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China’s new strategic positioning

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 While China is “narrowing” its production lines at national or international levels, a very important signal is the new relationship established between Turkey and the United States to replace China as a supply chain.

 Obviously the new “cold war” between China and the United States cannot but create good opportunities for countries such as Turkey which aspire to establish their hegemony over Central Asia and hence to reduce China’s weight both in global and regional trade.

 This is the price that Turkey pays happily and without particular problems to the United States for affording its autonomous policy in the Maghreb region, in the Eastern Mediterranean, in the Balkans and in Central Asia, up to supporting the Xinjiang Muslims in China above all to nip the Chinese Belt & Road Initiative in the bud.

 Meanwhile Botas, the state-owned distributor of Turkish natural gas, has proposed the construction of a pipeline from its Northern Turkish coast to Nakhicevan, Armenia, so as to reduce Armenia’s imports from Iran and thus slowly distancing from Iran. This is music to American ears.

 Therefore, Erdogan’s Turkey also bets on the new “cold war” between the United States and China, thus proposing itself as a third wheel and hence as the basis for the technical and commercial replacement of the production networks from China itself to the area controlled by Turkey.

There is a “but”, however: Turkey has a public deficit of 5.6 billion U.S. dollars (according to April 2020 data), but so far only Chinese capital and funds have arrived to support a 400 million swap between the renmimbi and the Turkish Lira.

 A Chinese company bought the Kumport Terminal, on the Sea of Marmara, for 940 million, and in November 2019 Turkey saw the first train arriving from Xi’an, through the Maramay tunnel built and funded by China, which allows to have a non-stop line from China to Europe. An asset not to be overlooked.

 The Turkish e-commerce platform, Trendyol, was later acquired by Alibaba but, as all Turkish finance experts say, it would require a further and probably strong devaluation of the Turkish lira which, however, needs substantial “fresh” investment from abroad.

Therefore, it is unlikely for an economy such as Turkey’s to take harsh and definitive action against Chinese interests.

Nevertheless, what does Donald J. Trump’s America really want from China?

 The US Presidency’ Strategic Approach to China, published on May 26, 2020, maintains that the threat posed by the CPC to U.S. economic, military and strategic interests, as well as to its “values” is a primary danger.

 If we look at the history of such statements, only in the days of the harshest “Cold War” with the USSR were such terms used.

As to economic competition, the United States accuses not the State, but directly the CPC, of overtly “protectionist State policies that have harmed American workers and businesses”.

 With damage caused also to global markets, the environment and global trade law. Nevertheless,the sanctions imposed by China on U.S. goods in 2019 were anyway adopted by the WTO, whose negotiation system has been called into question by the United States itself.

 In fact, Trump’s America accuses particularly the CPC of “taking advantage of its WTO membership to become the world’s largest exporter, but systematically and harshly protecting its domestic market”.

What is the United States doing? The U.S. real and deep accusation is against the Belt & Road Initiative: the United States interprets this great commercial-strategic operation as an attempt to reshape the world market according to the internal needs of the Communist regime in China.

 Moreover, as the United States always maintains, China wants to use not the international networks, but its own courts, as arbitration courts. Is it true or false? Obviously there is the ICC, but other courts of reference are also formally possible, based on UN-type commercial law.

As to the Chinese challenge to American values, the U.S. document states that “China is engaged in an ideological competition with the West”.

The U.S. current idea is based on President Xi Jinping’s old statement (dating back to 2013) whereby China must prepare for a “long phase of cooperation and conflict” with the capitalist West, and it is always stated that “capitalism is dying and Socialism will triumph”. It could not be otherwise considering his Marxist background and ideas.

 Obviously so, since President Xi does not certainly come from a salon in Manhattan.

Moreover, the United States never wants China to project itself as a world leader and a country of great global influence. Here again it wants the fight against corruption to stop, since for the United States it was only and exclusively a way to eliminate president Xi’s opponents.

Is it true? Yes, but obviously not only so. One and a half million corrupt people punished by the State, but many of them are real, while others are certainly “enemies” of President Xi’s policy line.

The U.S. Presidency, however, is mainly afraid of the Chinese Military-Civil Fusion and hence of the commercial-security blockade that, in the very long run, could put an end to the traditional U.S. hegemony in the Pacific.

 Moreover, the two military games made by the RAND Corporation, about a year ago, concerning a clash in the South Pacific between U.S. and Chinese-Russian forces, demonstrated that the United States would soon be defeated.

Hence, as usual, for the United States once again it is primarily a matter of “protecting the People, the Homeland, the American way of life”. There is great fear for Chinese “propaganda” in the United States, as if it could not be opposed at all. A sweeping analysis was made for Chinese students, the largest foreign community in the United States, and a regulation called Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act was enacted. In January 2020 the United States and China signed also the “Phase One” of a major trade agreement that, according to the United States, is expected to change Chinese business practices significantly. In fact, the agreement provides that the CPC cannot force or orient foreign companies to transfer their technology to keep on producing or selling in China. It also strengthens the rules on the protection of intellectual data in China and finally opens up Chinese markets to U.S. agricultural products, on which it has much relied for its foreign policy.

 On the military level, the U.S. Administration (and it would be anyway the same if there were another President) wants a new relationship with “similar” and “friendly” countries so as to counter the Chinese military build-up and develop the Indo-Pacific Strategy Report. In other words, obviously the U.S. block of every “One China Policy”, but hence implicit support to internal factionalism, in Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as proposing a stop to the Chinese expansion between Xinjiang and Pakistan’s maritime network.

Furthermore, as to the ideological struggle, support for Religious Freedom, the usual fight for “human rights”, the U.S. protections for “minorities’ liberties”. That is all. But we do not think it will be enough.

 Certainly, Chinese infrastructural investment is currently designed to competing with the United States and better controlling civil society.

 The 55-kilometre bridge going from Hong Kong to Macao, with two artificial islands that allow the road to sink 7 kilometres into a very long underwater tunnel is an eminently political and strategic project.

 Obviously, it is in fact a matter of building a Unified Commercial Zone, like the one in New York or Tokyo.

 But it is also a matter of creating a strategic control zone to currently protect those coasts, which are currently more economically important than China. However, it is precisely in this area that as much as 4% of the regional and national GDP is dedicated to the construction of quantum computer networks and encryption. The classic civil-military dual objective.

 Currently China is already a leading country in quantum communications between Space and Earth. It has already built a Quantum Computing Laboratory in Hefei, Anhui Province, with 10 billion U.S. dollars, while the China-U.S. Economic and Security Commission has established that, as early as 2000, China had bridged the technological gap with the United States with regard to quantum computing.

Is it true? We do not know for sure, but this is certainly where the real economic and intelligence war between China and the United States is developing.

As Krugman maintained in an old article for Foreign Affairs, nations are not corporationsand they do not compete one another as companies always do. Nations, however, certainly compete for market outlets, for financial resources, for technologies and for cultural or influence operations.

 There is nothing else. Nevertheless, we must never forget that the major countries’ strategic “policy line”, to which Italy adapts in a sheep like way, envisages variables – also for the small and medium countries – which are not at all negligible.

Also at military level, China’s operations in Ladakh and Tibet are an example of the interest – dating back to Mao Zedong’s times – in using Tibet as “the palm of the Chinese hand” to expand China’s influence throughout South Asia, which is a primary strategic axis.

 It is a matter of encircling India and later stable geo-economic blocs are built, just against India, with the Chinese expansion in Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

 There must always be a spatial logic – we would classically define as geopolitics – which follows the definition of a country’s primary interest. When it knows how to evaluate it,however, which certainly does not happen currently in Italy.

In any case Tibet would have been India’s first natural defence line, if China had not already taken itas early as 1950.

Hence Tibet, with its strategic “five fingers”, i.e. Ladakh, Sikkim, Nepal, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh, will be China’s checkpoint from the South, and we do not believe it will be easily opened by India’s collaboration with other countries, such as the United States.

Without Tibet available, economic, military and intelligence operations against the Belt&Road Initiative will be largely blocked.

Furthermore, President Xi Jinping – who knows the Party and State apparatus very well – has recently launched a campaign of “Security Apparatus Clean-up”. Since November 2012, President Xi Jinping has also marginalised the old leader of the Chinese security apparatus, Zhou Yongkang, directly acquiring an assignment from Politburo and not from Politburo Standing Committee.

Nowadays, China’s security apparatus budget is officially estimated at 183,272 million yuan, equivalent to 26.6 billion U.S. dollars.

While Zhou Yongkang, a man of Hua Guofeng and later of Deng Xiaoping, was arrested in 2012, Hu Jintao himself sent as many as 3,000 Intelligence Service executives to re-education camps.

 3,000 executives in a total of 1.97 million officials and operatives.

Nevertheless, this year the turning point has been the establishment of the Safe China Construction Coordinating Small Group, now led by Guo Shengkun.

Later Lin Rui came. President Xi Jinping still trusts him and, however, he is a computer engineer.

Nevertheless, the “clean-up of the security apparatus”in Xi Jinping’s hands will most likely be completed next year.

 A new “Yan’an Rectification Movement”, like the one that Mao Zedong promoted.

Rectification campaigns, collection of Xi Jinping’s sayings to “set the policy line”, with the collection of the “four consciences” (ideology, the whole country, principles and policies) and the four trusts (Socialism with Chinese characteristics; trust in a system that proposes the nature of Chinese Socialism; trust in its own culture and values).

Hence this will be the intellectual and operative scenario with which Xi Jinping will fight against the United States. A fight which will not be easy, but not even with a predictable result.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

East Asia

The Demise of a French Sub Deal: Is China a Threat?

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The conflict between emerging and existing powers is almost as old as time.  Labeled the Thucydides Trap, it first recounted the 5th century BC Peloponesian war and its inevitability as Sparta, the dominant power, feared the rise of Athens.  Is something similar about to transpire between the US and China?

The latest war of words is about nuclear submarines.  When armed with ballistic missiles, they become a hidden mortal danger.  So the US also deploys nuclear attack submarines which shadow rival nuclear ballistic submarines … just in case.

Australia was in the process of acquiring 12 French conventional attack submarines (a deal worth $37 billion) when the US and UK stepped in with the AUKUS deal.  Intended to counter China, it offers Australia  advanced nuclear propulsion systems and an opportunity to construct nuclear subs of their own with the technology transfer.  Australia will then become the seventh country in the world to build and operate nuclear submarines.

The fear of the ‘yellow peril’ is ingrained in the Australian consciousness from the days when they were afraid of being swamped by Chinese immigrants.  It led to restrictive immigration policies for non-whites. 

Much of the concern with China is due to the forceful nature of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s policies.  In Xinjiang the Uyghur population is a minority in its home province due to the influx of Han Chinese.  Moreover, Uyghurs feel discriminated against, in jobs and the progress they can make.  Some have rebelled causing many to be put in re-education camps where there are tales of torture although denied by Chinese authorities.  Biden has declared it a genocide and introduced sanctions on leading Chinese officials there. 

China’s proactive foreign policy, renewed interest in Afghanistan, its warships patrolling all the way across the Indian Ocean to Africa are further evidence.

The new Afghan leaders, at least many of them, spent their exile in Pakistan giving the latter influence with the new government.  And Pakistan is effectively a Chinese client state.  The mineral wealth of Afghanistan, if it is to be developed, is thus likely to include Chinese help.

The UN General Assembly holds its first debate of the new session on the third Tuesday of each year; the session then runs through to the September following.  As leaders converge, one of the questions being asked of those involved in AUKUS is how they are going to pacify an angry France.  It has recalled its ambassadors from Australia and the US — in the latter case a move without precedent in almost 250 years of diplomacy.

If the French feel the Australians have been duplicitous, the Australians for their part claim they are obligated to do the best for the people who elected them.  The new deal brings jobs, technology and a greater role for Australia in dealing with an increasingly powerful China

It would be a great shame if the West in trying to shore up its interests in the Indo-Pacific region loses a crucial ally — France — at the very least in wholehearted support.  Is Mr. Xi smiling and quoting some ancient Chinese proverb, perhaps Lao Tzu, to his colleagues?   

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East Asia

Japanese firms’ slow and steady exit is sounding alarm bells in Beijing

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Last year in March, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had indicated Japan would initiate measures to reduce the country heavily relying on China for factory production. Since July 2020, Japan has rolled out subsidies totaling over 400 billion Yen to move its enterprises out of China to Southeast Asia and beyond. It is yet to be seen if the scale of incentives has actually triggered a major change in where Japanese companies relocate production.  On the other hand, experts in China continue to wonder why would Japanese companies which are on average making 17% profit diversify into the ASEAN nations, where in 2019, their rate of return on direct investment was a mere 5%?

***

In less than ten days, Japan is going to have a third prime minister within a short span of twelve months. On September 1 last year, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe resigned on health grounds, Yoshihide Suga was chosen as Abe’s successor. At the time, China’s leadership did not show any worrying signs as the new Japanese leader was expected to continue with the foreign policy of the previous government. But one year later, Suga’s unexpected departure is leaving Japan’s diplomatic relations with China considerably strained over Taiwan. Yet the leadership in Beijing is not going to lose sleep over the next prime minister’s public stance on the Japan-Taiwan “alliance.” What China will be closely watching is how many more billions of Yen and for how long a new leader in Tokyo will carry on with rolling out subsidies to lure away Japanese businesses out of China?

Interestingly, on assuming office Prime Minister Suga had promised continuity in domestic policies and that he will respect Abe’s foreign policy. However, Suga’s promised commitment to further improve relations with China was viewed differently in the People’s Republic. Writing in an article on the day Yoshihide Suga took office in Tokyo, Zhou Yongsheng, professor of Japanese studies at Beijing’s China Foreign Affairs University, observed: “[Under Suga] Japan will continue to align with the US as far as international relations and security affairs are concerned, and continue to back the US policy of containing China It is under these preconditions that Japan will seek cooperation with China.”

In sharp contrast, reviewing Suga’s foreign policy performance after two months, NIKKEI Asia’s foreign affairs analyst Hiroyuki Akita wrote in November 2020: “Suga has not said much publicly about his views on diplomacy but he has urged his aids to continue Abe’s diplomacy as it is at least for one year.” Akita gave a thumbs up to this approach and recalled a Japanese saying to describe it: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, not everyone agreed with Akita praising Suga’s brief record in diplomacy as flawless. Having spent seven years in the Abe cabinet as Chief Cabinet Secretary, Suga’s image was that of “a fixer, not a leader.” Suga did everything in diplomacy in his early phase as the prime minister what Abe had been espousing for the past seven years.

But as Toshiya Takahashi, professor of IR at Shoin University in Japan had predicted within a few weeks of Suga becoming the top leader, “Abe’s shoes were too big for Suga to fill.” Why so? Mainly because unlike Abe, not only Suga was not ideological, he was also far less diplomacy driven. “Suga is not an ideologically driven revisionist — he is a conservative politician, but his attitude has no relation to ideology. He does not seem to hold any specific cherished foreign policy objectives that he is willing to push with all his political capital in the way that Abe did in 2015 with the passage of the security-related bills,” Takahashi had commented.   

To observers and experts in both Japan and China, Prime Minister Suga’s (he will relinquish office on September 30) non-enthusiastic approach to foreign policy might have much to do with the current state of strained relationship between Japan and China. Asahi Shimbun opinion poll last year claimed foreign policy and national security as among the two most popular elements of Abe’s legacy. No wonder, critics in Japan have been pointing out that Suga’s cabinet did not have the luxury and support Abe enjoyed in foreign affairs of having in the government someone like Shotaro Yachi – the former secretary general of the National Security Secretariat. In China too, reacting to Suga’s first policy speech after taking office, scholars such as Lü  Yaodong, Institute of Japanese Studies, CASS in Beijing had observed, “Suga seems not to be as enthusiastic about China-Japan ties as Abe. Compared with Abe’s administration, Suga may walk back China-Japan ties.” (Emphasis added)

Remember, as already mentioned, the LDP had succeeded in pursuing policy of (economic) cooperation and avoiding confrontationist diplomacy with China under Abe. But Suga government’s failure to effectively fight coronavirus pandemic and its perception that China was increasingly becoming aggressive in SCS, are being cited as reasons why Japan was compelled to take strong steps against China. It is too well-known by now how Tokyo angered Beijing by referring to the importance of Taiwan to regional security in the recently released 2021 Defense White Paper. In fact, a Chinese scholar had warned as early as within a month of Suga taking over as prime minister from Shinzo Abe, saying that “Japan will take a more offensive stance against China over maritime boundary disputes under the incitement of the US” (emphasis added).

Hence, it is of extreme import to mention here China’s top diplomat Wang Yi’s recent trip to four ASEAN nations. Apparently, the second visit by the Chinese foreign minister in quick succession in the neighborhood had aroused the global media attention as it was soon after the recent visit to the region by the US vice president Kamala Harris. However, according to a Chinese commentator, Wang Yi’s recent visit to ASEAN countries must be viewed in the context of the region turning into a “battle ground” for rising economic one-upmanship among big powers. “Just a day after Wang Yi’s departure, Vietnam reached an agreement on defense equipment and technology cooperation with Japan,” the commentary noted.   

Furthermore, whilst under the previous Abe government, Japan consistently increased its investments in the ASEAN nations, except in the year 2016, all through from 2014 until last year, Japan’s investment in the region far exceeded that of China’s. Contrary to his vows, since coming into office in September last year, especially following his meeting with President Biden in the White House in April this year, Prime Minister Suga’s quiet agenda has been to confront China in both political and economic arena. In Japan, the Suga agenda was interpreted by analysts as “rebuilding Japan-US industrial chain, decoupling economic ties with China.”    

A policy report released by Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) in March 2021, revealed three important facts: first, in the year 2019, total Japanese investment in ASEAN nations stood at USD 265.5 billion – 14% of the country’s overall overseas investment, i.e., USD 1,858.3 billion.; second, in 2000, Japanese investments in ASEAN totaled USD 25 billion as against its USD 8.7 billion investment in China – a gap of USD 16.3 billion. Whereas in 2019, Japan invested USD 135.2 billion more in ASEAN as compared with China. As pointed out by one Chinese analyst, this gap is hugely significant, especially as the overall size of the ASEAN economy is a little over one-fifth of China’s GDP; third, followingthegovernment’s new strategy last year to encourage Japanese businesses to move out of China to new locations in ASEAN nations, the new guidelines also entailed reducing investments into China. A large part of the investments was diversified into ASEAN markets.

Finally, what is beginning to worry the Chinese authorities is the trend and direction of slow exodus of Japanese businesses out of China going back to Japan and towards Vietnam and Indonesia on one hand, and widening gap in Japanese investments between ASEAN and the PRC, on the other hand. At the same time, it was beyond anyone’s imagination in China that Japan would be acting foolish and risking “economic security” by diversifying businesses and investments into less profitable “barren” markets. But then who could anticipate what political and economic policy-rejigging coronavirus pandemic would bring about?

Overall, China’s more immediate and bigger concerns are firstly the sudden departure of Prime Minister Suga – in spite of Suga having made it clear he had no will to change or reverse “decoupling” policy he had been pursuing, and secondly, whoever emerges as the new leader of the four contenders by the month-end, analysts in Japan believe Tokyo is unlikely to change its “anti-China” political and economic policies.  

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East Asia

How China Exacerbates Global Fragility and What Can be Done to Bolster Democratic Resilience to Confront It

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Authors: Caitlin Dearing Scott and Isabella Mekker

From its declared policy of noninterference and personnel contributions to United Nations (UN) Peacekeeping Missions to its purported role in mediating conflicts, China has long sought to portray itself as a responsible global leader, pushing narratives about building a “community of common destiny” and promoting its model of governance and economic and political development as a path to stability. This narrative belies the reality. Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-style “stability,” whether to protect Belt and Road Investments (BRI) or regimes with favorable policies towards China, in practice facilitates authoritarianism and human rights violations, contributes to environmental degradation and corruption, and undermines democratic governance, all of which can fuel instability, intentionally or otherwise.

In pursuit of its true goal – “a world safe for the party” – China has leveraged its diplomatic and economic power to weaken  the international human rights system, bolstering support for illiberal regimes, contributing to democratic decline and exacerbating global fragility in the process. Nowhere is this more apparent than in conflict-affected contexts.

Conflict Resolution, CCP Style

Although China brands itself as a ‘promoter of stability, peace, and unity’, its very definition of stability is built on its authoritarian model of governance. This, plus its concerns about non-interference in its own domestic issues, informs its conflict resolution approach, which emphasizes host state consent and political settlement, two-ideas that can be laudable in theory, depending on the context. In practice, however, China’s conflict mediation efforts in some instances have provided support to incumbent regimes who are perpetuating violence and conflict, promoting a  ‘stability’ that disregards the voices of vulnerable populations and the need for inclusive governance. In the case of the Syrian civil war, China’s “political solution” meant maintaining China-friendly Bashar al-Assad’s grip on power, while blocking resolutions condemning the regime’s brutality against its citizens. 

“Stability” promoted by China can also come at the expense of human rights. China (and Russia) have previously pushed for cuts to human rights positions within peacekeeping missions, endangering the capacity of these missions to protect civilians in conflict.  In Myanmar, where the military is committing unprecedented human rights violations against its own citizens, China initially blocked a UN Security Council statement condemning the military coup and other international efforts to restore stability at a time when a strong international response was much needed. This was in line with China’s previous engagement in the country, working closely with the military regime to “mediate” conflict near the Chinese border in a way that preserved China’s interests and influence, but did little to actually address conflict. After a growing humanitarian crisis began to threaten its investments on the Myanmar side of the border, however, China changed rhetorical course, showing where human rights violations stand in its hierarchy of stability.

Advancing China’s Interests, Undermining Governance

China’s policies in fragile states mirror its unstated preference for expanding its economic and political interests, even if securing them sidelines the stated imperative of addressing fragility. In some instances, China has lobbied for UN policies in conflict-affected contexts that appear to support its own agenda rather than – or sometimes at the expense of – peace. According to the U.S. China Economic and Security Review Commission’s 2020 report to Congress, “China has shown an apparent willingness to leverage its influence in the UN peacekeeping operations system to advance its economic interests in African countries, raising the possibility that Beijing is subverting UN norms and procedures in the process.” Per the report, the most notable example of this was in 2014 when China lobbied to expand the UN Mission in South Sudan to protect oil installations of which the China National Petroleum Corporation held a 40 percent stake.

Moreover, China’s pursuit of its interests sets up countries on unstable trajectories. China’s economic investment policies and initiatives exacerbates governance deficits and increases fragility by encouraging corruption, facilitating authoritarianism and human rights violations, and contributing to environmental degradation, all key drivers of conflict. Two cases from Nigeria and Pakistan highlight the point.

In Nigeria, China’s investment projects have exacerbated corruption and fueled distrust in local government – key drivers of conflict and intercommunal violence in the country. China has exploited poor regulatory environments and worked within illegal and corrupt frameworks, often tied to armed groups and criminal networks. In one illustrative example, China state-owned timber trading companies  offered bribes to local officials to illegally harvest endangered rosewood. Members of local communities have cited feelings of exploitation by officials accepting bribes from Chinese businessmen, further stressing fragile ties between local government and citizens. Such business practices also demonstrate a blatant disregard for the environmental consequences of illegally harvesting endangered flora and fauna. Moreover, the inherently opaque nature of these projects that are tied to CCP interests makes it difficult to demand accountability.

Similarly in Pakistan, a 62-billion-dollar project known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) aimed at linking Xinjiang to the Arabian sea, has exacerbated tension in conflict-affected provinces. The project plans to build infrastructure and extract resources from several less developed regions, while overwhelmingly benefitting industrial and political hubs such as Punjab. Many provinces, including Balochistan and Sindh, have accused political elites of altering the route of the corridor in their own interests, thus further marginalizing their communities. Separatist groups have launched several attacks throughout the country, not only fueling conflict between Pakistani ethnic groups but also leading to attacks against Chinese expatriates. Recently, prominent voices from within China have called for a military intervention in Pakistan. CPEC has increased military presence throughout small villages, sparked an uptick in violent conflict along the route, and further eroded trust in local government institutions.

These cases may of course signal more opportunism and indifference by China to the impact of its engagement on stability in any given country, as opposed to an explicit attempt to undermine democratic governance (as it has done elsewhere in support of pro-China interests). Regardless of the intent, however, the impact is the same. China’s focus on political leverage and profits first and foremost undermines stability – and China likewise can benefit from instability in states with corrupt politicians interested in trading local resources for short-term political gains.

What Can be Done: Bolstering Democratic Resilience to Address Fragility and Foreign Influence

Foreign authoritarian influence has a compounding impact in conflict-affected contexts, further undermining governance structures, institutions, and processes that can mitigate or exacerbate fragility.  Good governance, on the contrary, can not only help countries prevent and manage conflict, but can also help countries address the myriad challenges associated with foreign authoritarian influence. Strong democratic institutions help societies respond positively and productively to threats both domestic and foreign.

Targeted investment in democracy in conflict-affected contexts vulnerable to foreign authoritarian influence offers an important opportunity for utilizing the Global Fragility Strategy in support of US foreign policy initiatives and advancing the Biden Administration’s policy priorities to tackle climate change, prevent authoritarian resurgence, confront corruption, and prevail in strategic competition with China.  An investment in support of democracy and good governance to address any one of these issues will reap dividends across each of these issues – engaging in conflict prevention and stabilization programming will both advance global democracy and advance US goals vis-à-vis China and other authoritarian rivals. Such investments, which must be long-term to account for the compounding impact of foreign authoritarian influence in already fragile environments, should include:

  • Supporting governments, civil society, and citizens to better understand, expose and counter foreign authoritarian influence, particularly in conflict-affected contexts where data and research efforts can be challenging. An understanding of China’s playbook is critical to countering CCP influence operations;
  • Helping independent media to investigate and expose foreign authoritarian influence and how it fuels conflict, whether through training, financial support, or other protections of the civic and information space, to raise public awareness of the impact of such engagement on conflict dynamics and promote transparency and accountability in dealings with foreign actors;  
  • Developing evidenced-based tools to prevent and mitigate foreign authoritarian influence in fragile contexts;
  • Strengthening electoral institutions, political parties, legislative bodies, and judiciaries to uproot elite capture and mitigate malign influence;
  • Leveraging diplomacy to build political will and incentives for government officials to resist foreign malign influences. Such diplomatic efforts can include increased outreach and contact with countries previously neglected by the US – but prioritized by China – and public diplomacy to both expose the CCP’s misleading narrative and advance narratives about what democracy can deliver;  and
  • Coordinating with similarly-minded donors such as the European Union, Japan, and Australia, to implement a unified approach to match the scale of Chinese investment and maximize the impact of any intervention.

Only democracy can help countries navigate the nexus of domestic and foreign threats to their stability. In the era of COVID-19, authoritarian resurgence, and climate crisis, supporting countries to develop these “resilience” fundamentals is a sound – and necessary – investment.

*Isabella Mekker is a Program Associate with IRI’s Center for Global Impact, working on countering foreign authoritarian influence and conflict prevention and stabilization programming.

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