015 with additional illustration of the influence of the US in Australian foreign policy.

The Pre-recognition politicial relations from 1949 to 1971

Graeme Dobell argues, “China has always loomed in the Australian consciousness”, possibly because Australia is geographically located in the Asia Pacific and surrounded by Asian countries with a significant number of ethnic Chinese. Historically, China was viewed in Australia as a threat, namely, “Yellow Peril”. The notion is a color-metaphor, full of racism. East Asians, especially the ethnic Chinese, are an existential hazard to other countries as immigrants.  Professor Gina Marchetti argues that

the rooted in medieval fears of Genghis Khan and Mongolian invasions of Europe, the yellow peril combines racist terrors of alien cultures, sexual anxieties, and the belief that the West will be overpowered and enveloped by the irresistible, dark, occult forces of the east.

In Australia, as a Western country located away from the West,  its Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, infamous as the White Australia Policy, was designed to prohibit Chinese settlers. “Fear of China and hostility to the Chinese immigrants were factors” that supported the Federation of Australia, and both factors existed for decades. The federating of Australia was the process by which the sixBritish colonies consented to unite and become the Commonwealth of Australia. Liberal Prime Minister Harold Holt formally abolished the White Australia Policy in 1966 with the introduction of the Migration Act 1966. By legislating legal equality among European and non-European migrants, this new Act has opened a new immigration history era. It has been the most crucial step in forminga multicultural society in Australia.

However, Australia’s unique geographic location and huge disparity of population between Australia and China have decided that the natural insecurity of Australia as a nation, for that linguistically, historically and intellectually, Australian ancestry originates from Europe, and its vital economic partner and most crucial military ally is the United States, both far away from Australia. Furthermore, Gyngell argues there is always “fear of abandonment” in Australian foreign policy. Likewise, former Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Gareth Evans and former Australian diplomat Bruce Grant confirm that

the evolution of Australian foreign policy needs to be assessed against a background in Australian politics of persistent anxiety about a threat from Asia: sometimes vague and undifferentiated, sometimes specific, but always there.

In this period, China was viewed in Australia as a threat, namely, the aforementioned “Yellow Peril” and “Red Menace”. Arguably, the Red Menace has always existed in the Australian society and the government until now,which is a term applied during the Cold War for describing a nation that faces the increasing authoritarian threat of communism. This term was used to refer to the Soviet Union, while nowadays, it has been employed to mean Communist China. Besides, the difference of scare only reflects the extent to which the Australian government fears the Chinese Communist Party. From 1949 to 1972, especially when Australian and Chinese troops participated in the Korean War as rivals and later the Cultural Revolution was launched in China, Sino-Australian relations were hostile to each other due to the fact they were both subordinated to different political and ideological camps: USSR-led communism and the United Stated-led capitalism.

The steady development of Sino-Australian political relations from 1972 to 1989

During this period, Sino-Australian relations encountered the most drastic ups and downs the bilateral ties have ever experienced. In 1972, the Whitlam Labor government’s election marked the most radical turning point in Sino-Australian history by establishing diplomatic relations with China in December of the same year. Despite the endeavor, Whitlam made, this new chapter of the bilateral relations is mainly dependent on the change of  China Policy from the strongest ally of Australia, the United States. More concretely, in the early 1970s, the American army was withdrawn from Vietnam, indirectly ending the military collisions with the People’s Liberation Army.At the beginning of 1972, Nixon has his dramatic visit to Beijing and Shanghai.

From 1972 to 1989, the bilateral relations were at the stage of steady development. Partly, the positive Sino-Australian relations can be attributed to the same view of opposing the Soviet threat, which facilitated the Sino-Australian cooperation. More specifically, in July 1973, the first Sino-Australian trade agreement was signed by the Chinese government and the Whitlam government. The visit of Whitlam to Beijing in late 1973 culminated in a joint communique, concurring with the promotion of views exchanges among the Sino-Australian officials. In 1976, during the period of the Coalition-led Fraser government, “the Australian Parliament even stood in silence in the honor” of Mao Zedong, when Mao passed away. In 1978, the Australia-China Council was built by the Coalition-led Fraser government to facilitate bilateral relations.

Furthermore, in the 1980s, with the economic reform of Deng Xiaoping and the incrementally frequent visits of Sino-Australian senior leaders, the Australian government saw the economic opportunities China may bring, and the Chinese government also realized the Chinese modernization might benefit from the support of Australia. Mackerras argues that “the mid-1980s saw the relationship reach a peak”. In 1984, the ALP-led Hawke government launched the China Action Plan, “an overall economic program towards China”, aiming to deepen bilateral economic cooperation. In 1985, Hawke told the Australian parliament that a ‘special relationship’ between the two countries was forming.

The realistic Sino-Australian political relations from 1990 to 2015

The outbreak of the Tiananmen Incident in 1989 was a devastating turnaround in Sino-Australian relations, bringing the vigorous relations to a sudden stop. To some extent, Deng’s economic reform gave Australia and the Western world an illusion that China tried to become more Western. Contrariwise, the Incident shattered misapprehension of the special relationship between the two countries and has pushed human rights to one of the central issues that needs to be addressed in the bilateral agenda until now. It is noteworthy that the negative influence of the Tiananmen Incident was in all domains. Antagonized by the Australian broadcasting of violence in Beijing, the Australian people, including politicians, business people, scholars and religious figures, unanimously condemned Beijing. All aspects of Sino-Australian relations were affected at varying levels.

Arguably, after the Tiananmen Incident, the attitudes of the Australian government has changed to be more pragmatic and national-interest-driven. Wang argues that  the reassessment of Sino-Australian relations “did not lead to a fundamental policy shift” in Canberra “and human rights were not emphasized to the detriment of Australia’s economic interests”. In 1993, as the first Australian Prime Minister after the Incident, Keating visited China, breaking the diplomatic ice, partly because he needed to push wool exports to China.

Noticeably, from 1989 to 2015, China and the comparison of world powers experienced earthshaking changes. The hazards of the Asian Financial Crisis in 1998 and the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 lead to the economic meltdown of some Southeastern countries and the relative decline of the West. Bearing the two Crises, China has benefited enormously, even the most, from joining the WTO and other regional and global economic organizations as a member of economic globalization. At the end of 2010, China surpassed Japan and has become the second-biggest global economy, indicating that the global economic center has gradually transferred to East Asia. During this period, Hong Kong and Macao were subsequently handed over to China, enhancing China’s confidence. There is no doubt that bilateral relations have been increasingly asymmetrical during this time, leading to the concept of equal partners less possible.

From 1989 to 2015, facing China’s economic rise, on the one hand, the Australian government and business took advantage of the historical opportunities and have been more engaged in the Chinese economy. For instance, the Coalition-led Howard government was a firm“ supporter for China’s accession to the WTO” to share better Chinese economic growth. In 2014, the Coalition-led Abbott government and the Chinese government started to portray the bilateral relations as a “comprehensive strategic partnership” due to the incremental and robust trade relations and more frequent communication between top leaders of the two sides. On the other hand, due to the different political ideologies and systems, and the gradually widening disparity of the two countries, there have been strong concerns in the Australian government that China may leverage trade over Australia. Foot  indicates the sense of uncertainty and insecurity in Canberra that

Has Beijing worked to support the dominant norms of the international order, or has it striven to overturn them? Has it ever deserved to be called “responsible power”, a term defined by the dominant states, or has it acted irresponsibly? To place these questions more explicitly within an international relations framework, has China shown itself since 1949, and more especially during the period of reform and opening since 1979, as capable of be socialized into supporting global norms? Or, as realists would predict, have there been signs that its rising power over the past two decades has generated new tensions in the international system? Looking more to the future, what kind challenge does its enhanced capabilities pose to the status quo?

Despite the dilemma that the Australian government has to face and the political ups and downs between the two countries during this period, “the growing sense of independence in formulating Australia’s policy towards China, as well as the increasing saliency of trade considerations in implementing such policy, has transcended political and inter-administration divides”. Thus, to some extent, although there were still ups and downs during this period from the ALP-led Hawke government to the Coalition-led Abbott government in 2015, the bilateral relations “appears to have become less uncertain” and matured. Arguably, the Australian government started to view China either without unjustified fear as they had before 1972, or super optimism as they had before 1989.

In fact, the differences may only exist in the style of how different administrations approach China. For instance, the first Mandarin-speaking Prime Minister Kevin Rudd introduced a concept called “Zhengyou in Chinese that means to voice different opinions to benefit the Chinese leadership. By comparison, another Prime Minister John Howard preferred to deal with China on more practical issues.

The increasingly strained bilateral political relations from 2016 to 2020

Bilateral relations have deteriorated since the exacerbation of territorial disputes in the South China Sea in 2016. The Australian government criticized China for not abiding by the South China Sea Arbitration, a joint statement with Japan and the US. In response, the Chinese government expressed its strong displeasure through its state-owned media the Global Times, denouncing Australia as a “paper cat”. Currently, the Australian government is concerned that Chinese activity in the South China Sea may threaten Asia pacific security, thus influencing Australian sovereignty and security.

More importantly, Australia’s closest and strongest ally, the US, initiated a trade war with China at the beginning of 2018.  Since Australia often follows American foreign policy, the increasingly intense Sino-American relations have negatively affected Sino-Australian relations. In the same year, Sino-Australian ties soured further when Australia became the first country to officially ban China’s Huawei from its 5G network. A similar prohibition on Huawei was later executed in the US in 2019.

In terms of domestic politics, there are continuously more negative speeches about China.Australian politician Andrew Hastie urges urged the Australian government and public to realistically recognize the unprecedented democratic conviction and security threat from China. He even goes “as far as to compare the Western tolerance of China’s rise with the appeasement of Nazi Germany”. Hamilton argues Chinese infiltration in Australia is a “silent invasion”. The Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton, one of most senior officers in the Liberal-Coalition-led Morrison administration, condemned China’s interference and cyber hacks in Australia and claimed that the policies of the CCP are incompatible with Australian values.

2020 may have been the most turbulent year for Sino-Australian relations so far. Facing the once-a-century Covid-19 pandemic, Beijing has taken trade actions against a series of Australian goods such as barley, cattle, wine, cotton and coal after the Morrison administration advocated an independent Covid-19 inquiry without consulting Beijing first.

The tension also extended to people-to-people exchange. Canberra has warned its residents against arbitrary arrest in China. In contrast, Beijing has cautioned against studying and visiting Australia due to purportedly increasing racism and discrimination against people of Chinese and Asian descent. At the end of 2020, Morrison reacted furiously and demanded an apology from Beijing to an image tweeted by a Chinese diplomat showing an Australian soldier holding a knife to an Afghan child’s throat, which has further shadowed current and future relations.

Meanwhile, despite the global pandemic, there is increasing scrutiny in Australian media, including of the Hong Kong anti-extradition bill, the Xinjiang re-education camp, and China’s political donation to Australian political parties, Chinese spy students, the fight between Hong Kong and Chinese students in Australia, the defection of Wang Liqiang, Huawei backdoor suspicion and the detention of Cheng Lei and Yang Hengjun. According to the Lowy Institute poll in 2019, Australians’s trust in China to ‘act responsibly’ has dropped to 32 %, a 20-point decline from 2018. In 2020, trust in China has deteriorated to 23%, the lowest point in the Poll’s history.

Whatever, if any, evidence underpins these narratives or not, they seem to point out one reality: the plummeting state of Sino-Australian relations. Geoff Raby, former Australian Ambassador to China, even argues that Sino-Australian relations are at their lowest ebb since 1972.It may be controversial to argue that the current bilateral relations are worse than the relations in 1989, but it is appropriate to point out the reality that the Sino-Australian relations have been incrementally damaged. The Australian government’s dilemma is the overreliance of the Australian trade upon China and the exacerbated political disagreement. Jonathan Pearlman argues that “security and economics are tugging Canberra in different directions, as are its values and its interests”.

The Influence of the United States in Australian foreign policy

Undoubtedly, the Australian foreign policy has been influenced by the American government, as Australia has been called the “fifty-first state” of the US. Australia and the US have the same language background, similar European ancestry, similar political systems and strong economic ties. More importantly, in 1951, Canberra and Washington agreed on the Australia, New Zealand and United States Security Treaty (ANZUS), regulating that “an attack on either country’s armed forces or territory in the Pacific area” means “common danger” for the three countries. Since the US abolished its responsibilities to New Zealand due to the disputes of nuclear-armed ships, the ANZUS has become a bilateral treaty between Australia and the US and, separately, between Australia and New Zealand.

Given the American economic and military power around the world and the substantial disparity of Australia-American strengths, it is easy to argue that the ANZUS is the cornerstone of Australian security, and the US is the most important ally of Australia. In fact, Australia followed the US’s leadership through the UN, in the Korean War in 1950, the Vietnam War in 1962, the Afghanistan War in 2001 and the Iraq War in 2003 and recognized the PRC after the Nixon government had changed its China policy. To underpin the above view, Tow and Albinski affirm that the “ANZUS alliance remains Australia’s primary security relationship”. The former Australian diplomat Dr.Alison Broinowski argue that

Australia uncritically and voluntarily imitates its major ally (the United States) and its minor ally (the United Kingdom) in most things, yet lacks the capacity to do them well and the independence to do them differently. Having taken the drug of dependence from birth, Australia seems allied and addicted to it.

Thus, it is easy to question how independent Australia’s foreign policy is, especially its China policy, and argue that Australia does generally imitate the US’s foreign policy. As for the recent downturn of bilateral relations, Geoff Raby, an insider of Australia politics, believes that Canberra has developed policies to push back China’s rise in that the US started regarding China as a strategic competitor.

However, there is some policy flexibility in the Australian government, mainly economic-interests-motivated. To cite an instance, despite the opposition of the US, Australia participated in the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in 2015 and leased the Port of Darwin to a Chinese company in the same year. Australia took the position as an outsider in terms of the Sino-American trade war, suggesting the two sides to end the fight to avoid the risks of collateral damage to Australia. Even in the 1950s and 1960s, when the Australian government adopted a hostile attitude towards China, the wheat trade between China and Australia“reached a significant level”.

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The Economic Revival of Japan

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Photo: Jezael Melgoza/ Unsplash

Amidst the uncertainty weaved by the pandemic, the stock markets around the world have shunned the preconceived notions associated to their functionality over the past year. While some sophisticated economies are suffering turmoil at the ensue of new Covid variants, deviant vaccination drives, and resumption of state-wide lockdowns, some of the countries are outright negating the educated forecasts made by seasoned financial experts all over the globe. China stands as a flag-bearer of such reality-defying markets: bagging GDP growth unlike any in the world whilst simultaneously controlling the virus strain in Beijing. Recent to the tally, however, is the quaint nation of Japan that despite being head-to-head with another gruesome wave of Coronavirus, still manages to consistently outperform the hailed champions of the global financial markets.

The 3rd biggest economy in the world astonished the financial gurus when Nikkei 225, Japan’s core stock market Index, soared up steadily over the last few weeks. With a 1.9% hike at the week’s opening on Monday, 15th February, Nikkei 225 Index surpassed the coveted 30000-point threshold after more than three decades. The economic rebound is associated to the export sector picking up the pace after a sluggish performance last year. The country still wrestles with the throttle of the pandemic; confirming over 1000 Covid-positive patients since November 16th and adding the cumulative death toll of 7056; surpassing the 7000 deaths mark in just under two weeks.

The positive effect, however, dawns since the daily confirmed cases are showing a steady drop; below 1000 daily-confirmed cases in over 4 months. This occurrence is in tandem to the global fall in the Covid cases. Moreover, Japan’s approval of the Covid vaccine produced by Pfizer Inc. is reflecting the recovery in the health condition of the country, especially a lucrative news amidst the second health emergency recently imposed in Tokyo.

Standing at the 30393.13-point mark, Nikkei 225 is expected to follow the bullish trend heavily over the following week as well. According to the measured forecasts, the bourse is optimally headed to strike the 33000-point mark after crossing the milestone of triple decades. This is due to the positive economic outlook in tandem to the rebooting of the global economy which would ultimately enable the export-reliant country. With Japan announcing a 12.7% GDP growth trailing from the recovery of the last quarter of 2020, followed by a hefty government stimulus to prompt domestic consumption, the Japanese bourse is expected to inflate by up to 30% by the end of the first quarter of 2021 in March, presumably speculating a record surge to bypass the highest ever figure of 38915.87-point, posted by Nikkei 225 back in 1989 before being subsequently floored by the notorious price bubble crash.

However, the economic recovery much less a record shattering surge in the market is heavily dependent on some of the core facets. The debacle of the nationalisation of vaccines is evident in Europe and ironically is the crisis posing more of a serious threat than the pandemic itself. Japan’s economic stability would only be possible given the vaccinations are administered effectively and timely with minimal resistance. As Japan still finds it hard to evade the emergency measures introduced in multiple regions, a vaccine crisis could intensify the emergency precautions and lockdowns may even gear into effect. This could seriously undermine the production capabilities of the country which ultimately could carry forward as an element hampering the blooming investor confidence in Japan.

Much to the global conformity of economic peril last year, Japan’s economy also contracted by 4.8% in 2020. The steep contraction, despite being of a greater extent relative to the 3.5% annualised shrinkage in the US economy, was still much controlled than the forecasted 5.3% fall projected by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). However, unlike some of the regional economies, the pandemic-induced decline lasted only for a short span of time before Japan waded through and rallied. Posting a 3% growth in the 4th quarter of 2020, when major economies like Germany and US grappled with recession, Japan steadily made surface.

Now as the pessimism looms in Europe and the political divide worsens in US, Investors are pouring confidence in Japanese equities which provide a solid foundation to the already surging Japanese Indices. This shift in perspective could be gauged by the purview of global stock positions taken by the active equity investors throughout the globe; pouring investments unlike the sceptical position adopted since January. The increasing investor confidence coupled by the improving economic and social health of Japan has proved monumental on the financial charts; despite being in the highs of a heavy stimulus, S&P 500 continues to be outperformed by Nikkei 225, sometimes even falling short by colossal margins to the returns added by the Japanese Index.

Which way the markets would turn and how Japan could sustain the whelming economic recovery depends largely on how Japan deals with Covid and how efficiently it regulates the vaccination drives. Moreover, Japan’s success may be upped the ante by any new misery that might befall on US or Europe that could ultimately drive more confidence and flare to the 3rdlargest economy of the world.

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East Asia

Mongolia-World Bank Group Partnership: Three Decades of Partnering for Prosperity

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It all began exactly thirty years ago. On February 14, 1991, the eve of Tsagaan Sar, Mongolia joined the World Bank Group[1]. This was the period when the country had just gotten on the path of democracy, free market, and openness to the outside world.  Mongolia rightly took pride in this transition but, at the same time, it presented enormous challenges, including a sharp economic contraction. Following the cut of external aid, the hardship was felt by Mongolians every day. Long lines were visible on every street corner for rationed food.

The World Bank’s support was quick to arrive. By the end of 1991, the first project of $30 million was already signed to help rehabilitate production in key sectors such as agriculture, energy and transport. The World Bank also carried out a comprehensive macroeconomic analysis, zooming in on the immediate challenges of runaway inflation and falling output.

Since these early days three decades ago, the World Bank Group (WBG) has accompanied Mongolia’s strong recovery and development, culminating in the country’s graduation from the International Development Association (IDA) – the WBG’s lending window for low income countries – last year. Mongolia’s economy has expanded significantly over this period, with GDP per capita rising more than fourfold from $1,072 in 1991 to $4,339 in 2019. But growth has been volatile. Like many other resource-rich countries in the world, Mongolia experienced persistent boom-and-bust cycles. Economic diversification remains critical to generate productive jobs, especially for the young. People’s living standards have improved, but growth did not not generate shared prosperity for all. Mongolian citizens expect their government to deliver quality education and health services, and provide for a clean and safe living environment. Their aspirations have not yet been fully realized.

Through good and difficult times, the WBG has remained a steadfast partner of Mongolia. Our budget support operations helped Mongolia restore macroeconomic stability and lay the foundations for inclusive growth. Our investments contributed to economic development in both mining and non-mining sectors, improving people’s livelihoods, and addressing environment and climate challenges. A total of $1.28 billion World Bank financing has been committed to Mongolia for these years. The WBG’s private sector arms—the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA)—have also been active in supporting private investments.

The investments have helped improve people’s livelihoods across the country. In the energy sector, we supported electricity access to over 100,000 rural and herder families providing them with portable solar panels in the 2000s. In the early 2000s, the World Bank telecommunications project helped all 360 soums in Mongolia gain access to modern phone and internet services. To help herders mitigate natural disaster risks, we supported the world’s first index-based livestock insurance system in Mongolia. To improve governance, we helped revamp the statistical system in Mongolia to match international standards to inform decision making, and empowered citizens to make their voice heard on public expenditure allocations at local levels. IFC financed Mongolia’s first utility-scale windfarm for the country and supported reforms to increase access to finance for SMEs through enabling movable collateral.   

Most recently, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the WBG quickly mobilized over $60 million to support the relief and stimulus measures for saving lives, protecting the poor and vulnerable, and ensuring sustainability of businesses and jobs. These resources are being invested for the most essential medical and diagnostic equipment in three tertiary hospitals, nine district hospitals of the capital city and 21 aimags, personal protective equipment for frontline health workers, and training for medical staff. A new project, which would finance the vaccination of about 60 percent of Mongolians has just been approved. The Bank is also financing the temporary relief of social insurance contribution for over 120,000 self-employed workers including 72,000 women and around 150,000 workers employed by 18,000 firms affected by COVID-19. Bank support has also benefited approximately 1.19 million children through the top-up payments to the government’s Child Money Program.

After thirty years of partnership with the World Bank Group, Mongolia has become a lower-middle-income country and its vision is to become by 2050 a high-income country with high levels of human development, better quality of life, a diversified economy, and good governance. This is an aspiration we will continue to support. To turn it into reality will be challenging. The first step will be to gradually phase out short-term relief measures and return to the important agenda of structural reforms which are needed to rekindle growth and make it sustainable and inclusive. Over the medium-term, Mongolia will have to contend with the growing risks associated with climate change, and the challenges this will bring to the structure of its economy. And it will need to offer its youth the perspective of productive, well-paying jobs, to retain the country’s talents at home.

The WBG is honored to have been Mongolia’s trusted partner over the past thirty years. We are confident that our partnership will continue and further strengthen in the decades ahead, rain or shine.

 [1] Mongolia joined the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), International Development Association (IDA), the International Finance Corporation (IFC), and International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in 1991; and Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) in 1999.  All these organizations together known as the World Bank Group.

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