China geopolitical strategy 2019 – July 2020

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IN THE NAME OF CONFUCIUS (film)

The Fall of China’s Mask
As China’s behaviour on the world stage has been emboldened by the incompetence and unpredictability of Donald Trump, Beijing’s abuses of power have become increasingly brazen. On issues from Hong Kong to Taiwan to Huawei, the economic stakes and intimidation tactics that served to mute criticism of China for more than a decade are proving less and less effective. As veteran China-watcher Robin Sears writes, “It is hard to understand what Xi’s endgame is.”
Robin V. Sears
(Policy July-August 2020) Chinese president Xi Jinping has done serious damage to his country’s global reputation, perhaps exceeded only by that inflicted by Mao in his declining years. This is not entirely surprising, since Xi clearly sees himself in the same vein, as a transformational leader. The statistics that track the reputational damage are brutal.
85 percent of those polled by Angus Reid say they do not believe Beijing’s COVID fables. China’s failure to adequately protect African students from racist attacks has wounded them in many African countries. The EU countries are considering steps to block Chinese investment, as is Canada. The United States has seen two-way investment flows cut in half, and is actively trying to weaken the Chinese economy, especially in the tech sector.
Even China’s quiet march through multilateral institutions—implanting loyalists in executive roles in organizations from Interpol, to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization among many others—is now being pushed back on, with the support of some developing nations that China could have counted on the purchased loyalty of only two years ago.
But it is China’s use of personal protective equipment, especially masks, as a diplomatic card in an attempt to buy goodwill, that has failed most spectacularly in recent months. First, it was revealed that China canvassed the world to import PPE equipment in late December and January, when Beijing knew that COVID was getting out of control in Wuhan, that the epidemic was coming, but was strenuously denying it publicly.
Then in March, when the pandemic went global, China started to manufacture masks in great quantities and offer them, often free of charge, to African and European nations. Canada’s shipments, like many others, were returned when the masks were found to be defective or of shoddy quality. EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell called out China very directly, saying that China was fighting “…a struggle for influence through spinning and the politics of generosity.” Since then, things have gone badly wrong for the Chinese spinners.
Taiwan, an increasingly nimble competitor, also sent masks-—but theirs were of very good quality. Canada at first refused to criticize the Chinese shipment of unsafe equipment publicly, or to acknowledge the Taiwanese generosity by name. Days later, presumably after someone had whispered in his ear about how craven this appeared, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered a terse thanks. It took Trudeau some weeks to acknowledge that China had made errors in its early handling of the crisis, and even longer to join the call for the WHO to launch an independent inquiry into its mishandling of COVID.
The first telling example of how Canada was beginning to turn away from China, and how badly wrong the game of diplomatic masks had gone was the leak of Ambassador Dominic Barton’s harsh denunciation of China’s games in a briefing to the Canadian International Council. Those who know Barton as the savvy global leader of McKinsey, and one of Canada’s most experienced China hands, do not believe that the “leak” of his remarks was unplanned.
Bullied by Beijing, America’s Closest Allies Regret Saying ‘Yes’ to China (paywall)
China was winning over the innermost circle of U.S. allies. Now it’s driving them away.
By Salvatore Babones
(Foreign Policy) On June 29, Australia will probably overlook an anniversary it would rather forget. Five years ago this month, Australia broke ranks with the United States to join one of China’s most important foreign-policy initiatives, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). It was the price Australia paid to get a free trade agreement with China, which had been stalled in endless negotiations for more than a decade. The Australian government tried to get the agreement over the line by entering into a comprehensive strategic partnership with China in 2014, but even that wasn’t enough to satisfy Beijing. Joining the AIIB in 2015 did the trick.
Australians may be surprised to discover that their country is one of China’s dozens of “strategic partners,” “comprehensive strategic partners,” and “comprehensive strategic cooperative partners,” terms Beijing uses to describe its formal relationships with other countries. The most trusted U.S. allies—the countries in the so-called Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network— have all agreed to such partnerships with China. Australia’s neighbors across the Tasman Sea in New Zealand also enjoy a comprehensive strategic partnership with China, while Canada’s relationship with China, though of longer standing, is merely an ordinary strategic partnership. The language around the U.K.-Chinese partnership may be the grandest of all: The two countries are locked together in a “global comprehensive strategic partnership for the 21st century,” per an agreement signed in October 2015.

16 June
China’s Indian Ocean ambitions
Investment, influence, and military advantage
(Brookings) China has significantly expanded its engagements in the Indian Ocean region over the past three decades, raising fears among American and Indian strategists that its growing naval presence, together with its use of so-called “debt-trap diplomacy,” might provide it with meaningful military advantages far from its shores.
This paper explores five such mission objectives — ranging from relatively “benign” activities to those that would be more alarming to U.S. and Indian policy planners — and describes the kinds of defense and economic investments that China would require to carry them out. These objectives are: 1) conduct non-combat activities focused on protecting Chinese citizens and investments, and bolstering China’s soft power influence; 2) undertake counterterrorism activities, unilaterally or with partners, against organizations that threaten China; 3) collect intelligence in support of operational requirements, and against key adversaries; 4) support efforts aimed at coercive diplomacy toward small countries in the region; and 5) enable effective operations in a conflict environment, namely the ability to deter, mitigate, or terminate a state-sponsored interdiction of trade bound for China, and to meaningfully hold at risk U.S. or Indian assets in the event of a wider conflict.

13 June
Minxin Pei: China’s ‘wolf warrior’ diplomats are being more reckless than Donald Trump. That’s a mistake
At a time when China’s reputation is suffering, its diplomats should be focused on differentiating China’s foreign policy from that of the US president. Yet, the ‘wolf warriors’ are doing just the opposite
(SCMP) Chinese diplomats have long had a reputation as well-trained, colourless, and cautious professionals who pursue their missions doggedly without attracting much unfavourable attention. But a new crop of younger diplomats are ditching established norms in favour of aggressively promoting China’s self-serving Covid-19 narrative. It is called “wolf warrior” diplomacy – and it is backfiring.
Soon before the Covid-19 crisis erupted, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi instructed the country’s diplomatic corps to adopt a more assertive approach to defending China’s interests and reputation abroad. The pandemic – the scale of which may have been far smaller were it not for the local Wuhan authorities’ early mistakes– presented a perfect opportunity to translate this directive into action.
And that is precisely what Chinese diplomats have been doing. For example, in mid-March, the foreign ministry’s newly appointed deputy spokesman, Zhao Lijian, promoted a conspiracy theory alleging that the US military brought the novel coronavirus to Wuhan, the pandemic’s first epicentre.

4 June
Disunited Democracies Cannot Face the Challenge of China
The United States and its allies must agree on an approach to China with a clarity of purpose, resolve, and restraint. Because the China challenge will only grow over time.
Professor Roland Paris
(Chatham House) Beijing’s attempts to gain control of international agencies, to dominate emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and biotechnology, to tout an increasingly repressive brand of authoritarian capitalism as a model for others to follow, and to use state-directed firms and targeted economic rewards and punishments to gain political leverage over other countries, all pose strategic challenges to the erstwhile community of democracies.
In addition to China’s legislative putsch in Hong Kong, it recently slapped 80% tariffs on Australian barley exports after Canberra called for an independent investigation into the pandemic’s outbreak, while reports claimed a Chinese surveillance ship sank a Vietnamese fishing boat near contested islands in the South China Sea. Beijing has also recently toughened its stance on Taiwan, threatening military action to ‘resolutely smash’ any move toward independence.
To develop a common approach to China, democratic countries need to overcome three major obstacles. First is a reservoir of distrust that has grown between the United States and its allies in recent years. US leadership remains vital for decisive collective action, but Trump’s version of leadership wantonly alienates America’s traditional partners. His insults, threats, and sanctions have taken a toll — the mistrust is now mutual. He clearly prefers to deal with China unilaterally.
The second obstacle is the slowness of some to acknowledge the seriousness of the China challenge. The EU has lately begun to harden its position on China along with, it appears, Britain and Canada.
Finally, there is mounting concern that the United States might overreact to China. Even as these two powers compete, they must exercise restraint as this is essential for the stability of the global economy, the billions of people facing an unprecedented pandemic, and a creeping climate crisis. All demand continued cooperation.
But what is ultimately at stake is international peace.
Democratic nations — and others that share their concerns — should develop joint strategies that penalize any Chinese attempts to dominate strategic technologies through espionage and intellectual property theft. They could also devise shared standards to toughen the vetting of Chinese overseas investment in sensitive sectors, and to prohibit the pressuring of foreign firms operating in China to disclose their trade secrets.

Cleo Paskal: China versus the world
China’s attempts at aggressive expansion are not going to stop, and it still has a range of conventional and nonconventional arrows in its quiver, including in the areas of cyber, electronic warfare, and space. But Beijing has been so obvious in its desire to dominate territorially and economically that it is now impossible to ignore. If the rest of the world can focus for a moment on where the long-term threat to democracy, stability, security, and prosperity is really coming from, there is a unique opening to forge the sort of strategic and economic alliances that can stop a war before it happens.
(Washington Examiner) While America staggers from coronavirus lockdown to riot curfew, China is pushing out at sea, on its borders, in its legal claims, and in the global economy. America and its allies have begun to realize the extent of China’s ambitions and the threat they pose. But will Western governments do more than signal their disapproval? They certainly have the means to do so.
China’s recent actions, taken together, constitute a serious escalation. Even though COVID-19 was spawned there, China never instituted a full, nationwide lockdown, attempting to keep as much of its economy as active as possible, including, ironically, as a source of production for personal protective equipment for the rest of the world. Simultaneously, Beijing took advantage of the political distraction and economic weakness of others to advance its strategic goals.
… On the global economic front, in April, Beijing started to test its own state-run digital currency, a component of its strategy to undermine the U.S. dollar as the global reserve currency. It has also been using the COVID-19 economic crash in other countries to try to buy up distressed assets on the cheap and position itself in strategic sectors such as high-tech startups.
While China’s maritime, territorial, legal, and economic ambitions have been evident for at least 20 years, all of the above has happened in just the past few months.

22 May
China Has Two Paths to Global Domination
And a lot is riding on whether Washington can figure out which strategy Beijing has chosen.
By Hal Brands and Jake Sullivan
(Foreign Policy) If true superpower status is China’s desired destination, there are two roads it might take to try to get there. The first is the one American strategists have until now emphasized (to the extent they acknowledged China’s global ambitions). This road runs through China’s home region, specifically the Western Pacific. It focuses on building regional primacy as a springboard to global power, and it looks quite familiar to the road the United States itself once traveled. The second road is very different because it seems to defy the historical laws of strategy and geopolitics. This approach focuses less on building a position of unassailable strength in the Western Pacific than on outflanking the U.S. alliance system and force presence in that region by developing China’s economic, diplomatic, and political influence on a global scale.
Xi Jinping’s China is displaying a superpower’s ambition. Only a few years ago, many American observers still hoped that China would reconcile itself to a supporting role in the liberal international order or would pose—at most—a challenge to U.S. influence in the Western Pacific. The conventional wisdom was that China would seek an expanded regional role—and a reduced U.S. role—but would defer to the distant future any global ambitions. Now, however, the signs that China is gearing up to contest America’s global leadership are unmistakable, and they are ubiquitous.
… a country that formerly disguised its ambitions now asserts them openly. China has entered a “new era,” Xi announced in 2017, and must “take center stage in the world.” Two years later, Xi used the idea of a “new Long March” to describe China’s worsening relationship with Washington. Even strategic shocks that originated within China have become showcases for Beijing’s geopolitical aspirations: Witness how Xi’s government has sought to turn a coronavirus crisis made worse by its own authoritarianism into an opportunity to project Chinese influence and market China’s model overseas.
The precise intentions of opaque, authoritarian regimes are difficult to discern. And there is danger in definitive declarations of hostile intent because they can lead to fatalism and self-fulfilling prophecies. The two of us have different priors about whether stable, constructive U.S.-China relations are still possible. But it requires a degree of willful ignorance not to ask whether China is in fact seeking (or will inevitably seek) to establish itself as the world’s leading power and how it might go about achieving that goal. The architects of America’s China strategy, no matter how instinctively accommodating or confrontational they might be, must face this issue squarely.

12 May
How COVID-19 will change China and Africa’s economic relationship

  • China rarely agrees to debt write-offs.
  • African countries are important to China’s long-run development agenda.
  • Debt write-offs may be necessary if both want to benefit from the changed world economy, post-coronavirus.

(WEF)  Ethiopia’s Nobel Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed compelled creditor countries to heed the fact that 64 countries spent more servicing external debt in 2019 than on health, leaving them unprepared for a pandemic. Almost half of those are in sub-Saharan Africa; his own country, for one, spends almost half of its revenue from exports servicing debt. The pandemic has, moreover, reduced those revenues at the same time as increasing public health-related expenses. Experts say low-income countries “can either pay foreign creditors or allow more of their citizens to die”.
G20 Finance Ministers have agreed a temporary freeze on the debt repayments of the world’s 76 poorest countries. However, creditor nations such as China and Saudi Arabia typically act outside of multilateral debt relief frameworks. …
Since the late 1990s, and recently under the umbrella of the Belt and Road Initiative, China has become a significant lender to low-income countries. Its approach to aid and investment is foremost a function of its own development experience. As a low-income country in the 1980s, China itself renegotiated some of its foreign-invested agreements.
– A year after China launched the Belt and Road Initiative in 2014, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang made his first visit as premier to Africa. Speaking at the African Union, Li emphasised China’s offering of ‘innovative and pragmatic cooperation’, highlighting the fact that China as cooperation partner would not be a traditional player within the global development status quo. One recent investment-level example is the 2019 bauxite-for-infrastructure deal forged between China and Ghana.
– COVID-19 nonetheless, has comprehensively interrupted the status quo
African countries are important to China’s long-run development agenda, and vice versa. Not only is Africa home to important new energy and technology-related minerals, but it is also home to the largest share of the world’s youth – tomorrow’s markets.
… when China agreed loans to construct the Mombasa-Nairobi railway, there was little related international interest or supply chains. More recently, neighbouring Tanzania has been better positioned to negotiate between a slew of potential rail investors. These trends may accelerate in the shadow of COVID-19.
The backdrop to China’s Belt and Road Initiative is ongoing economic and demographic change in China. Far from marking the death of the initiative, supply chain shocks from COVID-19 may speed up the related relocation of selective industrial capacity. African countries working strategically and proactively with China and other investors may position themselves for a timely win-win. But their prospects for such cooperation will be diminished if left to bear the weight of crushing post-coronavirus debt overhang.

29 April
Global China: Technology
China aspires to global technology leadership. Can it achieve its ambitions? What would the impacts be at home and abroad?
This installment of papers for the Brookings Foreign Policy project “Global China: Assessing China’s Growing Role in the World” assesses China’s growing technological reach in the world by focusing on both thematic and technology-specific topics.

22 April
China must not shape the future of human rights at the UN
Kyle Matthews & Margaret McCuaig-Johnston
(The Conversation) In 2014, President Xi Jinping began encouraging Chinese officials to move into leadership positions in international organizations and standards bodies to ensure that China’s objectives and policies were given full influence.
We can see now this policy is having an impact as China exhorts these multilateral institutions to expel Taiwan from membership and adopt Chinese priorities. Now human rights have been added to China’s sphere of influence.

Chinese Agents Helped Spread Messages That Sowed Virus Panic in U.S., Officials Say
American officials were alarmed by fake text messages and social media posts that said President Trump was locking down the country. Experts see a convergence with Russian tactics.
(NYT) The officials interviewed for this article work in six different agencies. They included both career civil servants and political appointees, and some have spent many years analyzing China. Their broader warnings about China’s spread of disinformation are supported by recent findings from outside bipartisan research groups, including the Alliance for Securing Democracy and the Center for a New American Security, which is expected to release a report on the topic next month.
Wuhan virology lab’s long history of scientific collaboration
(SCMP) French and US expertise behind establishment of China’s top-level research facility into deadly and easily transmittable pathogens.
International scientists defend Wuhan Institute of Virology and its deputy director Shi Zhengli who discovered link between bats and Sars

18 April
Watch Out For China Buying Spree, NATO Warns
(Forbes) Watch out for Chinese companies swooping in with buckets of cash to buy strategic stakes, or majority control in U.S. and European companies as asset prices fall due to the pandemic.
NATO sounded the alarm this week, though without naming names.
“The geopolitical effects of the pandemic could be significant,” said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in web conference of defense ministers on Wednesday. “Some allies (are) more vulnerable for situations where critical infrastructure can be sold out,” he said. Of course he meant China. China has been busy buying Greek ports.
It already pretty much runs Italian textiles. It’s a wonder Italy even makes an espresso machine anymore.
China Overseas Shipping Company, aka COSCO, owns 90% of the only terminal operator in Belgium. COSCO has a 51% stake in and managerial control of port terminals in Valencia and Bilbao, Spain. They also have minority stakes in other terminals in Antwerp, Las Palmas and Rotterdam, according to a December 2019 study by a Netherlands think tank, seen here.
John Sawers, former MI6 chief told Sky News this week that, “We need to do more to protect Western technology from being bought up by Chinese companies. I don’t think it’s an existential threat in the way the Soviet Union was in the Cold War, but nevertheless there is going to be deep rivalry over control of technology,” he reportedly said.
J.P. Morgan thinks that strategic outbound M&A action by Chinese acquirers isn’t going away.
Even if Europe and the U.S. roadblock it, China companies have all of Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and all of Latin America.
Moreover, Chinese companies are not just interested in strategic assets like natural resources. They want to part of the global brand A-list, and they want to move way up the economic food chain, so that makes them buyers of life science tech, fashion brands and retail, logistics operations, and outside of the core economies, corporate banking, too.
Cleo Paskal: World tries to shake off its dangerous China addiction
Across political divide, there are focused efforts to make serious changes to the way the US does business with China, and China’s dangerous avariciousness is being called out in very high profile ways.
(Sunday Guardian) …over the past few decades, entire global business sectors and the national leadership of whole countries have been lured down a dark road by China, along the way becoming addicted to cheap labour, lax environmental regulations, authoritarian facilitation of access to land, a rigged market, a docile media, a compliant legal system, and a lot of wining and dining (and more).
The model expanded out of China with individual non-Chinese politicians and business people acting as middlemen for what China was peddling. In exchange for great personal gain, they addicted their economies and stakeholders to fast, cheap, economic thrills, paying for it with their country’s and company’s IP, critical digital, physical and economic infrastructure, and so much more.
China presented the engagement as “just economic”—win-win for China, its partners and the middlemen. But with Covid-19 turning the spotlight on China’s hidden face, it now looks less simply economic and more triple use: a commercial face, yes, but with a strategic spine, and deep corruption running through its veins.

17 April
Trump, aides flirt with China lab coronavirus conspiracy theory
But experts overwhelmingly say analysis of COVID-19’s genome rules out the possibility it was engineered by humans.

5 April
Consider the Possibility That Trump Is Right About China
Critics are letting their disdain for the president blind them to geopolitical realities.
Nadia Schadlow, Former deputy national-security adviser for strategy
(The Atlantic) …even as the current emergency has proved him right in fundamental ways—about China specifically and foreign policy more generally—many respectable people in the United States are letting their disdain for the president blind them to what is really going on in the world. Far from discrediting Trump’s point of view, the COVID-19 crisis reveals what his strategy asserted: that the world is a competitive arena in which great power rivals like China seek advantage, that the state remains the irreplaceable agent of international power and effective action, that international institutions have limited capacity to transform the behavior and preferences of states.

30 March
China Looms Large in Central Asia
China is gradually laying down the foundations for the construction of a Pax Sinica in Central Asia. This is particularly successful in certain sectors of the economy, but Beijing’s policy has come up against constraints, both within Central Asia and outside of it.
(Carnegie Moscow Center) During the last three decades for which an independent Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan have existed, China has become a key partner for each of those countries. The region’s future development is now impossible to imagine without cooperation with Beijing.

26 March
Huawei to ‘scale down’ supply of COVID-19 masks, after Borrell comments
(Euractiv.com) Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei will scale down its European mask donation programme for fear of becoming embroiled in a wider geopolitical powerplay, following comments from the EU’s Foreign Chief Josep Borrell that a ‘politics of generosity’ is being played out, as well as a ‘global battle of narratives’.
However, the company also said that it “remains open” to discussions with health authorities in Europe who are in “dire need” of additional equipment.
Over the past two weeks, Huawei has donated millions of masks to be used in the fight against the spread of the virus to several EU member states, including Italy, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Poland, Holland, and Spain.

25 March
Yes, Blame China for the Virus
A bungled response in Western countries is no reason to take the heat off China. If China had a different government, the world could have been spared this terrible pandemic.
(Foreign Affairs) The crisis is inherently political because it was caused in part by incompetent, malicious, and corrupt politicians. To ignore the political dimension of the coronavirus pandemic is an excellent way to ensure it happens again. If we do not want another global pandemic, we have to hold accountable the politicians responsible for making it worse, chief among them Chinese President Xi Jinping. He did not create the novel coronavirus, but his government’s missteps are directly responsible for its global transmission and uncontrolled spread, with all its terrible consequences to populations and economies around the world.

24 March
Top EU diplomat warns China effort to blame West for coronavirus part of global ‘struggle for influence
(Washington Examiner) Western leaders shouldn’t be duped by China’s attempt to turn the coronavirus pandemic into an opportunity for Beijing to gain international influence at the expense of the West, according to the European Union’s top diplomat.
“There is a global battle of narratives going on in which timing is a crucial factor,” EU High Representative Josep Borrell wrote in a bulletin to his colleagues in the bloc. “We must be aware there is a geopolitical component including a struggle for influence through spinning and the ‘politics of generosity.’”
Chinese officials have tried to cast doubt on the origins of the coronavirus in recent weeks while touting the effectiveness of their containment tactics. Senior officials have tried to accuse the United States of seeding the contagion in Wuhan, where the novel coronavirus first emerged, but Chinese state-run media outlets have begun to suggest it began in Italy as the outbreak worsens in Europe — drawing criticism of China’s shifting narratives from Borrell.
The Coronavirus pandemic and the new world it is creating

22 March
Will The Dragon Lash Out?
COVID-19: Could China make its move?
By
Intelligence analysts generally reckon there are some things that could happen but that won’t happen.
A Chinese attack on U.S. forces or friends in Asia was one such thing. But COVID-19 might make analysts rethink.
The People’s Republic Of China (PRC) has been harassing, jostling, ramming, and “lazing” U.S. ships and aircraft – mostly in the Pacific – for years. America’s friends are also targeted on occasion.
However, there was always a limit. The PRC actually attacking someone – going kinetic? They wouldn’t do that – despite frequent blood-curdling rhetoric. The economic and political costs would be too high – or so it was thought. Rather, Beijing’s main efforts were on the economic and political fronts.
But something about Chinese behavior seems different – indeed scarier – following the COVID-19 outbreak in central China in late 2019.
A forceful Chinese move against U.S. forces or partners suddenly doesn’t seem so farfetched.
The United States and its allies had better be ready.
Here’s why:
Assume that Beijing’s so-call “scientific” decision-making is based on a rough equation including military capability, motivation, and a belief it can “get away with it.”
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is now strong and competent enough to give U.S. forces all they can handle in certain circumstances.
Motivation? China has long sought to displace the U.S. in the Asia/Pacific – a region China believes it should rightly dominate. And the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s “Great Rejuvenation” strategy to restore an imagined territorial integrity is, on a timeline – not merely aspirational.
Beijing might be thinking its opportunity is slipping away owing to the effects of COVID-19.

11 February
Europe sees few benefits from China’s Belt and Road
(Asia Times) Despite the BRI having drawn a fair amount of criticism over a lack of transparency, environmental degradation, and poor governance, assurances from Beijing still entice other countries seeking investment and their companies seeking financial gain. During his speech at the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in May 2017, Xi promised: “China will endeavor to build a win-win business partnership with other countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative.”

4 February
China’s dreams of world leadership are fading as its belt and road projects start to sour
By Daniel Wagner, CEO of Country Risk Solutions
The Belt and Road Initiative, hailed for promoting development, is coming under fire as debt burdens grow, reflecting a growing wariness of Beijing’s posturing as a global leader-in-waiting on an international stage that seeks to promote debate rather than censor it
(SCMP) A good way to measure China’s appeal for the rest of the world is to gauge the success of its Belt and Road Initiative.
As of last September, Beijing had signed more than 190 cooperation documents with more than 160 countries and international organisations in support of the trade initiative to link economies into a China-centred trading network. Its cumulative investment has exceeded US$100 billion, with construction projects valued at a staggering US$720 billion. Yet the initiative had begun slowing by 2018. This was due, in part, to a decline in Chinese funds available for investment. Chinese state banks had become more cautious about lending as the trade war with the United States commenced.
Chinese state-owned enterprises were still moving car and steel capacity overseas, and building highways and cement plants in developing economies, but on a much smaller scale compared to their 2016 investment peak. Some countries (such as Myanmar, Sierra Leone and Tanzania) had become hesitant about continuing to borrowing large sums for fear of a debt trap.
Beijing had also become more attuned to the flip side of debt-trap diplomacy: not being paid. The fear of an unaligned balance of payments, combined with exchange-rate weakness from the US trade war, caused a rationing of hard currency. Beijing had come to realise that some belt and road projects had led to excessive debt levels for some countries.
Beijing is now being criticised by the very same countries supposed to be praising China for promoting development via belt and road projects. Host governments are more carefully scrutinising belt and road projects and associated costs. Beijing has learned it cannot simply dictate the terms of engagement for bilateral relations or cross-border trade and investment.

28 January
Council on Foreign Relations: China’s Massive Belt and Road Initiative
China’s colossal infrastructure investments may usher in a new era of trade and growth for economies in Asia and beyond. But skeptics worry that China is laying a debt trap for borrowing governments.
Backgrounder by Andrew Chatzky and James McBride
The Belt and Road Initiative has also stoked opposition. For some countries that take on large amounts of debt to fund infrastructure upgrades, BRI money is seen as a potential poisoned chalice. BRI projects are built using low-interest loans as opposed to aid grants. Some BRI investments have involved opaque bidding processes and required the use of Chinese firms. As a result, contractors have inflated costs, leading to canceled projects and political backlash.
Examples of such criticisms abound. In Malaysia, Mahathir bin Mohamad, elected prime minister in 2018, campaigned against overpriced BRI initiatives, which he claimed were partially redirected to funds controlled by his predecessor. Once in office, he canceled $22 billion worth of BRI projects, although he later announced his “full support” for the initiative in 2019. In Kazakhstan, mass protests against the construction of Chinese factories swept the country in 2019, driven by concerns about costs as well as anger over the Chinese government’s treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang Province.
More such stories are likely, according to  a 2018 report by the Center for Global Development, which notes that eight BRI countries are vulnerable to debt crises. CFR’s Belt and Road Tracker shows overall debt to China has soared since 2013, surpassing 20 percent of GDP in some countries.

2019

6 December
China’s New Concept of Global Governance and Action Plan for International Cooperation
By senior CIGI fellow Yong Wang
(CIGI paper) Since 2013, the Chinese government under President Xi Jinping has adopted a proactive approach to global governance and is committed to playing a leadership role to take on more international duties. China has proposed a series of new concepts and approaches on the issue of global governance, as well as an action plan for the next five to 10 years to push forward on reforming and strengthening the existing global governance institutions. China’s concepts of global governance are the community of shared human destiny; a new type of international relations; an international win-win partnership; and the principle of mutual consultation, co-building and sharing. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Belt and Road Initiative are the best examples of China’s proactive concepts and plans for global governance reform. The key to the success of China’s concept of global governance lies in managing US-China strategic competition and forming a consensus on international governance system reform. China’s global governance policy provides opportunities for Canada-China cooperation on reforming and strengthening international institutions. (13 November)

A new battleground: In the UN, China uses threats and cajolery to promote its worldview
(The Economist) DESPITE ITS veto-wielding power in the United Nations, China has long been reluctant to stick its neck out. It has been 20 years since it last stood alone in exercising that right. But in the UN’s backrooms, the country’s diplomats are showing greater willingness to flex muscle, and their Western counterparts to fight back. Not since the cold war has the organisation become such a battleground for competing visions of the international order.
China’s efforts span a broad range of UN activity, from human rights to matters relating to economic development. They appear to have two main aims. One is to create a safe space for the Chinese Communist Party by ensuring that other countries do not criticise its rule. The country has long bristled at any such “interference”. Its officials are now becoming tougher in their response. China’s other objective is to inject wording into UN documents that echoes the language of the country’s leader, Xi Jinping. China is trying to “make Chinese policies UN policies,” says a diplomat on the UN Security Council.
Since Mr Xi took office in 2012 the country has dramatically increased its spending at the UN. It is now the second-largest contributor, after America, to both the general budget and the peacekeeping one. It has also secured leading roles for its diplomats in several UN bodies, including the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (beating a candidate backed by America, to many people’s surprise). Next year the country will join the three-member Board of Auditors, which keeps an eye on the UN’s accounts.
The senior jobs being taken by China’s diplomats are mostly boring ones in institutions that few countries care much about. But each post gives China control of tiny levers of bureaucratic power as well as the ability to dispense favours.
Jeremy K. comments: Pretty accurate, always inevitable, and in many ways understandable. But they do it with unappealing style and still show signs they don’t get the rules at all, e.g. the Austrian Uighur NGO delegate. Read up on the short-lived Chinese head of Interpol. They do pay up and pay out in international cooperations………it strengthens both the institution, hence cooperation, and Chinese influence. It’s the world as it now is.

30 November
Security fears, political tensions souring China’s relations with Central Europe
Tensions with Poland and Czech Republic have China looking for new partners in former East Bloc
(CBC) A half-decade ago, China planted an economic flag in Central Europe with its multi-billion-dollar plan to build a vast infrastructure network of roads, railways, pipelines and ports.
Just like elsewhere in the world, China touted its Belt and Road Initiative as a deal that would stretch far into the future and bind countries together under Chinese investment and benevolent guidance.
Five years on, though, some of those countries are finding the Chinese embrace increasingly uncomfortable.
… The Chinese have hardly given up on their overtures to central and southern Europe. Instead, they hint they could move their Polish investment to Hungary, run by the hard-right Prime Minister Viktor Orban. The Hungarian government would be delighted. It’s already the largest recipient in Central Europe of Chinese investment with more than $5 billion, and in 2017 signed a strategic partnership agreement with China.

28 November
Jamaica has China to thank for much-needed infrastructure — but some locals say it has come at a price
(CBC) …a gleaming new highway connecting Jamaica’s major cities in the north and the south sits relatively empty.
Construction of the North South Highway started in earnest in 2013, the same year Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the launch of his Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It’s a plan to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure projects to increase the flow of goods, money and people across much of the world, including the Caribbean.
The North South Highway, completed in 2016, was one of the first major infrastructure projects in Jamaica financed and built by a Chinese state-owned company.

25 November
China vows more protection for intellectual property
(MarketWatch)The Chinese government released a document on Sunday calling for more protection of intellectual property rights (IPR), one issue at the center of trade talks with the U.S. “Strengthening IPR protection is the most important content of improving the IPR protection system and also the biggest incentive to boost China’s economic competitiveness,” said the document. The guidelines advise “speeding up the introduction of a punitive compensation system for infringements of patents and copyrights, and strengthening the protection of trade secrets, confidential business information and their source codes.” In addition, it also says China needs to step up international cooperation in IPR protection and help communication between domestic and foreign rights holders and provide support in overseas IPR disputes.

16-18 November
China is likely to take over Kenya’s main port
If the Kenyan government failed to repay the debts of $ 3.21 billion to China taken up for an ongoing major railway project, China would possibly take the port of Mombasa as an alternative.
(Daily Times, Pakistan) SGR (Standard Gauge Railway) a 472-kilometer line from Mombasa Nairobi, where work started in 2013, and become operational in 2017, was proposed to start giving back the loan from 2020 onward. But, since it became operational, the company is going in loss of nearly $2 million annually.
In the agreement, the Kenyan government held the very least portion. As per the Auditor-General report of 2018, the deal greatly favors China Exim Bank, which advanced Kenya the loan.
“The China Exim Bank would become a principle in [over] KPA if Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) defaults in its obligations and China Exim Bank exercise power over the escrow account security,” the audit said.
Make public all agreements with China
It is critical to ascertain the viability of the SGR project since our competition is external rather than internal.
• Kenya needs to ask itself whether it is wise to co-own its critical infrastructure with another country, especially after China took over the port of Sri Lanka as collateral.
• We must always ask ourselves, what is in it for us, or will we finance a project that ends up benefiting the Chinese more as they commit us to debt, deprivation of our natural resources, and killing of our local industries.
(The Star) If there is a single infrastructure project that clearly defines our relationship with China, it’s certainly the Standard Gauge Railway project.
Covering 462km, the railway connects Nairobi with the port city of Mombasa. It has two sections, mainly commuter and cargo services. The real mainstay of this project is cargo, since the commuter section cannot possibly sustain the viability of the infrastructure. Built at a cost of $3.2 billion, the project is the single most investment by the Chinese in Africa, especially in the year 2017-18, whereby their investment totaled $12 billion.
Ultimately, China’s mission is to create a corridor to the minerals rich Congo, for their industries. We must always ask ourselves, what is in it for us, or will we finance a project that ends up benefiting the Chinese more as they commit us to debt, deprivation of our natural resources, and killing of our local industries.

30 September
Global China: The future of China’s foreign policy
(Brookings) The prevailing narrative in the United States is that President Xi is determined to take China in a new direction, a direction that many experts on China describe as increasingly illiberal at home and aggressive abroad.
To critically assess this narrative—which could have profound policy consequences—Tarun Chhabra of the Brookings Project on International Order and Strategy and Ryan Hass of the Brookings John L. Thornton China Center have assembled nine experts who are compelling, new voices in the field of China studies in both academia and the policy world.
On some questions, such as whether domestic political pressure is likely to cause Xi to pursue diversionary conflict, the contributors disagree. They generally converge, however, on the conclusion that Chinese foreign policy reflects more continuity than change under Xi’s leadership, and that, as a consequence, significant changes to current policy will be needed to ensure the United States can compete vigorously against an ambitious and aggressive China.

18 August

Cleo Paskal: China forcing a shift in strategic map
China is building new islands in the South China Sea, and equipping them in ways resembling military bases.
Our strategic map is changing. Literally, as China tries to “break out” of the three island chains that Beijing thinks constrain it.
In the South China Sea, massive Chinese dredgers are building new islands and equipping them in ways that make them look an awful lot like military bases.
Beijing calculates this will help China project power beyond the First Island Chain—islands (including Taiwan and Okinawa) that form the first barrier between China and the wider Pacific Ocean.
Just beyond that, in the Second Island Chain (including Saipan and Guam), China’s engagement approaches vary, from becoming a major investor (and so gaining political leverage) in Saipan, to announcing it has “Guam killer” missiles in an effort to turn locals against the onsite US military bases.
The Third Island Chain, a vast amorphous area roughly between Hawaii, Japan and New Zealand, is also of interest to China. This is the historic maritime front line between Asia and the Americas. It is the extent of Japanese expansion during WWII and these islands were the sites of many of the most brutal battles of that war. It is now home to well over a dozen independent countries, including Fiji, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Tonga, Samoa, Nauru and many more.
Here China uses its usual multifaceted approaches to deepen ties, including investment, migration, loans, scholarships, medical support, military-to-military cooperation and much more. But it also has the ability to bring something unique to the region that could be a dramatic game changer.
The biggest stated concern of many island nations is climate change. Many regional leaders consider it an existential threat. The fear is sea level rise, coastal erosion, increasingly intense cyclones, saltwater intrusion into fresh water systems and more will make their islands uninhabitable.
… Once China’s “magic island-maker” ship completes its primary tasks closer to the coast of China, it can be offered to some of the affected nations of the Third Island Chain to reinforce their shores against erosion.
As a result, China would look like a hero in the battle against climate change—a partner that takes seriously the concerns of the people of the Pacific Islands. Though of course, in the end, Beijing might ask for some rights to a small island of its own (that it could even build for itself) in return for its friendship. And maybe some EEZ access. And so on. And the strategic map changes. (23 February 2019)

Western allies, divided loyalties
Australia and New Zealand are targets of Beijing’s strategic game, writes Cleo Paskal
(Chatham House) As tensions rise in the Indo-Pacific region, western allies are keeping a careful eye on each other to see how each reacts to China’s growing strength.
Which allies will bar Huawei from their 5G superfast broadband network? Who will buy arms from whom? And which countries will devote the time, money and political will to engage in large-scale military training together?
At the same time, China is prodding at the weak spots in the bonds that unite the western allies, seeing where it has the political and economic leverage to pry them apart and undermine trust.
As a result, while the United States and China drift further apart, more countries, especially in the Indo-Pacific region, are finding it harder to balance their interests. That is especially true for longstanding western allies such as Australia and New Zealand.
In the past two years, Australia has been vocal and active in trying to counter Chinese influence. It is blocking Huawei, reassessing political financing legislation, making major defence procurements, engaging in large-scale military exercises with the US and Japan, working on interoperability with the US, and even talking about building another port, a bit down the coast from Darwin, where the US Marines – and Australians and other allies – can train. And more. The US acknowledged these efforts and in its June 2019 Indo-Pacific Strategy Report the Department of Defence noted that it was in partnership with Australia in ‘cyber, space, and defence science and technology domains’.
Meanwhile…New Zealand has been more problematic. ‘With respect to the reactions in New Zealand,’  [Peter Mattis, a former CIA analyst] said, ‘both the last prime minister, Bill English, and Jacinda Ardern, have denied that there is a problem at all.’
He added: ‘At some level the Five Eyes or the Four Eyes need to have a discussion about whether or not New Zealand can remain given this problem with the political core, and it needs to be put in those terms so that New Zealand’s government understands that the consequences are substantial for not thinking through and addressing some of the problems that they face.’

4 June
Ethiopia and Kenya are struggling to manage debt for their Chinese-built railways
(Quartz Africa) In the wake of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Forum in Beijing six weeks ago, Ethiopia gained another Chinese debt-concession. China’s second-largest African borrower and prominent BRI partner in infrastructure finance also received a cancellation on all interest-free loans up to the end of 2018. This was on top of previous renegotiated extensions of major commercial railway loans agreed earlier in 2018.
These concessions highlight the continuing debt-struggles that governments have in taking on Chinese large infrastructure projects. But they also demonstrate the advantages and flexibility, that African governments can gain in working with China—if they can leverage it.
It has been over a year since the Chinese-built and financed Addis-Djibouti standard gauge railway (SGR) opened to commercial service in January 2018. A flagship project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative in the Horn of Africa, and constructed in parallel with Kenya’s showy Chinese-built SGR, the project was Ethiopia’s first railway since a century ago (another urban-rail project, the Addis light-rail transit (LRT) was completed earlier in 2015), as well as being the first fully-electrified line in Africa.
Costing nearly $4.5 billion, the SGR was partly financed through $2.5 billion in commercial loans from China Eximbank, according to figures from SAIS-CARI with further loan packages dedicated to transmission lines and the procurement of rolling stock and locomotives. Part of China’s wider ‘export-supply chain’ strategy, the railway uses a package of Chinese trains, Chinese construction companies, Chinese standards and specifications—and is currently operated under a six-year contract by a joint venture of the two Chinese contractors, CREC and CCECC, who built it.

May 2019
Grow Green China Inc,
How China’s epic push for cleaner energy creates economic opportunity for the West
By Jeffrey Ball, Nonresident Senior Fellow – Cross-Brookings Initiative on Energy and Climate
(Brookings) A view gaining ground in the West holds that China’s determined dominance of a range of low-carbon industries, from more-efficient coal combustion to solar and wind power to electric vehicles, threatens the national security of developed nations and the fortunes of their firms. That view is outdated, ill-advised, and overdue for a rethink. China’s clean-energy juggernaut—call it Green China Inc.—is growing up. The West, for its own economic good, should grow up too in its approach to Green China Inc.
Green China Inc. is maturing both because the Chinese economy is maturing and because the global push for cleaner energy is as well. The upshot is a global shift to greener growth, with China leading the way.
To be sure, the geostrategic kernel of the Western worry about Green China Inc. contains grains of legitimacy. But the West’s anxiety about Green China Inc. is prompting a variety of wrongheaded responses. One is a trade war in which the United States imposes tariffs on imported Chinese clean-energy products and China retaliates with tariffs against U.S. goods. As of this writing, in mid-2019, the tariff fight between the two countries is intensifying.
The Western attempt to quash Green China Inc. is problematic for at least three reasons: It’s environmentally dangerous, geopolitically moot, and, even when viewed purely through the lens of Western self-interest, economically counterproductive.

29 April
China’s Risky Middle East Bet
By Brett McGurk
(Carnegie) China is making a risky bet in the Middle East. By focusing on economic development and adhering to the principle of noninterference in internal affairs, Beijing believes it can deepen relations with countries that are otherwise nearly at war with one another—all the while avoiding any significant role in the political affairs of the region. This is likely to prove naive, particularly if U.S. allies begin to stand up for their interests.
In meetings I attended earlier this month in Beijing on China’s position in the Middle East, sponsored by the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center, Chinese officials, academics, and business leaders expressed a common view that China can avoid political entanglement by promoting development from Tehran to Tel Aviv. China may soon find, however, that its purely transactional approach is unsustainable in this intractable region—placing its own investments at risk and opening new opportunities for the United States.
China’s interests in the Middle East are both structural and strategic. Structurally, China needs the natural resources of the region, whereas the United States—now the world’s largest oil producer—does not. China is also seeking new markets to absorb its excess industrial capacity, and sees the Middle East poised for growth after decades of wars, woeful infrastructure, and popular discontent. Strategically, together with Russia, China is taking advantage of the uncertainty produced by ever-shifting U.S. policies, including zero-sum prescriptions for Iran and Syria that are unlikely to produce desired outcomes anytime soon. Regional governments in turn have welcomed China’s embrace, and its offer of investment without pressure to politically reform or respect human rights.
… As the United States questions Chinese investment and intentions, particularly in the areas of technology and ports such as Israel’s Haifa, it can also challenge traditional allies as to whether they are granting China a free ride on what remains a largely U.S.-led security architecture. Such an arrangement should be as unacceptable to American partners in the region as it is to Washington. At the very least, these partners, together with Washington, can demand that Beijing utilize its emerging influence—particularly with Tehran and Damascus—to pursue measures that promote longer-term stability.

25 April
How Are Various Countries Responding to China’s Belt and Road Initiative?
By Paul Haenle, Dmitri Trenin, Alexander Gabuev, Tomáš Valášek, Darshana M. Baruah, Feng Yujun, Ma Bin
(Carnegie) Pitched as a new Silk Road sweeping from Asia to Europe, China’s enormous Belt and Road Initiative is an ambitious, multinational infrastructure project. Experts from four Carnegie global centers explain other countries’ perspectives.
What is Russia’s strategic approach to the BRI? Dmitri Trenin and Alexander Gabuev say Russia sees advantages in nurturing its relationship with a powerful neighbor.
Russia certainly does not want to offer its resources and territory for China-led projects that would make Moscow more dependent on Beijing. It is particularly careful not to incur too much Chinese debt. Moscow does not want Beijing to own any projects: they must be joint ventures, over which Russia exercises ultimate control.
Has the mood in Europe changed toward the Belt and Road Initiative?
Tomáš Valášek claims Europe is hardening its stance on China and the BRI.
the mood in Europe has turned against China, and it is likely to last for two reasons. First, there is growing concern that China’s industrial policies are no longer just stymying European business in China; they are now beginning to pose a threat to European business in third party countries, as a recent paper by the Federation of German Industries (BDI) points out.
How is India responding to the inroads China is making in its neighborhood?
Darshana M. Baruah illustrates India’s concerns about the BRI and how New Delhi is responding by partnering with its neighbors.
India has eyed the BRI with suspicion since its announcement. … it has made pointed statements about transparency and debt burdens. India’s biggest objection is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a section of the BRI that runs through the disputed territory of Kashmir. New Delhi views this as a violation of India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. While acknowledging the need for infrastructure projects, India is acutely aware of a growing Chinese presence in its neighborhood. And China’s lack of support for India on the global stage – such as through blocking New Delhi’s efforts to place sanctions on a Pakistan-based terror outfit – has also deepened strategic mistrust.
As a result, India is trying to improve business relationships with its Asian neighbors, with multiple new projects.
What is the United States getting right and wrong about the BRI?
Paul Haenle argues that the United States should develop its own strategy, rather than only criticizing the BRI.
Beijing has stressed time and again that there are no geopolitical calculations behind the BRI. Yet the initiative’s massive scale means that it will necessarily have geostrategic ramifications. Given the rising tensions between the United States and China, more skeptical observers in Washington view the BRI primarily as a Chinese strategy to alter the geopolitical landscape in China’s favor.
Washington must develop a strategy that recognizes the BRI’s positive impact, mitigates its negative aspects, and promotes U.S. interests abroad. At the same time, the United States and other countries should be more proactive in addressing global development gaps. It is not enough simply to point out the BRI’s flaws. Washington needs to put forward its own ideas and initiatives
How is China trying to influence other countries’ understanding of the BRI?
Feng Yujun and Ma Bin explain that China is refining its BRI communications strategy.

New missile gap leaves U.S. scrambling to counter China
Under Xi Jinping, Beijing has elevated its missile forces to a point where many rockets in the Chinese arsenal now rival or outperform those of the United States. This dramatic shift could render American carriers – the backbone of U.S. military supremacy – obsolete in a conflict with China
(Reuters Special Report) China has also seized a virtual monopoly in one class of conventional missiles – land-based, intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles.
Under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a Cold War-era agreement aimed at reducing the threat of nuclear conflict, the United States and Russia are banned from deploying this class of missiles, with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (3,418 miles). But Beijing, unrestrained by the INF Treaty, is deploying them in massive numbers.
This includes so-called carrier killer missiles like the DF-21D, which can target aircraft carriers and other warships underway at sea at a range of up to 1,500 kilometers, according to Chinese and Western military analysts. If effective, these missiles would give China a destructive capability no other military can boast. China’s advantage in this class of missiles is likely to remain for the foreseeable future, despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision in February to withdraw from the treaty in six months.

8 April
The Belt and Road Initiative: Views from Washington, Moscow, and Beijing
Feng Yujun, Alexander Gabuev, Paul Haenle, Ma Bin, Dmitri Trenin
Despite the BRI’s prevalence in discussions of China’s global engagement, many experts are divided on how to interpret it. Is it a global strategy or just an interregional initiative? How can countries and international companies participate in its growth and development?
(Carnegie) The BRI now covers over seventy countries across Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America, and Oceania. Future plans are even more ambitious, with planned expansion into the Arctic, cyberspace, and even outer space. The initiative’s scale and ambition have garnered immense attention, capturing headlines around the world. Specialized institutes, publications, consultancies, and investment firms seeking to analyze and capitalize on the BRI have sprung up at an astonishing rate.
Increased attention has also led to heightened scrutiny of the BRI. New questions about the initiative’s transparency and sustainability have arisen as BRI projects have matured. Countries are increasingly concerned that China’s soft power push through the BRI might soon transform into hard power. In China, some complain that the country has overreached and expanded the initiative too quickly, ignoring domestic problems in favor of overseas development and business opportunities.
These questions and concerns all bear directly on the initiative’s future. This working paper brings together perspectives from scholars across three different research centers to examine some of the most pressing issues surrounding the BRI. The aim is to shed light on differing views and to identify areas of consensus and divergence on major issues surrounding the BRI, summarized in the joint conclusion.

24 March
Italy joins China’s Belt and Road Initiative
Italy is the first G7 country to sign up to the scheme, in a move that has caused upset in Washington and Brussels
(Al Jazeera) Saturday’s accords were wide-ranging, covering cooperation in the banking sector, a partnership between a Chinese construction company and Italian ports and the export of fruit from the Mediterranean country to China. The agreements also hinted at collaboration between media outlets, as well as in the spheres of science and technology,
… BRI projects are financed by Chinese state-owned enterprises that offer participating countries inexpensive loans and credit. Analysts at Morgan Stanley predict China’s investments in BRI countries could reach $1.3 trillion by 2027. The scheme has drawn fire from critics who accuse Beijing of engaging in so-called “debt-trap diplomacy” and potentially masking military endeavours as commercial enterprises.
… Italy’s decision to defy the recent backlash and join the BRI comes at a time when the potential to boost Italian exports to China and pump money into crumbling Italian infrastructure is an especially alluring proposition. Italy has an onerous public debt and it fell into recession at the end of last year.

20 March
Pakistan distances itself from China’s Belt and Road
Islamabad diverts $171m from CPEC to fund projects legislators want
(Nikkei) The funds were originally meant to go toward $62 billion worth of infrastructure projects to build the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a crucial leg of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. But since the change of government in August last year, both sides have not decided on a definite future course for CPEC.
While the amount of funds being diverted to other projects is only a fraction of the amount going into Belt and Road, the move highlights the tensions surrounding Chinese investment in the country.

14 March
There is a connection between Masood Azhar and China’s Belt and Road Initiative. It is time to understand this.
Since both Pakistan and Turkey form key components of China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, this might be a time to start speaking about the axis that is made up of China, Pakistan, and Turkey. This story would be straightforward—China as the main rising power in the world. There are two countries, with potential—demographically (Pakistan, population 200 million) and economically (Turkey, 17th largest economy in the world)—are perfectly poised to become client states. These two countries have beleaguered leaders—Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Imran Khan lead governments that are suspect for their deep Islamist connections around the world. In Turkey, Erdoğan leads a violent dictatorship that has destabilised the Middle East; and Pakistan’s Imran Khan rules in a sense at the leisure of the Army, which is the real political power in that country.
Both Pakistan and Turkey hold key links in the Belt and Road Initiative.
But something more volatile is churning in this mix, which is less noticed than it should be. China’s concentration camps to ‘re-educate’ Chinese Muslims have spilled across the world. Chinese monetary power has not been able to stop the spread of this story. What is often forgotten in that the Uighurs, who are facing the brunt of this re-education in China, are a group with Turkic origins.
The suppression of information from the Uighur areas makes the full picture unclear, but there has been enough trickle out of the news that suggests violence is growing—how long before the jihad explodes in China with connections with Pakistan and even Turkey? Especially since – for instance – the Belt and Road Initiative in Pakistan, called the CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor), starts from Kashgar, deep in the Uighur region of China

24 February
China’s military build-up just starting – a lot more to come, expert warns
Military watchers can expect ‘something new’ at this year’s National Day parade in October, Professor Jin Canrong tells forum in Hong Kong
As tensions rise over Taiwan, Beijing is building a naval and missile force as powerful as any in the world, he says
(South China Morning Post) Speaking at a seminar at the University of Hong Kong on Saturday, Professor Jin Canrong, associate dean of the school of international studies at Renmin University in Beijing, said China had made great strides in expanding its military capability, but there was a lot more to come.

10 January
China’s Digital Silk Road Is Looking More Like an Iron Curtain
The funding of tech projects in dozens of countries may well divide the world.
By Sheridan Prasso
(Bloomberg) The first billboard that greets passengers arriving at the airport in Lusaka, before Pepsi’s “Welcome to Zambia,” is an advertisement for Bank of China. Nearby, a Chinese company is building a sleek terminal. On the road into the capital city, near the office of Chinese telecom company ZTE Corp., another billboard features surveillance cameras made by Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co. At the national data center built by Huawei Technologies Co., a Chinese man in a bright orange vest walks toward a building that houses government servers.
This southern African nation, a former British colony rich in copper and cobalt, is spending $1 billion on Chinese-made telecommunications, broadcasting, and surveillance technology. It’s all part of China’s “Digital Silk Road,” a subset of its “Belt and Road” initiative that contributes an estimated $79 billion in projects around the world, according to RWR Advisory Group, a Washington consulting firm that tracks Chinese investment. That funding has boosted development in Zambia and many other countries, but it comes at a price.
Most of the digital infrastructure projects in Zambia, like the more visible airport terminals and highways, are being built and financed by China, putting the country at what the International Monetary Fund calls a high risk of debt distress. It’s also given rise to fears that what has long been a thriving and stable multiparty democracy is veering toward a Chinese model of repression.
What’s playing out in Zambia is part of a larger contest between the U.S. and China for dominance over the future of technology and global influence. Companies from both countries sell tech products around the world, but Chinese businesses are offering a wide range of gear and relatively cheap financing in countries from Zimbabwe to Vietnam. They have an advantage in developing nations such as Zambia, which are looking to modernize their technology infrastructure.

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