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.
Xinjiang? A Minority Haven Or Hell
While the G7 meets under the shadow of Covid 19 and the leaders of the most prosperous nations on earth are focused on rebuilding their economies, a bloodless pogrom is being inflicted on a group of people on the other side of the world.
In this new era, killing people is wasteful and could bring the economic wrath of the rest of the world. No, it is better to brainwash them, to re-educate them, to destroy their culture, to force them to mold themselves into the alien beings who have invaded their land in the name of progress, and who take the best new jobs that sprout with economic development. Any protest at these injustices are treated severely.
Amnesty International has published a new 160-page report this week on Xinjiang detailing the horrors being perpetrated on Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Amnesty has simultaneously announced a campaign on their behalf.
Persecution, mass imprisonment in what can best be described as concentration camps, intensive interrogation and torture are actions that come under the definition of ‘crimes against humanity’. More than 50 people who spent time in these camps contributed first-hand accounts that form the substance of the report. It is not easy reading for these people have themselves suffered maltreatment even torture in many instances.
The UN has claimed that 1.5 million Muslims (Uighurs, Kazakhs, Uzbeks and Tajiks) are in these internment camps and China’s claims of re-education camps made to sound as benign as college campuses are patently false.
People report being interviewed in police stations and then transferred to the camps. Their interrogation was frequently conducted on ‘tiger chairs’: The interviewee is strapped to a metal chair with leg irons and hands cuffed in such a manner that the seating position soon becomes exceedingly painful. Some victims were hooded; some left that way for 24 hours or more, and thus were forced to relieve themselves, even defecate, where they sat. Beatings and sleep deprivation were also common.
Activities were closely monitored and they were mostly forbidden to speak to other internees including cell mates. Trivial errors such as responding to guards or other officials in their native language instead of Mandarin Chinese resulted in punishment.
Amnesty’s sources reported the routine was relentless. Wake up at 5am. Make bed — it had to be perfect. A flag-raising and oath-taking ceremony before breakfast at 7 am. Then to the classroom. Back to the canteen for lunch. More classes after. Then dinner. Then more classes before bed. At night two people had to be on duty for two hours monitoring the others leaving people exhausted. You never see sunlight while you are there, they said. That was because they were never taken outside as is done in most prisons.
The re-education requires them to disavow Islam, stop using their native language, give up cultural practices, and become Mandarin-speaking ‘Chinese’.
Such are the freedoms in Xi Jinping’s China. If China’s other leaders prior to Mr. Xi effected moderate policies in concert with advisers, it is no longer the case. Mr. Xi works with a small group of like minds. He has also removed the two-term or eight-year limit on being president. President for life as some leaders like to call themselves, then why not Mr. Xi. His anti-democratic values make him eminently qualified.
An enlightened leader might have used the colorful culture of these minorities to attract tourists and show them the diversity of China. Not Mr. Xi, who would rather have everyone march in lockstep to a colorless utopia reminiscent of the grey clothing and closed-collar jackets of the Maoist era.
Looking back on India-China ties, one year past the Galwan incident
Two nuclear-armed neighbouring countries with a billion-plus people each, geographically positioned alongside a 3,488-km undemarcated border in the high Himalayas. This is the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. Differences in perception of alignment of this border for both sides have contributed to a seemingly unending dispute.
Chinese unilateral attempt to change status quo in 2020
One year back, on 15 June 2020, a clash between Indian and Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley of eastern Ladakh turned bloody, resulting in the death of 20 soldiers in the former side and four in the latter side. It was an unfortunate culmination of a stand-off going on since early May that year, triggered by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops encountering Indian troops who were patrolling on their traditional limits.
It was followed by amassing of troops in large number by China on its side and some of them crossed the line over without any provocation, thereby blocking and threatening India’s routine military activities on its side of the traditionally accepted border. It was a unilateral attempt by the Chinese Communist Party-run government in Beijing to forcefully alter the status quo on the ground.
The LAC as an idea
Over the years, the LAC has witnessed one major war resulting from a Chinese surprise attack on India in 1962 and periodic skirmishes along the various friction points of the border, as seen in the years 1967, 1975, 1986-87, 2013, 2017, and the most recent 2020 Galwan Valley incident, the last being the worst in five decades. Post-Galwan, the optics appeared too high on both sides.
The LAC as an idea emerged with the annexation of Buddhist Tibet by Chinese communist forces in the early 1950s, bringing China to India’s border for the first time in history. This idea just emerged and was taking shape through the Jawaharlal Nehru-Zhou Enlai letters of correspondence that followed.
In 1962, while the world was engrossed upon the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Chinese inflicted a huge military and psychological debacle on unprepared and outnumbered Indian soldiers in a month-long war along this border.
Even to this date, there is still no mutually agreeable cartographic depiction of the LAC. It varies on perceptions.
What could’ve led to 2020 stand-off?
One of the reasons that led to the current new low in India-China ties, other than differing perceptions, is the improvement in Indian infrastructure capabilities along the rough mountainous terrains of the Himalayan borders and its resolve to be on par with China in this front. This has been a cause of concern in Chinese strategic calculations for its Tibetan border.
The carving up of the Indian union territory of Ladakh with majority Buddhists from the erstwhile Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019 has indeed added to Beijing’s concerns over the area.
For the past few years, India has been upfront in scaling up its border infrastructure throughout the vast stretch of LAC, including in eastern Ladakh, where the 2020 stand-off took place. There is a serious trust deficit between India and China today, if not an evolving security dilemma.
Several rounds of talks were held at the military and the diplomatic levels after the Galwan incident, the working-level mechanisms got renewed and new action plans were being formed before the process of disengagement finally began.
The foreign ministers of both countries even met in Moscow on the side-lines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meet in September, which was followed by a BRICS summit where Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping came face-to-face in November, although virtually.
By February 2021, the process of disengagement of troops gained momentum on the ground around the Pangong lake area. So far, eleven rounds of talks were held at the military level on the ground at the border. But, the disengagement is yet to be fully completed in the friction points of Hot Springs and the Depsang Plains.
Diplomacy is gone with the wind
All the bilateral border agreements and protocols for confidence-building that were signed between the both countries in the years 1993, 1996, 2005, 2012 and 2013 were rendered futile by the Chinese PLA’s act of belligerence in Galwan.
The spirit of two informal Narendra Modi-Xi Jinping summits to build trust after the 2017 Doklam standoff, one in Wuhan, China (2018) and the other in Mamallapuram, India (2019) was completely gone with the wind. This is further exacerbated by the Chinese practice of ‘wolf-warrior diplomacy’, which is clearly undiplomatic in nature.
India’s diversification of fronts
Coming to the maritime domain, India has upped the ante by the joint naval exercises (Exercise Malabar 2020) with all the Quad partners in November, last year. Thereby, New Delhi has opened a new front away from the Himalayan frontiers into the broader picture of India-China strategic rivalry. Australia joined the exercise, after 13 years, with India, Japan, and the United States, a move indicative of militarisation or securitisation of the Quad partnership.
Recently, India has been consolidating its position over the union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, lying southeast to the mainland, and close to the strategic Strait of Malacca, through which a major proportion of China’s crude oil imports pass through before venturing out to the ports of South China Sea.
Economic ties, yearning to decouple
Last year, India’s external affairs minister S. Jaishankar remarked that border tensions cannot continue along with co-operation with China in other areas. In this regard, the Narendra Modi government has been taking moves to counter China in the economic front by banning a large number of Chinese apps, citing security reasons, thereby costing the Chinese companies a billion-size profitable market. The Indian government has also refused to allow Chinese tech companies Huawei and ZTE to participate in India’s rollout of the 5G technology.
Moreover, India, Australia and Japan have collectively launched a Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI) in 2020 aimed at diversifying supply chain risks away from one or a few countries, apparently aimed at reducing their dependence on China. In terms of trade, India is still struggling to decouple with China, a key source of relatively cheap products for Indian exporters, particularly the pandemic-related pharmaceutical and related supplies in the current times.
But, the Indian government’s recent domestic policies such as “Self-Reliant India” (Atmanirbhar Bharat) have contributed to a decline in India’s trade deficit vis-à-vis China to a five-year low in 2020, falling to around $46 billion from around $57 billion in 2019.
The broader picture
The border dispute remains at the core of a range of issues that define the overall India-China bilateral relations. Other issues include trade and economics, Beijing’s close ties with Islamabad, the succession of Dalai Lama who has taken asylum in India since 1959 and the issue of Tibetan refugees living in India, educational ties, and the strategic rivalry in India’s neighbourhood, i.e., South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region, among others.
Chinese belligerence has led India to find its place easily in the evolving ‘new Cold War’
The more China turns aggressive at its border with India, the more it will bring India close to the United States and the West. Despite India’s traditional posture of indifference to allying itself exclusively with a power bloc, in the recently concluded G7 summit, India referred to the grouping of liberal democracies as a ‘natural ally’.
India has been raising the need for a free, open and rules-based Indo-Pacific in as many multilateral forums as possible, a concept which China considers as a containment strategy of the United States. Possibly, India might also join the G7’s newly announced infrastructure project for developing countries in an appropriate time, as it is initiated as a counterweight to China’s multi trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative.
There was a time in the past when the former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru sought to lead Asia by cooperating with China. Considering today’s changed geopolitical realities and power dynamics, nowhere in anyone’s wildest dreams such an idea would work out. Prime Minister Modi’s muscular foreign policy imperatives are aligning well with the Joe Biden-led Western response to the looming common threat arising from Beijing.
Today, encountering Xi Jinping’s grand strategy of Chinese domination of the world (by abandoning its yesteryear policy of ‘peaceful rise’) is a collective endeavour of peace-loving democracies around the world, to which Asia is particularly looking forward. Most notably, it comes amid an inescapable web of global economic inter-connectedness, even among rival powers.
Taiwan: The First and Oldest ‘Thorn’ between China and the West (part 2)
In the first part of the article, we noted Taiwan has returned as one of the thorniest issues in the US policy toward China under the Biden administration. Almost five months have passed but the new White House is yet to completely formulate its China policy framework. But as they say, the proof the pudding is in the eating. In April third week, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent to the Congress the US Strategic Relations Act of 2021 passed by 22-1 vote. The Act is filled with references to “closer US ties with Taiwan.” The Act, as expected, angered Beijing which accused Biden administration of hyping up the China threat theory.
Fearful of China attacking Taiwan anytime now, a leading US political news magazine recently pitied President Biden for he might become the first president to be thrust upon with the decision to go to war to defend Taiwan. “If a war breaks out over Taiwan, Biden may be forced into a decision no American president since 1979 has wanted to make,” the magazine observed. A similar concern was the focus of a Washington Post report within the first week of Biden coming to office, i.e., “the dragon has woken up and Washington should engage with it.” The newspapers’ national political correspondent Olivier Knox wrote: “President Biden hasn’t been in office for a full week, but already faces questions about one of his most solemn duties: when, why and under what circumstances he might send Americans into combat.”
In fact, from the Trump era onwards the US mainstream media (MSM), the State Department and the Pentagon – all have been consistently building up pressure on the White House to provoke China and take action against “the dragon.” On its part, the White House has increasingly sent out signals “it is prepared to send military into situations where there is high probability of combat.” Dangerous yet true is overall consensus in the US for quite some time demanding “aggressive toughness” as against the so-called “cringing appeasement,” should China commit a “strategic miscalculation” in the SCS or in the Taiwan Strait. On the other hand, “wolf warrior” statements and periodic military-strike threat to Taiwan from Beijing have been only adding fuel to the fire.
Let’s recall a short chronology of the US statements and actions over Taiwan in order to ratchet up pressure on Beijing. In part one of the article, we have noted two visits to Taiwan – both “first” since Sino-US normalization of ties in 1979 – by the Trump cabinets’ highest-level officials in September last year; ahead of the two visits, the US ambassador to the UN, Kelly Craft, had lunch with Taiwan’s top official in New York, James K. J. Lee. Craft-Lee meeting was described in a section of the US media as “historic” as it was the first time such a meeting took place since China seat at the UN was passed on from Taipei to Beijing in 1971.
Further, in last December, John Ratcliffe, the director of the US National Intelligence wrote in the WSJ: “As Director of National Intelligence, I am entrusted with access to more intelligence than any member of the U.S. government other than the president. If I could communicate one thing to the American people from this unique vantage point, it is that the People’s Republic of China is poses the greatest threat to America today, and the greatest threat to democracy and freedom world-wide since WWII.” Ratcliffe’s article was described by some as aimed at “setting the scene for a post-Trump administration.”
For limitation of space, let me cut to the chase and fast forward to the latest of President Biden’s actions which tantamount to undermining the “One China” policy without openly challenging Beijing but increasing the risk of conflict. Last week, a Democrat and a Republican member of the House of Representatives together moved a bill which would rename Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) as Taiwan Representative Office. According to the bill, it is time for the State Department, for the Congress to take action to elevate relations with Taiwan. Remember, three months ago in March, a similar provocative step was taken by the US ambassador to the archipelago nation of Palau, John Hennessey-Niland. During his visit to Taiwan, a first in 42 years by a sitting envoy, he by mistake referred to Taiwan as “country.” Of course, no clarification or apology to China was offered.
Interestingly, ever since the Carter administration normalized the US-China relations in 1979, on the issue of “One China” policy successive US administrations have all pursued a policy of strategic ambiguity(emphasis added). It has been an open secret and Beijing is not oblivious to the fact that the US understanding on “One China” policy is as good as fiction. Feeling helpless, Beijing so far has been compromising as long as the US does not cross China’s three Red Lines: Taiwan formally declaring independence; Taiwan acquiring nuclear weapon; an “outside power becoming too cozy” to Taiwan. John Culver, who served CIA for over three decades monitoring movements in the Taiwan Strait and retired last year, reckons “Beijing has made clear it has three ‘red lines’ that, if crossed, would see China go to war tomorrow.”
President Biden and his “team China” have been relentlessly issuing statements in order to heighten tensions between the mainland and Taipei. As recently as in April, the Secretary of State Blinken dared Beijing by saying “it would be a serious mistake for anyone to try and change the existing status quo by force.” Without specifying when exactly the Chinese government is going to push reunification by force, Joseph Hwang, a professor at Chung Yuan Christian University in Taiwan, said Beijing is waiting for an opportune time. The current lull is “is the quiet before the storm,” Hwang mulled over looking lost.
Inviting Taiwanese envoy to Biden swearing-in should not be viewed as one-off diplomatic move aimed at provoking China. Instead, and in fact, uninterrupted continuity in escalating tensions between China and the US even as Trump exited and Biden entered the White House on one hand, and China relentlessly mounting political, economic and military pressure on Taiwan, on the other hand, have turned the Taiwan Strait into potentially one of the most vulnerable military conflict hotspot. As an article in The Diplomat observed hours after Biden delivered his 100-days to the joint session of the Congress: “The Biden administration entered office at a critical inflection point for the United States. President Biden inherited a world order and in particular an Indo-Pacific region that is undergoing profound change with China’s rise and an ongoing geopolitical shift toward Asia. Within this broad expanse, the Taiwan Strait is increasingly a critical military flashpoint.”
Finally, the purpose of a series of top government officials’ visit to Taipei, top US diplomats referring to Taiwan as “country” by slip of tongue, for several months on continuing presence of the US naval aircraft carriers in SCS and in nearby waters closer to the Taiwan Strait, and the latest attempts to create vaccine “friction” across the Taiwan Strait – all these actions are gearing towards one common goal, i.e., to elevate US-Taiwan relations as Washington prepares for conflict with Beijing. As NIKKEI Asia reported it last month in its ‘Politics’ columns, headlined: “US vows to approach Taiwan with clarity and resolve.” The influential Asian political newsmagazine from Tokyo further stated: “A comprehensive American strategy on China under President Joe Biden’s administration is still in the works, but Washington has promised to approach Taiwan issue with ‘steadiness and clarity and resolve’.”
The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee sending a bipartisan bill to the Senate floor in April, sponsored by Senators Menendez (D-New Jersey) and Misch (R-Idaho) respectively, is being described by some critics in US as “the most important piece of legislation regarding US policy toward China in the Congress.” Implying it to be one of the most belligerent bills, Beijing’s China Global Television Network website condemned the bill as the US Congress “declaring Cold War on China.” Referring to Taiwan-related content in the bill, the CGTN said: “The bill contains several misleading statements about the US policy on China’s Taiwan region.” China’s official Xinhua news agency reported that the Act stipulates that the US government shall not place any restrictions on the ability of US officials to interact with Taiwan. The Xinhua cited Michael D Swaine, a scholar of China securities Studies, as saying: “the Act epitomizes the worst errors of the new Washington consensus on what a rising supposedly means for the United States and the world.”
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