Today’s international system of states is characterized by the strategic competition between US and China, which are consider to be the most significant powers in terms of hard and soft power. Western analysts try to interpret the Chinese presence which threatens the status quo of the East Asia-Pacific region. This paper is a brief introduction to the Chinese worldview as it’s important to comprehend the Chinese high strategy.
It is a fact that the majority of the western analyses based on the theory of political realism consider the behavior of the People’s Republic of China (China) at a global level as actions of a predetermined plan by the elite of the Communist Party for the take-over of the global hegemony (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013). However, in order to properly interpret the Chinese policy and its pursuits, the complex situation within the country should be scrutinized. Indeed, the various state organizations like ministries, agencies, services compete for influence growth on the shaping of the country’s foreign policy, since they often have conflicting interests (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013). It is also a certainty that within the country a confrontation between state policies and enterprise objectives is escalating, a case that makes promotion of policies of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CPC’s) leadership difficult (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013). Consequently, the scholars’ view of China as an undivided international actor with a plan of peaceful rise, as claimed by the CPC’s leadership, is problematic, because each Chinese activity abroad may not be at all connected to the official governmental policy (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013).
Already since the beginning of the 20th century the non-European countries were forced by Western Powers to westernize their societies. In the Chinese case its obligatory opening to the West took place painfully after its defeat by Great Britain in the Opium War (1839-1842) (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013). The radically opposed social organization of China, which embodied in a cultural planet the lifestyle of Chinese people that was compatible with the principles of Confucianism, had to yield to the totally strange Western model for the sake of its modernization. The Chinese culture, as well as other cultures of the Far East, reached maturity too early, but it was trapped in a very strict framework that offered cohesion. Simultaneously, this had a result to pause its development as well as any modernity (Braudel 2007). In the scheme of culture, the center of the world was the Chinese state while all the rest were considered to be barbaric, since their people did not engage in the Chinese education (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013). The zhongguo “Middle Kingdom” that is referred to China is not related to a specific geographical place between other kingdoms but to the area that China occupies between Sky (Heaven) and Earth and is indicative of the perception of the Chinese about their country (Allison 2017). An attribute of the Chinese worldview, apart from Confucianism, is both the ancestral and the monarch’s worship that rooted in the time of the empire (Braudel 2007). Confucianism was not strictly a religion but a social and political expression of the country’s superior social caste that survives, with many changes, until today and promotes the maintenance of order and social hierarchy as a lifestyle (Braudel 2007). It is crystal clear that it contributed enormously to the shaping of the Chinese traditional culture that in the current time of globalization fascinates increasingly extensive masses of people, even of Western countries (Nye Jr. 2011). The dissemination of the Chinese culture is achieved also by the students, both the Chinese in the universities of mostly Western countries and the westerns in the Chinese higher education institutes, who are estimated to reach 500,000 in 2020 (Nye Jr. 2011). The trend of the circulation of the Chinese language and culture worldwide is promoted aside the Chinese leadership by funding both China Radio International and the television network Xinhua which broadcast also in English 24/7, as well as the Confucian institutes that are founded in various states (Nye Jr. 2011). Of course, the development of the Chinese soft power is critical but still is significant lower than the respective of the USA and EU (Nye Jr. 2011).
The perspective of Chinese people about the dominance of their country compared to others was also augmented by China’s geographical position which is ideal. Indeed, the country was protected by the sea, the deserts and the mountain ranges of Central Asia at least until the arrival of the Western Powers. The country’s strategic position contributed to the duration of Chinese empire, namely almost 21 centuries (Braudel 2007). The first contact with Westerns was humiliating and ended with the destruction of the Summer Palaces and the downfall of the Chinese emperor Sien Feng (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013). Several decades later, the conflict between China and Japan, a power that was westernized to a large extent, lead to a new destruction. Since then, the country was living humiliated by the Western Powers. During the 1930’s, the communists pursued another way to modernize the state (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013). They basically destroyed the traditional Chinese lifestyle by importing western values and doctrine. The foundations of the contemporary Chinese miracle of the country’s emergence as a global power that can influence World Order in which totally engages, in contrast to its historical past, were established (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013). Modern China was founded by the CPC in 1949 when officially declared the end of the century of humiliation (Braudel 2007). To a great extent the current Chinese leadership is comprised of descendants of the first communists who came to power then (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013). Ultimately the Chinese leadership is a kind of political aristocracy whose primary concern is to stay in power. For this reason Chinese authorities are particularly suspicious towards the western criticism regarding the monopoly of power by the Party and the simultaneous violation of human rights . However, despite the Party’s predominance within the country, its foreign policy is not ideologically charged but is characterized by pragmatism due to the negative impact of the Cultural Revolution both on the society and the Party (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013).
Another equally important factor for understanding the China’s foreign policy is the awareness of the means in which historical reminiscences define the way in which the country apprehends the rest of the world today. The Opium Wars, the embarrassment by Japan in the War of 1895-1896 as well as the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 constitute traumatic experiences for the Chinese people that influence their current worldview (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013). The Western involvement in China led to the mid 19th-mid 20th century of Chinese humiliation. This vision of the past resulted to China’s goal to retrieve its lost honor and pride. Its high strategy does not seek to inflation, on terms of territorial expansion, but to acquire the vanished esteem (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013). It does not consider itself as a rising power, as it is considered within the USA, but on the contrary, as a power that returned to the forefront of international affairs after its displacement by the West. Nationalism is an up-and-coming ideology within the country. Nonetheless, it is not absolutely based on the bitter historical recollection that the Chinese people have from the involvement of the Western Powers within their country, but on the contrary, it stems from the CPC as an alternative authority origin in the case that the economy starts to slow down, as it is actually noticed in recent years (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013).
In conclusion, the position of China as a significant power in global affairs, the only one which can seriously challenge the American hegemony, is not seriously doubted by any scholar, in contrast to its potentials. The logic of reasoning this differentiation is traced in the complicated and vulnerable situation within its territory (corruption and social inequality that leads to a dramatic rise of social conflicts) but also in features of the Chinese economy (dependency on exportations’ increase, dominant position of the state in economy, energy dependency, environmental destruction) (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013). Its painful westernization meant the conversion of the multinational empire to an undivided national state. An essential outcome of this change is the installation of nationalism in the Chinese worldview as well as the formulation of broadly Western ideas. However, the latter causes problems both within the country, with the issue being focused on the cohesion of the Chinese society, and abroad with tensions between China and its neighbors (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013).
 The most recent example derives from the riots which took place in Hong Kong
 The case of Taiwan is distinctive because the island considers, by the elite of the Chinese Communist Party, to be part of the mainland China. For this reason further independence of Taiwan is Casus Belli for China.
 The halt of the growth, which characterized the Chinese economy for the last four decades, is significant today due to the Covid-19 outbreak which started from Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei province.
Predicting the course of US-China relations in the post Covid-19 era
Authors: Ayush Banerjee and Dhritiman Banerjee*
The coronavirus pandemic is a natural threat to the geopolitical order. And it is needless to state that this majorly affects the currently international paradigm in a manner that the world has not seen before. Although there have been a few instances where pandemics have shaken the mortality rates, no pandemic has spread this amount of sheer panic among the public at large. This is largely due to the growing interconnectedness and the advent of the cyberspace. Just as the internet has influenced the lives of the most privileged public, data has been influential in academics and politics alike. However, this argument has its own set of problems that continue to affect public-politic relations in ways more than one.
In the same regard, one of the most strained and keenly debated relations in international politics is that between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China. In the context of the virus itself, the virus originated in Wuhan, a province in China while the most number of fatalities have resulted in the United States of America. This idea fuelled with the new world media at the public level created an atmosphere of tension on such platforms. On Twitter notably, there were several instances of a tweet naming Covid-19 as ‘Chinese Virus’ spread like wildfire. This sparked a major controversy even at the diplomatic level. Even Donald Trump momentarily subscribed to the idea and deliberately worded his speech to use the phrase ‘Chinese/China virus’ to refer to Covid-19 at least 20 times between March 16th and March 30th 2020. The US Secretary of State- Mike Pompeo went on to accuse China of its lack of transparency, even scrapping a joint G7 statement after its members refused to refer to the virus as the ‘Wuhan virus.’ China has remained apologetic ever since. Hence, it can be rightly inferred that the relationship shared between China and USA have strained ever since the Covid-19 outbreak.
However to predict how the outbreak might jeopardise the current paradigm of world politics we must look no further than the Phase One Trade deal signed between the two countries. This deal previously ended an 18-month long trade war between USA and China. Through this deal, China committed to purchasing $200 billion additional foreign goods and services in the sectors of agriculture, energy and manufacturing. However, it is evident that in the post-Covid19 era, it will be rather implausible for China to adhere to the terms of the deal due to reasons more than one. The IMF estimated the reality of an unprecedented economic slowdown in which China is expected to grow at only 1.2% this year. Several reports suggest that investors are planning to pull out their investments from Chinese industries to fit in with the Western bandwagon.
The outbreak turned pandemic coupled with the authoritarian nature of China’s response to the entire situation has had a detrimental effect on their domestic economy creating various tremors in the anticipation of demand for various products and services. For instance, the 12 most Covid-19 affected countries account for over 40% of the Chinese exports. Nations like India and Italy that also make that list of twelve may voluntarily pull out of importing to China as they are set to gain from deferring of investments. These nations are also top suppliers of intermediate goods for the Chinese economy. The Chinese economy is quite dependent on external demand stimuli from the US and most western European states such as the United Kingdom. Therefore, until the point in time the US and EU economies completely recover from this pandemic, Chinese policymakers are bound to hold back domestic stimulus efforts as it will only have little effect if the global economy is in shambles.
The Chinese economy has crippled down considerably due to the ongoing trade war that has led to a disproportionate ratio of debt to the annual Gross Domestic Product. This ratio reached an overwhelming 248.8% by the end of March 2019 and it has only increased ever since. China has also been forced to restructure the debts of the Belt and Road initiative (erstwhile OBOR). This restructuring meant that the capital owed to China as loans by the contributing states have been readjusted to affect the projected collection considerably. As Covid-19 nearly decimates the economy of most developing nations, it is becoming increasingly difficult for these states to pay their loan back to China within the stipulated timeframes. Thus adding to the stress on the Chinese economy at large.
There has already begun a region-specific boycott of Chinese goods and industries, especially in conservative parts of USA, among the southern districts. Instances of racial abuse against ethnic Chinese communities have been on an unfortunate rise. These are all deterministic factors of public consciousness, if not, public opinion for the future that lies ahead of us. This reaction has already seen international spillovers and investors have become more anxious about investing in Chinese companies.
According to Deepanshu Mohan, the world may experience radical shifts in the global political economy post-Covid19 based on two factors namely, the relative degree of economic recovery in the affected nations and the existing domestic political scenarios in such nations. He further states that in the post-Covid19 era, protectionist trade policies are likely to increase in the developed nations who in the name of ‘supply security’ may disentangle trade relations with China which will inversely affect the current geopolitical world order. Donald Trump could also make the pandemic a focal point in the 2020 election campaign and therefore aim to capitalise on the anti-China fervour in the US and thus strain relations even further. There lies evidence for this as well. Trump recently presented his anguish towards China being categorised as a ‘developing’ state under the World Trade Organisation list and due to the low contributions of China to the World Health Organisation. Although this may seemingly appear appropriate accusations, this is far from the whole truth. The USA, themselves have cut major proportions of its funding capacity towards the United Nations especially concerning peacekeeping and security operations.
Minxin Pei, on the other hand, stated that the Covid-19 outbreak has led the average American to view the Chinese political system with chronic scepticism as Americans blamed the repressive Chinese political system for the pandemic with the Harris poll indicating widespread American dissatisfaction with the alleged Chinese cover-up of the virus. This poll also showed overwhelming support for US punitive measures on China and the removal of US investments and businesses from China. These developments could lock the two countries into a cycle of escalation that could trigger another potential international diplomatic conflict leading to numerous security issues and economic degradation. USA and China remain the two largest economies in the world. Hence, it can be inferred that this fallout of diplomatic and economic ties between the two states might amount to significant damage in the entire global political order and the globalised system of economies and markets. In the US itself, the number of jobs created since the recession in 2008 has been washed away in two weeks.
The trade war between the two economic giants had already shaken the world before the outbreak. And the prevalent fault lines will only widen in the post-Covid19 era just as a global economic slowdown is expected. Thus, it is imperative for the world economy that this US-China relation remains amicable and stable. However, the available narratives indicate a significant detour from the ideal stability that USA and China should normatively maintain to protect the global economy from crumbling down like biscuits. The USA has resorted to legislations that are actively anti-China in terms of financial relations and international trade while China has strengthened its protectionist response system both politically and economically during this outbreak.
The Covid-19 outbreak has not acted as an impediment to Chinese aggression in the South China Sea region either. China has recently renamed 44 features in the disputed region, a decision that is considered illegal under international law. This has been time and again criticised by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. With increasing US-China missile competition a reality in the region post the abrogation of the INF treaty, the post-Covid19 era will likely see more prominent conflicts in the South and the East China Sea regions which is a strategically important waterway for both the countries alongside other nations such as Japan, Vietnam, Philippines and India.
*Dhritiman Banerjee is an undergraduate student at the Department of International Relations at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India. He has recently published for the Millenniumpost, a Kolkata based newspaper as well as contributed to publications like the Geopolitics and South Asia Monitor. His interests lie in International Relations in general and Strategic Studies in particular.
Political unrest in Hong Kong and Global Pandemic
Things started from a murder of a girl in Taiwan ending up into an unseen scenario in Hong Kong. Rising tensions in the region of China and Hong Kong, situation is getting worse. First of all the episode of extradition bill and now becoming the series of different surprises, the advent of National Security Bill is not acceptable among the Hong Kong citizens. According to the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, Hong Kong is ought to be the autonomous and free liberal region along china being constituted as a “one country, two systems.” As per this treaty, China is violating International law: which is a direct threat to its soft policy and international image.
Secondly, the role of United States in Hong Kong is mainly concerned about the large number of U.S. Nationals working there especially at naval ports and their security. While on the national level the sustainability of democratic values and freedom in Hong Kong to whom these acts of China’s Communist party are challenging. United States being the global hegemon owns the responsibility to protect and keep the check on practice of international laws and its violation in any region of the world. Although the whole global community is concerned about the present situation of Hong Kong and its upcoming outcomes. States sign treaties and agreements on the basis of one’s predetermined political and social culture and works accordingly, so following the current scenario the Protest in Hong Kong is going to be game changing event. If the bill passed, Hong Kong will be a Chinese administered territory like another small city of Chinese Communist party but on the other hand if failed to pass this bill Hong Kong can have a victory to win the democracy and write the fate of their state in a new way.
Furthermore, the wave of global pandemic in the form of COVID 19 has already questioned the worth of human security. Millions of people are dying due to this disease originated from Wuhan, China. World is already questioning the Chinese role. Above all the differences, we all are human beings living in the world of chaos. Divisions led towards the more divisions. There is a dire need to fight collectively to this coronavirus. Being humans, we need to apply the only global value that is being human fellow. Social distancing is the new normal now but Hong Kong’s political situation is getting more anti distance campaign due to the political unrest. China needs to slow down the process. Human security needs to be the priority. Although to raise the voice of Hong Kong’s people social media can be a better platform. Let’s shake hands for peace rather than division.
All eyes on China’s post-lockdown Twin Sessions
Even though parts of the country are still battling a minor rebound of Covid-19 cases, the general message is clear: China has emerged from the abysmal months of lockdown and is ready to resume business. This was made clear to the entire nation on 29 April with the announcement of new dates for the “Twin Sessions” meeting, the country’s most significant annual political and legislative affair, involving the National People’s Congress (NPC) and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).
Starting from 21 May, thousands of legislators and political advisors will gather in Beijing’s Hall of the People to discuss and vote on pressing issues facing the country. The gathering, which should have happened in early March, was postponed for more than two months this year due to Covid-19. Now its restart, reportedly cut short from a two-week event to just one week, is widely considered a reflection of the top leadership’s confidence that a level of normalcy can be restored in Chinese society.
Despite the reassuring symbolic meaning of the Twin Sessions, the social and economic landscape is bleak as China begins its slow recovery from Covid-19. The country’s economy shrank 6.8% in the first quarter of 2020, and a full recovery is far from a certainty given the ongoing nature of the global pandemic. The unemployment rate has risen in the same period. The world will be watching how the Chinese government addresses these challenges through the outcomes of the annual conference. Measures will not just shape the trajectory of the Chinese economy but also global objectives of economic recovery, fighting climate change and achieving long-term sustainability. Here are a few key items to watch for at the Twin Sessions.
Economic growth target
At every year’s Twin Sessions, the Chinese premier will make a formal report to legislators about the government’s work in the past year and, more importantly, lay out key economic and social development targets for the coming year. These targets include rates of GDP growth, unemployment, Consumer Price Index (CPI) change reflecting inflation, and poverty reduction. By the end of the meeting, legislators will vote to adopt those targets to make them binding for the executive branch. That is the order of business in a normal year.
In a year of pandemic, the severe disruption to economic and political processes have made setting the 2020 targets a contentious business. Now all eyes are on Premier Li Keqiang’s Report on the Work of the Government as the country enters the last week of May without a clear idea how the central government plans to set the speed for the economic engine this year.
This is a year of paramount importance for the Party. By the end of 2020, the country’s GDP is supposed to achieve a doubling from 2010 levels, a key political commitment made by the Party to Chinese society. The growth rate needs to hit about 5.5% this year to secure the objective. But Covid-19 has knocked the economy off track by a wide margin.
Prominent Chinese economists have weighed in. Justin Lin, a top economic advisor and former Chief Economist at the World Bank, recommended a moderate target of 3% to avoid maxing out China’s monetary and fiscal policy tools. As the economy shrank in the first quarter and is only mildly recovering in the second, China needs to achieve a 15% growth rate in the second half of 2020 to maintain the 2020 “doubling” goal. Lin argues that even if China is able to stimulate economic expansion to that level, it should opt for a slightly lower target to save some ammunition for next year. “It is totally acceptable to defer the (doubling) goal to next year,” he told the audience of a Peking University webinar on 15 May.
On the other hand, Ma Jun, chairman of China Green Finance Committee and a member of the People’s Bank of China’s monetary policy committee, has advocated for an outright abandonment of any economic growth target for 2020, citing concerns that chasing unrealistic targets will lead to massive stimulus measures in debt-driven infrastructure building that is often short-sighted and ill-considered.
A 13 May article by He Lifeng, the head of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), China’s top economic policymaking body, indicates that the government may still choose to adhere to its original economic goal. “We should make sure we complete the task of building a moderately prosperous society,” he wrote. Doubling GDP by 2020 is a key component of that vision.
The growth rate target is closely linked with how China determines the size of its economic stimulus package. According to the 2015 Budget Law, key components of the fiscal toolbox, including quotas for central government and local government bond issuance, must be approved by the National People’s Congress.
Liu Yuanchun, vice president of Renmin University, told Caijing magazine that to create 1% GDP growth, fiscal spending should reach 1.2-1.4 trillion yuan (US$170-200 billion).
By the end of April, the Ministry of Finance had front-loaded the local government bond issuance quota to the tune of 2.29 trillion yuan (US$320 billion), and before total annual quotas could be approved at the Twin Sessions. The majority of local government special bonds go into infrastructure projects such as railway construction and public transportation, whose carbon footprints will have implications for global efforts to address climate change.
Green legislation and planning
Covid-19 has triggered a national conversation about the relationship between humans and nature, as scientists have linked the novel coronavirus to human contact with wild animals. The conversation was quickly followed by legislative actions. On 24 February, the NPC Standing Committee passed a decision banning consumption of wild animals for food, leaving only limited exemptions for certain species commonly bred in captivity. The national legislature is expected to revamp the Wildlife Protection Law following the decision. According to a legislative plan released by the NPC Standing Committee, the law revision process will likely culminate in 2021. Therefore, this year’s Twin Sessions probably won’t see definitive progress on the Wildlife Protection law, even though legislators may use the platform to submit proposals and recommendations.
Meanwhile, deliberations on the 14th Five Year Plan (2021-2025) will start in earnest this year, ready for its delivery to the next Twin Sessions in 2021 for final approval. According to schedules released by national authorities, draft versions of sectoral 14th Five Year Plans (such as for renewable energy) should be available for comment in late 2020.
In a critical year for China’s political and economic calendar, the pandemic has created unprecedented disruption. The coming week will demonstrate how China plans to pull itself back on track, with outcomes that will have far-reaching global consequences.
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