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“Silk” geopolitics as a new phenomena of XXI century

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Today, more than 60 countriesof the world have seen in practice that the implementation of the Chinese Belt and Road initiative (BRI) contributes to the economic prosperity of the countries along the ancient Great Silk Road and economic cooperation in the region; exchange and contacts between different civilizations; and the peaceful development of processes that are taking place in Eurasia. It also became clear that the project has not only economic, but also cultural, and sometimes military – political significance.

It should be noted that there are several main foreign policy strategies of the BRI:

Construction of transport highways. The BRI project involves the construction of new roads (not just the improvement of existing highways). New roads are being built using innovative technologies. Today, China has innovative technologies for building high-speed highways, due to which it was able to make a significant breakthrough and achieve world leadership in this field. According to 2014 data, 111.9 thousand km of high-speed motorways and 16 thousand km of high-speed railways have already been built on the territory of China. Thus, the successful construction of high-speed highways has reached the level of export output.

The construction of transport highways, in turn, entails the development of infrastructure. Thus, new development centers are emerging along the new expressways, the logistics network is expanding, tourist routes are being developed, and many new jobs have been created. This, in turn, contributes to the development of the regional economy as a whole.

Transport and infrastructure development leads to the increasing trade. Thus, the BRI connects various countries of Eurasia, as well as opens new trade channels.

The development of mutual trade through the use of national currencies leads to stability in the currency policy.

One of the conditions for the country’s participation in the BRI is to comply with the main condition – political stability and guarantees of public security. Thus, the new Silk Road can be a guarantee of stability and security in the regions.

BRI also leads to the development of cultural exchange of Eurasian countries and peoples with each other. Achieving a common goal can contribute to the cultural exchange of the participating countries, and can also bring together and unite the Eurasian peoples.

Thus, responding to the global trends of globalization, based on the principle of mutual benefit and having a far-sighted perspective, the Chinese BRI project has a number of foreign policy strategic advantages that can contribute to the consolidation of the countries of the Eurasian region and the disclosure of their economic potential.

However, speaking about the strategic significance of the land and maritime Silk corridors, it cannot be omitted their military – political and geopolitical nature. Thus, in order to secure oil imports from the Middle East to China, Beijing is forced to simultaneously create several international transport Silk corridors. Since Iran is the main supplier of oil to the PRC, Maritime oil delivery communications have become of strategic importance for Beijing. In the logistics chain, the most vulnerable point is a relatively narrow one (up to 2 – 3 km) is the Strait of Malacca, in which the United States attaches exceptional importance to controlling this communication and possibly blocking the Strait. The US Navy is many times superior to the Chinese Maritime forces, and bilateral military alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, and Thailand allow to effective control of Maritime routes in the PRC. Beijing, in turn, together with the construction of the BRI Southern corridor, is deploying military bases and electronic intelligence facilities in friendly Southeast Asian countries (Myanmar, Cambodia) and ensuring the political sovereignty of Myanmar, which has large reserves of energy raw materials. Today the PRC is considering an additional possibility of building a shipping channel across the Isthmus of Kra (Thai Khokhok Kra) in Thailand bypassing the Strait of Malacca.

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It should be noted that the Maritime Silk transport corridor is being created from the Chinese province of Xinjiang to the Indian ocean, acting as a guarantor of Pakistan’s security. With financial assistance from Beijing, a modern deep-water port of Gwadar is being built on the Makran Coast of Baluchistan (Pakistan). This ambitious project aims to create a new economic center of the Middle East similar to the Arab Dubai (see Fig.2). The deployment of the Chinese naval base and electronic intelligence station in Gwadar will ensure the security of oil imports from Iran, the main foreign supplier of energy raw materials to China, and control the transportation of oil from the Persian Gulf to India. Given the vulnerability of China’s Maritime communications with the Middle East, Beijing, as part of the BRI project, plans to build oil and gas pipelines from the Arabian sea coast to China’s Xinjiang to provide imports bypassing the Strait of Malacca, as well as to continue the high-altitude Karakoram highway to the port of Gwadar. In this regard, the Chinese are seeking to acquire a chain of naval bases in friendly countries of South – East and South Asia. For example, the PRC has managed to reach agreement on the deployment of such bases in Myanmar (where a network of Chinese radar posts already operates) and Pakistan (in the port of Gwadar, where a Chinese electronic intelligence station is deployed), and negotiations are underway with Thailand, Cambodia and Bangladesh.

Given the political and geopolitical nature of the project, it should be noted that it is consistent with the logic of the classical geopolitical formula: “Whoever owns Eurasia owns the world”. Knowing this geopolitical axiom, Beijing at the beginning of the XXI century decided to initiate a new integration project in Eurasia.

According to the long-standing tradition of the “Chinese box” (foreign policy strategies “string of pearls”[1], “blue water”[2], etc.), the main geopolitical goal of the Chinese project is gradually revealed to the outside world. Thus, Beijing is supposed to gradually open its intermediate foreign policy and economic tasks in order to finally achieve the General goal. Speaking about the final goal, it should be understood that the BRI project will unite a Large Eurasian multidimensional space, including the PRC, Central Asia, Eastern and Western Europe, out of a population of 3 billion. people (more than 40% of the World’s population) with a huge consumer market. The world’s longest economic corridor has a huge potential for regional development and interaction. BRI has rich energy, mineral, tourist, cultural and agricultural resources. A multidimensional innovative model of regional cooperation will allow the countries of Eurasia to expand the geo-economic space for their development by forming the following directions (corridors):

1. transport corridor,

2. energy corridor,

3. trade corridor,

4. the information corridor,

5. scientific and technical cooperation,

6. agricultural development,

7. development of the cultural sector

8. increasing educational and career opportunities,

9. tourism development,

10. security and political interaction.

Thus, the BRI, along with the revival of the Maritime Silk Rad and the international economic corridors “Bangladesh – China – India – Myanmar”, “China – Pakistan (Baluchistan)”, “China – Tajikistan – Iran”, and the creation of port outposts in South – Eastern Europe, indicates the intention of the PRC to take soft “economic” control of the entire Eurasia (see Fig.1). In fact, for the first time, the outlines of the Chinese geopolitical Eurasian project have been outlined, which will have to be considered by both EU strategists and Russian intentions to create the Eurasian economic Union and American ambitions in Eurasia.

fig.2

The Chinese “Silk project” serves as a bridge between the Asia – Pacific economic ring and the European economic ring, and will contribute to the development of the Western regions of China. According to analysts, the foundation of this initiative in Beijing is the implementation of five tasks (“connections”):

  1. strengthening of political and economic ties, balanced development of the West and the East, including at the level of regional cooperation;
  2. strengthening of communication links in Eurasia, creating a transport corridor from the Pacific ocean to the Baltic sea and creating a transport network connecting East, West and South Asia;
  3. ensure uninterrupted trade and simplify trade and investment activities, strengthen trade relations and economic cooperation with Central, West and South Asia;
  4. strengthening of monetary circulation based on settlements in national currencies and increasing the international economic competitiveness of regions;
  5. expanding the openness of the People’s Republic of China to Eurasia and bringing Nations closer together on the basis of activating and strengthening friendship between peoples.

Thus, BRI, which is based on a multidimensional approach (“five connections”), will promote mutually beneficial international cooperation. In this regard, in contrast to the US, which relied on the path of the world hegemon for neoliberal globalization, China in its foreign policy has taken a course towards regionalization of international economic relations.

The ambitious concept of the BRI has given impetus to the development of infrastructure projects around the world. This concept provides for the development of economic cooperation on the continent through the construction of transport infrastructure. Increasing its effectiveness, together with the removal of trade barriers, should lead to an increase in the volume of mutual trade in the region, as well as increase the role of national currencies, especially the Chinese yuan in mutual economic operations. In addition, the implementation of infrastructure projects should give an impetus to the development of sparsely populated and economically lagging inner provinces of the PRC, Inner Mongolia in the Xinjiang.

Thus, the BRI is not only a geopolitical and geo-economic project of Beijing, but also a multipolar and open cooperation process. It is based on Chinese regionalism, the production of not another regional Union and hegemony with elements of closeness and conservatism, but a process of gradual progress based on economic interaction, versatile cooperation and consultation, mutual respect and tolerance.

This initiative should be viewed from several perspectives. First, this is a whole scattering of infrastructure projects. Some of them are already being implemented, and even more are in the plans for the near future. And it is not just about expanding the geography of Chinese activity in the world. If the current initiatives are successful, China will be able to play a system – forming role throughout Eurasia.

So far, BRI – related projects are mainly concentrated in South – East and South Asia, in the traditional area of Chinese foreign policy. But in the future, the mainstay of the Chinese initiative will be transport corridors leading from China to Europe.

Chinese economic investment policy is expanding as well. Thus, the total investment within the “One belt, One road” is estimated at a huge amount: from 2 up to 7 trillion dollars. China is investing about $12.5 billion in creating a transport hub based on the port of Gwadar in Pakistan and linking this port by rail and road with North – Eastern China. Another $5.5 billion in China and Chinese private investors will allocate for the construction of the Boten – Vientiane railway in Laos. But there are also investments that are not directly related to transport infrastructure. In 2016 it was mentioned that Chinese investment in countries that have joined the initiative amounted to about $50 billion and that in the coming years, Beijing plans to triple this amount.

China’s long-term infrastructure investments require a completely different approach to investment protection. China will not be content with being an important trading partner. Thus, it was noted that Beijing needs “shares” in regional political projects, participation in solving international security problems, and levers of influence on the political situation in partner countries. Without guarantees of consistency in the policy of countries – participants, China will not risk billions.

China is already creating new and strengthening existing mechanisms of political dialogue throughout the BRI space: with ASEAN, with Russia, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Vietnam, CEE countries and others.

China’s interest in domestic political processes in the Eurasian countries is becoming more and more noticeable: new, long-term interests will force Beijing to play the same role in the capitals of its partners as, for example, the United States do, and use the same techniques and tools (lobbying, grants, “soft power” and hard political pressure).

In order to successfully implement the tasks set, China will have to revise some of the ancient principles of its foreign policy. Thus, the BRI involves the creation of dozens of new diplomatic formats, the signing of hundreds of deals, and the conclusion of thousands of explicit and secret agreements. All these steps will change the political situation in Eurasia. Therefore, the policy of implementing the initiative will finally confirm that China is a global player, active and independent.

It should be noted that the modern Chinese leadership finally breaks with the tactical move made at the beginning of Deng Xiaoping’s reforms: to focus on internal reforms, not to get involved in foreign policy adventures, not to indulge great – power ambitions.

For the doctrine of the “Chinese dream”, proclaimed by Xi Jinping in 2012 immediately after he came to power, converting the success of reforms into proper international status is a goal as important as continuing economic growth or fighting the country’s property stratification.

Another important shift in Chinese policy was the absence of representatives from India at the“One Belt, One Road” Beijing summit. In Delhi, there are many reasons to fear Chinese activity, but perhaps the most significant is related to the construction of the Karakoram highway.

This section of the Pakistan transport corridor runs through the territory of Kashmir. India continues to consider Kashmir its own – and despite this, China has decided to make significant investments in the disputed territories. This may indicate a revision of the PRC’s position on national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Until recently, Beijing was categorical – any interference in the Affairs of a sovereign state, which is carried out outside the framework of the UN Charters, is unacceptable. It cannot be justified by anything, not even by a humanitarian catastrophe or systematic violations of human rights.

It seems that this doctrine is also changing, and China will become more flexible: to protect the sovereignty of third countries when it is profitable, or to recognize border changes when Chinese interests require it. In the future, this may be a dangerous signal for some countries.

Assessing the scale of the initiative, some experts noted that China has begun to move to the West. This is absolutely true in geographical terms – the project set the vector for Chinese expansion in the coming decades, and it includes not only the whole of Asia, but also Europe.

However, China’s rapprochement with the West as a political phenomenon is not worth talking about. The current project is almost more political than economic. Its success guarantees China’s place as a key center of power in the modern world. But in order to succeed, Beijing will need to maintain the maximum autonomy of its policy – that is, to build and implement its own global order of the day, in opposition to the West.

“The debt trap for CEE” is what many EU leaders call the BRI. In practice, in recent years, the European Union has tried to limit China’s presence on its territory and counter its influence. Thus, in 2017, the EU launched an investigation in connection with the construction of a high-speed railway between Belgrade and Budapest. Officials concluded that the plan, which will stretch BRI into the heart of Europe, violates EU rules on public tenders for major transport projects. As ForeignPolicy noted in turn, experts warned that another Chinese project – the construction of a high-speed highway in Montenegro – could increase its debt to a volume that could result in severe consequences for such a small country.

In the fall of 2018, the EU unveiled a plan to compete with the BRI and limit China’s influence. This strategy for connecting Europe and Asia should improve the way the two regions interact, while paying a lot of attention to environmental and social norms, taking care that the participating countries do not get caught up in debts that they will not be able to pay.

Soon, the 2019 Munich security conference struck a balance in what one of the meeting’s reports described as China’s “debt trap diplomacy” (Montenegro owes China the equivalent of 80 percent of its GDP. China accounts for 20 % of Macedonia’s external debt, while B&H accounts for 14 % and Serbia for 12 %).

At the same time, it should be noted that according to a number of European analysts, China’s economic expansion may indeed be a political risk both at the EU level and in individual member States. However, the current European debate about China’s economic presence in Central and Eastern Europe contains a number of inaccuracies that make it difficult to assess the scale of the phenomenon and its political consequences. One of the main problems is the lack of accurate information about the nature of China’s participation in financing infrastructure projects in Central and Eastern Europe.

World experts also mention the “dark side of Chinese investment”. Thus, investments in a vast network of harbors around the world have made Chinese port operators world leaders. Chinese companies carry more cargo than companies from any other country. Five of the world’s 10 largest container ports are located in China, and one in Hong Kong. Its coast guard owns the largest law enforcement fleet in the world, its Navy is the fastest growing among the great powers, and its fishing Armada numbers about 200,000 naval vessels. In strategic and military terms, China’s investment policy within the BRI has led to the replication of the example of Gwadar, where Beijing used its commercial knowledge and financial muscle to secure ownership of a strategic trade base and then use it in military operations. Similar scenario was replicated in other key locations : in Sri Lanka, Greece, and Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, Chinese investment in commercial ports was followed by deployment or visits by ships of the PLA fleet, and in some cases the announcement of a longer term deployment of military contingents.

Not only the world’s largest ports have attracted Chinese investment. A dozen small harbors – some located in key strategic locations such as Djibouti, Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Darwin in Australia, Madai island in Myanmar, and projected ports on the Islands of Sao Tome and Principe in the Atlantic ocean and Walvis Bay in Namibia – also have developed investments or intentions to build a Chinese port.

Investment policy in most cases has its own consequences. Thus, the financial power at China’s disposal can make its requests fail-safe. Sri Lanka and Greece are examples. In Sri Lanka, President Maithripala Sirisena, shortly after he came to power in 2015, suspended a $ 1.4 billion “port city” project in Colombo that was being built by Chinese companies. M. Sirisena was concerned about China’s growing influence after two unscheduled visits in late 2014 by a submarine and a Chinese Navy warship to a Colombo container terminal owned by a Chinese state-owned company.

In Greece, China’s acquisition of a controlling stake in Piraeus, one of Europe’s largest ports, also signaled a merger of commercial and strategic programs. When A.Tsipras, the country’s Prime Minister, hosted a Chinese warship and naval command in Piraeus in early 2015, Chinese state publications quoted him as saying that he supported the sale of the port to China. Less than a year later it was sold for 420 million dollars.

It is true and it is worth understanding that the Chinese initiative can be used as a unique opportunity to overcome the economic backwardness of many countries and poorly developed regions of the world. China offers an alternative model of economic development for countries in Asia, Africa, South America, and Central and Eastern Europe. Economic and infrastructural development may be the most important opportunity that can be used in both Asia and Europe, as well as in Africa.

But it is also true that the BRI project is undoubtedly a globalizing one, but it is Chinese globalization, which may be as far from the West as the Chinese Communist project.

Thus, it should be noted that the construction of BRI is a big project that requires step-by-step implementation. Today, official Beijing calls on all countries to unite and move together towards results that will be positive for the peoples of the world. However, it should also be remembered that along with big changes always come consequences, and the question of whether all countries are ready to deal with them will not lose its relevance until the Chinese investments begins to bring profit to all participants of the initiative simultaneously.


[1]The concept of string of pearlswas proposed by Christopher Person, a Lieutenant Colonel in the us air force, later a Pentagon analyst. In January 2005 it was first used in a report for the US military prepared by the expert company Booz – Allen Hamilton. It specifically demonstrated to the world the growing influence of China in South-East and South Asia and the Indian ocean through the appearance on the map of such points in its strategic Arsenal as Hainan island, Woody Islands near the Vietnamese coast, Chittagong (Bangladesh), Sittwe and Coco Islands (Myanmar), Hambantota (Sri Lanka), Gwadar (Pakistan), Seychelles archipelago, etc.

For China, this strategy is primarily aimed at protecting its oil flows, establishing the country as a global Maritime power with diverse interests around the world, and overcoming US attempts to block access to China or its access to the world’s oceans.

[2]The concept of blue waters is defined by China’s access to the world’s oceanic expanses. Along with the old land route, there is a Maritime silk road that stretches from China through South Asia and the Indian ocean to Africa, and through the Red sea and the middle East to the Mediterranean sea and Europe. This also includes South America and the future passage through the Arctic.

Dr. Maria Smotrytska is a senior research sinologist and International Politics specialist of the Ukrainian Association of Sinologists. She is currently the Research Fellow at International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES), Department for Strategic Studies on Asia. PhD in International politics, Central China Normal University (Wuhan, Hubei province, PR China) Contact information : officer[at]ifimes.org SmotrM_S[at]mail.ru

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Russia and the end of North Korea’s Tong-mi bong-nam strategy

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North Korea’s decades old strategy of ‘Tong-mi bong-nam’ (Engage the United States, Block South Korea) and its rare variant ( ‘Tong-nam bong-mi’ or Engage South Korea, Block the US) of breaking the Washington-Seoul axis by alternatively cooperating with one in order to isolate the other so as to manoeuvre its way through it has seen a shift recently as Pyongyang moves closer to Russia.

Tensions have been high on the Korean Peninsula since the election of the conservative President Yoon Seok-youl, who has adopted a “Kill Chain” strategy to preemptively target the Kim regime in the face of an imminent nuclear threat. Cooperation has been restricted to calls for reunion of families across the border along with disarmament linked “audacious”  economic aid in order to denuclearise Pyongyang, which stands at the cusp of its worst economic crisis post the pandemic. However, surprisingly, North Korea has not only rejected the offer but has declared itself a nuclear state by adopting a law which rules out the possibility of denuclearisation by allowing Pyongyang to conduct preemptive strikes to protect itself. With a possible nuclear test on the cards, the Russian hand behind such bold moves cannot be overlooked.

Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has emboldened North Korea in more ways than one: it has not only challenged the invincibility of the Western powers whom Pyongyang defines as “hostile” but has also created demands for North Korean weaponry for a sanction pressed Russia to continue the war, promising to fill Pyongyang’s coffers with much needed foreign reserves. While North Korea has denied these claims, its increased proximity with Moscow is too conspicuous to gloss over. The most significant consequence however has been a change in North Korea’s policy towards Seoul and Washington.

Efficiently using it to challenge Seoul’s participation in any peace negotiations since the Korean Armistice Agreement of 1953, the strategy of Tong-mi bong-nam was employed again in 1994 when faced with recurrent famines and massive food shortages, Pyongyang agreed to denuclearise under the Agreed Framework and eventually normalise its relationship with the US. The idea was to extract economic aid while isolating Seoul after tensions soared over the latter not sending official condolences on Kim il-Sung’s death. 

The strategy was reversed in South’s favour  when relations with Washington soured after it imposed a fresh series of sanctions against Pyongyang’s nuclear proliferation programme in April 1998 and North Korea positively responded to Kim Dae-Jung’s Sunshine Policy which resulted in the historic June 15 summit of 2000, where the  the leaders of the two Koreas met for the first time post the division in 1945. President Bush’s “Axis of Evil” comment further worsened US-North Korean ties which led Pyongyang to not only break off contacts with both the US and South Korea but also withdraw from the NPT in January 2003. Although South Korean efforts and North Korea’s mounting economic crisis  succeeded in bringing Pyongyang to the Six Party Talks where Seoul argued that North’s security concerns be taken into account before pushing for denuclearisation, Washington’s rigid stance that North Korea denuclearises first  resulted in a stalemate. Pyongyang conducted its first nuclear test in 2006 inviting more stringent sanctions and eventually withdrew from the Six Party talks in 2009. After successive conservative governments which favoured a hard stance towards North Korea virtually stalled negotiations, President Moon Jae-in’s friendly approach resulted in a major breakthrough in Inter-Korean relations in the form of the 2018 Panmunjom Declaration which called for phased disarmament, at a time when Pyongyang’s economy was at its lowest in the past two decades and tensions with the Trump administration soared high. The breakdown of the 2019 Hanoi Summit between North Korea and the US finally ended cooperation.

The above cases illustrate how efficiently North Korea has used Tong-mi bong-nam as a manoeuvring tool where negotiations were undertaken only during times of economic crisis while nuclear proliferation continued to remain a priority to achieve  reunification of the peninsula in a way favourable to Pyongyang. Moreover, Kim Jong-un has learnt from the case of Gadaffi’s Libya that engaging the West in denuclearisation would only provide limited respite while possession of nuclear weapons not only creates a strong deterrence against attacks by much powerful adversaries but also fuels nuclear nationalism thus reproducing regime legitimacy even at its weakest moments. Hence, he has nipped all chances of achieving complete denuclearisation in the bud. While China has so far played a major role in moderating Pyongyang’s aggression by prioritising regional stability considering its own geopolitical and economic interests over countering the US; Russia’s bold violation of UNSC sanctions by not only trading with Pyongyang but also demonstrating active interest in  employing North Korean workers and labelling the bilateral relationship as being of “mutual interest” speaks volumes about the greater latitude it is willing to provide its anti-American ally in pressing forward with its agenda.

Though Tong-mi bong-nam has served North Korea’s interests by aiding it in extracting economic benefits while dodging commitments over complete denuclearisation, it has simultaneously acted as the only window for Seoul and Washington to negotiate with Pyongyang. As its raison d’être, namely North’s economic and diplomatic isolation, wanes with Moscow’s support; the hope for denuclearisation might be lost forever specifically as the US and South Korea continue to  seek “overwhelming” military response to resolve the crisis which might lead to unimaginably dangerous consequences. The need of the hour is to multilaterally engage with both Russia and North Korea on disarmament and lift sanctions in a phased manner while ensuring that the two abide by their commitments.

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The SCO seeks for a new role in the post-Ukrainian crisis world

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During the Samarkand summit which was held during September 15-16, the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) signed the landmark Samarkand Declaration, advanced Iran’s accession, start the process for Belarus to become a full member, while approving Bahrain, Maldives, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Myanmar as dialogue partners. Additionally, the SCO issued groundbreaking statements and documents, marking the first time that member states have jointly spoken out on emerging issues, such as climate change, supply chain security and international energy security. All of these progresses verify that the SCO has come of the age over the past two decades. There is no question that the SCO is now the largest regional cooperation organization in the world. Over half of the world’s population lives in its member states, accounting for about 25% of the global GDP—and those states have a powerful intellectual and technological potential and a considerable part of the global natural resources.

As one of the two leading drivers of the SCO, Russia has played the tremendous role in its development and solidarity of all member states in principle and in reality as well. This year, despite the Ukrainian war drags on for over 200 days, Russia still acted influentially to promote Iran’s “earliest possible accession” to the SCO legally and Belarus’s beginning the accession process. As President Putin said during the summit, “There are many more countries that seek membership in or association with the SCO. All are welcomed because the SCO is a “non-bloc association and rather working with the whole world.” It is also true that in a very complicated international situation, the SCO is not “marking time,” but rather continuing to develop and build its role in addressing international and regional issues—maintaining peace and stability “throughout the vast Eurasian space.”

Echoing the coming changes in global politics and the economy which are about to undergo fundamental and irreversible changes, it is obvious that there are new “centers of power” emerging, and the interaction among them is inclusively based on universally recognized principles of the rule of international law and the UN Charter, namely, equal and indivisible security and respect for each other’s sovereignty, national values and interests. Given this, this article aims to argue what role the SCO would be able to play in the next twenty years?

The SCO holds tremendous potential for the future of international community and particularly in the fields of ensuring energy security and food security. Accordingly, the latest joint statement proposes to avoid excessive fluctuations in the prices of international bulk commodities in the energy sector, ensure the safety and stability of international food and energy resources’ transportation channels, and to smooth the international production and supply chain. To insure these ends, the statement also underlines adherence to the principle of technology neutrality as it is the key to encourage the research and application of various clean and low-carbon energy technologies. Given this, the Samarkand summit is a milestone both in the development of the SCO and building of a SCO community with shared future. Accordingly, the SCO will adhere to the principle of not targeting third parties as the Final Declaration states that the SCO seeks to ensure peace, security and stability. In reality, SCO members intend to jointly further develop cooperation in politics and security, trade, economy, finance and investments, cultural and humanitarian relations “in order to build a peaceful, safe, prosperous and environmentally friendly planet Earth.”

In the overall terms, China has played the significant role in joint promoting of the SCO as Russia admitted that in unison with the Chinese side, the existence of a unipolar world is impossible. Moscow and Beijing have agreed that it’s an impossible situation when the wealthy West is claiming the right to invent rules in economy, in politics and the right to impose its will on other countries. The foundation of the unipolar system has started to seriously creak and wobble. A new reality is emerging. Now it is more apparent that the obsolete unipolar model is being superseded by a new world order based on the fundamental principles of justice, equality, and the recognition of the right of each nation and state to its sovereign path of development. Put it more precisely, strong political and economic centers acting as a driving force of this irreversible process are being shaped in the Asia Pacific region.

Echoing the consensus among the SCO member states and their partners in the Eurasian domain, President Xi spoke at the summit that the successful experience of the SCO has been based on political trust, win-win cooperation, equality between nations, openness and inclusiveness, and equity and justice. They are not only the source of strength for the development of the SCO but also the fundamental guide that must be followed strictly in the years to come. Given that under the volatile world, the SCO, as an important constructive force in international and regional affairs, should keep itself well-positioned in the face of changing international dynamics, constantly enhance strategic independence, consolidate and deepen solidarity and cooperation, and build a closer SCO community with a shared future.

More specifically, China has not only presented the Global Development Initiative and the Global Security Initiative, but also carried out the initiatives with real actions. In addition, the SCO greets the new round of the largest expansion of the SCO membership has consolidated its status and influence as the most populous regional cooperation organization with the vastest territory in the world. The expansion fully demonstrates that the SCO is not a closed and exclusive “small clique” but an open, inclusive “big family”. As a new type of international organization comprising 26 countries, the SCO is increasingly showing strong vitality and bright prospects for development including that it will inject new impetus into peace and prosperity in Eurasia and beyond and play an exemplary role in building a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind.

In sum, the SCO has gained greater significance with the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine, where an economically weaker Russia is turning to East in general and China in particular as Beijing and Moscow vow to be a partner with no limits and leading coordination over the SCO. In addition, the comprehensive strategic partnership of China and Russia covers a bilateral agenda, multilateral trade and economic cooperation and shared security concerns of all concerned. In the face of outrageous Western sanctions, the SCO demonstrates stability, continues to develop progressively, and gains momentum. China is sure to play the constructive role of promoting their business to the global level, including strengthening the basis of economic cooperation among SCO member states, allowing the launch of free economic zones, and implementing large-scale infrastructure projects globally.

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Factionalism in the Chinese Communist Party: From Mao to Now

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With the crucial 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) set to commence on October 16, here’s a look at the different factions that have historically existed within the Party, otherwise considered a highly centralised and monolithic organisation.

Democratic Centralism

Described by Lenin as “freedom of discussion, unity of action”, Democratic Centralism is a Marxist-Leninist theoretical concept which attempts to strike a balance between inner Party democracy and organisational unity as an assurance that decisions could be efficiently made without stifling ideological struggles within the Party which emerge in the form of dissent. It was first specifically adopted as the organising principle of a Marxist party in the Soviet Union by both Bolshevik and Menshevik factions of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP)  at their separate conferences in 1905 and was unanimously adopted at the Party Unity Congress in 1906. Initially seen to be compatible with the existence of factions, a more rigid idea of Democratic Centralism was adopted at the 10th Party Congress in 1921 when all factions were outlawed in the name of Party unity. While the intention was not to wipe out the democratic discourse altogether, ‘monolithic unity’ vertically imposed by the late 1920s supplanted all free debate.

The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) at its 17th Congress in 1934  defined the four cardinal points of Democratic Centralism as follows:

election of all leading bodies of the Party; their periodic accountability to their respective organisations; strict party discipline &  the subordination of the minority to the majority and decisions of higher bodies to be absolutely binding on lower bodies and on party members.

 In other words, free debate and discussion would be allowed to exist within the ranks of the Party till a decision is taken by the higher body after which it must be faithfully followed and implemented by all lower ranks in the name of Party discipline  without any collective attempts to block the decision. Factionalism thus, came to be seen as a serious offense of sabotaging Party unity. The Third Communist International (1919-43) called for  Democratic Centralism to be strictly implemented by all fellow Communist parties across the world which continued even after its dissolution in 1943.

The Chinese Communist Party, through the  slogan ‘Centralism based on Democracy and Democracy Under Centralist Guidance’ (《民主基础上的集中,集中知道下的民主》), describes its role as focused on the inclusion of popular opinion which is considered  extremely important not just for the successful implementation of its policies but also as the raison d’être of its rule however concurrently, it considers them too vague to be implemented as they exist. The CCP thus sees itself as the central sieve through which mass opinions would be filtered off their vagueness and effective policies could be formulated as it is considered to be in best possession of both the knowledge of Marxism-Leninism and interests of the masses. Party cadres would go to the masses and raise their demands at the Party meetings followed by a debate, also known as the Mass Line approach. Once the decision is taken, there would be no further discussion and the cadres would faithfully implement the policies among the populace with iron discipline.

After a brief period of decentralisation post the 1978 Reform and Opening up, Centralism was reintroduced following the Tiananmen Square Movement of 1989 and more so after the fall of the USSR in 1991 in order to avert a possible legitimacy crisis. Since then streams of Centralism and Democracy have alternatively dominated leadership views. In his speech at the 17th Party Congress, Hu Jintao emphasised on the need to strengthen intra Party democracy as a part of Democratic Centralism. In contrast, Xi Jinping in 2016 emphasised on the need to integrate centralisation on a democratic basis while urging the members to display “pure and utmost” loyalty to the Party.

Guanxi (关系)

Though Articles 3(5) and  10 of the CCP Constitution  prohibit factionalism within the Party in the name of Democratic Centralism, interest groups nevertheless exist through informal networks based on  personal ties called Guanxi (关系). Guanxi has its roots in the Confucian tradition which emphasises on the feeling of belongingness among members of a family or an organisation. Such a  nexus functions in a reciprocal way where the followers look for career security and advancement under the protection of a senior leader who ensures their interests are served in the upper rungs in exchange for their support, for instance, Hu Jintao was known to have led a group of his comrades from his Communist Youth League (CYL) days  called Tuanpai (团派) in his entourage. While in itself testifying the presence of factionalism, this relationship often results in emergence of factions due to its unstable nature. All chosen successors to the General Secretary in the Party’s history have been purged by their own patrons (Mao and Deng) with the sole exception of Deng Xiaoping’s protégé, Jiang Zemin. Inconsistent leadership decision making, with opinions swinging between “Left adventurism” and “Right opportunism” under Mao and “Emancipation of Mind” and “Socialist Spiritual Civilisation” under Deng too has given rise to interest groups within the Party.

Other features of China’s political system which give rise to factionalism include  power entrusted to individual leaders in a hierarchical context; the monopoly of the Communist Party over all legal channels of expression of diverse interests; absence of a formal structure of decision making and interference of the military in politics.

Factions at a glance

The origins of Guanxi networks can be traced back to Shantou (山头)or “mountain top” alliances which date back to the Party’s early days. Facing a hostile Nationalist Party (国民党) and Japanese forces, the CCP was nurtured in independent and isolated rural basecamps which were often located in rugged hilly terrain. Thus, each Shantou became a locus of its leader’s power.  The hostile and dangerous conditions necessitated a close bond between leaders and their followers which fragmented member’s loyalty towards the CCP as a Party as the primary allegiance was paid to the leader and not to the organisation.

Though Mao in his On Contradiction (1937) defined intra Party differences and discussions as a symbol of its vitality and liveliness, he was very strict about expression of dissent outside the Party apparatus which was seen as an attempt to break away from the Party and resulted almost always in purges. Even as Mao successfully established his line of thought as the single ideological core of the Party during the Yenan Rectification Campaign of 1942, ground realities built conditions for the existence of factions which continued as external channels of communication among political associates, outlets of their diverse interests and command system of their forces. Informal Factionalism continued to drive the Party’s inner politics even after the victory in the Civil War in 1949. While Mao could establish himself as the Chairman, his sole legitimacy to rule still faced challenges since all his associates had comparable experience and contribution to enlist. As a result, though working under Mao, leaders such as Zhou Enlai and Peng Dehuai continued to remain influential in a system where they were not expected to do so. Cautious of not upsetting Mao,these leaders often collaborated amongst themselves to weather any crisis which Mao read as a threat to his own power and hence, he launched the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) as an anti-organisation movement so as to tie all strands of loyalty to himself and not the Party where other leaders still exercised influence.

Interestingly, a penchant for a similar policy did not always translate into unity among members, the classic example being the fallout between Liu Shaoqi and Mao Zedong who did not just share policy preferences on most issues but had also joined the Party at the same time and worked together. Similarly, both Lin Biao and the Gang of Four (四人帮) were on the same page in the trajectory of the revolution but it was the power struggle amongst them which ultimately led to Lin’s fall. During Deng’s regime, Chen Yun and Peng Zhen’s shared conservativeness did not prevent Chen from blocking Peng’s path to the Politburo Standing Committee. Both Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang were reform minded but Zhao held his silence when Hu was ousted. Similarly, it was on the basis of personal networks that Deng Xiaoping and Chen Yun remained the most powerful leaders throughout their lives without holding any official position. 

The economic reforms of the post Mao period further split internal unity into those who continued to stick with the Maoist line, demanding strict obedience to the socialist model of development and those who believed in inching closer to an open, market oriented economy. Economic interests thus play a major role in guiding factionalism, with the emergence of a ‘Petroleum faction’ within the CCP of those associated with the crude oil industry being a noticeable example.

Common political origins have also formed a ground for development of factions. Like Hu’s Tuanpai, Jiang Zemin was known to promote those who had worked for him previously in the Shanghai administration which led to the rise of a “Shanghai Clique” when he ascended the top position. Xi is similarly known to be leading a  “Fujian Clique” as his ascension to power was soon followed by the promotion of his former associates Wang Xiaohong and Deng Weiping to senior positions. He has also promoted his protégés from his home province of Shaanxi. Xi is not only known to secure the interests of “Princelings” (太子党 or children of high ranking Communist leaders as himself) but to also further promote a “Tsinghua Faction” of his alma mater which is known to have existed since 2008 when 1 of the 7 members of the Politburo Standing Committee and 3 of the 25 members of the Politburo were alumni of the prestigious Tsinghua University. Xi Jinping has also actively promoted leaders such as Ma Xingrui and Zhang Qingwei from the Defense-Aerospace industry (军工航天系) to top civilian positions. Perhaps the starkest episode of factionalism within the CCP was the fall of Bo Xilai, Xi’s contender to the position of the General Secretary in 2012, which not just revealed the fault lines within the Party but also brought into question the fragmented loyalty of the military as many senior PLA officers closely associated with Bo such as Zhou Yongkang were found to have actively aided him in securing the most coveted position and were later tried and arrested for charges of corruption and abuse of power.

With speculations high that Xi is likely to evade the “seven up, eight down” (七上,八下) rule which restricts reappointments of senior leaders above the age of 68 and  the retirement of Li Keqiang as the Premier, groups such as the CYL faction are likely to be further marginalised while the prominence of those close to Xi Jinping is bound to prevail at the upcoming Party Congress which might result in the likely promotion of leaders like Chen Min’er and Ding Xuexiang. 

Factionalism within the CCP does not just stand as the testimony of the dynamics in Chinese politics but also provides a window into the otherwise opaque world of its functioning.

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