“We intend to be kind to everyone. We have many friends. But just as importantly, we aspire to remain ourselves.”–Lee Kuan Yen (1923-2015), Prime Minister of Singapore (1959-1990) (Source: Zajec 2016, 236).
A new global governance
The effects of globalisation are radically challenging our perception of the world. In order to respond effectively to current challenges, we must change our mindset, open up to the world, consider those around us and create a new global governance (Brown 2019; Foucher 2019).
The geopolitical transition is underway. China is not only an economic powerhouse, but also a global geopolitical force. Meant to revitalise the “Silk Roads”, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) aims to control the strategic space in which world trade occurs. Inevitably, BRI is meant to shape future global trade routes, and whoever controls these routes will control the world.
US President Donald Trump is pursuing a policy to protect American interests. His “America first” strategy is challenging global governance as we know it. It is revealing, in various ways, the world’s“ unpaid bills”, especially Europe’s(Foucher, 2019).
The persistent institutional crisis within Europe follows the same logic. Created in the aftermath of the Second World War, the European Union is now divided, mainly about refugee flows, BRI, Chinese investments in Europe, and Brexit, to name a few issues.
It is therefore essential to consider the problem’s origins while avoiding ad hoc or, even worse, simplistic solutions, such as those advocated daily by populists on social networks. Thus, we must reset our mindset and have the audacity and imagination to create a new global governance – one that is fairer, more equitable and more responsive not only to current challenges, but to the needs of all humanity:
- Identities and borders: How can the right to self-determination be respected and ensured without being divisive? How can we respect the sovereignty of states and territories without renouncing the positive effects of globalisation?
- How is it possible to manage Chinese power, power exerted by a country that does not share universal values – the values of the West, especially those of Europe and the United States? How can we integrate this geopolitical force, one which is based on an authoritarian capitalist system and which is expanding not only economically but also geographically? This means a China that is engaging in a conquest of space without making war in the classic sense of the term.
- Beyond borders: How can we integrate these two systems of opposing values into a new structure ensuring global cosmopolitical governance?
French geopolitics can provide us with part of the answer. It was Jacques Ancel (1879-1943) who added a very human concept –the identity of the heart – to geopolitical considerations (Ancel 1938, 97-99; Gauchon 2008,11-12). His concept is based on the need for balance and harmony within a society, country or region.
According to Ancel, “The border is a political isobar, which fixes, for a time, the balance between two pressures: the balance of masses, the balance of forces.” In the same spirit:“A solid nation, one in harmony, exists even without visible borders.”(Ancel 1938,196; foreword by Siegfried in Ancel (1938, VIII).
Geopolitics is the study of the relationships between space and power. It is a multidisciplinary undertaking that encompasses economic, political, cultural, historical and social dimensions. The term “space” refers to land, sea and cyberspace (Banik2016, 19-21).
Ancel’s geopolitics stand in contrast to the German geopolitics of Friedrich Ratzel (1869-1904), which consider states to be “entities determined by people and territory”(Gauchon 2008, 7-9).
Klaus Haushofer (1869-1946) added the notion of “living space and pan-ideas” to this German geopolitical discussion. That is to say, he highlighted the potential solidarity of a people scattered throughout the world in order to justify the expansion ofits living space. Conversely, Ancel placed the human being at the centre of his geopolitical considerations, i.e.man as creator. Thus, “human groups [are what] achieve a harmonious balance, ultimately recognising borders based on a common memory, history and language”. The result is “a nation of the heart in and of itself, non-rational” (Ancel 1938, 106; Gauchon2008, 7-9).
In search of a new balance
The characteristics of globalisation are ambivalent, even contradictory. Thanks to the Internet and digital technology, we are connected with each other to an ever-greater degree. We have access to many sources of information which provide us with seemingly endless facts and figures. The transparency and availability of information might increase, but knowledge and expertise do not necessarily follow suit.
At the same time, the world’s various actors are becoming both more interdependent and more competitive. Nation-states find themselves at odds with the transnational powers resulting from globalisation, such as global companies, economic and political associations and interest groups. All these transnational forces often act beyond the borders, rules and standards set by national laws. This cross-border activity requires greater strategic coordination between the various national and transnational actors (Banik 2016, 17-24).
Yet it is precisely the lack of coordination that causes not only a feeling of loss of control among the public, but also a general feeling of insecurity. Consequently, globalisation engenders an opening to the world, while simultaneously increasing the need to belong to a country or region. It is the need for identity, the need to remain ourselves in the whirlwind of globalisation.
This feeling of insecurity fuels the populist discourse of the far-right parties calling for a return to a Europe of Nations, a return to national thinking. According to this populist, simplistic perspective, the only means to regain control and sovereignty is to restore and strengthen visible borders within and outside the EU.
Moreover, our current world order contains a sort of ideological contradiction between two systems with opposing values: on one side, the West, the EU and the United States; on the other, China with its authoritarian capitalist system. This is highlighted by a renewal of the cult of personality surrounding “strong men”, such as Trump, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin. This resurgence of personality cults reinforces the identity aspect in the relevant political strategies.
Despite the advent of these “strong men”, there is a lack of foresight among the entire political class, or even incompetence on its part, whatever the country of origin, at both the national and international levels. This lack of foresight manifests as the chaos found within international organisations and institutions, which all emerged following the Second World War and which are now struggling to find adequate solutions to current challenges (Banik, 2019). The current political storytelling has become obsolete.
Due to the measurable and undeniable economic success of the authoritarian capitalist system in China, our democratic system is experiencing a crisis of confidence – a crisis that can be found mainly in the EU member states. Thus weakened, Europe is no longer able to respond to current geopolitical and economic challenges and is torn instead between two powers, the United States and China. In the absence of a real, common strategy, the EU is unable to find effective solutions to the issues faced by all actors, such as demographic shifts, increased global urbanisation, worldwide competition for natural resources, technological impacts on the labour market (particularly artificial intelligence), and international terrorism.
Borders and their hallmarks
The process of transnationalisation and deterritorialisation inevitably brings us back to the issues of border, identity and nationality. Nationality is defined as the legal relationship between an individual and a country (Gauchon 2008, 33). It is obvious, even if it is difficult to admit: “Globalisation’s flows do not erase borders, countries, regions, territories or places”(Zajec 2016, 238). On the contrary, the more connected the world is, the more the debate around borders is crucial in any geopolitical discussion. “[N]o natural borders, no closed physical domains that can close states, nations ad aeternum.”(Ancel 1938, 194).
According to Ancel, borders can be described using the “three Ps”: precarious, persistent and permeable. In addition, borderscan be visible or invisible, for example when moving from an urban area to a maritime one. (Ancel 1938, 97-99; foreword by Siegfriedin Ancel, XI).
Arbitrary borders and ‘borders of civilisation’
Ancel mainly differentiates between two types of border. On the one hand, there arethe so-called arbitrary borders, which are tense and strategic, resulting from military claims. The treaties that delineate these borders are temporal and purely based on the national interests of the states involved.
“Borders of civilisation”, on the other hand, are more permanent, since they are based on a memory, history and common language resulting from the balance achieved by a specific group of human beings. Such borders are “nevertheless more complicated, because they are subject to many political and commercial interpretations”. Even if commercial interpretations aim to “pave the way” and not to “enclose” as military interpretations do (Ancel 1938, 102-107), “paving the way” also means, in our current world, a conquest, an expansion, sometimes using military means, into the territory of others.
BRI – a true opening of borders?
The positive effects of globalisation can largely be seen as “paving the way”. Even if BRI is based on a commercial justification, the new Silk Roads are nevertheless closely linked with the idea of geographic and, above all, geopolitical expansion. China’s geopolitical influence is growing, especially in the Eurasian region as a whole, a region which is currently of great strategic import. Thus, BRIis part of China’s security strategy and is developing considerable geostrategic significance.
For years, China has been investing heavily in its military sector. Although the 7.5% increase in 2019 is less than the increase in 2018 (8.1%), the country plans to spend CNY1,190 billion, or €156 billion, to achieve Xi’s goal of having its armed forces “combat ready” (Le Point économique, 2019).
The conquest of space without making war
Having already had a large army, especially in terms of manpower, China has now become a great naval force, a fact Westerners are only beginning to acclimate to, since, for them, China has traditionally been a weak country located very far away.BRI, the revival of the Silk Roads, is the counterpart to Trump’s “America first” policy. The initiative increasingly has military implications: “BRI will likely result in increased overseas access and presence for the People’s Liberation Army”(Ratner, 2018; CNBC Asia Politics, 2018). In addition, the majority of workers on BRI construction sites are Chinese and not members of the local workforce. As a result, the initiative is the manifestation of a “China first” policy, one that primarily pursues Chinese interests. The positive impact on countries in the BRI region is quite limited. Worse yet, these countries are becoming more dependent on China, playing the role of debtor to Beijing’s creditor.
In addition, China has skilfully bundled its civil and military interests under the rubric “security”, a concern that now determines its internal and external strategy. In 2017, the budget of the Ministry of the Interior even exceeded that of the Ministry of Defence by 19% (Strittmatter2019, 35).Preserving external security means safeguarding China’s sovereignty, while preserving internal security means ensuring internal stability and control by the Communist Party of China (CPC). Despite the apparent opening of its external borders, China is increasingly enclosing its population, especially through censorship –its invisible border.
The term “harmony” has acquired a special meaning since Xi came to power. He has been the CPC’s “president for life” since 2018. All civil, military and administrative power rests with him and he is pursuing a strategy to protect China’s internal and external interests. As a result, China is extending its borders without making war or conquering territory in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, itis conquering geostrategic space by expanding its geopolitical influence. In China, it seems there is no longer a state, there is only the Communist Party.
In keeping with Jacques Ancel’s analysis, especially from the perspective of the “three Ps”– the persistence, precariousness and permeability of borders – developments such as“America first”, China’s Social Credit System, its Corporate Social Credit System(Le Monde 2019), BRI and Brexit are all challenging the very concept of borders.
Faced by two superpowers, China and the United States, the EU is experiencing a full-blown identity crisis and finds itself confronted with a major strategic dilemma. “A solid nation in harmony exists even without visible borders” (Ancel 1938, 196; foreword by Siegfriedin Ancel, VIII). Neither solid nor in harmony, the EU is being dragged into a false discussion on border reinforcement. The visible strengthening of borders does not address the root of the problem.
The solution can be found instead in strengthening the solidity of and identity within the European population. The only basis for a stronger and more harmonious Europe is to ensure that the different identities within the Union are perceived positively and that the shared– and not common – interests of its member states are protected and promoted.
China has introduced a new ideology derived from the notion of “harmony”, which is the key factor in its all-important internal and external strategy. As noted, the aim of BRI is not only to build up a huge network of commercial infrastructure in order to “develop wealth in the region and preserve peace, friendship and trust and understanding between different peoples”, as the CPC has expressed it. BRI is also an integral part of the Party’s plan for preserving national unity and internal stability. Harmony is China’s “leitmotiv”, its mantra while it pursues a policy of expansion, of conquest, geographically and geopolitically, without resorting to armed force.
Although less elegant, Donald Trump’s policy maintains the same logic: the return to national sovereignty, to protecting and defending national interests. The US government has renounced many policy and trade agreements in order to better protect its interest and to expand its sphere of influence. Stability and preserving unity, identity and sovereignty are the top priorities.
Thus, the balance of power, the field of engagement between the countries and actors is changing. Two systems with opposing values are facing off in a race for global leadership. The EU finds itself squarely in the centre of this field of engagement.
The EU: a political union of shared interests
The European Union has three major problems: First, it lacks a real strategy or vision; second, the European institutions do not function in a truly democratic manner; third, the different national identities within the EU are misperceived and, subsequently, hard to manage. It is precisely this unsuccessful management of European identities that fuels the discourse on strengthening borders as the sole remedy for the Union’s difficulties.
The EU is not a national power like the United States, China and Russia, but a “forward-thinking” geopolitical actor that must find its own way as globalisation progresses. Without a new political narrative, Europe must inevitably lose influence on the international scene. Only close cooperation between EU member states and the promotion of shared interests can ensure that Europe will become a power to reckon with on the geopolitical stage, on par with China and the United States.
First and foremost, the emotional charge must be removed from the discourse on borders and national identities. Europe must ensure a space exists where people can live in freedom, a space where we can live our different European identities. Were this to be realised, it would not be a threat to Brussels but, on the contrary, a complementary force ensuring the right to self-determination.
In addition, the European institutions must be democratised. What is needed is a European Parliament that reflects the voice of Europeans and that, after elections, forms a truly European government, an assembly of specialists and experts that transcends party politics. The EU must stop being divided along party lines. Were that the case, the EU would become the main driver for improving the democratic system.
Democracy should never be called into question, but democratic structures must be adapted on an ongoing basis. A harmonious Europe is the only way to ensure a secure space – one surrounded by borders –that defends its shared political, economic and geopolitical interests. This is how the EU could take the lead in creating a new type of global governance. In view of the weaknesses of nation-states such as China and the United States, Europe is in a favourable position to lead the way in building a new system of cosmopolitical governance – a cosmopolitical system with “borders of civilisation” which might be visible, arbitrary or even invisible, but which, above all, would not divide but provide the framework needed to consolidate the required cosmopolitical standards.
Conclusion: new “storytelling” for the EU
As noted, Ancel emphasises the human notion in his geopolitical approach. The important thing is to recognise and calmly accept the feeling of belonging to a country, to a region –accept, that is, the very natural need for identity. Such an identity ensures the political unity that would sustain the evolution towards a new Europe and, subsequently, towards a new global governance. A European identity must be cultivated, in addition to the various national identities. This European identity, moreover, can help define the objective interests shared by most member states.
Globalisation is forcing us to think and act in terms of geo-economics (Overholt 2018). Safeguarding economic interests has become imperative. The EU must build a political union of shared interests and must create strategic alliances as a result. The important thing is to build these alliances in the spirit of cooperation and not, as is the case in today’s world, in the spirit of competition. Facing today’s challenges is only possible in a spirit of cooperation and tolerance, especially since the ultimate goal is not only to improve our democratic processes, but to move humanity forward as well. According to Ancel, a border is “a political isobar, which fixes, for a time, the balance between two pressures: the balance of masses, the balance of forces”(Ancel 1938, 195). In this spirit, we must change our global governance and, above all, our political narratives.
A new “storytelling”is required since today’s political practices and narrative strategies have lost their significance. The balance of power has changed radically. Neither the West nor China will alter its political system. It is therefore necessary to integrate China into the new global governance, even if it clearly does not adhere to our values.
Shared interests and common cosmopolitical standards must be defined in order to ensure social justice (Nida Rümelin 2017, 70, 178-180) and greater equity, particularly in the distribution of natural resources, in order to effectively combat global poverty. Globalisation requires the establishment of more regulations, standards, laws and coordination between national and transnational forces.
The real problem does not stem from the issue of borders. Borders will always exist, even in the globalised world. “There are no problems with borders. There are only problems with nations.” (Ancel 1938, 196). It is important to tolerate and accept different national identities and lifestyles and, above all, to recognise that we all live in a world which requires more and not fewer regulations and laws.
Moreover, only the existence of a true European identity can ensure the necessary political unity for evolving towards a solid, harmonious Europe. By acting boldly, this new Europe can take the lead in establishing a new cosmopolitical governance. What is needed is a politically united Europe that asserts its shared objective interests and values by creating a space providing freedom and tolerance. Consequently, we must revitalise an idea advanced by Jacques Ancel: “We do not change borders except by force; we change our minds” (Ancel 1938; foreword by Lomnica in Ancel 1938, 2).
Let us change our way of thinking
Note: This is a translation of an article originally written in French. The original will be published by L’Harmattan, Paris, in spring 2020.
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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