Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, all eyes, yet again, are on China, which many expect, equally enthusiastically and alarmingly, to become the world’s largest economy over the next few decades. The economic growth, though, does not automatically root out all sources of disparity even if it shrinks the overall scope of inequality.
Being almost exactly in the middle on the Gini line between total inequality and full equality at 46.7, mainland Chinese wealth distribution is now more unequal than it has ever been in the nation’s history. This figure is even more startling considering the fact that the country had a very low inequality level in the 1980s, so the Chinese population is fully aware of the problem and its severity. Historically, the peaks of economic disparity have coincided with major national events, especially the Great Famine in the late 1950s, the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the global integration that began in the late 1990s. Although the highly centralized and deeply bureaucratic nature of the Chinese government allows for the efficient implementation of inequality solutions, official poverty-reducing policies at such peaks had minimal effects.
In contemporary China, the state of inequality is essentially determined by regional differences and the countrywide urban-rural divide. Kanbur and Zhang  claim that the share of heavy industry in gross output values, the degree of decentralization, and the degree of openness are three main driving forces of inequality across regions. The urban-rural divide, on the other hand, is sustained by top-down regulations that affect basic human rights, such as health, housing, and mobility. One of such regulations is hukou, a system of household registration linked to social programs provided by the central government, which assigns social benefits based on the agricultural and non-agricultural residency status. As such, hukou has been a structural source of inequality since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, as urban residents receive benefits, ranging from retirement pensions to healthcare, that are unavailable to rural residents. Chan  asserts that to reduce rural poverty is to end hukou, which directly impedes with rural-to-urban migration, the main means of escaping poverty in rural areas. The internal migration, including the interprovincial one from the thinly populated and deprived Western regions to the densely populated and affluent East Coast, has intensely accelerated since the 1980s. Referred to as the ‘floating population,’ rural migrants tend to circulate in-between cities rather than settle, making them in a way statistically invisible. Yet their presence in the urban landscape critically influences workforce and housing markets. Given the unparalleled magnitude of the Chinese population, housing registration, obviously, needs to operate for practical purposes, but not in its current caste-system resembling form.
Furthermore, the government has to instill lawful procedures for assimilating rural emigrants, who, alongside their children, confront serious predicaments in the multidimensional process of urban societal integration. Having crossed 250 million by 2015, the Chinese migrant population is the largest in the world; however, due to official restrictions, especially hukou, the interprovincial migration in China is even more administratively challenging than the state-to-state migration in the United States. These restrictions equally impact children, both who stay behind in rural areas, the so called ‘left-behind children,’ and those who with their parents move to or are born in cities. Liang  suggests that further research on the internal migration be devoted to the mobility of minority groups, such as Muslims, and finding out if the importance of hukou is declining for the new generation of migrant workers. Even if this were true, the government is not free from providing additional ameliorating measures for migrants, for example, a cheaper, less complicated way of making remittances to countryside family members and other relatives and food stamps until the job acquisition.
Big companies, in turn, should offer educational enrichment programs to their urban and rural employees to meet the international employment competition. Despite its unchallenged advantage in sheer numbers, the Chinese workforce is relatively weak in terms of education levels, which in long run can create a human capital crisis in mainland China, as the upper secondary school attainment is a crucial ingredient for the country’s continued economic growth. Khor and others  estimate that only less than 25% of the Chinese labor force have completed secondary education, a significantly lower figure than around 55% average across all G20 countries. The Ministry of Education pompously inflates official figures. Considering that China is gradually transitioning from an upper middle-income state to a developed economy and that this transition means supplanting low-wage, labor-intensive manufacturing with high-wage, high value-added industries that require knowledgeable cadres, the Ministry of Education is obliged to bring education programs and workplace demands in unison. Lamentably, the government routinely overlooks school attainment levels of its citizens, because service and manufacturing industries, the titans of national employment, hire staff based on discipline indicators and occupational skillsets rather than school performance.
The guiding principle of reforms must be making the Chinese education system more inclusive. Wu and Zhang  claim that recent expansions in this field have benefited urban women more than any other social group and that despite an overall increase in educational equality, the urban-rural contrast is ever stark; however, this is in line with the worldwide trend, which shows that educational inequality as a whole is declining with the continued economic growth, but the urban-rural divide permeates in face of modernization. To reduce this divide, the government must rescind educational policies that favor city students, starting with the elimination of standardized testing as an upper secondary school entrance requirement, which highly favors urban over rural students. Having completed superior middle schools and resources to private tutoring, urban students disproportionately beat their rural counterparts out, keeping the cycle of urban-rural divide in education spinning.
Beyond the education system, the government has to transform workplace structures, foremost by substituting danwei, a work unit with communist roots that in the form of ‘organized dependency’ maintains the state administrative hierarchy, with non-state labor unions or guilds. Xie, Lai, and Wu  assert that even if some of its original functions, such as housing and health subsidies, have declined with the rise of private sector, danwei continues to play a central role in the social stratification and occupation mobility in post-reform China, influencing earnings (salaries are low in mainland China) more than benefits — a reverse was true in pre-reform China. Not as interested in maximizing occupational profits as in maintaining ties with the ruling authority, danwei stratifies the contemporary Chinese society because of its more equal nature than the market justifies. That is why independent labor unions, which can provide not only similar benefits, such as a health coverage, but also guarantee adequate wages that the current work unit system compromises for the sake of social advantages, ought to overtake danwei.
Another factor hampering the national progress is the Great Firewall, the combination of legislative actions and technologies enforced by the government to regulate the Internet domestically. King, Pan, and Roberts  emphasize that as opposed to the popular assumption that any government-critical content is taken down, the Internet censors are actually oriented to the content with a collective action potential, notwithstanding with its underlying attitude towards the government. Yet history, in particular the Great Famine, has shown that the Chinese people, in accordance with the Confucian values, tend to blame not the ruling authority, but local officials for their problems. This, coupled with the fact that a common Chinese online user self-censors, demonstrates that the Internet censorship is an excessive administrative measure. This measure deters the info-communicational advancement of the mainland Chinese population, which lacks a unified intention for the regime change.
Abolishing hukou, danwei, and the Great Firewall schemes, as well as reforming the education system, requires a coordinated national effort between the central government and provincial leaders. The majority of regional officials, though, behave not as much in response to the countrywide market-preserving federalism as within the multidivisional-form structure of the Chinese economic sector. As the political status of a Chinese province directly correlates to its economic power, the post-Mao China witnessed political conformity being largely supplanted by the economic performance as a chief competence-related indicator. Li and Zhou  confirm that the local GDP growth rate is directly proportional to the official’s turnover, which is nonlinear due to the effect of performance during tenure as a whole over a single year being more important. Besides promotion as an instrument of personnel control, the ruling government exercises termination, transition, and retirement, for example, successful Chinese officials, whose merits are almost exclusively measured in financial terms, receive honorary, albeit powerless, titles before their official retirements.
The economic performance endures as an effective political tool as long as the Chinese economy continues to grow; however, in light of 6% economic growth rate as the new normal and the ongoing trade war with the United States, securing successful operations of local officials principally through economic incentives seems myopic from the central government. This needs to complement its existing economic leverage in governing localities with more stable social factors, especially given that governors are inclined to artificially boosting financial figures of their provinces. This not only results in distorted reports on living conditions of people, but also in the national prevalence of the economic growth at all costs, which only exacerbates intra-regional inequalities in terms of education and employment prospects. Xie and Zhou  note that despite being comparable in both the total area and income distributions as well as the subordination of state/provincial officials to the federal/central government, USA, where a family structure combined with race and ethnicity significantly influences lifetime earnings of every person, has had a smaller rate increase in economic inequality over the last decade than PRC.
Evidently, the Chinese economy is neither laissez-faire nor Leninist, but rather a unique case. Oi  claims that the economic growth of China is embedded in the system in which local officials, acting as CEOs, treat local enterprises under administrative control as parts of a larger corporate whole. Accordingly, the national economic growth rests largely on the rural industry, which has experienced an upsurge following a few amendments to the Maoist system, especially de-collectivization of agricultural production and the fiscal reform that allows for the autonomy over any local surplus. To strengthen corporatism in their provinces, officials pursue one of three methods: misappropriating marked funds coming to local farmers from the central government; licensing non-bank credit institutions that avoid central regulations — a more legal way; and granting small loans from bureau funds. Having been long ignored by the central government because of its quintessential role in the Chinese economic expansion, local state corporatism is directly responsible for the accumulation of debts worth $5.8 trillion. This issue is especially problematic in light of the Chinese market leaning more and more towards privatization — a process catapulting a new type of corporate elite into prominence in the midst of this managerial revolution.
Whether the new corporate elite will push the country to approach the capitalist economy model established in free states is a critical question. Walder  notes that both economic assets and ties to the central government of this new elite are equivocal, so each sector — state-owned, privatized, transactional, and entrepreneurial — demands to be separately analyzed. Corporate networks mapped via interfirm webs can also point to China’s course moving towards or away from being a state where wealth and political power are synonymous. Arguably, the new corporate elite will maintain close political ties with the ruling government. Alternatively, it can act as a political opposition by challenging the status quo whenever appropriate. The ruling party is absolutely creditable to a degree for the country’s success, but being completely unrestrained, it will fail to perceive overstretched borders of its regulations, including the Great Firewall, as the established framework is self-damagingly hostile to change. The new corporate elite has a potential to become a powerful intermediate agent safeguarding the consolidation of the social contract between the Chinese people and state, and it should not miss this exciting chance. Still, where there is the elite, a clash with interests of people is inevitable, and China has yet to match its powerful economic status with a benevolent state image internationally.
Considering Chinese citizens’ rising awareness of universal human rights violations in the country, especially with regard to family and religious domains, both of which an almost uninterrupted nature of the Chinese civilization has substantially burdened by its institutional emphasis on the former and a lack of such emphasis on the latter, the ruling party can no longer afford to ignore its obvious shortcomings in dealing with ethno-linguistic and religious minorities and novel family structures emerging out of the tension between persisting cultural customs and changing social behaviors in the contemporary Chinese society. Raymo and others  claim that the second demographic transition, which is characterized by a variety of living arrangements and a disconnection between marriage and procreation, is more conspicuous in the East than in the West. Traditionally, East Asian families are patriarchal, patrimonial, patrilineal, and patrilocal, but the global rise of the women’s socioeconomic status has undermined this organization.
Although women in mainland China have advanced their social status over the last decade, they continue to be disadvantaged in terms of household labor, education, salaries, and leadership positions due to gender bias. For example, parents disproportionately put educational resources in sons at the expense of daughters, as they expect the former to materially support them in their old age and the latter to be taken care of by husbands’ families. Men, on the other hand, face an extreme competition not only in employment, but also in the marriage market. Xie  notes that Chinese men find it increasingly difficult to marry partly because of the prevailing social hypergamy exacerbated by present economic pressures. In addition, men massively outnumber women as a result of a higher cultural and economic value assigned to them. Of course, a growing number of single, unemployed men has a socially disruptive potential, but being an authoritarian state with Confucian values, China would be resistant to the gang culture that has eroded Latin America.
Without taking demographic changes into account, the government cannot adequately address such issues as population aging, labor force shortages, public health care, family planning, and retirement arrangements. The rapid pace at which China has been modernizing since its global integration began in the late 90s only intensifies this challenge. Peng  states that as the age of first marriage has gone up to twenty-five, the birth rate has dwindled (Japan has the lowest in the Far East), more individuals prefer not to marry (childbearing outside wedlock is still very rare), and more couples choose to cohabitate. China is achieving its second demographic transition in a relatively compressed period of time.
It is ambiguous how official Family Planning Commission programs have influenced this transition.` For example, the One-Child Policy, which the government ended after 35 years, might not have caused a supposed fertility decline in the country given that Chinese families have been naturally leaning towards having two or less children since 1990s. Family policies in general apply differently to urban and rural areas. For instance, while the urban implementation of pensions has lifted an adult’s traditional economic duty to provide for elderly parents, transforming the nature of monetary support from financial to symbolic, this duty remains in force in countryside. Xie and Zhu  emphasize that in cities compared to married sons married daughters give more money to their parents contrary to custom. This can be explained by the fact that over the last decade, women have outranked men in educational attainment, bolstering their job income.
Beyond adjusting its family policies to emerging social norms, the government has to offer an integration path for ostracized ethno-linguistic and religious groups. Gladney  claims that China, which is home to the largest Muslim minority in East Asia (around 20 million people), has so far failed in incorporating Muslims, whose self-preservation is at risk, in the national fabric in a way that is neither full accommodation nor complete separatism. Obviously, Islam and traditional Chinese beliefs have distinct worldviews. For example, Muslim Chinese evaluate development levels of majority-Muslim countries far more favorably than the Han Chinese do , but their co-existence over several centuries means that common ground can be found. Moreover, China’s dependence on the Middle East as an oil supplier and an export market mandates for Muslims’ acceptance in the Chinese ‘leviathan.’
Like religious ones, ethno-linguistic minorities bear discrimination in China. Wu and He  state that despite of the regional distribution of ethnic minorities being relatively stable from 1982 to 2005, the Han-minority disparity in education and employment amplified in the same period. After it had started identifying all 55 minorities (around 10% of the national population), which are geographically isolated not just from the Han Chinese but each other, the communist party has taken a few steps to stimulate their socioeconomic mobility, such as granting college admission bonuses. However, the country’s forceful economic transition has widened the gap instead of narrowing it, as the profit-driven private sector values economic efficiency over social equality. That is why the government must pass anti-discrimination laws that will subdue institutional prejudice against ethno-linguistic and religious minorities.
Finally, if the Chinese government makes a conscious decision to contain ever-expanding state machine or apparatus from permeating every aspect of citizens’ daily lives, allowing the society to ‘breath normally,’ it will be able to competently respond to polit-economic and socio-cultural challenges that contemporary China is confronting, such as a slower economic growth rate and elevated ethnic tensions.
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Liang, Z. 2016. “China’s Great Migration and the Prospects of a More Integrated Society.” Annual Review of Sociology 42, pp. 451-471.
Khor, N., Pang, L., Liu, C., Chang, F., Mo, D., Loyalka, P., and Rozelle, S. 2016. “China’s Looming Human Capital Crisis: Upper Secondary Educational Attainment Rates and the Middle-income Trap.” The China Quarterly 228, pp. 905-926.
Wu, X. and Zhang, Z. 2010. “Changes in Educational Inequality in China, 1990–2005: Evidence from the Population Census Data.” Research in Sociology of Education 17, pp. 123-152.
Xie, Y., Lai, Q., and Wu, X. 2009. “Danwei and Social Inequality in Contemporary Urban China.” Research in the Sociology of Work 19, pp. 283-306.
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Oi, Jean C. 1995. “The Role of the Local State in China’s Transitional Economy.” The China Quarterly 144, pp. 1132-1149.
Walder, A. G. 2011. “From Control to Ownership: China’s Managerial Revolution.” Management and Organization Review 7(1), pp. 19-38.
Raymo, J.M., Park, H., Xie, Y. and Yeung, W.J.J. 2015. “Marriage and Family in East Asia: Continuity and Change.” Annual Review of Sociology 41, pp. 471-492.
Xie, Y. 2014. “Gender and Family” in The Oxford Companion to the Economics of China, pp. 495-501. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Peng, X. 2011. “China’s Demographic History and Future Challenges.” Science 333(6042), pp. 581-587.
Xie, Y. and Zhu, H. 2009. “Do Sons or Daughters Give More Money to Parents in Urban China?” Journal of Marriage and Family 71, pp. 174-186.
Gladney, D.C. 2003. “Islam in China: Accommodation or Separatism?” The China Quarterly 174, pp. 451-467.
Lai, Q. and Mu, Z. 2016. “Universal, yet Local: The Religious Factor in Chinese Muslims’ Perception of World Developmental Hierarchy.” Chinese Journal of Sociology 2(4), pp. 524-546.
Wu, X. and Gloria He. 2016. “Changing Ethnic Stratification in Contemporary China.” Journal of Contemporary China 25(102), pp. 938-954.
From our partner RIAC
Quad Infrastructure Diplomacy: An Attempt to Resist the Belt and Road Initiative
Over the years, the competition between the great powers in the dual space of the Indian and Pacific Oceans has been rapidly increasing. In the face of the aggravation of relations between the PRC and the United States, the defence dimension of the rivalry between the two contenders for global leadership traditionally comes to the forefront. However, in today’s context, the parties will most likely not engage in military action for the strengthening of their dominance in the region, but they will try to achieve the goals by expanding of economic influence. In this context, along with the well-known trade wars, there is an infrastructure rivalry in the region, which is enforced on Beijing by Washington and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad).
The role of Infrastructure in Indian and Pacific Oceans’ countries
The countries of Asia traditionally drawing the attention of the world community due to the high rates of economic, technological, and social development. In less than three decades, their per capita income has increased by 74%, millions of people have been lifted out of poverty, as well as a growing middle class has emerged in the region. All this became possible due to the multilateral cooperation institutionalization and the integration of the economies of the Indo-Pacific. However, the strengthening of trade and economic ties and the future prosperity of Asia largely depends on the infrastructure (ports, highways and railways, airports, pipelines, etc.), which contributes to a more active movement of goods on a regional and global scale. Moreover, back in 2009, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) published a report according to which collective investments in infrastructure in the amount of US$8 trillion will be required to maintain rapid economic growth in Asian countries.
The most prominent infrastructure initiative in recent years is the «Belt and Road Initiative» (BRI), which was launched by China’s leader Xi Jinping in 2013. The BRI helped to fill numerous infrastructure gaps, but the United States and its partners increasingly paid attention to the geostrategic aspect of China’s actions. It’s no secret that the Belt and Road plays an important role in the development and integration of China’s provinces with neighboring countries. However, with the growing number of countries participating in the BRI, as well as the strengthening of China’s influence on a regional and global scale, criticism of the strategic tools for expanding Beijing’s economic influence gradually increased. The Belt and Road has faced a number of critical remarks, including those related to accusations of purposely involving the regional countries in the so-called «debt traps». Regardless of the degree of truthfulness or study of the issue, from year to year, media reports have contributed to the building of a contradictory attitude to China’s BRI among the residents, experts, and political elites all over the world.
Moreover, as soon as Donald Trump became the U.S. President in early 2017, Washington modified the nature of its policy towards China to greater confrontation. This trend has become a direct expression of the intensified great powers’ rivalry and their struggle for hegemony in the Indo-Pacific, as well as a motivation for the revival of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), which includes the United States, Australia, India and Japan. However, the interaction of the Quad has long been built on the basis of defence.
This trend continues nowadays, as evidenced by the frequent exercises and the growing Quad naval presence in the Indo-Pacific but in 2021 the Quad countries expanded their range of issues on a multilateral basis. Now the agenda includes vaccine diplomacy (providing 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines to Indo-Pacific countries, climate change, technological cooperation, maritime security, cybersecurity, and external development assistance. According to Kurt Campbell, Indo-Pacific policy coordinator at the National Security Council, Washington is looking to convene an in-person fall summit of leaders of the Quad countries with a focus on infrastructure in the face of the challenge from China.
Quadrilateral infrastructure diplomacy as the continuing vector of the Trump’s administration
The infrastructure agenda also became an important part of the last summit of the G7 countries’ leaders, during which the parties expressed their willingness to establish a BRI counterpart called Build Back Better World (B3W). In total, there are 22 mentions of infrastructure in the final G7 Summit Communiqué. Even despite the traditionally restrained position of India, which took the time to «study the specifics of the proposal», infrastructure diplomacy of Quad is becoming a new area of geostrategic competition in the Indo-Pacific.
There’s one exception: the activities on the infrastructure track are not a new trend of U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration, but a continuation of the foreign policy vector set during the presidency of Donald Trump. It was he who turned Sino-U.S. rivalry into a geo-economic level. Back in 2017, the Foreign Ministers of the Quad countries stated the need for high-quality infrastructure development in order to ensure freedom and openness of sea routes, as well as improve intra-regional ties. In 2018, MoU was signed between the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia, aimed at implementing major infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific. Moreover, the Quad countries raised the question of the BRI countries’ growing debt during their official meeting in Singapore.
It was clear that the Belt and Road Initiative is perceived by the Quad countries as the main factor in expanding the economic and political influence of the People’s Republic of China, as well as China’s influence of the domestic political processes in the countries of Indo-Pacific. At the same time, the combination of economic and defence rivalry enforced on Beijing by Washington, as well as Quad’s efforts to build a balance of power in the region actually indicates the explicit anti-China nature of the Quad.
In this case, it’s important to note that each of the Quad countries has its own levers of influence, which they can combine in infrastructure competition with Beijing. For example, in 2015, in response to the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative and the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) by China, Japan made the Partnership for Quality Infrastructure (PQI). The United States, in turn, announced the infrastructure project Blue Dot Network (BDN), as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia established a new Partnerships for Infrastructure (P4I). All these initiatives are united by a commitment to inclusive economic growth, «quality infrastructure», climate change, disaster response, and social development. The capitalization of the Japanese, American and Australian initiatives is US $110 billion (US$50 billion from Japan and over US$50 from the Asian Development Bank), US$30-60 million, and US$383 thousand (including access to US$4 billion of foreign aid and $US2 billion from the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific), respectively. Given the ongoing discussions about debt traps, the emphasis on «high-quality infrastructure» may give special features to the initiatives of the Quad but even the total amount of funding will not be able to compete with the US$770 billion investments already made in 138 countries of the world and announced by China.
Anyway, Quad is stepping up its infrastructure diplomacy in at least three areas, including Southeast Asia, Oceania, and the Indian Ocean. For example, Australia, Germany and Switzerland have already allocated US$13 million to the Mekong River Commission For Sustainable Development (MRC) to assist Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and, Vietnam «to respond to pressing challenges while safeguarding the ecological function of the Mekong River and improving people’s livelihoods».At the same time, Australia signed US$300 million MoU with Papua New Guinea, aimed at the ports reconstruction in the major state of Oceania (the ports of Vanimo, Kimbe, Motukea, Lorengau, Oro Bay, Daru, Lae, etc.). It is important to highlight that the increasing economic and infrastructural presence of China in the countries of Oceania, energize Australia’s policy in the South Pacific, which is a traditional zone of influence of Canberra. At the same time, the expansion of Australia’s aid and investment to the broader Indo-Pacific is due to the commitment of the current Australian government to the U.S. foreign policy.
In turn, the reaction of the Southeast Asian countries to the intensification of Quad infrastructure diplomacy will be more restrained. According to the latest Pew Research Center survey, the most unfavourable view of China is in the United States (76%), Canada (73%), Germany (71%), Japan (88%), Australia (78%), and South Korea (77%), while in Singapore — the only country representing ASEAN in the survey — the percentage of unfavourable views on China is at a low level (34%). Moreover, considering the aspects of infrastructure diplomacy in the region, we should definitely refer to the survey of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) of the political elites of the region «Powers, Norms, and Institutions: The Future of the Indo-Pacific from a Southeast Asia Perspective», published in 2020. Despite the intentional exclusion of Russia from the survey, it approximately reflects the trends in the Indo-Pacific countries at the present stage. Thus, as a result of the survey, American experts revealed that the political elites of Southeast Asia positively assess China’s activities in the field of infrastructure development, which has brought tangible benefits to most Southeast Asian countries.
China is actively reacting to verbal attacks from the United States and Quad. The infrastructure agenda was no exception, but China responded by modernizing its global Belt and Road Initiative. In response to criticism about the involvement of the countries in debt traps, Beijing has developed a new Foreign Policy White Paper «China’s International Development Cooperation in the New Era». The document was published in early 2021. According to the provisions of the new White Paper, China will pay closer attention to the process of implementing projects within the aid framework, take an active part in evaluating projects in order to monitor their quality, maintain an appropriate level of confidence in its projects to China, as well as conduct bilateral consultations to identify difficulties with debt repayment and make sure that partners do not fall into a debt trap. It’s possible that the new vision of the PRC will appear especially quickly in countries where the Quad will primarily try to implement their infrastructure projects.
China is the first country in the region, which pays significant attention to the issues of large-scale infrastructure development. Moreover, Beijing has a number of advantages over its opponent — Quad. First, the Belt and Road initiative is more structured and aimed at intensifying trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation with neighboring countries, while the emerging Quad infrastructure agenda is «dispersed» among numerous individual initiatives, doesn’t have the same level of stability as the BRI, and even after 3.5 years of building the agenda is considered through the prism of expectations.
Second, China’s initiative is aimed at a single infrastructure connection between the PRC and the rest of the world and acts as a potential basis for the intensification of global trade in the future. At the same time, today’s projects of the Quad are of a “sporadic» nature and can’t contribute to the infrastructure linkage between Europe, Africa, South and Southeast Asia on a global scale.
Third, China can already offer the Belt and Road members not only logistics infrastructure but also the opportunities in the field of green energy. At the end of 2019, China produced about a third of the world’s solar energy and retained a leading position in the number of wind turbines. Within the foreseeable future, the Quad countries, and especially the United States, will have to compete with China even in the field of the climate agenda, which is so close to the new administration of the U.S. President Joe Biden.
Finally, during his recent speech on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), PRC’s Leader Xi Jinping confidently declared the great revival of the Chinese nation, its contribution to the progress of human civilization, and its readiness to build a new world, which undoubtedly indicates China’s decisiveness to respond to challenges to its address, including from the Quad.
The ongoing transformation of the regional architecture in the Indo-Pacific, both in the defence and economic areas, will be an important aspect in the post-pandemic era. China has repeatedly stated about the «covered» Quad activities to deterrence Chinese policy in the region, but the expansion of the Quad’s agenda by infrastructure diplomacy allows us to speak about the evident vector of the Quad strategy against the PRC.
However, nowadays the Quad countries had been left behind. China already has the world’s most numerous land forces, the largest navy, as well as an ambitious global Belt and Road initiative that includes almost 140 countries and a capitalization approaching US$1 trillion. Of course, Quad is moving towards the institutionalization of its infrastructure cooperation and the potential expansion of the number of participating countries to the Quad Plus format. However, to reach China’s achievements for the period 2013-2021, the new alliance will need at least a decade.
At the same time, the rivalry of the Belt and Road with the Quad’s infrastructure initiative will help the countries of the region to diversify their infrastructure ties but will make their choice even more difficult, since it will primarily be regarded as support for the foreign policy vision of one of the parties, and not a pragmatic estimate of economic benefits. All this makes the regional environment in the Indo-Pacific increasingly complex and forces middle powers and smaller countries to adapt to new geostrategic realities.
From our partner International Affairs
Bushido Spirit Resurrected? Japan publicly bared its swords against China
Recently, Japan’s Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso declared that Japan will join forces with the US to “protect Taiwan.” There has been a lot of turmoil, but even though the US directly announced that it will follow the “One China policy,” Japan has not given up its secret intentions. Japan’s new “Defense White Paper,” which was just approved, not only continued to link the US, but also displayed greater animosity toward China.
The Japanese government just finished the 2021 version of the “Defense White Paper,” according to the Global Times, but both the cover and the substance of the white paper are full of “provocative” meaning. The first is the front cover. According to the image released by Japanese media, the cover of Japan’s new “Defense White Paper” is an ink drawing of a warrior on horseback. According to a spokesperson for Japan’s Ministry of Defense, the horse samurai on the cover represents the Japanese Self-Defense Force’s commitment to defend Japan. However, after seeing it, some Japanese netizens said that it was “extremely powerful in fighting spirit.”
From a content standpoint, the white paper keeps the substance of advocating “China menace,” talking about China’s military might, aircraft carriers, Diaoyu Islands, and so on, and also includes the significance of “Taiwan stability” for the first time. A new chapter on Sino-US ties is also included in the white paper. According to the Associated Press, the United States is expanding its assistance for the Taiwan region, while China is increasing its military actions in the region. This necessitates Japan paying attention to it with a “crisis mindset.”
Japan has recently grown more daring and rampant, thanks to a warlike cover and material that provokes China and is linked to the US. Japan has recently bared its swords against China on several occasions.
Not only did Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga take the lead in referring to the Taiwan region as a “country,” but after meeting US President Biden, he issued a joint statement referring to the Taiwan region, and tried his best to exaggerate maritime issues such as the East China Sea and the South China Sea, and Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, Deputy Defense Mizuho, and Deputy Defense Mizuho. It has all made inappropriate statements on Taiwan and publicly attacked the “One China Principle.”
After China clearly voiced its disapproval, Japan not only refused to be constrained, but actively increased its antagonism toward China. Do they truly believe China is simple to provoke? The tensions between China and Japan will undoubtedly worsen as a result of Japan’s publishing of this white paper. Although Japan has the bravery to provoke, it lacks the guts to initiate an armed war with China. After all, even the United States, on which they have traditionally counted, would not dare.
It is simple to employ force against China, and if the Japanese Self-Defense Force want to fight the People’s Liberation Army, it is preferable for them to be prepared for any catastrophic outcomes. Furthermore, China has long been Japan’s most important commercial partner. Even with Japan’s sluggish economy, they should be wary of challenging China. If they refuse to examine this, China may let them face the consequences of economics and trade.
Furthermore, the US has declared unequivocally that it will pursue the “One China Policy” and has intimated that it will not “protect Taiwan” with Japan. The stance of the United States demonstrates that, despite Japan’s determination to constrain China on the Taiwan problem and invitation to the United States to join in “safeguarding Taiwan and defending Japan,” the United States is hesitant to offer such refuge to Japan. As a result, Japan should be clear about its own place in the heart of the United States and attach itself to the United States, although it may be beaten by the United States again in the end.
In reaction to this event, the Hong Kong media stated that Japan should focus on making friends and generating money rather than intervening in Taiwan’s affairs, saying that “provoking Beijing is a fool’s errand.” As a result, if Japan continues to challenge China, they will be exposed as a total fool. And how good will a fool do in a game between countries?
Hong Kong Issues & the Impact on China’s Domestic Politics
Hong Kong after years under British colony was handed over to China after the leash period was over and China being the governing state swore that it will protect the uniqueness of Hong Kong and let it function under its established capitalist system under “one state, two system” policy for the period of 50 years. These 50 years ensure Hong Kong to enjoy the freedom under the China security Umbrella. In contrast to China, the Hong Kong political system consist of multiple parties. Some of these political parties fall under the Pro-democratic camp as they supports the positive reforms in democracy. The other camp is of Pro-establishment, they are known for their support for the mainland China as they consist of basically people from the business sector. In the Hong Kong the Pro-Business supporter or pro establishment are known to be more of the dominant group because of their relation with the China but they have less support of the voter in contrast to the Pro-democratic camp.
Though in the wake of the recent Issues and the conflict with the mainland China it seems that the promises that were made at the time of handover are just fading away. Recently China decided to take some bold steps as it decided to intrude and intervene in the political system practiced In the Hong Kong which seems to a crackdown by Mainland China against its opposition. These audacious step of China triggered the massive protest in the Hong Kong driving international attention and Condemnation. What prompted and highlighted the situation more was when China in 2020 passed a national security bill and implemented an extremely comprehensive definitions for crimes such as terrorism, subversion, secession, and collusion with external powers. This bill was said to be controversial as it was a strain for the Hong Kong to establish itself as a full democracy. China also further accelerated the situation by arresting many pro-democracy activist and lawmakers which were protesting against the bill. What factors lead China take such steps was when the political groups in Hong Kong became more radical and formed Anti-Beijing parties threating the China Position and its control over the Hong Kong? Student and youngster took the street to protest for the establishment of the political system that is more democratic in nature, starting to call themselves Hong Kong Nationals rather than identifying themselves as Chinese National. Several of these groups separated in 2020, as Beijing cracked down on political opposition. This all threaten the Chinese position and control over the Hong Kong and its political setup. These steps by Mainland China have hushed many Hong Kong citizens who was fighting for democracy and encouraged others to abandon their lifestyle and escape the city.
If we see the motivation of the China Communist Party after consolidating power was to ensure and invest on the stability, CCP does everything and take every measure they have to in order to preserve the Stability of the Country so for this purpose most of the spending by the party was for the stability that is on the police system, training centers and national defense system that ensure the preservance of stability internally. If we study the CCP history, the power tenure of Xi Jinxing was clearly marked with the same preservance of stability as well as consolidation of power. He did it by benefitting those who were loyal to his leadership for example the pro-business man group in Hong Kong or Pro establishment camp. He sidelined those who were in the opposition as he did with the Pro-democratic wing that were protesting in the Hong Kong. China while introducing the National Security bill right after the massive protest did fuel the situation but it is also clear that China was somehow successful in inflaming the nationalism among people and pitting it against those who ever criticizing in and out of the country. China used the coincidental and the inflamed nationalism for its own benefit. Xi Jinxing handling of situation by doing massive arrest and crack downs on the opposition clearly reflects that regardless CCP and the XI jinxing knowing that such move will prove to be disastrous either seen from the diplomatic, geopolitical of economic lenses still go for it. It shows that the leaders only cared about the political requirements and reinforce inner control ignoring the damages it can have on the geopolitical or the economic situation of the country. All over in the history it had been debated that one day Chinese leadership might implement an aggressive foreign policy or even go for a war just for the sake to distract the public and international attention from their domestic issues. Hong Kong offered that very opportunity that could benefit the Chinese leadership, but without the risks and costs of a war. So I must say the situation handled by the Xi Jinxing was merely motivation but the thirst for consolidating power over Hong Kong rather than benefitting either of the mainland China or Hong Kong.
This situation had also impacted the internal politics of the China both diplomatically as well as economically. Diplomatic in a sense that the world had witnessed the massive protest in Hong Kong and a little later China decided to implement the National security Bill just gathered the Attention of the supranational actors and countries. Due to the Pandemic and its origination from China, it was exposed to the world and all the things happening in China was keenly observed. In such a scenario taking such rigid steps brought the world Attention not in the favor of the Country. Admits the Pandemic as well as the crackdown many countries including USA start to reinvent their policies for China. It was a great chance for the Rivals of China to hit it where it hurts. As Hong Kong served as a great technological hub for the China, deteriorating situation and implementation of such broad definition of terrorism compel many business to close down or relocate themselves thus negatively impacting the already crumbling economy due to pandemic. For example the head office of New York Times announced its relocation to Seoul amidst the deteriorating situation in the Hong Kong. Other than that many technological firms relocated themselves as there were facing restriction and censorship in their activities from China. This happened due to the constant threat of arrest if they did not comply with the demands and the instruction given by the authorities. So Hong Kong issue and the handling of it by the Chinese Government did have many repercussion for the domestic politics of the China. If China keep following on this step and keep seeing Hong through thorough the Nationalist perspective it will Sabotage China Fight for freedom at the larger scale and Hong Kong will time to time rise up again to mold the domestic narrative build by the China and to break its monopoly, which will be a constant threat to China.
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