Connect with us

East Asia

Diplomatic Maneuvers for China-US trade war: December 2018 agreement

Bassem Elmaghraby

Published

on

On the sidelines of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina on December 1st 2018 the US President Donald Trump and the Chinese President Xi Jinping concluded a conditional trade agreement, according to which Beijing has to reduce its current trade surplus with the US by increasing Chinese purchases of soybeans, natural gas, commercial aircraft and some other US industrial goods. In contrast, Washington will maintain the tariff rate on Chinese exports to US of US$200 billion at 10 percent, instead of increasing it to 25 percent, which was due to come into force on Jan 1st 2019.

Although some commentators, politicians, or scholars over-optimistically described that deal as the end of the trade war, or at least a first step, between the two countries, including President Trump himself; but in fact by analyzing the reasons behind the two countries’ decision to conclude such agreement and whether this agreement paves the way for a final trade agreement or not, and what obstacles may stand in the way of reaching a final trade agreement between the two countries, it seems more likely to be a beneficial truce or a diplomatic solution to gain more time, calming the growing escalation of the trade war and to control its affiliated losses from both sides. Accordingly, the first question that may come in mind is how the future trade relations could be between the two countries?

The coming sections attempt to answer these questions by explaining the reasons behind conducting such agreement for the two sides, the main barriers or obstacles that may prevent reaching a commercial peace between the two countries, and the prospected future of US-China trade relations based on these factors as following:

Why to conclude such agreement?

Based on the rational choice approach, the simple answer of this question is that such agreement is beneficial for both of them; and in fact it is also beneficial for all the international economy, at least to stop the continued losses of both countries.

For the United States

In order to control the losses of the American economy since the beginning of the trade war, where the indicators of the American stock markets declined sharply during October and November 2018; large losses suffered by the American farmers because of China’s imports reduction of agricultural products and soybeans in particular, where 60 percent of its total US production were importing by Beijing; and the costs of the US Department of Agriculture increased for providing almostUS$12 billion as aid to farmers and breeders affected by the trade war.

Seek to improve the trade balance with China, where the Chinese trade surplus have been increased to $293.5 billion from January to November 2018, comparing with $251.3 billion in the same period previous year; combined with increase the Chinese exports to the US by 9.8% annually since November 2018, While imports fell by 25% during the same month.

In addition, to avoid any further economic damages or losses that may occur because of the continued escalation of the trade war between the two countries whether to the American or the international economy, Moreover, to face the internal pressure of his strong opposition, and for the re-election considerations.

The agreement came shortly after the G20 industrialized nations backed an overhaul of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which regulates international trade disputes, giving a symbolic victory for Trump administration, a sharp critic of the organization.

For China

To reduce the negative impact of the trade war, where the Chinese economy suffered from a decline in the economic growth rate during the third quarter of 2018,the defaults in the payment of corporate bond yields, and the decline in property prices; in addition to the devaluation of the Chinese currency since May 2018 by more than 8%, Which is warning to slow the economic growth to 6.3 percent next year compared to the current growth rate of 6.5 percent.

To avoid increasing US tariffs that would undermine China’s economic growth prospects, and increase pressure on its financial markets.

In addition to maintain the stability of the international economy, in order to avoid any negative effects on the Chinese economic ambitions such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) whether directly or indirectly.

– Based on the abovementioned reasons it seems clear that such agreement is a beneficial for both sides to gain more time and prepare themselves for a second round of the trade war, or at least to stop the terrible consequences of the trade war escalation.

Obstacles of a commercial peace between the two countries

There are many obstacles or barriers that prevent a long-term commercial peace between China and the US such as:

The low level of trust between the two countries because of many of the thorny issues among them such as addressing Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) protection, the synthetic opioid fentanyl being sent from China to the United States, non-tariff barriers, cybercrimes, cyber-security, services and agriculture; and especially after the United States accuses Beijing of forcing American and foreign companies in general to disclose trade secrets versus access to the Chinese market.

The different understanding of the agreement by the two sides and the lack of clear future trade talks between them are also stumbling blocks in commercial peace way; while president Trump pledged to freeze tariffs in exchange for China’s commitment to reduce bilateral trade deficit with the US, but it is still unclear what exactly Beijing proposed; where the reports published by China’s state-owned media completely deny Beijing’s commitment to reduce the trade deficit with the US. In addition, whether China can reduce its tariffs on the American products, also the quantities and timing to resume its purchases of American goods are not clear. In addition to tariffs on Chinese goods, Trump has imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports into the United States this year. Numerous countries have filed litigation at the WTO to contest the levies.

Arresting the chief financial director of Huawei Communications Technology in Canada (the daughter of Huawei’s founder, the second largest smart phone company in the world)on December 1st 2018 (the same day as the agreement was concluded); and the American requests to extradition on charges of posing a threat to US national security arguing that the technology it uses can be used by the Chinese government for espionage. Additionally, the US companies were banned from exporting to the Chinese telecommunications company ZT earlier 2018 due to Iranian sanctions had been violated. Accordingly, the Chinese Vice Foreign Ministry has summoned the US Ambassador to China on Dec. 9 in a protest over the arrest. There is no doubt that this issue will affect the scheduled talks between the two countries; While the Trump administration insists that it will not affect the ongoing trade talks, Beijing believes that it is just an American attempt to contain China’s technological ambitions. In response, Beijing may have to take some measures to calm the mounting public anger, bearing in mind that a Chinese court decision to ban the sale and import of most iPhone models on Dec 10.

The fact that the competition between the two countries is much farther than the limits of the trade warand trade is one aspect of this competition, where from the Communist Party of China’s perspective the United States seeks to bring about comprehensive changes may reach the extent of changing the Chinese political system, and obstacle the Chinese economic and political aspirations.

Indeed there are many indications that the Trump administration consider the issue as much greater than a trade war by aiming to contain or undermine China’s rise in the world and maintain the American economic and political hegemony over the world for instance the US national security strategy and Trump hint to withdraw from the Nuclear Weapons Agreement, the declaration of the free and open Indo-Pacific economic zone, and the American opposition to BRI as well as the Made in China 2025’splan. In addition, the adoption of the America First policy gives the impression that the United States is seeking concessions, not to improve trade relations, but to maintain American hegemony. Furthermore, the historical experience proves that the American perspective in dealing with the international issues mostly characterized by realism features, where as soon as it considered any state as their rival the caution will prevail on their relations and keeps working and set strategies to win the zero-sum game with this state.

The narrow timeframe of the agreement, which lasts for no more than 90 days for further talks with the aim of structural changes on some thorny and complex issues, therefore, it is difficult to resolve this long list of issues in that short timeframe.

Furthermore, the two countries are also at odds over some other issues such as the China’s extensive claims in the South China Sea and U.S. warship movements through the highly sensitive Taiwan Strait.

Future of US-China Trade Relations

Whether the two countries could reach a commercial peace or not is depending heavily on their ability to overcome the above challenges and the real willingness of both sides to take concrete steps to end their trade war.

From one side, there are some steps or measures from the both sides to contain and avoid the escalation of trade war such as President Xi’s agree to designate fentanyl a controlled substance during the meeting, the Chinese announcement to slash on US-made autos from 40 percent to 15 percent in an attempt to show its willingness to calm the tension with Washington.

In the same context, whether the annual sessions of the National People’s Congress, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) scheduled for March 2019 may lead to substantial changes to China’s economic policy will be a decisive factor in determining the future of the US-China trade war. On the other hand, the announcement of President Trump on December 11 that he may intervene in the Justice Department’s case against the chief financial director of Huawei if it would be in the interest of U.S. national security and help forge a trade deal with China, gives an impression that both sides have a desire not to escalate the trade war or at least express their fearing about the consequences of this escalation.

From another perspective, it’s arguable that the US-China trade agreement is very similar to the agreement between Washington and the European Union in July 2018, which included strengthen the free trade measures and the announcement of more European purchases of the American agricultural products. But the agreement is in danger of collapse, with President Trump threatening once again to impose a 20 percent tariff on all cars and spare parts imported from the EU. The same scenario is possible with China as long as it serve the American interests, especially with the lack of a final agreement on what Washington considers as unfair trade practices by China in the areas of cyber espionage, piracy and intellectual property rights violations. With bearing in mind that the White House said talks would take place to resolve within the next 90 days specific US complaints such as forced technology transfer, or else existing 10 percent tariffs would go up to 25 per cent.

Political Science Lecturer Assistant, Suez Canal University, Egypt; and Ph.D. candidate at Jilin University, China

Continue Reading
Comments

East Asia

Deeper meanings of the Hong Kong protests: Is China a gamechanger or yet another winner?

Anis H. Bajrektarevic

Published

on

Does our history only appear overheated, while it is essentially calmly predetermined? Is it directional or conceivable, dialectic and eclectic or cyclical, and therefore cynical? Surely, our history warns. Does it also provide for a hope? Hence, what is in front of us: destiny or future?

Theory loves to teach us that extensive debates on what kind of economic system is most conductive to human wellbeing is what consumed most of our civilizational vertical. However, our history has a different say: It seems that the manipulation of the global political economy – far more than the introduction of ideologies – is the dominant and arguably more durable way that human elites usually conspired to build or break civilizations, as planned projects. Somewhere down the process, it deceived us, becoming the self-entrapment. How?

One of the biggest (nearly schizophrenic) dilemmas of liberalism, ever since David Hume and Adam Smith, was an insight into reality: Whether the world is essentially Hobbesian or Kantian. As postulated, the main task of any liberal state is to enable and maintain wealth of its nation, which of course rests upon wealthy individuals inhabiting the particular state. That imperative brought about another dilemma: if wealthy individual, the state will rob you, but in absence of it, the pauperized masses will mob you.

The invisible hand of Smith’s followers have found the satisfactory answer – sovereign debt. That ‘invention’ meant: relatively strong central government of the state. Instead of popular control through the democratic checks-&-balance mechanism, such a state should be rather heavily indebted. Debt – firstly to local merchants, than to foreigners – is a far more powerful deterrent, as it resides outside the popular check domain.

With such a mixed blessing, no empire can easily demonetize its legitimacy, and abandon its hierarchical but invisible and unconstitutional controls. This is how a debtor empire was born. A blessing or totalitarian curse? Let us briefly examine it.

The Soviet Union – much as (the pre-Deng’s) China itself – was far more of a classic continental military empire (overtly brutal; rigid, authoritative, anti-individual, apparent, secretive), while the US was more a financial-trading empire (covertly coercive; hierarchical, yet asocial, exploitive, pervasive, polarizing). On opposite sides of the globe and cognition, to each other they remained enigmatic, mysterious and incalculable: Bear of permafrost vs. Fish of the warm seas. Sparta vs. Athens. Rome vs. Phoenicia… However, common for the both was a super-appetite for omnipresence. Along with the price to pay for it.

Consequently, the Soviets went bankrupt by mid 1980s – they cracked under its own weight, imperially overstretched. So did the Americans – the ‘white man burden’ fractured them already by the Vietnam war, with the Nixon shock only officializing it. However, the US imperium managed to survive and to outlive the Soviets. How?

The United States, with its financial capital (or an outfoxing illusion of it), evolved into a debtor empire through the Wall Street guaranties. Titanium-made Sputnik vs. gold mine of printed-paper… Nothing epitomizes this better than the words of the longest serving US Federal Reserve’s boss, Alan Greenspan, who famously quoted J.B. Connally to then French President Jacques Chirac: “True, the dollar is our currency, but your problem”. Hegemony vs. hegemoney.

House of Cards

Conventional economic theory teaches us that money is a universal equivalent to all goods. Historically, currencies were a space and time-related, to say locality-dependent. However, like no currency ever before, the US dollar became – past the WWII – the universal equivalent to all other moneys of the world. According to history of currencies, the core component of the non-precious metals’ money is a so-called promissory note – intangible belief that,by any given point in future, a particular shiny paper (self-styled as money) will be smoothly exchanged for real goods.

Thus, roughly speaking, money is nothing else but a civilizational construct about imagined/projected tomorrow – that the next day (which nobody has ever seen in the history of humankind, but everybody operates with) definitely comes (i), and that this tomorrow will certainly be a better day then our yesterday or even our today (ii).

This and similar types of collective constructs (horizontal and vertical) over our social contracts hold society together as much as its economy keeps it alive and evolving. Hence, it is money that powers economy, but our blind faith in constructed (imagined) tomorrows and its alleged certainty is what empowers money.

Clearly, the universal equivalent of all equivalents – the US dollar – follows the same pattern: Bold and widely accepted promise. What does the US dollar promise when there is no gold cover attached to it ever since the time of Nixon shock of 1971?

Pentagon promises that the oceanic sea-lanes will remain opened (read: controlled by the US Navy), pathways unhindered, and that the most traded world’s commodity – oil, will be delivered. So, it is not a crude or its delivery what is a cover to the US dollar – it is a promise that oil of tomorrow will be deliverable. That is a real might of the US dollar, which in return finances Pentagon’s massive expenditures and shoulders its supremacy.

Admired and feared, Pentagon further fans our planetary belief in tomorrow’s deliverability – if we only keep our faith in dollar (and hydrocarbons’ energized economy), and so on and on in perpetuated circle of mutual reinforcements.

These two pillars of the US might from the East coast (the US Treasury/Wall Street and Pentagon) together with the two pillars of the West coast – both financed and amplified by the US dollar, and spread through the open sea-routs (Silicone Valley and Hollywood), are an essence of the US posture.

This very nature of power explains why the Americans have missed to take the mankind into completely other direction; towards the non-confrontational, decarbonized, de-monetized/de-financialized and de-psychologized, the self-realizing and green humankind. In short, to turn history into a moral success story. They had such a chance when, past the Gorbachev’s unconditional surrender of the Soviet bloc, and the Deng’s Copernicus-shift of China, the US – unconstrained as a lonely superpower – solely dictated terms of reference; our common destiny and direction/s to our future/s.

Winner is rarely a game-changer

Sadly enough, that was not the first missed opportunity for the US to soften and delay its forthcoming, imminent multidimensional imperial retreat. The very epilogue of the WWII meant a full security guaranty for the US: Geo-economically – 54% of anything manufactured in the world was carrying the Made in USA label, and geostrategically – the US had uninterruptedly enjoyed nearly a decade of the ‘nuclear monopoly’. Up to this very day, the US scores the biggest number of N-tests conducted, the largest stockpile of nuclear weaponry, and it represents the only power ever deploying this ‘ultimate weapon’ on other nation. To complete the irony, Americans enjoy geographic advantage like no other empire before. Save the US, as Ikenberry notes: “…every major power in the world lives in a crowded geopolitical neighborhood where shifts in power routinely provoke counterbalancing”. Look the map, at Russia or China and their packed surroundings. The US is blessed with its insular position, by neighboring oceans. All that should harbor tranquility, peace and prosperity, foresightedness.

Why the lonely might, an empire by invitation did not evolve into empire of relaxation, a generator of harmony? Why does it hold (extra-judicially) captive more political prisoners on Cuban soil than the badmouthed Cuban regime has ever had? Why does it remain obsessed with armament for at home and abroad? Why existential anxieties for at home and security challenges for abroad ? (Eg. 78% of all weaponry at disposal in the wider MENA theater is manufactured in the US, while domestically Americans – only for their civilian purpose – have 1,2 small arms pieces per capita.)

Why the fall of Berlin Wall 30 years ago marked a beginning of decades of stagnant or failing incomes in the US (and elsewhere in the OECD world) coupled with alarming inequalities. What are we talking about here; the inadequate intensity of our tireless confrontational push or about the false course of our civilizational direction? 

Indeed, no successful and enduring empire does merely rely on coercion, be it abroad or at home. The grand design of every empire in past rested on a skillful calibration between obedience and initiative – at home, and between bandwagoning and engagement – abroad. In XXI century, one wins when one convinces not when one coerces. Hence, if unable to escape its inner logics and deeply-rooted appeal of confrontational nostalgia, the prevailing archrival is only a winner, rarely a game-changer.

To sum up; After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Americans accelerated expansion while waiting for (real or imagined) adversaries to further decline, ‘liberalize’ and bandwagon behind the US. Expansion is the path to security dictatum only exacerbated the problems afflicting the Pax Americana. That is how the capability of the US to maintain its order started to erode faster than the capacity of its opponents to challenge it. A classical imperial self-entrapment!!

The repeated failure to notice and recalibrate its imperial retreat brought the painful hangovers to Washington by the last presidential elections. Inability to manage the rising costs of sustaining the imperial order only increased the domestic popular revolt and political pressure to abandon its ‘mission’ altogether. Perfectly hitting the target to miss everything else …

Hence, Americans are not fixing the world any more. They are only managing its decline. Look at their (winner) footprint in former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria – to mention but a few.

When the Soviets lost their own indigenous ideological matrix and maverick confrontational stance, and when the US dominated West missed to triumph although winning the Cold War, how to expect from the imitator to score the lasting moral or even amomentary economic victory?

Neither more confrontation and more carbons nor more weaponized trade and traded weapons will save our day. It failed in past, it will fail again any given day.

Interestingly, China opposed the I World, left the II in rift, and ever since Bandung of 1955 it neither won over nor (truly) joined the III Way. Today, many see it as a main contestant. But, where is a lasting success?

(The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is what the most attribute as an instrument of the Chinese planetary posture. Chinese leaders promised massive infrastructure projects all around by burning trillions of dollars. Still, numbers are more moderate. As the recent The II BRI Summit has shown, so far, Chinese companies had invested $90 worldwide. Seems, neither People’s Republic is as rich as many (wish to) think nor it will be able to finance its promised projects without seeking for a global private capital. Such a capital –if ever – will not flow without conditionalities. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the BRICS or ‘New Development’ – Bank have some $150 billion at hand, and the Silk Road Infrastructure Fund (SRIF) has up to $40 billion. Chinese state and semi-private companies can access – according to the OECD estimates – just another $600 billion (much of it tight) from the home, state-controlled financial sector. That means that China runs short on the BRI deliveries worldwide. Ergo, either bad news to the (BRI) world or the conditionalities’ constrained China.)

Greening international relations along with a greening of economy – geopolitical and environmental understanding, de-acidification and relaxation is the only way out.

That necessitates both at once: less confrontation over the art-of-day technology and their monopolies’ redistribution (as preached by the Sino-American high priests of globalization) as well as the resolute work on the so-called Tesla-ian implosive/fusion-holistic systems(including free-energy technologies; carbon-sequestration; antigravity and self-navigational solutions; bioinformatics and nanorobotics). More of initiative than of obedience (including more public control over data hoovering). More effort to excellence (creation) than struggle for preeminence (partition).

Finally, no global leader has ever in history emerged from a shaky and distrustful neighborhood, or by offering a little bit more of the same in lieu of an innovative technological advancement. (Eg. many see the Chinese 5G as an illiberal innovation, which may end up servicing authoritarianism, anywhere. And indeed, the AI deep learning inspired by biological neurons (neural science) including its three methods: supervised, unsupervised and reinforced learning can end up used for the digital authoritarianism, predictive policing and manufactured social governance based on the bonus-malus behavioral social credits.)

Ergo, it all starts from within, from at home. Without support from a home base (including that of Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet), there is no game changer. China’s home is Asia. Its size and its centrality along with its impressive output is constraining it enough.

Hence, it is not only a new, non-imitative, turn of technology what is needed. Without truly and sincerely embracing mechanisms such as the NaM, ASEAN and SAARC (eventually even the OSCE) and the main champions of multilateralism in Asia, those being India Indonesia and Japan first of all, China has no future of what is planetary awaited – the third force, a game-changer, lasting visionary and trusted global leader.

Post Scriptum:

To varying degrees, but all throughout a premodern and modern history, nearly every world’s major foreign policy originator was dependent (and still depends) on what happens in, and to, Russia. It is not only a size, but also centrality of Russia that matters. It is as much (if not even more), as it is an omnipresence of the US and as it is a hyper production of the PR China.

Ergo, it is an uninterrupted flow of manufactured goods to the whole world, it is balancing of the oversized and centrally positioned one, and it is the ability to controllably destruct the way in and insert itself of the peripheral one. The oscillatory interplay of these three is what characterizes our days.

Continue Reading

East Asia

Uyghur asylum seeker puts international community on the spot

Dr. James M. Dorsey

Published

on

Ablikim Yusuf, a 53-year old Uyghur Muslim seeking a safe haven from potential Chinese persecution, landed this week in the United States, his new home.

But Mr. Yusuf’s perilous search that took him from Pakistan to Qatar to Bosnia Herzegovina where was refused entry and back to Qatar highlighted China’s inability to enforce its depiction of the brutal clampdown on Turkic Muslims in its troubled, north-western province of Xinjiang as a purely domestic matter.

Mr. Yusuf’s case also spotlighted the risk of increased mass migration in a world in which ethnic and religious minorities increasingly feel existentially threatened by civilizationalist policies pursued by illiberal and authoritarian leaders as well as supremacists, racists and far-right nationalist groups.

By choosing Qatar Airways and making Doha his first point of landing after leaving his residence in Pakistan, Mr. Yusuf further underscored the fragility of Muslim acquiescence in the Chinese clampdown and called into question application of Qatar’s asylum law. With the adoption of the law, Qatar last year became the first Arab state to legalize asylum.

While Mr. Yusuf is fortunate to have ended his ordeal with his arrival in the United States, his case accentuated the hypocrisy of the Trump administration that has demonized migrants and refugees and “weaponized” US human rights policy.

Mr. Yusuf’s plight serves the United States as it fights an escalating trade war with China and has made the clampdown in Xinjiang one of the opportunistically selected cases of human rights violations it is willing to emphasize.

Mr Yusuf put Qatar and the international community on the spot when he last weekend posted online a mobile phone video pleading for help hours before he was slated to be deported from Doha’s Hamad International Airport to Beijing.

The plea generated thousands of retweets by Uyghur activists and won him assistance from an American human rights lawyer and ultimately asylum in the US.

If deported to China, Mr. Yusuf would have risked being incarcerated in a re-education camp which has been an involuntary home for an estimated one million Uyghurs in China as part of what amounts to the worst assault on a faith in recent history.

China said last month that the majority of the detainees in what it describes as vocational training facilities had been released and “returned to society” but independent observers say there is no evidence that the camps are being emptied.

Mr. Yusuf decided to leave his home in Pakistan for safer pastures after Pakistan became one of up to 50 countries that signed a letter in support of the clampdown.

Concerned that Pakistan, the largest beneficiary of Chinese Belt and Road-related investment, could deport its Uyghur residents, Mr. Yusuf travelled on a Chinese travel document rather than a passport that was valid only for travel to China. China’s issuance of such documents is designed to force Uyghurs to return.

The travel document provided cover for Qatar’s initial decision to return him to China rather than potentially spark Chinese ire by granting him asylum. International pressure persuaded Qatar to give Mr. Yusuf the opportunity to find a country that would accept him.

China’s clampdown in Xinjiang is but the sharp edge of a global trend fuelled by the rise of leaders across the globe in countries ranging from the United States to China, Russia, India, Hungary, Turkey and Myanmar who think in civilizational terms, undermine minority rights, wittingly or unwittingly legitimize violence, and risk persuading large population groups to migrate in search of safer pastures.

Hate crimes have gripped the United States with critics of President Donald J. Trump charging, despite his explicit condemnation this week of white supremacism, that his hardline attitude and language when it comes to migrants and refugees has created an enabling environment.

Violence against Muslims in India, home to the world’s second largest Muslim community, has increased dramatically with 90 percent of religious hate crimes in the last decade having occurred since Narendra Modi became prime minister.

Some 750,000 Rohingya linger in Bangladeshi refugee camps after fleeing persecution in Myanmar while Islamophobia has become part of US, European and Chinese discourse and Jews in Europe fear a new wave of anti-Semitism.

Italy took efforts to counter migration that are likely to aggravate rather than alleviate a crisis a step further by adopting a law that would slap fines of up to US$1.12 million on those seeking to rescue migrants adrift at sea.

The Chinese clampdown that bars most Uyghurs from travel and seeks to force those abroad to return has so far spared the world yet another stream of people desperate to find a secure and safe home. The risk of an eventual Uyghur exodus remains with the fallout of the Chinese re-education effort yet to be seen.

Mr. Yusuf could well prove to be not only the tip of the Uyghur iceberg but of a future global crisis as a result of an international community that not only increasingly has turned its back on those in need but also pursues exclusionary rather than inclusionary policies.

Continue Reading

East Asia

China’s risky bets

Dr. James M. Dorsey

Published

on

China’s infrastructure and energy driven US$1 trillion Belt and Road initiative involves risky bets across a swath of land populated by often illiberal or autocratic governments exercising power without independent checks and balances.

Seeking to reduce risk, China is bumping up against the limits of its own long-standing foreign and defence policy principles, foremost among which its insistence on non-interference in the domestic affairs of others, the equivalent of the United States’ preference for stability rather than political change.

If popular revolts in Algeria and Sudan as well as smaller, issues-oriented protests elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa are anything to go by, China appears to be betting against the odds.

Anti-corruption sentiment fuelled the 2011 popular Arab revolts that toppled the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen and are at the root of current anti-government protests across the globe in countries as far flung as Brazil, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Russia, Zambia, the Czech Republic, Albania and Romania

China’s risks were evident in the wake of the fall in 2011 of Col. Moammar Gaddafi when the post-revolt Libyan authorities advised China that it would be low on the totem pole as a result of its support of the ancien regime.

The risks are also evident with Baloch militants targeting Chinese assets and personnel in Pakistan.

To minimize the risk and expand its aggressive domestic anti-graft campaign, China’s top anti-corruption body, the Communist party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), is embedding inspectors in Belt and Road projects, who will be based in recipient countries.

The move helps China counter allegations that it exploits corruption in recipient Belt and Road countries to further its objectives.

Anti-corruption is a signature policy of president Xi Jinping and has allowed him to purge senior Chinese leaders as well as tens of thousands of low-level bureaucrats.

The CCDI is building on the success of a pilot project in Laos where it embedded in late 2017 inspectors in a US$6 billion railway project being built by state-owned China Railway Group. The anti-graft officials, working with the Chinese company, established a joint inspection team with their Laotian counterpart.

The question is whether the anti-corruption effort in countries like Laos or Central Asian nations that consistently rank in the bottom half of Transparency International’s corruption index will bump up against China’s non-interference principle.

Or in other words, can China successfully guard against corruption in Belt and Road projects without pressuring recipient countries to adopt broader transparency and anti-corruption measures?

How can you strike hard on corruption here at home and give a free hand to Chinese people and business groups [that are] reckless abroad?” CCDI’s director-general for international co-operation La Yifan asked in a Financial Times interview.

Mr. La said China had organized seminars with more than 30 countries to link up anti-corruption regulators. “That is my dream, that we create a network of law enforcement of all these Belt and Road countries,” he said.

Imposing transparency and anti-corruption in Belt and Road partners would be the equivalent of all kinds of environmental, safety and human rights criteria that the United States haphazardly and opportunistically maintains in dealings with foreign countries that have been severely criticized by China.

China has long prided itself on what it terms win-win economic situations in which it imposes commercial terms that often primarily benefit the People’s Republic.

The terms, coupled with the clampdown on Turkic Muslims in China’s province of Xinjiang, has fuelled anti-Chinese sentiment in Turkey and Central Asia with their close ethnic and cultural ties to the troubled Chinese region.

Turkish officials highlighted these sensitivities by denying Chinese media reports that president Recep Tayyip Erdogan had praised the success of Beijing’s brutal approach in Xinjiang during a recent visit to China.

Muslim nations have largely remained silent about the clampdown that amounts to the most frontal assault on a faith in recent history or in some instances even tacitly endorsed it.

In the absence of democracy, “governments can manage their pro-Beijing stance without informing their public, but a pro-Beijing policy over the Uyghur issue can barely be sustained in Turkey. Turkey is still a functioning democracy and total control of the public is not possible. Besides, there is a very strong Uyghur lobby and public sentiment towards the Uyghurs in Turkey,” said Turkish Centre for Asia-Pacific Studies director Selcuk Colakoglu.

Taking its anti-corruption campaign global, raises the broader question of whether it would threaten a pillar of autocracy that China’s non-interference principle has de facto sought to perpetuate.

Political scientists Alexander Cooley and John Heathershaw argue that what they call the instruments of global authoritarianism — an army of largely Western bankers, lawyers, brokers and intermediaries that park illicitly gained monies in off-shore accounts and manage the investment of those funds – help keep autocrats in power.

The success of the globalization of China’s anti-corruption effort as well as its campaign to significantly reduce graft at home, would establish autocrats’ ability to satisfactorily deliver public goods and services alongside brute power as the cornerstone of their sustainability.

In doing so, it would give greater meaning to China’s assertion that it does not want to fundamentally alter the established multi-lateral world order but rather make it more equitable and more a reflection of a world that is multi- not unipolar.

It would also cement China’s model of economic reform and state capitalism without political liberalization as the example autocratic and authoritarian regimes want to emulate even if the jury is out on whether autocrats can remain relatively clean without a system of independent checks and balances.

Continue Reading

Latest

Trending

Copyright © 2019 Modern Diplomacy