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Reality of myths about modern China

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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?

Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus (ISBN: 9781301505944). He holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law.

East Asia

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

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Authors: Caitlin Dearing Scott and Isabella Mekker

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

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

Conflict Resolution, CCP Style

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

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

Advancing China’s Interests, Undermining Governance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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East Asia

Politicizing the COVID-19 pandemic and Xi Jinping’s vision to reshape the new world order

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First: The internal and external strategic objectives of Comrade Chinese President “Xi Jinping“, in parallel with the international partnerships and relations of the Communist Party of China “CPC” around the world

Second: The recognition of Chinese Comrade President “Xi Jinping” before the leaders and youth of the Central School of the Communist Party “CPC” of the profound global changes post (Covid-19) world

Third: The relationship between the global achievements of the Communist Party of China, and the Chinese President, Comrade “Xi Jinping” call for establishing an international multipolar world, and the politicization of the “Covid-19” pandemic in the USA and the West

Fourth: The relationship between the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic and the test the (new global governing systems and global governance) from the Chinese perspective

   The Egyptian researcher was invited as an expert in Chinese and Asian political affairs, by the “Friends of the International Chinese Belt and Road Initiative Forum” in the Pakistani capital “Islamabad”, on Friday, September 10, 2021, to talk about:

  “Politicizing the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic and linking it to China, and the reasons behind this matter“, in a meeting that was intensively covered by the international media, in several international, Chinese and Asian websites, newspapers and news agencies, in reference to the importance of this event for Beijing.

   In fact, it is not possible in any way to separate the attempts of the United States of America and the West to distract China towards achieving its primary goal of (building a multipolar, multilateral world and international poles), and the vision of Comrade Chinese President “Xi Jinping” on (reshaping the world order and makes it more compatible with Chinese interests and values).

   Where China’s leaders see that the liberal international system reflects the (global vision of the white colonial powers victorious in the Second World War), which it created to serve their interests at the headquarters of the United Nations “UN”.  Accordingly, Comrade “Xi Jinping” has formulated a strategy for China consisting of (two points), as follows:

  1. China is increasing its power, personnel, and financial influence within existing global governing institutions.
  • At a time when China’s leaders, on the other hand, must work on (building new institutions centered around China), such as:

(Belt and Road Initiative, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Silk Road Fund) … besides, some other relevant Chinese international institutions.

– Hence, the Egyptian researcher sought to draw attention to the “real reasons behind the principle of politicization of the origin of the “COVID-19″ pandemic, and its relationship to China’s international achievements”, through the following division:

– First: The internal and external strategic objectives of Comrade Chinese President “Xi Jinping”, in parallel with the international partnerships and relationships of the Communist Party of China “CPC” around the world

  China has developed a comprehensive plan that the United States of America and the West tried to obstruct, in order to prevent China from internationally rising. The most important successes of China internationally are represented, by:

1) The ruling Communist Party of China has sought to establish international partnerships and party relations under the supervision of the senior and central leaders of the party, which is known as, the strategy of the (relationship between the Communist Party of China “CPC” and the other international parties), as an important part of the Chinese long-term strategy.

2) The Communist Party of China has internally developed a plan adopted by itself, represented in the (realization of the original goal of seeking the happiness of the Chinese people and the renaissance of the Chinese nation, as well as the unity of the world).

3) The Communist Party of China, in cooperation with the international parties with the same ideological thought and even intellectually opposite with it, seeking to the (commitment of achieving consensus and mobilizing the international forces to build a new China).

4) The Chinese President, Comrade “Xi Jinping“, raised an important international Chinese slogan with many connotations, represented in:

“The world is common to all, and we are a nation with one common destination for humanity”

5) In order to achieve these Chinese priorities externally, the Communist Party “CPC” and its Committee on Foreign Communications and external Relations of the “CPC” worked in parallel and in line with the “Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs”, as an official institution together, through the (strategy of the Communist Party of China to deepen exchanges and cooperation with international political parties, and give full play to the for the advantages of contacts between the various political parties with the Communist Party in Beijing), in response to the call of the times to build a community of a shared future between China and the world, especially African, poor and developing countries.

6) Chinese President “Xi Jinping” was keen to (confronting international hegemony and unilateralism by Washington), and President “Xi Jinping” in his capacity as “General Secretary of the Communist Party of China”, stressed that “the fate of the world should be controlled by all countries on an equal footing, as international rules should jointly be formulated by all countries, and all countries of the world together manage the various affairs of the world”

7) Indeed, the senior communist leaders in Beijing have succeeded in transforming this global economic strategy into a (trustworthy support for the votes of the members of the Group of 77 in its favor in various forums, and at all known international parties).

8) To achieve the previous priorities, President Comrade “Xi Jinping” personally supervised the (transformation of the People’s Liberation Army from an institution based on the Continental Defense Army into a force to project power and influence beyond China’s borders), through the expansion of (navy, air, cyberspace capabilities and satellites). Here, Comrade Xi’s stated mission is to “build a world-class military institution to fight and win wars” in the post (Covid-19) world.

9) We also find the continuation of Chinese national efforts aimed at transforming China into a (technological superpower), imposing its global power and technical progress on (fifth generation networks of communications, semiconductors, supercomputing, and artificial intelligence).

10) The Chinese President, Comrade “Xi Jinping“, and the leaders of the Communist Party of China, supported what is known as the “sovereignty of the Chinese people”, as the (first priority). The Communist Party “CPC” officials and Comrade “Xi”, in their political speeches, considered that:

“The position of the Chinese people is the basic political position of the Communist Party, making sincerely serving the Chinese people the basic objective of the Party, realizing the people’s aspirations for a better life, due to their constant pursuit and struggle, and promoting reform and development to achieve greater benefit and better well-off of living for all”

 Thus, the Communist Party “CPC” has always and along the way won the support and support of the masses of the Chinese people.

11) Many Western researchers, experts and academics themselves confirmed that the goals and endeavors of the Communist Party of China at every stage are very clear, and it adjusts its policies, according to the changing domestic and external situations in order to meet the needs of the Chinese people, and here, we can indicate out to a (research report issued by Kennedy College of Government at Harvard University) in 2020, which showed that:

“The Chinese government, led by the Communist Party of China, enjoys more than 93% of support and satisfaction among the Chinese people”, as another survey conducted by (York University in Canada), which is showed that:

“The Chinese people trust their government by up to 98%, and that trust has increased, especially after the emergence of Covid-19”

12) The Chinese President, Comrade “Xi Jinping”, and the Central Committee of the ruling Communist Party were also keen on deepening (belonging and unity) among the Chinese people, with Comrade “Xi’s affirmation” that:

“History’s journey has no end, but the future has already begun”

13) The “anti-corruption campaign” led by Comrade “Xi Jinping” in the Chinese interior, which was dubbed “Tigers and Flies“, included more than one million senior and junior officials of the Communist Party of China.

14) In order to achieve China’s goals internationally, the Chinese leader “Xi Jinping” presented his vision of the (future of China), which he called as the “Chinese Dream“, within the framework of a project entitled: “Rebirth of the Chinese Nation“, and succeeded in carrying out economic reforms that contributed to reducing the decline in economic growth, limiting state ownership of industry, combating pollution, and most importantly implementing the giant land transport project, known as the “Silk Road Initiative”

   Hence, China’s global achievements and its call for a multipolar international world made it as a primary target for attempts to obstruct it by the United States of America and its allies in the West.

Second: The recognition of Chinese Comrade President “Xi Jinping” before the leaders and youth of the Central School of the Communist Party “CPC” of the profound global changes post (Covid-19) world

   President “Xi Jinping’s realization” of the importance of (political education for Chinese youth) in the post (Covid-19 world), came as Comrade “Xi” affirmed to the youth and leaders of the Communist Party, that the most important reason for China’s success and steadfastness now is to work together on the necessity of mobilizing leaders and the youth of the Communist Party of China and its president with the (Network of Friends around the World), because of those current profound international changes that the world is going through now, through the following affirmations:

1) President “Xi Jinping” believes that there is a “politicized war” against China, as a result of the changes that the world is currently witnessing, by saying:

“The world is currently undergoing profound changes that have not been seen in a century and is rapidly evolving after the Coronavirus pandemic”

2) Comrade “Xi Jinping’s affirmation” of the profound indications for the global changes came in his speech before the (Central Institute of the Communist Party), which is an educational institute of the Central Committee of the ruling Communist Party, as a signal from him to keep pace with the Communist Party of China with current international events.

3) In the same context, the Chinese President, Comrade “Xi Jinping”, confessed that:

“China is bothering with its international stances”

4) The most dangerous message of the Chinese President was what came from Comrade “Xi’s affirmation” before the leaders and youth of the Central School of the ruling Communist Party, about:

“China must not budge one iota on matters of principle, and adhere to China’s sovereignty, security and development interests with unprecedented firmness”

5) In the context of “Xi Jinping’s keenness” to pay attention to the Chinese youth to lead the Chinese nation, Comrade “Xi”, called:

“Young officials should uphold their ideals, adhere to the party’s loyalty, seek truthfulness from reality and facts, shoulder responsibilities, and strive to become the backbone of a society in which the Party and the people will trust together”

6) In the context of Chinese President “Xi Jinping’s assertion” that: “China strongly confronts any attempts against it”, emphasizing “China’s military and economic renaissance, as matters, according to Comrade “Xi Jinping” that are “irreversible”, and stressed out these points in his international speech, which was globally highlighted, on the occasion of the centenary of the founding of the Communist Party of China on July 9, 2021.

7) Believing in the role of the “Chinese people” in the struggle against Washington and the West and their attempts to distort China’s international image, President “Xi Jinping” addressed in front of crowds of Chinese audiences in the “Tiananmen” famous Square, location in the center of the Chinese capital, “Beijing”, with the affirmation led by “Xi” in his speech to the Chinese masses, by confirming that:

“China does not oppress other countries”

8) Chinese President “Xi” also warned that “no one should try to “persecute China”, saying:

“They beat their heads against a steel fence”

9) What stopped the Egyptian researcher most during Comrade “Xi Jinping’s discourse” to the Chinese masses on the occasion of the centenary of the Communist Party of China, while the Comrade “Xi’s affirmation” of his rejection of foreign attempts to distort the image of the Communist Party of China.

10) Today, Comrade “Xi Jinping” is keenly to internationally talk about the (role of the Communist Party in the modern history of China), by saying:

“The Communist Party of China has an essential part to the growth of the Chinese state, and attempts to separate it from the people will fail”

11) We find Comrade “Xi’s affirmation” of the necessity of (unification and the unity), as the only way that can (save China), and is capable of achieving the “development in China” in both of the internal and external side.

12) In the context of attempts to politicize the “Covid-19” pandemic, and stigmatize China with it, Comrade “Xi Jinping” confirmed that:

“We will never in China allow anyone to bully, oppress or subjugate China”

13) In a reference by “Xi Jinping” to the strength of the Chinese people in defending of their ruling Communist Party, his assertion came that:

“Anyone who dares to threaten China, its leaders and its ruling Communist Party, hits their head at the mighty steel wall represented by more than 1.4 billion Chinese citizens”

   Thus, we can understand the overall current international situation, that the increase in the intensity, strength and fierceness of the American-Western competition, in the face of China and the attempt to mobilize certain regional and international parties against each other, especially after the outbreak of “Covid-19“, which has contributed to the deepening of the global differences and the intensification of conflicts. So, China has repeatedly accused unfair forces of trying to curb its growth, and these statements were taken as an explicit and clear Chinese signal to Washington in the first place.

Third: The relationship between the global achievements of the Communist Party of China, and the Chinese President, Comrade “Xi Jinping” call for establishing an international multipolar world, and the politicization of the “Covid-19” pandemic in the USA and the West

  Chinese President Comrade “Xi Jinping” has repeatedly warned against “politicizing the issue of the COVID-19 virus” or stigmatizing it as the Chinese virus. In his international political discourses, he has explicitly pointed out that:

1) Refusing to marginalize or exclude others or certain countries from working with the international community, by the call of Comrade “Xi” in his speeches on:

“We must reject the attempts to build blocs to exclude others and oppose the zero-sum approach. We must view each other as members of the same large family, continue to win-win cooperation, transcend those ideological differences and not fall into the trap of clash of civilizations”

2) Comrade “Xi Jinping” linked as well the relationship between the Coronavirus pandemic and the current international concepts, by emphasizing in his political discourses, about:

“The COVID-19 pandemic reminds the world that we are living in a global village that is interconnected and has a common interest, in which all countries are closely linked and share a common future”

3) In an important speech by President “Xi” at the (Annual Boao Forum for Asia) in April 2021, Comrade “Xi Jinping” criticized the efforts of countries that aimed at “building barriers” or “separating countries from others and dividing the world into warring or conflicting fronts”. Here, Comrade “Xi Jinping” has asserted on:

“Dividing the world into many competitors and building barriers between nations without working together or adopting the principle of common destiny of humanity will inevitably harm others and completely will not benefit anyone”

4) President “Xi Jinping’s long-standing call” for “reform of global governance” came to better reflect a broader and more diverse range of visions and values ​​from the international community, including their own, rather than those of a few major countries. This was as expected has rejected by Washington that has deeply warned of achieving the Chinese objectives, and the American officials have been claiming that:

“USA is a leader of the libral democratic values ​​in the world, and is globally leading the paths of defending human rights”

5) Comrade “Xi Jinping’s statements” at the “Boao Forum for Asia“, in April 2021, confirmed the purpose of his calls for a (new world order), because:

“The world wants justice, not hegemony”

6) Here, Comrade “Xi”, along with the leaders of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, are keen, in all international events, to emphasize that:

“The big country must appear with an international appearance worthy of it, with its ability to assume more international responsibilities”

   We can understand and conclude from this above understanding that the Chinese President, Comrade “Xi Jinping” was keenly to referring to the concepts of “hegemony, unilateralism and isolationism”, besides the other related terms, but Comrade “Xi” didn’t mention or refer to a specific country in his statements or all of his political speeches, but the Chinese officials have recently explicitly referring to the American “hegemony”, in a public criticism of Washington’s imposition of its power and influence in trade and geopolitics in an unfair manner that harms the interests of other countries.

Fourth: The relationship between the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic and the test the (new global governing systems and global governance) from the Chinese perspective

   The Chinese President, Comrade “Xi Jinping“, has called in all his current political discourses on the need to work to establish “international economic blocs” that work for the benefit of developing countries, a multipolar system and a multilateral international world, which is directly and reflected largely in the “increased American competition in the face of  China, and the attempt by Washington and its allies in the West to politicize the origin of the Coronavirus, by calling for its stigmatization and appending it to China“.

  Washington’s attempt to turn the world against China by causing the spread and outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, which was documented by Chinese President “Xi Jinping” in his political speeches, through the following points:

1) President “Xi’s admission” that the world’s ruling systems are the main criterion for their success in combating the global epidemic, certainly came in an international speech to him, by stressing out:

“The spread and spill over of “Covid-19″ is a major test of the ability of countries’ governance systems to withstand or decline, and a test of the global system of governance”

2) Comrade “Xi” goes extremely beyond, by calling for a “global governance system”. China developed its philosophy and features, through “Xi’s emphasis”, on:

“The global governance system must adapt to evolving global political and economic dynamics, as an attempt to face the global challenges and adopt the fundamental direction of peace, development and win-win cooperation”

3) Comrade “Xi” was also keen to set clear moral standards that guide China’s relationship with the world, and the world’s relations with each other, by calling:

“Countries must not violate ethical standards and comply with international standards, provide the global public good, bear due responsibilities and be in the good faith of their citizens”

4) In the talk of Comrade “Xi Jinping” about the (relationship between the current global economic system and the Corona pandemic), Comrade “Xi Jinping”, indicated that:

“The spread of COVID-19 reminds the world that economic globalization is an indisputable fact and a historical trend”

5) In order to achieve the success of any governmental system or political system, President “Xi” has stressed the need to adhere to the following criteria, as:

“We must strike an appropriate balance between government and market, equity and efficiency, growth and income distribution, technology and unemployment, to ensure full and balanced development that benefits people of all countries, sectors and backgrounds in an equitable manner”

6) Here, we find that what was and still angers the United States of America and the West the most against Comrade “Xi Jinping” is his call that:

“We must continue open and inclusive development, commit to building an open world economy, and support the multilateral trading system with the “World Trade Organization” “WTO” as the cornerstone”

7) Here, we find that China’s attempt to create and strengthen regional and international ties, by strengthening its relations with countries within (collective frameworks), each of which is specialized in a specific region, such as: (ASEAN Organization, Shanghai Cooperation Organization), and others. In the sense that these institutions are working to create (parallel frameworks) for those on which the current international system is based, which is dominated by the United States of America with the help of its allies, which has provoked the United States of America with the continuation of Chinese calls and efforts to have a “central leadership role in a new pluralistic international system”, in order to globally extend its influence.

8) With the increasing calls of Comrade “Xi Jinping” for Chinese involvement in the international multilateral issues, from here, China found it in its interest to call for new global regimes, in order to enhance its international standing, thus China contributed to reaching a “climate agreement“, and increased its efforts in confronting the multiple international issues, such as: (confronting poverty, the spread of epidemics, all global and development efforts), and other related mechanisms, which aroused the ire of the United States of America by inviting China to lead the international efforts in the field of global governance systems and to develop a preliminary vision for the shape of new systems of governing institutions and Governance, which are mainly for (labor and management), additionally the peacekeeping efforts are under the direct supervision of the United Nations “UN”.

9) In an understanding from China of the reality of the current international situation in the post (Covid-19) world, the Chinese comrade “Xi Jinping”, has confirmed by saying:

“China’s situations may have been negatively affected by the global ordeal of the outbreak of “Covid-19″, but China is not in a hurry to transform itself into a great power, but rather announced that it has three decades to reach, and the future is still open for it to achieve this possibility”

10) China is currently working to deepen several other goals, through which it sees that:

“The best way to enhance China’s international standing is to safeguard the interests of the largest number of countries, strengthen the foundations of economic dependability, and stress out on achieving the mutual benefits of relationships among the different nations, not just their own interests”

11) For achieving the above-mentioned objectives, China, through the (International Belt and Road initiative “BRI”), has implemented infrastructure projects in multiple countries, established road and railway networks, and built electricity and water plants, which makes it easier for it to globally promote its call in “multi-polar world“.

   China has focused its efforts to be the “largest trading partner of many Asian and African countries”, facilitating its international efforts to establish a new administrative system, known as: (Global Governance and Managing Political Systems from a mainly Chinese perspective), which greatly angers Washington and its Western allies.

   Through the previous analysis of the Egyptian researcher, we note that “by comparing the American strategic goals with their Chinese counterparts and their development initiatives around the world”, the United States of America shows its achievements by being the (maker of peace through force and not peace), the call for a new Middle East, and a unilateral climate agreement, and others.

   Perhaps this is what was actually put forward by the speech of the former President of the United States of America “Trump” when he spoke about the “achievements of the United States of America internationally in confronting China“, during the (deliberations of the seventy-fifth session of the World General Assembly of the United Nations “UN”), and from here, it becomes clear to us the difference between the Chinese initiatives of development to serve (global development goals), and among those American goals that support the use of force, with their failure to use it effectively, as happened in (Afghanistan and Iraq), and others.

   Hence, the attempts of the United States of America to stigmatize the “pandemic of the Coronavirus” and attach it to China, by confusing the “scientific reasons for the causes of the global outbreak of the pandemic, and those real underlying political, economic and strategic reasons behind the principle of American and Western politicization of Covid-19”, mainly aims to:

“Distracting Chinese attention away from those American international problems and crises by raising the world against China and paying attention to it for causing the spread of the Corona virus, so that the United States of America is unique in leadership on the international scene within the framework of international hegemony and unilateralism”.

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East Asia

The war and the treaty that proclaimed Japan’s emergence as a world power

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September 5 marks 116 years since the end of the Russo-Japanese War, with the signing of the U.S.-mediated Treaty of Portsmouth. Fought in the beginning of the 20th century, it has a unique place in history, as the warring sides fought over the territory of two neutral states China and Korea and it also saw a European power being defeated by an Asian power for the first time in the modern era.

The Background

1904-05 was a tense period in the history of Asia. The story begins a few decades back when the island nation of Japan emerged from over two-and-a-half century of isolation, following the Meiji Restoration of 1868. In the next three to four decades, the country would undergo a rapid modernisation of its society, army, navy, and industry, with the adoption of Western methods and standards. The Russian Empire which already had control over Siberia was looking to expand further into East Asia, particularly towards the east of River Amur which would give them outlets of warm-water ports in the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea, and thereby in the Pacific Ocean. Since the 1850s, Russian urban settlements appeared along the left bank of River Amur, despite protests from a weakening Qing China.

Owing to the domestic turmoil in the backdrop of the struggle against British and French aggression and the Taiping Rebellion, imperial China was not in a position to resist Russian power. Finally, China was forced to cede to Russia all the territory from the mouth of the Amur till the frontiers of the Korean peninsula, including the region where the port of Vladivostok would emerge soon. Russian expansionist policy went unchallenged for the next three decades. In the late 1880s and early 1890s, Russia’s interest in Siberia, Russian Far East and East Asia saw a revival, but this time there it had to confront a newly emerging Asian power – Japan.

The decisive victory of Japan in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, which was fought over the control of Korea, demonstrated Japanese power and the weakness of the Qing Empire. Before the war, Korea had long been a key client state of the Chinese empire, but its strategic location opposite the Japanese archipelago, with all its natural resources like coal and iron, attracted Japanese interest in the peninsula. The war ended in the Treaty of Shimonoseki, signed in 1905. After the war, Korea was removed from the suzerainty of China and was placed under the Japanese sphere of influence. Taiwan and parts of Manchuria also came under Japanese control.

Japanese power emerges from the shadows

In the next ten years, Japan, a collection of islands in the Pacific with a largely rugged terrain, would go into war with a European great power and a bi-continental giant – Russia. With the 1894-95 war with China, Japan now has control over the Korean Peninsula. This signalled Russia that an upcoming face-off with Japan was inevitable due to its own conflicting interest in the region. A slew of diplomatic efforts by Russia followed as a run-up to the war. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia led the efforts along with his cousin, Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II, and France, a part of the so-called ‘Triple Intervention’, trying to persuade Japan to give up its territorial demands in Northeast Asia in return for an increased indemnity.

In 1896, Russia even forged an alliance with the Qing Empire to protect the latter’s territorial integrity from foreign aggressions in the future. But, in fact what followed was the scramble for China’s coastal territories among the Russians, Germans, French and the British in the remaining part of the 1890s, which culminated in the rise of resistance movements against the Qing dynasty, including the Boxer Rebellion. In the meantime, Japan was building up its own armed forces by the way of increased conscription that gathered momentum in the late 1890s.

The breakout of war

The Japanese strategy was such that it never intended of attacking Russia directly, but the focus was put on winning an early and decisive victory that would secure their hegemony in Northeast Asia without any rivals. Russian leadership was also ineffective to counter a well-prepared and well-equipped land and naval forces like Japan’s. Realising Japanese strength in the region, Russia’s minister of war, Aleksey Kuropatkin, in fact, recommended the Tsar to abandon his imperial ambitions in Manchuria and the Amur River region.

Even though the Tsar accepted his minster’s proposal, the extremists at the imperial court and other influential commercial interest groups behind the Russia’s expansionist project in East Asia acted as a hindrance for its execution. Meanwhile, the Russian military was left in the lurch to fight the Japanese, who were well-determined to win any battle. In short, Russia heavily underestimated Japan’s military edge. Thus, in February 1904, the Russo-Japanese War broke out with the Battle of Port Arthur, then a naval base and currently in the Liaodong Province of north-eastern China, which was then leased to Russia by the Qing dynasty of China from 1897 onwards. It was a surprise night attack by the Japanese naval forces on the Russian fleet stationed in the port.

The war escalated and went on for the next one-and-a-half years. Russia suffered a number of defeats in the battles that followed, both in land and sea, with some being indecisive. Tsar Nicholas II thought that Russia could win if it continued to fight, and he chose to remain engaged in the war and wait for the outcomes of key naval battles. By May 1905, Russia’s final glimmer of hope for victory faded in sight with its defeat in the Battle of Tsushima, a strait located halfway between the Japanese island of Kyushu and the Korean Peninsula.

Negotiations begin in Portsmouth, the peace treaty is signed

By August 1905, negotiations to end the Russo-Japanese War began when the then American President Theodore Roosevelt invited both nations to conduct direct negotiations at a neutral site of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in the north-eastern coast of the United States. The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard was specifically selected as the site for the negotiations by President Roosevelt. The final treaty was signed on 5 September 1905, affirming Japanese presence in south Manchuria and Korea. It also ceded the southern half of the island of Sakhalin to Japan. It was the first international treaty to be signed in the U.S. and also with American mediation.

The Treaty of Portsmouth would set the balance of power in East Asia and the Pacific for the next four decades. It effectively ended Russia’s expansionist policies in Northeast Asia. The war and the subsequent treaty announced the emergence of Japan to the status of a world power. American diplomacy, thus, began its journey, which would reach it zenith following the two world wars. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt was awarded the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the Russo-Japanese War. The following four decades would witness Japan going on a rampage across Asia in pursuit of its militaristic ambitions, particularly in China, Korea, and Southeast Asia, before it would savour defeat at the hands of the Americans in 1945.

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