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Did China place a losing bet on Russia?

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Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, image by the Presidential Press and Information Office, the Kremlin

Early in the Russia-Ukraine war, having placed the bet on Vladimir Putin, China was declared by most international analysts as among the war’s biggest losers. Four months later and with no sign of war ending any time soon, some observers are reminding us China has a record of winning despite betting on losers.

Given one’s political outlook, both Russia and the United States can be blamed for the outbreak of and dragging on of the brutal war in Ukraine. While Moscow is being faulted for “its flagrant violation” of the prohibition of aggressive war, Washington on the other hand is accused of “irresponsible statecraft” and “imprudent geopolitics.” At the same time, though China is not directly involved in the geopolitics of the Ukrainian conflict and nor is Beijing geographically anywhere near the Russia-Ukraine conflict zone, yet worsening US-China political rivalry and growing China-Russia “no limit” mutual commitment in recent years has ensured Beijing too must share blame for abdicating the responsibility of a “trusted intermediary.”

But before we begin the blame game for who is the chief perpetrator of the war in Ukraine, it would help to first know the biggest winner in the Ukraine conflict.

Those who put the blame entirely on the Russian leader Vladimir Putin for initiating the chilling act of aggression against Ukraine in the early hours of February 24, actually see Russia’s “bombardment mark a dramatic escalation in a war it waged against Kyiv since 2014.” But the preparations for the latest military assault stretch back to at least the spring of 2021, they say. Accordingly, it was Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky frustrating Putin by not agreeing to implement the Minsk agreements on Moscow’s terms which finally triggered the Kremlin. Besides, the political rhetoric is too well known to all that Putin’s inhuman aggression was the result of his long-cherished desire to be taken seriously as an international leader.   

On the other hand, those upholding the view that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a reactionary response to the persistent US arming of Ukraine and goading and provoking Russia, also believe the US has transformed Ukraine into America’s “cannon fodder” in order to weaken and destabilize Russia. In the context of the ongoing war in Ukraine, frequent references are cited from Zbigniew Brzezinski’s 1997 book The Grand Chessboard in which the former US security adviser had laid out the American military’s intention of drawing Russia into a prolonged and costly invasion of Ukraine. Brzezinski always advocated Ukraine was critical to the US asserting its hegemony against Russia in Eurasia. In the title of the book cited above, the chessboard was Eurasia. Furthermore, writing in the article “The West Should Arm Ukraine” for the Atlantic Council following the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, Brzezinski declared: “Russian invasion of Ukraine is a near certainty.” 

Quite remarkably, amid claims and counterclaims of either the US or Russia being the biggest winner in the war in Ukraine, there is a flood of analyses both in favor and against China being viewed as the biggest winner. Let us see why and what is the truth.   

China, interestingly, seems to have been wrong-footed in the war raging in Europe from the very beginning. First, a rupture was caused just days before Russia’s bombardment when President Xi Jinping declared “friendship with Moscow has no limits” after signing a joint statement with President Putin during the latter’s visit to Beijing on the eve of the Beijing Winter Olympics in early February. When Russia invaded Ukraine a couple of weeks later, the world refused to believe, true or not, that Xi had not been taken into confidence by the Kremlin. Though months after the two “bosom buddies” declared their “no limits” partnership aka “alliance,” it became ever more clearly known that Beijing and Moscow after all do observe “limits” to their relationship, but the public perception did not change.

Second, there is this widespread western misconstrued perception that since the invasion Beijing had been projecting itself as a “confused” neutral bystander out of a growing feeling that Moscow was becoming an inconvenient partner. For example, as the war in Ukraine was dragging on, the British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace is reported to have commented that Beijing increasingly saw Moscow as an “inconvenient friend.” In reality, however, as has been confirmed in Xi’s June 15 birthday call message to Putin, Xi not only ignored the Western warnings to refrain from offering economic and technical assistance to Moscow but he also reassured the Russian leader of further development of economic, military, and defense ties with Beijing.     

Third, while the world instantaneously took notice of the China and Russia joint statement of February 4 declaring their “no limit” commitment to deepen bilateral cooperation in all fields, it is unfortunate that no one has been paying attention to the factors compelling the world’s two most powerful military powers after the US, to “slowly and surely cement their relationship, especially on the economic, diplomatic, and military fronts.” According to a recent joint commentary by three international affairs experts, the “Chinese-Russian alliance aims largely at defending the two countries’ regional and international interests, which are in constant expansion.”  

It is important to remember, that at the core of the raging war in Europe is the rapidly changing geopolitics in the region and beyond and not the other way round, as it were. The changing geopolitical dynamics are the result of, among other factors, the politics of NATO expansionism. Once again, it would be a mistake to believe that Taiwan could be the next (or Asia’s) Ukraine that is enabling the idea of NATO coming into the Indo-Pacific to acquire traction. On the contrary, as Martine Bulard, a member of Le Monde Diplomatique editorial team had in a telling commentary entitled “Is an Asian NATO imminent” a year ago written, it is the West’s pivot to Asia that has heightened tensions in the Indo-Pacific.

Recall here last year’s twin visits to Asia by the US secretaries of state and defense, Anthony Blinken and Lloyd Austin, with the agenda to pull South Korea into a Quad+ format that could also include European powers as well. As experts in South Korea were calling the effort “to multilateralise the US-led hub-and-spoke bilateral alliance system,” Bulard noted that other experts were already talking of “a possible extension of NATO or establishment of a kind of Asian NATO against the ‘Chinese dictatorship’.” It was no mere coincidence that a NATO ministerial conference in Brussels in March 2021 set out to “respond to potential challenges posed by China” as one of its key security priorities. Nor is NATO’s new “strategic concept” adopted by its 30 leaders in Madrid on June 29, 2022, that China and Russia are threats to the global order.    

In conclusion, it may be argued that the international opinion prematurely declared China to be among the biggest losers in Russia’s brutal conflict in Ukraine. Of course, on its part, China did continue to send out confusing and at times inconsistent, incoherent statements. Sometimes Beijing’s actions sparked all-around speculations that the “no limit” Moscow-Beijing alliance has reached its limits. Recently when Chinese vice foreign minister Le Yucheng was suddenly removed from the ministry, a Bloomberg report carried by the Japan Times wondered if the topmost Russia-hand in Beijing had been made to pay the price for pushing China too close to Russia? 

But notwithstanding the opaque nature of the decision-making in one-party-ruled China, factors such as internal political complexities in the run-up to the crucial 20th CPC National Congress in the month of October, and tension arising out of uncertainty to decide upon a new foreign minister (Le Yucheng was expected to replace foreign minister Wang Yi at the ministerial reshuffle at the Party’s National Congress) are also being cited behind the move to shunt out Le from the foreign ministry. However, President Xi’s June 15 birthday call to the Russian leader has put to bed any speculation of China regretting betting on Moscow. As long as the geopolitics determines for the United States that the Indo-Pacific would remain the US playground, Russia will remain a vital and useful ally for Beijing.

As someone recently commented, Beijing will not ditch Moscow. A Chinese academic who recently wrote in an article that the sanctions have not at all impacted Russia’s economic fundamentals received a record over five hundred thousand visitors within 72 hours. Another Chinese commentary “advised” the Party leadership that “only by strengthening and deepening partnership with Russia can China thwart the West’s designs to isolate, blockade and contain China.” A former US ambassador recently observed: “China’s tilt towards Moscow, may now appear the height of folly. But China has a record of winning despite betting on losers.”   

Hemant Adlakha is professor of Chinese, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. He is also vice chairperson and an Honorary Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS), Delhi.

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Assad’s visit to China: Breaking diplomatic isolation and rebuilding Syria

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Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Hangzhou, capital city of east China's Zhejiang Province, Sept. 22, 2023. (Xinhua/Yao Dawei)

The visit of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to China to participate in the opening of the Asian Games came as a serious step to try to break the diplomatic isolation from Syria.  Syrian President “Bashar Al-Assad” was keen to meet his counterpart Xi Jinping in the city of Hangzhou in eastern China, where the Asian Games are being held, as this was the Syrian president’s first visit to China since 2004.  According to the Syrian regime’s Al-Watan newspaper, Al-Assad will attend the launch ceremony of the (nineteenth edition) of the Asian Games, which will open on September 23, in the Chinese city of Hangzhou.  This visit to Bashar al-Assad reflects the great coordination between Moscow and Beijing, as it is likely that the Russians pushed for this visit at this precise time.  Perhaps, through his visit to China, Bashar al-Assad is trying to deliver a specific message about the start of “international legitimization” of his regime.  Syria’s accession to the Belt and Road Initiative in January 2022 is an indication of the possibility of implementing vital Chinese projects, especially since it is located between Iraq and Turkey, making it a vital corridor for land routes towards Europe.

 Bashar Al-Assad’s visit to China also comes in an attempt to attract it to reconstruction projects in the affected areas in Syria, as China has the ability to complete reconstruction infrastructure in residential and civilian areas with exceptional speed. This is the same as what the Chinese ambassador to Syria “Shi Hongwei” announced in August 2023, that “Chinese companies are actively involved in reconstruction projects in Syria”. The war in Syria led to massive destruction of infrastructure and the destruction of many vital sectors of the Syrian economy, including oil, while the Syrian government is subject to harsh international sanctions.  We find that the Chinese side has shown great interest in the reconstruction projects in Surba, such as the presence of more than a thousand Chinese companies to participate in (the first trade exhibition on Syrian reconstruction projects in Beijing), while they pledged investments estimated at two billion dollars.

  China played an active role through diplomatic movements in Syria, as it participated in the “Astana” process, and obstructed Security Council resolutions related to Syria, to confirm its position in support of Damascus, using its veto power more than once in the Security Council, against resolutions considered to be a blow to Assad’s “legitimacy”.  In September 2017, the Syrian regime classified China, along with Russia and Iran, as “friendly governments” that would give priority to reconstruction projects. Therefore, Al-Assad affirmed during his meeting with Chinese President “Xi Jinping” that: “this visit is important in terms of its timing and circumstances, as a multipolar world is being formed today that will restore balance and stability to the world, and it is the duty of all of us to seize this moment for the sake of a bright and promising future”.

  According to my analysis, China follows the policy of “breaking diplomatic isolation on presidents and countries against which America is angry”, so the visit of “Bashar al-Assad” comes within a series of visits that China witnessed during the current year in 2023, to presidents who are isolated internationally by the United States of America, such as: Venezuelan President “Nicolas  Maduro”, the Iranian President ”Ibrahim Raisi”, and the Belarusian “Alexander Lukashenko”.

  China is also keen to conduct interviews in its newspapers and official websites affiliated with the ruling Communist Party with many presidents and officials of countries isolated internationally and diplomatically by the United States of America and the West, such as the Chinese keenness to conduct and publish an interview with Syrian Foreign Minister “Faisal Mekdad” on September 21, 2023, and the Chinese reviewed his statements, saying that “the United States of America has plundered oil, natural gas, and other resources from Syria, causing losses worth $115 billion”. The Chinese newspaper “Global Times”, which is close to the ruling Communist Party, also focused on the United States’ greater role in the deterioration of “Syria from stability to chaos” . The Chinese newspaper compared this to China’s policy, which constantly calls for peaceful dialogue and opposes “foreign interference” .

   Through his visit to China, Syrian President “Bashar Al-Assad” is trying to lay the foundations for joint cooperation between China and Syria within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, with full Chinese support for Syria’s accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a dialogue partner. China has always affirmed its firm support for Syria’s efforts against foreign interference, with the Chinese rejection of the stationing of illegal forces on Syrian territory. China is also making great efforts with many countries to lift sanctions and the illegal economic blockade on the Syrian people, in addition to Chinese support for building Syrian capabilities in the field of combating terrorism. Knowing that despite its alliance with President “Bashar Al-Assad”, China did not participate in supporting him militarily, but it used the right of criticism to obstruct the passage of resolutions against him in the Security Council.

   We can reach an important conclusion that Bashar Al-Assad’s visit to China has a greater political track, and that Beijing is trying to play a greater role in the issue of resolving conflicts or to have a greater actual role in negotiations related to sensitive issues in the region. The implications of Assad’s visit to China are also politically significant, as China is trying to play a greater political role in the region, as China has been trying since the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war and the emergence of a vacuum in the Middle East as a result of the decline of Russian influence due to its preoccupation with the war, so Beijing is trying to expand in the Middle East and Africa. 

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China’s Inclusive Diplomacy for Global Cooperation

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President Xi Jinping’s address at the recently held 2023 CIFTIS resonates as a powerful call for inclusive development and cooperation in the services trade sector. China’s commitment to expanding market access, increasing connectivity, and aligning policies with global standards demonstrates its commitment to ensuring a level playing field for all nations.

This commitment extends across different sectors, including telecommunications, tourism, law, vocational examinations, and the larger services sector. President Xi’s address emphasized China’s intention to expand broader, broaden market access, and support inclusive development in the services trade sector. His sentiments resonate with the global world as China seeks to create new prospects for openness, cooperation, and economic equality.

Over the last few decades, the services trade landscape has changed drastically, becoming an essential component of international business. However, this expansion has not been uniform, with developing countries frequently encountering difficulties such as limited market access, complex rules, and capacity limits that prevent them from fully participating in international services trade.

Notably, China is committed to promoting inclusive growth in the services trade sector. It assured of taking continuing steps to accelerate Chinese modernization through high-quality development, to open up new avenues for openness and collaboration for all countries.

Through openness, cooperation, innovation, and shared services, China emphasized the need for inclusive growth and connectivity. Recognizing that a rising tide in services trade should raise all boats, particularly those from nations with limited resources, China has launched a series of ground-breaking initiatives. Additionally, China is actively expanding its network of high-standard free trade areas, participating in negotiations on the negative list for trade in services and investment.

China is setting an example by aligning its policies with international standards. President Xi highlighted in his speech that national integrated demonstration zones for increased openness in the services sector, suitable pilot free trade zones, and free trade ports will be at the forefront of aligning policies with high-standard international economic and trade regulations. These zones demonstrate China’s commitment to fostering an atmosphere conducive to international cooperation and growth.

Real-world examples vividly demonstrate the practical impact of China’s assistance to developing countries in the services trade. China’s investments in transport infrastructure, such as the Standard Gauge Railway, have considerably facilitated the flow of goods and people in Kenya, boosting the services sector indirectly.

Pakistan’s experience with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is similar, with improved physical connectivity catalyzing the expansion of digital services and e-commerce. Various infrastructure developments in Indonesia have resulted in spectacular advances, opening up new potential for services trade.

Ethiopia, too, has reaped the benefits of China’s commitment, with active participation in industrial parks reviving the services sector, which includes logistics, banking, and education. These real-life success stories highlight China’s critical role in facilitating the expansion and development of services trade in developing countries.

China’s commitment to capacity building and technical aid is critical in its support for developing countries in the services trade. China provides these countries with the knowledge and skills they need to participate effectively in the services trade by offering specialized programs. Furthermore, China’s significant investments in infrastructure projects such as ports, logistical hubs, and telecommunications networks play an important role in facilitating the smooth flow of services.

Furthermore, China’s commitment to reducing entry barriers and optimizing regulations indicates the country’s persistent commitment to creating an equitable environment. This approach not only promotes equitable possibilities but also simplifies market access, making it easier for developing countries to export their services to China’s enormous and dynamic market.

Furthermore, China gives significant financial support in the form of loans and grants for service trade-related initiatives, recognizing the financial problems that many developing countries confront. This financial assistance enables nations to overcome economic challenges and invest in the expansion and improvement of their service sectors, thereby encouraging economic equality and cooperation.

As the world continues to evolve, services trade will play an increasingly important role in global economic growth, and China’s leadership in this realm is helping to shape a future where opportunities are shared, disparities are reduced, and cooperation knows no bounds. It is a vision worthy of appreciation and support since it is consistent with the ideals of justice and equality, moving the globe closer to a more linked and wealthy global community.

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China’s Multilateral Engagement and Constructive Role in the G20



Image source: X @narendramodi

The recent G20 Summit in India has once again taken center stage, attracting global attention as it gathered together leaders and delegates from the world’s 20 most powerful economies. This high-profile event was significant in shaping international relations and addressing serious global concerns due to its broad presence and crucial talks. This high-stakes gathering occurs at a pivotal juncture, marked by escalating divisions among major powers on a multitude of pressing global issues, including the Russia-Ukraine conflict, global economic recovery, food security, and climate change.

The recent inclusion of the African Union (AU) as a permanent member within the G20 serves as a positive signal, signifying consensus among major economies. However, lurking concerns persist about the formidable challenges involved in achieving unity and issuing a joint declaration in the midst of these complex global dynamics.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang’s opening remarks at the 18th G20 Summit in New Delhi resonate as he underscores the paramount importance of unity and collaboration among G20 member nations. He emphasizes the critical need for effective coordination of macroeconomic policies to restore hope and generate momentum for long-term economic growth.

 Premier Li eloquently highlights the interconnectedness of humanity’s destiny and calls upon nations to demonstrate mutual respect, seek common ground while momentarily setting aside differences, and work tirelessly towards peaceful coexistence. In a world characterized by profound crises and shared hardships, he aptly observes that no nation can thrive in isolation. Therefore, the only plausible pathways for guiding humanity forward are those rooted in cooperation and harmony.

The G20, originally established to navigate global financial crises and forge collective strategies for addressing economic challenges while fostering global economic development, has, regrettably, experienced a decline in consensus and a rise in differences among major powers. This shift has been particularly evident since the onset of the Ukraine crisis and the United States’ strategy of containment against China. Consequently, the G20 is increasingly devolving into a forum marked by discord, rather than the once-productive and constructive multilateral mechanism it was intended to be.

Nevertheless, the G20 retains its significance as a pivotal forum for international collaboration in confronting global challenges. With the increasing contributions of developing nations like China, India, and African countries, the voices within the G20 have diversified, no longer solely dominated by Western perspectives. As a response, the United States seeks to regain control of the multilateral process to further its agenda of great power competition. However, this approach is unlikely to be warmly received by the broader international community.

China remains steadfast in its commitment to deepen reforms and open up further to foster high-quality development and its unique brand of modernization. China views itself as a catalyst for additional momentum in global economic recovery and sustainable development. China stands ready to collaborate with all stakeholders to contribute to the well-being of our shared Earth, our common home, and the future of humanity. Despite Western media’s attempts to sensationalize China’s stance and magnify perceived differences, China continues to play a constructive role within the G20, dedicated to its multilateral mission.

To ensure that the G20 remains a platform focused on global governance rather than being overshadowed by geopolitical conflicts, China remains determined to fulfill its constructive role within the group, regardless of attempts by Western powers to politicize the mechanism. China’s efforts have expanded the G20 to include the African Union, effectively transforming it into the “G21.” China was the first nation to endorse African Union membership in the G20 and advocates for the African Union to assume an even more significant role in international governance.

The growing divisions and disputes within the G20 have eroded its effectiveness as a platform for addressing global challenges. These divisions, primarily driven by American actions and policies, have spawned tensions with far-reaching global implications, from the Ukraine crisis to escalating tensions in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea. These developments underscore the critical role the G20 plays in promoting cooperation and unity.

Amid the current geopolitical landscape characterized by major powers’ divisions, tensions have surged, resonating globally and causing ripple effects. From the Ukraine crisis to tensions in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea, the significance of the G20’s role in fostering cooperation and unity cannot be overstated.

All G20 member nations must recognize the urgent imperative of cooperation in building a world that is safer, more prosperous, and increasingly peaceful. Given the global challenges that transcend narrow national interests, effective responses can only be crafted through international cooperation. The G20 stands as a pivotal arena for this cooperation, with China’s positive contribution being indispensable in promoting cohesion.

Despite Western media’s efforts to sensationalize China’s position and magnify perceived gaps, China remains a committed multilateral partner within the G20, dedicated to constructive engagement. The G20 continues to serve as a critical platform for addressing global concerns, fostering unity, and promoting international collaboration. As the world grapples with intricate issues, it remains imperative that nations adhere to the principles of multilateralism and collaborate relentlessly to secure a more prosperous, peaceful, and sustainable future for all.

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