China geopolitical strategy June 2020 –

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What Is the ‘Quad’ and Should China Fear It?

Experts say China’s low-level cyberwar is becoming severe threat
Activity more overt and reckless despite US, British and other political efforts to bring it to a halt
(The Guardian) Chinese state-sponsored hacking is at record levels, western experts say, accusing Beijing of engaging in a form of low-level warfare that is escalating despite US, British and other political efforts to bring it to a halt.
There are accusations too that the clandestine activity, which has a focus on stealing intellectual property, has become more overt and more reckless, although Beijing consistently denies sponsoring hacking and accuses critics of hypocrisy.
… That culminated, in July, with the US, the EU, Nato, the UK and four other countries all accusing Beijing of being behind a massive exploitation of vulnerabilities in Microsoft’s widely used Exchange company server software in March. In some cases they blamed China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) for directing the activity.
It affected about 250,000 organisations worldwide, allowing hackers from a group, which Microsoft has named Hafnium, to siphon off company emails for espionage, with the help of an easy to use “web shell” tool allowing anybody with the right password to hack into a compromised Exchange server.

22 August

China’s Plan in Xinjiang Seen as Key Factor in Uighur Crackdown
(VOA) Some experts say the geopolitical position of Xinjiang as China’s bridge to central and south Asia is yet another motive behind Beijing’s ambition to control the region and prevent any room for possible dissent.
While the international attention on China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang has focused mainly on ethnic and religious issues, Beijing’s economic development plans in the strategic region also play a key role in shaping the conflict, some experts and observers say.
Home to more than 11 million Turkic-speaking Uighurs, Xinjiang covers an area of 1.66 million square kilometers that accounts for one-sixth of China’s land mass. Its oil, natural gas and coal reserves make up more than 20% of China’s energy reserves, turning the region into a national powerhouse. …
The programs, such as the Open up the Northwest Campaign in the 1990s, and the larger scale Open up the West Campaign in the 2000s, allowed Han corporate farmers to claim Uighur land and expand industrial scale agriculture in the Uighur-majority region, Byler told VOA.
Some experts say the geopolitical position of Xinjiang as China’s bridge to central and south Asia is yet another motive behind Beijing’s ambition to control the region. … Xinjiang in the northeast borders Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. The region is at the heart of the $1 trillion infrastructure development and investments scheme, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), to connect China with over 150 countries throughout Asia, Europe, Africa and Americas.
According to Sean Roberts, a professor of international development at George Washington University, Uighurs’ attachment to their traditional lands and ways of life is seen by China’s Communist Party (CCP) as a risk to the successful implementation of the BRI.
“The intention to make Xinjiang a central part of BRI created a new urgency in the CCP to prevent further Uighur dissent in the region. In many ways, what we are seeing today is an attempt to entirely eliminate any possible Uighur dissent to the transformation of their homeland that the BRI will inevitably facilitate,” Roberts told VOA. (22 December 2019)

22 August
China both worries and hopes as US departs Afghanistan
(AP) — In the U.S. departure from Afghanistan, China has seen the realization of long-held hopes for a reduction of the influence of a geopolitical rival in what it considers its backyard.
Yet, it is also deeply concerned that the very withdrawal could bring risk and instability to that backyard — Central Asia — and possibly even spill over their narrow, remote border into China itself and the heavily Muslim northwestern region of Xinjiang.
The Taliban’s takeover could certainly present political and economic opportunities for China, including developing Afghanistan’s vast mineral riches, and Beijing has said it is ready to help rebuild the impoverished nation. But stability will be required to reap most of those benefits, and the immediate result of the American withdrawal has been more instability, not less.
Like many nations, China is concerned about the risk of terrorism from a Taliban-led Afghanistan. Beijing has repeatedly told the Taliban that the country cannot become a breeding ground for militants to launch attacks in Xinjiang, much as Osama bin Laden used it as a base to prepare his 9/11 attacks on the U.S.
A more proximate threat may be the spillover of militancy into Pakistan and Central Asia, where China has invested heavily and sought to build alliances.

17 August
With economic assets to secure, China embraces the Taliban
Afghanistan’s stability is key to protect a copper mine, oil blocks, $50bn of Belt-and-Road projects in the neighbourhood.
(Al Jazeera) China’s remarkable shift was on display little more than two weeks ago, when Foreign Minister Wang Yi welcomed a Taliban delegation to the northern port of Tianjin as the group made gains against the administration of President Ashraf Ghani, who fled the country on Sunday. Wang’s endorsement of the Taliban’s “important role” in governing Afghanistan provided a crucial boost of legitimacy for an organization that has long been a global pariah due to its support of terrorism and the repression of women.
Beijing’s fears about Islamist extremism among its own Uyghur minority have also deepened in recent years, leading it to build a vast police state adjacent to Afghanistan. Moreover, an increasingly intense rivalry with the U.S. has prompted Chinese President Xi Jinping to seize any opportunity to push back against Washington’s dominance and push American forces away from his borders.
Those interests make China look like the next great power with a stake in bringing order to Afghanistan as the Taliban prepare to declare an Islamic emirate in Kabul. After the failures of the Soviet Union and now the U.S., China will be hard pressed to avoid repeating the same mistakes in a rugged and landlocked nation notorious for exhausting empires.

11 August
Terry Glavin: The West is buckling under China’s brutal hegemony
Beijing’s swagger is not unjustified. The Chinese Communist Party has been wildly successful in inflicting its will on the liberal world order under Xi Jinping’s direction over the past nine years. By subverting the rules of the World Trade Organization, seizing control of several key United Nations agencies and inducing assistance from Wall Street and the grubbier corporate classes of weak democracies like Canada with the lure of access to its domestic markets, Xi has been given every reason to believe in the soundness of the CCP’s central strategic dictum. It’s this: the liberal west is in a state of permanent and irreversible decline, and a new world order under China’s police-state hegemony is inevitable.

26 July
What China Doesn’t Want You to Know About the Indo-Pacific (video)
(China unscripted) How the U.S. and its allies respond to China in the Indo-Pacific could have major repercussions for decades to come. That’s because China is trying to get a foothold in the area, and if the U.S. and its allies don’t increase their presence there, China will—with very real consequences for geopolitics, national security and trade. Joining us in this episode of China Unscripted is Cleo Paskal, an associate fellow in the Energy, Environment and Resources Program and Asia-Pacific Program at Chatham House. She’s also the research lead on Chatham House’s project on perceptions of strategic shifts in the Indo-Pacific from the points of view of the United States, the United Kingdom, India, Japan, Oceania and France.

28 June
How A Chinese-Built Highway Drove Montenegro Deep Into Debt
(NPR) …by not helping Montenegro, the EU has ceded potential influence to China, which has economic leverage over the country and the region, and whose presence there underlies broader political plans. “The fact that the Western Balkan countries are not part of the European Union gives them the opportunity to create their foreign policies and their national policies outside of the EU framework,” says Vladisavljev. “So it’s easy way in to the European territory. It is the easy way in to establishing a sphere of influence into the immediate neighborhood of the European Union.”
And that’s something China’s been hard at work at in the region for years. Under its Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing has purchased the Greek port of Piraeus, turning it into the second-largest port in the Mediterranean, and it’s also constructing billions of dollars-worth of highways and railways, including a planned high-speed railway connecting Belgrade and Budapest.
Biden’s “Build Back Better World” Is an Empty Competitor to China
There’s no need to follow Beijing’s hollow Belt and Road Initiative.
Jim O’Neill: The Chinese Economy’s Great Wall
For better or worse, China and its economic policies now play a decisive role in the global economy, giving everyone an interest in its efforts to increase its own domestic consumption spending. But for China to reach its current growth targets, it will need to change its approach to the world.
(Project Syndicate) Like any other country, China’s economic growth will be driven over the medium term by the rate of productivity growth and the size and composition of its labor force. Because the labor force has stopped growing, additional economic growth will have to come from increased productivity.
Here, China must resolve a major contradiction. Typically, an economy’s most productive sectors are in manufacturing, not services; and it is in manufacturing that additional productivity gains are easiest to achieve. But China must simultaneously boost the role of personal consumption, which generally implies higher demand for services. Achieving both objectives simultaneously is easier said than done.
At the end of the day, China will need the rest of the world if it is to increase both domestic consumption and productivity. The best way that China can improve its international standing is through soft diplomacy that respects other countries preferences and aspirations, rather than treating them as sources of confrontation. Without such a change in attitude, China will not reach its goal of doubling incomes within 15 years, leaving its people – and the rest of us – worse off as a result.

22 June
Where the G7’s alternative to China’s belt and road loses its way
The appetite for alternatives to the belt and road is motivated by a perception that the initiative is somehow succeeding. But this assumption has not been properly scrutinised
If China is winning the narrative battle, then the EU and US must find the right story, not shout the same message louder
(SCMP) We’ve already seen several initiatives portrayed by Western media as alternatives to China’s Belt and Road Initiative but US President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better World” (B3W) partnership is the first to be so explicitly framed as such by its sponsor.
At this stage, the B3W, unveiled at the G7 summit, is mostly rhetoric. No new funding has been announced, just the creation of a “task force” to report back with “proposals” in the autumn. Still, it’s a politically significant moment.
While the idea that there needs to be an “anti-Belt and Road Initiative” appears self-evident, this need is rarely scrutinised.

17 June
One Hundred Years of Devastation
By Brahma Chellaney
The CPC views its centenary as cause for celebration. But the rest of the world should see the party for what it is: repressive, genocidal, and environmentally rapacious. And it should prepare for what the CPC’s second century may bring.
The Communist Party of China’s 1951 annexation of the water-rich Tibetan Plateau – the starting point of Asia’s ten major river systems – gave China tremendous power over Asia’s water map. In the ensuing decades, the country has made the most of this riparian advantage, but at an enormous social and environmental cost.

(Project Syndicate)  On July 1, the Communist Party of China (CPC) will stage a patriotic extravaganza to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding. Among the achievements it will celebrate is the Baihetan Dam, located on the Jinsha River, on the southeastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau. The dam will start operations on the same day.
… China’s dams are not merely symbols of the country’s greatness. Nor is their purpose simply to ensure China’s water security, as the CPC claims. They are also intended as a source of leverage that China can use to exert control over downstream countries.The CPC’s 1951 annexation of the water-rich Tibetan Plateau – the starting point of Asia’s ten major river systems – gave China tremendous power over Asia’s . In the ensuing decades, the country has made the most of this riparian advantage. For example, by building on the Mekong, just before the river crosses into Southeast Asia, China has secured the ability to turn off the region’s .
But the CPC is failing to consider the high costs of its strategy, which extend far beyond political friction with neighbors. The party’s insatiable damming is wreaking environmental havoc on Asia’s major river systems, including mainland China’s dual lifelines: the Yellow and the Yangtze.Giant dams damage ecosystems, drive freshwater species to extinction, cause deltas to retreat, and often emit more greenhouse gases than fossil-fuel power plants. More than 350 lakes in China have disappeared in recent decades, and, with few free-flowing rivers left, river fragmentation and depletion have become endemic.
The social costs are no less severe. For starters, given shoddy construction in the first three decades of communist rule, about 3,200 dams collapsed by 1981, with the 1975 Banqiao Dam failure alone killing up to 230,000 people. Of course, China has raised its dam-building prowess dramatically since then, and Baihetan was completed in just four years. But as its early dams age, and weather becomes increasingly extreme, catastrophic failures remain a serious risk.

14 June
G-7 wants to rival China’s Belt and Road plan — but it won’t stop Beijing, expert says
The Group of Seven wealthy nations have agreed to set up an infrastructure plan to compete with China’s massive Belt and Road Initiative.
The plan is not intended to stop the Belt and Road Initiative, said Matthew Goodman of Washington D.C.-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Still, it could make a “significant contribution” in closing the world’s infrastructure gap by channeling investments into developing countries,” said Goodman.

12 June
China looms large in G7 talks
(CBC) How to deal with a more economically assertive and sometimes politically belligerent China dominated the official and unofficial dialogue among G7 leaders on Saturday, senior Canadian and U.S. administration officials said.
Among the G7 leaders meeting at Carbis Bay, along England’s southwest coast, the challenge that was front and centre was the struggle of how to compete with Beijing’s increasingly aggressive drive to sign up developing countries for economic infrastructure projects.
Known as the “Belt and Road” initiative, the Chinese government has been financing the construction of key infrastructure projects — ports, railways and airfields — in strategic locations around the world with the intention of extending influence.

17 May
Can the G7 Countries Create an Alternative to China’s Belt and Road?
(Maritime Executive) Western nations have been critical of China’s outpouring of development capital in Africa under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and have even urged African governments to avoid Chinese financing. With huge infrastructural investment gaps to cover, it has been imperative for Africa to seek a lenient development partner for its projects. Additionally, most African leaders – especially those with a history of corruption – normally shun the West’s Bretton Woods institutions (the World Bank and IMF), which tend to demand high accountability on their loan facilities.
BRI has placed China on a competing trajectory in the geopolitical scene against other global super-powers. However, can Western nations combine their efforts to rival the BRI?
In March, President Biden told reporters that during a phone call with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, they mulled over an alternative infrastructure scheme that could essentially compete with China’s BRI. “I suggested we should have, essentially, a similar initiative, pulling from the democratic states, helping those communities around the world that, in fact, need help,” Biden told reporters. Further, Biden has been seeking to encourage private-sector investment in overseas projects that could rival those of BRI.
So far, over 100 countries have signed to the BRI infrastructure projects. Recent estimates by Refinitiv database shows that over 2600 projects at a total cost of $3.7 trillion can be linked to the BRI as of mid-last year. However, it is important to note that some countries under BRI have heeded criticism of the projects, as they are seen to be costly and redundant. In addition, COVID-19 has also affected about 20 percent of the projects.

22 April
The United States can’t ignore China’s vaccine diplomacy in Latin America
by Josh Rogin
(WaPo) China has abused its power at every stage of the covid-19 pandemic to bully countries and advance its interests — and Beijing is now using vaccine supplies to pressure governments across the Western Hemisphere. The Biden administration ignores China’s pernicious vaccine diplomacy in our neighborhood at the peril of the safety and security of the entire region.
Beijing’s use of the pandemic to push its economic expansion and enforce the Chinese Communist Party’s political agenda is not new. At the start of the crisis, China dangled medical equipment over the heads of governments in exchange for concessions or as punishment for transgressions. The Chinese government even threatened the U.S. government that it would withhold crucial supplies if the Trump administration didn’t shut up about China’s early mishandling of the outbreak.
Now, one year later, Beijing is using vaccines as leverage around the world — especially in Latin America, where the virus is raging and fragile governments are struggling to tamp down public unrest.

19 April
What Happens If China Takes Over the World? (video)
China Unscripted: The Chinese Communist Party is forging ahead with a plan for world domination. But can the Quad, an alliance of the US, Japan, Australia, and India, save the Indo Pacific and the rest of the world from an authoritarian nightmare? Joining us on this China Unscripted is Cleo Paskal
EU sets out Indo-Pacific plan, says it’s not ‘anti-China’
(Reuters) The European Union resolved on Monday to step up its influence in the Indo-Pacific region, using areas from security to health to protect its interests and counter China’s rising power, although the bloc insists its strategy is not against Beijing.
Led by France, Germany and the Netherlands, which first set out ways to deepen ties with countries such as India, Japan and Australia, the 27-member bloc wants to use the nascent plan to show Beijing that it is against the spread of authoritarianism.
The bloc “considers that the EU should reinforce its strategic focus, presence and actions in the Indo-Pacific … based on the promotion of democracy, rule of law, human rights and international law,” EU foreign ministers said in a statement. Diplomats said the plan was not “anti-China”.

29 March
An Alliance of Autocracies? China Wants to Lead a New World Order.
As President Biden predicts a struggle between democracies and their opponents, Beijing is eager to champion the other side
(NYT) Only days after a rancorous encounter with American officials in Alaska, China’s foreign minister joined his Russian counterpart last week to denounce Western meddling and sanctions.
He then headed to the Middle East to visit traditional American allies, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, as well as Iran, where he signed a sweeping investment agreement on Saturday. China’s leader, Xi Jinping, reached out to Colombia one day and pledged support for North Korea on another.
Although officials denied the timing was intentional, the message clearly was. China hopes to position itself as the main challenger to an international order, led by the United States, that is generally guided by principles of democracy, respect for human rights and adherence to rule of law.

27 March
China, With $400 Billion Iran Deal, Could Deepen Influence in Mideast
The countries signed a sweeping pact on Saturday that calls for heavy Chinese investments in Iran over 25 years in exchange for oil — a step that could ease Iran’s international isolation.
(NYT) China agreed to invest $400 billion in Iran over 25 years in exchange for a steady supply of oil to fuel its growing economy under a sweeping economic and security agreement signed on Saturday.
The deal could deepen China’s influence in the Middle East and undercut American efforts to keep Iran isolated. But it was not immediately clear how much of the agreement can be implemented while the U.S. dispute with Iran over its nuclear program remains unresolved.
The foreign ministers of the two countries, Javad Zarif and Wang Yi, signed the agreement during a ceremony at the foreign ministry in Tehran on Saturday, according to Iran’s semiofficial Fars News Agency. That capped a two-day visit by Mr. Wang that reflected China’s growing ambition to play a larger role in a region that has been a strategic preoccupation of the United States for decades.
Iranian officials touted the agreement with Beijing — first proposed by China’s leader, Xi Jinping, during a 2016 visit — as a breakthrough. But it has been met with criticism inside Iran that the government could be giving too much away to China.
Mr. Wang has already visited Iran’s archrival, Saudi Arabia, as well as Turkey, and is scheduled to go to the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman in the days ahead. He has said that the region is at a crossroads and offered China’s help in resolving persistent disputes, including over Iran’s nuclear program.
China is even ready to play host to direct talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, hinting that American dominance in the region has hindered peace and development.

22 March
Indo-Pacific strategies, perceptions and partnerships: The view from seven countries
By Cleo Paskal
(Chatham House) Summary— China’s economic, political and military expansion into the Indo-Pacific is meeting growing resistance from a range of countries including the US, India, Japan and Australia. The region is now a significant geopolitical strategic focal point.—A wide range of countries are actively adapting their strategic outlooks and formulating specific policies for the Indo-Pacific, sometimes without fully understanding how these may be perceived by their partners. Understanding convergences and divergences in perception is important for making partnerships more effective. It allows countries to cooperate, collaborate and coordinate where there are shared objectives while mitigating or managing differences.
The extensive field research presented in this paper was conducted in seven countries – the US, the UK, France, India, Tonga, Japan and China – before the political and economic effects of COVID-19 were widely felt.

19 March
China adopted more coercive approach to Indo-Pacific: Top Pentagon official
Observing that China has demonstrated increased military competence, a top Pentagon official said Beijing has adopted a more coercive and aggressive approach to the Indo-Pacific region
(Business Standard) Beijing has demonstrated increased military competence and a willingness to take risks, and it has adopted a more coercive and aggressive approach to the region, Dr Kathleen Hicks, Deputy Secretary of Defense, said in her address to the National War College faculty and students on Friday.
In 2020 alone, Beijing escalated tensions over a host of issues with a number of its neighbours, including Australia, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines, she said.
Against this backdrop, President Joe Biden recently released his interim National Security Strategic Guidance that highlights China’s increasing assertiveness.
The interim guidance notes that Beijing is the only competitor potentially capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open system, she said.

10 March
Xi’s Gambit: China Plans for a World Without American Technology
Beijing’s leaders plot a path to go it alone, vowing to spend big to fill gaps in innovation and avoid dependence on the United States and others.
By Paul Mozur and Steven Lee Myers
(NYT) China is freeing up tens of billions of dollars for its tech industry to borrow. It is cataloging the sectors where the United States or others could cut off access to crucial technologies. And when its leaders released their most important economic plans last week, they laid out their ambitions to become an innovation superpower beholden to none.
Anticipating efforts by the Biden administration to continue to challenge China’s technological rise, the country’s leaders are accelerating plans to go it alone, seeking to address vulnerabilities in the country’s economy that could thwart its ambitions in a wide range of industries, from smartphones to jet engines.

25 February
Not-So-Hidden Dragon: China Reveals Its Claws in Central Asian Security
China sees security issues in Central Asia as inextricably tied to its own domestic security concerns, and is rapidly establishing a footprint that will allow it to deal with matters as it sees fit in the region.
(Carnegie Moscow Center) … Central Asia has also become a conduit through which China has increasingly sought to target its perceived dissident Uighur community. Reports emerged in 2019 of Uighurs being arrested in Turkey, given Tajik travel documents, and placed on planes to Dushanbe, from where they were immediately flown back to China. Central Asian complicity is further suggested by the Kazakh authorities’ decision to clamp down on anti-China protesters within their own country.
In some ways, none of this is particularly new. Uighurs in Central Asia have long been a major Chinese concern. When it was officially inaugurated in 2001, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization used fighting the “three evils” of terrorism, extremism, and separatism as its foundational credo. During his famous tour of the region in 1994, which laid the groundwork for the current Silk Road visions across the region, then premier Li Peng highlighted concerns about Uighurs at every stop. Over subsequent years, rumors circulated about the Chinese pursuing Uighurs across Central Asian borders, while any dissident networks that existed in Central Asia were clamped down upon. Occasional attacks against Chinese businessmen or officials in Bishkek served as a reminder of the dangers that existed in the region, but the Chinese response largely involved pressuring local officials to do more to protect their people and go after people they did not like.

24 February
China winning vaccine diplomacy battle, but will lose the war
(Politico) Vaccine donations have so far been dominated by China and Russia, despite the two countries producing only around 10 percent of available vaccines, whereas COVAX receives more than 95 percent of its funds from the G7 and EU institutions.
China’s goal is to assert itself as the world’s indispensable health power:
In many respects it’s working: Chinese-made vaccines have rolled out quicker than COVAX, and even European vaccines earmarked for EU countries. China is providing vaccines for 19 African countries, for Serbia, Colombia and many places in between. More than one million Chinese-made vaccine doses will move through Addis Ababa airport each week, Ethiopian Airlines officials told Wall Street Journal.
Generosity or investment strategy? Chinese institutions have begun to dramatically shift their forms of foreign economic engagement in recent years. Chinese development lending has been shrinking in recent years, to the point where China’s two global policy banks made no new financing commitments to Latin America and Caribbean governments in 2020, for the first time in 16 years, according to Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center and the Inter-American Dialogue. What China has scrubbed in loans, its centrally-directed policies now tend to offer in other forms of investment. When vaccines are included, the overall investment looks similar to the previous loan-driven strategy.
China’s selection of countries for vaccine deals and donation is calculated but barely disguised: it is playing for influence in the Western Balkans, for example, requiring none of the conditions the EU applies to its funding.
The Western and COVAX scale advantage: The Colombia case shows China winning now, and COVAX helping more in the long run. The dynamic will be repeated in at least 20 countries whose sole supplies until now have come from China and Russia, but who are due to get COVAX supplies. It will be reinforced by Chinese vaccines having relatively low efficacy rates, starting at just 50 percent. The case in point there is virtually no appetite for Chinese vaccines in the West, meaning the market for Chinese vaccines will essentially be domestic plus low- and middle-income countries, while COVAX will supply 192 countries. Most of the vaccine candidates in late-stage trials — the ones most likely to receive authorization in coming months including from Johnson & Johnson, Novavax and GSK-Curevac — come from Western countries.

6 February
The Chinese ‘Debt Trap’ Is a Myth
The narrative wrongfully portrays both Beijing and the developing countries it deals with.
Deborah Brautigam and Meg Rithmire
(The Atlantic) China, we are told, inveigles poorer countries into taking out loan after loan to build expensive infrastructure that they can’t afford and that will yield few benefits, all with the end goal of Beijing eventually taking control of these assets from its struggling borrowers. As states around the world pile on debt to combat the coronavirus pandemic and bolster flagging economies, fears of such possible seizures have only amplified.
… The notion of “debt-trap diplomacy” casts China as a conniving creditor and countries such as Sri Lanka as its credulous victims. On a closer look, however, the situation is far more complex. China’s march outward, like its domestic development, is probing and experimental, a learning process marked by frequent adjustment. After the construction of the port in Hambantota, for example, Chinese firms and banks learned that strongmen fall and that they’d better have strategies for dealing with political risk. They’re now developing these strategies, getting better at discerning business opportunities and withdrawing where they know they can’t win. Still, American leaders and thinkers from both sides of the aisle give speeches about China’s “modern-day colonialism.”
Over the past 20 years, Chinese firms have learned a lot about how to play in an international construction business that remains dominated by Europe: …
Chinese firms are not the only companies to benefit from Chinese-financed projects. Perhaps no country was more alarmed by Hambantota than India, the regional giant that several times rebuffed Sri Lanka’s appeals for investment, aid, and equity partnerships. Yet an Indian-led business, Meghraj, joined the U.K.-based engineering firm Atkins Limited in an international consortium to write the long-term plan for Hambantota Port and for the development of a new business zone. The French firms Bolloré and CMA-CGM have partnered with China Merchants and China Harbor in port developments in Nigeria, Cameroon, and elsewhere.
The other side of the debt-trap myth involves debtor countries. Places such as Sri Lanka—or, for that matter, Kenya, Zambia, or Malaysia—are no stranger to geopolitical games. And they’re irked by American views that they’ve been so easily swindled.


9 December
Bloomberg: Even as nations seek to extricate themselves from China’s economic grip, or at least limit their exposure, the reality of the global economy keeps pulling them back.
Under U.S. President Donald Trump, there’s been much talk of “decoupling” from China, finding ways to diversify supply chains and funding routes — and this pattern could continue under his successor, Joe Biden. Indeed, some Southeast Asian nations like Vietnam have benefited from companies moving their operations there.
But it’s unclear how much is really reversible. China’s Belt and Road infrastructure network already snakes around large parts of the world, through central Asia, the Middle East and into Europe. Its maritime lane takes in ports across South Asia and beyond.
Beijing has already done a lot of work binding other countries to its economic orbit. That’s why decisions to ban Huawei from 5G networks are so fraught. Less developed nations still have few alternatives for funding and investment.
Australia continues to pay a price for standing up to China for its more assertive behavior overseas and on human rights at home. Crippling tariffs have been imposed on wine exports, coal shipments stopped. For Australia’s government, though, it has become a matter of principle over trade.
In contrast, Beijing is offering a lifeline to the cash-strapped Iraqi administration. Its Covid-19 vaccine is being funneled quickly around the world to developing countries, in an effort to burnish its soft power.
As this story explains, even the U.S. will find true decoupling difficult. While trade tensions simmer, measured by the bushel, the relationship has never been stronger. — Rosalind Mathieson

2 December
China faces uphill struggle to win over Mekong neighbours
A series of hydropower plants in Yunnan have been blamed for causing water shortages elsewhere
Beijing seeks to calm a row over its dam-building and lack of transparency after US starts to court countries downriver
Foreign vice-minister hits out at external attempts to ‘sow discord’ and urges Southeast Asian countries to ‘safeguard our common home’
(SCMP) China has tried to calm the dispute about dam-building and water resources management along the Mekong with a number of conciliatory gestures, but observers say it faces an uphill struggle to win over its neighbours.
The move follows efforts by the US to build a strategic partnership with other countries that share the waterway, an intervention that highlights the challenges China faces in winning over the five Southeast Nations after serious droughts, according to one diplomatic observer.

15 September
China’s expanding influence at the United Nations — and how the United States should react
(Brookings) China’s growing influence inside the United Nations is inevitable, stemming from President Xi Jinping’s more assertive foreign policy and the fact that China’s assessed contributions to the world body are now second only to those of the United States. Traditionally focused on the U.N.’s development activities, China now flexes its muscles in the heart of the U.N., its peace and security work. The Chinese-Russian tactical alignment in the U.N. Security Council challenges protection of human rights and humanitarian access, demonstrated in July 2020 when China and Russia vetoed two resolutions regarding Syria and both blocked the appointment of a French national as special envoy for Sudan.
Yet the fears that China is changing the United Nations from within seem if not overblown, at least premature. Whatever its ambitions, China has not replaced the United States as the U.N.’s most powerful member state. The U.N. can still be a force multiplier for the values and interests of the United States, but only if Washington now competes for influence rather than assume automatic U.N. deference. The U.N. can be characterized as “home turf” for the United States, but walking off the field will facilitate China moving in to fill the vacuum.

13 September
Cleo Paskal: How to burst CCP’s balloon
The thing that scares the CCP even more than a country pushing back on multiple fronts, is countries banding together to multiply their ability to push back.
(Sunday Times) So, the first thing to understand—and this is important—is that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) believes it can rank countries based on what it calls Comprehensive National Power (CNP). It has an equation for it and everything.
To get at that golden Comprehensive National Power number, the CCP includes more than you can possibly imagine. Economic resources, human capital, natural resources, capital resources, technology, research, international influence, military, government spending, even lending pandas to international zoos counts in there somewhere.
The goal of the CCP is to dominate in CNP so as to preserve and promote the interests of the Party and its leadership.
As Prof M.D. Nalapat puts it: “The Chinese concept of war is not necessarily guns, artillery, bombers—all those wonderful things that we see on National Geographic or HBO. No, the Chinese concept of war is overcoming and dominating your enemy. It can be by guns, it can be by ships, it can also be by artificial intelligence. It can be by expansion of the economy. It can be by spread of goodwill. It can be by various means, but essentially it means having mastery over your foe so that you are acknowledged as the Middle Kingdom and every other kingdom comes and pays tribute to you.
… China’s soft power machine has been pushing spurious “silk road” related claims across the Indo-Pacific. However, as the Prime Minister said after the Ram Temple bhoomi pujan, the Ramayana resonates deeply across the region, including in Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Nepal. And Buddhism has touched hearts from Japan to Europe—including China.
And given the current maritime construct of the Indo-Pacific, whatever ancient overland “silk route” the CPP can try to claim, it is nothing compared to India’s very real and extensive maritime Spice Route.
So, on historical/cultural connectivity, if activated, links out of India can more than give China a run for its Comprehensive National Power points.

11 September
From Asia to Africa, China Promotes Its Vaccines to Win Friends
With pledges of a coronavirus vaccine, China is on a charm offensive to repair strained diplomatic ties and bolster engagement with other countries.
Never mind that China is still most likely months away from mass producing a vaccine that is safe for public use. The country is using the prospect of the drug’s discovery in a charm offensive aimed at repairing damaged ties and bringing friends closer in regions China deems vital to its interests.
China’s vaccine pledges, on top of earlier shipments of masks and ventilators around the world, help it project itself as a responsible player as the United States retreats from global leadership. Beijing’s moves could also help it push back against accusations that the ruling Communist Party should be held responsible for its initial missteps when the coronavirus first emerged in China in December.
The ability to develop and deliver vaccines to poorer countries would also be a powerful signal of China’s rise as a scientific leader in a new post-pandemic global order.

27 June
Watch China’s actions, don’t listen to its words
By Cleo Paskal
Beijing’s parasitic model weakens the global economy, its traditional hosts are becoming poorer. Which is likely one of the reasons why Beijing is now so focused on leeching off of Africa, South America, and others. It’s also why being blocked from a market such as India could be a serious problem.
(The Sunday Guardian)  One of the most complex situations at the moment is the changing nature of nation-to-nation relationships with China. The words China wants us to use are telling.
In the case of the US-China relationship, the Chinese Communist Party has been very keen to use words (both positive and negative) that create an impression of equality between Beijing and Washington.
A few years ago, Beijing promoted the idea of China and the US being the “G2”—two equal governments, with primacy over the rest. The G2 construct allowed Beijing to imply that the world should be divided into two colonial-style spheres of influence, one for the US, and one for China.
Since at least the 1970s, and accelerating since joining the WTO, the Chinese Communist Party and its related entities have latched on to the US (and others) probing for entry points, enmeshing with systems, sucking out capital and intellectual property, weakening defences, modifying behaviour, neutering response, and spreading from there. It left its hosts sickened and disoriented. Even though, more often than not, the host at least initially, welcomed the barnacle.
China calls this approach comprehensive national power—and includes opaquely intermeshed tendrils such as economic, diplomatic, military, cyber and soft power.
… The Chinese Communist Party is not interested in, and not capable of, being an equal partner, where everyone grows together. Beijing wants to be able to control the economies of others, siphoning growth to sustain its own goals.
Those who really care about the Chinese people, should work towards creating conditions where China’s economy becomes “normalized”. Where there is rule of law, transparency, accountability—elements that allow organic and sustainable growth so that China can truly become the global partner it should be. Of course these are all the things that are antithetical to the Chinese Communist Party.

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