Years ago, while talking with Kim Il-Sung about Mediterranean issues, he told me about an episode concerning a country geographically very close to Italy, namely Albania.
During the 22nd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (October 17-31, 1961) – which marked the split between Russia and Albania – the delegation led personally by my friend did not accept Russia’s call to stigmatise the Albanian Communists at all, and not a word of condemnation was addressed to Albania.
Five years later, a delegation from the Korean Labour Party attended – with full honours – the work of the 5th Congress of the Labour Party of Albania (the third in order of importance after the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Vietnamese Workers’ Party).
The remaining Socialist countries that survived (and did not survive) the three-year period 1989-1991 suffered from major political crises (Madagascar); dissent and economic depression (Cuba, the former USSR); nationalism and irredentism (the countries of former Yugoslavia, the former Soviet Republics, etc.); compromises with the armed opposition (Angola, Mozambique); radical reforms (the former USSR, Mongolia) or structural reforms (Vietnam, Laos), without forgetting the Cambodian civil war (1975-79); and wars between Socialist countries (Ethiopia and Somalia in 1977, Vietnam and China in 1979).
The only regime that survived unscathed the fatal moments of transition of international Communism was the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), apart from the States which, to a greater or lesser extent, adjusted their economic structure – namely the People’s Republic of China, Cuba, Laos, Vietnam, etc.
One of the two basic reasons for North Korean resistance is the Juche ideology, lucidly analysed by Antonio Rossiello in an Italian newspaper in 2009.
The vulgate of perfect Marxism-Leninism in the Asian context has never been convincing. Only in the few serious studies which have been conducted so far in Italy on the people’s democracies in the Far East, including Rossiello’s, we can fully understand how the Asian traditions leave only formal room to the effects of the French Revolution.
While, in the West, Maoism somehow differentiated itself from the palingenetic myth of Stalinist Marxism-Leninism, Kim Il-Sung’s thought has never been fully explored because of the ostracism of Italian-style Communism and its priestlings, gallants, lackeys and pseudo-intellectuals.
Undoubtedly, the international position taken by the DPRK over the recent seventy years is the additional cause underlying the country’s internal and external stability.
In practice, for a large part of Asian peoples, the Second World War was a liberation war. In the short and long term, the Japanese message “Asia to the Asians” – aimed at developing the imperial design of Europe’s expulsion from Asia – led to a weakening of the old and new colonialist structures: in this regard, the Chinese revenge (1934-1949) and the Vietnamese redemption (1945-1975) are emblematic.
In the Juche ideology, the word freedom has no liberal-bourgeois, free-market capitalist meaning at all, but it merely means: “homeland without foreign presence on national soil”.
The DPRK (proclaimed on September 8, 1948, while April 25 is the Army Day) was ahead of its time, thus definitively anticipating the mainstays of its balancing policy, suggested and prompted by its contiguity with the two major Communist powers.
On December 25, 1948, Stalin’s Red Army and the Soviet administrative apparata withdrew from the DPRK at the request of Kim Il-Sung.
During the civil war (1950-1953) the DPRK enjoyed decisive Chinese help and support, although not tying itself to China afterwards. Nevertheless, that did not mean an entry into the Soviet or Chinese orbit: in the aftermath of war devastation, the DPRK refused to join Comecon (despite considerable pressure), making its stance public and defending it in clear and principled terms against any form of international socialist division of labour.
It was against that background that the Juche or self-sufficiency idea took shape: “economic independence is also a guarantee to eliminate all kinds of yokes”, in view of sparing the country a destiny as an economic, and hence political, province of one or other of its great neighbours.
When new States gained independence in the 1950s and 1960s, and various African, Asian, Caribbean and Latin American countries appeared on the world scene, the DPRK tried to develop its relations, which were limited to Socialist countries (but not with Tito’s pro-U.S. Yugoslavia).
Hence North Korea’s policy towards the Third World was oriented to diplomatic, economic and ideological goals, initially to gain support and later to improve its standing within the United Nations (of which it was not yet a member).
According to Kim Il-Sung, the Third World could protect North Korea’s interest by striving to gain favourable statements and indispensable votes on issues concerning the peaceful unification of the homeland, as well as facilitate the attempt to enter the Non-Aligned Movement.
Furthermore, the support for liberation movements and for some insurgent groups was seen as a means of creating new State entities that would erode the U.S. power, i.e. militarily oppose the White House in view of its final withdrawal from its zones of influence.
In 1957, the DPRK launched its first trade agreements with Egypt, Burma, India and Indonesia. In 1958 it recognised the Algerian provisional government and later signed cultural agreements with Afro-Asian States and Cuba.
General development aid went to the newly independent countries, which appreciated it very much as it was considered to be unconditional. Demonstrations of solidarity in the case of natural disasters by sending money to the victims were fundamental: in 1958 for the hurricane in Ceylon (Sri Lanka); in 1960 for the earthquake in Morocco; in 1961 for the typhoon in Indonesia and the flood in Somalia.
In the 1960s, the DPRK’s international prestige also increased due to its high level of development and autonomy, with control over resources, nature and the reasons for progress in a former colonial country with only a few decades of independence behind it.
The doubts about the Soviet policy towards the countries on its side in any kind of confrontation with the United States (see the withdrawal of Soviet missiles from Cuba), as well as the contrasts between the People’s Republic of China and the USSR in coordinating aid to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam),increasingly convinced Kim Il-Sung to take separate paths.
In this regard, it was one of the countries that provided a major contribution, not only verbally, to North Vietnam and the Viet Cong National Liberation Front (NLF). Its offer to send volunteers, however, was not accepted by the Vietnamese, despite the presence of South Koreans in South Vietnam. In so doing, the Vietnamese confirmed the aforementioned Asian sense of freedom, i.e. no foreigners.
Finally, Russia’s and China’s concerns over the capture of the American ship, Pueblo, by the North Korean forces (1969) showed Kim Il-Sung that the Soviets and Chinese were much more careful to protect their interests than those of the small “brother” countries.
In the 1970s, with increasing moderation and self-restraint in foreign policy – in view of reassuring the world public of his desire for peaceful unification -in his alliance with the Third World, Kim Il-Sung also accentuated the achievement of the cause of democracy between States, as well as national independence and social progress. Nevertheless, a common past of humiliation and insults, as well as struggles against colonialism and imperialism, was still alive in North Korea’s international activities.
The DPRK was the first country to offer volunteers to Cambodia after the overthrow of Prince Sihanouk (1970), and it also helped and funded numerous Afro-Asian and Latin American liberation movements.
In 1972, however, the North Korean government – except for military assistance to the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front– stopped active support to the movements (maintaining political solidarity with them) in favour of a systematic campaign to obtain widespread diplomatic recognition. In fact, it preferred to assist already established realities, namely Egypt, Malta, Mozambique, Seychelles, Uganda, Lesotho, etc.
The results were not long in coming: in 1973 it was granted observer status at the United Nations, as it was already a member of the World Health Organization. In August 1975, the Lima Conference of the Foreign Ministers of Non-Aligned Countries accepted the DPRK’s candidacy (while South Korea’s was rejected).
The efforts made directly at the United Nations achieved a great symbolic success, as for the first time a document recognizing North Korea’s position won a majority. That year, the General Assembly adopted Resolution 3390 B (XXX) of November 18 by 54 votes to 43, with 42 abstentions and 4 absentees, calling for the withdrawal of foreign troops present in South Korea under the UN flag and the opening of negotiations between the United States and the DPRK (the South Korean government was ignored).
Between 1975 and 1979, the DPRK kept on concluding new economic, scientific, transport and cultural agreements with emerging countries, leading up to the 6th Labour Party Congress –that opened on October 10, 1980 – which, faced with new international problems, clarified the traditional policy line without misunderstandings or compromise formulas.
North Korea denounced Vietnam’s intervention in Cambodia (1978) but distanced itself from the Khmer Rouges, and did not invite Cambodian delegations to the Congress. Only a message from Sihanouk, who lived in the capital, was accepted.
When asked, some leaders made it clear that they had never approved of the Soviet presence in Afghanistan, but that they did not want to take an official stance because it was “of no use”. During the Congress, they confined themselves to denouncing the “dominationistic” tendencies (the word “hegemonistic” was avoided because it was used by the Chinese against the Soviets).
Great importance was given by Kim Il-Sung in his report to the Non-Aligned Movement. The President rejected the Cuban theory whereby the Movement would be the natural ally of the Socialist camp, stating that “the aligned countries should absolutely not follow one or the other bloc, nor let themselves be influenced or allow divisions within them”.
Those statements were accompanied by an attitude of openness towards the parties of the Socialist International. Considering the many and large European socialist delegations invited, it was clear that the DPRK wished to attend the Socialist International meetings as an observer.
Although some Socialist parties (the German SPD) were more hostile than others to the nature of the regime, they remained sensitive to the will always expressed in those years and shown in the position taken during the first Gulf War (1980-1988). North Korea supported Iran – the victim of the attempted Iraqi invasion – by providing the attacked country with weapons and advanced technology at a time when Saddam Hussein had the United States, Russia and China on his side. The DPRK, Syria, Libya and Albania were the only countries to support Iran, which had the world against it.
In 1991, the two Koreas were admitted separately to the United Nations: the consensus was expressed at the opening of the 46th Ordinary Session of the General Assembly (September 17). That came about because the DPRK had decided on May 28 to permanently relinquish the principle of single confederal representation, following South Korean successes in gaining assurances from China and the Soviet Union that they would withdraw their vetoes on its candidacy.
A historic event took place at the end of 1991. The two Korean Prime Ministers, Yon Hyong Muk (for North Korea) and Chung Won Shik (for South Korea), signed a treaty of non-aggression and conciliation in Seoul on December 13, formally putting an end to the state of war that had existed since the Armistice (July 27, 1953).
The agreement re-established communications, trade and economic exchanges, and allowed for the reunification of families separated in the aftermath of the conflict (June 25, 1950). It also established the presence of a joint garrison in Panmunjon, along the demilitarised zone. That was the first step towards the unification of the peninsula, which was desired by both governments, albeit in different terms.
The positive outcome was first of all due to North Korea’s decision (expressed just twenty-four hours before the signing of the agreement) to relinquish the idea of negotiating only with the White House, as the counterpart of the Armistice. It was clear that the United States did not want to give in to North Korean diplomatic attempts to consider the Republic of Korea as one of its dependencies.
Over and above easy enthusiasms, distrust and mutual suspicions persist. The very permanence of U.S. forces (under the UN flag) – feared by North Korea – was reconfirmed by the then Secretary of Defence, Dick Chaney, in November 1991.
There are currently 28,500 U.S. military in South Korea. It is the third largest contingent of U.S. soldiers abroad – a figure that does not coincide with the typically Asian sense of freedom: Japan (53,732); Germany (33,959); South Korea (28,500); Italy (12,249); the United Kingdom (9,287); Bahrain (4,004); Spain (3,169); Kuwait (2,169); Turkey (1,685); Belgium (1,147); Australia (1,085); Norway (733), etc.
Will US-China Tensions Trigger the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis?
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
- 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).
- Mink, M. (2021). The Catalyst for Stronger US-Taiwan Ties. https://keithkrach.com/the-catalyst-for-stronger-us-taiwan-ties/
- 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/
- Global Times. (2021). Pompeo may toll the knell for Taiwan authorities. https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202101/1212378.shtml
- 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/
- Cui, J., & Zhao, Y. (2021). Boycott of Xinjiang cotton use opposed. China Daily. https://www.chinadailyhk.com/article/161495
- Everington, K. (2021). Former US security advisor says Taiwan in “maximum danger” from PLA. Taiwan News. https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/4189160
- China Daily. (2021). Preparing for Winter Olympics promotes quality development – Opinio. China Daily. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202101/22/WS600a131ba31024ad0baa44f1.html
- 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
- Roy, D. (2021). Rumors of War in the Taiwan Strait. The Diplomat. https://thediplomat.com/2021/03/rumors-of-war-in-the-taiwan-strait/
- 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
- 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
Quad Infrastructure Diplomacy: An Attempt to Resist the Belt and Road Initiative
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.
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.
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
Bushido Spirit Resurrected? Japan publicly bared its swords against China
Recently, Japan’s Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso declared that Japan will join forces with the US to “protect Taiwan.” There has been a lot of turmoil, but even though the US directly announced that it will follow the “One China policy,” Japan has not given up its secret intentions. Japan’s new “Defense White Paper,” which was just approved, not only continued to link the US, but also displayed greater animosity toward China.
The Japanese government just finished the 2021 version of the “Defense White Paper,” according to the Global Times, but both the cover and the substance of the white paper are full of “provocative” meaning. The first is the front cover. According to the image released by Japanese media, the cover of Japan’s new “Defense White Paper” is an ink drawing of a warrior on horseback. According to a spokesperson for Japan’s Ministry of Defense, the horse samurai on the cover represents the Japanese Self-Defense Force’s commitment to defend Japan. However, after seeing it, some Japanese netizens said that it was “extremely powerful in fighting spirit.”
From a content standpoint, the white paper keeps the substance of advocating “China menace,” talking about China’s military might, aircraft carriers, Diaoyu Islands, and so on, and also includes the significance of “Taiwan stability” for the first time. A new chapter on Sino-US ties is also included in the white paper. According to the Associated Press, the United States is expanding its assistance for the Taiwan region, while China is increasing its military actions in the region. This necessitates Japan paying attention to it with a “crisis mindset.”
Japan has recently grown more daring and rampant, thanks to a warlike cover and material that provokes China and is linked to the US. Japan has recently bared its swords against China on several occasions.
Not only did Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga take the lead in referring to the Taiwan region as a “country,” but after meeting US President Biden, he issued a joint statement referring to the Taiwan region, and tried his best to exaggerate maritime issues such as the East China Sea and the South China Sea, and Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, Deputy Defense Mizuho, and Deputy Defense Mizuho. It has all made inappropriate statements on Taiwan and publicly attacked the “One China Principle.”
After China clearly voiced its disapproval, Japan not only refused to be constrained, but actively increased its antagonism toward China. Do they truly believe China is simple to provoke? The tensions between China and Japan will undoubtedly worsen as a result of Japan’s publishing of this white paper. Although Japan has the bravery to provoke, it lacks the guts to initiate an armed war with China. After all, even the United States, on which they have traditionally counted, would not dare.
It is simple to employ force against China, and if the Japanese Self-Defense Force want to fight the People’s Liberation Army, it is preferable for them to be prepared for any catastrophic outcomes. Furthermore, China has long been Japan’s most important commercial partner. Even with Japan’s sluggish economy, they should be wary of challenging China. If they refuse to examine this, China may let them face the consequences of economics and trade.
Furthermore, the US has declared unequivocally that it will pursue the “One China Policy” and has intimated that it will not “protect Taiwan” with Japan. The stance of the United States demonstrates that, despite Japan’s determination to constrain China on the Taiwan problem and invitation to the United States to join in “safeguarding Taiwan and defending Japan,” the United States is hesitant to offer such refuge to Japan. As a result, Japan should be clear about its own place in the heart of the United States and attach itself to the United States, although it may be beaten by the United States again in the end.
In reaction to this event, the Hong Kong media stated that Japan should focus on making friends and generating money rather than intervening in Taiwan’s affairs, saying that “provoking Beijing is a fool’s errand.” As a result, if Japan continues to challenge China, they will be exposed as a total fool. And how good will a fool do in a game between countries?
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