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China’s Forum Diplomacy in 2020: Agencies of Chinese Multilateralism

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The voices coming from African countries as well as the Middle East in support of China often tend to be ignored. Furthermore, some small pieces of the larger puzzle of Chinese diplomacy are also often under looked, both by scholars and mainstream media. One such area is China’s forum diplomacy with Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. These forums could be seen as agencies for China not only to gather south-south solidarity but also to build political capital from non-western sources. Bloomberg quotedthese forums as China’s fanfare. These forums are a new form of the Chinese approach to multilateralism. Chinese diplomacy has never followed a conventional pattern inside multilateral institutions, as bilateral relations are the main focus even within the realm of multilateral institutions. As Chris Alden and Ana Cristina Alvesargued “Regional forum diplomacy can be seen to be laying the foundation for a parallel international order, one in which Chinese interests hold sway.” These forums held high importance in China’s relationship with developing countries. In 2018, more countries were attending Xi Jinping’s China Africa Summit, than the UN General Assembly that held a few weeks later. Especially, since 2006 Beijing Summit of forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) also decided that political consultations between Chinese and African foreign ministers be held on the sidelines of UN General Assembly sessions held during the year after each Ministerial Conference. The feature has helped to create a bonding between these countries at the United Nations.  

Another such forum is China-Arab States Co-operation Forum (CASCF), the ninth ministerial meeting of which was happened on July 6th virtually. ExtraordinaryChina-Africa Solidarity Summit under the auspices of FOCAC also happened a month earlier. Holding of these forums even under a tight period of China-bashing means Chinese pre-planed diplomacy is still on run.  

CASCF is a formal dialogue initiative between China and the Arab League (AL) countries with 22 members. It was launched in a 2004 visit by then-President Hu Jintao to the Arab League headquarters in Egypt. Scholars like LinaBenabdallah has argued that CASCF tends to draw lower international attention than FOACAC, as it happened at ministerial level as contrary to the summit level of FOACAC.

The ninth ministerial conference of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum (CASCF) took place via video link on July 6, co-chaired by China’s State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Jordan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates AymanSafadi. Both sides adopted the Amman Declaration and an action plan for the forum to deepen cooperation and ties between China and Arab states.

Along with other declarations such as common development, mutual benefit, and win-win results, strive to jointly build a China-Arab community with a shared future in the new era, and make contributions to promoting the building of a community with a shared future for mankind. The joint declaration also stated an interesting point that was to foster a “new type of international relations” featuring mutual respect, fairness, justice, and mutually beneficial cooperation.

Which saws Beijing’s effort to draw out political capital from non-Western sources to counter the Western liberal international order.

China also promised to endorse reforms of the UN Security Council to increase the representativeness of developing countries including the Arab nations in the council.  

Arab and African countries perpetually think underrepresented in West lead multilateral institutions. China seems to offer a “democratic platform’’ which defies Western hegemony in multilateral institutions more particularly of the US. This gives China the leverage to indulge itself with these developing countries through the regional forums, which means more than just for economic engagement.   

In the recent Amman declaration like most of the joint declaration between China and the Arab world, the Arab world voiced their support for the one-China principle and hence, opposes Taiwan’s independence in any form and supports the National Security bill.

Arab League countries, along with some other African countries of FOCAC and other countries of developing world from Asia and Latin America such as Nepal, Pakistan, Myanmar, Cuba, Venezuela all together 53 countries have supported the National Security Law at the UN human rights council. Critics commented that only 27 “free” countries have criticized China over 53 “unfree or partially free” countries.

These are the same countries Ambassadors of which sent a joint letter to the President of the UN Human Rights Council and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, where they appreciated China’s contribution to International Human rights cause in late 2019.

Extraordinary China-Africa Summit On Solidarity Against COVID-19 was also held on 17th June. The virtual summit was a joint initiative between the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of South Africa in its capacity as the Chair of the African Union (AU), and the Republic of Senegal in its capacity as the Co-Chair of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). In his keynote President Xi stated that the summit is a concrete step to deliver the commitment that was made at the 2018 Beijing FOCAC Summit. China also promised to cancel the debt of relevant African countries in the form of interest-free government loans that are due to mature by the end of 2020 within the FOCAC framework. The next Forum for Cooperation between Africa and China will be held in 2021 in the Senegalese capital of Dakar.

FOCAC was established in the year 2000. Some Arab and African countries are members of both forums. These forums have a deep impact on China’s diplomacy towards African countries as a whole and it also influences peace and security processes in North African countries. These forums also have their sub forums like in the year 2018; there was a call for China-Africa Peace and Security Forum and China-Africa Law Enforcement and Security Forum.

Even though it is been argued that these forums are China’s effort to integrate with the Middle East for economic reasons, and the success of these forums has been questioned. As EmilianKavalski has argued regardless of these efforts, the conscious and constant manner of interaction with communities of states in the developing world does not necessarily guarantee success. Nevertheless, we cannot deny the effectiveness of these forums as components that challenges the Western idea of multilateralism and the comfort Middle Eastern and African governments perceive to share afore-mentioned platforms with China. 

Jayshree Borah is a PhD candidate at Shanghai International Studies University.

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Diplomacy

The Digital Diplomacy Revolution

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The way people communicate with one another has changed dramatically. The term “networked society” is used to describe how society has developed, where data is freely transmitted. Knowledge is obtained, contained, interpreted, controlled, and exchanged in almost entirely different ways than previously done. The use of technology, especially the internet and other ICT-based technologies, in the conduct of diplomacy is referred to as digital diplomacy. Covid-19 has ushered in a new age of digital diplomacy, also known as e-diplomacy. It has evolved as one of the instruments for advancing foreign policy. The days of strict government oversight are long gone. Information has a greater impact in today’s “networked” society because it can spread in a matter of seconds or minutes.

For many people, Twitter has been the go-to platform for modern diplomacy. We’ve seen how social media helped the Arab Spring revolution in countries like Tunisia, Yemen, and Egypt. The word “Twiplomacy” was coined to describe diplomacy conducted through Twitter. There are close to 300 Twitter accounts dedicated to heads of state. More recently, during the populist boom, we’ve seen how leaders like Modi and Trump’s Twitter presence aided their electoral performance. Not only governments but also non-state actors, such as terrorists, have used social media to further their goals.

The Rise of Digital Diplomacy

Between March 2020 and the end of 2020, the United Nations headquarters in Geneva hosted 1,200 important international conferences online. The UN has been able to continue its operations on the ground as a result of this. In terms of digital diplomacy, the United States now leads the way. Since 2003, the US State Department has had an e-diplomacy branch, but it was Hillary Clinton who brought it to a whole new dimension. She introduced “21st Century Statecraft,” in 2009, a program aimed at complementing conventional foreign policy techniques with statecraft technologies that completely harness the network and technologies of an interconnected world. The US State Department employs 150 full-time social media workers in the e-diplomacy office.

India’s Use of Social Media in Public Diplomacy

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) sent out its first tweet in 2010, managed by Ambassador Navdeep Suri, then joint secretary and head of the public diplomacy section. Many distressed Indians stuck abroad found Twitter to be a helpful crisis management tool, facilitating the safe evacuation of over 18,000 Indian people from Libya during the civil war in 2011. India aspires to be a trailblazer and is working hard to pave the way for itself to become a global leader. For a nation like India, social media allows for constructive communication about the country’s coming of age as a result of scientific progress, technical advancements, and new ideas advanced by initiatives like digital India. The government should take advantage and expand their public diplomacy agenda more engagingly. The government can intensify its initiatives – even on the foreign policy agenda – in a perfect digital diplomacy setting, and the public can have a more direct channel to communicate with their government. In the age of digital diplomacy, it is critical to address policy context relevant to a world where political views are developed based on knowledge from tweets and social media accounts. As, Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, put it: “The only thing that is constant is change”. Countries must take advantage of the latest digital diplomacy framework to develop the skills needed for the future and to create stable digital channels for future diplomats.

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Ramifications of The Pandemic In International Relations

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Ever since the global spread of the COVID-19 virus, claims have been made of the pandemic causing a massive impact in global politics and international relations. In the pre-pandemic era, international relations were defined by increasing bipolarity, greater isolationism, greater trade protectionism and increasing nationalism. While the West led by the US was gradually adopting a protectionist attitude, the East led by China in particular, was looking towards increasing multilateral cooperation. Alongside this, international organizations were seeing their roles diminishing. Moreover, populist leaders and authoritarian governments were gradually gathering influence globally, in stark contrast to a decline in democracy and neo-liberalism. These trends could be seen most clearly in the US/China conflict that has dominated most international relations rhetoric of the 21st century.

Although China had been hit with the pandemic first, through extreme lockdown measures, quick responses, mass screenings, targeted monitoring and an effective socio-political response, the country quickly reversed course and had flattened its curve by March, depicting the resilience of the country. With a mere 87,000 cases as of December 2020 in a country of 1.4 billion people, China’s effective policies to deal with the pandemic can hardly be sidelined. Nevertheless, as the virus had been identified in China first, this triggered a massive backlash from the West, particularly the US, where President Trump blasted China for covering-up details about the virus. Rumors were spread by the White House itself about the virus originating from a Wuhan lab, and the virus was labeled the Wuhan Virus – a move discouraged by the WHO. This inflammatory language worsened relations between the two countries. Going even further, President Trump terminated US involvement in the World Health Organization, claiming it to be controlled by Chinese authorities.

With this move the influence of the world’s most important health organization was weakened, further showcasing the decline of the liberal international world order, due to a diminishing trust in international organizations. Thus, the pre-Covid trend of a lack of trust in international organizations, continued during the COVID-19 pandemic as well. With Trump advocating for closed borders with his “We need the wall more than ever” expressions  on Twitter, and similar far-right leaders like France’s Le Pen ruing the “religion of borderless-ness” for the pandemic, the West’s protectionist, nationalistic ideas showed no signs of abating even during a global crisis.

In stark contrast, the East led by China continued on its path of greater cooperation and interdependence, through bilateral and multilateral engagements. With the US leaving a void in the global leadership spot for handling the pandemic, China stepped in and offered to assist other countries in handling the outbreaks in their respective countries. China’s foreign ministry’s spokesperson,  Hua Chunying, even stated that they would like to share China’s good practice and experience.

Furthering its charm offensive, China started shipping out masks and ventilators to countries that were very badly hit by the pandemic, like Italy, Spain and Serbia. With the countries of the European Union shutting down their borders and hoarding domestic supplies, despite Italy’s pleas for help, Italy turned to China for aid in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. This “mask diplomacy” along with China’s Health Silk Road has served to strengthen global public health governance, as envisioned by China.

Undeniably, the pandemic’s effects in the short-term have been wide-reaching, especially in the social and technological domain. However, expecting global politics and international relations to undergo a transformational change in the long-term, solely due to the COVID-19 pandemic is relatively far-fetched, especially if current global trends are assessed.

The virus may or may not have taken its toll on international diplomacy in the traditional context, but it has certainly shaken many things if not stirred them completely.

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Diplomatic Fiasco: PTI Government’s Failure on the Climate Diplomacy Front

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“Think about this: terrorism, epidemics, poverty, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction – all challenges that know no borders – the reality is that climate change ranks right up there with every single one of them”.– John F. Kerry

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and United Nations Security Council (UNSC) have both declared that unrestrained climate change poses a threat to international peace and security. Presently, climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity. We all will witness its impacts, making it a critical foreign policy and diplomatic issue. Climate change will overturn the 21st century world order and characterize how we live and work. Even so, in the midst  of a global pandemic, it is evident that climate change will be the major issue of this century. As countries will move toward rebuilding their economies after COVID-19, recovery plans will shape the 21st century economy in ways that are clean and green, safe and healthy, and more resilient. Over the last decade, foreign policymakers have taken measures to better understand climate risks. To date, foreign policy responses to climate change have primarily centered on the security repercussions of climate change.

To chart a fresh course ahead, in order to initiate a global fight against climate change, President Joe Biden welcomed a diverse set of leaders from around the globe to explicate the connections between climate security, climate change and broader foreign policy objectives. The list of invitee included world leaders like President Xi Jinping of China and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, PM Modi of India, Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh to attend the two-days meeting to mark Washington’s return to the visible lines of the fight against climate risks. Though, Pakistan have its place in the same region, and fifth-most vulnerable country to climate change, it has been disqualified from the summit. Likewise,  Biden dispatched his climate envoy, former secretary of state John Kerry, to prepare the ground for the summit in meetings with global leaders. The U.S. invited the leaders of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, which includes the 17 countries responsible for about 80-percent of global emissions and GDP, along with, heads of countries that are unambiguously vulnerable to climate impacts or are representing robust climate leadership.

The current global efforts towards mainstreaming of climate change in development policies and programs are getting more traction due to expanding avenues of domestic and international climate diplomacy. For developing countries, climate diplomacy is undoubtedly becoming a key incentive to integrate climate change issues into their foreign policy. Pakistan is also a relatively new player in the climate diplomacy arena with a nascent institutional setup. The climate diplomacy adaption experience of Pakistan is still at the embryonic stage. The main problem is the gradual decline in the aptitude and capacity of institution to develop a clear policy route. The policy decline is much more rapid under the PTI government. Pakistan’s ambassadorial clout has eroded over the years due to political unpredictability and economic timidity. Similarly, the government has failed even to built a national narrative on climate change issue. Imran Khan has been warning the world of catastrophe if the climate problem is not addressed, but has failed to come out with a clear policy direction on the issue.

Among the many challenges fronting the Imran Khan government will be tackling the notoriously dysfunctional U.S. – Pakistan relationship. The Biden presidency has designated climate change as a critical theme of its foreign policy, and indeed aware of Pakistan’s deep climate vulnerability. For the first time since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Pakistan is not a foreign policy priority for U.S. administration. Many high-ranking Biden government officials, including climate change envoy John Kerry, know Pakistan well. When Kerry was Obama’s secretary of state, co-chaired US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue that counted renewable energy. Anybody familiar with how Islamabad and Washington have interacted over the last 74 years will resort to weary metaphors: a roller-coaster ride, the dynamic between an overbearing mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Biden and his experienced team of ex-Obama administration officials are likely to press Pakistan – for Islamabad, it is a catch-22 situation. In the indigenous context, internal political strife in Pakistan and economic dependency on other countries have raised questions about our ability to effectively fight our case in international arena. The latest diplomatic fiasco speaks very loud and clear about the government’s inability to deal with fast-changing geopolitics. Washington’s broader interests in Asia, including relationships with China and India, will determine its policy at the Leaders’ Summit on Climate. It seems, Pakistan has no friends in the Biden administration. Thus, out-of-the-box thinking is required for Pakistan’s foreign policy decision makers.

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