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China post-covid situation

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As the first country to be engulfed in the COVID-19 pandemic, China is several weeks ahead of many other countries on the “curve” of the virus progression. As such, the changing situation in China is being monitored closely by many other countries. While statistical methods of counting infections and deaths have differed across countries, it is generally agreed that China has the pandemic largely under control at the current stage, with increases in new cases rising at a rate of less than 100 per day (although there was a spike to 108 on Sunday, April 12). Of course there is some concern that asymptomatic cases are not being identified effectively, but the fact that the number of new symptomatic cases is low (therefore the hospitals are not overwhelmed) is acting as a kind of proxy to provide confidence to the wider population that the situation has improved dramatically.

Indeed, in China, the public mood moved on from one of fear to one of caution around late February. Since then, while many restrictions remain in place around the country, caution has morphed into mere habit. Having worn a facemask every day for close to three months now, I feel slightly naked in public without one. People are adjusting to the “new normal” and seem to realize that there is a long battle ahead. While they realize it is going to be tough, there is a general sense among the population that China will be able to manage the adaptation process more effectively than most governments around the world.

The government response ramped up quickly after January 23, and restrictions became more and more onerous through February and most of March. Access to residential compounds was banned to people not registered as living within them. Restaurants closed for around 2.5 months, only recently re-opening. Much domestic travel required quarantine upon arrival at destination for 14 days, and a similar policy was introduced for international travel once the pandemic was confirmed as a global problem. Right now, even foreigners with valid visas and working permits are not allowed back into China. The concern now is focused on Chinese nationals returning to China from Europe and America. The draconian measures the government is implementing to take such people directly from airports to quarantine facilities shows how seriously the government is taking these potential “imported” coronavirus cases. Of the 99 new cases reported on April 11 across China, 97 were “imported”, according to Reuters.

Economic impact

Meanwhile, confidence in the government response seems high. Nevertheless, businesspeople realize that many types of business are being seriously hit. Food and beverage, retail, real estate, and travel are the four biggest losers. A lot of people in these sectors have either been furloughed for a period of time or have lost their jobs completely. Migrant workers in the construction sector are hugely impacted. Many of these jobs don’t show up in official government figures, so while there has been a significant uptick in the unemployment rate, it is likely that the real figure is much higher. A lot of lower-earning individuals will be suffering for a prolonged period of time.

Compared with other countries, the support measures that the government has put in place have been relatively limited. The most relevant benefit to businesses has been the partial waiving of the social security contribution made by employers on behalf of staff between the period of February to June. There are other programs in place as well, but most of them require the companies applying to be involved in the effort to combat the virus spread. Loans have also been relatively difficult for many Chinese companies to obtain. The bankruptcy of many companies and major problems for account receivable collection for those that remain standing seems inevitable.

Potential recovery

At the moment certain sectors of the economy are recovering. But not quickly. Malls are open, but sparsely populated. Restaurants are open, but with very few customers. There seems to still be a kind of reluctance among people to go out and enjoy themselves, perhaps worried about opprobrium from the many that are still struggling financially or that they will be accused of potentially spreading the virus. Habits may well have changed permanently. Unsurprisingly, people are reluctant to spend large amounts of money on cars, houses etc. because of the overall uncertainty.

Certain sectors are definitely booming. This will be a worldwide phenomenon, and it in fact may play into the hands of China in the medium term. It is well-known that China is ahead in the “race to 5G”, which is all about “digital” and “remote”. During this pandemic, China probably pulled further ahead. Online teaching and conferencing have boomed. Delivery of goods rather than visiting shops has continued its transition to the mainstream. The economy has taken another step towards modernization.

A lot of the companies that have benefited from that shift will presumably be flush with cash, and keen to invest it overseas going forwards considering the knowledge and technology they have accumulated already in China.

One particular overall impression that I have been left with is that rather than “living”, people in China are choosing to just “exist” for a while. This may be easier for the Chinese population, many of whom remember the tough times before the opening up of the economy in the 1980s and 1990s, compared with the baby-boomers and younger generations in the west who, in the eyes of the Chinese, have been living decadent lives since the 1950s. Nevertheless, this attitude will have severe repercussions for the economy as a whole. To what extent the Chinese government opts to encourage the return of a bit of that decadence that certainly existed in the last several years in China may have a big effect on the medium-term economic impact in the country. The outbreak of pandemic Covid-19 all over the world has disturbed the political, social, economic, religious and financial structures of the whole world. World’s topmost economies such as the US, China, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and many others are at the verge of collapse. Besides, Stock Markets around the world have been pounded and oil prices have fallen off a cliff. In just a week 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment and a week later another 6.6 million people started searching for jobs. Also, many experts on economic and financial matters have warned about the worsening condition of global economic and financial structure. Such as Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of International Monitory Fund (IMF), explained that “a recession at least as bad as during the Global Financial Crisis or worse”. Moreover, Covid-19 is harming the global economy because the world has been experiencing the most difficult economic situation since World War-II. When it comes to the human cost of the Coronavirus pandemic it is immeasurable therefore all countries need to work together with cooperation and coordination to protect the human beings as well as limit the economic damages. For instance, the lockdown has restricted various businesses such as travelling to contain the virus consequently this business is coming to an abrupt halt globally.

Keeping in a view the staggering situation G-20 nations called an emergency meeting to discuss worsening conditions and prepare a strategy to combat Covid-19 as losses could be reduced. The spread of the epidemic is picking up speed and causing more economic damages. It is stated by the U.S. official from federal reserves that American unemployment would be 30% and its economy would shrink by half. As for as the jobs of common people are concerned, there is also a real threat of losing their jobs because with business shutting down that shows that companies will be unable to pay to workers resultantly they have to lay off them. While when it comes to the stock market, it is severely damaged by Covid-19 such as the stock market of the United States is down about thirty percent. By looking over the existing condition of several businesses, most of the investors are removing its money from multiple businesses in this regard $83 billion has already removed from emerging markets since the outbreak of Covid-19. So, the impact of Covid-19 is severe on the economic structure of the world because people are not spending money resultantly businesses are not getting revenue therefore most of the businesses are shutting up shops.

It also observed that the economic recovery from this fatal disease is only possible by 2021 because it has left severe impacts on the global economy and the countries face multiple difficulties to bring it back in a stable condition. Most of the nations are going through recession and collapse of their economic structure that points out the staggering conditions for them in this regard almost 80 countries have already requested International Monetary Fund (IMF) for financial help. Such as Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan also requested IMF to help Islamabad to fight against Novel Coronavirus. Furthermore, there is uncertainty and unpredictability concerning the spread of Coronavirus. So, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) stated that global growth could be cut in half to 1.5% in 2020 if the virus continues to spread. Most of the economists have already predicted about the recession to happen because there is no surety and still no one knows that how for this pandemic fall and how long the impact would be is still difficult to predict. Besides, Bernard M. Wolf, professor, Economics Schulich School of Business, said that “it is catastrophic and we have never seen anything like this, we have a huge portion of the economy and people under lockdown that’s going to have a huge impact on what can be produced and not produced”.

As Covid-19 has already become a reason for closing the multiple businesses and closure of supermarkets which seems empty nowadays. Therefore, many economists have fear and predicted that the pandemic could lead to inflation. For instance, Bloomberg Economics warns that “full-year GDP growth could fall to zero in a worst-case pandemic scenario”. There are various sectors and economies that seem most vulnerable because of this pandemic, such as, both the demand and supply have been affected by the virus, as a result of depressed activity Foreign Direct Investment flows could fall between 5 to 15 percent. Besides, the most affected sectors have become vulnerable such as tourism and travel-related industries, hotels, restaurants, sports events, consumer electronics, financial markets, transportation, and overload of health systems. Diane Swonk, Chief Economist at the Advisory Firm Grant Thornton, explained that “various nations have multinational companies that operate in the world because the economy is global. For instance, China has touchpoints into every other economy in the world, they are part of the global supply chain. So one should shut down production in the U.S. by shutting down production in China”. Besides, Kristalina Georgieva in a press release suggested that four things need to be done to fight against Covid-19 and avoid or minimize losses. Firstly, continue with essential containment measures and support for the health system. Secondly, shield affected people and firms with large timely targeted fiscal and financial sector measures. Thirdly, reduce stress to the financial system and avoid con tangent. Fourthly, must plan for recovery and must minimize the potential scaring effects of the crisis through policy action. Concerning the serious and worsening conditions all over the world, nations need cooperation and coordination among themselves including the help and mature as well as sensible behaviour of people to effectively fight against Coronavirus. Otherwise, because of the globalized and connected world, wrong actions and policies taken by any state will leave a severe impact on other countries as well. This is not the time of political point-scoring and fight with each other rather it is high time for states to cooperate, coordinate, and help each other to defeat this fatal pandemic first for saving the global economic and financial structure.

Bushra Amin is a PhD candidate at School of International and Public Affairs at Jilin University China. She is doing her doctorate on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

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The Taliban seek cooperation with China?

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image source: chinamission.be

How to deal with Afghanistan after the removal of US forces has become a subject that many countries are grappling with. And because Afghanistan and China are linked through Xinjiang, the Afghan Taliban aspire to cooperate with China. According to sources, on July 28, Baradar, the head of the Taliban’s Political Committee, visited China and met with Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

During the meetings, Foreign Minister Wang Yi made a personal plea to the Taliban in Afghanistan, expecting that the Taliban would draw a line with terrorist organizations like the East Iraqi Movement and actively battle them, removing barriers to regional growth and cooperation. Since the United States made it apparent that it intends to withdraw its troops, China’s position toward Afghanistan and the Taliban has become the center of all countries’ attention.

Prior to that, China simply repeated its long-standing foreign policy of non-interference in domestic matters, — in other words, China does not intervene in Afghanistan’s internal problems and expects Afghans to handle their own internal affairs. China, on the other hand, is very concerned about the situation in Afghanistan. China has not only made substantial investments in Afghanistan, but it has also sponsored several dialogues in China between Afghan parties.

Only because of the complexities of the situation in Afghanistan does China lack a clear answer. China has stated its particular needs more explicitly this time than in the past. China has far too many considerations when it comes to Afghanistan. However, in comparison to the behavior of many other nations, China’s demands for the Taliban this time have been well thought out, fair, and controlled.

First, China has maintained its previous favorable policy. Despite the fact that the Afghanistan problem is unique, China has not broken its foreign policy of non-interference in internal matters. On the basis of this strategy, China has had interactions with all parties in Afghanistan, ensuring that participation is not only voluntary, but also sufficient to ensure that all parties understand China’s position in order to avoid misunderstandings.

Second, China has stated its opinion on the subjects that most worry it. China has no space for compromise when it comes to national security. China has not raised this matter in the past, but it still needs to voice its viewpoint at the proper moment. As a result, China has the guts to demonstrate its stance, which will aid in the resolution of the situation.

Only when this issue is settled will future collaboration between China and Afghanistan be simple. The Taliban further said that no troops will be allowed to utilize Afghan territory to conduct activities that harm China. Atta regards China as a reliable ally and thinks that China would contribute to peaceful rebuilding.

Furthermore, China has not permitted certain ill-intentioned groups throughout the world to flourish. Following the withdrawal of the US troops, there was speculation in Western culture that China might become engaged in this issue and become the next growing power to enter the “empire’s tomb.” The Indian army’s recent intervention in Afghan politics appears to demonstrate that, as a powerful country around Afghanistan, it is hard to stay out of the issue.

China avoided the urge to intervene and managed its interactions with all sides sensibly, laying the ground for the next phase in the development of China-Afghan relations. So far, China has not fallen into the West’s trap, nor has the deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan harmed its relations with all parties.

As China expands its global presence, it will eventually come into contact with nations with very difficult political and economic situations, such as Afghanistan. However, China will not flee because of obstacles, because the majority of the world’s developed countries are Western countries with strong biases against China, and those wanting to have good relations with China are frequently developing countries with varied challenges. nation. As a result, China has no option.

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Will US-China Tensions Trigger the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis?

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Half a century ago, the then-National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger flew to Beijing in the hope of seeking China’s alliance to contain the Soviets. His visit culminated in the U.S. agreement to recognize Beijing as the only legitimate government of China instead of Taipei, going back on the promise he had made to the president of the Republic of China, Chiang Ching-kuo, merely one year previously that Taiwan would never be abandoned by the US. The realistic American diplomat may have never thought that one day Taiwan, once ruthlessly forsaken by the US, would become the latter’s most important strategic fortress in East Asia to contain a rising China.

In 2018, the passage of the Taiwan Travel Act encouraged more high-ranking American government officials to visit Taiwan and vice versa1. The US Undersecretary of State Keith Krach landed in Taiwan two years later, rendering him the highest-level State Department official to visit the island since 19792. The Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, announced the cancellation of all restrictions on official contacts between the U.S. and Taiwan in January 20213 – an action that was vehemently denounced by the Chinese government as Trump’s “last-ditch madness” that would “push the Taiwan question deeper down the road of no return”4.

Just when the world thought of Joe Biden’s ascension to power as a harbinger of softer attitudes toward Beijing, especially regarding Taiwan issues, the diplomatic muscle flexed by the newly elected US president is as eye-tingling as his aviator shades – first, his Secretary of State, Blinken and Secretary of Defense, Austin made an explicit announcement of the U.S. support for Taiwan; second, he sent former Deputy Secretaries of State Richard Armitage and James Steinberg and former senator Chris Dodd to Taiwan in honor of the 42nd anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act.

America’s incremental interest in the island is not confined to actions from its executive branches, but it has permeated its legislative system. The introduction of the confrontational “Strategic Competition Act of 2021” in April signals the anti-Soviet-style containment of China which was backed by The Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This bill echoes the “Interim National Security Strategic Guidance” released by the Biden Administration in March, and it emphasizes the urgent need to “achieve United States political objectives in the Indo-Pacific” and back closer ties with Taiwan5. With strong bipartisan support, the bill is expected to be signed into law by President Biden and to serve as a legislative compass to counter China at all levels. In that respect, Taiwan Strait is more likely than ever to become “ground zero” by the U.S. and China.

On the other hand, the crackdown on Hong Kong’s democracy movement under the new National Security Law by Beijing proved to be successful due to the limited backlash received from the West. On top of that, Beijing’s handling of Xinjiang cotton issue seems to have managed to incite nationalism among Chinese people on a short notice to boycott “anti-China forces”6. With a record of 380 incursions into Taiwan’s airspace by Chinese air force during 2020, there is reason to believe that Hong Kong and Xinjiang were “guinea pigs” used by Beijing to test its capability for the fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis, the probability of which has been enhanced by Xi Jinping’s attempt to seek reappointment and Beijing’s need to divert domestic attention away from the escalating social conflicts brought about by the stagnant economy.

So, the pertinent question is: if the fourth Taiwan Crisis does break out, when will it happen? It could be sometime after the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games7 as it is unlikely for China to discard the opportunity to showcase its image and test its comprehensive strength8. This could be déjà vu in light of Russia’s successful Blitzkrieg-style invasion of Ukraine in 2014, which occurred only three days after the end of Sochi Winter Olympics. However, China is not the only one who can learn from history. When the rest of the world anticipates China’s intent with regard to Taiwan, preemptive precautions will be taken. The game-theory-type strategic interaction may hence spur China to launch its attack before the upcoming international sports gala.

Another critical timing could be prior to the 20th National Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in October 2022. Xi Jinping’s abolishment of term limits through constitutional amendment may pave the legal foundation for his reappointment, but the “widespread opposition within the party”9 renders the legitimacy of his extended tenure unlikely. That is why some may find it hard to conceive of Xi’s attempt to “start an unnecessary war with Taiwan” before his re-appointment10, but his insatiable desire for a 3rd term may push him over the edge. For the time being, Xi seems to be seduced by his burgeoning self-confidence that China is charging into an epoch of opportunity where “the East is rising and the West is declining,”11 and what time is better than now to consolidate his authority in front of dissidents with a military show-off targeting Taiwan?

As Henry Kissinger12 said, “The historical challenge for leaders is to manage the crisis while building the future. Failure could set the world on fire.” When the leaders of the two greatest powers both see their own countries as the future “Leviathan” of the world, the definition of failure can no longer be merely confined to internal mismanagement, but being surpassed by international competitors. Kissinger may have overestimated some leaders’ senses of honor to bear the responsibility of the “historical challenge”, but he can be right about the catastrophic consequences of their failures. But this time, failure is not an option for either side across the Taiwan Strait nor across the Pacific Ocean

Reference

  1. Chen, Y., & Cohen, J. A. (2019). China-Taiwan Relations Re-Examined: The “1992 Consensus” and Cross-Strait Agreements. University of Pennsylvania Asian Law Review, 14(1).
  2. Mink, M. (2021). The Catalyst for Stronger US-Taiwan Ties. https://keithkrach.com/the-catalyst-for-stronger-us-taiwan-ties/
  3. Hass, R. (2021). After lifting restrictions on US-Taiwan relations, what comes next? Brookings. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2021/01/11/after-lifting-restrictions-on-us-taiwan-relations-what-comes-next/
  4. Global Times. (2021). Pompeo may toll the knell for Taiwan authorities. https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202101/1212378.shtml
  5. Zengerle, P., & Martina, M. (2021). U.S. lawmakers intensify bipartisan efforts to counter China. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/us-lawmakers-look-advance-sweeping-bid-counter-china-2021-04-21/
  6. Cui, J., & Zhao, Y. (2021). Boycott of Xinjiang cotton use opposed. China Daily. https://www.chinadailyhk.com/article/161495
  7. Everington, K. (2021). Former US security advisor says Taiwan in “maximum danger” from PLA. Taiwan News. https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/4189160
  8. China Daily. (2021). Preparing for Winter Olympics promotes quality development – Opinio. China Daily. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202101/22/WS600a131ba31024ad0baa44f1.html
  9. The Guardian. (2020). China’s Xi Jinping facing widespread opposition in his own party, insider claims. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/18/china-xi-jinping-facing-widespread-opposition-in-his-own-party-claims-insider
  10. Roy, D. (2021). Rumors of War in the Taiwan Strait. The Diplomat. https://thediplomat.com/2021/03/rumors-of-war-in-the-taiwan-strait/
  11. Buckley, C. (2021). Xi Maps Out China’s Post-Covid Ascent. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/03/world/asia/xi-china-congress.html?_ga=2.178218534.2000768907.1619749005-1359154941.1599697815
  12. Kissinger, H. A. (2020). The Coronavirus Pandemic Will Forever Alter the World Order. https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-coronavirus-pandemic-will-forever-alter-the-world-order-11585953005

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Quad Infrastructure Diplomacy: An Attempt to Resist the Belt and Road Initiative

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Over the years, the competition between the great powers in the dual space of the Indian and Pacific Oceans has been rapidly increasing. In the face of the aggravation of relations between the PRC and the United States, the defence dimension of the rivalry between the two contenders for global leadership traditionally comes to the forefront. However, in today’s context, the parties will most likely not engage in military action for the strengthening of their dominance in the region, but they will try to achieve the goals by expanding of economic influence. In this context, along with the well-known trade wars, there is an infrastructure rivalry in the region, which is enforced on Beijing by Washington and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad).

The role of Infrastructure in Indian and Pacific Oceans’ countries

The countries of Asia traditionally drawing the attention of the world community due to the high rates of economic, technological, and social development. In less than three decades, their per capita income has increased by 74%, millions of people have been lifted out of poverty, as well as a growing middle class has emerged in the region. All this became possible due to the multilateral cooperation institutionalization and the integration of the economies of the Indo-Pacific. However, the strengthening of trade and economic ties and the future prosperity of Asia largely depends on the infrastructure (ports, highways and railways, airports, pipelines, etc.), which contributes to a more active movement of goods on a regional and global scale. Moreover, back in 2009, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) published a report according to which collective investments in infrastructure in the amount of US$8 trillion will be required to maintain rapid economic growth in Asian countries.

The most prominent infrastructure initiative in recent years is the «Belt and Road Initiative» (BRI), which was launched by China’s leader Xi Jinping in 2013. The BRI helped to fill numerous infrastructure gaps, but the United States and its partners increasingly paid attention to the geostrategic aspect of China’s actions. It’s no secret that the Belt and Road plays an important role in the development and integration of China’s provinces with neighboring countries. However, with the growing number of countries participating in the BRI, as well as the strengthening of China’s influence on a regional and global scale, criticism of the strategic tools for expanding Beijing’s economic influence gradually increased. The Belt and Road has faced a number of critical remarks, including those related to accusations of purposely involving the regional countries in the so-called «debt traps». Regardless of the degree of truthfulness or study of the issue, from year to year, media reports have contributed to the building of a contradictory attitude to China’s BRI among the residents, experts, and political elites all over the world.

Moreover, as soon as Donald Trump became the U.S. President in early 2017, Washington modified the nature of its policy towards China to greater confrontation. This trend has become a direct expression of the intensified great powers’ rivalry and their struggle for hegemony in the Indo-Pacific, as well as a motivation for the revival of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), which includes the United States, Australia, India and Japan. However, the interaction of the Quad has long been built on the basis of defence.

This trend continues nowadays, as evidenced by the frequent exercises and the growing Quad naval presence in the Indo-Pacific but in 2021 the Quad countries expanded their range of issues on a multilateral basis. Now the agenda includes vaccine diplomacy (providing 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines to Indo-Pacific countries, climate change, technological cooperation, maritime security, cybersecurity, and external development assistance. According to Kurt Campbell, Indo-Pacific policy coordinator at the National Security Council, Washington is looking to convene an in-person fall summit of leaders of the Quad countries with a focus on infrastructure in the face of the challenge from China.

Quadrilateral infrastructure diplomacy as the continuing vector of the Trump’s administration

The infrastructure agenda also became an important part of the last summit of the G7 countries’ leaders, during which the parties expressed their willingness to establish a BRI counterpart called Build Back Better World (B3W). In total, there are 22 mentions of infrastructure in the final G7 Summit Communiqué. Even despite the traditionally restrained position of India, which took the time to «study the specifics of the proposal», infrastructure diplomacy of Quad is becoming a new area of geostrategic competition in the Indo-Pacific.

There’s one exception: the activities on the infrastructure track are not a new trend of U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration, but a continuation of the foreign policy vector set during the presidency of Donald Trump. It was he who turned Sino-U.S. rivalry into a geo-economic level. Back in 2017, the Foreign Ministers of the Quad countries stated the need for high-quality infrastructure development in order to ensure freedom and openness of sea routes, as well as improve intra-regional ties. In 2018, MoU was signed between the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia, aimed at implementing major infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific. Moreover, the Quad countries raised the question of the BRI countries’ growing debt during their official meeting in Singapore.

It was clear that the Belt and Road Initiative is perceived by the Quad countries as the main factor in expanding the economic and political influence of the People’s Republic of China, as well as China’s influence of the domestic political processes in the countries of Indo-Pacific. At the same time, the combination of economic and defence rivalry enforced on Beijing by Washington, as well as Quad’s efforts to build a balance of power in the region actually indicates the explicit anti-​China nature of the Quad.

In this case, it’s important to note that each of the Quad countries has its own levers of influence, which they can combine in infrastructure competition with Beijing. For example, in 2015, in response to the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative and the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) by China, Japan made the Partnership for Quality Infrastructure (PQI). The United States, in turn, announced the infrastructure project Blue Dot Network (BDN), as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia established a new Partnerships for Infrastructure (P4I). All these initiatives are united by a commitment to inclusive economic growth, «quality infrastructure», climate change, disaster response, and social development. The capitalization of the Japanese, American and Australian initiatives is US $110 billion (US$50 billion from Japan and over US$50 from the Asian Development Bank), US$30-60 million, and US$383 thousand (including access to US$4 billion of foreign aid and $US2 billion from the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific), respectively. Given the ongoing discussions about debt traps, the emphasis on «high-quality infrastructure» may give special features to the initiatives of the Quad but even the total amount of funding will not be able to compete with the US$770 billion investments already made in 138 countries of the world and announced by China.

Anyway, Quad is stepping up its infrastructure diplomacy in at least three areas, including Southeast Asia, Oceania, and the Indian Ocean. For example, Australia, Germany and Switzerland have already allocated US$13 million to the Mekong River Commission For Sustainable Development (MRC) to assist Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and, Vietnam «to respond to pressing challenges while safeguarding the ecological function of the Mekong River and improving people’s livelihoods».At the same time, Australia signed US$300 million MoU with Papua New Guinea, aimed at the ports reconstruction in the major state of Oceania (the ports of Vanimo, Kimbe, Motukea, Lorengau, Oro Bay, Daru, Lae, etc.). It is important to highlight that the increasing economic and infrastructural presence of China in the countries of Oceania, energize Australia’s policy in the South Pacific, which is a traditional zone of influence of Canberra. At the same time, the expansion of Australia’s aid and investment to the broader Indo-Pacific is due to the commitment of the current Australian government to the U.S. foreign policy.

In turn, the reaction of the Southeast Asian countries to the intensification of Quad infrastructure diplomacy will be more restrained. According to the latest Pew Research Center survey, the most unfavourable view of China is in the United States (76%), Canada (73%), Germany (71%), Japan (88%), Australia (78%), and South Korea (77%), while in Singapore — the only country representing ASEAN in the survey — the percentage of unfavourable views on China is at a low level (34%). Moreover, considering the aspects of infrastructure diplomacy in the region, we should definitely refer to the survey of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) of the political elites of the region «Powers, Norms, and Institutions: The Future of the Indo-Pacific from a Southeast Asia Perspective», published in 2020. Despite the intentional exclusion of Russia from the survey, it approximately reflects the trends in the Indo-Pacific countries at the present stage. Thus, as a result of the survey, American experts revealed that the political elites of Southeast Asia positively assess China’s activities in the field of infrastructure development, which has brought tangible benefits to most Southeast Asian countries.

Beijing’s Response

China is actively reacting to verbal attacks from the United States and Quad. The infrastructure agenda was no exception, but China responded by modernizing its global Belt and Road Initiative. In response to criticism about the involvement of the countries in debt traps, Beijing has developed a new Foreign Policy White Paper «China’s International Development Cooperation in the New Era». The document was published in early 2021. According to the provisions of the new White Paper, China will pay closer attention to the process of implementing projects within the aid framework, take an active part in evaluating projects in order to monitor their quality, maintain an appropriate level of confidence in its projects to China, as well as conduct bilateral consultations to identify difficulties with debt repayment and make sure that partners do not fall into a debt trap. It’s possible that the new vision of the PRC will appear especially quickly in countries where the Quad will primarily try to implement their infrastructure projects.

China is the first country in the region, which pays significant attention to the issues of large-scale infrastructure development. Moreover, Beijing has a number of advantages over its opponent — Quad. First, the Belt and Road initiative is more structured and aimed at intensifying trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation with neighboring countries, while the emerging Quad infrastructure agenda is «dispersed» among numerous individual initiatives, doesn’t have the same level of stability as the BRI, and even after 3.5 years of building the agenda is considered through the prism of expectations.

Second, China’s initiative is aimed at a single infrastructure connection between the PRC and the rest of the world and acts as a potential basis for the intensification of global trade in the future. At the same time, today’s projects of the Quad are of a “sporadic» nature and can’t contribute to the infrastructure linkage between Europe, Africa, South and Southeast Asia on a global scale.

Third, China can already offer the Belt and Road members not only logistics infrastructure but also the opportunities in the field of green energy. At the end of 2019, China produced about a third of the world’s solar energy and retained a leading position in the number of wind turbines. Within the foreseeable future, the Quad countries, and especially the United States, will have to compete with China even in the field of the climate agenda, which is so close to the new administration of the U.S. President Joe Biden.

Finally, during his recent speech on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party (​CCP), PRC’s Leader Xi Jinping confidently declared the great revival of the Chinese nation, its contribution to the progress of human civilization, and its readiness to build a new world, which undoubtedly indicates China’s decisiveness to respond to challenges to its address, including from the Quad.

Conclusion

The ongoing transformation of the regional architecture in the Indo-Pacific, both in the defence and economic areas, will be an important aspect in the post-pandemic era. China has repeatedly stated about the «covered» Quad activities to deterrence Chinese policy in the region, but the expansion of the Quad’s agenda by infrastructure diplomacy allows us to speak about the evident vector of the Quad strategy against the PRC.

However, nowadays the Quad countries had been left behind. China already has the world’s most numerous land forces, the largest navy, as well as an ambitious global Belt and Road initiative that includes almost 140 countries and a capitalization approaching US$1 trillion. Of course, Quad is moving towards the institutionalization of its infrastructure cooperation and the potential expansion of the number of participating countries to the Quad Plus format. However, to reach China’s achievements for the period 2013-2021, the new alliance will need at least a decade.

At the same time, the rivalry of the Belt and Road with the Quad’s infrastructure initiative will help the countries of the region to diversify their infrastructure ties but will make their choice even more difficult, since it will primarily be regarded as support for the foreign policy vision of one of the parties, and not a pragmatic estimate of economic benefits. All this makes the regional environment in the Indo-Pacific increasingly complex and forces middle powers and smaller countries to adapt to new geostrategic realities.

From our partner International Affairs

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