China’s polity and society is shrouded in a cobweb of myths. Several countries with whom China has trade surplus suffer from an understanding deficit. Let us review some of the myths heretofore.
Myth 1: China has no religion: During the 1920s, a Chinese intellectual Hu Shih proclaimed that China is a country without religion, and Chinese are a people who are not bound by religious superstition. Religion in China could never be eliminated. It has however seen periods of tolerance and persecution. Qing dynasty built schools in place of temples, churches, shrines and spirit writing altars. The present government believes that secularism would rise pari passu with economic progress. Modern China since its establishment in 1949 has granted right to religious belief. As such, China, now, has Buddhist association (since 1953), Protestant Church (1954) Islamic Association (1954), Daoist Association (1957), Catholic Patriotic Association (1957).
Chinese are traditionally obsessed with survival, not eternity, or higher spiritual values. Chinese philosophy of Daoism, Confucianism, and legalism are mechanistic. They are concerned with values as a means to an end. Pragmatism is the key attitude. Buddhism stands secularized to align gods with wealth and kitchen not spiritual alignment.
The Chinese society is in transition. Materialism now means faith in a bright future. Even spread of Christianity in both rural and urban areas is not tantamount to rejection of traditional values. During the Tang dynasty, Buddhism emerged as complement to, not repudiation material secularism.
Myth 2: Uyghur’s persecution and social issues: The Uyghurs, alternately Uygurs, Uighurs or Uigurs, are a minority Turkic ethnic group originating from and culturally affiliated with the general region of Central and East Asia. The Uyghurs are recognized as native to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China. The Uighurs are the people whom Old Russian travellers called Sart (a name which they used for sedentary, Turkish-speaking Central Asians in general), while Western travellers called them Turki, in recognition of their language.
The Uighurs are the people who old Russian travellers called Sart (a name which they used for sedentary, Turkish-speaking Central Asians in general), while Western travellers called them Turki, in recognition of their language. They are mentioned in Chinese records from the 3rd century. They first rose to prominence in the 8th century, when they established a kingdom along the Orhon River in what is now north-central Mongolia.
Insider dated December 24, 2019 reported that China has initiated a “Pair Up and Become Family” program to dilute Uyghur minority. Han Chinese men are sent to live with Uighur women in China’s western region of Xinjiang. “Neither the girls nor their families can reject such a marriage because they will be viewed [by Chinese authorities] as Islamic extremists for not wanting to marry atheist Han Chinese. They have no choice but to marry them. It is alleged that the Han Chinese have been raping Uighur women in the name of marriage for years. China denies the allegation.
Be it observed that the Uighurs is not like Orthodox Muslims. Both Pakistan and the Uighurs criticise each other. Andre Small (p.80, ibid.) states `Pakistan’s criticism of the Uighurs’ irreligiousness or fondness casts aspersions on their standing as Muslims’. It is said that `Turkistan separatists are supported by the United States or India in order to drive a wedge between China and Pakistan.
Chinese concept of Social evils differs from Pakistan’s. Divested of morality, an ordinary Chinese consider it just normal to give or take `body pleasure’ for money. In Khanewal some Chinese engineers scuffled with police when it tried to prevent them from going to a `red-light area’. Recently some Chinese gangs have been busted at Faislalabad, Lahore and Rawalpindi for fake marriages with Pakistani girls including some underage and later exploiting them as sex slaves (Dawn, Tribune, etc. dated May 9, 2019). The police recovered illicit aphrodisiac `drugs’, `gold ornaments’, `dowry’, Chinese passports and weapons. It is generally believed that the arrests are just a tip of the iceberg. In some Karachi areas, Chinese have rented congested adjacent housing units in various Karachi areas and turned them into `out of bound’ to Pakistanis. What they do there is anybody’s guess. Traditionally, Chinese prefer to develop and live in China towns wherever they go on the globe. In Pakistan, they have avoided doing so as what they eat (cats, dogs, monkey brains, insects) may sound revulsive and non-kosher.
Myth 3: Corruption almost eliminated: Xi Jinping began anti-corruption campaign immediately after becoming general secretary of Central Communist Party in November 2012.The government arrested 184 ‘tigers’ besides tens of thousands of `flies’ (lower-rank officials).
XI constantly admonished Chinese not to divide history into the history of the People’s Republic of China into a Maoist period and a reform period. The latter period is distinguished austere Maoism by slogan `to get rich is glorious’.
This slogan led to widespread corruption in bureaucracy. People had muffled resentment against corrupt bureaucracy. They hold CCP responsible for it.
XI instructed officials to remove their children from foreign universities. But, her own daughter, then an undergraduate student at Harvard did not come back. During 2005-2006, there were 62,500 Chinese students in foreign universities. By 2015-2016, their number rose to 3, 28,000.
Myth 4: Sino-US relations stable: China is, at once, feared and envied by many countries, the United States of America in the forefront. Its sheer size and population is awesome. China’s economic progress has engendered apprehensions that it may overtake the USA and emerge as the new hegemon. The USA harbours a love-hate relation with China dragon. The relation reflects distrust, fractiousness and tension coupled with watchful competitiveness.
The USA looks upon China as a copycat out to obtain economic advantage for its state-owned enterprises through cyber-espionage. Cognitive dissonance in US-China relation is obvious. The USA likes China’s economic progress, as long as it suits American interests. But, it abhors China’s efforts to occupy more strategic space in the region around it, particularly the South China Sea.
China, too, wants to keep an eye on the USA. Its universities and think tanks teem with specialists on the USA, European Union and the rest of the world. There are 150 think tanks focusing on Australia alone. The mutual suspicion may result in unintended confrontation.
Myth 5: Chinese loans are predatory: The US has expressed its apprehensions about Chinese investment in Pakistan, Sri Lanka as elsewhere. For the US, the investments are a predatory debt trap that could lead to ‘asset seizures’ like Hambantota port of Sri Lanka.
The factual position is that Chinese infrastructure loans have not led to the forfeiture of a single valuable asset abroad. The US view is based on Rhodium Group study, which mentions only Hambantota port as the lone instance of seizure. The claim of forced lease or seizure is questionable. The Hambantota port lease, held jointly by the Hong Kong-based China Merchants Port and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority, was negotiated over 2016-2017.
Payments of the principal and interest for the port loans included only about 1.5 per cent of Sri Lanka’s external debt repayment obligations. The Sri Lanka Ports Authority promptly paid dues using revenues from Colombo port, which includes a container terminal run by China Merchants Port.
China holds an estimated nine to 15pc of Sri Lanka’s low-interest external debt. It owes high-interest loans to Western commercial banks. International sovereign bonds account for about half of the external debt, with Americans holding two-thirds of their value and Asians only about eight per cent.
Sri Lanka is liable to pay interest averaging 6.3 per cent on international sovereign bonds and the principal must be fully repaid in about seven years. In contrast, more than two-thirds of the value of Chinese state funds lent to Sri Lanka from 2001-2017 (including two-thirds of the Hambantota port loans) were at two per cent interest, and mostly repayable over 20 years.
Media reports about Sri Lanka’s government being forced to sign the port away on a 99-year lease after failing to repay Chinese loans at 6.3pc are untenable.
The Sri Lankan government still owns the Hambantota port and funds received for the lease were used to pay off expensive Western loans. There is no Chinese military base at Hambantota
Myth 6: China wants to colonise Pakistan: China never harboured any such ambition. History tells that China did its best to ensure protection of Pakistan’s sovereignty. A strong Pakistan is a bulwark for C china’s security as well. Andrew Small, in The China-Pakistan Axis (page 34) tells `In 1982, a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft belonging to the Pakistan military left Urumqi, capital of the North-Western Chinese province of Xinxiang, headed for Islamabad, carrying five lead-lined, stainless steel boxes, inside each were 10 single-kilogram ingots of highly enriched uranium, enough for two atomic’ bombs. He adds, `China began supplying both M-11s and M-9s in unassembled form, which required development of a dedicated missile assembly facility near Rawalpindi’ (p. 40, ibid.).
There are marked differences between China and Pakistan that rule out Pakistan as a colony for China. China’s pragmatism as `religion’, now dollar-orientation, obedient labour force, enlightened leadership with a world vision, and hard work ethos is different from Pakistan’s.
Take water aspect alone. Our lethargy marks a contrast with China’s history. There are more than 22,104 dams in China over the height of 15 m (49 ft.). Of the world’s total large dams, China accounts for 20 per cent of them, 45 percent for irrigation. The oldest dam in China Dujiangyan Irrigation System dates back to 256 BC. In 2005, there were over 80,000 reservoirs in the country and over 4,800 dams completed or under construction that stands at or exceed 30 metre (98 ft) in height. As of 2007, China is also the world’s leader in the construction of large dams. The tallest dam in China is the Jinping-I Dam at 305 metre (1,001 ft), an arch dam, which is also the tallest dam in the world. The largest reservoir is created by the Three Gorges Dam, which stores 39.3 billion m3 (31,900,000 acre feet) of water and has a surface area of 1,045 km2 (403 sq mi). Three Gorges is also the world’s largest power station.
China’s Marxist-social metamorphosis defies our religious moorings. China was able to bridge the stark differences that existed between rural and urban lifestyles. The hukou system was designed to prevent rural to urban migration.
Our banking sector has consumer orientation. The Chinese system with about 37 tiers has investment orientation. China `entertained’ foreign investors in every possible way. `In 2001, a count of the out-of wedlock children produced by Shenzhen’s working women and mistresses over two decades numbered 5,20,000…the sex industry is one of the few robust conduits of money backs to China’s impoverished areas (Ted C. Fishman, China Inc. 2003, p. 98). There are karaoke clubs to entertain burly foreign investors.
Aside from Tiananmen Square political protest, China has no tradition of industrial protests. `A fundamental problem with the Chinese working class is that it was disorganized and its protests were often leaderless (Alvin Y.So and Yin Wah Chu, The Global Rise of China, p.144). The so-called unions just collected funds to organise birthday parties and recreational events. In November 1999, the government announced new rules for public gatherings regarding assemblies larger than 200 to obtain approval from local public-security authorities.
Pakistani onlookers. Chinese leaders have a world vision Weltanschanschauung.
Pakistani sand-dune `leaders’ have none.
Myth 7: Chinese to be Pakistan’s second language: The popularity of a language rises or falls pari passu with a country’s place in the comity of nations. Historically, English, French, Russian, Arabic and mandarin were the languages of imperialistic or conquering states. Shifts in power triggered shifts in the status of languages. English continues to hold sway as it has dominated the commercial, scientific, commercial, scientific and technological fields.
Sir Syed understood the link between power and language. Britain and France insisted upon enforcing English and French in their colonies. During the heyday of the Soviet Union, Russian was the lingua franca from Prague to Hanoi.
After the demolition of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the Germans began to take pride in speaking German at international forums. People follow language of the dominant power. In the subcontinent, the English language supplanted Persian, the language of the Moghuls. So much so, that that Persian is now archaic in South Asia.
Hong Kong’s effervescence for mandarin is due to the rise of China. When, around 2050, China displaces the USA as the world’s premier economy, English is likely to give way to mandarin as the world’s new lingua franca.
In Pakistan, Sindh set the trend. The NED Engineering University and many private school systems have started teaching mandarin. The Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority, Punjab, offers free language courses for students of all ages.
To attract, Chinese investment in our country, we should say Ni hao to Chinese language.
Myth 8: The 21st Century will be China’s, not America’s: The fear is that China will surpass the USA within next 10 to 20 years. Cash-rich Beijing with over US$ 30 trillion in foreign capital-reserves will be increasingly uncompromising diplomatically. To entertain a rising Chinese middle class, the world would become more and more `Sinicised’.
The truth is that the Western view of China is a bit too alarmist. The world will have to compromise with China’s economic and cultural heft. The two world views can coexist. One is based on protection of individual self-interest, and the other is top-down Confucian patriarchy. Yet, the diarchy may co-exist peacefully without a Manichian struggle of the ilk of good and evil, darkness and light. Be it observed, aside from hype China has so far been non-hegemonic at heart. It has no desire to spin existing geo-politico-economic order out its axis. China will move on its peaceful trajectory for another thirty years. China is unlikely to replay misadventures of the Great Leap Forward’ and the `Cultural Revolution’ to re-shape the nation in Mao Zedong’s image.
The people are becoming more and more resentful against bureaucratic control, lethargy and even perceived corruption. On average over 150000 `public disorder events’ occur each year. Massive abuse of `eminent domain’ is conspicuous from compensating owners of seized lands at fire-scale prices. Restructuring led to dislocation of workers. Internet is an outlet to fan concerns about government’s impartiality and favouritism. People are sick of fat-cat-like bureaucratic lifestyle. Chinese ministry of state security has about 100,000 employees who employ sophisticated algorithms to monitor and censor sensitive online chats, and micro-blogs. Mao Zedong is still revered as `70 per cent positive and 30 per cent negative’.
Myth 9: Ascendancy of American-style individualism: Chinese are becoming better off with a rising middle class and concomitant changes in cultural outlook. Yet, they are far off from American ethos of `life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness’. The cultural wave is manifest from China’s role rock scene, loaded with a rebellious spirit, and bands like Hutong Fist, Tomahawks, Catcher in the Rye, Twisted machine, Queen Sea, Big Shark and Wild Children. Surely people have abandoned colorless conformity in favour of individualism.
Yet, the brutal; truth is family life discourages individualism. `Pursuit of happiness’ is at best an adolescent fantasy. It is soon forsaken under stress of marriage mortgage, mother-in-law and motor car ownership.
Parents teachers bosses never encourage defining oneself independent of society. The clan, not society is the primary productive unit of society. Ego gratification is not synonymous with individualism,. Success with societal acknowledgment is the norm, not sol flights.
Myth 10: revolutionary influence of Internet: China is a country in East Asia and is the world’s most populous country, with a population of around 1.428 billion in 2017. As of July 2016, 730,723,960 people (53.2% of the country’s total population) were internet users. They are free to play violent computer games, indulge in free music-downloads access to boot-legged movies, and e-commerce. Too, gap between rulers and the ruled have been narrowing. Anonymous sentinels (Weibo, China’s Twitter clone) relay reports of corruption in real time.
Yet, internet is unlikely to upend people-to-government relationship. Internet chats do not crystallise into massive organised dissent. Pre-occupied with welfare of their families few would dare risking trouble with authorities. Very few people knew of dissident Liu Xiabo’s arrest, or his Noble Peace Prize..
Chinese cyberspace is like a walled crystal-globe. People can gaze through it over the world around but they can’t take part in violent agitation. The government cleverly uses cyberspace in advancing social harmony. It facilitates e-commerce platforms. They expand supply and improve quality of consumer goods available in lower-tier markets, down to the rural fringe.
Digital technology has improved Party’s responsiveness. There are over 50,000 net-police monitor-bulletin-boards which alert leadership about discussion on sensitive topics and unharmonious rumblings before they flare up into untoward incidents.
Myth 11: Chinese people are akin to Europeans: Not so. Average Chinese values stability in family above individualism. There are no political or religious divides as in Europe: lackadaisical Italians versus industrious Germans, anti-institutional Protestants versus statist Catholic.
China displays differences in the north, dominated by bureaucratic state-owned enterprises and the south close to the sea, encumbered by governmental hierarchy. Generally, the Chinese have an identical world view.
As of November 2019, China’s population stands at 1.435 billion, the largest of any country in the world. According to the 2010 census, 91.51% of the population was Han Chinese, and 8.49% were minorities. China’s population growth rate is only 0.59%, ranking 159th in the world.
The major minority ethnic groups in China are Zhuang (16.9 million), Hui (10.5 million), Manchu (10.3 million), Uyghur (10 million), Miao (9.4 million), Yi (8.7 million), Tujia (8.3 million), Tibetan (6.2 million), Mongol (5.9 million), Dong (2.8 million), Buyei (2.8 million), and Yao (2.7 million), Bai (1.9 million). The identified 56 minorities remain outside Han cultural fold.
Myth 10: Inscrutable Chinese consumer: Usually reticent, Chinese evince warmth once trust has been established. They are not complicated and display warmth and directness in everyday attitude. They are attracted to Western brands just as any other consumer.
Myth 12: China growth bubble is about to burst: Beside COVID19 impact on economy, critics outline a host of challenges to Chinese growth model. They include rising inflation and commodity prices, wage increases inimical to low-cost manufacturing, bureaucratic hurdles to bold structural reforms, urban-rural income militating against social harmony, and an education system that squelches harmony. The fact is that resilient Chinese economy is not over-heating. The economist noted that China’s accumulated investment in fixed assets is still low and real wages have been rising strongly, which should help boos consumption in the medium term. Talk of popping bubbles is confined to high-end neighbourhoods in coastal capitals.
China is emulating American experience in becoming an industrial powerhouse in the twentieth century. Formation of supplier-and-producer clusters is facilitates through cost-slashing in different regions now specializing in different sectors. The middle class has completed a successful production-consumption circle akin to the USA.
Myth 13: Burgeoning poverty due to unbalanced growth: China was able to bridge the stark differences that existed between rural and urban lifestyles. The hukou system was designed to prevent rural to urban migration. In China today, poverty refers mainly to the rural poor, as decades of economic growth have largely eradicated urban poverty. The dramatic progress in reducing poverty over the past three decades in China is well known. According to the World Bank, more than 850 million Chinese people have been lifted out of extreme poverty. China’s poverty rate fell from 88 percent in 1981 to 0.7 percent in 2015, as measured by the percentage of people living on the equivalent of US$1.90 or less per day in 2011 purchasing price parity terms.In 2017, China lifted 12.89 million rural people from poverty which put the poverty rate at 3.1 percent compared to its 4.5 percent the previous year. Around 500 million people, or 40 percent of the population within China, survive on $5.50 per day or less.
Productivity has overpowered lack of innovation, creaky distribution networks, patchy tax collection, and even corruption…
Myth 14; China is militarily aggressive: China is accused of harbouring outlandish territorial claims in South China Sea, confronting Japan on the high seas and the Philippines. Over 1000 ballistic weapons aim at Taiwan.
Its annual defence spending has been increasing by 13 per cent since 1989. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimates the overall 2018 figure at $250 billion and the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) puts the number at $209 billion in 2017. The US Department of Defense concludes that China’s 2018 defense budget likely exceeded $200 billion. In 2017, the magazine Popular Mechanics estimated that China’s annual military spending is greater than $200 billion, around 2% of the GDP.
But, be it noted that the U.S. spent $649 billion on its military to 2018, according to a report published in 2019 by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. That’s significantly more than China, second on the list of top military spenders. Of course China is now making aircraft carriers and missiles with range over 900 kilometers. Still, China is nowhere near the USA in military capability. Nor does it have any ambition to invade other countries or challenge USA’s military supremacy in any way.
Temperamentally, Chinese shield themselves from danger (The great Wall). But, they have no itch to wage a war.
India unilaterally `annexed’ Chinese territory in her maps. China did nothing more than protesting verbally or sending emissaries to India for talks.
Conclusion: Though China wants to overcome present and future challenges, it has no manifesto detailing goals for the next two decades. The alarmist or envious view of a rising China engendered many myths. Once could however peek through XI Jinping’s pronouncements, or his predecessors, to sift his `benchmark vision’. There are three benchmarks. In the first ten years, the goal was to provide adequate food and clothing to Chinese population (already achieved). In the second phase, the plan is to build a moderately-prosperous country by 20120 with a per capita gross Domestic Product of around US$ 13,000. The final phase, 2020 to 2050, envisions complete modernization of both rural and urban parts of China.
Since early 2013, XI has been talking about `fuqiang guojia’ (`rich, strong, powerful country’). To realise his dreams, he need to stay in power. Yet, his dream is threatened by emerging challenges to China’s stability and development. The most potent challenge emanates from US machinations to destabilize China (tariff and trade war, religious concerns, BRI/CPEC concerns). True, there are social issues involving China’s unity, need for political reform in view of the Party’s long continuation in power and economic or political deterioration in the international environment. How Indian forces torture them?
China’s Inclusive Diplomacy for Global Cooperation
President Xi Jinping’s address at the recently held 2023 CIFTIS resonates as a powerful call for inclusive development and cooperation in the services trade sector. China’s commitment to expanding market access, increasing connectivity, and aligning policies with global standards demonstrates its commitment to ensuring a level playing field for all nations.
This commitment extends across different sectors, including telecommunications, tourism, law, vocational examinations, and the larger services sector. President Xi’s address emphasized China’s intention to expand broader, broaden market access, and support inclusive development in the services trade sector. His sentiments resonate with the global world as China seeks to create new prospects for openness, cooperation, and economic equality.
Over the last few decades, the services trade landscape has changed drastically, becoming an essential component of international business. However, this expansion has not been uniform, with developing countries frequently encountering difficulties such as limited market access, complex rules, and capacity limits that prevent them from fully participating in international services trade.
Notably, China is committed to promoting inclusive growth in the services trade sector. It assured of taking continuing steps to accelerate Chinese modernization through high-quality development, to open up new avenues for openness and collaboration for all countries.
Through openness, cooperation, innovation, and shared services, China emphasized the need for inclusive growth and connectivity. Recognizing that a rising tide in services trade should raise all boats, particularly those from nations with limited resources, China has launched a series of ground-breaking initiatives. Additionally, China is actively expanding its network of high-standard free trade areas, participating in negotiations on the negative list for trade in services and investment.
China is setting an example by aligning its policies with international standards. President Xi highlighted in his speech that national integrated demonstration zones for increased openness in the services sector, suitable pilot free trade zones, and free trade ports will be at the forefront of aligning policies with high-standard international economic and trade regulations. These zones demonstrate China’s commitment to fostering an atmosphere conducive to international cooperation and growth.
Real-world examples vividly demonstrate the practical impact of China’s assistance to developing countries in the services trade. China’s investments in transport infrastructure, such as the Standard Gauge Railway, have considerably facilitated the flow of goods and people in Kenya, boosting the services sector indirectly.
Pakistan’s experience with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is similar, with improved physical connectivity catalyzing the expansion of digital services and e-commerce. Various infrastructure developments in Indonesia have resulted in spectacular advances, opening up new potential for services trade.
Ethiopia, too, has reaped the benefits of China’s commitment, with active participation in industrial parks reviving the services sector, which includes logistics, banking, and education. These real-life success stories highlight China’s critical role in facilitating the expansion and development of services trade in developing countries.
China’s commitment to capacity building and technical aid is critical in its support for developing countries in the services trade. China provides these countries with the knowledge and skills they need to participate effectively in the services trade by offering specialized programs. Furthermore, China’s significant investments in infrastructure projects such as ports, logistical hubs, and telecommunications networks play an important role in facilitating the smooth flow of services.
Furthermore, China’s commitment to reducing entry barriers and optimizing regulations indicates the country’s persistent commitment to creating an equitable environment. This approach not only promotes equitable possibilities but also simplifies market access, making it easier for developing countries to export their services to China’s enormous and dynamic market.
Furthermore, China gives significant financial support in the form of loans and grants for service trade-related initiatives, recognizing the financial problems that many developing countries confront. This financial assistance enables nations to overcome economic challenges and invest in the expansion and improvement of their service sectors, thereby encouraging economic equality and cooperation.
As the world continues to evolve, services trade will play an increasingly important role in global economic growth, and China’s leadership in this realm is helping to shape a future where opportunities are shared, disparities are reduced, and cooperation knows no bounds. It is a vision worthy of appreciation and support since it is consistent with the ideals of justice and equality, moving the globe closer to a more linked and wealthy global community.
China’s Multilateral Engagement and Constructive Role in the G20
The recent G20 Summit in India has once again taken center stage, attracting global attention as it gathered together leaders and delegates from the world’s 20 most powerful economies. This high-profile event was significant in shaping international relations and addressing serious global concerns due to its broad presence and crucial talks. This high-stakes gathering occurs at a pivotal juncture, marked by escalating divisions among major powers on a multitude of pressing global issues, including the Russia-Ukraine conflict, global economic recovery, food security, and climate change.
The recent inclusion of the African Union (AU) as a permanent member within the G20 serves as a positive signal, signifying consensus among major economies. However, lurking concerns persist about the formidable challenges involved in achieving unity and issuing a joint declaration in the midst of these complex global dynamics.
Chinese Premier Li Qiang’s opening remarks at the 18th G20 Summit in New Delhi resonate as he underscores the paramount importance of unity and collaboration among G20 member nations. He emphasizes the critical need for effective coordination of macroeconomic policies to restore hope and generate momentum for long-term economic growth.
Premier Li eloquently highlights the interconnectedness of humanity’s destiny and calls upon nations to demonstrate mutual respect, seek common ground while momentarily setting aside differences, and work tirelessly towards peaceful coexistence. In a world characterized by profound crises and shared hardships, he aptly observes that no nation can thrive in isolation. Therefore, the only plausible pathways for guiding humanity forward are those rooted in cooperation and harmony.
The G20, originally established to navigate global financial crises and forge collective strategies for addressing economic challenges while fostering global economic development, has, regrettably, experienced a decline in consensus and a rise in differences among major powers. This shift has been particularly evident since the onset of the Ukraine crisis and the United States’ strategy of containment against China. Consequently, the G20 is increasingly devolving into a forum marked by discord, rather than the once-productive and constructive multilateral mechanism it was intended to be.
Nevertheless, the G20 retains its significance as a pivotal forum for international collaboration in confronting global challenges. With the increasing contributions of developing nations like China, India, and African countries, the voices within the G20 have diversified, no longer solely dominated by Western perspectives. As a response, the United States seeks to regain control of the multilateral process to further its agenda of great power competition. However, this approach is unlikely to be warmly received by the broader international community.
China remains steadfast in its commitment to deepen reforms and open up further to foster high-quality development and its unique brand of modernization. China views itself as a catalyst for additional momentum in global economic recovery and sustainable development. China stands ready to collaborate with all stakeholders to contribute to the well-being of our shared Earth, our common home, and the future of humanity. Despite Western media’s attempts to sensationalize China’s stance and magnify perceived differences, China continues to play a constructive role within the G20, dedicated to its multilateral mission.
To ensure that the G20 remains a platform focused on global governance rather than being overshadowed by geopolitical conflicts, China remains determined to fulfill its constructive role within the group, regardless of attempts by Western powers to politicize the mechanism. China’s efforts have expanded the G20 to include the African Union, effectively transforming it into the “G21.” China was the first nation to endorse African Union membership in the G20 and advocates for the African Union to assume an even more significant role in international governance.
The growing divisions and disputes within the G20 have eroded its effectiveness as a platform for addressing global challenges. These divisions, primarily driven by American actions and policies, have spawned tensions with far-reaching global implications, from the Ukraine crisis to escalating tensions in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea. These developments underscore the critical role the G20 plays in promoting cooperation and unity.
Amid the current geopolitical landscape characterized by major powers’ divisions, tensions have surged, resonating globally and causing ripple effects. From the Ukraine crisis to tensions in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea, the significance of the G20’s role in fostering cooperation and unity cannot be overstated.
All G20 member nations must recognize the urgent imperative of cooperation in building a world that is safer, more prosperous, and increasingly peaceful. Given the global challenges that transcend narrow national interests, effective responses can only be crafted through international cooperation. The G20 stands as a pivotal arena for this cooperation, with China’s positive contribution being indispensable in promoting cohesion.
Despite Western media’s efforts to sensationalize China’s position and magnify perceived gaps, China remains a committed multilateral partner within the G20, dedicated to constructive engagement. The G20 continues to serve as a critical platform for addressing global concerns, fostering unity, and promoting international collaboration. As the world grapples with intricate issues, it remains imperative that nations adhere to the principles of multilateralism and collaborate relentlessly to secure a more prosperous, peaceful, and sustainable future for all.
Al-Assad’s Beijing Visit: A Stepping Stone to a Strategic Partnership Between the Two Nations
The Chinese government is adopting a new diplomatic stance, marked by a bold challenge to American directives. This strategy aims to bolster ties with nations that the U.S. has sought to alienate, with Syria being a prime example.
Recently, Beijing welcomed Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The outcome of this visit was the announcement that their ties had been elevated to a “strategic partnership of resilience.” This status is the pinnacle of China’s diplomatic relationships, and so far, only three countries—Pakistan, Russia, and Belarus—have been granted this distinction. Could Syria be next in line?
For China, their interest in Syria is multifaceted. It’s not just about the country’s economic riches; it’s a geopolitical gamble. In Beijing’s eyes, Damascus stands as an ideological outlier in the Middle East, defined by its unique intellectual and ideological foundations. This, coupled with the nation’s rich cultural diversity and pluralism, makes it all the more appealing.
Syria’s value for China transcends its natural resources. Geographically and civilizationally, its significance and the influential role it plays in Middle Eastern geopolitics make it indispensable.
Despite the ongoing war, China’s relationship with Syria has persisted. However, the depth of their ties hasn’t always mirrored China’s firm stance in the Security Council, where it has wielded its veto power in support of Syria on numerous occasions.
In 2012, China exercised its veto power against a Washington-proposed resolution calling for the withdrawal of all military forces from Syrian cities and towns.
In February 2017, Beijing vetoed a draft resolution that sought to impose sanctions on the Syrian government, accusing it of deploying chemical weapons. Then, in July 2020, Beijing opposed the extension of aid deliveries to Syria via Turkey.
China’s foreign policy towards Syria is shaped by the interplay of interests and ideology. These twin pillars have historically been foundational to China’s external relations and are deeply rooted in Chinese political philosophy.
Syria’s geopolitical and economic significance to China, paired with Beijing’s steadfast stance against meddling in sovereign nations’ internal affairs and its commitment to justice and rights restoration, has allowed China to craft its Syrian foreign policy. This alignment ensures both the safeguarding of national interests and the upholding of principles intrinsic to China’s unique political identity.
China’s stance on the Syrian conflict has always been principle-driven, aligning with its foreign policy ethos which advocates non-interference in the domestic matters of other nations.
Subsequently, Beijing has made concerted efforts to bring an end to the Syrian war, proposing numerous initiatives aimed at resolving the ongoing strife.
Beyond matters of interest and ideology, China’s position on the Syrian conflict is also informed by its aspirations to maintain and bolster its influence within the Middle East’s global power dynamics. As China emerges as a dominant force on the world stage, its evolving foreign policy towards Syria mirrors its ascending stature and influence.
Anyone examining the ties between the two nations will see no clear evidence suggesting their relationship has evolved into what the media frequently labels a “strategic partnership.”
This could be attributed to the deliberate ambiguity and behind-the-scenes diplomacy both countries favored, given their respective circumstances. It’s possible that this approach was more a Chinese preference than a Syrian one.
Particularly since Beijing is careful with its actions, striving not to unnecessarily antagonize the United States while it focuses on its grand strategic endeavor, the Belt and Road Initiative.
While Syria is in dire need of allies during its challenges, it recognizes the interests and circumstances of other nations. It understands that relationships can’t be purely evaluated on a “profit and loss” basis; there’s a strategic depth that heavily influences the decisions of major powers.
China has consistently supported Syria both diplomatically and humanitarianly. It maintained its embassy in Damascus, championed Syria’s interests in the Security Council, and readily provided humanitarian assistance, notably during the Covid-19 pandemic and after the earthquake Syria experienced a few months back.
While the evidence might not strongly suggest that the relationship between the two countries qualifies as a strategic partnership, it’s the unseen dynamics between them that appear to play a significant role in elevating their ties to a “strategic relationship” level.
The deployment of popular diplomacy was evident, with Damascus benefiting from China’s endeavors to amplify its “soft power.” Exchanges of party and economic delegations between the two nations persisted, and there was a notable increase in the number of Syrian students attending Chinese universities, funded by the Chinese government.
Interestingly, direct visits between officials of the two nations were sparse. It appears that the respective embassies served a pivotal role in cultivating and fortifying these ties.
The visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Damascus on the day the results of Syria’s presidential elections were announced on July 17, 2021, wasn’t just serendipitous. He was the first to extend congratulations to President Al-Assad on his electoral triumph.
This visit held immense significance, marking a shift in China’s foreign policy towards challenging Western influence in various global regions. It was the first visit by a high-ranking Chinese official to Syria since 2011, following the onset of the conflict.
Wang’s meeting with President Al-Assad, where he congratulated him on his re-election, was symbolic. Additionally, Chinese President Xi Jinping dispatched a congratulatory message to Al-Assad on his election victory, expressing: “China staunchly supports Syria in safeguarding its national sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity, and will extend as much assistance as possible.”
Following Wang’s visit to Damascus, Beijing advocated for the removal of sanctions on Syria and proposed a four-point initiative to address the crisis. This plan encompassed:
- Upholding Syria’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity, allowing the Syrian people the autonomy to determine their nation’s destiny.
- Fast-tracking the reconstruction process and immediately lifting all sanctions on Syria, a crucial step to ameliorate the country’s humanitarian crisis.
- Combatting terrorist organizations recognized by the UN Security Council.
- Championing a comprehensive and conciliatory political resolution to the Syrian conflict, bridging divides with all Syrian opposition groups through dialogue and consultation.
Wang’s trip followed the Syrian government’s successful reclamation of a majority of its territories. This transition signaled a shift towards reconstruction, a phase where Beijing is poised to assume a significant role due to its ample financial and political resources.
Given the intensifying tensions between China and the United States, China found itself drawn into a subtle yet assertive counteraction against the U.S.
Beijing has strategically ventured into regions historically under American influence, notably the Middle East. This move is significant, especially considering China’s traditional reluctance to entangle itself in the complexities and challenges of that region.
For many years, the United States has depicted the issues in the Middle East as “intractable problems,” rooted in religious disputes that span centuries.
China’s success in bolstering Arab-Chinese collaboration, particularly following the Arab-Chinese summit in Riyadh, served as an impetus for several Arab nations to pursue closer ties with Damascus. This renewed rapport culminated in Syria’s reintegration into the League of Arab States. Although the Arab initiative with Damascus seems to be progressing slowly, and at times hesitantly, it hasn’t hit an insurmountable roadblock.
Furthermore, the fruitful outcomes of Chinese mediation in narrowing the differences between Saudi Arabia and Iran, resulting in the re-establishment of diplomatic ties and ambassadorial exchanges, should positively impact Arab-Syrian relationships.
China now navigates the Syrian situation with a sense of ease, steering clear of rivalry with major international players in Syria, notably Iran and Russia.
Amid intensified actions against Damascus, manifested by the deployment of additional American troops to the area and discussions about severing the connection between Syria and Iraq via a corridor from Al-Tanf to Al-Bukamal, the foundation of American intelligence leverages regional factions with specific local allegiances.
This period also saw heightened protests in southern Syria (Suwayda) and skirmishes between the SDF militia and tribal forces in northern and eastern Syria.
Syria’s challenging economic landscape has played a significant role in exacerbating these conflicts, amplifying concerns about their potential spread throughout the country.
The root of these protests can be largely attributed to differing perspectives. The Syrian government views American sanctions as the primary culprit, while many Syrians believe the escalation in corruption, which has surpassed tolerable levels, is burdening the populace.
China’s involvement in the Syrian crisis at this juncture offers robust political backing for Syria and should be complemented by heightened economic support, which Syria urgently requires.
Hosting the Syrian President in Beijing would signify a pivotal moment in the ties between the two nations, underscoring China’s aspiration for a more equitable global order.
The Syrian conflict may have been the catalyst for this shift, and the Ukrainian war further solidified it, making the strategy of international alignments more evident on the global stage.
President al-Assad’s sole visit to Beijing took place in 2004, centering on economic collaboration between both countries.
While development hinges on political and security stability, this shouldn’t deter efforts to address challenges potentially impeding economic collaboration or reconstruction involvement.
It’s beneficial to foster and stimulate dialogues between Syrian and Chinese entrepreneurs, particularly in devising solutions to reconstruction challenges, such as financing. The goal should be to transition from mere economic cooperation to a tangible economic partnership, incorporating road and rail links and connecting energy lines from Iran, China, Iraq, and Syria. This vision, proposed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2002, aimed to transform Syria into a pivotal gas transit hub and a free-trade nexus bridging the East and West by linking the Five Seas. China interpreted this as a rejuvenation of the Silk Road, envisioning a vast economic corridor from Syria to China. This aligns seamlessly with the Belt and Road Initiative introduced by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013.
Syria needs to modernize its banking system and could benefit from China’s expertise in this domain, exploring payment mechanisms that aren’t reliant on the US dollar. Strengthening ties between the chambers of commerce, industry, and agriculture and creating joint chambers between the two nations can be valuable, among other cooperative ventures.
There are numerous potential collaboration areas between the two countries that could yield significant outcomes for both if they can navigate bureaucratic hurdles and establish direct communication channels.
Such cooperation may not be well-received by Syria’s adversaries, notably the United States, which is reportedly extracting Syrian oil from the wells it controls, all the while claiming its forces are in the region to combat terrorism, specifically ISIS.
The Chinese media has extensively highlighted this act, deeming it a blatant international theft conducted openly.
China appears to be growing in confidence and is more assertive in demonstrating its global influence, especially given the rising tensions with the United States. This dynamic presents Syria with an opportunity to enhance its ties with Beijing.
Anticipation is building around the forthcoming visit of the Syrian President to Beijing. Current predictions suggest it will mark a significant moment in the relationship between the two nations, potentially reshaping the geopolitical equilibrium in the Middle East and possibly on a global scale.
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