After a long preparatory work and thanks to the strong mindedness that we already recognize to him, on March 10, 2018 Xi Jinping succeeded in imposing – with 99.86% of favourable votes – a constitutional reform enabling him to extend his stay in power without time limits.
It should be recalled that the maximum limit of the two consecutive terms of office was introduced by Deng Xiaoping in 1982 to avoid the danger of a “personalistic drift” (as Deng himself called it), which – according to that ruling class, just getting over the Red Guards’ harsh attacks -had characterized the last phase of Mao Zedong’s regime.
After stabilizing his power within the Party and the State – with his loyal aides, such as Wang Qishan, who managed the world financial crisis of 2008-2010 and the relations with the United States, as well as Deputy-Prime Minister Liu He, supervising economic and financial policy, and Yi Gang, the Governor of the Central Bank – President Xi Jinping established a large and cohesive negotiating group for international economic and financial affairs, above all with the United States. In 2017 the United States managed a trade surplus of 375 billion US dollars in favour of China, as well as a volume of Chinese investment in US Treasury bills equal to 1,200 billion US dollars and many other operations. At the core of them there is the New Silk Road, which will characterize the strategic-economic and geopolitical nature of China’s current foreign policy.
Power projection in the Heartland and US potential exclusion from it.
As Brzezinsky said, when the Heartland is united with the Eurasian peninsula, there will be the end of US hegemony. Both in Europe and in the rest of the world.
Furthermore,Liu He and Yi Gang spent long periods in the United States to study international finance and political science.
The powerful anti-corruption campaign also contributed to the quick and effective results of this great change in China’s leadership. Besides the thoroughcontrol ofthe ways and procedures to select both the middle-low and upperranks of the Party and the State, carried out directly by President Xi Jinping’s “internal” group, said campaign was organized also by Wang Qishan, the powerful Head of the new Party’s “control commission” and very loyal to President Xi Jinping.
An essential aspect of foreign policy, which for President Xi Jinping and his team is mainly economic and financial foreign policy, is the establishment of independent Chinese initiatives abroad, in addition to expanding China’s role in the WTO and in the other international organizations.
It is by no mere coincidence that the Chinese intelligence services have a section dealing with the “use of international standards”.
Initiatives such as the Investment Bank for Asian Infrastructure (in which also Italy participates) and the BRICS Investment Bank, which are essential for understanding the role of China as a country within the world trade flows, but also its strong geopolitical autonomy.
These phenomena will emerge above all in the 75 countries that have already joined the New Silk Road.
Economic ties with China, but adhesion of the 75 countries to China’s unwritten project of hegemony in the new world order, which today, in particular, appears as a structural weakening of the United States.
With specific reference to diplomacy, the recently-drafted “Xi Jinping’s Thought on Diplomacy” envisages that – as already done for seven decades -the Party develops a diplomacy thought “with Chinese characteristics” and that this Thought is defined directly by the CPC leaders.
While today’s world is infinitely complex, as Chinese leaders maintain, the Chinese diplomacy must also reach a new starting point.
A new starting point that simplifies the initial approach and leads to a New World Order, not focused on the United States, but linked – if anything – to a Chinese diplomacy operating bilaterally in all economic and political spheres and in all areas of the world.
Hence, following President Xi Jinping’s diplomatic policy line means – first and foremost -to remain loyal to the peaceful development pathway, with a view to furthering cooperation with all countries to achieve win-win results. It also means to support the formal architecture of the current international system, with a view to finally achieving a better external environment for all States and making definitive progress towards world peace and human progress.
Hence President Xi Jinping’s diplomacy means – first and foremost-support for the gradual and ongoing opening up of global markets, especially today when Western countries tend to protectionism, but is also designed to foster relations with the countries that the West is neglecting or still considers mere “deposits of raw materials”, such as Africa or Latin America.Said diplomacy, however, works above all to avoid the creation of hotbeds of crisis.
In a nutshell,albeit with some degree of legitimate simplification, President Xi Jinping is turning most of Mao Zedong’s “Three Worlds Theory” into diplomacy doctrine.
It should be recalled that it is a classification dividing the countries according to their hegemonic claims and designs, as well as to their power projection.
The “imperialist” West and the “revisionist” USSR, or rather the First World, would wear themselves out, with their cold wars, on the ground of the “great European plain” they both want to conquer, while all the vast world that is not yet developed will be led by the People’s Republic of China.
The Second World was made up of the developed countries, but the marginal ones compared to the nations of the First World.
Analyzing President Xi Jinping’s doctrine on Chinese diplomacy more in depth, we realize that these times have already come.
As to the First World, the USA is under crisis, while Russia is now part of the Chinese-led Heartland. The Second World’s countries can all now be part of a bilateral win-win project guaranteed by the new Chinese superpower.
Firstly, China has experienced 40 years of continuous development, i.eafter the Four Modernisations and the subsequent economic and political reforms.
Currently China is the second largest economy in the world and, in 10 years’ time, Chinese analysts reasonably expect it will outperform the United States.
On the other hand, as seen above, there is the progressive expansion of protectionist practices that lead to strong strategic and economic tension between States.
In this case, precisely with his diplomacy doctrine, President Xi Jinping maintains that the domestic choices must always be coordinated with those in the international sphere.
There is no separation – which is eminently non-dialectic – between domestic and international policy in a country.
Again according to President Xi Jinping’s doctrine, at world level the guidelines can only be those of mutual respect for global peace(hence never non-hegemonic) and of mutual development, not only at economic, but also at human level.
It is a Western-rooted humanism, albeit “with Chinese characteristics”, as Chinese would say.
Hence President Xi Jinping’s Diplomacy Doctrine strongly supports multilateralism, both at political and economic and financial levels. It also promotes free trade and facilitatesinvestmentand finally tends to renew and “rejuvenate” the system of global relations as against the US “unilateralism”, which is closely related to protectionism.
Obviously an exporting economy such as China’s, which is however expanding also in the internal market, wants free trade. It is less obvious, however, that a country dominating the world financial system like the United States is linked to the protection of its industries, which are often mature or even decocted.
The primary factor is that, in the idealistic diplomacy resulting from President Xi Jinping’s Thought, what is noted by many Chinese scholars and diplomats is the significant and specific contribution of the country to human civilization – a contribution that, in Chinese leaders’ minds, no other country can currently provide.
It is not a secondary and rhetorical factor: humanism with Chinese characteristics shows that China holds universal values, while the West is ever less globalized in its values and lifestyle.
The China that has expanded throughout the world, in the 40 years since the Four Modernizations, is a primary part of the international community. Its interests have spread across the world, which implies that China has a perspective and a way of assessing facts in a global and not strictly nationalistic way.
Chinese humanism as hegemony of soft power.
Hence, also the West – which is obviously not satisfied with China’s quick, stable and powerful growth – cannot even understand how, according to Chinese analysts, the country can have the perception of its universal commitments and interests.
A Chinese diplomat said that they have been accustomed to be modest, but they have begun to engage deeply in international and global issues, with a view to leading “the reform of globalization” – which is the key to President Xi Jinping’s geopolitics – particularly after the 18thCPC National Congress.
With specific reference to the relations between the USA and China, President Xi Jinping’s theory of Diplomacy maintains that cooperation always achieves win-win objectives, while confrontation always entails a loss for both actors.
According to President Xi Jinping, those who still have a cold war mentality isolate themselves from the world, and those who currently use zero-sum games will never be able to avoid confrontation without suffering great damage.
If the United States creates the conditions for a hard confrontation with China – and powerful enemies emerge – it will reach a condition in which the contrast, even peaceful, will be so hard as to severely undermine the US world rank, as well as its status as first global economy.
As to the relations between China and the Russian Federation, President Xi Jinping regards the two nations as global strategic partners in all areas.
Currently the relations between the two countries are “rock solid” – just to put it in President Xi Jinping’s Doctrine. Together they are becoming a strategically very important force for maintaining peace in the world.
Common Russian-Chinese interests are always expanding, but they never negatively affect a third party and are never influenced by the decisions of a third party.
It is the current Chinese definition of the classic term “independence”. Esoterically, the Void between two Full.
Hence, just to recap, President Xi Jinping’s diplomacy doctrine consists of ten simple points:
a) always supporting the CPC Central Committee’s policy as if it were the essential principle for action, underlining the function of the centralized and unified direction of the Party as far as all relations with foreign countries are concerned.
b) Supporting the development of diplomacy with Chinese characteristics, with a view to fulfilling the mission of national rejuvenation. The internal and external spheres are linked and must never be treated separately.
c) Preserving world peace and reaching a common level of development among peoples and nations, with a view to building a large community, with a shared future for all ankind. Chinese global humanism seen as a Vase of Kingdoms for every national and humanistic tradition.
d) Strengthening all countries’ strategic trust in Socialism with Chinese characteristics.
e) Continuing to work for the Belt and Road Initiative in view of all member countries’ common growth, through discussion and collaboration.
f) Following the path of peaceful development, based on mutual respect and win-win cooperation. Respect, not asymmetrical hegemony, but symmetrical hegemony – in the Chinese view – since it is the result of the political effects of a win-win relationship.
g) Developing global partnerships while proposing a diplomatic agenda.
h) Leading the reform of the global governance system, based on the concepts of justice and fairness – i.e. non-hegemonic concepts of a cultural and political nature.
i) Taking the Chinese national interests as the bottom line for safeguarding China’s sovereignty, security and development interests. It is once again the link between the outside and the inside of the same Vase, namely domestic policy and foreign policy.
j) Nurturing the growth of a specific style of Chinese diplomacy, combining the fine tradition of China’s “external work” with the current needs and characteristics of the international environment. This means to link the Confucian and elitist Chinese tradition with the daily practice of diplomacy.
According to the Party’s current leadership, the study of President Xi Jinping’s diplomacy thought is an essential part of the thought on Socialism “with Chinese characteristics”, so as to achieve a New Era, which is designed to be the start of a global and peaceful diplomacy led by China.
A diplomacy mainly supporting the reform of globalization, the deep core of President Xi Jinping’s diplomacy thought, as well as the global spreading of China’s win-win relations with all the countries of the world.
From this viewpoint, and without ever losing sight of the goal of Chinese national rejuvenation and universal human development – another essential feature of President Xi Jinping’s diplomacy thought – new types of international relations will be established, based on mutual respect, fairness, justice and win-win cooperation. Global multilateralism.
In the future, the diplomacy with Chinese characteristics, introduced by President Xi Jinping, will promote a new international order, resulting from an inclusive world of stable peace, universal security and common prosperity.
This is not propaganda. It is a project that – in the specific terminology of the CPC Central Committee -is building China’s new foreign policy.
Without this kind of political eschatology, we cannot fully understand President Xi Jinping’s thought on international relations.
For a modern, but also for a traditional Chinese, the Confucian metaphysics of principles is what metaphysics was for Aristotle: “the science of ends” – ends which are as real as means.
In fact, Father Matteo Ricci S.J. regardedConfucius as “the Aristotle of the East” and, in the “Rites controversy”, which involved the Jesuit and the Franciscan Fathers, the former supported the sinicizationof the Holy Mass because, despite everything, the Chinese tradition was comparable and consistent with Aristotle’s tradition that had refounded Catholic Metaphysics, through St. Thomas Aquinas.
Moreover, it is a moral and cultural standing proposing itself as a new leadership, in a world of political materialism – especially in the West – and of short-term operational and practical visions.
Hence, there is a successful merging of Marxist analysis and Chinese cultural tradition – a modern cultural and political tradition that is now also ancient.
Therefore, this is another essential point of President Xi Jinping’s Thought on foreign policy.
President Xi Jinping’s diplomacy is an important achievement of the now successful turning of Confucian thought into “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”.
In President Xi Jinping’s mind, arts and culture – which are also essential in the current Chinese power projection – are based on some points that can be taken from various speeches and documents and can be summarized as follows:
1) contemporary art must take patriotism as its primary theme (patriotism and not Marxism),thus leading the crowds to have correct visions of history, nationality, the State and culture. Confirming the integrity and self-confidence of the Chinese people – here lies mass pedagogy, which applies also to foreign policy.
2) Some artists ridicule the sublime (and much could be said in relation to the Western theory of the sublime) and even offend the classics, thus depriving the crowds of heroic figures. The world upside down, the good as the bad, the evil becoming good, the ugly becoming beautiful. Here President Xi Jinping, who knows the European culture well, will certainly remember a scene of the tragedy that built the Western culture: the ritual of the Three Witches around the cauldron in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
3) The market value of arts is completely irrelevant, compared to their social value. Another problem of pedagogy in arts, while the West tends to exclude the public from the works of art and is scandalized – following Walter Benjamin -by their technical reproducibility. The economic benefits are always worth less than social ones – and this is another very important factor to understand President Xi Jinping’s thought. Nevertheless, the independence of arts and the autonomy of their aesthetic value is indisputable. Autonomy, not exclusion from the public.
4) Chinese art must never chase the foreigner. Provincialism is the absolute evil. We cannot say President Jinping is wrong.
5) Providing sound, healthy and progressive content to mass fashions coming from abroad.
In essence, it is a transposition – within the arts – of the same principles that President Xi Jinping has developed for the art of diplomacysince last June.
In other words, the values of all behaviours;the universal effect of behaviours; the union between the private and the public sphere, i.e. between the external (foreign policy) and internal domains (national life).
The Chinese still view diplomacy as an art, unlike the West, which now regards its diplomats as sellers of goods and services, as financial promoters or advisors, and possibly as brokers of contracts.
This will never be the diplomacy of a prestigious, influential and successful country.
The New Chinese Diplomacy, however, also concerns President Xi Jinping’s attempt to capitalize on Donald J. Trump’s isolation on the world scene.
So far, however, only 19% of the citizens in 25 Western countries like China as world leader, while a US Rule is still acceptable to 25% of the world public.
Not even the US results, however, are very brilliant.
After all, President Jinping’s goal is to make China rapidly becoming a global superpower, thus creating a protective network of allied countries, with a view to counterbalancing the equivalent US structure of international relations. Once again the Void and the Full exchanging their roles.
In fact, one of the reasons underlying the Belt and Road Initiative is to create a network of long-term allies for China, capable of covering at least the whole Eurasian Heartland, thus blocking it in the face of the US power expansion.
Once again the Void and the Full, two terms of the Chinese esoteric tradition: the Full will be China’s and the Russian Federation’s undisputed power over the entire Eurasian Heartland, with ramifications towards an increasingly weaker Eurasian peninsula in geopolitical and military terms.
The Void will be the US strategic autonomy around China – at least for the time being.
There may also be a structural Chinese contrast with India, a future great power, also at economic level, but to the south, at the crossroads between the Heartland and the great line of communication between the Asian Seas and the Persian Gulf, and finally the Mediterranean.
For the time being, the EU irrelevance will suffice. An unbeatable guarantee for both the USA and the other major global players.
The void, more important than the full, is currently the still decisive US presence in the primary and secondary seas, with little penetration into Africa, very strong US presence in Europe and the North American management of the break between Eastern Europe and Russia, which is capable of making the Heartland open and “viable” and depriving it of strategic value.
This is the great picture in which President Jinping’s Diplomacy Doctrine shall be seen.
Hence, we are still in the phase of the speech delivered by President Jinping to the CPC Central Committee in 2017, when he said that “China would stand tall and strong in the East”.
In a phase of globalization crisis, we are still reinterpreting the theme of China’s “central interests” – an issue that had been discussed by the Chinese leaders, especially in the early 2000s.
On the basis, however, of the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” and of the “Chinese dream”, two essential themes of the 18th CPC Congress that crowned Xi Jinping as leader.
The President has quickly become China’s “central leader”, especially through the great campaign against corruption.
At international level, Jinping’s Presidency differs greatly from an essential strategic theme of contemporary China: the low profile imposed, at the beginning, by Deng Xiaoping.
Deng seemed to think that China should be allowed to build a modern economy, which was its first and fundamental objective, but should not be bothered with the major geopolitical and military issues, which were still out of reach and diverting the country from its primary objective.
President Jinping has instead overturned this principle: China certainly has world ambitions, which are also its primary interests.
Hence China’s core interests are well known: the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank;the One Belt, One RoadInitiative; the construction of artificial islands in the Sea of Japan; the building of the Djibouti base and the silent participation in many world conflicts and tensions. These are all ways to further China’s global power and protect its primary interests.
We should also recall “China 2025” and “Amazing China”, two projects that are far from negligible in this new Chinese plan that consists in regulating, reforming and even regaining globalization, while other countries, such as the USA, temporarily recreate their economy and their labor force returning to protectionism. Inevitably, this will always recoil on them.
Protectionism is a drug with short-term effects.
The alternative option is twofold: to continue the game of globalization – which has now almost completely deindustrialized the nations that began the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century – or to temporarily strengthen the country with protectionism.
On the one hand, however, China can afford globalization because it has a different productive formula but, on the other, it could play even the game of protectionism, using the belt of the Silk Road countries, which can easily maintain and absorb an acceptable level of Chinese exports, even under the terms and conditions set by China.
Hence, are we now faced with a new cold war, the one between China and the West?
Probably, but only a Third Type one, with an economic war characterized by Second Type skirmishes, halfway between the symbolic and the strictly military domains.
China has already tried to close operations with an alliance between it and the EU, Russia and Japan.
Nevertheless, considering the current configuration of world trade, the attitude has been lukewarm.
The USA has instead reactivated part of its trade with the EU, by greatly strengthening its historic relationship with Japan.
Hence, there is once again the spectre of China’s closure within its traditional borders – a danger that President Xi Jinping wants to avert ab ovo.
As early as 2009, China’s “central interests” were theorized in the Central Committee as: 1) China’s fundamental system and State security; 2) the State sovereignty and territorial integrity; 3) the stable development of the economy and society.
The 2011 White Paper added “peaceful development” and “national reunification” to these fundamental policy lines.
That is the one with Taiwan.
Currently China makes it increasingly clear that respect for its core interests is essential to create the win-win relations that characterize its bilateral economic relations.
This is one of the primary aims of President Xi Jinping’s Diplomacy Doctrine.
Moreover, China, is no longer encouraging Chinese companies’ investment abroad, thus reuniting all what was previously scattered everywhere in the sole Belt and RoadInitiative, which is currently part of the Constitution and the Party’s Basic Policy Line.
The Belt and Road Line was born from that of the “March to the West”, a strategy initially developed by the international policy expert Wang Jisi, who believed China had to go towards Central Asia and the Middle East, with a view to minimizing the tensions with the United States in East Asia.
An essential area for the United States.
Currently, however, the “Belt and Road” initiative is a global and not a regional initiative – as Wang Jisiinitially thought – a project that will lead to geopolitical upheavals not yet predictable.
The project stems from two essential needs: China’s exit from its unsafe traditional borders and the continuous, stable internal economic development that, where lacking, would put the power of the Party and the State to a hard test.
These are the economic and political mechanisms that President Xi Jinping’s Diplomacy Theory wants to expand and protect.
The Taliban seek cooperation with China?
How to deal with Afghanistan after the removal of US forces has become a subject that many countries are grappling with. And because Afghanistan and China are linked through Xinjiang, the Afghan Taliban aspire to cooperate with China. According to sources, on July 28, Baradar, the head of the Taliban’s Political Committee, visited China and met with Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
During the meetings, Foreign Minister Wang Yi made a personal plea to the Taliban in Afghanistan, expecting that the Taliban would draw a line with terrorist organizations like the East Iraqi Movement and actively battle them, removing barriers to regional growth and cooperation. Since the United States made it apparent that it intends to withdraw its troops, China’s position toward Afghanistan and the Taliban has become the center of all countries’ attention.
Prior to that, China simply repeated its long-standing foreign policy of non-interference in domestic matters, — in other words, China does not intervene in Afghanistan’s internal problems and expects Afghans to handle their own internal affairs. China, on the other hand, is very concerned about the situation in Afghanistan. China has not only made substantial investments in Afghanistan, but it has also sponsored several dialogues in China between Afghan parties.
Only because of the complexities of the situation in Afghanistan does China lack a clear answer. China has stated its particular needs more explicitly this time than in the past. China has far too many considerations when it comes to Afghanistan. However, in comparison to the behavior of many other nations, China’s demands for the Taliban this time have been well thought out, fair, and controlled.
First, China has maintained its previous favorable policy. Despite the fact that the Afghanistan problem is unique, China has not broken its foreign policy of non-interference in internal matters. On the basis of this strategy, China has had interactions with all parties in Afghanistan, ensuring that participation is not only voluntary, but also sufficient to ensure that all parties understand China’s position in order to avoid misunderstandings.
Second, China has stated its opinion on the subjects that most worry it. China has no space for compromise when it comes to national security. China has not raised this matter in the past, but it still needs to voice its viewpoint at the proper moment. As a result, China has the guts to demonstrate its stance, which will aid in the resolution of the situation.
Only when this issue is settled will future collaboration between China and Afghanistan be simple. The Taliban further said that no troops will be allowed to utilize Afghan territory to conduct activities that harm China. Atta regards China as a reliable ally and thinks that China would contribute to peaceful rebuilding.
Furthermore, China has not permitted certain ill-intentioned groups throughout the world to flourish. Following the withdrawal of the US troops, there was speculation in Western culture that China might become engaged in this issue and become the next growing power to enter the “empire’s tomb.” The Indian army’s recent intervention in Afghan politics appears to demonstrate that, as a powerful country around Afghanistan, it is hard to stay out of the issue.
China avoided the urge to intervene and managed its interactions with all sides sensibly, laying the ground for the next phase in the development of China-Afghan relations. So far, China has not fallen into the West’s trap, nor has the deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan harmed its relations with all parties.
As China expands its global presence, it will eventually come into contact with nations with very difficult political and economic situations, such as Afghanistan. However, China will not flee because of obstacles, because the majority of the world’s developed countries are Western countries with strong biases against China, and those wanting to have good relations with China are frequently developing countries with varied challenges. nation. As a result, China has no option.
Will US-China Tensions Trigger the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis?
Half a century ago, the then-National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger flew to Beijing in the hope of seeking China’s alliance to contain the Soviets. His visit culminated in the U.S. agreement to recognize Beijing as the only legitimate government of China instead of Taipei, going back on the promise he had made to the president of the Republic of China, Chiang Ching-kuo, merely one year previously that Taiwan would never be abandoned by the US. The realistic American diplomat may have never thought that one day Taiwan, once ruthlessly forsaken by the US, would become the latter’s most important strategic fortress in East Asia to contain a rising China.
In 2018, the passage of the Taiwan Travel Act encouraged more high-ranking American government officials to visit Taiwan and vice versa1. The US Undersecretary of State Keith Krach landed in Taiwan two years later, rendering him the highest-level State Department official to visit the island since 19792. The Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, announced the cancellation of all restrictions on official contacts between the U.S. and Taiwan in January 20213 – an action that was vehemently denounced by the Chinese government as Trump’s “last-ditch madness” that would “push the Taiwan question deeper down the road of no return”4.
Just when the world thought of Joe Biden’s ascension to power as a harbinger of softer attitudes toward Beijing, especially regarding Taiwan issues, the diplomatic muscle flexed by the newly elected US president is as eye-tingling as his aviator shades – first, his Secretary of State, Blinken and Secretary of Defense, Austin made an explicit announcement of the U.S. support for Taiwan; second, he sent former Deputy Secretaries of State Richard Armitage and James Steinberg and former senator Chris Dodd to Taiwan in honor of the 42nd anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act.
America’s incremental interest in the island is not confined to actions from its executive branches, but it has permeated its legislative system. The introduction of the confrontational “Strategic Competition Act of 2021” in April signals the anti-Soviet-style containment of China which was backed by The Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This bill echoes the “Interim National Security Strategic Guidance” released by the Biden Administration in March, and it emphasizes the urgent need to “achieve United States political objectives in the Indo-Pacific” and back closer ties with Taiwan5. With strong bipartisan support, the bill is expected to be signed into law by President Biden and to serve as a legislative compass to counter China at all levels. In that respect, Taiwan Strait is more likely than ever to become “ground zero” by the U.S. and China.
On the other hand, the crackdown on Hong Kong’s democracy movement under the new National Security Law by Beijing proved to be successful due to the limited backlash received from the West. On top of that, Beijing’s handling of Xinjiang cotton issue seems to have managed to incite nationalism among Chinese people on a short notice to boycott “anti-China forces”6. With a record of 380 incursions into Taiwan’s airspace by Chinese air force during 2020, there is reason to believe that Hong Kong and Xinjiang were “guinea pigs” used by Beijing to test its capability for the fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis, the probability of which has been enhanced by Xi Jinping’s attempt to seek reappointment and Beijing’s need to divert domestic attention away from the escalating social conflicts brought about by the stagnant economy.
So, the pertinent question is: if the fourth Taiwan Crisis does break out, when will it happen? It could be sometime after the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games7 as it is unlikely for China to discard the opportunity to showcase its image and test its comprehensive strength8. This could be déjà vu in light of Russia’s successful Blitzkrieg-style invasion of Ukraine in 2014, which occurred only three days after the end of Sochi Winter Olympics. However, China is not the only one who can learn from history. When the rest of the world anticipates China’s intent with regard to Taiwan, preemptive precautions will be taken. The game-theory-type strategic interaction may hence spur China to launch its attack before the upcoming international sports gala.
Another critical timing could be prior to the 20th National Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in October 2022. Xi Jinping’s abolishment of term limits through constitutional amendment may pave the legal foundation for his reappointment, but the “widespread opposition within the party”9 renders the legitimacy of his extended tenure unlikely. That is why some may find it hard to conceive of Xi’s attempt to “start an unnecessary war with Taiwan” before his re-appointment10, but his insatiable desire for a 3rd term may push him over the edge. For the time being, Xi seems to be seduced by his burgeoning self-confidence that China is charging into an epoch of opportunity where “the East is rising and the West is declining,”11 and what time is better than now to consolidate his authority in front of dissidents with a military show-off targeting Taiwan?
As Henry Kissinger12 said, “The historical challenge for leaders is to manage the crisis while building the future. Failure could set the world on fire.” When the leaders of the two greatest powers both see their own countries as the future “Leviathan” of the world, the definition of failure can no longer be merely confined to internal mismanagement, but being surpassed by international competitors. Kissinger may have overestimated some leaders’ senses of honor to bear the responsibility of the “historical challenge”, but he can be right about the catastrophic consequences of their failures. But this time, failure is not an option for either side across the Taiwan Strait nor across the Pacific Ocean
- Chen, Y., & Cohen, J. A. (2019). China-Taiwan Relations Re-Examined: The “1992 Consensus” and Cross-Strait Agreements. University of Pennsylvania Asian Law Review, 14(1).
- Mink, M. (2021). The Catalyst for Stronger US-Taiwan Ties. https://keithkrach.com/the-catalyst-for-stronger-us-taiwan-ties/
- Hass, R. (2021). After lifting restrictions on US-Taiwan relations, what comes next? Brookings. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2021/01/11/after-lifting-restrictions-on-us-taiwan-relations-what-comes-next/
- Global Times. (2021). Pompeo may toll the knell for Taiwan authorities. https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202101/1212378.shtml
- Zengerle, P., & Martina, M. (2021). U.S. lawmakers intensify bipartisan efforts to counter China. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/us-lawmakers-look-advance-sweeping-bid-counter-china-2021-04-21/
- Cui, J., & Zhao, Y. (2021). Boycott of Xinjiang cotton use opposed. China Daily. https://www.chinadailyhk.com/article/161495
- Everington, K. (2021). Former US security advisor says Taiwan in “maximum danger” from PLA. Taiwan News. https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/4189160
- China Daily. (2021). Preparing for Winter Olympics promotes quality development – Opinio. China Daily. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202101/22/WS600a131ba31024ad0baa44f1.html
- The Guardian. (2020). China’s Xi Jinping facing widespread opposition in his own party, insider claims. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/18/china-xi-jinping-facing-widespread-opposition-in-his-own-party-claims-insider
- Roy, D. (2021). Rumors of War in the Taiwan Strait. The Diplomat. https://thediplomat.com/2021/03/rumors-of-war-in-the-taiwan-strait/
- Buckley, C. (2021). Xi Maps Out China’s Post-Covid Ascent. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/03/world/asia/xi-china-congress.html?_ga=2.178218534.2000768907.1619749005-1359154941.1599697815
- Kissinger, H. A. (2020). The Coronavirus Pandemic Will Forever Alter the World Order. https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-coronavirus-pandemic-will-forever-alter-the-world-order-11585953005
Quad Infrastructure Diplomacy: An Attempt to Resist the Belt and Road Initiative
Over the years, the competition between the great powers in the dual space of the Indian and Pacific Oceans has been rapidly increasing. In the face of the aggravation of relations between the PRC and the United States, the defence dimension of the rivalry between the two contenders for global leadership traditionally comes to the forefront. However, in today’s context, the parties will most likely not engage in military action for the strengthening of their dominance in the region, but they will try to achieve the goals by expanding of economic influence. In this context, along with the well-known trade wars, there is an infrastructure rivalry in the region, which is enforced on Beijing by Washington and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad).
The role of Infrastructure in Indian and Pacific Oceans’ countries
The countries of Asia traditionally drawing the attention of the world community due to the high rates of economic, technological, and social development. In less than three decades, their per capita income has increased by 74%, millions of people have been lifted out of poverty, as well as a growing middle class has emerged in the region. All this became possible due to the multilateral cooperation institutionalization and the integration of the economies of the Indo-Pacific. However, the strengthening of trade and economic ties and the future prosperity of Asia largely depends on the infrastructure (ports, highways and railways, airports, pipelines, etc.), which contributes to a more active movement of goods on a regional and global scale. Moreover, back in 2009, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) published a report according to which collective investments in infrastructure in the amount of US$8 trillion will be required to maintain rapid economic growth in Asian countries.
The most prominent infrastructure initiative in recent years is the «Belt and Road Initiative» (BRI), which was launched by China’s leader Xi Jinping in 2013. The BRI helped to fill numerous infrastructure gaps, but the United States and its partners increasingly paid attention to the geostrategic aspect of China’s actions. It’s no secret that the Belt and Road plays an important role in the development and integration of China’s provinces with neighboring countries. However, with the growing number of countries participating in the BRI, as well as the strengthening of China’s influence on a regional and global scale, criticism of the strategic tools for expanding Beijing’s economic influence gradually increased. The Belt and Road has faced a number of critical remarks, including those related to accusations of purposely involving the regional countries in the so-called «debt traps». Regardless of the degree of truthfulness or study of the issue, from year to year, media reports have contributed to the building of a contradictory attitude to China’s BRI among the residents, experts, and political elites all over the world.
Moreover, as soon as Donald Trump became the U.S. President in early 2017, Washington modified the nature of its policy towards China to greater confrontation. This trend has become a direct expression of the intensified great powers’ rivalry and their struggle for hegemony in the Indo-Pacific, as well as a motivation for the revival of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), which includes the United States, Australia, India and Japan. However, the interaction of the Quad has long been built on the basis of defence.
This trend continues nowadays, as evidenced by the frequent exercises and the growing Quad naval presence in the Indo-Pacific but in 2021 the Quad countries expanded their range of issues on a multilateral basis. Now the agenda includes vaccine diplomacy (providing 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines to Indo-Pacific countries, climate change, technological cooperation, maritime security, cybersecurity, and external development assistance. According to Kurt Campbell, Indo-Pacific policy coordinator at the National Security Council, Washington is looking to convene an in-person fall summit of leaders of the Quad countries with a focus on infrastructure in the face of the challenge from China.
Quadrilateral infrastructure diplomacy as the continuing vector of the Trump’s administration
The infrastructure agenda also became an important part of the last summit of the G7 countries’ leaders, during which the parties expressed their willingness to establish a BRI counterpart called Build Back Better World (B3W). In total, there are 22 mentions of infrastructure in the final G7 Summit Communiqué. Even despite the traditionally restrained position of India, which took the time to «study the specifics of the proposal», infrastructure diplomacy of Quad is becoming a new area of geostrategic competition in the Indo-Pacific.
There’s one exception: the activities on the infrastructure track are not a new trend of U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration, but a continuation of the foreign policy vector set during the presidency of Donald Trump. It was he who turned Sino-U.S. rivalry into a geo-economic level. Back in 2017, the Foreign Ministers of the Quad countries stated the need for high-quality infrastructure development in order to ensure freedom and openness of sea routes, as well as improve intra-regional ties. In 2018, MoU was signed between the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia, aimed at implementing major infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific. Moreover, the Quad countries raised the question of the BRI countries’ growing debt during their official meeting in Singapore.
It was clear that the Belt and Road Initiative is perceived by the Quad countries as the main factor in expanding the economic and political influence of the People’s Republic of China, as well as China’s influence of the domestic political processes in the countries of Indo-Pacific. At the same time, the combination of economic and defence rivalry enforced on Beijing by Washington, as well as Quad’s efforts to build a balance of power in the region actually indicates the explicit anti-China nature of the Quad.
In this case, it’s important to note that each of the Quad countries has its own levers of influence, which they can combine in infrastructure competition with Beijing. For example, in 2015, in response to the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative and the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) by China, Japan made the Partnership for Quality Infrastructure (PQI). The United States, in turn, announced the infrastructure project Blue Dot Network (BDN), as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia established a new Partnerships for Infrastructure (P4I). All these initiatives are united by a commitment to inclusive economic growth, «quality infrastructure», climate change, disaster response, and social development. The capitalization of the Japanese, American and Australian initiatives is US $110 billion (US$50 billion from Japan and over US$50 from the Asian Development Bank), US$30-60 million, and US$383 thousand (including access to US$4 billion of foreign aid and $US2 billion from the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific), respectively. Given the ongoing discussions about debt traps, the emphasis on «high-quality infrastructure» may give special features to the initiatives of the Quad but even the total amount of funding will not be able to compete with the US$770 billion investments already made in 138 countries of the world and announced by China.
Anyway, Quad is stepping up its infrastructure diplomacy in at least three areas, including Southeast Asia, Oceania, and the Indian Ocean. For example, Australia, Germany and Switzerland have already allocated US$13 million to the Mekong River Commission For Sustainable Development (MRC) to assist Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and, Vietnam «to respond to pressing challenges while safeguarding the ecological function of the Mekong River and improving people’s livelihoods».At the same time, Australia signed US$300 million MoU with Papua New Guinea, aimed at the ports reconstruction in the major state of Oceania (the ports of Vanimo, Kimbe, Motukea, Lorengau, Oro Bay, Daru, Lae, etc.). It is important to highlight that the increasing economic and infrastructural presence of China in the countries of Oceania, energize Australia’s policy in the South Pacific, which is a traditional zone of influence of Canberra. At the same time, the expansion of Australia’s aid and investment to the broader Indo-Pacific is due to the commitment of the current Australian government to the U.S. foreign policy.
In turn, the reaction of the Southeast Asian countries to the intensification of Quad infrastructure diplomacy will be more restrained. According to the latest Pew Research Center survey, the most unfavourable view of China is in the United States (76%), Canada (73%), Germany (71%), Japan (88%), Australia (78%), and South Korea (77%), while in Singapore — the only country representing ASEAN in the survey — the percentage of unfavourable views on China is at a low level (34%). Moreover, considering the aspects of infrastructure diplomacy in the region, we should definitely refer to the survey of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) of the political elites of the region «Powers, Norms, and Institutions: The Future of the Indo-Pacific from a Southeast Asia Perspective», published in 2020. Despite the intentional exclusion of Russia from the survey, it approximately reflects the trends in the Indo-Pacific countries at the present stage. Thus, as a result of the survey, American experts revealed that the political elites of Southeast Asia positively assess China’s activities in the field of infrastructure development, which has brought tangible benefits to most Southeast Asian countries.
China is actively reacting to verbal attacks from the United States and Quad. The infrastructure agenda was no exception, but China responded by modernizing its global Belt and Road Initiative. In response to criticism about the involvement of the countries in debt traps, Beijing has developed a new Foreign Policy White Paper «China’s International Development Cooperation in the New Era». The document was published in early 2021. According to the provisions of the new White Paper, China will pay closer attention to the process of implementing projects within the aid framework, take an active part in evaluating projects in order to monitor their quality, maintain an appropriate level of confidence in its projects to China, as well as conduct bilateral consultations to identify difficulties with debt repayment and make sure that partners do not fall into a debt trap. It’s possible that the new vision of the PRC will appear especially quickly in countries where the Quad will primarily try to implement their infrastructure projects.
China is the first country in the region, which pays significant attention to the issues of large-scale infrastructure development. Moreover, Beijing has a number of advantages over its opponent — Quad. First, the Belt and Road initiative is more structured and aimed at intensifying trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation with neighboring countries, while the emerging Quad infrastructure agenda is «dispersed» among numerous individual initiatives, doesn’t have the same level of stability as the BRI, and even after 3.5 years of building the agenda is considered through the prism of expectations.
Second, China’s initiative is aimed at a single infrastructure connection between the PRC and the rest of the world and acts as a potential basis for the intensification of global trade in the future. At the same time, today’s projects of the Quad are of a “sporadic» nature and can’t contribute to the infrastructure linkage between Europe, Africa, South and Southeast Asia on a global scale.
Third, China can already offer the Belt and Road members not only logistics infrastructure but also the opportunities in the field of green energy. At the end of 2019, China produced about a third of the world’s solar energy and retained a leading position in the number of wind turbines. Within the foreseeable future, the Quad countries, and especially the United States, will have to compete with China even in the field of the climate agenda, which is so close to the new administration of the U.S. President Joe Biden.
Finally, during his recent speech on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), PRC’s Leader Xi Jinping confidently declared the great revival of the Chinese nation, its contribution to the progress of human civilization, and its readiness to build a new world, which undoubtedly indicates China’s decisiveness to respond to challenges to its address, including from the Quad.
The ongoing transformation of the regional architecture in the Indo-Pacific, both in the defence and economic areas, will be an important aspect in the post-pandemic era. China has repeatedly stated about the «covered» Quad activities to deterrence Chinese policy in the region, but the expansion of the Quad’s agenda by infrastructure diplomacy allows us to speak about the evident vector of the Quad strategy against the PRC.
However, nowadays the Quad countries had been left behind. China already has the world’s most numerous land forces, the largest navy, as well as an ambitious global Belt and Road initiative that includes almost 140 countries and a capitalization approaching US$1 trillion. Of course, Quad is moving towards the institutionalization of its infrastructure cooperation and the potential expansion of the number of participating countries to the Quad Plus format. However, to reach China’s achievements for the period 2013-2021, the new alliance will need at least a decade.
At the same time, the rivalry of the Belt and Road with the Quad’s infrastructure initiative will help the countries of the region to diversify their infrastructure ties but will make their choice even more difficult, since it will primarily be regarded as support for the foreign policy vision of one of the parties, and not a pragmatic estimate of economic benefits. All this makes the regional environment in the Indo-Pacific increasingly complex and forces middle powers and smaller countries to adapt to new geostrategic realities.
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