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Boao Forum, Belt & Road and East Asian Politics

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The Boao Forum for Asia (BFA), which was formed in 2001, and manages to draw top world leaders, heads of multilateral institutions, and academics has been dubbed by many as ‘Summer Davos’ and has begun to understandably draw attention with China’s increasing economic clout and heft on the global stage.  For this year’s forum held at Boao, a coastal town in Hainan province, Chinese President, Xi Jinping who was travelling to Europe, was absent, and many other senior Chinese officials were in Beijing in connection with the trade negotiations with the US. Last year there were a number of other high profile attendees including IMF Chief, Christine Lagarde.

There was a general perception, that last year’s Forum was given more importance, apart from the presence of President Xi and other senior Chinese officials, the event received greater coverage. Significantly, President Xi’s address last year was covered on Chinese Television, while Prime Minister Li Keqiang’s key note address was not televised.

The Chinese PM reiterated Beijing’s support for multilateral trading system, while pitching for reforms in the World Trade Organisation (WTO).  The Chinese Premier also outlined some of the key reforms China is undertaking and flagged some of the steps being taken for encouraging Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Li also said that Beijing would take specific steps for opening up sectors such as  transport, infrastructure, telecommunications, medical care and education, ..

Ever since US President has adopted insular policies, China has been trying to send an impression that unlike Washington it is in favour of globalization and Free Trade. This was evident during last year’s World Economic Forum held at Davos and even at the Boao Forum last year, President Xi Jinping had said:

“We will never threaten anyone, nor overthrow the existing international system”

Xi had also dispelled the notion that China was seeking to build spheres of influence. On the other hand, the Chinese President stated that he will contribute to world peace and that Beijing would seek to be ‘… a contributor to global development and a defender of international order,”

 Boao Forum, BRI and East Asian Politics

The Forum was important, not just from the standpoint of Beijing highlighting some of its key economic policies, but also in the context of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and the future of the Japan-China relationship.

Importantly, Sri Lanka spoke in favour of the BRI.  The Hambantota Port project, which has been handed over by Sri Lanka to Chinese companies for a period of 99 years, has contributed to Sri Lanka’s rising debt to China and has been cited as an instance of China’s Debt Trap Diplomacy.

The South Asian nation was represented by Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon,Governor of Southern Province. Chinese media highlighted this aspect of the Forum

With regard to closer cooperation between Japan and China in third countries, Hiroshi Nakaso, chairman of the Daiwa Institute of Research and former deputy governor of the Bank of Japan (BOJ) said that the currency swap of October 2018 would promote third party cooperation between private sectors of both countries.

The second development is particularly interesting, because on the one hand, Tokyo is seeking to provide an alternative to BRI, through the PQI (Partnership for Quality Infrastructure), but on the other it is also willing to cooperate where necessary.

Increasing relevance of Hainan Region

The forum was also used to strengthen ties between China’s Hainan region and neighbouring countries, but also to send a clear message, that it is a key player within the BRI.

Hainan, which was declared as China’s 12th Free Trade Zone in 2018, is important for a number of reasons. It is strategically located, and is an important component of the BRI as was emphasized by senior officials during the recent forum. Between November-2018 and March 2019 it has received over 27 Billion USD.

Hainan’s role in BRI and ties with ASEAN countries

If one were to look at Hainan-ASEAN ties. An ASEAN-China Governors/Mayors’ Dialogue has played a key role in bolstering links between Hainan and South East Asian Countries. Trade between Hainan and ASEAN was estimated at over 12.5 Billion USD for the year 2018 (ASEAN bloc  was Hainan’s single largest trading partner). Apart from economic linkages, Hainan has strong connectivity with ASEAN.

Only recently, the Hainan-Singapore ASEAN liner route was begun. The launch of this route was co-hosted by the provincial government of Hainan and China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) SHIPPING .As a result of this, the Yangpu Port in Hainan has become a gateway between China’s Western Regions and Singapore.  Hainan province has thus emerged as an important pivot of the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor (ILSTC) (also known as Chongqing Connectivity Initiative).

There are a number of cruises from Hainan to ASEAN countries – such as Vietnam and Phillipines. To harness its crucial geographic location, there is likely to be an emphasis on air connectivity between Hainan with not just Asian countries in the neighbourhood, but also Africa, Europe and Oceania. During this year’s Boao forum the theme of the ASEAN-China Governors/Mayors Dialogue was “ASEAN-China Connectivity and Hainan Free Trade Port,” ..

Hainan off course seeks to expand its cooperation with ASEAN countries, and not restrict it to just the economic sphere or connectivity.

Wang Sheng, director of the Foreign Affairs Office of Hainan province,  said that Hainan would explore greater collaboration in areas such as; ‘health, blue economy, tourism, culture, education, technology, tropical agriculture and seed production,’

Seed cooperation for instance, has been another area in which Hainan’s cooperation with neighbouring countries in ASEAN has witnessed a rise. Hybrid rice seeds cultivated by scientists at the Nanfan Scientific and Research Breeding Base in Hainan are being introduced not just in ASEAN countries, but South Asia as well (5,50,000 hectares of hybrid rice have been cultivated in countries in Philippines, Indonesia Vietnam and India).

The overall aim of this Local officials from both sides, signed an agreement to strengthen the strategic partnership between ASEAN and China.

Conclusion

 Beijing obviously uses the Boao Forum as a tool for furthering its views on global economic and foreign policy issues. It has been receiving all the more attention in recent years due to Trump’s isolationist policies. China by appointing a high profile individual like Ban Ki Moon, Former Secretary General of UN as President of the Boao Forum for Asia in April 2018 has further enhanced the prestige of this event.

Second, it is interesting to see that international events and forums are not restricted to either Shanghai or Beijing. A large number of events such as G20, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation are organised outside the big cities, this helps in raising the profile of these cities. Recent examples include the 2016 G20 Summit held in Hangzhou (Zhenjiang), Brazil Russia, India, China Summit (BRICS) Summit of 2017 at Xiamen (Fujian Province), SCO Summit 2018 held at Qingdao.

Even if one were to look beyond the symbolic aspect, a number of other points emerge.

First, that Chinese Provinces conduct their external outreach in a well thought out manner based on geographical location and synergies. For instance, while Hainan is seeking to build links across the world, its thrust has been on neighbouring countries within ASEAN, this is evident from its trade and connectivity initiatives. The fact, that each Province has been empowered to strengthen not just commercial linkages, but enhance people to people ties, and has designated provincial officials to facilitate outreach is also beneficial.

Second, linkages between Chinese provinces and other countries are not restricted to economics and connectivity, so as to send out a message, that Chinese provinces want to build links by effectively utilising ‘Soft Power’. This helps in blunting, to some extent, the perception that China is only interested in furthering its economic goals at any cost.

Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi based Policy Analyst associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India

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East Asia

Standing up to China: Czech mayor sets a high bar

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A Czech mayor’s refusal to endorse Beijing’s One China policy potentially sets a high bar as Western powers grapple with how to respond to allegations of excessive use of violence by police against Hong Kong protesters and the implications of leaked documents detailing a brutal crackdown in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang.

Prague mayor Zdenek Hrib rejected a sister city agreement between the Czech capital and Beijing in late October because it included a clause endorsing the One China policy, which implicitly recognizes China’s sovereignty over Taiwan, as well as Hong Kong and Tibet.

Mr. Hrib argued that the agreement was a cultural arrangement and not designed to address foreign policy issues that were the prerogative of the national government.

The mayor’s stance has since taken on added significance against the backdrop of US President Donald J. Trump’s signing of legislation that allows for the sanctioning of Hong Kong officials, embarrassing Communist party leaks that document repression in Xinjiang, the election of a new Sri Lankan government that intends to adopt a tougher policy towards China, and simmering anti-Chinese sentiment in Central Asia and beyond.

Mr. Hrib’s rejection was in fact a reflection of anti-Chinese sentiment in the Czech Republic as well as opposition to the pro-China policy adopted by Czech president Milos Zeman.

To be sure, Mr. Hrib, a 38-year old medical doctor who interned in Taiwan, was shouldering little political or economic risk given Czech public anger at China’s failure to fulfil promises of significant investment in the country.

On the contrary, Mr. Hrib, since becoming mayor in mid-2018, appears to have made it his pastime to put Mr. Zeman on the spot by poking a finger at China.

Mr. Hrib visited Taiwan in the first six months of his mayorship, flew the Tibetan flag over Prague’s city hall, and rejected a request by the Chinese ambassador at a meeting with foreign diplomats to send Taiwanese representatives out of the room.

Beijing’s cancellation of a tour of China by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra in response to Mr. Hrib’s provocations forced Mr. Zeman to describe the Chinese retaliation as “excessive” and his  foreign minister, Tomas Petricek, to declare that “diplomacy is not conducted with threats.”

Perhaps more importantly, M. Hrib was taking a stand based on principles and values rather than interests. In doing so, he was challenging the new normal of world leaders flagrantly ignoring international law to operate on the principle of might is right.

“Our conscience is not for sale,” said Michaela Krausova, a leading member of the governing Pirate Party of the Prague city council. Ms. Krausova and Mr. Hrib’s party was founded to shake up Czech politics with its insistence on the safeguarding of civil liberties and political accountability and transparency.

While couched in terms of principle, Mr. Hrib’s stand strokes with newly installed Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s intention to wrest back control from China of the island’s strategic Hambantota port that serves key shipping lanes between Europe and Asia.

Hambantota became a symbol of what some critics have charged is Chinese debt trap diplomacy after Sri Lanka was forced to hand over the port to China in 2017 on a 99-year lease because the government was unable to repay loans taken to build it.

“I believe that the Sri Lankan government must have control of all strategically important projects like Hambantota. The next generation will curse our generation for giving away precious assets otherwise,” Mr. Rajapaksa said.

Fears of a debt trap coupled with the crackdown on Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, which targets not only Uighurs, but also groups that trace their roots to Central Asian countries, have fuelled anti-Chinese sentiment in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.

“Given that China is likely to continue to expand its presence, further irritating local publics, the temptation of opposition groups to exploit such anger will only grow. If that happens…the anti-Chinese demonstrations that have taken place to date will be only the prelude to a situation that could easily spiral out of control, ethnicizing politics in these countries still further,” said Central Asia scholar Paul Goble.

Beyond Xinjiang, anti-Chinese sentiment in Central Asia is fuelled by some of the same drivers that inform Czech attitudes towards China.

The shared drivers include unfulfilled promises, idle incomplete Chinese-funded infrastructure projects, widespread corruption associated with Chinese funding, and the influx of Chinese labour and materials at the expense of the local work force and manufacturers.

Beyond Xinjiang, Central Asians worry about potential debt traps. The Washington-based Center for Global Development listed last year two Central Asian nations, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, as risking China-related “debt distress.”

Warned China and Central Asia scholar Ayjaz Wani: “Chinese principles in Central Asia are hegemonic. China has always interacted with Central Asian states without regarding their cultural identities, but according to its own vested interests… However, the ongoing anti-China sentiments may be coming to a tipping point.

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Old wine in new bottles: Chinese containment policy in South Asia

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A lot of discussion in international relations scholarship is concentrated upon how US maximizing its security presence in the Asia-Pacific region. It is trying to contain, growing Chinese Influence to protect its national interest.It was described by former US President Barack Obama as a pivot Asia policy. But in the case of South Asia, United States is strengthening its ties with India to boost it as a force to contain Chinese emerging influence. It was termed by John J Mearsheimer as buck-passing in which a world superpower will give power and authority to another state to try to contain the influence of an emerging world hegemon. The Indo-US nuclear deal and former President Barack Obama’s remarks about the inclusion of India inthe United Nations Security council demonstrates that the United States is helping India to rise as the regional hegemon. India considers itself as an important actor at international level.It is increasing its political clout internationally but in South Asia, it can face a new kind of isolation. This is evident from the three recent events that occurred in a span of only 10 days in the first half of October

On 07th October Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan visited China with high-level delegation. He met there with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other important officials, it was his third visit to China since he came into power. During the meeting, both leaders, Imran Khan and Xi Jinping, discussed strengthening bilateral relations which are already at a higher level in terms of military and economic partnership. China is already working on a project to invest more than $50 billion under the name of China Pakistan Economic corridor let alone the cooperation on strategic and political issues. During the course of the visit, officials from both sides discussed Free Trade agreement which will be helpful in solving the problem of trade deficit for Pakistan. Total trade volume between China and Pakistan is around $15 billion in which Chinese export to Pakistan is of 13 billion. This Free Trade Agreement will open up about 90% of the Chinese market to Pakistan and will reduce trade deficit. During his meeting with Imran Khan, Xi Jinping accepted Kashmir as a disputed region and asked both parties to solve it through peaceful means.

All this happened just a few days before the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to India.Although both countries have made some progress on economy-related issues, no concrete efforts have been made to solve more radical issues like Indo-China border dispute in the northern Himalayan region. However more astonishing for India was that Xi Jinping visited Nepal after India. Nepal is a landlocked country crammed between two South Asia giants India and China. India is present on three sides of Nepal and considers it as its backyard. Both countries did have very solid relations and 60% of total Nepalese trade is done with India. In 2015 when Nepal adopted new constitution, relations between both countries soured. Although it was the internal matter of Nepal, India put an unofficial blockade for Nepal, which stopped all the supplies including food and medicine. Blockade continued for more than two months and it created a severe crisis because Nepal was already damaged by a strong earthquake in early 2015 in which more than 9000 people died. This blocked proved decisive in changing behavior of Nepalese leadership though they were complaining of Indian hegemonic role for many years. Nepal turned toward China for their needs. China also responded in a very positive way. Besides reconstructing earthquake effected areas, China also provided 1.03 million liters of fuel. In 2017 Nepal signed China’s Belt and Road initiative and pledged to construct a railway line which will connect China with Nepal directly. This initiated a new beginning in China-Nepal relations.

When Xi Jinping arrived at Katmandu, China by this time was thelargest foreign direct investor in Nepal.It was the first visit by any Chinese president in the last 23 years.During the course of his visit, 18 agreements were signed between Nepal and China, including a railway link between China and Nepal.

These three important tours in less than ten days present the new geopolitical reality of the region. Although the Chinese president visited India but this visit was sandwiched between Imran Khan’s visit to China and Xi Jinping’s visit to Nepal. Pakistan is an arch-rival of India in South Asia and Nepal which historically remained in the Indian sphere of influence,  is slowly slipping away from it.it clearly demonstrates containment policy by China in which China is progressively growing its influence in South Asian states. The Story does not end with Pakistan and Nepal but other South Asian states like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka now also have very strong ties with China.it represents in a new normal situation in which South Asian region is no longer dominated by India. Though India is showing to the world that it is solely protecting peace and stability in the region but reality has changed In fact South Asian states consider it as dominating power evident from its relation with Pakistan and blockade of Nepal. With growing Chinese influence in South Asia containment of India is now very much a reality.

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How Australia is becoming China’s Australia

Sisir Devkota

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If it were not for China, Australia’s population inroad scheme would take a serious hit. Out of more than 0.7 million international students, more than 30% Chinese are pursuing degrees in universities. Australia lives along the values of  the Western culture, but when it comes to its economy, rather dishonourably; it has had to lean towards the East. Chinese consumerism compensates for a healthy Australian economy and while it stands stronger on its democratic values, Australia, now faces a paradoxical relationship with the Asian hegemon. For instance, it is quietly ignoring the protests in Hong Kong. During recent elections, the Australian Prime Minister was mocked on WeChat; his funny nuances were subject to ridicule in the Chinese social media.

Now, Australia is facing the task. It is fighting a battle to save its identity against a consumer band, governed by communist policies. China’s message is clear; an interference of any sort is not welcome, else the consequences are going to be economical. Emancipated Chinese students in Australia have been protesting against the government backlash in Hong Kong. Resultantly, back home in China, apartments were raided and their parents taught the lesson of conformity. A lesson of nationalism that has blossomed outside its territories. Australia is swallowing up the hypocrisy. On its own land, it cannot protect the values of freedom and democracy.

Wang LiQiang or as he would like to be known as “William”, took to the Australian authorities for his involvement in spying activities. In his own admission, William was conducting intelligence operations and most significantly, assassinations on Australian soil. William is only one among high profile spies that have been operating in Australia. Ironically, his testament sufficiently reflects the Australian attitude towards Chinese interference, which has essentially been negligent and non-conversational. Notably, William’s particular mention about operating a system of political donation will nevertheless disturb Australian administrators. They will realize that it is only about time when China will explicitly begin to reassert its influence. The police did not find Wang Li Qiang; instead, he volunteered to surrender. Especially, coming from a senior Chinese operative, the message could not be clearer.

On the outset, China and Australia maintain a well-documented “good relationship”. However, administrative hierarchies in Canberra are also accused of implying a very positive attitude towards presenting and defending bilateral ties. As much as economic interests have motivated the Australian behaviour of non-acceptance, politicians do not shy away from painting an over simplified picture of Chinese problems that are realistically, complex in nature. As Prime Minister Scott Morrison handled the allegations of a Chinese backed ring that was trying to plot a spy in the parliament; the government has tried too hard to overlook the obvious. Mr. Morrison urged his citizens to not draw anxious conclusions, instead; he suggested that Australia would need to be vigilant from the threats that it faced more broadly. The substitutability of discourse that is apparent in Australian politics, marks a rather gifted trade-off for China and its actions. Andrew Hastie, parliamentary head of intelligence and security, claimed that such incidents did not surprise him. As more evidences would suggest, Chinese interference was knocking at the doors.

In terms of China, there are two faces of Australian political rhetoric. One that is motivated by the larger interests in the administrative chairs of governance, overlooking the infiltration for personal benefits. Secondly, the critiques emanating from opposition politicians and the likes of intelligence chiefs, for instance ASIO’s former Directorate General, Duncan Lewis, warned that China would take over Australia in a matter of time. Elsewhere in the borders of the communist giant, two Australian MP’s were denied travel entry, citing largely undetermined reasons. With a population of merely 25 million inhabitants, 1.8 million Chinese students have migrated to Australia for education. The dragon is marching towards the continent, in a first, the troops are ready on site.

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