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.
Who would bell the China cat?
If the G-7 and NATO china-bashing statements are any guide, the world is in for another long interregnum of the Cold War (since demise of the Soviet Union). The G-7 leaders called upon China to “respect human rights in its Xinjiang region” and “allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy” and “refrain from any unilateral action that could destabilize the East and South China Seas”, besides maintaining “peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits”.
China’s tit-for-tat response
The Chinese mission to the European Union called upon the NATO not to exaggerate the “China threat theory”
Amid the pandemic, still raging, the world is weary of resuscitating Cold War era entente. Even the G-7 members, Canada and the UK appear to be lukewarm in supporting the US wish to plunge the world into another Cold War. Even the American mothers themselves are in no mood to welcome more coffins in future wars. Importance of the G-7 has been whittled down by G-20.
Presumptions about the China’s cataclysmic rise are unfounded. Still, China is nowhere the US gross National Product. China’s military budget is still the second largest after the US. It is still less than a third of Washington’s budget to be increased by 6.8 per cent in 2021.
India claims to be a natural ally of the G-7 in terms of democratic “values”. But the US based Freedom House has rated India “partly free because of its dismal record in persecution of minorities. Weakened by electoral setbacks in West Bengal, the Modi government has given a free hand to religious extremists. For instance, two bigots, Suraj Pal Amu and Narsinghanand Saraswati have been making blasphemous statements against Islam at press conferences and public gatherings.
India’s main problem
Modi government’s mismanagement resulted in shortage of vaccine and retroviral drugs. The healthcare system collapsed under the mounting burden of fatalities.
Media and research institutions are skeptical of the accuracy of the death toll reported by Indian government.
The New York Times dated June 13, 2021 reported (Tracking Corona virus in India: Latest Map and case Count) “The official COVID-19 figures in India grossly under-estimate the true scale of the pandemic in the country”. The Frontline dated June 4, 2021 reported “What is clear in all these desperate attempts is the reality that the official numbers have utterly lost their credibility in the face of the biggest human disaster in independent India (V. Sridhar, India’s gigantic death toll due to COVID-19 is thrice the official numbers”, The frontline, June 4, 2021). It adds “More than 6.5 lakh Indians, not the 2.25 lakh reported officially are estimated to have died so far and at best a million more are expected to die by September 2021. The Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that actual Indian casualties may be 0.654 million (6.54 lakh), not the official count of 0.221 million (2.21 lakh as on May 6 when the report was released. That is a whopping three times the official numbers, an indicator of the extent of under-reporting”.
Epidemiologist Dr. Feigl-ding told India Today TV on April, 16, 2021 that “actual number of COVID-19 cases in India can be five or six times higher than the tally right now” (“Actual COVID-19 cases in India may be 5 to 10 times higher, says epidemiologist. India Today TV April 16, 2021).
India’s animosity against China is actuated by expediency. There is no chance of a full-blown war between China and India as the two countries have agreed not to use firepower in border skirmishes, if any. Modi himself told the All-party conference that not an inch of Indian territory has been ceded to China. In May this year, the Army Chief General M M. Naravane noted in an interview: “There has been no transgression of any kind and the process of talks is continuing.”
It is not China but the Quad that is disturbing unrest in China’s waters.
History tells the USA can sacrifice interests of its allies at the altar of self interest. India sank billions of dollars in developing the Chabahar Port. But, India had to abandon it as the US has imposed sanctions on Iran.
Xinjiang? A Minority Haven Or Hell
While the G7 meets under the shadow of Covid 19 and the leaders of the most prosperous nations on earth are focused on rebuilding their economies, a bloodless pogrom is being inflicted on a group of people on the other side of the world.
In this new era, killing people is wasteful and could bring the economic wrath of the rest of the world. No, it is better to brainwash them, to re-educate them, to destroy their culture, to force them to mold themselves into the alien beings who have invaded their land in the name of progress, and who take the best new jobs that sprout with economic development. Any protest at these injustices are treated severely.
Amnesty International has published a new 160-page report this week on Xinjiang detailing the horrors being perpetrated on Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Amnesty has simultaneously announced a campaign on their behalf.
Persecution, mass imprisonment in what can best be described as concentration camps, intensive interrogation and torture are actions that come under the definition of ‘crimes against humanity’. More than 50 people who spent time in these camps contributed first-hand accounts that form the substance of the report. It is not easy reading for these people have themselves suffered maltreatment even torture in many instances.
The UN has claimed that 1.5 million Muslims (Uighurs, Kazakhs, Uzbeks and Tajiks) are in these internment camps and China’s claims of re-education camps made to sound as benign as college campuses are patently false.
People report being interviewed in police stations and then transferred to the camps. Their interrogation was frequently conducted on ‘tiger chairs’: The interviewee is strapped to a metal chair with leg irons and hands cuffed in such a manner that the seating position soon becomes exceedingly painful. Some victims were hooded; some left that way for 24 hours or more, and thus were forced to relieve themselves, even defecate, where they sat. Beatings and sleep deprivation were also common.
Activities were closely monitored and they were mostly forbidden to speak to other internees including cell mates. Trivial errors such as responding to guards or other officials in their native language instead of Mandarin Chinese resulted in punishment.
Amnesty’s sources reported the routine was relentless. Wake up at 5am. Make bed — it had to be perfect. A flag-raising and oath-taking ceremony before breakfast at 7 am. Then to the classroom. Back to the canteen for lunch. More classes after. Then dinner. Then more classes before bed. At night two people had to be on duty for two hours monitoring the others leaving people exhausted. You never see sunlight while you are there, they said. That was because they were never taken outside as is done in most prisons.
The re-education requires them to disavow Islam, stop using their native language, give up cultural practices, and become Mandarin-speaking ‘Chinese’.
Such are the freedoms in Xi Jinping’s China. If China’s other leaders prior to Mr. Xi effected moderate policies in concert with advisers, it is no longer the case. Mr. Xi works with a small group of like minds. He has also removed the two-term or eight-year limit on being president. President for life as some leaders like to call themselves, then why not Mr. Xi. His anti-democratic values make him eminently qualified.
An enlightened leader might have used the colorful culture of these minorities to attract tourists and show them the diversity of China. Not Mr. Xi, who would rather have everyone march in lockstep to a colorless utopia reminiscent of the grey clothing and closed-collar jackets of the Maoist era.
Looking back on India-China ties, one year past the Galwan incident
Two nuclear-armed neighbouring countries with a billion-plus people each, geographically positioned alongside a 3,488-km undemarcated border in the high Himalayas. This is the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. Differences in perception of alignment of this border for both sides have contributed to a seemingly unending dispute.
Chinese unilateral attempt to change status quo in 2020
One year back, on 15 June 2020, a clash between Indian and Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley of eastern Ladakh turned bloody, resulting in the death of 20 soldiers in the former side and four in the latter side. It was an unfortunate culmination of a stand-off going on since early May that year, triggered by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops encountering Indian troops who were patrolling on their traditional limits.
It was followed by amassing of troops in large number by China on its side and some of them crossed the line over without any provocation, thereby blocking and threatening India’s routine military activities on its side of the traditionally accepted border. It was a unilateral attempt by the Chinese Communist Party-run government in Beijing to forcefully alter the status quo on the ground.
The LAC as an idea
Over the years, the LAC has witnessed one major war resulting from a Chinese surprise attack on India in 1962 and periodic skirmishes along the various friction points of the border, as seen in the years 1967, 1975, 1986-87, 2013, 2017, and the most recent 2020 Galwan Valley incident, the last being the worst in five decades. Post-Galwan, the optics appeared too high on both sides.
The LAC as an idea emerged with the annexation of Buddhist Tibet by Chinese communist forces in the early 1950s, bringing China to India’s border for the first time in history. This idea just emerged and was taking shape through the Jawaharlal Nehru-Zhou Enlai letters of correspondence that followed.
In 1962, while the world was engrossed upon the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Chinese inflicted a huge military and psychological debacle on unprepared and outnumbered Indian soldiers in a month-long war along this border.
Even to this date, there is still no mutually agreeable cartographic depiction of the LAC. It varies on perceptions.
What could’ve led to 2020 stand-off?
One of the reasons that led to the current new low in India-China ties, other than differing perceptions, is the improvement in Indian infrastructure capabilities along the rough mountainous terrains of the Himalayan borders and its resolve to be on par with China in this front. This has been a cause of concern in Chinese strategic calculations for its Tibetan border.
The carving up of the Indian union territory of Ladakh with majority Buddhists from the erstwhile Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019 has indeed added to Beijing’s concerns over the area.
For the past few years, India has been upfront in scaling up its border infrastructure throughout the vast stretch of LAC, including in eastern Ladakh, where the 2020 stand-off took place. There is a serious trust deficit between India and China today, if not an evolving security dilemma.
Several rounds of talks were held at the military and the diplomatic levels after the Galwan incident, the working-level mechanisms got renewed and new action plans were being formed before the process of disengagement finally began.
The foreign ministers of both countries even met in Moscow on the side-lines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meet in September, which was followed by a BRICS summit where Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping came face-to-face in November, although virtually.
By February 2021, the process of disengagement of troops gained momentum on the ground around the Pangong lake area. So far, eleven rounds of talks were held at the military level on the ground at the border. But, the disengagement is yet to be fully completed in the friction points of Hot Springs and the Depsang Plains.
Diplomacy is gone with the wind
All the bilateral border agreements and protocols for confidence-building that were signed between the both countries in the years 1993, 1996, 2005, 2012 and 2013 were rendered futile by the Chinese PLA’s act of belligerence in Galwan.
The spirit of two informal Narendra Modi-Xi Jinping summits to build trust after the 2017 Doklam standoff, one in Wuhan, China (2018) and the other in Mamallapuram, India (2019) was completely gone with the wind. This is further exacerbated by the Chinese practice of ‘wolf-warrior diplomacy’, which is clearly undiplomatic in nature.
India’s diversification of fronts
Coming to the maritime domain, India has upped the ante by the joint naval exercises (Exercise Malabar 2020) with all the Quad partners in November, last year. Thereby, New Delhi has opened a new front away from the Himalayan frontiers into the broader picture of India-China strategic rivalry. Australia joined the exercise, after 13 years, with India, Japan, and the United States, a move indicative of militarisation or securitisation of the Quad partnership.
Recently, India has been consolidating its position over the union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, lying southeast to the mainland, and close to the strategic Strait of Malacca, through which a major proportion of China’s crude oil imports pass through before venturing out to the ports of South China Sea.
Economic ties, yearning to decouple
Last year, India’s external affairs minister S. Jaishankar remarked that border tensions cannot continue along with co-operation with China in other areas. In this regard, the Narendra Modi government has been taking moves to counter China in the economic front by banning a large number of Chinese apps, citing security reasons, thereby costing the Chinese companies a billion-size profitable market. The Indian government has also refused to allow Chinese tech companies Huawei and ZTE to participate in India’s rollout of the 5G technology.
Moreover, India, Australia and Japan have collectively launched a Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI) in 2020 aimed at diversifying supply chain risks away from one or a few countries, apparently aimed at reducing their dependence on China. In terms of trade, India is still struggling to decouple with China, a key source of relatively cheap products for Indian exporters, particularly the pandemic-related pharmaceutical and related supplies in the current times.
But, the Indian government’s recent domestic policies such as “Self-Reliant India” (Atmanirbhar Bharat) have contributed to a decline in India’s trade deficit vis-à-vis China to a five-year low in 2020, falling to around $46 billion from around $57 billion in 2019.
The broader picture
The border dispute remains at the core of a range of issues that define the overall India-China bilateral relations. Other issues include trade and economics, Beijing’s close ties with Islamabad, the succession of Dalai Lama who has taken asylum in India since 1959 and the issue of Tibetan refugees living in India, educational ties, and the strategic rivalry in India’s neighbourhood, i.e., South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region, among others.
Chinese belligerence has led India to find its place easily in the evolving ‘new Cold War’
The more China turns aggressive at its border with India, the more it will bring India close to the United States and the West. Despite India’s traditional posture of indifference to allying itself exclusively with a power bloc, in the recently concluded G7 summit, India referred to the grouping of liberal democracies as a ‘natural ally’.
India has been raising the need for a free, open and rules-based Indo-Pacific in as many multilateral forums as possible, a concept which China considers as a containment strategy of the United States. Possibly, India might also join the G7’s newly announced infrastructure project for developing countries in an appropriate time, as it is initiated as a counterweight to China’s multi trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative.
There was a time in the past when the former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru sought to lead Asia by cooperating with China. Considering today’s changed geopolitical realities and power dynamics, nowhere in anyone’s wildest dreams such an idea would work out. Prime Minister Modi’s muscular foreign policy imperatives are aligning well with the Joe Biden-led Western response to the looming common threat arising from Beijing.
Today, encountering Xi Jinping’s grand strategy of Chinese domination of the world (by abandoning its yesteryear policy of ‘peaceful rise’) is a collective endeavour of peace-loving democracies around the world, to which Asia is particularly looking forward. Most notably, it comes amid an inescapable web of global economic inter-connectedness, even among rival powers.
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