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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.

fig.1

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.

PhD in International Politics, Central China Normal University, Wuhan, the P.R.of China Research Associate , Ukrainian Association of Sinologists

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Do not panic, we are Chinese: China’s response to the pandemic

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In Europe, in the United States and in South America, the feared second wave of Covid-19 epidemic is spreading. It is generating not only panic among the public and the institutions, but it is beginning to put health systems and economies under stress. They were starting to recover with difficulty after the impact of the first wave of the epidemic which, between the winter and spring of this year, made the pace of industrial and manufacturing production and productivity rates in the trade, tourism and catering sectors plummet globally, with figures suggesting a decidedly dark future.

In Italy, faced with the increase in infections which, however, does not mean an increase in the number of sick people, the Government has decided to delegate to the Regions’ Governors the power to implement measures to limit individual and collective freedom in the name of a “state of emergency” which has been going on since last March and seems bound to accompany us also in the coming months. For the first time since the end of the Second World War, an ominous and worrying word, “curfew”, has reappeared in official communiqués and news reports.

Over the next few days, in the Campania and Lombardy Regions, it will be forbidden to circulate in the streets from 11pm to 5am, while the purchase of alcohol and the opening hours of shopping centres, bars and restaurants will be restricted. Just to complete an increasingly tragic scenario, on October 20 last, the Italian Health Minister, Roberto Speranza, urged Italians to “stay at home as much as possible” with a voluntary lockdown that seems to be a prelude to the adoption of measures that could bring us back to the situation of last spring with incalculable social and economic damage.

Curfews, lockdowns, targeted or generalised closures are now common practice also in France, Great Britain, Ireland and Spain which, like Italy, have suffered the devastating economic impact of the first wave and could be brought to their knees by the new pandemic emergency.

At this juncture we have to ask ourselves a question: what happened and what is happening in the country where it all began? How are things going in China that in our media, obsessively focused on domestic troubles, is mentioned only superficially and in passing?

“China is Near” was the title of a 1967 movie directed by Marco Bellocchio, that evoked the unstoppable expansion of the Maoist thinking. Today we must say that “China is far away”, encapsulated in the stereotypes developed by Western culture, which prevent us from seriously analysing its political, economic and social evolution and, above all, from drawing lessons from the political and health model that has enabled China to come out of the Covid-19 emergency with its head held high.

On September 22 last, in a blunt speech – as usual -at the United Nations General Assembly, President Trump accused China of being responsible “for spreading this plague throughout the world” and – to further underline the concept -he dismissed the coronavirus as a “Chinese virus”. In the same forum, Chinese President Xi Jinping soberly urged all countries affected by the epidemic to follow his country’s example and “to abide by the indications of science without attempting to politicise the problem”.

Figures clearly demonstrate that the Chinese model is important and worthy of attention. In China, where it all began in December 2019, out of a population of about 1.4 billion inhabitants, the Covid-19 epidemic has so far caused 4,739 deaths out of 90,604 sick people. In the United States, over the same period, out of a population that is about one fifth of China’s, 7,382,194 cases of infection were recorded that led to the death of 209,382 people (data provided by the English medical journal, The Lancet, October 8, 2020).

Great Britain, with a population twenty times smaller than the Chinese population, had to deal with five times more infections than China and ten times more deaths.

These are the figures of October 20 last, referring to the whole of China: 19 cases of illness, all imported from abroad. 24 asymptomatic infections and 403 cases testing positive kept under observation. All, except one, imported from abroad(!). Figures which, as you can see, are globally lower than those recorded since the beginning of the emergency in one single Italian region!

Faced with these figures, it seems difficult to shirk a simple, dual question: how could China fight the epidemic and keep it under control? Hence why do we not follow its example by drawing on its experience?

China was accused of responding late to the first outbreak of the epidemic in December 2019 and notifying late the World Health Organization (WHO) of a new outbreak. Both accusations are completely false.

After the outbreak of the new virus in late December, Chinese scientists isolated and identified the genome sequence of Covid-19 on January 10, 2020 and a few days later, after alerting the WHO, the authorities started to take countermeasures.

China was ready for the emergency: since the SARS epidemic – a virus similar to Covid-19 – had caused just over 700 deaths in 2002, but very serious damage to the economy due to the stop of flights, tourism and exports, the government had given orders to prepare accurate contingency plans to be activated promptly in case of new epidemics. Those plans, which were not prepared and put in a drawer but updated and carefully tested, were activated immediately after the first alarm.

With its 12 million inhabitants, Wuhan – the epicentre of the first infections – was immediately imposed a total lockdown, while in the rest of the huge country the population was urged (without curfews or states of emergency) to follow the most elementary and effective prevention and self-protection measures: social distancing, use of masks and frequent hand washing. It has been said in the West that China has reacted so effectively because it is ruled by an authoritarian regime. Indeed, Confucius has counted much more than Mao for the Chinese. The Confucian social philosophy that not even 71 years of Communist rule have managed to wipe out, with its basic rules of respect for the natural hierarchical order, makes the Chinese a naturally well-behaved, orderly and obedient people. Suffice it to recall that since the beginning of the new pandemic emergency the protests in Hong Kong have decreased until disappearing, while in Europe we are witnessing massive demonstrations with diehard “no-mask” people.

It is, however, the quick response of the Chinese political and health authorities that is at the basis of the undeniable success in fighting the epidemic, at first, and later containing it.

As stated above, Wuhan was immediately isolated and subjected to total lockdown for 76 days, while targeted closures were imposed in the Hubei Province. Throughout the country, 14,000 health checkpoints were set up at the main public transport hubs and, within two weeks since the “official” outbreak of the pandemic, in the city of Wuhan alone 9 million inhabitants were tested.

As one of the main producers and exporters of health equipment, China was not caught unprepared in terms of hospital supplies and individual protection devices: in short, no mask crisis.

While in the United States and Europe, despite the lockdown, people did not seem to be inclined to wear masks (President Trump wore a mask in public only last September), the Chinese immediately followed the authorities’ guidelines with a great sense of discipline. All the municipal security cameras were “converted” to control citizens’ use of masks, while drones equipped with loudspeakers were flown over all areas of the huge country to check the inhabitants’ compliance with the rules. The Xinhua State agency released the footage taken by a drone in Inner Mongolia, showing an astonished Mongolian lady rebuked by the drone saying” Hey Auntie, you cannot go around without a mask. Put it on right away and when you go back home remember to wash your hands”. Probably media embroidered the episode a bit, but certainly in China they did not witness the summertime movida that took place in Rome, Naples or Milan, which is at the basis of the many troubles with which we are currently confronted.

On February 5, 2020 the first Fancang hospital was opened in Wuhan, a prefabricated structure dedicated to the treatment of non-severely ill people, while traditional hospitals were reserved for the treatment of severely ill people. The use of Fancang hospitals (dozens of them were built) made it possible to limit the staying at home of people with mild symptoms, but anyway sources of contagion, within their families – the opposite of what is happening in Italy where the people with mild symptoms are advised to stay at home -and prevent the quick spreading of the virus starting from families. The Fancang hospital network made 13,000 beds available and was dismantled as from May 10, 2020 when the first wave of the epidemic ended in China and was not followed by a second wave. To avert this danger, the Chinese authorities have relaxed “internal” checks and made the control measures for those coming from abroad very strict. At a time when in Spain and Italy the checks for incoming travellers are practically derisory, in China all those who enter the country, for whatever reason, are subject to tests and strictly controlled quarantine.

In essence, China has first fought and later controlled the spreading of the Covid-19 epidemic, with drastic but rational measures and above all understood and accepted by a population educated by Confucius to respect hierarchies and discipline. China can currently be an example for the rest of the world and it is there to testify that with strict, but intelligent measures even the most dangerous situations can be tackled successfully.

It is an example that should be studied and followed without the typical arrogance of the “white man”, also considering an important fact: while the economy of Italy and of its European partners is hardly growing, China’s GDP growth rate is 4.9% higher than last year.

There is much to learn from China both in terms of managing a health emergency and in terms of protecting the economic system.

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Suga Faces A Tough Road Ahead Without Enough Political Juice

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image source: japan.kantei.go.jp

Authors: Alexandre Uehara and Moises de Souza

The quantity and dimensionality of problems inherited by a sober and discrete Yoshihide Suga as the first new Japanese Prime Minister in almost a decade will demand that “Uncle Reiwa,” as the statesman is known, employ the skills that he has so amply demonstrated in the past: the ability to negotiate and find elegant solutions to complex questions. Suga’s competence as a negotiator was recognized as an important factor behind the success of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which entered into force on December 30, 2018. This agreement—considered doomed to failure after US President Donald Trump signed an executive order withdrawing the United States from the TPP in January 2017—succeeded largely thanks to the vital leadership and tenacity of Japan, with Suga playing a key role behind the scenes. Suga also took the lead during the EU and Japan’s Economic Partnership Agreement signed in 2019, considered by many as another example of outstanding negotiating performance. With such a resumé, these skills and experience proved critical in Suga’s victory in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leadership race, enabling him to garner support from a wide array of sources, ranging from LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai to various factions within the Komeito, a partner in the coalition government.

The question now is whether his past performance can be replicated as Suga targets the current challenges that so recently have fallen into his lap. He is taking the helm at a delicate moment for Japan, with uncertainties that will force him to show, domestically and abroad, what kind of leadership Japan will enjoy after a larger-than-life figure like Abe Shinzo steps down. And these challenges are coming from all quarters: the economy, public health, and regional security, just to name a few. Each of them has the potential to shape the future of the nation and the reputation of its prime minister, and certainly Yoshihide Suga is no exception. On top of that, legacy problems remain. On the one hand, the implicit promise of continuity with Shinzo Abe’s policies played a crucial role in winning the LDP the elections: on the other, this very factor is an element of concern, since opinion polls were already detecting signs of decline in the popularity of Abe’s cabinet. If Suga has any political ambition left, he cannot afford to make any mistakes in the short- and medium-term.

On the domestic front, there are two important and interrelated problems: The COVID-19 pandemic and the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games. These coterminous phenomena essentially represent a contradiction between uncertainty and reality. While few in Japan are clear about whether the current pandemic will turn into an ongoing ebb-and-flow in terms of virus contagion rates, the economic impact as a result of the response measures is already real. The profound effects have been translated into a new period of recession this year, an experience with which the Japanese a real ready very familiar, given their recent past. To make matters worse, the medicine intended to heal the wounds of economic recession was neutralized by the virus. Operating under the old adage that you have to spend money to make money, Tokyo expended over US$5 billion, with plans to spend US$2 billion more in 2020,to prepare the city to host the Olympic Games. Prospects showed that these investments would pay off. According to a report published in June 2020, it was projected that the Olympics would impact the Tokyo economy alone to the tune of almost US$190 billion, with a spill over effect on the overall Japanese economy of nearly US$300 billion and a potential impact of 0.2% of its GDP. Based on the same prospects, Japan signed an accord in 2013 with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), assuming total responsibility to bear all the costs alone in the (at that time improbable)event that the games would have to be postponed. Well, in what one might call the Forest Gump Effect, to wit: “life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get,” the games were indeed postponed. Investors, according to reporting by Bridgestone, reported losses of around US$3 billion so far as a result of the postponement. It also affected the IOC, which registered losses of more than US$800 million. For Japan’s economy, Goldman Sachs is calculating losses of about US$5.1 billion in terms of domestic consumption alone. Suga will have to find a solution for this imbroglio, which even Abe could not or did not have time to figure out.

In the international arena, Suga—like all Japanese Prime Ministers before him—will have to walk a tightrope, executing a delicate balancing act between Beijing and Washington. So far, his biggest challenge is to find his place amid the rising tensions between Japan’s two most important trading partners. On paper, the logic is simple: Tokyo has developed initiatives to strengthen its alliance with Washington concerning security, without hurting its bilateral trade with Beijing. In recent decades, the latter has become increasingly economically important to Japan. In practice, this is not an easy job for two reasons: First, the erratic temperament of Donald Trump and the tendency of his administration to play hardball even when negotiating with partners. The trade deal negotiated in 2019 stands as a case in point: Essentially, Japan walked away from the negotiating table with a commitment to give the United States access to its agricultural market in exchange for a vague promise that the Trump administration would not consider Japanese auto imports a “national security threat.” On top of that, Trump made it clear that he still wants Japan to pay for the American military bases on Japanese soil.

The second reason comes from Japan’s powerful neighbour, with an increasingly assertive China under Xi Jinping. In November 2019, after China proudly displayed its new ballistic and hypersonic cruise missile system, Taro Kono (then foreign minister and now the minister for administrative reform and regulatory reform) publicly demanded that Beijing make its military budget and strategic goals transparent, to avoid raising the level of alarm and anxiety in the region. In addition, a few weeks after taking the center seat, Suga had to deal with the presence of two Chinese ships in the disputed waters of the East China Sea—a practice that has been taking place more and more frequently since Xi became chairman of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012. It is exactly these episodes of Chinese assertiveness that motivated Yoshihide Suga to choose Vietnam and Indonesia as the destinations for his first official diplomatic trip as prime minister. As much as Abe did, Suga intends to strengthen security ties with both Southeast Asian nations. This, tempered with a degree of restraint in the use of strong anti-Chinese rhetoric, is intended as a clear signal to Beijing: the rules of the game haven’t changed, with or without the presence of Abe Shinzo.

Using the same logic, Suga did not alter the basis of Japan-Taiwan relations that developed so fruitfully on Abe’s watch. In fact, besides working for close relations with Taipei, Abe also developed a friendship with Taiwan’s current President Tsai Ing-wen. Suga’s decision to appoint Abe’s brother, Nobuo Kishi, as defense minister was a clear signal to China that, with regards to Taiwan, it will be business as usual in Tokyo despite the transfer of power. It a secret to no one in Japan (or in China, for that matter) that Kishi enjoys close ties with Taiwan, a place he has visited several times over the years, including meetings with President Tsai, as representative of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The last visit took place on the occasion of the funeral of former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui in August 2020. Such proximity makes Kishi the most trustworthy channel of communication between conservative Japanese leaders and Tsai, as well as with the Taiwanese elite itself. In response to Nobuo Kishi’s appointment, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin said in a statement that the new minister of defense of Japan must “abide by the one-China principle and refrain from any form of official exchanges with the Taiwan region.”

Few specialists in Japan believe that Yoshihide Suga will have as long a mandate as his predecessor Abe Shinzo. Despite being technically qualified, Suga still lacks enough political juice to retain the position of prime minister beyond the general elections that must take place in one year’s time. The tide may eventually turn in favour of Suga-san, depending on how well he and his new cabinet manage the daunting challenges that they inherited from the previous administration. More than mere negotiation skills are needed, however, and there is no doubt that Suga will have to make some tough decisions that will come to define, in a large measure, his political future post-2021.

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East Asia

Nepal-China Boundary Treaty: An example of peaceful Himalayan frontiers

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image source: Chinese Embassy in Nepal

Chairman Mao: How is everything with Your Excellency? Have all the problems been solved?

King Mahendra: Everything is settled.

Chairman Mao: Fair and reasonable?

King Mahendra: Yes. We all agree.

Chairman Mao: It is good that we agree. There is goodwill on both sides. We hope that will get along well, and you hope we shall get along well too. We do not want to harm you, nor do you want to harm us.

King Mahendra: We fully understand.

Chairman Mao: We are equals; we cannot say one country is superior or inferior to the other.

King Mahendra: We very much appreciate the way of speaking.

This was a snippet of the candid conversation between founding father of People’s Republic of China Mao Zedong and Nepal’s the then king Mahendra on the historic Nepal-China Border Treaty day of 5 October 1961. A book titled ‘MAO ZEDUNG ON DIPLOMACY’ has detailed this conversation. The conversation is mentioned under the topic of ”Talk with Nepal’s king Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Deva and the queen’ (page 366 and 367) in the book.

This famous diplomatic book of Mao was compiled by The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China and the Party Literature Research Center under the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and was published by Foreign Languages Press Beijing on 1998.

This conversation, from the verbatim records, speaks volumes about the level of trust and the height of friendship between two neighbors Nepal and China.

Nepal-China boundary: An example of speedy settlement

Nepal and China boundary settlement has reached 59 years of its signing ceremony at Beijing. It is an extraordinary example of speedy settlement. Nepal and China formally established diplomatic relationship on 1 August 1955.

Few years later on 21 March 1960, Nepal and China signed Boundary Agreement. Nepal’s first democratically elected Prime Minister Bishweshwar Prashad Koirala signed it during the official China visit. The friendly diplomatic dialogue of Koirala and Mao is also included in the book ”MAO ZEDUNG ON DIPLOMACY’ under the topic of ”The Sino-Nepal Border Must be Peaceful and Friendly Forever.”  

On 5 October 1961, Nepal and China signed Boundary Treaty at Beijing during the state visit of the then king Mahendra. The 1414-kilometer-long border treaty protocol was finally inscribed on 20 January 1963.

The adjustment was made on equal footing by land-swapping with Nepal gaining more land than it gave. According to a working paper presented at ”International Cross-Border Conference on Border Regions in Transition (BRIT)-XII Fukuoka (Japan)-Busan (South Korea) 13-16 November 2012” by Nepal’s former Director General of Survey Department and the author of the book titled ‘Boundary of Nepal’, China had given 302.75 square kilometer more land to Nepal.

The paper says, ”the adjustment was made on the basis of ‘give’ and ‘take’ and the inclusion of some pasture land within Nepalese territory. With this principle, Nepal had given 1,836.25 square kilometer of land to China and Nepal had taken 2,139.00 square kilometer, as it has been added 302.75 square kilometer of Chinese territory into Nepal.”

Nepal-China border settlement is an excellent example of speedy border settlement compared to Nepal’s southern neighbor India. Since the formal diplomatic engagement of 1955, it just took around eight years to ink full-fledged technical border adjustment between Nepal and China.

Tragically, Nepal and India are at odds over the border demarked by 204-year-old Treaty of Sugauli. The recent issue of Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura and new political map of Nepal unanimously approved by lower and upper houses of the federal parliament point to the long-pending friendly border settlements between Nepal and India.

Media myths on China’s encroachment of Nepal’s territory

Nepal and India has not resolved much of their border tensions since long. Lately, there are some media reports, mainly from India, about so-called Chinese ‘encroachment’ of Nepal’s territory. There was report about missed pillar number 11. However, it came out to be untrue with the finding of the pillar.  After field inspection and technical studies, Chief District Officer of Humla district, Chiranjibi Giri, made it clear that the rumored border encroachment from China was not the fact.

Similar incident was reported few weeks ago when Nepal’s leading daily Kantipur claimed China’s encroachment of Nepal’s territory citing unverified Ministry of Agriculture, the ministry that has nothing to do with border issues. However, after formal clarification from Nepal Government, the report was found to be false and the biggest daily of the nation apologized.

There is a section in Nepal that desperately wants to draw parallel between factual Nepal-India border tensions with fictitious Nepal-China border rows. However, so far, this mission has proven wrong at times.

Nepal does not have any serious border tension with China. The only concern Nepal has it about China-India agreement to ‘boost border trade at Quiangla/Lipu-Lekh Pass’ as said in the 28th point of the  joint communiqué issued by visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang on 15 May 2015.

Nepal has diplomatically protested about this agreement by two countries as Lipulekh falls in Nepali territory not only based on the Treaty of Sugauli of 1816 but also the Nepal-China Boundary Treaty of 5 October 1961. Given China’s generosity and friendliness towards Nepal, it is not a big issue to address. Nepalese citizens are optimistic on China’s support on Nepal’s sovereignty over Lipulekh.

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