It is naïve for Pakistan government to play China model overnight. China resents its history of humiliation at eh hands of foreign powers (forcible take-over of its sea-ports and resources). Its `religion’, now dollar-orientation, obedient labour force, enlightened leadership with a world vision, and hardwork ethos are different from Pakistan’s.
A water Kingdom
Take water aspect alone. Our lethargy marks a contrast with China’s history. There are more than 22,104 dams in China over the height of 15 m (49 ft). Of the world’s total large dams, China accounts for 20 per cent of them, 45 percent for irrigation. The oldest dam in China Dujiangyan Irrigation System dates back to 256 BC. In 2005, there were over 80,000 reservoirs in the country and over 4,800 dams completed or under construction that stands at or exceed 30 metre (98 ft) in height. As of 2007, China is also the world’s leader in the construction of large dams. The tallest dam in China is the Jinping-I Dam at 305 metre (1,001 ft), an arch dam, which is also the tallest dam in the world. The largest reservoir is created by the Three Gorges Dam, which stores 39.3 billion m3 (31,900,000 acre feet) of water and has a surface area of 1,045 km2 (403 sq mi). Three Gorges is also the world’s largest power station.
Yet, water is scarce in China. The country provides only one-quarter of the global average water per person. Despite international furore about ecological and human disasters due to dam building, China went ahead unruffled. Small dams are built even in rain-water catchment areas, Philip Ball, in The Water Kingdom; A Secret History of China, p. 293) observes `China lacks a strong tradition of environmental protection, but is in that respect no different to the West’. While building dams, particularly the Three Gorges, China shrugged off international uproar at human displacement. We could not even develop consensus on Kala Bagh among our provinces?
China’s Marxist-social metamorphosis
China was able to bridge the stark differences that existed between rural and urban lifestyles. The hukou system was designed to prevent rural to urban migration.
Our banking sector has consumer orientation. The Chinese system with about 37 tiers has investment orientation.
China `entertained’ foreign investors in every possible way. `In 2001, a count of the out-of wedlock children produced by Shenzhen’s working women and mistresses over two decades numbered 5,20,000…the sex industry is one of the few robust conduits of money backs to China’s impoverished areas (Ted C. Fishman, China Inc. 2003, p. 98). There are karaoke clubs to entertain burly foreign investors.
Aside from Tiananmen Square political protest, China has no tradition of industrial protests. `A fundamental problem with the Chinese working class is that it was disorganized and its protests were often leaderless (Alvin Y.So and Yin Wah Chu, The Global Rise of China, p.144). The so-called unions just collected funds to organise birthday parties and recreational events. In November 1999, the government announced new rules for public gatherings regarding assemblies larger than 200 to obtain approval from local public-security authorities.
Marxism, too, had different trajectory in China. It first arrived in China in late nineteenth century. Around 1899, Communist Manifesto was first translated into Chinese. Many strands of Marxism were involved in overthrowing Qing dynasty. China’s metamorphosis to present-day status was not a straight-path transition. It witnessed several cataclysmic changes, even conspiracies, national and international. It was a turbulent period in lives of political elites and also global status of the country. Following Chinese nuclear explosions, USA and USSR even mulled option to strike at Chinese nuclear installations. Yet, Chinese deft diplomacy helped it avert the threat. China, later, even got recognized as a permanent member of the United Nation’s Security Council.
Divested of morality, an ordinary Chinese consider it just normal to give or take `body pleasure’ for money. In Khanewal some Chinese engineers scuffled with police when it tried to prevent them from going to a `red-light area’. Recently some Chinese gangs have been busted at Faislalabad, Lahore and Rawalpindi for fake marriages with Pakistani girls including some underage and later exploiting them as sex slaves (Dawn, Tribune, etc dated May 9, 2019). The police recovered illicit aphrodisiac `drugs’, `gold ornaments’, `dowry’, Chinese passports and weapons. It is generally believed that the arrests are just a tip of the iceberg. In some Karachi areas, Chinese have rented congested adjacent housing units in various Karachi areas and turned them into `out of bound’ to Pakistanis. What they do there is anybody’s guess. Traditionally, Chinese prefer to develop and live in China towns wherever they go on the globe. In Pakistan, they have avoided doing so as what they eat (cats, dogs, monkey brains, insects) may sound revulsive and non-kosher to Pakistani onlookers.
The FIA’s human trafficking cell headed by Deputy Director Nadeem Zafar, in an intelligence based operation recovered three Pakistani women and detained 27 Chinese nationals who were allegedly involved in the trafficking of Pakistani women on the false pretext of marriages. The Chinese gang in cahoots with Pakistani go-betweens is making use of internet to attract girls for marriage. Similar gangs are active in Nepal who buy women and take them to China. An underage Pakistani girl revealed that she had married a Chinese man who pretended to be Muslim on the internet but later she found out that the he is an atheist.
The accused conned Pakistani families by `marrying’ girls with the help of local agents and the victims were subjected to sexual exploitation after being trafficked to China soon after their ‘fake’ marriage. Chinese embassy had also tweet-reacted on the reports of the cross-national marriages saying: “Chinese laws and regulations strictly prohibited cross-national matchmaking centres and we hope that the public does not believe in misleading information and work together to safeguard China-Pakistan friendship”.
Chinese campaign against social evils
During the early years1950-54, the Chinese government embarked upon campaign to uproot social vices, a `legacy of the old society’. Brothels in Beijing were closed and prostitutes and procurers were arrested. Opium-smoking and gambling apparatus were confiscated. Mao’s actress wife, Jiang Qing (1938) shared Mao’s vision of empowerment of young people and their promotion to party positions.
Since nineteenth century May fourth and the New Culture Movement influenced literature, poetry and intellectual contributions. `The True Story of AhQ’ was the first-ever true story to be published in vernacular Chinese, as spoken by ordinary Chinese.
Mao Zedong (born 1893, Hunan) went to Beijing in 1918. He worked for some time in Peking University’s library. There he became associated with Li Dachau and Chen Duxio, co-founders of Chinese Communist Party, and became a Marxist. On September 21, 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed to the world, `Our nation will never again be an insulted nation. He envisioned an ideal party of workers, peasants and soldiers. This vision was in stark contrast with alternative vision of a party of intellectuals, technocrats, religious leaders, overseas Chinese and former capitalists. For one thing, the Chinese leaderships have all along been bottoms-up not tops-down. On September 21, 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed to the world, `Our nation will never again be an insulted nation. He envisioned an ideal party of workers, peasants and soldiers. This vision was in stark contrast with Liu Deng’s vision of a party of intellectuals, technocrats, religious leaders, overseas Chinese and former capitalists.
Mao’s Cultural Revolution (1964-76) was no bed of roses. During 1964-66, intra-elite transformation was in a state of flux. Radical years 1966-66 witnessed mass mobilization. During 1967-69, an imaginary May 16 Conspiracy led to arrest of two strands of leading radical figures, 25 of 29 Party first secretaries was sacked. Lin Biao became Mao’s closest `comrade in arms’ and heir apparent. He masterminded a plot to assassinate Mao, fled towards Mongolia in airplane and was killed in air crash. Period 1968-76 was marked by demobilization, palace intrigues, popular anxiety and subsequent reforms. (Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History of Modern China).
The Chinese experience of symbiotic relation between political stat ability and economic progress is different from other countries. China’s history does not corroborate democracy-and -development zeitgeist. China underwent different phases of political orientation 1985-1988 liberal neo-authoritarianism, 1989-1992 neo-totalitarianism, 1993-1996 hard authoritarianism, 1997-2008 soft authoritarianism, 2009-2015 hard authoritarianism, 2016-2018 fluid merit-based authoritarianism. Its political future is constrained by economic transformation of its society. Economic well-being has created a tsunami of expectations. China’s income per capita per annum is US$ 7,593. It has 1.09 millionaires and world’s second largest number of billionaires. Chinese urbanites now possess ‘four rounds’ (a bicycle, a wrist watch, a sewing machine, and a washing machine) and `three electrics’ (a television, a refrigerator, and a private telephone connection).
China’s political future?
What lies ahead for China? Its political orientation in future will be determined, inter alia, by stability in its political periphery including Xinjiang (Uighur unrest), Tibet, Hong Kong and Taiwan. There have been riots at Lhasa (March 2008), Urumqi (July 2009 and May 2014), and at Hotan and Kashgar (July 2011)
USA’s bully position in South China Sea and its hard line on trade with China also will affect China’s political orientation. The real American aim was to bring home to China that it does not care a fig about Chinese occupation of Manila-claimed isles of Mischief Reef (1995) and Scarborough Shoal (2012). During recent US exercise in South China Sea, a Phillipino general said, “Since Americans are our friends in one way or another; they can help us deter any threat.” US entente against North Korea, India’s reign of terror in Kashmir and terrorist infiltration into Pakistan from Afghan border are windows into US intentions against China and Pakistan.
In any case, trajectory of China’s political future is fluid. It may vacillate between various levels of authoritarianism and semi-democracy. None of them looks like even a quasi-semi-democracy. Yet, Chinese authoritarianism (recall Tiannenmon Square) will continue to heat up Chinese economy to boiling point.
How leaders transform societies?
Pakistan’s prime minister’s office is at stone’s throw from his sprawling 300-kanal-and-10-marla residential estate. But he prefers to fly to and fro office with his dog. His predecessor also were fond of flying in helicopters rather than in motor cavalcades. When heli-borne leaders like them look down upon people, they look like pygmies, insects and then vanish. Perhaps that’s the reason `mahatma’ Gandhi walked around 18 km a day for nearly 40 years. From 1913 to 1948, he walked 79,000 km — equivalent to walking twice around earth. He travelled a lot in third-class railway apartment also to deliver speeches en route about swaraj (freedom). Similarly, Mao Zedong travelled over 6000 kilometers in Long March to create awareness in people. kilometers to create political awareness. Mao’s struggle reflects China’s fascinating Marxist transformation.
China’s metamorphosis to present-day status was not a straight-path transition. It witnessed several cataclysmic changes, even conspiracies, national and international. It was a turbulent period in lives of political elites and also global status of the country.
Around 1899, Communist Manifesto was first translated into Chinese. Many strands of Marxism were involved in overthrowing Qing dynasty. Following Chinese nuclear explosions, USA and USSR even mulled option to strike at Chinese nuclear installations. Yet, Chinese deft diplomacy helped it avert the threat. During the early years1950-54, the government embarked upon campaign to uproot social vices, a `legacy of the old society’. Brothels in Beijing were closed and prostitutes and procurers were arrested. Opium-smoking and gambling apparatus were confiscated. Mao’s actress wife, Jiang Qing (1938) shared Mao’s vision of empowerment of young people and their promotion to party positions.
Since nineteenth century May fourth and the New Culture Movement influenced literature, poetry and intellectual contributions. `The True Story of AhQ’ was the first-ever true story to be published in vernacular Chinese, as spoken by ordinary Chinese.
Mao Zedong (born 1893, Hunan) went to Beijing in 1918. He worked for some time in Peking University’s library. There he became associated with Li Dachau and Chen Duxio, co-founders of Chinese Communist Party, and became a Marxist. On September 21, 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed to the world, `Our nation will never again be an insulted nation. He envisioned an ideal party of workers, peasants and soldiers. This vision was in stark contrast with Liu Deng’s vision of a party of intellectuals, technocrats, religious leaders, overseas Chinese and former capitalists.
Mao’s Cultural Revolution (1964-76) was no bed of roses. During 1964-66, intra-elite transformation was in a state of flux. Radical years 1966-66 witnessed mass mobilization. During 1967-69, an imaginary May 16 Conspiracy led to arrest of two sands of leading radical figures, 25 of 29 Party first secretaries was sacked. Lin Biao became Mao’s closest `comrade in arms’ and heir apparent. He masterminded a plot to assassinate Mao, fled towards Mongolia in airplane and was killed in air crash. Period 1968-76 was marked by demobilization, palace intrigues, popular anxiety and subsequent reforms. Both Gandhi and Mao had a vision which they shared with people. Could our `change’-chanting leaders do so?
Pakistani sand-dune `leaders’ sans Weltanschanschauung?
Bolman and Deal say `Great leadership begins when a leader’s world view [Weltanschanschauung] and personal story, honed over years of experience, meet a situation that both presents challenges and opportunities’. They add, `Great leaders test and evolve their story over time, experimenting, polishing abandoning plot lines that don’t work, and re-inventing those that do. Bad stories often lead to disaster, but good ones conjure magic’(Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E Deal, How Great Leaders Think: The Art of Reframing, 2014, Jossey-Bass, page 193). Weltanschauung is a German word which literally means `world view’. The word combines “Welt” (“world”) with “Anschauung” (“view”), which ultimately derives from the Middle High German verb schouwen (“to look at” or “to see”). It is a particular philosophy or view of life; the world views of an individual or group. It is a concept fundamental to German philosophy and epistemology and refers to a wide world perception. Additionally, it refers to the framework of ideas and beliefs forming a global description through which an individual, group or culture watches and interprets the world and interacts with it.
Study of leadership styles across swathes of literature indicates that the two traits, a `world view’ and a `story line’ are common in all business leaders (Steve Job, Penny, Eisner, Ford, and Rockefeller). Or, in political leaders like Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Lincoln, whether you abhor or adore them. Some management texts sum up leadership styles (Robert Blake and Jane Mouton) through grids of `concern for people’ (country club, human orientation) and `concern for results’ (task orientation). The leaders share their `world view’ with people who fall in line to leave behind a legacy, a story.
Hitler, otherwise viewed as a psychopath, explains his `world view in Chapter 1 of his autobiography (Weltenschauung and party, page 298) Mein Kampf (My Struggle). He says `Thus we brought to knowledge of public those first principles and lines of action along which the new struggle was to be conducted for the abolition of a confused mass of obsolete ideas which had obscure and often pernicious tendencies’. In his autobiography (written in prison), Hitler reviews all aspects of German life, the World War I defeat, collapse of the Second Reich, `the mask of Federalism’, `propaganda and organisation’, `German post-War policy of alliances’, and Germany’s policy in Eastern Europe’. His efforts to forge alliances with adversaries reflect that he was a rational flexible man. Napoleon’s `world view’ (like Julius Caesar’s) is less pronounced than his lust for `power’ and contempt for `constitution’ (a la ZA Bhutto, Zia, et al). Pakistan’s prime ministers and prime-ministers-to-be forgot French jurist Jean Bodin’s dictum `majesta est summa in civas ac subditoes legibusque salute potestas, that is ‘highest power over citizens and subjects is unrestrained by law’ (Roedad Khan, Pakistan: A Dream Gone Sour, p. 179.). Napoleon told Moreau de Lyonne, “The constitution, what is it but a heap of ruins. Has it not been successively the sport of every party?” “Has not every kind of tyranny been committed in its name since the day of its establishment?”
During his self-crowning in 1804, Napoleon said, “What is the throne, a bit of wood gilded and covered with velvet. I am the state. I alone am here, the representative of the people”. Take gen Zia. While addressing a press conference in Teheran, he said, “What is the Constitution?” “It is a booklet with ten or twelve pages. I can tear them up and say that from tomorrow we shall live under a different system. Is there anybody to stop me? Today the people will follow wherever I lead them. All the politicians including the once mighty Mr. Bhutto will follow me with their tail wagging (ibid. pp. 87-88). Dicey said, “No Constitution can be absolutely safe from a Revolution or a coup detat”.
Today, Pakistan has no leader, like Quaid-e-Azam, with a `world view’, no `story line’ of sustained committed struggle. MJ Akber rightly observes `The [Pakistani] political leaders act like sand dunes. They move in the direction the wind blows’ (Akber, In Pakistan Today, Mittal Publications, New Delhi, p. 216). John R. Schmidt agrees, ` The mainstream political parties in Pakistan can best be viewed as patronage networks, whose primary goal is seeking political offices to gain access to state resources, which can then be used to distribute patronage among their members’ (The Unravelling, Pakistan in the Age of jihad, pages 36-37). Why it is so? Stanley A. Kochanek unpuzzles the conundrum by pointing out `Parties in Pakistan are built from the top-down and are identified with their founders. The office holders are appointed by the leader. Membership rolls are largely bogus and organizational structure exists only on paper’ (Interest groups and Development, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1983, p.64). `Most political parties are non-democratic in their structure, character and outlook. The process for leadership selection is not by election, but by nomination. Political parties have no links with policy process as personalities rather than issues matter’ (Saeed Shafqat, Contemporary Issues in Pakistan Studies, pp. 247-256).
Do the people in a land of sand-dunes have the right to revolt? Liberalist philosophers suggests there is a limit beyond which obedience to rule of law is no longer sacrosanct. Locke suggests when government no longer fulfils its duty to provide for the common good, individuals have the right to rebel against it; the [social] contract has been broken’.
Human beings created a social contract wherein they bartered some of their naturally derived freedom to get security from a sovereign ruler. They did so as in a state of nature they were `solitary, poor, nasty, brutish …’ (Hobbes).Locke suggests when government no longer fulfils its duty to provide for the common good, individuals have the right to rebel against it; the [social] contract has been broken’. The US Declaration of Independence a‘ la Locke provides that it is citizens’ duty to throw off a despotic government and provide new Guards for their Security.
An average Pakistani believes that revolutions are not made, they come about from Heavens. He is unmindful that a revolution, revolt or rebellion is `as natural a growth as an oak’ (Wendell Phillips). Yet, the bitter truth is that `a government which is united’ [by mafias in every sphere of life] `cannot be toppled’ (Plato). Apathy had been a feature of pre-partition society also. Till 1857, Moghal `emperors’ lived on British dole, less than one lac (Jaswant Singh’s Jinnah: Partition, India Pakistan). History of intruders is no history (Marx).Only a handful of rajputs committed johar (suicide en mass like Jews at Masada) when besieged or defeated.
The masses remained silent spectators to War of Independence (Sepoy Mutiny 1857) and isolated uprisings in Bengal _ Faraizi movement 1830-57, Santal Pargana 1855, Indigo districts 1859-61, Tushkhali 1855, Indigo districts 1872-75, Pabna 1873, Chhagalnaiya 1874, Mymensingh 1874-1882 and Munshigang 1980-81. David Hume, not any Indian, created Congress followed by four English presidents.
Aware of selfishness of the Indian people, the British created a class of chiefs (chieftains) to suit their need for loyalists, war fund raisers and recruiters in post -`mutiny’ period and during the Second World War. Peek into the pre-partition gazetteers and you would know the patri-lineage of today’s’ tiwanas, nawabs, pirs, syed faqirs, qizilbash, kharrals, gakhars, and their ilk. A gubernatorial gazetteer states, `I have for many years felt convinced that the time had arrived for the Government to try to introduce some distinction for those who can show hereditary services before the Hon’ble Company’s rule in India ceased. I have often said that I should be proud to wear a Copper Order, bearing merely the words `Teesri pusht Sirkar Company ka Naukar’.
Some pirs and mashaikh even quoted verses from Holy Quran to justify allegiance to Englishman (amir), after loyalty to Allah and the Messenger (PBUH). They pointed out that Quran ordained that ihsan (favour) be returned with favour. The ihsan were British favours like titles (khan bahadur etc), honorary medals, khilat with attached money rewards, life pensions, office of honorary magistrate, assistant commissioner, courtier, etc. A tiwana military officer even testified in favour of O’Dwyer when the latter was under trial.
Gandhi astutely perceived psyche of the Indians (Pakistanis included) (a la Tolstoy’s A Letter to a Hindu) that Indians themselves allowed themselves to be colonized for their own material interests. Otherwise there was no way 30,000 `rather weak and ill-looking Britons could enslave 200 million `vigorous, clever, strong, and freedom loving people (Stegler, 2000). He lamented that Indians had become `sly sycophants and willing servants of the Empire thereby proving to the world that they were morally unfit to serve the country. Gandhi’s ethos sound reverberated in revolutionary ideologies of several revolutionary movements. If government and people are nationalistic, there would be no need to overthrow them (Lincoln’s dictum `Government of the people for …’). SunYat-sen (China) translated Lincoln’s principles into nationalism, democracy and socialism. Marx theory of society postulated that economics determines the socio-political realities. Marx visualized god as creation of human hands, rather than His hand guiding the humans. Lenin envisioned a professional core to lead the revolution.
Mao like Gandhi was rueful at passivity and docility of people. He wanted people to struggle (douzheng) to smash prevailing social inhibitions in such a dramatic and traumatic way that participants could never again re-establish their pre-struggle relationship. Mao says `If you want to know the taste of a pear, you must change the pear by eating it yourself. If you want to know the theory and methods of revolution you must take part in revolution. All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience’. `A person learns to swim in the water not in a library’ [of how-to-swim books] (Paulo Freire). Sanerro Luminoso (the Shining Path) also advocated Mao’s ideas of prolonged guerilla warfare as the only way to overthrow the government. Paulo Freire points out “To affirm that men and women are persons and parsons should be free and yet do nothing tangible to make this affirmation a reality is a farce’.
Ayub Khan added the chapter of 22 families to the English-raj aristocracy. About 460 scions of the pre-partition chiefs along with industrial barons created in Ayub era are returned again and again to assemblies. Pakistan’s successive ruling coteries are a miracle that defies common sense and principles of political science. Pakistan’s sand-dune rulers could not come up with, at least a uniform education, healthcare and housing policy.
China’s leaders and morality is different from Pakistan’s. Pakistanis are `committed’ to Islamic orientation. It is however questionable why Islamic clauses in Pakistan’s constitution became a hostage to miniscule obscurantist minority. Those claiming to transform Pakistan could learn a lot from Mao Zedong. He first understood principles of socialism, and then travelled over 6000 kilometers to create awareness in people. Do our leaders have any vision, ideology?
The Taliban seek cooperation with China?
How to deal with Afghanistan after the removal of US forces has become a subject that many countries are grappling with. And because Afghanistan and China are linked through Xinjiang, the Afghan Taliban aspire to cooperate with China. According to sources, on July 28, Baradar, the head of the Taliban’s Political Committee, visited China and met with Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
During the meetings, Foreign Minister Wang Yi made a personal plea to the Taliban in Afghanistan, expecting that the Taliban would draw a line with terrorist organizations like the East Iraqi Movement and actively battle them, removing barriers to regional growth and cooperation. Since the United States made it apparent that it intends to withdraw its troops, China’s position toward Afghanistan and the Taliban has become the center of all countries’ attention.
Prior to that, China simply repeated its long-standing foreign policy of non-interference in domestic matters, — in other words, China does not intervene in Afghanistan’s internal problems and expects Afghans to handle their own internal affairs. China, on the other hand, is very concerned about the situation in Afghanistan. China has not only made substantial investments in Afghanistan, but it has also sponsored several dialogues in China between Afghan parties.
Only because of the complexities of the situation in Afghanistan does China lack a clear answer. China has stated its particular needs more explicitly this time than in the past. China has far too many considerations when it comes to Afghanistan. However, in comparison to the behavior of many other nations, China’s demands for the Taliban this time have been well thought out, fair, and controlled.
First, China has maintained its previous favorable policy. Despite the fact that the Afghanistan problem is unique, China has not broken its foreign policy of non-interference in internal matters. On the basis of this strategy, China has had interactions with all parties in Afghanistan, ensuring that participation is not only voluntary, but also sufficient to ensure that all parties understand China’s position in order to avoid misunderstandings.
Second, China has stated its opinion on the subjects that most worry it. China has no space for compromise when it comes to national security. China has not raised this matter in the past, but it still needs to voice its viewpoint at the proper moment. As a result, China has the guts to demonstrate its stance, which will aid in the resolution of the situation.
Only when this issue is settled will future collaboration between China and Afghanistan be simple. The Taliban further said that no troops will be allowed to utilize Afghan territory to conduct activities that harm China. Atta regards China as a reliable ally and thinks that China would contribute to peaceful rebuilding.
Furthermore, China has not permitted certain ill-intentioned groups throughout the world to flourish. Following the withdrawal of the US troops, there was speculation in Western culture that China might become engaged in this issue and become the next growing power to enter the “empire’s tomb.” The Indian army’s recent intervention in Afghan politics appears to demonstrate that, as a powerful country around Afghanistan, it is hard to stay out of the issue.
China avoided the urge to intervene and managed its interactions with all sides sensibly, laying the ground for the next phase in the development of China-Afghan relations. So far, China has not fallen into the West’s trap, nor has the deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan harmed its relations with all parties.
As China expands its global presence, it will eventually come into contact with nations with very difficult political and economic situations, such as Afghanistan. However, China will not flee because of obstacles, because the majority of the world’s developed countries are Western countries with strong biases against China, and those wanting to have good relations with China are frequently developing countries with varied challenges. nation. As a result, China has no option.
Will US-China Tensions Trigger the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis?
Half a century ago, the then-National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger flew to Beijing in the hope of seeking China’s alliance to contain the Soviets. His visit culminated in the U.S. agreement to recognize Beijing as the only legitimate government of China instead of Taipei, going back on the promise he had made to the president of the Republic of China, Chiang Ching-kuo, merely one year previously that Taiwan would never be abandoned by the US. The realistic American diplomat may have never thought that one day Taiwan, once ruthlessly forsaken by the US, would become the latter’s most important strategic fortress in East Asia to contain a rising China.
In 2018, the passage of the Taiwan Travel Act encouraged more high-ranking American government officials to visit Taiwan and vice versa1. The US Undersecretary of State Keith Krach landed in Taiwan two years later, rendering him the highest-level State Department official to visit the island since 19792. The Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, announced the cancellation of all restrictions on official contacts between the U.S. and Taiwan in January 20213 – an action that was vehemently denounced by the Chinese government as Trump’s “last-ditch madness” that would “push the Taiwan question deeper down the road of no return”4.
Just when the world thought of Joe Biden’s ascension to power as a harbinger of softer attitudes toward Beijing, especially regarding Taiwan issues, the diplomatic muscle flexed by the newly elected US president is as eye-tingling as his aviator shades – first, his Secretary of State, Blinken and Secretary of Defense, Austin made an explicit announcement of the U.S. support for Taiwan; second, he sent former Deputy Secretaries of State Richard Armitage and James Steinberg and former senator Chris Dodd to Taiwan in honor of the 42nd anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act.
America’s incremental interest in the island is not confined to actions from its executive branches, but it has permeated its legislative system. The introduction of the confrontational “Strategic Competition Act of 2021” in April signals the anti-Soviet-style containment of China which was backed by The Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This bill echoes the “Interim National Security Strategic Guidance” released by the Biden Administration in March, and it emphasizes the urgent need to “achieve United States political objectives in the Indo-Pacific” and back closer ties with Taiwan5. With strong bipartisan support, the bill is expected to be signed into law by President Biden and to serve as a legislative compass to counter China at all levels. In that respect, Taiwan Strait is more likely than ever to become “ground zero” by the U.S. and China.
On the other hand, the crackdown on Hong Kong’s democracy movement under the new National Security Law by Beijing proved to be successful due to the limited backlash received from the West. On top of that, Beijing’s handling of Xinjiang cotton issue seems to have managed to incite nationalism among Chinese people on a short notice to boycott “anti-China forces”6. With a record of 380 incursions into Taiwan’s airspace by Chinese air force during 2020, there is reason to believe that Hong Kong and Xinjiang were “guinea pigs” used by Beijing to test its capability for the fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis, the probability of which has been enhanced by Xi Jinping’s attempt to seek reappointment and Beijing’s need to divert domestic attention away from the escalating social conflicts brought about by the stagnant economy.
So, the pertinent question is: if the fourth Taiwan Crisis does break out, when will it happen? It could be sometime after the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games7 as it is unlikely for China to discard the opportunity to showcase its image and test its comprehensive strength8. This could be déjà vu in light of Russia’s successful Blitzkrieg-style invasion of Ukraine in 2014, which occurred only three days after the end of Sochi Winter Olympics. However, China is not the only one who can learn from history. When the rest of the world anticipates China’s intent with regard to Taiwan, preemptive precautions will be taken. The game-theory-type strategic interaction may hence spur China to launch its attack before the upcoming international sports gala.
Another critical timing could be prior to the 20th National Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in October 2022. Xi Jinping’s abolishment of term limits through constitutional amendment may pave the legal foundation for his reappointment, but the “widespread opposition within the party”9 renders the legitimacy of his extended tenure unlikely. That is why some may find it hard to conceive of Xi’s attempt to “start an unnecessary war with Taiwan” before his re-appointment10, but his insatiable desire for a 3rd term may push him over the edge. For the time being, Xi seems to be seduced by his burgeoning self-confidence that China is charging into an epoch of opportunity where “the East is rising and the West is declining,”11 and what time is better than now to consolidate his authority in front of dissidents with a military show-off targeting Taiwan?
As Henry Kissinger12 said, “The historical challenge for leaders is to manage the crisis while building the future. Failure could set the world on fire.” When the leaders of the two greatest powers both see their own countries as the future “Leviathan” of the world, the definition of failure can no longer be merely confined to internal mismanagement, but being surpassed by international competitors. Kissinger may have overestimated some leaders’ senses of honor to bear the responsibility of the “historical challenge”, but he can be right about the catastrophic consequences of their failures. But this time, failure is not an option for either side across the Taiwan Strait nor across the Pacific Ocean
- Chen, Y., & Cohen, J. A. (2019). China-Taiwan Relations Re-Examined: The “1992 Consensus” and Cross-Strait Agreements. University of Pennsylvania Asian Law Review, 14(1).
- Mink, M. (2021). The Catalyst for Stronger US-Taiwan Ties. https://keithkrach.com/the-catalyst-for-stronger-us-taiwan-ties/
- Hass, R. (2021). After lifting restrictions on US-Taiwan relations, what comes next? Brookings. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2021/01/11/after-lifting-restrictions-on-us-taiwan-relations-what-comes-next/
- Global Times. (2021). Pompeo may toll the knell for Taiwan authorities. https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202101/1212378.shtml
- Zengerle, P., & Martina, M. (2021). U.S. lawmakers intensify bipartisan efforts to counter China. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/us-lawmakers-look-advance-sweeping-bid-counter-china-2021-04-21/
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Quad Infrastructure Diplomacy: An Attempt to Resist the Belt and Road Initiative
Over the years, the competition between the great powers in the dual space of the Indian and Pacific Oceans has been rapidly increasing. In the face of the aggravation of relations between the PRC and the United States, the defence dimension of the rivalry between the two contenders for global leadership traditionally comes to the forefront. However, in today’s context, the parties will most likely not engage in military action for the strengthening of their dominance in the region, but they will try to achieve the goals by expanding of economic influence. In this context, along with the well-known trade wars, there is an infrastructure rivalry in the region, which is enforced on Beijing by Washington and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad).
The role of Infrastructure in Indian and Pacific Oceans’ countries
The countries of Asia traditionally drawing the attention of the world community due to the high rates of economic, technological, and social development. In less than three decades, their per capita income has increased by 74%, millions of people have been lifted out of poverty, as well as a growing middle class has emerged in the region. All this became possible due to the multilateral cooperation institutionalization and the integration of the economies of the Indo-Pacific. However, the strengthening of trade and economic ties and the future prosperity of Asia largely depends on the infrastructure (ports, highways and railways, airports, pipelines, etc.), which contributes to a more active movement of goods on a regional and global scale. Moreover, back in 2009, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) published a report according to which collective investments in infrastructure in the amount of US$8 trillion will be required to maintain rapid economic growth in Asian countries.
The most prominent infrastructure initiative in recent years is the «Belt and Road Initiative» (BRI), which was launched by China’s leader Xi Jinping in 2013. The BRI helped to fill numerous infrastructure gaps, but the United States and its partners increasingly paid attention to the geostrategic aspect of China’s actions. It’s no secret that the Belt and Road plays an important role in the development and integration of China’s provinces with neighboring countries. However, with the growing number of countries participating in the BRI, as well as the strengthening of China’s influence on a regional and global scale, criticism of the strategic tools for expanding Beijing’s economic influence gradually increased. The Belt and Road has faced a number of critical remarks, including those related to accusations of purposely involving the regional countries in the so-called «debt traps». Regardless of the degree of truthfulness or study of the issue, from year to year, media reports have contributed to the building of a contradictory attitude to China’s BRI among the residents, experts, and political elites all over the world.
Moreover, as soon as Donald Trump became the U.S. President in early 2017, Washington modified the nature of its policy towards China to greater confrontation. This trend has become a direct expression of the intensified great powers’ rivalry and their struggle for hegemony in the Indo-Pacific, as well as a motivation for the revival of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), which includes the United States, Australia, India and Japan. However, the interaction of the Quad has long been built on the basis of defence.
This trend continues nowadays, as evidenced by the frequent exercises and the growing Quad naval presence in the Indo-Pacific but in 2021 the Quad countries expanded their range of issues on a multilateral basis. Now the agenda includes vaccine diplomacy (providing 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines to Indo-Pacific countries, climate change, technological cooperation, maritime security, cybersecurity, and external development assistance. According to Kurt Campbell, Indo-Pacific policy coordinator at the National Security Council, Washington is looking to convene an in-person fall summit of leaders of the Quad countries with a focus on infrastructure in the face of the challenge from China.
Quadrilateral infrastructure diplomacy as the continuing vector of the Trump’s administration
The infrastructure agenda also became an important part of the last summit of the G7 countries’ leaders, during which the parties expressed their willingness to establish a BRI counterpart called Build Back Better World (B3W). In total, there are 22 mentions of infrastructure in the final G7 Summit Communiqué. Even despite the traditionally restrained position of India, which took the time to «study the specifics of the proposal», infrastructure diplomacy of Quad is becoming a new area of geostrategic competition in the Indo-Pacific.
There’s one exception: the activities on the infrastructure track are not a new trend of U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration, but a continuation of the foreign policy vector set during the presidency of Donald Trump. It was he who turned Sino-U.S. rivalry into a geo-economic level. Back in 2017, the Foreign Ministers of the Quad countries stated the need for high-quality infrastructure development in order to ensure freedom and openness of sea routes, as well as improve intra-regional ties. In 2018, MoU was signed between the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia, aimed at implementing major infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific. Moreover, the Quad countries raised the question of the BRI countries’ growing debt during their official meeting in Singapore.
It was clear that the Belt and Road Initiative is perceived by the Quad countries as the main factor in expanding the economic and political influence of the People’s Republic of China, as well as China’s influence of the domestic political processes in the countries of Indo-Pacific. At the same time, the combination of economic and defence rivalry enforced on Beijing by Washington, as well as Quad’s efforts to build a balance of power in the region actually indicates the explicit anti-China nature of the Quad.
In this case, it’s important to note that each of the Quad countries has its own levers of influence, which they can combine in infrastructure competition with Beijing. For example, in 2015, in response to the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative and the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) by China, Japan made the Partnership for Quality Infrastructure (PQI). The United States, in turn, announced the infrastructure project Blue Dot Network (BDN), as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia established a new Partnerships for Infrastructure (P4I). All these initiatives are united by a commitment to inclusive economic growth, «quality infrastructure», climate change, disaster response, and social development. The capitalization of the Japanese, American and Australian initiatives is US $110 billion (US$50 billion from Japan and over US$50 from the Asian Development Bank), US$30-60 million, and US$383 thousand (including access to US$4 billion of foreign aid and $US2 billion from the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific), respectively. Given the ongoing discussions about debt traps, the emphasis on «high-quality infrastructure» may give special features to the initiatives of the Quad but even the total amount of funding will not be able to compete with the US$770 billion investments already made in 138 countries of the world and announced by China.
Anyway, Quad is stepping up its infrastructure diplomacy in at least three areas, including Southeast Asia, Oceania, and the Indian Ocean. For example, Australia, Germany and Switzerland have already allocated US$13 million to the Mekong River Commission For Sustainable Development (MRC) to assist Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and, Vietnam «to respond to pressing challenges while safeguarding the ecological function of the Mekong River and improving people’s livelihoods».At the same time, Australia signed US$300 million MoU with Papua New Guinea, aimed at the ports reconstruction in the major state of Oceania (the ports of Vanimo, Kimbe, Motukea, Lorengau, Oro Bay, Daru, Lae, etc.). It is important to highlight that the increasing economic and infrastructural presence of China in the countries of Oceania, energize Australia’s policy in the South Pacific, which is a traditional zone of influence of Canberra. At the same time, the expansion of Australia’s aid and investment to the broader Indo-Pacific is due to the commitment of the current Australian government to the U.S. foreign policy.
In turn, the reaction of the Southeast Asian countries to the intensification of Quad infrastructure diplomacy will be more restrained. According to the latest Pew Research Center survey, the most unfavourable view of China is in the United States (76%), Canada (73%), Germany (71%), Japan (88%), Australia (78%), and South Korea (77%), while in Singapore — the only country representing ASEAN in the survey — the percentage of unfavourable views on China is at a low level (34%). Moreover, considering the aspects of infrastructure diplomacy in the region, we should definitely refer to the survey of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) of the political elites of the region «Powers, Norms, and Institutions: The Future of the Indo-Pacific from a Southeast Asia Perspective», published in 2020. Despite the intentional exclusion of Russia from the survey, it approximately reflects the trends in the Indo-Pacific countries at the present stage. Thus, as a result of the survey, American experts revealed that the political elites of Southeast Asia positively assess China’s activities in the field of infrastructure development, which has brought tangible benefits to most Southeast Asian countries.
China is actively reacting to verbal attacks from the United States and Quad. The infrastructure agenda was no exception, but China responded by modernizing its global Belt and Road Initiative. In response to criticism about the involvement of the countries in debt traps, Beijing has developed a new Foreign Policy White Paper «China’s International Development Cooperation in the New Era». The document was published in early 2021. According to the provisions of the new White Paper, China will pay closer attention to the process of implementing projects within the aid framework, take an active part in evaluating projects in order to monitor their quality, maintain an appropriate level of confidence in its projects to China, as well as conduct bilateral consultations to identify difficulties with debt repayment and make sure that partners do not fall into a debt trap. It’s possible that the new vision of the PRC will appear especially quickly in countries where the Quad will primarily try to implement their infrastructure projects.
China is the first country in the region, which pays significant attention to the issues of large-scale infrastructure development. Moreover, Beijing has a number of advantages over its opponent — Quad. First, the Belt and Road initiative is more structured and aimed at intensifying trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation with neighboring countries, while the emerging Quad infrastructure agenda is «dispersed» among numerous individual initiatives, doesn’t have the same level of stability as the BRI, and even after 3.5 years of building the agenda is considered through the prism of expectations.
Second, China’s initiative is aimed at a single infrastructure connection between the PRC and the rest of the world and acts as a potential basis for the intensification of global trade in the future. At the same time, today’s projects of the Quad are of a “sporadic» nature and can’t contribute to the infrastructure linkage between Europe, Africa, South and Southeast Asia on a global scale.
Third, China can already offer the Belt and Road members not only logistics infrastructure but also the opportunities in the field of green energy. At the end of 2019, China produced about a third of the world’s solar energy and retained a leading position in the number of wind turbines. Within the foreseeable future, the Quad countries, and especially the United States, will have to compete with China even in the field of the climate agenda, which is so close to the new administration of the U.S. President Joe Biden.
Finally, during his recent speech on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), PRC’s Leader Xi Jinping confidently declared the great revival of the Chinese nation, its contribution to the progress of human civilization, and its readiness to build a new world, which undoubtedly indicates China’s decisiveness to respond to challenges to its address, including from the Quad.
The ongoing transformation of the regional architecture in the Indo-Pacific, both in the defence and economic areas, will be an important aspect in the post-pandemic era. China has repeatedly stated about the «covered» Quad activities to deterrence Chinese policy in the region, but the expansion of the Quad’s agenda by infrastructure diplomacy allows us to speak about the evident vector of the Quad strategy against the PRC.
However, nowadays the Quad countries had been left behind. China already has the world’s most numerous land forces, the largest navy, as well as an ambitious global Belt and Road initiative that includes almost 140 countries and a capitalization approaching US$1 trillion. Of course, Quad is moving towards the institutionalization of its infrastructure cooperation and the potential expansion of the number of participating countries to the Quad Plus format. However, to reach China’s achievements for the period 2013-2021, the new alliance will need at least a decade.
At the same time, the rivalry of the Belt and Road with the Quad’s infrastructure initiative will help the countries of the region to diversify their infrastructure ties but will make their choice even more difficult, since it will primarily be regarded as support for the foreign policy vision of one of the parties, and not a pragmatic estimate of economic benefits. All this makes the regional environment in the Indo-Pacific increasingly complex and forces middle powers and smaller countries to adapt to new geostrategic realities.
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