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Europe and China in a Globalized World: The Geopolitical Impacts of Belt and Road

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Donald Trump’s rise to power, his “America first” policy and the announcement by Chinese President Xi Jinping of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), designed to revitalize the Silk Road, are the three mile- stones demonstrating a radical shift in globalization.

Our globalized world is in fact going through a decisive moment in its history, something that can be seen in the creation of the cult of personality surrounding the Chinese President, the introduction of China’s Social Credit System (SCS) and, finally, the crisis of confidence that has taken hold among the European Union’s (EU) member states,  resulting in the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU (Brexit), among other developments.

G-2, G-Zero and the Multipolar World

By putting in place protectionist measures, the world’s two superpowers, the United States and China, have begun a trade war. The announcement by the US that it would impose tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum, among other goods, has prompted China to impose its own tariffs on more than 100 products from the US. By mid-July 2018, the value of the taxed products traded between China and the United States had reached US$100 billion. According to experts, this will reduce world trade by 0.5% and economic growth in China and the United States by between 0.1% and 0.3% (Le figaro and AFP Agence, 2018).

Caught between these two powers, the European Union is responding in a similar fashion, i.e. by imposing customs duties worth €2.8 billion on certain US products (Reuters, 2018). Less united than ever, the EU must contend with Brexit and its impacts throughout the Union. The dissatisfaction Europe’s citizens feel about the EU’s lack of effectiveness continues to grow. The future of Europe, the European identity and the Union’s role in today’s globalized world are all being called into question.

It seems we are living in a G-Zero world, a world in which no country, region or group is able to play a leading role on the international scene. On the contrary, G-Zero means a “free-for-all” in which multiple political strategies are being implemented. Each country or region is trying to find its own effective solutions to the challenges of globalization, very often putting others at a disadvantage.

Will this G-Zero world ultimately lead to a G-2 world in which all depends on how relations between the United States and China develop? More than ever, the EU must formulate common strategies vis-à-vis the two superpowers. Alternatively, will multipolarity prevail? A multipolarity characterized by peaceful cooperation among countries?

If so, the result could be a world in which the various players take action, certainly in competition with each other, but in a complementary manner. New international regulations and standards would provide a framework for this “cosmopolitical” (Nida-Rümelin, 2017) global govern- ance while avoiding military conflicts. This would be a world in which the EU, above all, could define its geopolitical strategy in a way that prevents it from finding itself at the mercy of China and the United States.

After reviewing the main characteristics of globalization, internationalization, the competition among nation-states and transnational forces (see the following Introduction section), this paper analyzes BRI   as a geopolitical instrument within China’s overall strategy, which is designed to manage developments and exert power (see the section BRI: A “China First” Strategy). It then explores the impacts of BRI and the “China first” strategy on Europe (see the section BRI and the EU: An Opportunity for Europe). Finally, it discusses the importance of bridging differences and cultivating an “identity of the heart” in keeping with the geopolitical vision of Jacques Ancel.

Introduction: Globalization, Deterritorialization and Transnationalization

Geopolitics — the study of territory and power — is at the heart of this paper. Globalization means the cross-border movement of people, goods, services, capital and information. It is not a new phenomenon. What is new is the increased interdependence between nation-states and the impact of various non-governmental actors (e.g. international companies, interest groups, NGOs) at the international level. In addition, there is greater competition between the national forces that arose from the old world order produced by the Treaty of Westphalia and the new trans- national forces resulting from globalization.

Political responses to globalization, i.e. internationalization, have been very varied, sometimes even conflicting. On the one hand, protectionist measures have been put in place, such as customs duties, border controls and, in Europe, a return to the logic of nation-states. On the other, measures promoting economic openness and expansion are being undertaken, from the re-conquest of the old Silk Roads to the harmonization of European trade and defense policies (e.g. the Common Security and Defence Policy, an integral part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy).

The transnational forces resulting from de-territorialization are competing with traditional national forces, especially when it comes to securing natural resources. This is attributed to the Internet and networking; moreover people all around the world have much more knowledge at their disposal, particularly about globalization’s harmful effects. Indeed, there have been losers in addition to winners. Some countries or regions have massive international trade surpluses, while others are experiencing large deficits. In addition, cross-border economic crime, illicit transactions and money laundering are commonplace. There has been an accumulation of wealth in some regions, often controlled by political–economic elites. This injustice is increasingly fueling citizens’ mistrust of the prevailing political classes. This, in turn, is leading to an increase in social conflicts and protest movements, causing the effectiveness of the democratic system to be questioned.

There are shared challenges, however, that unite all the actors involved in this geopolitical issue: international terrorism; the effects of climate change including on food production; competition for natural resources; chronic economic, social and political crises, due, in particular, to the rise of an illegal and opaque global economy; widespread political apathy; and, finally, digitization, which is leading to a radical change in how people work. Current international institutions and organizations no longer offer effective solutions. The old world order, an after-effect of the Second World War, is in decline, while a new world order has yet to take shape.

BRI: A “China First” Strategy

Xi’s announcement in 2013 that China intended to revitalize the ancient Silk Roads marked a turning point in the country’s national policy.

Indeed, this vast project targeting infrastructure and commercial net- works will extend throughout Eurasia, an area of great geopolitical and commercial importance. The project is strengthening the links between China and countries all along the “belt”. It is, in fact, not a single project, since there is no master plan, but is comprised of a multitude of roads, railways and waterways. It includes the Pacific Silk Road, which passes through the Arctic Ocean, and the Digital Silk Road, which covers cyber- space (The Economist, 2018). BRI is also considered “the road of Xi Jinping” which only reinforces the cult of personality surrounding him. BRI focuses on major infrastructure projects (Figure 1). The 2015 action plan presented the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) and the Maritime Silk Road Belt (MSR) with a total of six corridors. According to the initiative, roads and sea routes are to connect China to Central Asian countries, Russia and, ultimately, Europe — but especially to Africa, in order  to secure natural resources, particularly oil.  In Eurasia, BRI covers more than 65 countries with a population of more than three billion, in keeping with the leitmotif advanced by the Communist Party of China (CPC) of “developing the region’s wealth and preserving peace, friend- ship, trust and understanding”.

In order to ensure financing for this vast infrastructure project, China has established two institutions that are complementary to, as opposed to competitors of, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (World Bank) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB):

-The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB): The Asian investment bank for infrastructure projects, with 57 member countries (in addition to European countries such as France, Germany, Italy and Luxembourg).

-The Silk Road Fund: A Chinese sovereign fund.

Many political leaders in the countries along this belt are welcoming this vast project with open arms, since it will improve infrastructure, ensure connectivity and, subsequently, promote economic development. However, as with any Chinese investment, compliance with standards and regulations is not a priority for Beijing. The corruption and opacity relating to the investments flowing from China are likely to benefit political elites more than the populations of the respective countries.

Figure 1. Belt and Road Initiative.Source: Société de Stratégie

In addition, dependence on the investment flows generates an imbalance    in China’s favor, preventing recipient countries from maintaining their economic autonomy.

China’s meta-strategy

The driver behind this commercial project is, above all, a new ideology being advanced by the CPC. Indeed, the main purpose of BRI is to secure and control transport routes for natural resources, particularly oil and gas. This basically means the transport routes that connect African resource-producing countries to production sites in China. The most important corridor is the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). This route connects the city of Kashgar in China to the port city of Gwadar in Pakistan and is an integral part of China’s overall strategy. Almost 80% of all Chinese imports of oil pass through the Strait of Malacca (Figure 2). As a result, CPEC will significantly reduce transport time. In addition, it will improve Pakistan’s infrastructure due to the massive Chinese investments it entails. Not only will this help develop Pakistan’s economy, reduce the country’s energy shortages and boost its productivity, it will also increase Pakistan’s dependence on China. At the same time, the infrastructure projects are being financed through concessional and commercial loans, which will fuel the corruption already prevalent in Pakistan (Luchnikava-Schorsch, 2018; Hussain, 2017).

Figure 2. China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).Source: South China Morning Post

It is therefore necessary to view BRI not only as an instrument for asserting China’s power but also as a global meta-strategy that proposes an alternative world order, at least at the commercial level, to the liberal order established by the West. It is also why geopolitical, strategic and military aspects should be considered more than economic aspects. New waterways and port construction serve more than just commercial ends. Ports can serve as military bases for the Chinese navy. For example, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) inaugurated its first overseas maritime naval base in Djibouti in 2017 (Lagneau, 2017). Dispatching 400 troops, the PLA stated that it wants to support  UN  peacekeeping operations and its own naval operations, particularly in the Indian Ocean. China’s military presence, however, is of concern not only to the United States but to India as well. China–India relations are already tense due to disagreements over territories in the Himalayas, among other issues. CPEC passes through high-risk areas such as the autonomous region of Xinjiang and the northwest Pakistan–Afghanistan border region. The Chinese army is therefore securing infrastructure construction sites, transport roads and ports all along the corridor. In this context, BRI is a strategy that primarily serves Chinese interests. Certainly, this new Silk Road offers business opportunities to companies both in Asia and in Europe. Nevertheless, two aspects are important here: BRI is an ideological tool designed to maintain China’s internal stability, i.e. control by the CPC, while also serving as a strategy that brings together civil and military interests under the rubric of “security”.

Ideology

While Europe tries to identify a new vision, China has provided its geopolitical strategy with a second wind. Capitalism got its start in modern China when the country opened to foreign investment in 1978 and when peasants were granted permission to keep their surplus production. By unleashing its citizens’ entrepreneurial spirit, the country hoped to overcome its technical and technological backwardness. Mobilization of the often-inactive Chinese population ensured national unity in keeping with the motto of “becoming rich”. After years of economic growth and accumulated wealth, the CPC is using BRI, among other activities, to give itself not only new justification for maintaining its power but also a new ideology capable of ensuring party unity, internal stability and national cohesion. President Xi is strengthening his position, supported by the Chinese people. The country’s authoritarian regime, moreover, is tightening its grip.  Internationally, the Chinese economy is an integral part of global production chains.  Remarkably, China is also increasingly becoming a source of innovation, especially digital innovation.

Externally, China is flexing its muscles in a number of locations, including in the South China Sea, transforming “a number of islets in the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos into military bases, where the government is building ports and airstrips” (RFI, 2017).

Assured by its strong position on the geopolitical  level,  the Chinese government is embarking on a more assertive foreign policy. Domestically, the country’s government manages the country as a global enterprise. Five-year plans are a  management  tool  used  to  set the economic strategies of Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs), both internally and externally, to ensure  that  standards  of  living  increase  for the Chinese population. This legitimizes the CPC’s ongoing rule. The BRI vision thus mobilizes the nation, safeguarding the unity, stability and harmony of China as a whole. At the same time, however, the growing cult of personality means that China is increasingly becoming a revisionist power.

New security strategy

As mentioned above, BRI is above all a “geostrategic–military” initiative since it brings together civil and military interests under the rubric of “security”. Indeed, these interests are at the center of all decisions and actions on the political and economic levels. Using the term “security”, China’s political strategy aims to safeguard national interests both domestically and internationally. Several dimensions of “security” are differentiated: national sovereignty and national unification, along with military, economic, cultural, social, scientific and technological security, as well as the security of information, security of environment and resources and, finally, nuclear security (State of Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China, 2015). The main objective of this major security strategy is to preserve the country’s unity, prevent social unrest and legitimize the power of President Xi and the CPC.

In conclusion, we can see that the countries interacting with the European Union are pursuing a strategy that places national interests at the center of their respective political actions. The United States and Trump’s “America first” vision, the strengthening of the authoritarian regime in China, the new cult of personality surrounding Xi Jinping, the return of Mao’s personality cult and BRI are all ultimately driven by national ideologies. On the international level, the global community could thus be dominated by superpowers such as China, the United States and Russia. Due to the weakness of international organizations, ideologies are prevailing, determining the world order. The failure of the European project could become a cruel reality if Europe does not quickly find a new vision while avoiding ideological tendencies — formulating its interests as it does so.

BRI and the EU: An Opportunity for Europe?

Diplomatic relations between Europe and China began in 1975. Since then, there have been regular ministerial meetings and Sino-European summits. More than 60 sectoral agreements have been concluded. China and the EU trade goods are worth more than €1.5 billion each day (Eurostat, 2018). The EU is China’s main trading partner; for Europe, China is second only to the United States.

For years, the EU’s trade balance (Figure 3) with China has been in deficit, with the shortfall reaching €176.4 billion in 2017. This has been a constant conflict between Europe and China. Despite numerous discussions between Beijing and Brussels, the imbalance persists for most member states, although not for Germany, Finland and Ireland (Eurostat, 2018).

Figure 3. The Trade Balance between the EU and China (2008–2017).Source: Eurostat 2018

In 2016, the EU adopted a new strategy on China that tries to respond more effectively to the scale of China’s economic power and its role as an increasingly important global player (Joint Communication to the European Parliament and the Council, 2016). The strategy complements the EU-China 2020 Strategic Agenda for Cooperation, which marked its 15th anniversary in 2018 (Press and information team  of the Delegation to CHINA, 2016). In addition, the EU is negotiating an investment agreement with China to ensure fair opportunities for both sides. The EU also wants to encourage China to give a greater role to market mechanisms and reduce state intervention. The 2020 agenda does not seem to be succeeding. China is not really interested in accepting European norms and standards and is pursuing a “divide and rule” strategy in Europe instead. Indeed, BRI further amplifies the 16+1 meetings, which China is using to negotiate with Eastern European countries. The 16+1 format risks are loosening the ties between Eastern Europe and Brussels. China is pursuing this tactic by negotiating on three levels: with European institutions, with individual member countries and with Eastern Europe as a whole (16+1). An examination of Chinese foreign investment shows that the government continues to invest massively in Europe, always to some extent in “freeloader” style. China’s preferred targets are the United Kingdom (financial sector), Germany (Mittelstand/machine-tool, automotive sector), France (tourism, cosmetics, leisure, wine), Greece (infrastructure) and Portugal (real estate). Trade is growing steadily and with it the interdependence between EU member states and China.

Investment flows into Europe from China amount to €10.2 billion (2016) with EU investments in China totaling €12.8 billion in 2016 (Eurostat, 2018). Yet even if China is investing more and more in Europe, the scope must be put into perspective: of China’s total FDI, only 5–6% has been made in Europe. The majority of Chinese investments still take place in Asia — notably Hong Kong (75.5%), Singapore (3.7%), Taiwan (3.6%), South Korea (2.8%) and Japan (2.5%). The United States accounts for 2.4% of total Chinese FDI, the Netherlands 1.7% and Germany 1.2% (Otte, 2018). In the Asian region, BRI infrastructure projects will have a very significant impact in coming years. Even if Europe is more or less at the end of this new Silk Road, Eastern European nations have become, since BRI, the center of China’s interest. Especially Poland and the Baltic countries can serve as a point of entry for goods transported via the      Silk Road. BRI can then serve as a catalyst to rebalance trade relations in favor of Europe as a whole, but only if the EU finds a common strategy for this initiative. It is therefore important not to fall into the trap of intra-European competition, or to be divided by China. On the contrary, common European interests must be identified in order to protect key EU sectors and give priority to European actors.

Above all, closer cooperation with pro-European countries is necessary, as is monitoring and guiding  Chinese  investments  throughout  the European continent. BRI will change the foundations of world trade in the medium term, and the EU risks granting even greater access to European high technology. This poses a real threat since China, as discussed, links its civil and military interests. China’s influence and geopolitical–military power could thus have an impact in Europe, especially in Eastern Europe. First and foremost, BRI is a Chinese ideology that is making it possible to pursue the Chinese dream, modernize state- owned companies and facilitate their financing by promoting access to international credit. Additionally, the increased prosperity of the countries along the BRI routes will ensure Chinese trade remains stable, a key aspect given that the Chinese economy is heavily dependent on exports.

Areas of action for the EU

In view of BRI, not only must European companies act, so must all EU institutions. A new vision for Europe must be articulated if Europe is      to avoid being taken hostage by Chinese interests. The strength of the European Union is directly linked to how it manages its diversity. In Europe, freedom of thought reinforces creativity, which is necessary for technological progress. The high quality of Europe’s companies is the result of their innovative power. Due to its democratic structures, respect for human rights, rule of law and  high  social  standards  and  norms,  the EU acts within a regulatory framework based on ethical and human values. On the commercial level, BRI offers many opportunities for European companies as investors, experts, consultants and managers. Potential activities include the following:

-Investing in infrastructure projects, such as construction of railways and roads.

-Supplying equipment, such as that needed for ports.

-Serving as partners in the areas of engineering, procurement and construction (EPC).

-Serving as consultants for project management, especially in the area of operational security and the application of international and local laws.

-Managing infrastructure operations (Wijeratne et al., 2018).

There are many opportunities and risks here. As with any transnational project of this magnitude, major differences in the relevant corporate cultures must be overcome. Above all, trust between the various international actors plays a crucial role.

In addition, different legal frameworks exist which can lead to conflicts between international and local laws. Moreover, the “time” factor should not be overlooked, since BRI is a massive project that will only be completed in the long term. In short, there are myriad factors which could hinder European companies from serving as partners within the framework of this initiative.

French President Macron — Hope for Europe?

The election of Emmanuel Macron as President of the French Republic gave, for a brief time, new momentum not only to France, but also to the EU. Macron’s visit to China was closely watched, especially by the French and German press. The French President was the first European leader   to welcome the initiative to create a “new Silk Road”. Yet a comparison  of the outcome of his visit to China with that of Chancellor Merkel’s in 2015 is less than satisfying. Only 39 of the 50 envisaged contracts have been signed and half are mere declarations of intent. Thus, the French President did not truly introduce a new approach to dealing with China. With all due respect, he only highlighted the importance of the historically friendly relations between China, France and Europe. Macron’s mistake was to invoke France’s rivalry with the United States. Alluding to the Chinese proverb “When the wind of change blows, some build walls, others build mills”, the French President referred to the con- struction of the wall between Mexico and the United States. From the perspective of a G-2 scenario, China will always measure itself against superpowers like the US and consider France and Europe medium-sized actors instead. In addition, Macron has not addressed the problems resulting from France’s and the EU’s lack of geopolitical impact given the overwhelming power of players such as China and the US. What future thus awaits the EU as a new era of global governance dawns?

Conclusion

As globalization’s pace slows, the need increases to belong to a territory, region or country. The dynamics of transnational flows erase neither borders nor the places delimited by those borders (Zajec, 2016). On the contrary, it is clear that the geopolitical powers of nation-states such as China, the United States and Russia are growing. This growth has been accompanied by resurgence of personality cults (e.g. those surrounding Xi and Putin) and of ideologies guided by national interests. BRI is a good example, since it is the ideological pursuit of the Chinese dream. The strategy behind Trump’s “America first” campaign follows the same logic, being a call to revitalize the American dream.

European identity crisis

The EU, on the other hand, lacks a dream. Following the massive inflow of refugees to the European continent, Europe’s citizens have been legitimately demanding that border controls be restored and strengthened. It is necessary to define the European identity as a result. The EU is also an arena where national and transnational forces (e.g. global companies, interest groups) interact. And precisely these transnational forces, especially international companies, often behave more or less autonomously, regardless of the regulations issued by nation-states. The EU is an inter- mediate actor, at best a forward-looking one. It is not a “United States of Europe”, neither can it boast of being a true global force. After all, European power is clearly limited in economic terms. Being a global player requires a shared vision on the economic, political, military, social and cultural levels.

Globalization in its current form has given rise to a kind of new, highly conflictual bipolar world, one that requires a redefinition of the world order. The resulting rivalry is playing out on several levels:

-Institutional: Democratic system versus authoritarian regime, even dictatorships.

-National versus transnational forces.

-Nation-states versus global companies, business alliances and interest groups (lobbying).

-Within the EU: Nation-states versus European institutions, and Western Europe versus Eastern Europe.

The identity of the heart, a nation of the heart and the strength of differences

The leaders of European institutions should not underestimate the national strengths of the member states and their respective populations. According to this logic, President Macron is wrong to want to pursue the strategy of “even more Europe” without taking into account legitimate feelings of belonging and national identity. Jacques Ancel (1879–1943) contributed the notion of identity to geopolitics. According to Ancel, groups of individuals take shape based on a common memory, history, culture and language, eventually defining themselves within a border: “He defends a nation of the heart in and of itself that is non-rational” (Gauchon and Huissoud, 2008, pp. 7–11). In this sense, the EU can act as an avant-garde player, questioning a power’s sustainability — values versus mercantilism. A new “cosmopolitical” order of this sort must ensure fair trade relations, transparency of transactions, social justice and, above all, a more equitable distribution of natural resources and goods on a global scale. More precisely, it is the human dimension and the application of moral and ethical values that are essential if there is     to be an evolution towards a cosmopolitics, a process that must respect borders and, thus, national sovereignty (Banik, 2016).

In our globalized world, neither the EU, China nor the United States is an isolated island paradise. No actor is privy to the absolute truth. The challenges of climate change, growing global competition (for natural resources, food, water, etc.), the rivalry between national and transnational forces and, above all, international terrorism are forcing us to face new realities. The illusions must be relinquished that underlie today’s ideologies (those found in Europe; patriotic Chinese-style capitalism;

 “America first”; personality cults; a return to revisionist power structures). We must bridge our differences and move towards a cosmopolitical global governance based on human values — towards an “identity of the heart”. As Europeans, let us begin evolving towards a “Europe of the heart” in keeping with Jacques Ancel’s geopolitical vision (Banik, 2016).

“It is the heart which is worthwhile and which must be considered above all.” (Jacques Ancel)

Notes: This paper was originally published in “China and the World: Ancient and Modern Silk Road, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1–18 DOI: 0.1142/S2591729319500032, reproduced with the permission from the author.

Dr. Katja Banik, since 2017, has been a speaker/guest lecturer on geopolitical and economic issues related to China, Europe and the USA and on different global governance scenarios. She is Membre Associé à Titre Secondaire at Intégration et Coopération dans l’Espace Européen — Etudes Européennes (ICEE), Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3, and a Member of GIS Réseau Asie et Pacifique/GIS Études Asiatiques in Paris. Katja Banik is the author of Les Relations Chine-Europe: À la Croisée des Chemins published by L’Harmattan (Paris) in 2016. Further, she is the Editor-in-Chief of PwC’s China Compass. Katja Banik has senior management expertise in the logistics (Shanghai and Hong Kong) and she is the founding member of ilkmade.com.

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South Korea’s Potential for Global Influence is Weakened by its Mistreatment of Women

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In recent years, the Republic of Korea has become a pop culture juggernaut.

Eight years after “Gangnam Style” went global, K-Pop still reigns supreme with boy band BTS topping charts and issuing IPOs. Bong Joon-ho’s film “Parasite” swept last year’s Oscars, kimchi now has UNESCO cultural heritage status, while Samsung smartphones are used all over the world, second only to the mighty Apple.

The global appeal of the Korean Wave, known as “Hallyu,” recently attracted the attention of a report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which argued that this rising soft power could in turn boost South Korea’s global influence and drive diplomatic leadership on a broad range of transnational issues, from climate change to public health to democracy promotion.

This all sounds great, but there remains a nagging problem. Despite its flourishing culture, there have also been a string of scandals highlighting the plight of women in the country, who facing everything from inequality to workplace discrimination and rampant sexual harassment.

By any measure, the problem is significant and costly to the country’s interests. According to a 2019 report by the World Economic Forum, South Korea ranks 124 out of 149 countries in the world in terms of economic opportunity for women, while another report cites the highest gender pay gap among OECD nations at 35%. This low level of female participation in the economy is not only a drag on future GDP growth, but also coincides with a parallel mental health crisis: suicides among Korean women in their 20s have jumped by more than 40 percent in the last year, at the same time that male deaths are in decline.

Mistreatment of women in Korea may be a feature, not a bug, of the system. A recent string of sexual abuse scandals has reached the highest levels of the country’s political elites.

This past July, the country was shocked to wake up to the news that the popular Mayor of Seoul Park Won-soon had committed suicide when accusations of sexual assault against his secretary were made public. Mayor Park had built his image as stalwart champion of women’s rights, and yet, the secretary, who has been threatened and blamed following the suicide, says that she “felt defenseless and weak before the immense power” of the Mayor.

Months later, we are discovering the very people meant to protect the victims instead act to protect the alleged perpetrators. Congresswoman Nam In-soon, one of South Korea’s highest profile women’s rights activists, is being called on to resign after it was revealed that she leaked news of the sexual harassment investigation into Mayor Park. Another member of congress, Yoon Mee-hyang, was forced out of the ruling Democratic Party after facing criminal charges of embezzlement from the “comfort women” charity she used to direct, which raised money for survivors of World War II military brothels.

Before Mayor Park’s suicide and the comfort women scandal, there were many others. Last year, South Chungcheong Province Governor Ahn Hee-jung was convicted on nine counts of rape and sentenced to three and half years in prison. Mayor of Busan Oh Keo-Don was forced to resign following the assault accusation. Ahn Tae-geun, a former senior prosecutor whose case had become symbolic for the #MeToo movement, had his conviction overturned earlier this year.

These patterns stand in stark contrast to the image the government seeks to project.

In public speeches, President Moon Jae-in frequently advocates in defense of women’s rights in speeches and interviews. Speaking at the last UN General Assembly, he declared a commitment to inclusiveness and reducing inequalities. The ruling DPK has long associated itself with rights activists, and has made gestures toward combating misconduct and mistreatment of women – but critics say they aren’t doing enough. A headline on CNN last summer went so far as to call out the hypocrisy: “South Korea’s President says he’s a feminist. Three of his allies have been accused of sex crimes.”

Despite numerous protest movements and well supported marches, Korea has not yet experienced a breakthrough #MeToo moment. According to media testimonials, many women continue to face significant obstacles to advance in their careers. Even after 70,000 women marched last year to protest the prolific abuse of spy cams set up in bathrooms and changing rooms, patriarchal attitudes continue. This month, guidelines published on an official government website advising pregnant women to cook, clean, and to lose weight for their husbands after childbirth caused a social media uproar.

This is a deeply concerning problem. As highlighted by the Carnegie report, Korea’s role as a “middle power” in a such a volatile region would be highly welcome, and not just on things like climate and coronavirus vaccine distribution, but also their crucial role in containing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and holding firm in the shadow of China’s expanding authoritarian reach.

Some Korean groups have advocated internationally against gender-based violence, which is undoubtedly a very worthy cause. But until the Moon government can get serious about tackling these inequalities and abuses at home, its efforts to project influence abroad will fail to meet potential.

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Considering the Continental Dimension of the Indo-Pacific: The Mongolian Precedent

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The Indo-Pacific is now the site of global great-power competition and contestation. And, as a reflection of its growing importance in international discourse, a number of extra-regional actors adopted the concept last year. Among those adoptees, Mongolia set a unique precedent for the regional security discourse to actively consider the continental dimension of the Indo-Pacific by highlighting geopolitical convergences with other regional actors, and the strategic threat posed by Beijing’s “Silk Road Economic Belt”.

Mongolia in the Indo-Pacific

Actors who have adopted the Indo-Pacific concept vaguely define it as beginning in the Arabian Sea and ending in the Western Pacific Ocean. Much of the discourse is also driven by the US-China strategic competition in Southeast Asia, and the US’ attempt to counter Chinese influence in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, along with its regional partners and allies, e.g the India-Australia-Japan-US ‘Quad’. As a result, actors in the Indo-Pacific have generally focused on the development of maritime military and economic measures.

In early October, during a Japan-Mongolia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, both sides agreed to continue consolidating their efforts in pursuing a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”, in line with the promises of the 2018 Japan-Mongolia Summit.

Mongolia’s participation as a continental, extra-regional actor with limited maritime significance, shifts the geopolitical locus of the theatre, ever so slightly, north of Southeast Asia (the current focus). Ulaanbaatar’s adoption of the geostrategic theatre appears to be driven by continued Chinese antagonism, and a result of its “third neighbour” policy.

China continues to threaten Mongolia’s territorial sovereignty by claiming Inner Mongolia,clamp down on its cultural identity, and impose costs on Mongolia’s export-oriented economy. The last issue is critical, since Mongolia’s largest export partner, approximately92.78 percent of overall exports, is China. Enclosed between two large countries, Russia and China, Mongolia has traditionally maintained a “third neighbour” policy approach: building political and economic relationships with actors other than the aforementioned.

Given the continued animosity with Beijing, Ulaanbaatar has increasingly emphasised these other relations over the years. e.g. with the UK, the US, Japan, etc. In 2019 President Khaltmaagiin Battulga visited New Delhi to develop deeper ties with another “third neighbour” state. Mongolia also shares the “like-minded” characteristics – a liberal democracy – to maintain and preserve a “free, fair, open and rules-based” order in the US-Japan Indo-Pacific strategy.

And so, actors looking to potentially partner with Mongolia or others with similar economic and connectivity deficits in Central and West Asia, will have to include, within their Indo-Pacific approaches, measures that involve non-littoral actors.

The BRI and Continental Asia

China’s rise as an expansionist Asian military and global economic power is at the core of the  Indo-Pacific security discourse. Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea (SCS), China’s growing naval power, and the colossal Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) form the major strategic threats to regional multilateralism and collective security.

The most long standing threat among them, the BRI, is divided into the transcontinental “silk route” and the maritime “silk road”. However, much of the Indo-Pacific discourse is dominated by the silk road, especially those projects directed towards the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). BRI projects in the IOR are crucial to Beijing’s expanding influence in South Asia and control on international energy and trade supply routes. Also hidden among the maritime/trans-continental connectivity and infrastructure projects, is China’s growing security presence in the region.

However, Mongolia’s entry directs attention to a dimension unique to the current maritime Indo-Pacific discourse –the silk route, that cuts across Central Asia, towards Europe and South Asia, with a similar number of projects in Southeast Asia.

Among the six ‘silk route’ projects, Mongolia’s concern is the China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor (CMREC) that cuts through Eastern Mongolia, beginning in Ulanqab (or “Jining”) in Inner Mongolia, and ending at Ulan-Ude, in BurYatia, Russia. Similar projects include the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor (CCWAEC).

Connecting the continental to the maritime is the main goal of the BRI. In fact, the project was first announced during a Chinese state visit to Central Asia in 2013. President Xi Jinping proposed the “Silk Road Economic Belt” with a vision to connect the Pacific Ocean to the Baltic Sea. Beijing’s vision of comprehensive global economic and military power requires a built path to various regions of the world, i.e infrastructure to facilitate dual-use logistics. Given the recent spate of BRI loans going bad, this vision continues to remain unfulfilled.

The continental dimension, Asia, is what makes the Indo-Pacific a theatre of global concern. Trans-continental connectivity, between and within Europe and Asia, narrows the distance between actors, and the shared interest in maintaining regional multilateralism and collective security ensures their continued participation in the Indo-Pacific. As more actors like Mongolia adopt the Indo-Pacific concept, connecting the continental to the maritime and vice versa, sans BRI, will become a strategic concern.

Mongolia’s entry into the theatre offers a unique precedent for those involved in maintaining and preserving a “free, fair, open and rules-based” Indo-Pacific to evaluate and initiate relationships between non-littoral actors and the maritime dimension.

The On-Ground Reality

However, there are a number of obstacles to actively consider continental Asia in the Indo-Pacific discourse. The two most important are geography and geopolitics.

Mongolia for example, is completely enclosed by two actors – Russia and China – who are averse and hostile to the idea of the Indo-Pacific. And, any “counter-BRI” connectivity project envisioned by other regional actors will have to go through their territories. The case of Afghanistan is similar. Divergences in geopolitical interests and ties with actors in the Arabian Sea, particularly with regard to Iran and Pakistan, stays the idea of trans-regional connectivity between Kabul and the world.

The geopolitical obstacle here is the dependent economic relationships that non-littorals in Asia have with Beijing. Mongolia is just one among many Central and West Asian states that have local economies indelibly tied to the political whims of Beijing. During the coronavirus pandemic, a period that saw considerable anti-China sentiment in the international community, Beijing has managed to maintain a level of trust and shared security with many Indo-Pacific states. National vaccination plans are based on the delivery of Chinese vaccines.

There is another reason why the security discourse on the Indo-Pacific is focused on maritime measures – maintaining and preserving the integrity of international Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) and the respect for territorial sovereignty. In that endeavour, multilateral platforms like the Quad allows members to share historic and strategic advantages in the IOR and Pacific Ocean to counter Chinese expansionism in the Indo-Pacific’s various sub-regions.  On land however, in Central and South Asia, for example the clash in the Galwan river valley last year, Chinese incursions provoke bilateral responses giving it leeway to act with relative impunity.

Conclusion

While there are a number of real obstacles to consider the continental dimension of the Indo-Pacific, Mongolia sets a geopolitical precedent for a comprehensive geographic definition, one that includes both the maritime and continental. From this year on, states participating in the Indo-Pacific now have a reason to approach and include non-littoral actors in the Indo-Pacific.

This precedent also highlights the need to include the continental ‘silk route’ in the Indo-Pacific security discourse. Devising such a definition will be a similar exercise as to the amalgamation of the terms “Indo-Pacific” and “Asia-Pacific” to form the “Indo-Asia-Pacific”; now used at times in geostrategic discourse.

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East Asia

Time to play the Taiwan card

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At a time when the dragon is breathing fire, India must explore alternative tactics, perhaps establishment of formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan can be a landmark step

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The standoff on the Ladakh border between the Indian Army and the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) continues amid failing talks and casus belli measures being unleashed by the Chinese regime. While the union government and the armed forces make it clear that they will do whatever it takes to protect India’s sovereignty and integrity, precious little has been done on the foreign policy front. While India and its democratic allies which comprise the Quad security grouping declare their intent to form the ‘Asian NATO’, the Quad continues to suffer from indecisiveness which was pretty much evident when the Quad did not even issue a joint statement to condemn China at the foreign ministers meeting held last year, only America publicly called out China.

In such a situation, it is imperative that India explore alternate diplomatic and militaristic routes to tame the dragon.

Recognizing Taiwan

Establishing formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan after recognizing should be vigorously pursuing by South Block. Indo-Taiwan ties date back to the early 1950s when Chiang Kai Shek, the ex Chinese president and former head of state fled to the island of Formosa following the victory of Mao Zedong in the long drawn out Chinese civil war called on Nehru to establish and further ties with Formosa, however Nehru believing that Chiang was nothing but a “peanut” decided to ignore his call, choosing instead to concentrate on building ties with People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Seven decades on, plethora of changes has taken place on the foreign affairs front, while both China and India have developed considerably both militarily and economically the dragon has surpassed elephant to become an economic powerhouse in its own might. It has now embraced aggressiveness to enforce its 5th century vision of the ‘Middle Kingdom’. In such a situation providing legitimacy to the existence of Taiwan is a necessary first step.

Paradigm shift in policy

Establishing formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan will bring about a paradigm shift vis-à-vis India’s foreign policy. It will enforce the idea that liberal democracy is the last word in the battle of ideologies as Francis Fukuyama had visualized in his landmark book ‘The End of History and the Last Man’ and that there is no alternative to human rights and liberties, not even the Chinese model of ‘authoritarian development’. It will be the boldest step that any global leader has taken, not even the mighty US which has no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan has taken this step.

Recognizing Taiwan will entail a lot of benefits for the mandarins of India’s foreign policy regime- firstly, Taiwan is a robust democracy with a booming economy, it will prove to be an alternative to China albeit in a relatively less proportion, secondly, India can bolster the legitimacy as the leader of the democratic world at a time when the democratic institutions in the US-often regarded as the cradle of democracy has been undermined.

Thirdly, India can get the support of another powerful ally in its attempt to carve out a new supply chain alliance which India-Japan-Australia formalized recently. Fourthly, recognizing Taiwan will make it clear to China that India means some serious business and if the need arises then India will not back down from sending dedicated naval and air assets in the disputed South China Sea region to enforce freedom of navigation principle in the resource rich region. Lastly, the Quad security grouping will be institutionalized which in the near future can even be extended to include new members, it will be the first time that India will be a part of any dedicated military and economic alliance which will deter the aggression of the Chinese war machine in the strategic Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific Region.

Caveats remain

However the recognition may invite severe ramifications for India. China will be infuriated and can choose to ratchet up tensions with India. India must be extremely careful while dealing with China as China is our second largest bilateral trade partner and a key export partner of India with regard to raw materials and goods. According to a FICCI report, India imports more than 40% of several important goods like the API (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients), television, chemicals, chips, textiles and many more.

The dragon will as a possible retaliatory measure can activate its propaganda machinery to wage psychological warfare with India. It can also activate its terror financing networks which for years remained a chronic internal security for India in the northeast of the country. China will also collaborate with its ‘iron brother’ Pakistan to try and deter India by intensifying terrorism in the Kashmir valley and elsewhere. Further, China can use its potent disinformation empire to try and peddle fake news about the credibility of India’s indigenous vaccines at a time when the light at the end of the tunnel of a pandemic stricken world has appeared.

Exercising caution

Keeping all the dangers in mind, the Modi government must keep national interests in mind. Despite all the risks, it must work with all the like- minded countries to take own the mighty dragon responsible for unleashing a deadly virus which has wrecked havoc on humanity. For the sake of the free world, India must take the hard step which will reinforce India’s position in cementing its place as the leader of the free world.

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