Since coming to power in 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping has directed a more active foreign policy and advocated for China to play a larger role in global governance. Last year, China chaired the Hangzhou G20 Summit and ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change. This year, China held an international cooperation forum on the Belt and Road Initiative and in September will convene the ninth BRICS summit in Xiamen. Amid strong anti-globalization sentiments in Europe and the U.S., there is a debate over what Xi’s aims and intentions are in his effort to build new Chinese multilateral mechanisms for global governance, such as the Asian Infrastructural Investment Bank, and reform existing institutions
Over the course of this year, the world has seen the United States step back from its role in global governance and walk away from deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Paris Climate Agreement. The retreat has raised questions about how the United States will respond to global crises escalating around the world. From violent extremism to displaced refugees, 2017 has seen far-reaching strife and calamity still to be addressed in 2018. Against this backdrop, China is making further inroads in expanding economically and asserting itself in global affairs. At the same time, China is hesitant to play a leadership role in areas where the United States is retreating and has to contend with ongoing disputes in its own backyard, including North Korea. What might the world look like in the year ahead in terms of hotspots of conflicts and how should governments and institutions tackle pressing crises?
With his inaugural visit to the Asia-Pacific region taking place just two weeks after President Xi Jinping’s elevation at the 19th Party Congress, President Donald Trump’s stop in China will be among the most consequential. The United States would like to partner more closely with China on pressing issues like addressing the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. At the same time, the Trump administration has expressed concerns about China’s respect for the international rules-based order and discriminatory Chinese trade and economic policies. During Xi Jinping’s first state visit to the United States in 2015, much attention was placed on agreements made by the two leaders on cybersecurity and commitments on South China Sea policy. Less well known is that the two nations signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to designate funding toward cooperation on international development. The agreement serves as a guiding framework for curbing global poverty through cooperation on issues like food security, public health, and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.
The United States has begun modernizing its nuclear program even as the Trump administration continues to inject new uncertainties into the future of U.S. nuclear policy and the U.S.-China nuclear and strategic security relationship. Efforts to maintain strategic stability between Washington and Beijing are also facing challenges from U.S. allies in the region. Japan worries that a stable U.S.-China nuclear relationship would embolden China to take more aggressive military action against Japan and other regional actors. South Korea has also expressed concerns over how the U.S.-China relationship may impact U.S. deterrence and security guarantees for South Korea. The United States has long played a key role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but President Trump has called NATO “obsolete” and criticized other members for not paying their fair share in military spending. The future of NATO and U.S. alliances in the region could hang in the balance as the Trump administration shifts focus to the “America first” agenda. At the same time, elections in France, the Netherlands, and Germany are also putting a strain on the EU as populist candidates gain more ground among voters. While European heads of state have expressed hope that key players like U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis will help preserve the transatlantic alliance, China could benefit from a U.S. retreat. It is promoting its Belt and Road Initiative, and some European countries have thus far been receptive to the deals offered.
The Middle East has historically been a strong focus of U.S. foreign policy; China, as part of its rise as a global power, is increasingly looking to grow its economic engagement in the region. But questions remain regarding the ability of the two countries to cooperate in the Middle East. While the United States reviews its policy in the region, the Trump administration has vocalized strong positions on issues such as the Iran nuclear deal and even taken military actions on Syria. At the same time, China is focusing on promoting its Belt and Road Initiative in the Middle East and continues to make technology investments in countries like Israel.
China and Russia have established closer ties under the leadership of Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, forging large-scale energy and economic ties, conducting joint naval exercises, and signing treaties to reaffirm their strategic partnership. While world leaders hoped the United States and Russia would focus on areas in which to cooperate in the post-Cold War era, more emphasis has been placed on competition. Rhetoric from U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, though, has renewed discussions about a possible improvement of U.S.-Russia relations that has the potential to shift the great power dynamics.
“Traditionally, China and Pakistan have cooperated closely at the strategic and political levels. Now the two nations are making efforts to expand their bilateral collaboration economically as well. The construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a milestone that signifies this shift.”Over the past few years, security tensions in the Asia-Pacific have increased, raising the question of how to ensure continued strategic stability between the world’s great powers. This region is home to five nuclear states—China, Russia, India, Pakistan, and the United States—in addition to nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran.
U.S. government’s Asia policy is deeply uncertain. While North Korea continues to carry out more sophisticated nuclear tests and tensions escalate in the South China Sea, U.S.-China cooperation is more important than ever for regional stability in the Asia-Pacific. However, a growing number of cyber disputes is challenging the relationship between the two major powers. How will these foreign policy issues in Asia be perceived and addressed by the Trump administration? The Western Pacific is experiencing a fundamental and potentially destabilizing military and economic power transition driven primarily by China’s economic and military rise and a corresponding relative decline in American power. Efforts by the United States or China to secure future predominance will prove futile and dangerous, given a host of security, economic, and diplomatic factors. Instead, creating a stable de facto balance of power is necessary and feasible for both countries. This shift could take the form of a more durable balance that would necessitate major regional changes that would be difficult to achieve, or a more feasible but less stable balance involving more modest adjustments. The incremental, conditional process this would entail involves developing domestic consensus, securing allied and friendly support, deepening U.S.-China dialogue, and achieving interlinked changes in several existing regional security policies.
A highly stable balance would necessitate substantial progress on several security hotspots, including the creation of a unified, largely nonaligned Korean Peninsula, a demilitarized Taiwan Strait, and militarily limited, jointly developed East and South China Seas. It would also encompass a more open economic environment characterized by an inclusive, region-wide trade and investment agreement. A more attainable though less stable balance instead would involve joint efforts to sustain a regional free trade and investment system short of a comprehensive regional trade agreement, as well as shared understandings regarding potential crisis contingencies on the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan. The magnitude and scope of relative military and economic strength between the major powers of the region are decisive in determining the pace, scale, and intensity of security competitions. Delaying or futilely pursuing either Chinese or American predominance will put the region at greater risk. The most stable and preferable outcome would involve major changes to volatile regional hotspots, whereas a more modest vision would be more feasible albeit less stable.
China will almost certainly manage to significantly increase its economic and military capabilities vis-à-vis the United States and its allies. Moreover, Washington and Beijing handle volatile regional issues very differently, and their respective offense-oriented escalatory military doctrines are likely to persist under existing conditions, increasing the likelihood of severe crises. Key U.S. allies will probably remain unwilling and unable to compensate for America’s relative decline. Last year, China and the EU celebrated forty years of diplomatic relations. The EU’s leading foreign policy official, Federica Mogherini, visited Beijing for the first time and advocated greater EU engagement in Asia. Chinese President Xi Jinping, meanwhile, traveled to the UK and later hosted state visits from Germany and France. Much of this diplomatic activity focused on upgrading cooperation between China and Europe on investment and trade as a way to deepen their strategic partnership.
China’s Belt and Road initiative aims to extend infrastructure and connectivity across Eurasia from the Asia-Pacific to Europe. It includes the overland Silk Road Economic Belt across Central Asia and the Twenty-First-Century Maritime Silk Road, which will span Southeast Asia. Since Chinese President Xi Jinping announced these initiatives in 2013, they have been actively discussed both within China and abroad. However, so far few infrastructure projects have been enacted and the proposal remains at an early stage. Civil and proxy wars have destabilized Syria, Libya, and Yemen, and Egypt is experiencing a domestic insurgency. Although instability in the Middle East remains widespread, China continues to deepen its ties in the region. In January 2016, Xi Jinping embarked on his first state visit to the Middle East as president of China, just days after Beijing released its first-ever policy paper on the region. President Xi Jinping appears to have ushered in a more assertive, proactive foreign policy approach than that of his predecessors—as high-profile initiatives like the Belt and Road make clear. Yet core principles of Chinese diplomacy have long been shaped by traditional Chinese cultural concepts that remain relevant today. As President Xi charts China’s foreign policy course in the years ahead, elements of continuity and change will continue to coexist.
The increasing aspirations of the economic giant China are likely to have lasting impact on the regional security and economic development of the South Asian states. Coupled with the Chinese approach of “non-intervention in internal matters” the idea of inclusive development under the Chinese “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) has laid the foundation for infrastructural and human development in the region. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is one of the flagship projects of the BRI, under which China is making large overseas investments in Pakistan. China and Pakistan have often repeated their stances that the CPEC is an economic corridor and a major stabilizing factor in the volatile and uncertain regional security paradigm of South Asia.
“Donald Trump elected as the US president and his America First foreign policy mantle, and Xi Jinping emerging from the newly-ended 19th National Congress of Communist Party of China even more powerful and vowing to rejuvenate his country, Sino-US relations had entered a period of turbulence and uncertainty…no-apology preachers of China Dream and America First, both Xi and Trump vowed to see their policies and agendas set in motion under their watch…How these two different visions with heavy dose of nationalist flavours can proceed smoothly against each other, especially at the backdrop of an emerging power transition, is an open question…However, for all the challenges and alarms, there’s still room for optimism of the future of China-US relations.