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.
In addition, dependence on the investment flows generates an imbalance in China’s favor, preventing recipient countries from maintaining their economic autonomy.
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).
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”.
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).
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?
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.
China is not alone in fighting against the Coronavirus epidemic
Authors: Yang Yizhong & Paul Wang
Since the coronavirus outbreak was officially announced several weeks ago, it has stirred many concerns and uncertainties within China and around the world. For example, there are quite a few criticisms and discrimination about human rights violation, political inefficiency and economic policy of China due to this virus crisis throughout the country. However, it is self-evident that China is not alone in the fight against the coronavirus epidemic, also called “The COVID-19”. As Sivanka Dhanapala, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Representative in China, put it “Let me say straight away, this is a time for solidarity, for international solidarity. Now it’s important, really important, that we need international solidarity and cooperation to share and to pool resources where they are most needed and to make sure vulnerable people get the help that they need. It needs to come together, as an international community, in fighting the virus.”
Under such circumstances, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke at the 56th Munich Security Conference on 15 February, reiterating the Chinese resolve, confidence and goal which could be put into the official line: “Under the strong leadership of China, the 1.4 billion people are united as one in fighting the sudden outbreak of a novel virus; and the final goal is only: to win this non-conventional war.” In light of so dangerous uncertainties ahead, it is necessary to understand China’s strategy, capability and approaches as well.
Obviously, the leading elite and the people of China have demonstrated firm resolve in dealing with the epidemic. The high speed and massive scale of China’s response are rarely seen in the world. More accurately, Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged medical staff from the Chinese armed forces to move towards Wuhan and the other virus-hit cities to protect the locals and called for enhanced coordination between local authorities and the military. Until this point, a total of over 4,000 medical staff from the Chinese armed forces have been dispatched to this area. As a result, all relevant parties have taken effective measures to stop the spread of the virus, including requiring the Chinese military to bear the responsibility to make sure of the prevention and control of the outbreak of pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus. For sure, their efforts are consistently supported by medical and pharmaceutical researchers who have been working day and night, isolated the first virus strain and developed the test reagent in less than seven days. Hailed as heroes in harm’s way, over 20,000 healthcare workers in 100 plus medical teams converged in Hubei, the hardest hit province, from across the nation to support epidemic control. Exemplifying professional dedication, all medical workers are saving and protecting lives around the clock despite the risk of infection and exhaustion from overwork. Here overseas Chinese around the globe have continued rushing to make donations in cash and all kinds to help combat the virus outbreak.
Meanwhile, China has timely released the latest information about situation of the disease and called for deepened international cooperation, such as working closely with WHO, inviting international experts to join our ranks, and providing assistance and facilitation to foreign nationals in China. To date, confirmed cases outside China account for less than one percent of the world’s total. It means China has effectively curbed the spread of the outbreak beyond our borders. For that, China has made extraordinary efforts and a heavy sacrifice as well. That said, China is not fighting alone. The international community has given China valuable moral and material support. For example, Russia, Belarus and the ROK swiftly delivered badly needed medical supplies to Wuhan through chartered flights. Pakistan sent its Chinese brothers virtually all the masks in its stock. At the peak of the outbreak, Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia paid a special visit to Beijing to offer his staunch support for China. The leaders of some countries, such as Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Italy, also conveyed their warm messages in support of China’s epidemic response.
Here is self-evident to mention that Japan, as the most wealthy neighbour of China and also having the long-time historical and territorial disputes with China, has sent huge assistance supplies to China, attached with ancient Chinese poetic lines: “Fear not the want of armour, for mine is also yours to wear”, conveying a touching message of empathy from an ancient Chinese poem. In other parts of the world, Americans from all walks of life donated medical items and supplies; not to mention the emergency aid supplies to China from EU countries. Individually speaking, Philippe Klein, a French doctor working in Wuhan, did not hesitate to stay and fought alongside the Chinese colleagues. He revealed that he kept a bottle of champagne to be popped open for celebrating the end of the epidemic. It was also reported that a Zimbabwean student who lived in Wuhan for three years, chose to stay and signed up to be a volunteer. As the Chinese are a grateful nation, they will remember and hold dear every act of support. What are discussed here aim to remind all that we live in a time when traditional and non-traditional security issues are entwined, and when local issues easily become global and vice versa. No country can prosper in isolation or meet all challenges on its own, as our interests are closely inter-connected in the age of globalization. Now for virus respects no borders, it requires a collective response from the international community.
In sum, it is true that now in China Xi wields near-absolute political power over the ruling party and the Marxist-directed state. Arguably, only an socialist regime could have pursued the draconian methods that China has in trying to control the virus since January. Yet, time will tell how effective these measures ultimately prove to be. What is certain, however, is that the crisis, once resolved, will not change the goal that China is going to achieve in the near future.
As China holds that as human society has entered the age of globalization, it is necessary to transcend the old concept of East-West divergence and the North-South divide, to see our shared planet as a community for all. In so doing, China argues for all nations go beyond the ideological gap and accommodate historical and cultural differences. During the crisis moment, it is sensible to see that repeated relationships can nurture co-operative restraint and reciprocity. Yet, the COVID-19 epidemic has inspired cover stories across the world. Some focused on the virus, others described the life changed by the quarantine measures, but among them, Time magazine predicted that disease could “Derail the China Dream,” and Bloomberg Businessweek warned that there is a “Fragile China” that we need to “Handle with care.” However, the China collapse theory is doomed to fail as China and its people have showed much of the strength and creativity in the epidemic time and again.
In this contest, IMF chief Georgieva said recently, it was “too early” to assess the full impact of the epidemic but acknowledged that it had already affected sectors such as tourism and transportation. If the disease is “contained rapidly, there can be a sharp drop and a very rapid rebound”, in what is known as the V-shaped impact, she said. To be fair, China has done a good job so far in responding to the epidemic. Obviously, President Xi’s management of the coronavirus crisis at home, and of politically totemic projects such as 5G expansion abroad, assumes a critical new significance.
The current relations between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
As is well known, Kim Jong-Un imposed precise time and political limits on negotiations with the USA by the end of 2019.
Moreover, at that stage, the US intelligence community was discussing North Korea’s adoption of a new short-range missile, which would make its appearance at Christmas 2019.
For the leadership of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, it is important to finalise – as soon as possible – the strategic and above all economic negotiations with the United States or at least put them on a stable track.
Some substantiated Western sources also believe that the North Korean leadership is putting pressure on Kim Jong-Un himself to harden relations with Donald J. Trump’s Presidency.
Time is ripe and there have been negotiations, but the US indeciveness on Korean issues risks putting the whole US strategic and economic system in the Pacific in crisis.
Indeed, the US stance on the North Korean issue and the related economic sanctions, the lawfulness of which is to be debated and called into question, has been swinging – just to say the least.
Kim Jong-Un had created – or at least this is what he believed – the conditions for full, fast and complete negotiations with the United States, especially at the meeting held in Hanoi in February 2019, where reference was made to the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, the first of the items on the agenda, even in Kim Jong-Un’s daily schedule.
President Trump also noted that “the idea of denuclearisation they have in North Korea is not the same as we have”, which is also true. Hence negotiations ended without reaching any particular results.
On January 11 last, however, in a press report an important adviser to the Foreign Minister, Kim Kye Gwan, pointed out that reopening negotiations between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States will be possible only if the latter adheres to the previous Singapore and Hanoi agreements, as it has already shown to do.
Hence to the denuclearisation of the entire Korean peninsula and to the immediate lifting of sanctions.
In short, North Korea does not want to fall by the wayside and wants, above all, to resume negotiations with the United States both on nuclear issues and on economic sanctions.
As already noted, the lawfulness of sanctions sounds dubious to us.
After the Singapore meeting, however, President Trump felt that Kim Jong-Un “would return back home to start a process that would make his people very rich and very happy”.
Psychologism, besides being a severe philosophical mistake – at least on the basis of what Husserl and his Phenomenology taught us – is also the terrible flaw of US diplomacy and intelligence.
Just at that time, however, President Trump had also declared that “there was no nuclear threat from North Korea”, obviously for the United States.
Of the two, one. Either we want the end of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – an absolutely improbable goal – or serious negotiations are held, which presupposes a reasonable lifting of sanctions.
In the meeting held in Singapore in 2018, President Trump told us that Kim Jong-Un had adhered to the project of “complete denuclearisation” of the Korean peninsula.
In the US or North Korean version, which are very different from each other? We will never know.
However, there are no data regarding other strategic or economic concessions between the two parties.
This makes it hard for us to believe in Kim Jong-Un’s conversion to strategic masochism.
Therefore, we are still at the terms of Kim Jong-Un’s last “New Year’s speech”, the one in which the North Korean leader stated that he would not denuclearize North Korea if the USA did not stop its “hostile policies”.
Hence either the United States explicitly accepts a linkage between the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and the end of sanctions, or North Korea will slowly, but surely, return to its nuclear strategy, which, at that point, will cost him nothing.
But is President Trump’s willingness to cease hostilities with North Korea and thus rebuild the stability of the entire Korean peninsula serious?
We donot know yet. For somebody, like the old British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the US President is now completely uninterested in Korean affairs.
And he is wrong, we might add.
In fact, if Kim Jong-Un were to quickly rebuild his nuclear arsenal, which seems currently possible, the possibility of attacks on U.S. territory would still be remote, certainly, but the US establishment would interpret a North Korean attack on the U.S. military positions in the Pacific as a kind of suicide for North Korea. Are we sure that China and Russia would not put very credible pressure on the United States? Are we sure that a North Korean attack in the Pacific would not, technically, be a success?
But, in fact, it is not: a possible attack by North Korea on the US and its allies’ bases in the Pacific would be highly destructive, politically very dangerous, but finally capable of unleashing the Russian and Chinese reactions in the region.
In January 2020, Kim Jong-Un asked his ruling class to follow and take unspecified “offensive measures” to break the deadlock in negotiations with the USA.
If the United States currently believes that North Korea is a quantité négligeable in the Asian equilibria, it is sorely mistaken.
China will never accept an unarmed Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which would bring China into a close border contact with the USA and South Korea, given that the maritime area that North Korea is securing is also essential for the security of the Belt and Road Initiative.
Neither will Russia ever accept an unstabilized and reduced US presence on the Korean peninsula, which is also a strategic life insurance policy for the Russian operations between the Indian Ocean and the Greater Middle East.
Probably Kim Jong-Un will currently accept, with difficulty, a stable progression of the agreements with the USA on its nuclear power, both to revive the North Korean economy and to stabilize equilibria in the Far East.
It will, however, be a negotiation that will see – in place of the unruly Americans – many and more willing South Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Indians, Russians, and even the pale and weak foreign policy of some surviving European countries.
If President Trump believes he can wait for the global economic crisis to reach North Korea, he has not well analysed all the terms of Kim Jong-Un’s strategic equation.
The possible crisis in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will be supported to a large extent by Russia and China but, in all likelihood, there will be other new supporters.
Therefore, without pretences, President Donald J. Trump’s attempt to denuclearize the Korean peninsula in words has currently failed.
On the other hand, Kim Jong-Un’s speech of December 31, 2019, in which he spoke of a “new path” and assumed new and more advanced strategic weapons, in addition to a long confrontation with the USA, shows that the U.S. policy vis-à-vis North Korea has, once again, failed.
By now we know that the concept of “denuclearization” between the two sides has never been a common criterion.
Hence, if the North Korean concept is accepted, the military alliance between the USA and South Korea shall be broken. However, if denuclearization does not concern only South Korea – as the US diplomacy sometimes seems to suggest – there is no other way for North Korea if not to continue its nuclear program and, indeed, even to expand it.
If we proceed with the old logical and diplomatic mechanism – i.e. the simple freezing sine conditione of North Korea’s nuclear program, no concrete objective will be achieved, since North Korea uses its strategic nuclear system precisely to overcome sanctions, and vice versa.
Hence either the denuclearisation of the entire Korean peninsula, or the North Korean nuclear program will go ahead smoothly – a program capable, however, of stopping or weakening the U.S. Japanese, Vietnamese and Indian operations in the Pacific. Does this make sense?
Moreover, the moratorium on strategic weapons, formally still in place, imposed by the North Korean government itself, still enables Kim Jong-Un to have an excellent relationship with China and Russia, which certainly do not want too much noise in the East.
Make a sound in the East, then strike in the West, as stated in the fifth Stratagem of Sun Tzu’s Art of War.
Hence now Kim Jong-Un does not want to put aside the South Korean leader, he never mentions in his last speeches, but also keeps a door open even with the USA. The North Korean leaderdoes not say, in fact, he will automatically resume his actions with short-range and intermediate-range missiles, but makes it clear that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will soon rebuild its nuclear system and even expand it.
In other words, currently North Korea capitalizes on its possible medium-long term threat, while pointing outit can deal with a tactical, rather than strategic, short or medium range threat.
That is the best we can currently expect. Kim Jong-Un has not closed all doors, but he is careful not to open the door of divine fear, as in the I Ching’s hexagram “discard the revolt, grab the yield and surrender”.
Meanwhile, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has not ordered any special launches or operations in recent months. This is also an important sign.
From a strictly economic viewpoint, which is only one of the criteria with which to study a State like North Korea, the recession – both stimulated by sanctions and imported from the global market -accounts for about 4.7% per year of the North Korean economy.
Neither China, especially today with the coronavirus epidemic, nor certainly the Russian Federation can replace the share of North Korea’s economy integrating with the world market.
Nevertheless, it is also hard to think – for a rational strategic player – of a country, the USA, which creates basic economic difficulties in North Korea, and then discounts them downwards at the negotiating table on nuclear power.
This is, however, a negotiation that neither Russia nor China would allow in any way.
President Trump, in fact, has to do with a significant part of the State Department, as well as CIA, which are pressing for an immediate, complete and fully verifiable nuclear decommissioning of North Korea. Then comes what may of North Korea’s economy, for the better or for the worse.
Only at the end of this dismantling process, which should reasonably last at least eight years – if all goes well, but we doubt it – could the sanctions be unilaterally lifted. With what guarantees?
Are we sure?
What other option would inevitably be put forward by the USA to further weaken the lifting of sanctions? As Kim Jong-Un thinks, what could be the mechanism forcing the USA to lift sanctions and further end the pressure on North Korea’s foreign policy?
Trump Administration’s more possibilist factions, vis-à-vis the North Korean politics, now have vague and unreliable plans.
We also need to consider the Iranian issue, in which, once again, the USA proposes an improbable and impossible total and radical denuclearization, if not with a local war. However, the same project applied to North Korea simply means the destabilization of the North Korean regime and its implosion, without knowing – as will also happen in Iran – when, how and where the trade sanctions will be lifted.
No state commits suicide so easily.
What could be a reasonable solution? The immediate temporary and conditional suspension of the primary economic and trade sanctions against North Korea.
There could also be an agreement between the EU, the USA, Japan and South Korea to phase out the North Korean nuclear system.
But inevitably North Korea must be reassured of its permanence as a State, as well as of its controlled and, probably, partial denuclearisation, and of a complete and rapid integration into the world market. It must also be reassured of the cessation of the clear and conventional nuclear threat coming from the South, the Pacific and the US bases in South Korea and in the region.
If the negotiation does not evaluate these options, it will be completely useless.
Russia and China will continue to make it clear they do not want the US Armed Forces at their borders. Hence North Korea will have to rely on its nuclear weapons to make up for its strategic weakness, which Kim Jong-Un knows very well it would not be fully offset by Russia or China. Finally, the strange US and EU sanctions will indefinitely stop the development of a decisive area for the whole of South-East Asia, which could also guarantee shared security in an area which, in a short time, will become central to global economic development.
The Uyghur issue in early 2020
The Uyghur issue is now a very important asset for global anti-Chinese propaganda, both by the United States and by other European or Asian countries.
If we do not understand the strategic importance of the Belt and Road Initiative, which inevitably passes through Xinjiang, we do not even understand the central role currently played by the Western propaganda in favour of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
The basic criterion – certainly originally coming from the U.S. State organizations themselves – is that of comparing the Nazi concentration camps to the Uyghur re-education camps in China.
This is a criterion of “grey propaganda” which is by now very widespread: relatively scarcely widespread news, regardless of its factual truth, is associated with tragically true news, but very widespread throughout the world.
Hence the “truth effect” passes from the “major premise”, which is certainly true, i.e. the Jewish Shoah during the Third Reich, to the minor premise, not fully verifiable, as happens in Aristotelian syllogisms – hence, in this case, the supposed truth of the “repression” (another key propaganda term) of the ethnic group of Turkish origin living in Xinjiang.
By now all open sources – whether journalistic or para-analytical ones – have revised figures significantly: until about a year ago, everywhere there was talk about three million Uyghurs detained in camps, but now all U.S. journalistic sources refer only to one million prisoners, but with the other two million ones of Turkish ethnic origin who are, in fact, “under the Chinese iron heel”- just to use Jack London’s old metaphor.
However, the matter of the documents coming from “Chinese sources”, translated and published by the main U.S. newspapers in November 2019, makes us revise also this figure: allegedly, in fact, there were about 500,000 Uyghurs in the Xinjiang camps from 2017 until November 2019.
Nevertheless, even this figure should probably be revised, although there are certainly camps in which the unruliest Uyghurs are temporarily interned, and certainly in very different ways from the tragic ones typical of the Jewish Shoah.
Furthermore, the Uyghur jihad- strengthened with the new displacement of Turkish jihadists, led by the Turkish MIT, towards Libya – has always been a very serious and very dangerous problem.
According to some Russian sources, in late 2016 the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), still based in Munich, directly organized para-military operations against the Chinese territory and positions.
At least since 2015 the WUC has had direct relations with the Turkish government.
Until August 2019 over 18,000 Uyghur Islamists were in fact sent for training in Syria, with the support of the Turkish intelligence Services alone.
Now a part of these militants is being relocated to al-Sarraj’s Tripolitania, with a view to defending al-Sarraj’s pro-Western and UN-recognized government, which has always been supported by the Muslim Brotherhood.
The partial and very weak support to al-Sarraj is a perfect fig leaf for the operations of the Muslim Brotherhood and of its reference State, which is currently Turkey.
Qatar, another State linked to the Islamist Ikhwan, funds operations and arms purchases.
Nevertheless many of these 18,000 “Turkmen” jihadists or, however, from Xinjiang are still in Al-Zanbaki, Governorate of Idlib, supported by German and French non-governmental organizations.
On December 7-9, 2019 a closed-door meeting was held in Brussels on Uyghur issues, while the following day, on December 10, there was a conference at the European Parliament organized by the French MP, Raphaël Glucksmann, attended by Dolkun Isa, the current President of the World Uyghur Congress based in Munich.
As can easily be predicted, the EU as a screen for the expansion of a “good” or”moderate” Islamism – as the United States maintains – which the EU believes will serve the interests of a weak, ineffective and misinformed Europe.
This is very unlikely to happen.
Currently the primary variable to be kept under control is Tunisia.
On December 25, 2019, in fact, Turkish President Erdogan – who fell in love with the Uyghurs when he was mayor of Istanbul -paid a visit to the Tunisian President, Kais Saied, an “independent” jurist elected also with the votes of the Muslim Brotherhood in Tunis and of its political arm, Ennahda.
Turkish President Erdogan was accompanied by the Head of Turkish intelligence Services, Hakan Fidan, and by the Foreign and Defence Ministers.
The bone of contention was the possibility for the Turkish intelligence Services to use the airport and the port of Djerba for the mass transfer of jihadists, organized by the Turkish MIT, from Syria to Libya and, probably, also to other areas of the Maghreb region, besides Tunisia itself.
The new phase of Uyghur jihadism will therefore affect the whole Middle East and the Maghreb region, in addition to an increasing share of jihadists of Turkish origin who will be operating in South-East Asia.
At first the Maghreb region will be affected, with a sequence of attacks by the new jihad on the economic, oil and tourist resources of the most modernized countries of the Maghreb region, irrespective of these resources belonging to the West or not. Later there will be a wave of “sword jihad” actions between the Maghreb region and sub-Saharan Africa, with direct effects on the migration routes from “black” Africa, and then sequences of attacks will reach Southern Europe.
The attacks will initially be organized by groups particularly specialized in “hybrid” warfare and terrorist operations. Later there will be a resurgence of massive and very low intensity actions so as to cover other types of actions.
These attacks, however, will be different from the old Qaedist logic: the jihadists will target the production, transport and logistics systems, with the least possible impact on civilians.
We cannot even rule out the possibility of an action against the local and foreign Armed Forces, i.e. French, British and U.S. Forces (which have certainly not left Africa) and other countries’ ones.
In this future scenario, there will probably be a new military role for Saudi Arabia which will possibly reactivate its “ad hoc” jihadist networks to counter the “Allah’s warriors ” supported by its strategic competitors: Iran which, however, will not play all its cards here; Egypt, which will protect its Nile Sources and the two Suez canals, the area of Djibouti and the Horn of Africa, where the local jihad will mobilize against Somalia and Eritrea.
Moreover, as we noted above, the data on Xinjiang’s economy is not at all consistent with what has been propagandized as “mass detention” of Uyghurs by the Chinese authorities.
The latest reliable statistics, dating back to 2018,points to an annual GDP of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region equal to 1.22 trillion yuan, with a 0.11 trillion increase compared to 2017.
It is unlikely if we consider the data released by Western media on the Uyghurs detained in various “re-education camps”.
Moreover, very significant investment has always been made in the Xinjiang region, in three Chinese five-year programmes: the 2006-2010 one and the 12thplan of 2011-2015, as well as the current one.
At the beginning of China’s planning policy, about 97% of the population lived in a territory covering only 8% of the Autonomous Region’ surface.
The 12thplan focused on 12 Chinese areas and regions, obviously including Xinjiang, with a view to enhancing economic growth, infrastructure and public services, as well as to implementing a vast environmental protection of the region: since 2015 forests have been covering over 20% of the Uyghur territory.
As we saw during the last years of the Shah’s government in Iran, the fast modernization of the economy often leads to cultural and identity imbalances which may probably explain much of the ideological background of Islamism in Xinjiang.
An Islam which is, however, a vast operation of some countries against China – obviously not only Western ones.
Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that the Turkish majority areas in the Chinese Autonomous Region are much less radicalized or even less tied to ancestral religious traditions, precisely in Xinjiang, where the oil and gas fields are located.
However, there is no close and consequential link between the public security operations in Xinjiang and the progress in oil and gas extraction.
Hence, currently the only possibility to destabilize Xinjiang against China is to put pressure on the Uyghur minorities living in the neighbouring countries, mainly in Kazakhstan.
We also need to carefully consider the cultural, symbolic and historical problems emerging in China with regard to the Uyghur issue.
China is a powerful culture State: you can certainly be Chinese from an ethnic viewpoint – han or the other over fifty-five minorities accepted – but obviously what really matters is the sharing of a great cultural, identity and historical heritage.
From Mao Zedong to date, there has been no political program, nor leaders’ speech, nor CPC messages not referring to facts and people of China’s very long history.
Twenty-two centuries cannot certainly be wiped out.
The White Paper published in August 2019 by the State Council’s Information Office, regarding Uyghur culture and traditions, also states that, at the beginning, Islam was “imposed by force” on those populations.
The Turkish minority in Xinjiang has been living there since well before its Islamization. It is also true that currently the customs of the non-han populations in the region are certainly linked to Islam.
It is equally true, however – and here the White Paper realistically identifies the problem – that the symbolic radicalization of the Uyghur population has come after the often clumsy attempts of forced and violent Sinicization of this Turkish ethnic group.
All those attempts were made before the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The two Uyghur republics, the pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese factions, as well as the divisions between tribes and cities, are all traditions that the Uyghur Islam has had since before the establishment of the han-Chinese Communism.
Islam has been living in the Uyghur population of Xinjiang for about 900 years.
In other areas, Islam is certainly much older: just think of the Maghreb region, the frontline of the “sword jihad” of the Rashidun Caliphs, the so-called “rightly-guided” ones after Prophet Muhammad.
Furthermore – and here we find, once again, the Marxist roots of the Chinese regime – the White Paper also maintains that Islam was imposed on the Uyghurs with violence and “by their ruling classes”.
It is partly true, but not even Muhammad did peacefully impose Islam on his first converted populations.
In the Islamic tradition there are as many as 43 murderers of Prophet’s enemies – all assassinations explicitly ordered by Muhammad himself.
We do not want to focus on the long-standing issue of the violent nature of Islam, in which we are not interested at all.
The real problem is that the White Paper makes it clear that Communist China is liberating Uyghurs from their Islam and therefore from their old ruling classes.
It should also be recalled that – even after its Communist revolution – China is still linked to an imperial theory of sovereignty, which emphasizes how power is a “Mandate of Heaven”. The Emperor is the Party, the Party is the Leader and the Leader represents – almost mystically – all the people, thus protecting them precisely with his Mandate of Heaven.
It is evident that such a theory, although secularized by Marxism-Leninism and by Mao Zedong, cannot absorb but only contain Xinjiang’s Islam.
In the traditional Chinese political culture, the Mandate of Heaven, also in its “materialistic” version, is what saves from civil war, from inter-State and ethnic clashes, as well as from the “period of warring kingdoms”.
A phase that, in pre-Communist Chinese history, has occurred cyclically every 200-300 years.
Hence the concept of harmony has precise historical and anthropological foundations.
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