Connect with us

East Asia

The meeting between Donald J.Trump and Kim Jong-Un in Panmunjom

Published

on

US President Donald Trump shakes hands with the Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea Kim Jong-un as the two leaders meet at the Korean Demilitarized Zone which separates North and South Korea on 30 June 2019. White House/Shealah Craighead

On Sunday, June 30, 2019, US President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un met at Panmunjom’s “peace village” for a historic meeting.

The   first   time   for   a   US   President   in   the   People’s Democratic Republic of Korea.

The  meeting  –  initially  favoured  by  a  US  President’s Twitter message to Kim Jong-Un at the Osaka G20 Summit- lasted about 50 minutes and has already had its first result: the resumption of a working-level negotiation between the two countries regarding the number one issue, namely denuclearization.

It should be immediately noted that – for the North Korean power elite – “denuclearization” means in any case: a) eliminating   the   nuclear   potential   held   by   the   North American Armed Forces in South Korea; b) bilaterally removing the   missile systems between the North and the South   of   the   Korean   peninsula;   c)   maintaining   an acceptable  level  of  nuclear  energy  for  electricity production.

Finally, it also means ensuring an acceptable level of nuclear technology that can remain in North Korea even after an effective negotiation, if the political winds in the USA, Japan and Taiwan changed direction.

What  does  the  USA  want  when  it  talks  about  North Korea’s “denuclearization”?

In   essence,   it   means   maintaining   a   minimum   but acceptable standard of military presence in South Korea, with a view to avoiding North Korea’s military annexation of South Korea, as well as maintaining a US military bloc of as many as 15 bases in South Korea – hence a level of conventional deterrence that also applies to Japan (and Taiwan) and a first strike force in South Korea, so as to allow the subsequent action of the bases around North Korea. Especially Guam.

The US Armed Forces consist of as many as 35,000 soldiers, while the US military presence in Japan is only slightly higher, reaching 40,000 units.

Moreover, Kim Jong-Un knows very well that China does not absolutely want to border on US military bases – and the same holds true for the Russian Federation, albeit only for the tiny border between Russia and North Korea.

From this viewpoint, Kim Jong-Un is certain about the strong and continuous support for the negotiation with the United States at first from China and secondly from Russia.

Hence, neither China nor Russia wants a too powerful People’s Democratic Republic of Korea, capable of carrying out operations – including military ones – on the peninsula and of filling South Korea with American soldiers.

History repeats itself: after the secret negotiations with Secretary of State Kissinger in 1971 to open a relationship with the USA, China immediately reassured the North Korean leaders that its aid would not be lacking and that the détente  between  China  and  the  USA  would  also  favour North Korea in its future relations with the United States.

Certainly, a part of the US power elite has often cherished the  idea  of  a  purely  military  and  definitive  solution  for North Korea.

Here the joke by the Italian Communist leader, Palmiro Togliatti comes to mind, when – after the riots following activist Pallante’s failed attack on him – he told his Party’s representative in Lombardy, Giancarlo Pajetta, who had “occupied” the Prefecture of Milan: “Well, now what are you going to do with it?”

Hence what would the USA do with an impossible clash and with a probable nuclear escalation on Russia’s and China’s borders? How would Russia and China react to the loss  of  a friendly state and how  would  the  other Asian States react to the breaking out of a war in Korea to “bring democracy”? Pure madness – and Kim Jong-Un knows it all too well.

Some US circles are less aware of it.

Also some US brokers and mediators with North Korea, such as my unforgettable friend, Bob Gallucci, knew it very well.

Certainly, the tension that had mounted between China and North Korea, immediately after Kim Jong-Un’s rise to power,  was  North  Korea’s  only  real  strategic  mistake, which its Leader quickly corrected, by even turning it into a preferential relationship.

The North Korean Leader reached two other successes in the negotiations with the USA: the tested and substantial uselessness of international sanctions, which did not change the North Korean power at all, and the small economic boom that accompanied the early years of his power – an expansion that must absolutely be preserved.

Kim Jong-Un, however, also knows very well that the regime survival is linked to stable, robust and long-term economic growth.

Clearly there is a real “Chinese faction” within the North Korean power elite, that sometimes fights against the one closely linked to Kim Il-Sung’ system. Nevertheless, Kim Jong-Un – who is a careful and skillful politician, capable of calculating the right strategic equation- has also realized that it is not at all useful to alienate China. Quite the reverse.

It should be recalled that the sanctions against North Korea were imposed by the UN Security Council with China’s and the Russian Federation’s favourable votes.

Considering that all the UN Security Council’s members voted in favour of those sanctions, albeit for very different reasons, they can be lifted only if everyone agrees to do so.

Hence the sanctions – at least by the United States – could be lifted only if North Korea permanently and, above all, completely relinquishes its nuclear weapons and its ICBM carriers and medium-range launchers, which would quickly silence Guam, Japan, Taiwan and obviously South Korea.

Certainly, the IAEA has so far proved to be effective in monitoring situations very similar to those in which North Korea currently finds itself.

However, can the Vienna-based UN agency replace a strategic choice? Obviously not.

Hence we are back to the formula that characterized Bob Gallucci’s negotiation with the North Korean regime, which began in 1993: the dismantling of the Yongbion reactor, the only source – as far as we know – of North Korean plutonium,  in exchange for the US and IAEA acceptance of two civilian light-water reactors for the sole production of electricity.

The  Agreed  Framework  put  in  place  by  Bob  Gallucci lasted about nine years, also despite all the piques and rebounds of  the Republican Party-dominated US Senate on the transfer of fissile material, technology, etc.

On the other hand, North Korea’s nuclear issue reflects an even more profound political and strategic issue.

When the USSR – which was North Korea’s greatest supporter in the 1970s and 1980s, followed by China – collapsed, the advice that China gave to North Korea was to start the “Four Modernizations” also there, with a view to avoiding ending up just like the Soviet Union.

Nevertheless, the question put by the North Korean power elite was simple and rational: what would happen to us and to the regime if we opened the door to economic reforms and then inevitably to the policies adopted by China?

Hence, North Korea’s political use of nuclear power that also envisages – under certain conditions – the dismantling of nuclear weapons, in exchange for the lifting of sanctions and for aid flows from the West, also with a view to reducing China’s “invisible hand” in North Korea.

The United States would like a Complete, Verifiable, Irreversible Dismantlement (CVID) in keeping with the provisions of UN Resolution No. 2270 of 2016. Conversely, for North Korea the dismantling of nuclear weapons also entails the removal of 28,500 out of the 35,000 US military stationed in South Korea.

A possible solution – albeit far from easy – is the mere freezing of the North Korean nuclear program. Kim Jong-Un has often hinted at the fact that North Korea itself  could  give  up  its  nuclear  and  missile  research activities. The Punggye-ri nuclear test site has already been closed by the North Korean government unilaterally.

This   solution   of   freezing   the   North   Korean   nuclear program would also be a rational solution. North Korea would not be forced to dismantle its weapon systems first, thus exposing itself to evident risks of military and political destabilization. The United States would be certain that the North  Korean  potential  remains  stable  and  that  it  is  a system it can already oppose. Finally, the economically important  possibility  of  resuming  a   robust  “Sunshine Policy” would open up for South Korea.

Japan – which is anyway rearming – would see an opportunity to reopen the long-standing issue of North Korea’s abduction of its citizens. China does not want a change in the balance of power on the Korean peninsula, but it would open a market of one hundred million new consumers for its products. Finally, Russia could support a “new North Korean deal” with economic aid and political support, thus avoiding North Korea putting all its eggs in one basket, namely China.

Moreover, also North Korea’s military nuclear capacity – sold to many customers at a “strong” currency – is a far from negligible source of income for the North Korean regime.

Hence ensuring to North Korea the lost revenues from the sale of nuclear and missile technologies, but also setting a rational time schedule for the phasing out of North Korean nuclear facilities.

This should add to the actual and effective lifting of sanctions against North Korea, which are so severe that they would destroy also a rich and diversified Western-style economy.

Moreover, North Korea could initially suspend only the ICBM tests, while maintaining – albeit for a short period of time – the exercises with short and medium-range missiles designed to hit Japan.

Thus, a void of power could be avoided  in the region, which     may be tempting for many people, especially in South-East Asia.

However, the nuclear component of the North Korean submarines – which could be excluded from the framework of negotiations – should be studied.

We could then ask North Korea to adhere again to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Furthermore, the structural weakening of the North Korean military system should be accompanied by a Treaty – signed by the USA and its allies in the Pacific region – which guarantees to North Korea that the United States or other countries will in no way take advantage of North Korea’s new weakness.

Moreover,  in  exchange  for  denuclearization,  the  USA could turn the 1953 armistice into a real peace Treaty, with mutual diplomatic recognition and the opening of normal commercial and financial channels.

The USA, however, needs not to be alone in the long negotiations with North Korea.

If the European Union mattered in foreign policy – not only for the usual trite talk about budgets – this would be a good opportunity for it to come to the fore.

However, this will not happen.

Certainly,  the  ideal  would  be   a  tripartite  agreement between the USA, China and the Russian Federation.

It would allow to slacken the regional tension, as well as to favour the trade-off between economy and military policies in North Korea, and enable Russia and China to make its interests clear to North Korea.

Furthermore, we could think of a Bank for Korea’s Transformation, which would favour the modernization of North Korea’s industry and allow to ensure widespread wellbeing, which is Kim Jong-Un’s only guarantee to stay in power for a very long period of time.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

Continue Reading
Comments

East Asia

The Demise of a French Sub Deal: Is China a Threat?

Published

on

The conflict between emerging and existing powers is almost as old as time.  Labeled the Thucydides Trap, it first recounted the 5th century BC Peloponesian war and its inevitability as Sparta, the dominant power, feared the rise of Athens.  Is something similar about to transpire between the US and China?

The latest war of words is about nuclear submarines.  When armed with ballistic missiles, they become a hidden mortal danger.  So the US also deploys nuclear attack submarines which shadow rival nuclear ballistic submarines … just in case.

Australia was in the process of acquiring 12 French conventional attack submarines (a deal worth $37 billion) when the US and UK stepped in with the AUKUS deal.  Intended to counter China, it offers Australia  advanced nuclear propulsion systems and an opportunity to construct nuclear subs of their own with the technology transfer.  Australia will then become the seventh country in the world to build and operate nuclear submarines.

The fear of the ‘yellow peril’ is ingrained in the Australian consciousness from the days when they were afraid of being swamped by Chinese immigrants.  It led to restrictive immigration policies for non-whites. 

Much of the concern with China is due to the forceful nature of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s policies.  In Xinjiang the Uyghur population is a minority in its home province due to the influx of Han Chinese.  Moreover, Uyghurs feel discriminated against, in jobs and the progress they can make.  Some have rebelled causing many to be put in re-education camps where there are tales of torture although denied by Chinese authorities.  Biden has declared it a genocide and introduced sanctions on leading Chinese officials there. 

China’s proactive foreign policy, renewed interest in Afghanistan, its warships patrolling all the way across the Indian Ocean to Africa are further evidence.

The new Afghan leaders, at least many of them, spent their exile in Pakistan giving the latter influence with the new government.  And Pakistan is effectively a Chinese client state.  The mineral wealth of Afghanistan, if it is to be developed, is thus likely to include Chinese help.

The UN General Assembly holds its first debate of the new session on the third Tuesday of each year; the session then runs through to the September following.  As leaders converge, one of the questions being asked of those involved in AUKUS is how they are going to pacify an angry France.  It has recalled its ambassadors from Australia and the US — in the latter case a move without precedent in almost 250 years of diplomacy.

If the French feel the Australians have been duplicitous, the Australians for their part claim they are obligated to do the best for the people who elected them.  The new deal brings jobs, technology and a greater role for Australia in dealing with an increasingly powerful China

It would be a great shame if the West in trying to shore up its interests in the Indo-Pacific region loses a crucial ally — France — at the very least in wholehearted support.  Is Mr. Xi smiling and quoting some ancient Chinese proverb, perhaps Lao Tzu, to his colleagues?   

Continue Reading

East Asia

Japanese firms’ slow and steady exit is sounding alarm bells in Beijing

Published

on

Last year in March, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had indicated Japan would initiate measures to reduce the country heavily relying on China for factory production. Since July 2020, Japan has rolled out subsidies totaling over 400 billion Yen to move its enterprises out of China to Southeast Asia and beyond. It is yet to be seen if the scale of incentives has actually triggered a major change in where Japanese companies relocate production.  On the other hand, experts in China continue to wonder why would Japanese companies which are on average making 17% profit diversify into the ASEAN nations, where in 2019, their rate of return on direct investment was a mere 5%?

***

In less than ten days, Japan is going to have a third prime minister within a short span of twelve months. On September 1 last year, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe resigned on health grounds, Yoshihide Suga was chosen as Abe’s successor. At the time, China’s leadership did not show any worrying signs as the new Japanese leader was expected to continue with the foreign policy of the previous government. But one year later, Suga’s unexpected departure is leaving Japan’s diplomatic relations with China considerably strained over Taiwan. Yet the leadership in Beijing is not going to lose sleep over the next prime minister’s public stance on the Japan-Taiwan “alliance.” What China will be closely watching is how many more billions of Yen and for how long a new leader in Tokyo will carry on with rolling out subsidies to lure away Japanese businesses out of China?

Interestingly, on assuming office Prime Minister Suga had promised continuity in domestic policies and that he will respect Abe’s foreign policy. However, Suga’s promised commitment to further improve relations with China was viewed differently in the People’s Republic. Writing in an article on the day Yoshihide Suga took office in Tokyo, Zhou Yongsheng, professor of Japanese studies at Beijing’s China Foreign Affairs University, observed: “[Under Suga] Japan will continue to align with the US as far as international relations and security affairs are concerned, and continue to back the US policy of containing China It is under these preconditions that Japan will seek cooperation with China.”

In sharp contrast, reviewing Suga’s foreign policy performance after two months, NIKKEI Asia’s foreign affairs analyst Hiroyuki Akita wrote in November 2020: “Suga has not said much publicly about his views on diplomacy but he has urged his aids to continue Abe’s diplomacy as it is at least for one year.” Akita gave a thumbs up to this approach and recalled a Japanese saying to describe it: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, not everyone agreed with Akita praising Suga’s brief record in diplomacy as flawless. Having spent seven years in the Abe cabinet as Chief Cabinet Secretary, Suga’s image was that of “a fixer, not a leader.” Suga did everything in diplomacy in his early phase as the prime minister what Abe had been espousing for the past seven years.

But as Toshiya Takahashi, professor of IR at Shoin University in Japan had predicted within a few weeks of Suga becoming the top leader, “Abe’s shoes were too big for Suga to fill.” Why so? Mainly because unlike Abe, not only Suga was not ideological, he was also far less diplomacy driven. “Suga is not an ideologically driven revisionist — he is a conservative politician, but his attitude has no relation to ideology. He does not seem to hold any specific cherished foreign policy objectives that he is willing to push with all his political capital in the way that Abe did in 2015 with the passage of the security-related bills,” Takahashi had commented.   

To observers and experts in both Japan and China, Prime Minister Suga’s (he will relinquish office on September 30) non-enthusiastic approach to foreign policy might have much to do with the current state of strained relationship between Japan and China. Asahi Shimbun opinion poll last year claimed foreign policy and national security as among the two most popular elements of Abe’s legacy. No wonder, critics in Japan have been pointing out that Suga’s cabinet did not have the luxury and support Abe enjoyed in foreign affairs of having in the government someone like Shotaro Yachi – the former secretary general of the National Security Secretariat. In China too, reacting to Suga’s first policy speech after taking office, scholars such as Lü  Yaodong, Institute of Japanese Studies, CASS in Beijing had observed, “Suga seems not to be as enthusiastic about China-Japan ties as Abe. Compared with Abe’s administration, Suga may walk back China-Japan ties.” (Emphasis added)

Remember, as already mentioned, the LDP had succeeded in pursuing policy of (economic) cooperation and avoiding confrontationist diplomacy with China under Abe. But Suga government’s failure to effectively fight coronavirus pandemic and its perception that China was increasingly becoming aggressive in SCS, are being cited as reasons why Japan was compelled to take strong steps against China. It is too well-known by now how Tokyo angered Beijing by referring to the importance of Taiwan to regional security in the recently released 2021 Defense White Paper. In fact, a Chinese scholar had warned as early as within a month of Suga taking over as prime minister from Shinzo Abe, saying that “Japan will take a more offensive stance against China over maritime boundary disputes under the incitement of the US” (emphasis added).

Hence, it is of extreme import to mention here China’s top diplomat Wang Yi’s recent trip to four ASEAN nations. Apparently, the second visit by the Chinese foreign minister in quick succession in the neighborhood had aroused the global media attention as it was soon after the recent visit to the region by the US vice president Kamala Harris. However, according to a Chinese commentator, Wang Yi’s recent visit to ASEAN countries must be viewed in the context of the region turning into a “battle ground” for rising economic one-upmanship among big powers. “Just a day after Wang Yi’s departure, Vietnam reached an agreement on defense equipment and technology cooperation with Japan,” the commentary noted.   

Furthermore, whilst under the previous Abe government, Japan consistently increased its investments in the ASEAN nations, except in the year 2016, all through from 2014 until last year, Japan’s investment in the region far exceeded that of China’s. Contrary to his vows, since coming into office in September last year, especially following his meeting with President Biden in the White House in April this year, Prime Minister Suga’s quiet agenda has been to confront China in both political and economic arena. In Japan, the Suga agenda was interpreted by analysts as “rebuilding Japan-US industrial chain, decoupling economic ties with China.”    

A policy report released by Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) in March 2021, revealed three important facts: first, in the year 2019, total Japanese investment in ASEAN nations stood at USD 265.5 billion – 14% of the country’s overall overseas investment, i.e., USD 1,858.3 billion.; second, in 2000, Japanese investments in ASEAN totaled USD 25 billion as against its USD 8.7 billion investment in China – a gap of USD 16.3 billion. Whereas in 2019, Japan invested USD 135.2 billion more in ASEAN as compared with China. As pointed out by one Chinese analyst, this gap is hugely significant, especially as the overall size of the ASEAN economy is a little over one-fifth of China’s GDP; third, followingthegovernment’s new strategy last year to encourage Japanese businesses to move out of China to new locations in ASEAN nations, the new guidelines also entailed reducing investments into China. A large part of the investments was diversified into ASEAN markets.

Finally, what is beginning to worry the Chinese authorities is the trend and direction of slow exodus of Japanese businesses out of China going back to Japan and towards Vietnam and Indonesia on one hand, and widening gap in Japanese investments between ASEAN and the PRC, on the other hand. At the same time, it was beyond anyone’s imagination in China that Japan would be acting foolish and risking “economic security” by diversifying businesses and investments into less profitable “barren” markets. But then who could anticipate what political and economic policy-rejigging coronavirus pandemic would bring about?

Overall, China’s more immediate and bigger concerns are firstly the sudden departure of Prime Minister Suga – in spite of Suga having made it clear he had no will to change or reverse “decoupling” policy he had been pursuing, and secondly, whoever emerges as the new leader of the four contenders by the month-end, analysts in Japan believe Tokyo is unlikely to change its “anti-China” political and economic policies.  

Continue Reading

East Asia

How China Exacerbates Global Fragility and What Can be Done to Bolster Democratic Resilience to Confront It

Published

on

Authors: Caitlin Dearing Scott and Isabella Mekker

From its declared policy of noninterference and personnel contributions to United Nations (UN) Peacekeeping Missions to its purported role in mediating conflicts, China has long sought to portray itself as a responsible global leader, pushing narratives about building a “community of common destiny” and promoting its model of governance and economic and political development as a path to stability. This narrative belies the reality. Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-style “stability,” whether to protect Belt and Road Investments (BRI) or regimes with favorable policies towards China, in practice facilitates authoritarianism and human rights violations, contributes to environmental degradation and corruption, and undermines democratic governance, all of which can fuel instability, intentionally or otherwise.

In pursuit of its true goal – “a world safe for the party” – China has leveraged its diplomatic and economic power to weaken  the international human rights system, bolstering support for illiberal regimes, contributing to democratic decline and exacerbating global fragility in the process. Nowhere is this more apparent than in conflict-affected contexts.

Conflict Resolution, CCP Style

Although China brands itself as a ‘promoter of stability, peace, and unity’, its very definition of stability is built on its authoritarian model of governance. This, plus its concerns about non-interference in its own domestic issues, informs its conflict resolution approach, which emphasizes host state consent and political settlement, two-ideas that can be laudable in theory, depending on the context. In practice, however, China’s conflict mediation efforts in some instances have provided support to incumbent regimes who are perpetuating violence and conflict, promoting a  ‘stability’ that disregards the voices of vulnerable populations and the need for inclusive governance. In the case of the Syrian civil war, China’s “political solution” meant maintaining China-friendly Bashar al-Assad’s grip on power, while blocking resolutions condemning the regime’s brutality against its citizens. 

“Stability” promoted by China can also come at the expense of human rights. China (and Russia) have previously pushed for cuts to human rights positions within peacekeeping missions, endangering the capacity of these missions to protect civilians in conflict.  In Myanmar, where the military is committing unprecedented human rights violations against its own citizens, China initially blocked a UN Security Council statement condemning the military coup and other international efforts to restore stability at a time when a strong international response was much needed. This was in line with China’s previous engagement in the country, working closely with the military regime to “mediate” conflict near the Chinese border in a way that preserved China’s interests and influence, but did little to actually address conflict. After a growing humanitarian crisis began to threaten its investments on the Myanmar side of the border, however, China changed rhetorical course, showing where human rights violations stand in its hierarchy of stability.

Advancing China’s Interests, Undermining Governance

China’s policies in fragile states mirror its unstated preference for expanding its economic and political interests, even if securing them sidelines the stated imperative of addressing fragility. In some instances, China has lobbied for UN policies in conflict-affected contexts that appear to support its own agenda rather than – or sometimes at the expense of – peace. According to the U.S. China Economic and Security Review Commission’s 2020 report to Congress, “China has shown an apparent willingness to leverage its influence in the UN peacekeeping operations system to advance its economic interests in African countries, raising the possibility that Beijing is subverting UN norms and procedures in the process.” Per the report, the most notable example of this was in 2014 when China lobbied to expand the UN Mission in South Sudan to protect oil installations of which the China National Petroleum Corporation held a 40 percent stake.

Moreover, China’s pursuit of its interests sets up countries on unstable trajectories. China’s economic investment policies and initiatives exacerbates governance deficits and increases fragility by encouraging corruption, facilitating authoritarianism and human rights violations, and contributing to environmental degradation, all key drivers of conflict. Two cases from Nigeria and Pakistan highlight the point.

In Nigeria, China’s investment projects have exacerbated corruption and fueled distrust in local government – key drivers of conflict and intercommunal violence in the country. China has exploited poor regulatory environments and worked within illegal and corrupt frameworks, often tied to armed groups and criminal networks. In one illustrative example, China state-owned timber trading companies  offered bribes to local officials to illegally harvest endangered rosewood. Members of local communities have cited feelings of exploitation by officials accepting bribes from Chinese businessmen, further stressing fragile ties between local government and citizens. Such business practices also demonstrate a blatant disregard for the environmental consequences of illegally harvesting endangered flora and fauna. Moreover, the inherently opaque nature of these projects that are tied to CCP interests makes it difficult to demand accountability.

Similarly in Pakistan, a 62-billion-dollar project known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) aimed at linking Xinjiang to the Arabian sea, has exacerbated tension in conflict-affected provinces. The project plans to build infrastructure and extract resources from several less developed regions, while overwhelmingly benefitting industrial and political hubs such as Punjab. Many provinces, including Balochistan and Sindh, have accused political elites of altering the route of the corridor in their own interests, thus further marginalizing their communities. Separatist groups have launched several attacks throughout the country, not only fueling conflict between Pakistani ethnic groups but also leading to attacks against Chinese expatriates. Recently, prominent voices from within China have called for a military intervention in Pakistan. CPEC has increased military presence throughout small villages, sparked an uptick in violent conflict along the route, and further eroded trust in local government institutions.

These cases may of course signal more opportunism and indifference by China to the impact of its engagement on stability in any given country, as opposed to an explicit attempt to undermine democratic governance (as it has done elsewhere in support of pro-China interests). Regardless of the intent, however, the impact is the same. China’s focus on political leverage and profits first and foremost undermines stability – and China likewise can benefit from instability in states with corrupt politicians interested in trading local resources for short-term political gains.

What Can be Done: Bolstering Democratic Resilience to Address Fragility and Foreign Influence

Foreign authoritarian influence has a compounding impact in conflict-affected contexts, further undermining governance structures, institutions, and processes that can mitigate or exacerbate fragility.  Good governance, on the contrary, can not only help countries prevent and manage conflict, but can also help countries address the myriad challenges associated with foreign authoritarian influence. Strong democratic institutions help societies respond positively and productively to threats both domestic and foreign.

Targeted investment in democracy in conflict-affected contexts vulnerable to foreign authoritarian influence offers an important opportunity for utilizing the Global Fragility Strategy in support of US foreign policy initiatives and advancing the Biden Administration’s policy priorities to tackle climate change, prevent authoritarian resurgence, confront corruption, and prevail in strategic competition with China.  An investment in support of democracy and good governance to address any one of these issues will reap dividends across each of these issues – engaging in conflict prevention and stabilization programming will both advance global democracy and advance US goals vis-à-vis China and other authoritarian rivals. Such investments, which must be long-term to account for the compounding impact of foreign authoritarian influence in already fragile environments, should include:

  • Supporting governments, civil society, and citizens to better understand, expose and counter foreign authoritarian influence, particularly in conflict-affected contexts where data and research efforts can be challenging. An understanding of China’s playbook is critical to countering CCP influence operations;
  • Helping independent media to investigate and expose foreign authoritarian influence and how it fuels conflict, whether through training, financial support, or other protections of the civic and information space, to raise public awareness of the impact of such engagement on conflict dynamics and promote transparency and accountability in dealings with foreign actors;  
  • Developing evidenced-based tools to prevent and mitigate foreign authoritarian influence in fragile contexts;
  • Strengthening electoral institutions, political parties, legislative bodies, and judiciaries to uproot elite capture and mitigate malign influence;
  • Leveraging diplomacy to build political will and incentives for government officials to resist foreign malign influences. Such diplomatic efforts can include increased outreach and contact with countries previously neglected by the US – but prioritized by China – and public diplomacy to both expose the CCP’s misleading narrative and advance narratives about what democracy can deliver;  and
  • Coordinating with similarly-minded donors such as the European Union, Japan, and Australia, to implement a unified approach to match the scale of Chinese investment and maximize the impact of any intervention.

Only democracy can help countries navigate the nexus of domestic and foreign threats to their stability. In the era of COVID-19, authoritarian resurgence, and climate crisis, supporting countries to develop these “resilience” fundamentals is a sound – and necessary – investment.

*Isabella Mekker is a Program Associate with IRI’s Center for Global Impact, working on countering foreign authoritarian influence and conflict prevention and stabilization programming.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Trending