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East Asia

The Asian Gee Gee



Authors: Audrey Beaulieu and Eugene Matos

The Gee-Gee is the first horse out of the race gate; it’s an eyecatcher for gamblers. Usual to the racing scene, for those with little chance of success, the dark horse became a target of doping accusations. These allegations were disproportionately more common than the doping itself, especially when thousands were at stake. As a first-of-its-type economic tank, China is the 21st century Gee-Gee. To illustrate, in terms of GDP, China is the largest economy, with a GDP (PPP) of $25.27 trillion. Furthermore, hosting 129 headquarters out of the 500 biggest companies, China has the world’s largest foreign-exchange reserves worth $3.1 trillion. Its success has been largely due to liberal economic, social, legal and political reforms instituted since 1980. Yet, naysayers believe that China’s success is based on a unique third-way political and economic paradigm that occupies a space somewhere in between capitalism and socialism. Nonetheless, China’s economic prowess is not due to the state’s active interventionism in the Chinese economy. Difficult to understand the direction of Chinese economic policies due to the overshadowed politicized narratives by the current trade war with the US. Those who are interested in forecasting the reception of the China model in the global market, should distance themselves from the volatile political rhetoric. A rational legal approach abstained from political bias could dismantle the sino skepticism, confirm that China’s economic success is linked directly to the Chinese style neoliberal reforms put in place by CPC and simply unveil the arrival of a new player in a competitive liberal economy.

It is the type of policies we choose to apply that defines our market and its compatibility with others. We cannot contest that the international market follows neoliberalist economic principles, and alternative markets are pressured to reconsider their approach and reform. What concerns normative western economies are the principles that applaud free markets efficiency, growth and innovation, and discourage interventionism. Neoliberalists seek to transfer the control of the market from the public to the private sector, steering away from government spending, regulations and public enterprises. Based on the proposition above, we can find policies such as; the deregulation of industry and the elimination of government oversight on competition control and regulation; the privatization of state-owned organizations and enterprises to provide goods and services; the reduction of trade barriers to gain productivity and benefit from market accessibility; the reduction of government spending, as a mechanism to influence a market economy, and finally; monetarism, emphasizing on the government control of money supply in circulation which influences the price levels in the market.

Before 1978, China’s private sector was virtually non-existent. China’s desire to expand its economy was expressed with gradual contained experiments mirroring liberal economies, and gradual policy efforts to give greater protection and freedom to private enterprises. Contrary to popular thought, the first changes were not exclusively party-led but also spearheaded by peasant-led initiatives which resulted in the abolishment of the private farming ban in 1982. Subsequently, the ripple effect of the success of grassroot initiatives drove a spiked increase of small-scale businesses in different sectors. This wave of entrepreneurship influenced a system where business only thrived under the patronage of the state. In reality, the first formalized liberal experiments were the entry of the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) created in 1980 in the southeastern Chinese cities of Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Shantou and Xiamen. In these cities, opening-up and reform were carried out. The relaxation and deregulation have attracted millions, subsequently boosting the SEZs. Case in point, Shenzhen’s population went from 30,000 in 1980 to over 12.5 million by 2018.

 By 1992, the Communist Party of China claimed, in their 14th congress, the acceptance of the market economy and the relaxation of several foreign direct investment (FDI) restrictions. Notably, the switching from an approval business list based to a strictly denied based system allowing for most investments to proceed without the government’s mandatory approval. FDI deregulation coincided with the early 2000s thriving global economy with investment opportunities enjoying the global surplus in investment capital, increased competitiveness, lowered transaction costs, reduced red tape, and letting investors earn increased returns.

More recently, encouraged by their market results, China’s ambitions for better market access, and interest in trading partners with the WTO repositioned the country higher in the globalized world. By ratifying the WTO agreement in 2001, trade facilitation increased with blanket reforms and standardized the Pan-China liberal future. The entry to the WTO was a check and balance for China. Case in point, the Foreign Investment Law adopted by the National People’s Congress in 2019 assigned the Ministry of Commerce, National Development and Reform Commission to protect and promote foreign investments, and the abolishment of FDI expropriation, except under special circumstances and with reasonable compensation.

To summarize, China has encouraged voluntary exchanges with less intervention, allowing the law of supply and demand to take a greater role in their market economy. They ensured that FDI policies promote the investment of entrepreneurial activities by giving subsidies, grants, tax breaks, and loans, to increase greater profitability. Without a doubt, China’s openness through export-friendly policies, such as regional and international trade agreements encourage the feasibility of the market for both internal and foreign consumers. Law expert from Chinese Embassy in the Hague points out that the 19th CPC National Congress has been an occasion to insist on the importance of giving “full play to the decisive role of the market in resource allocation, [optimizing] the role of the government, fully implement the new development concept, focus on the supply-side structural reform, and accelerate the construction of a modern economic system”. He also specifies that the institutional obstacles obstructing the way to a high-quality development “require further liberated thinking, deepening market-oriented reforms [and] high-level opening up”. From 1980 when China owned less than 1% of the global share to 12% or $4.6 trillion by 2018 in global trade. The Chinese economy grew eighth fold, and over 400 million people in China were relieved out of absolute poverty of less than $1.90 per day. Trade with the US increases from $8 billion to $578 billion in 2016 alone. Needless to say, FDI policies have an upscale battle to dismantle years of failed manufacturing investors who have hit walls of high startup costs, heavy legal exposure, and compliance issues.

The recent adoption of the first Chinese civil code, was a long-awaited deal China had with its investors. In March 2017 the General Provisions were adopted, in August 2018, six drafts went under review, in December 2019, following public solicitations, and appraisal activities, a complete 84-chapter draft civil code was unveiled, and it will come into force on January 1, 2021. The code is a significant legal reform delivered in China. Composed of 1260 articles and divided into seven chapters, the latter will cover several legal aspects, some of which are largely related to the management of private companies, such as contracts and property rights. China gathered public wisdom in the course of compiling the draft civil code, 1.02 million pieces of advice had been solicited from around 425,000 people, it reflected the needs of a contemporary economy. According to Chinese Embassy, “the [new] Civil Code [will show] more respect to the basic principles of private law autonomy, restrict public sector’s improper interference in the field of private rights of natural and legal persons [and] strengthen the protection of private rights of natural and legal persons by public authority”. For example, the new Code will establish a “ special legal person” which reflects the freedom of transaction, emphasizes the spirit of contract, and creates a legalized environment favorable to business”.

The first codification of the law in a country is synonymous to several changes. Initially, this will allow easier access to the law for the population, resulting in greater respect and trust in the legal system, but also in political decisions and organization. Moreover, due to its concise and intelligible form and its ease of access, the Civil Code will allow greater efficiency and better coherence within the judicial branch. Indeed, especially in the case of China, bringing together various legislations under a single law will help avoiding contradictions, from stand-alone regulations and increasing the speed of judicial processes since all professionals can rely on the same steady legal basis. Finally, the adoption of a civil code offers the needed stability for private investment reflects a modern China and the will of Chinese public institutions to comply with the rule of law, a well-acknowledged principle on the international scene.

The demand for greater democracy, justice and protection of private property has to coincide with an era of diversified incomes, fast technological changes, and innovation. In doing so, the code applies groundbreaking modern ICT legal approach protects online information, email addresses, and virtual assets. It handles cyberspace tort in response to the demand of big data researchers and other AI ICT advancements, with new rules on protection of personal information. This also includes regulations on property protection, business secrets on scientific studies, and rules on handling patenting.

Private investments in China have dramatically slowed during the 2019-2020. To the worry of Chinese officials went from more than 20% growth to single digits in 2020. Private investments fell another 13% during the coronavirus-battered first four month of this year, compared with a 7% decline for SOE. This April in a meeting chaired by Xi, declared that the Civil Code ahead would increase the support to the private economy and development of small and medium-sized firms and restore confidence of private business owners and to help prop up economic growth. That said, the intensification of the protection of entrepreneurs and local and foreign investors’ rights is undoubtedly an incentive to further develop the private sector. On that matter, Chinese Embassy mentions that the new code will “further [improve] the basic legal system and rules of conduct in domestic civil and commercial fields, [provide] basic guidance for various civil and commercial activities [and give] a more specific legal basis for foreign investors to invest and establish enterprises in China, which [will encourage] their enthusiasm and creativity, [safeguard] transaction security, and [maintain] market order”. In the same vein, the new code will also clarify the boundary between public and private institutions. For example, the new code plans to tighten property rights by restricting the concept of public interest so that it will now be more difficult to expropriate usufructuaries without justification. Consequently, the application of the new code will result in the submission of the state to a system of law, thereby reducing its place in the economic sphere as liberalists would suggest.

 the civil code is, without a doubt, the “third-way theory’s” last straw. In fact, as we have demonstrated, the reforms taken show that the gradual liberalization provides evidence of a liberalized market and reduced Chinese state intervention. Indeed, the state is still present, yet it is clear that the trend of controlled, gradual and experimental decline in the state’s role in the market has been a continuance of a transformation which began in the 1980s. China underwent unique great social changes and moved away from the hammer and sickle limitation of their agricultural, and production of staples towards a more dynamic manufacturing activities. With the implementation of SEZ, FDI regulations and the new Civil Code, foreign investments became a stakeholder to Chinese infrastructure needs. Moreover, the rising curve of the accumulation of capital and entrepreneurial spirit, uncontestably correlates with the advancement of human wellbeing, search for happiness, prosperity. The maximization of capacity in China will soon be completed with the ascension of greater property and individual rights. As suggested the Civil Code and laws on FDI have led to a more law-based and effective and market-friendly governance atmosphere in China. Therefore, we should not believe that China has discovered a third paradigm by simply mixing capitalism with substantial influence of the state, China’s success was due to a discovery of development route that best suited to its national conditions through practice and reform, with the state and market both playing a more coordinated, efficient and balanced role,

Audrey Beaulieu of the University of Ottawa (Globalization and International Development Department), specialised in public and private International law, international development and global politics.

East Asia

Nanjing tragedy – massacre or “incident”?



On December 15, China was marking the 80th anniversary of the Nanjing massacre by Japanese troops.

In Japan, they avoid using the term “massacre,” however, so when covering the tragic event the local media referred to it as the “Nanjing incident.”

In December 1937, at the height of the second Sino-Japanese war, Japanese forces entered the city of Nanjing, then the capital of Nationalist China, which had been used by the Kuomintang government as its headquarters since 1927. The Chiang Kai-shek government had earlier decided to move the bulk of its forces out of the city, leaving behind just a small garrison. All that time, the citizens were kept in the dark about those plans. Moreover, they were prevented from escaping, even though there still was plenty of time to evacuate the civilian population. As to the Japanese, in Nanjing they didn’t encounter the serious resistance they had faced in the battle for Shanghai.  And still, in addition to mass-scale looting and torching of houses, they staged a real bloodbath killing thousands of unarmed city residents and POWs. Judging by numerous accounts of that massacre, including by a handful of Europeans who remained in the city and were spared by the Japanese, who agreed to place them in a special “safety zone,” it seems that the city was being overrun not by soldiers but a giant crowd of characters from American movies about sadistic serial killers. The elaborate torture and murder of pregnant Chinese women was especially shocking.

The reasons for such behavior by the Japanese military still defy a clear explanation. One thing is clear, though: Japanese militarism as a phenomenon is characterized by the complete loss by politicians of control over the military and of officials closely associated with it. That being said, senior officers, unlike the “field generals,” were often unable to prevent the atrocities committed by the lower ranks that quickly became widespread. Unlike in the Navy, the system of personnel training in the Imperial Army allowed uneducated conscripts from peasant families to rise to the rank of officers. A chance to feel oneself as part of the “military caste” and traditions of the samurai, which their ancestors could not even dream of, might be a reason why many of those new officers began to “revel” in their own power. At the same time, medieval customs, like testing the sword’s sharpness on unarmed people, and ritual cannibalism were coming back. Japanese newspapers of that period wrote about two officers in Nanjing who competed who of them would chop off more heads, thus executing hundreds of people.

It was not until the close of World War II that the events in Nanjing attracted international attention, as even the Kuomintang propaganda had been keeping mum about it. The Japanese militarists committed countless other crimes, but for them the Nanjing massacre carried a special meaning, not because of the number of victims, but because of the reputational risks it posed for the imperial family, since one of their members (Prince Yasuhiko of the Asaka clan) was the one who personally supervised the capture of Nanjing. After the war he was not put on trial and enjoyed immunity granted to members of the imperial family, with the full consent by the US occupation authorities.

In 1948, the case of the Nanjing massacre was considered by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, which handed down two death sentences. The tribunal determined that more than 200,000 people were killed in Nanjing. A year before that a series of “smaller courts” held in China, including in Nanjing, put the death toll at 300,000.

In post-war Japan, the “Nanjing Incident” remains a much-disputed issue giving rise to all sorts of conspiracy theories concerning not only the historical past, but also present-day relations between Japan and China.

These include attempts by the so-called “revisionists” to question both the methods of counting the victims (with just 40,000 mentioned as the lower limit) and the very fact of the Nanjing killings.

Meanwhile, a movement that emerged in Japan during the Cold War period, led by representatives of the country’s academic community, people of the arts and members of the teachers union, challenged the way historical facts, including the Nanjing massacre, were presented in school textbooks.  However, their activities started to die out during the 1990s, when the  nationalists, opposed to the “masochistic view” of history, began to play a bigger role in Japanese politics.

The famous Japanese writer Haruki Murakami took a lot of angry flak from the extreme right-wingers when in one of his books, published in 2017, he had one of the characters reflecting on the question about “the difference between 100,000 and 400,000” of people killed.

Getting back to the present, there is one question that is begging for an answer. Tokyo’s policy towards China was one of the biggest achievements of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who stepped down in September 2020. Amid a  deep crisis that Japanese-Chinese relations found themselves in in 2012, due to the inability of the Democratic Party, which was in power before him, to stand up to the nationalists’ populist actions, during his eight-year premiership Shinzo Abe managed if not to make them friendly, then at least to restore “normality.” Moreover, in solving this difficult task, he neither made any concessions on key issues for Tokyo, nor irritated Washington, which had its own plans for Beijing. At the same time, Shinzo Abe continues to be viewed in East Asia and also in the West as a “hawk,” whose statements and even some symbolic gestures clearly smack of revisionism. On one occasion, for example, he was photographed at the controls of a Japanese-designed fighter with “731” painted on its fuselage, evoking clear associations with the Japanese Unit 731, which was testing bacteriological weapons on humans in Manchuria. In 2013, Abe visited the Yasukuni Shrine, drawing negative reaction not only from Japan’s regional neighbors, but also from Washington. How come a politician with such views was able to “make friends” with China?

There is a circumstance here that has not been lost on the Japanese media.  Since 2018, [Chinese President] Xi Jinping has not attended events marking the anniversaries of the Nanjing tragedy, although it was he who in 2014 proposed to mark the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of the Nanjing Massacre. This time round he did not show up either for the December 15 event (due to the pandemic, as was officially explained). On December 13, Japan’s state broadcaster NHK reported that amid a further deepening of its confrontation with the United States, China intends to demonstrate its interest in strengthening ties, primarily economic ones, with Japan. Therefore, the mourning ceremony was organized so as not to harm the current status of Sino-Japanese relations.

However, the gradual “unfreezing” of relations between the two countries began long before Donald Trump declared a sanctions war on China. It was Shinzo Abe who, speaking in parliament back in 2014, invited Beijing to resume the dialogue between the two countries’ leaders. In that same year, a group of prominent Japanese politicians, among them the former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, paid a visit to China. When Fukuda’s father, Takeo, was prime minister during the late 1970s, Japan signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship with China, and his surname has since been a symbol of a “reset” in bilateral relations. This time the elderly politician was once again used as a “fire engine.” In the same year, Shinzo Abe and Xi Jinping met on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Beijing, and their meeting in Hangzhou, China, during the September 2016 G20 summit is now seen as the beginning of the active phase of mending fences between the two nations.

During the Trump presidency, this process only accelerated, much to the benefit of both Beijing and Tokyo, each of which had serious problems in relations with Washington. Notably, as the Sino-Japanese Treaty of Peace and Friendship was signed in 1978, each year ending with “8” could bring new headways in bilateral ties. This tradition is especially important for China, where ceremony plays such a big role in politics. During Shinzo Abe’s first visit to Beijing in October 2018, the sides agreed to launch over 50 infrastructure cooperation projects, which experts were quick to hail as the dawn of a new era in Japanese-Chinese relations. In fact, many of these joint projects later turned out to be just for show, and were subsequently shelved. Still, when Shinzo Abe met his Chinese counterpart at the 2019 G20 summit in Osaka, they agreed that Xi Jinping would pay an official visit to Japan in the spring of 2020, but the visit was postponed due to the pandemic. The epidemic could also have been the reason why Xi Jinping refrained from attending this year’s memorial event in Nanjing.

As for Shinzo Abe’s revisionist views, they are probably seen in Beijing as mainly intended for domestic consumption, in contrast to the pro-American nationalism of another charismatic Japanese politician, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Unlike Koizumi, Shinzo Abe was more of a “nationalist-pragmatist,” focused on solving problems pertaining to the national interests of Japan.

During his first news conference after taking office, Japan’s new Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, said that he would like to build stable relations with neighboring countries, including China and Russia.  Still, chances are high that the subject of the Nanjing massacre may return to the bilateral agenda since the age-old traditions of historical memory will not let the onetime foes forget this tragic event.

From our partner International Affairs

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East Asia

South Korea’s Potential for Global Influence is Weakened by its Mistreatment of Women



In recent years, the Republic of Korea has become a pop culture juggernaut.

Eight years after “Gangnam Style” went global, K-Pop still reigns supreme with boy band BTS topping charts and issuing IPOs. Bong Joon-ho’s film “Parasite” swept last year’s Oscars, kimchi now has UNESCO cultural heritage status, while Samsung smartphones are used all over the world, second only to the mighty Apple.

The global appeal of the Korean Wave, known as “Hallyu,” recently attracted the attention of a report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which argued that this rising soft power could in turn boost South Korea’s global influence and drive diplomatic leadership on a broad range of transnational issues, from climate change to public health to democracy promotion.

This all sounds great, but there remains a nagging problem. Despite its flourishing culture, there have also been a string of scandals highlighting the plight of women in the country, who facing everything from inequality to workplace discrimination and rampant sexual harassment.

By any measure, the problem is significant and costly to the country’s interests. According to a 2019 report by the World Economic Forum, South Korea ranks 124 out of 149 countries in the world in terms of economic opportunity for women, while another report cites the highest gender pay gap among OECD nations at 35%. This low level of female participation in the economy is not only a drag on future GDP growth, but also coincides with a parallel mental health crisis: suicides among Korean women in their 20s have jumped by more than 40 percent in the last year, at the same time that male deaths are in decline.

Mistreatment of women in Korea may be a feature, not a bug, of the system. A recent string of sexual abuse scandals has reached the highest levels of the country’s political elites.

This past July, the country was shocked to wake up to the news that the popular Mayor of Seoul Park Won-soon had committed suicide when accusations of sexual assault against his secretary were made public. Mayor Park had built his image as stalwart champion of women’s rights, and yet, the secretary, who has been threatened and blamed following the suicide, says that she “felt defenseless and weak before the immense power” of the Mayor.

Months later, we are discovering the very people meant to protect the victims instead act to protect the alleged perpetrators. Congresswoman Nam In-soon, one of South Korea’s highest profile women’s rights activists, is being called on to resign after it was revealed that she leaked news of the sexual harassment investigation into Mayor Park. Another member of congress, Yoon Mee-hyang, was forced out of the ruling Democratic Party after facing criminal charges of embezzlement from the “comfort women” charity she used to direct, which raised money for survivors of World War II military brothels.

Before Mayor Park’s suicide and the comfort women scandal, there were many others. Last year, South Chungcheong Province Governor Ahn Hee-jung was convicted on nine counts of rape and sentenced to three and half years in prison. Mayor of Busan Oh Keo-Don was forced to resign following the assault accusation. Ahn Tae-geun, a former senior prosecutor whose case had become symbolic for the #MeToo movement, had his conviction overturned earlier this year.

These patterns stand in stark contrast to the image the government seeks to project.

In public speeches, President Moon Jae-in frequently advocates in defense of women’s rights in speeches and interviews. Speaking at the last UN General Assembly, he declared a commitment to inclusiveness and reducing inequalities. The ruling DPK has long associated itself with rights activists, and has made gestures toward combating misconduct and mistreatment of women – but critics say they aren’t doing enough. A headline on CNN last summer went so far as to call out the hypocrisy: “South Korea’s President says he’s a feminist. Three of his allies have been accused of sex crimes.”

Despite numerous protest movements and well supported marches, Korea has not yet experienced a breakthrough #MeToo moment. According to media testimonials, many women continue to face significant obstacles to advance in their careers. Even after 70,000 women marched last year to protest the prolific abuse of spy cams set up in bathrooms and changing rooms, patriarchal attitudes continue. This month, guidelines published on an official government website advising pregnant women to cook, clean, and to lose weight for their husbands after childbirth caused a social media uproar.

This is a deeply concerning problem. As highlighted by the Carnegie report, Korea’s role as a “middle power” in a such a volatile region would be highly welcome, and not just on things like climate and coronavirus vaccine distribution, but also their crucial role in containing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and holding firm in the shadow of China’s expanding authoritarian reach.

Some Korean groups have advocated internationally against gender-based violence, which is undoubtedly a very worthy cause. But until the Moon government can get serious about tackling these inequalities and abuses at home, its efforts to project influence abroad will fail to meet potential.

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East Asia

Considering the Continental Dimension of the Indo-Pacific: The Mongolian Precedent



The Indo-Pacific is now the site of global great-power competition and contestation. And, as a reflection of its growing importance in international discourse, a number of extra-regional actors adopted the concept last year. Among those adoptees, Mongolia set a unique precedent for the regional security discourse to actively consider the continental dimension of the Indo-Pacific by highlighting geopolitical convergences with other regional actors, and the strategic threat posed by Beijing’s “Silk Road Economic Belt”.

Mongolia in the Indo-Pacific

Actors who have adopted the Indo-Pacific concept vaguely define it as beginning in the Arabian Sea and ending in the Western Pacific Ocean. Much of the discourse is also driven by the US-China strategic competition in Southeast Asia, and the US’ attempt to counter Chinese influence in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, along with its regional partners and allies, e.g the India-Australia-Japan-US ‘Quad’. As a result, actors in the Indo-Pacific have generally focused on the development of maritime military and economic measures.

In early October, during a Japan-Mongolia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, both sides agreed to continue consolidating their efforts in pursuing a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”, in line with the promises of the 2018 Japan-Mongolia Summit.

Mongolia’s participation as a continental, extra-regional actor with limited maritime significance, shifts the geopolitical locus of the theatre, ever so slightly, north of Southeast Asia (the current focus). Ulaanbaatar’s adoption of the geostrategic theatre appears to be driven by continued Chinese antagonism, and a result of its “third neighbour” policy.

China continues to threaten Mongolia’s territorial sovereignty by claiming Inner Mongolia,clamp down on its cultural identity, and impose costs on Mongolia’s export-oriented economy. The last issue is critical, since Mongolia’s largest export partner, approximately92.78 percent of overall exports, is China. Enclosed between two large countries, Russia and China, Mongolia has traditionally maintained a “third neighbour” policy approach: building political and economic relationships with actors other than the aforementioned.

Given the continued animosity with Beijing, Ulaanbaatar has increasingly emphasised these other relations over the years. e.g. with the UK, the US, Japan, etc. In 2019 President Khaltmaagiin Battulga visited New Delhi to develop deeper ties with another “third neighbour” state. Mongolia also shares the “like-minded” characteristics – a liberal democracy – to maintain and preserve a “free, fair, open and rules-based” order in the US-Japan Indo-Pacific strategy.

And so, actors looking to potentially partner with Mongolia or others with similar economic and connectivity deficits in Central and West Asia, will have to include, within their Indo-Pacific approaches, measures that involve non-littoral actors.

The BRI and Continental Asia

China’s rise as an expansionist Asian military and global economic power is at the core of the  Indo-Pacific security discourse. Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea (SCS), China’s growing naval power, and the colossal Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) form the major strategic threats to regional multilateralism and collective security.

The most long standing threat among them, the BRI, is divided into the transcontinental “silk route” and the maritime “silk road”. However, much of the Indo-Pacific discourse is dominated by the silk road, especially those projects directed towards the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). BRI projects in the IOR are crucial to Beijing’s expanding influence in South Asia and control on international energy and trade supply routes. Also hidden among the maritime/trans-continental connectivity and infrastructure projects, is China’s growing security presence in the region.

However, Mongolia’s entry directs attention to a dimension unique to the current maritime Indo-Pacific discourse –the silk route, that cuts across Central Asia, towards Europe and South Asia, with a similar number of projects in Southeast Asia.

Among the six ‘silk route’ projects, Mongolia’s concern is the China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor (CMREC) that cuts through Eastern Mongolia, beginning in Ulanqab (or “Jining”) in Inner Mongolia, and ending at Ulan-Ude, in BurYatia, Russia. Similar projects include the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor (CCWAEC).

Connecting the continental to the maritime is the main goal of the BRI. In fact, the project was first announced during a Chinese state visit to Central Asia in 2013. President Xi Jinping proposed the “Silk Road Economic Belt” with a vision to connect the Pacific Ocean to the Baltic Sea. Beijing’s vision of comprehensive global economic and military power requires a built path to various regions of the world, i.e infrastructure to facilitate dual-use logistics. Given the recent spate of BRI loans going bad, this vision continues to remain unfulfilled.

The continental dimension, Asia, is what makes the Indo-Pacific a theatre of global concern. Trans-continental connectivity, between and within Europe and Asia, narrows the distance between actors, and the shared interest in maintaining regional multilateralism and collective security ensures their continued participation in the Indo-Pacific. As more actors like Mongolia adopt the Indo-Pacific concept, connecting the continental to the maritime and vice versa, sans BRI, will become a strategic concern.

Mongolia’s entry into the theatre offers a unique precedent for those involved in maintaining and preserving a “free, fair, open and rules-based” Indo-Pacific to evaluate and initiate relationships between non-littoral actors and the maritime dimension.

The On-Ground Reality

However, there are a number of obstacles to actively consider continental Asia in the Indo-Pacific discourse. The two most important are geography and geopolitics.

Mongolia for example, is completely enclosed by two actors – Russia and China – who are averse and hostile to the idea of the Indo-Pacific. And, any “counter-BRI” connectivity project envisioned by other regional actors will have to go through their territories. The case of Afghanistan is similar. Divergences in geopolitical interests and ties with actors in the Arabian Sea, particularly with regard to Iran and Pakistan, stays the idea of trans-regional connectivity between Kabul and the world.

The geopolitical obstacle here is the dependent economic relationships that non-littorals in Asia have with Beijing. Mongolia is just one among many Central and West Asian states that have local economies indelibly tied to the political whims of Beijing. During the coronavirus pandemic, a period that saw considerable anti-China sentiment in the international community, Beijing has managed to maintain a level of trust and shared security with many Indo-Pacific states. National vaccination plans are based on the delivery of Chinese vaccines.

There is another reason why the security discourse on the Indo-Pacific is focused on maritime measures – maintaining and preserving the integrity of international Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) and the respect for territorial sovereignty. In that endeavour, multilateral platforms like the Quad allows members to share historic and strategic advantages in the IOR and Pacific Ocean to counter Chinese expansionism in the Indo-Pacific’s various sub-regions.  On land however, in Central and South Asia, for example the clash in the Galwan river valley last year, Chinese incursions provoke bilateral responses giving it leeway to act with relative impunity.


While there are a number of real obstacles to consider the continental dimension of the Indo-Pacific, Mongolia sets a geopolitical precedent for a comprehensive geographic definition, one that includes both the maritime and continental. From this year on, states participating in the Indo-Pacific now have a reason to approach and include non-littoral actors in the Indo-Pacific.

This precedent also highlights the need to include the continental ‘silk route’ in the Indo-Pacific security discourse. Devising such a definition will be a similar exercise as to the amalgamation of the terms “Indo-Pacific” and “Asia-Pacific” to form the “Indo-Asia-Pacific”; now used at times in geostrategic discourse.

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