Mitch Joel WARNING... LONG RANT! It takes a lot for me to both get angry and publish about it. Canada’s…
China geopolitical strategy August 2022-
The path ahead for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (paywall)
Now ten years old, China’s global infrastructure-building plan enters a new stage
(The Economist) There was little hint in the speech that Xi Jinping gave on September 7th 2013 in Kazakhstan that he was thinking of a concrete-pouring binge across the world, spurred by hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese loans and investment. No one predicted that the project would become a defining feature of his foreign policy and dramatic symbol of China’s rise as a global power. Mr Xi talked of building an “economic belt” along the ancient “silk road” linking China with Europe. He called for better infrastructure and reduced barriers to trade. …
China is about to celebrate the project’s tenth anniversary with fanfare. It will tout the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)…as a gift to the world that has created huge economic benefits. China claims that 420,000 jobs have been created in BRI countries and 40m people lifted out of poverty thanks to BRI-generated growth. America, and many of its allies, see the BRI as far less benign: a political tool aimed at stifling foreign criticism of Mr Xi’s iron-fisted rule and providing a leg-up for his country’s firms that has saddled countries with crippling debt. (6 September 2023)
China’s Road to Ruin –The Real Toll of Beijing’s Belt and Road
By Michael Bennon and Francis Fukuyama
Foreign Affairs September/October 2023
This year marks the tenth anniversary of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, the largest and most ambitious infrastructure development project in human history. China has lent more than $1 trillion to more than 100 countries through the scheme, dwarfing Western spending in the developing world and stoking anxieties about the spread of Beijing’s power and influence. Many analysts have characterized Chinese lending through the BRI as “debt trap diplomacy” designed to give China leverage over other countries and even seize their infrastructure and resources. After Sri Lanka fell behind on payments for its troubled Hambantota port project in 2017, China obtained a 99-year lease on the property as part of a deal to renegotiate the debt. The agreement sparked concerns in Washington and other Western capitals that Beijing’s real aim was to acquire access to strategic facilities throughout the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf, and the Americas.
But over the last few years, a different picture of the BRI has emerged. Many Chinese-financed infrastructure projects have failed to earn the returns that analysts expected. And because the governments that negotiated these projects often agreed to backstop the loans, they have found themselves burdened with huge debt overhangs—unable to secure financing for future projects or even to service the debt they have already accrued. This is true not just of Sri Lanka but also of Argentina, Kenya, Malaysia, Montenegro, Pakistan, Tanzania, and many others. The problem for the West was less that China would acquire ports and other strategic properties in developing countries and more that these countries would become dangerously indebted—forced to turn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other Western-backed international financial institutions for help repaying their Chinese loans.
In many parts of the developing world, China has come to be seen as a rapacious and unbending creditor, not so different from the Western multinational corporations and lenders that sought to collect on bad debts in decades past. Far from breaking new ground as a predatory lender, in other words, China seems to be following a path well worn by Western investors. In so doing, however, Beijing risks alienating the very countries it set out to woo with the BRI and squandering its economic influence in the developing world. It also risks exacerbating an already painful debt crisis in emerging markets that could lead to a “lost decade” of the kind many Latin American countries experienced in the 1980s.
Peru megaport to open new Pacific trade route to China. Will it be a win for all?
Chinese-backed port in Peru aims to offer a faster, alternative route to China from South America
Port of Chancay is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which was launched a decade ago
(SCMP) A US$3 billion megaport in Peru seen as a new gateway to Asia is on track to open four of its 11 berths at the end of 2024, offering a faster Pacific Ocean route to China for sea cargo from this part of Latin America.
… Only recently has Beijing turned its full attention to Latin America with its belt and road funding.
Between 2009 and 2019, Latin American nations spent an average of less than two per cent of total GDP on public projects, like improving roads or building hospitals. China has seen this as an opportunity to make inroads in the region.
“There exists a huge infrastructural gap. From the Chinese perspective, it fits very well into the Belt and Road Initiative,” said Enrique Dussel Peters, an economist from Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM). “Meanwhile, the rest of the world, including the US, European Union and also the World Bank have not paid much attention to this topic, to this gap, not only in Latin America, but also in Africa and Asia.”
China’s Belt and Road Initiative will keep testing the West
The projects are smaller, the challenge is growing
(The Economist) TEN YEARS ago this week China’s leader, Xi Jinping, began laying the tarmac for what would become his signature foreign policy. He began with vague suggestions of reviving the Silk Road, an ancient network of trade routes linking China with Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. When the plan was given an official name—“One Belt, One Road”—it suggested that China was putting itself back at the centre of the world. Later it would be softened, for the benefit of foreign audiences, to the “Belt and Road Initiative”, or BRI. Mr Xi modestly hailed it as the “project of the century”.
In many ways the BRI has lived up to the hype. More than 150 countries, accounting for almost 75% of the world’s population and more than half of its GDP, have signed on to the scheme. China has doled out hundreds of billions of dollars in loans and grants for railways, roads and other infrastructure that might otherwise have gone unfunded. Its projects have spanned the globe, from Brazil to Kenya to Laos. Over the past decade China has become the largest creditor and a crucial source of investment in many developing countries. Much of this has been good: many countries badly need better roads. (paywall)
US raises alarm as Chinese platform corners market on global shipping logistics
Warnings that Beijing could ‘gain access to and control massive amounts of sensitive’ data, including the commercial transport of US military cargo
Logink, overseen by China’s transport ministry, collects information on shipping and cargo movement worldwide and provides free tracking and data management
(SCMP) US lawmakers and experts in the field are raising alarms about China’s dominance in accessing and managing global shipping logistics and data, describing such control as a security risk and “a recipe for disaster”.
The latest in a series of warnings is a report published in July by the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank. The research highlights the Chinese commercial logistics platform Logink, which collects information on shipping and cargo movement worldwide and provides tracking, data management and other services free of charge.
Logink, which describes itself as a “one-stop logistics information service platform”, began as a provincial programme in China in 2007. It became part of a regional network in northeast Asia in 2010 and a global platform after 2014.
Xi’s G-20 Rebuff Reflects a More Divided World
(Bloomberg Balance of Power) President Xi Jinping is set to snub the Group of 20 summit in India this weekend for the first time since coming to power. While the Chinese president’s reason for skipping is unknown, one thing is clear: The G-20 looks more divided than ever.
China alone is feuding with multiple members, including Japan over the release of treated wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear plant and the US over everything from Beijing’s access to core future technologies and the status of Taiwan.
While China regularly spars with those countries, Xi’s approach now appears different than at the last G-20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, some 10 months ago. Back then, he said it was the job of a global statesman to “get along with other countries.”
Chinese President Xi calls for accelerating expansion of Brics; advocates political and security cooperation
(Times of India) Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday called for accelerating the expansion of the Brics grouping besides efforts to jointly fend off risks by increasing the political and security cooperation among the countries of the five-nation bloc. Xi, who skipped his attendance at the Brics Business Forum on Tuesday sparking speculation about his absence, attended the Summit here on Wednesday where he pitched for more political and security cooperation among the member countries. He was the only leader absent from the Brics Business Forum on Tuesday, with Chinese commerce minister Wang Wentao reading a speech in his place that had a hardline message apparently aimed at the US. Asked why Xi had not attended the forum, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin sidestepped the question, telling reporters in Beijing on Wednesday that Xi’s speech had been delivered. While his speech at the Business Forum hit out at the US saying that “some country, obsessed with maintaining its hegemony, has gone out of its way to cripple the emerging and developing countries”, he said in his speech at the summit that “the Cold War mentality is still haunting our world, and the geopolitical situation is getting tense.” He said development should not be a privilege reserved for a few but a right for all countries, and he supported the inclusion of more nations in Brics. “I am glad to see the growing enthusiasm of developing countries about participating in BRICS cooperation. And quite a number of them have applied to join … we need to accelerate the Brics expansion process to bring more countries into the Brics family,” Xi said, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported. (PTI)
China’s awkward power play at the BRICS summit
(WaPo) This week’s annual summit, held in Johannesburg, may be another talk shop, but unlike many of its predecessors, it brims with intrigue and interesting storylines.
For Beijing, the BRICS summit carries a hard geopolitical edge. Over the weekend, President Biden hosted his Japanese and South Korean counterparts at Camp David, marking a deepening tripartite alliance on China’s doorstep — what an editorial in China’s state-run Xinhua described as the United States’ “desperate bid to salvage its hegemonic power.” In response, Chinese President Xi Jinping is making only his second foreign trip of the year to South Africa, where he’ll tout the BRICS bloc — and China’s key role within it — as an example of a different world order.
Chinese officials are keen on expanding the bloc to a possibly far more unwieldy acronym, with countries like Indonesia, Nigeria, Argentina and Saudi Arabia all knocking on the door. Leaders from more than 60 countries are expected to be in attendance at the summit. For China, an expanding bloc would present a vehicle for its more “inclusive” worldview. Speaking in Beijing’s talking points, China’s ambassador to South Africa, Chen Xiaodong, said the bloc was “an important platform for cooperation among emerging and developing nations” and “the backbone of international fairness and justice.”
Another Chinese official, speaking anonymously to the Financial Times, said that “if we expand BRICS to account for a similar portion of world GDP as the [Group of Seven major economies], then our collective voice in the world will grow stronger.”
The larger objective, even as China grapples with its own faltering economy, seems clear: “Xi Jinping is not trying to out-compete America in the existing liberal international order dominated by the U.S.,” Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute at the University of London, told CNN. “His long-term goal is to change the world order into a Sino-centric one.”
China-Italy ties: as Rome looks for belt and road exit it’s expected to be ‘punished twice’ without reaping benefits
For China, losing the belt and road’s richest Western member and a key node on the original Silk Road will be a symbolic blow
Italian PM Giorgia Meloni expected to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on trip to China in autumn, following meeting with Joe Biden in Washington last month
(SCMP) Italy’s participation in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s flagship foreign policy tool, the Belt and Road Initiative, is drawing to a close, with Rome expected to pull the plug on the four-year saga by the end of the year.
By not renewing a memorandum of understanding signed in 2019, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni will ensure no country is a member of both the Group of 7 rich countries and China’s infrastructure bonanza.
President Xi Jinping wants to build influence among ethnic-Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, raising concerns that the Chinese Communist Party is stoking divided loyalties
As China accelerates efforts to build its global power, President Xi Jinping has laid out an extravagant vision for overseas ethnic-Chinese communities that he hopes will “give shape to a powerful joint force for advancing the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
Promoting these communities as a vehicle for China’s geopolitical ambitions has become something of a mantra in Beijing, often wrapped in bland rhetoric like building a “shared future.” But in seeking to incorporate citizens of other countries into its vision, critics say, Beijing is stoking divided loyalties, and their potentially destabilizing consequences, across Southeast Asia — home to more than 80 percent of the ethnic-Chinese people outside China and Taiwan, researchers say.
… Beijing sees Southeast Asia as a key sphere of influence, and it has been increasing its public diplomacy and media presence there as part of a multibillion-dollar campaign under Xi, with ethnic-Chinese communities a significant target, according to researchers. China’s legislature is set to pass a “patriotic education” measure that seeks to promote Beijing’s messaging and “Xi Jinping Thought,” including by harnessing the power of overseas Chinese groups, which should “play to their respective advantages,” according to a draft of the law. China’s messaging is twofold, designed to bolster its image and programs, while limiting Washington’s role in Southeast Asia by creating “the sense that the U.S. is dangerous, provocative and destabilizing,” said Chong Ja Ian, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore and a nonresident scholar at Carnegie China.
China to widen Asean trade with first major waterway in 700 years, but will Pinglu Canal be a game changer or white elephant?
(SCMP) China kicked off construction of the 135km-long (84-mile), 72.7 billion yuan (US$10.1 billion) Pinglu Canal in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region in August
It is hoped that the waterway can facilitate trade with Southeast Asian nations, but concerns have been raised about the demand and environmental impact of the project
Construction of Pinglu Canal begins in S China
(China Daily) The construction of a new canal linking Nanning, capital of South China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, with the Beibu Gulf started on Tuesday.
Upon completion, the canal will not only support the development of its region but also become the shortest, most economical and most convenient sea outlet in southwestern China. The Xijiang River waterway and the Beibu Gulf International Gateway Port will be connected, creating a new waterway for southbound transportation and optimizing the region’s transportation structure.
Mystery over missing Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang takes toll on country’s international image
(SCMP) Beijing has been unable to damp down speculation as sceptics question official line that unspecified health problems are the cause of his prolonged absence
Secrecy is fuelling doubts about the country’s political system, diplomatic observers say, as foreign policy chief Wang Yi covers for Qin’s absence
China and ASEAN agree to try to conclude nonaggression pact on sea feud in 3 years
(AP) — China and Southeast Asian nations agreed Thursday to try and conclude within three years a long-delayed nonaggression pact aimed at preventing the frequent territorial spats in the busy South China Sea from turning into a major armed conflict.
China reaches into Central Asia’s Silk Road past to build strategic ties of the future
Beijing is aiming for stronger relations in the region by harnessing historic bonds of the ancient trade route
Region is key to China’s massive belt and road infrastructure and investment projects
As Xi’s signature Belt and Road Initiative – a massive modern-day infrastructure and investment project that borrows from the themes of the Silk Road – enters its 10th year, Beijing seems increasingly inclined to tap the shared regional heritage as a powerful symbol of China’s ties in Central Asia.
(SCMP) When Chinese President Xi Jinping rolled out the red carpet for five regional leaders at the first China-Central Asia summit last month, the event was replete with historic symbols of the Silk Road.
Billed as the country’s “first major diplomatic event” of the year, the summit was held in the city of Xian, the ancient capital of China during the Han dynasty (206BC-220AD), and the start of the Silk Road.
Few symbols from history underline China’s contribution to ancient civilisations more than the Silk Road, a vast network of trade routes that connected China to societies in the Mediterranean region and Europe for 1,400 years. Today, the heritage of those transport links is being revived for a new purpose and showcased in Central Asia.
Coined by German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen in 1877, the term “Silk Road” was first used to describe the 7,000 miles, or 11,265km, of routes, along which valuable commodities such as silk, porcelain, jade, gunpowder, livestock, grapes and figs were traded between China and Rome.
But beyond commerce, the Silk Road has also provided captivating stories of adventure as well as fascinating exchanges across diverse religions and cultures.
At the heart of the route was Central Asia, home to present-day Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. The region was a crossroads for merchants travelling between China, Persia, India and the Roman Empire. Traders passed through bustling cities, like Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, which were famous for exotic bazaars filled with silk, spices, precious metals, gems and other goods.
19 May 2023
China pulls on Tang dynasty Silk Road ties to help secure central Asian future
Five regional leaders were greeted with dancers and a banquet harking back to Xian’s imperial past as a centre of trade and culture
Beijing is trying to position itself as an alternative partner to Russia
Italy looks likely to quit China’s Belt and Road Initiative in a blow to Beijing, far less so to Rome
What will Ms. Meloni do? My guess is that she will gamble that China will not punish Italy if it withdraws from the BRI, which was always more of an exercise in diplomatic PR than an investment lubricator. Yes, the exit of a European G7 economy would bruise Mr. Xi’s ego, even as it would flatter U.S. President Joe Biden’s. But would Mr. Xi really erect a wall between the two countries? China needs European trade, and retaliating against Italy would not improve its standing with the EU.
Cleo Paskal What’s needed with Chinese trade isn’t de-risking, it’s de-parasiting. The US-China relationship is much more like the relationship between a host and its parasite. I wrote about it a while back. Excerpt (July 2020):
Watch China’s actions, don’t listen to its words
… 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.
‘Complete denial’: Europe largely blind to Chinese influence, says EU adviser
Amid preparations to unveil a law targeting non-EU funding, European Commission expert says China’s approach to influence operations is ‘hardening.’
Beijing has long aimed propaganda at the European Union, seeking to undermine transatlantic unity and promote Beijing’s outlook on world affairs, said Ivana Karásková, a Czech academic and foreign influence specialist who’s advising European Commission Vice President Věra Jourová.
But since 2019, China’s approach to the EU has been “hardening” as it ramps up direct propaganda via so-called wolf warrior diplomats; as well as covert funding of think tanks, academic institutions and nonprofit organizations, she said. And EU countries, particularly outside of eastern Europe, are oblivious to or unwilling to see the extent of these operations, Karásková added.
Italy prepares to quit Xi’s global building megaplan
Giorgia Meloni is considering telling G7 leaders Italy will leave China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Some fear Italian companies will suffer.
(Politico Eu) It took four years for Italy to consider breaking off its special relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
In 2019, Italy became the first G7 country to join China’s global infrastructure program, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), to the surprise of allies in the West.
Now, Italy’s right-wing leader Giorgia Meloni is ready to tell her G7 counterparts she is prepared to sever ties with Xi’s landmark foreign policy project, according to one senior diplomat familiar with her government’s deliberations.
Meloni has not yet taken a final decision, but the discussion in Rome is focused on how to exit Belt and Road, rather than whether to do so, said the diplomat, who was speaking anonymously because the matter is sensitive.
Philippines’ Marcos muscles up ASEAN’s South China Sea posture
China tensions loom over bloc summit as Malaysia asserts gas rights, Vietnam hones defense
China Tries to Limit Damage From Diplomat’s Comments That Riled Europe
Remarks by China’s ambassador to France questioning the sovereignty of ex-Soviet states threatened to upset China’s efforts to balance courting Europe with supporting Russia.
27 March-1 April
More countries are struggling to pay back Chinese debt (video)
(DW News) China has financed major infrastructure projects around the world for more than a decade as part of its Belt and Road Initiative. But the costs are growing: A new study shows many of the loans have gone badly, putting borrowers and Chinese banks in danger.
New data shows that China is providing ever more emergency loans to countries, including Turkey, Argentina and Sri Lanka. China has been helping countries that have either geopolitical significance, like a strategic location, or lots of natural resources. Many of them have been borrowing heavily from Beijing for years to pay for infrastructure or other projects.
China spent $240 billion to bailout ‘BRI countries’ -Report
China launched the Belt and Road initiative with much fanfare in 2013. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pet project, BRI is a vast collection of development and investment initiatives originally devised to link East Asia and Europe through physical infrastructure. In the decade since its launch, it expanded to Africa, Oceania, and Latin America.
While China saw it as an opportunity to increase its economic and military clout. Developing nations saw it as an opportunity to benefit from the resulting physical infra-based connectivity with international markets, and job growth through BRI construction projects among other things.
But according to a recent report, BRI has become a sinkhole for China as it spent $240 billion since 2008 just on bailing out ‘BRI countries’.
China spent $240bn on belt and road bailouts from 2008 to 2021, study finds
The failure of several infrastructure projects and the debt problems experienced by several recipient countries, hurt by the rising costs of servicing their loans, has forced a recalibration of China’s overseas development programme.
(The Guardian) China spent $240bn (£195bn) bailing out countries struggling under their belt and road initiative debts between 2008 and 2021, new data shows.
Research found that Chinese state-backed lenders released bailout funds to 22 countries, including Argentina, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Ukraine. Almost 80% of the emergency rescue lending was issued after 2016, reaching more than $40bn in 2021.
The increase in emergency financing since 2016 correlates with a drop in Chinese lending for infrastructure projects that are part of the belt and road initiative. Commitments from China’s two main institutional lenders, China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China (China Exim), fell from a peak of $87bn in 2016 to $3.7bn in 2021, according to data analysed by Boston University.
Belt and Road bailout lending reaches record levels, raising questions about the future of China’s flagship global infrastructure program
A new study finds Beijing has dramatically expanded emergency rescue lending to countries in financial distress
(AidData) According to a new study by researchers at AidData, the World Bank, the Harvard Kennedy School, and the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, Beijing has dramatically expanded emergency rescue lending to sovereign borrowers in financial distress—or outright default.
Analysis of a new dataset demonstrates that, by the end of 2021, China had undertaken 128 rescue loan operations across 22 debtor countries worth $240 billion. These operations include many so-called “rollovers,” in which the same short-term loans are extended again and again to refinance maturing debts.
“China as an International Lender of Last Resort” was written by Sebastian Horn of the World Bank; Brad Parks, Executive Director of AidData and Research Professor at William & Mary; Carmen Reinhart, former World Bank Group Chief Economist and current Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School; and Christoph Trebesch, Director at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.
The study, and the new emergency lending dataset upon which it is based, have been made available.
After Doling Out Huge Loans, China Is Now Bailing Out Countries
Beijing is emerging as a new heavyweight in providing emergency funds to debt-ridden countries, catching up to the I.M.F. as a lender of last resort.
(NYT) Since the end of World War II, the International Monetary Fund and the United States have been the world’s lenders of last resort, each wielding broad influence over the global economy. Now a new heavyweight has emerged in providing emergency loans to debt-ridden countries: China.
New data shows that China is providing ever more emergency loans to countries, including Turkey, Argentina and Sri Lanka. China has been helping countries that have either geopolitical significance, like a strategic location, or lots of natural resources. Many of them have been borrowing heavily from Beijing for years to pay for infrastructure or other projects.
China casts itself as Middle East peacemaker with global ambition
Diplomatic deal between Riyadh and Tehran bolsters expectations in region of what Beijing can deliver
(FT) Days after brokering a rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Xi Jinping struck a triumphant note. China should “actively participate” in “global governance” and “add more stability and positive energy to world peace”, the Chinese president told Beijing’s rubber-stamp legislature on Monday.
Xi’s achievement was in convincing Tehran and Riyadh to restart diplomatic relations after almost seven years, a shift that caught many across the Middle East and in Washington by surprise.
But just as significant may be what the diplomatic breakthrough revealed about Washington’s limits as the region’s dominant power, and China’s potential willingness to assume a more political role, mediating peace deals and shaping the security architecture as the US once did.
Beijing has acted as a primarily economic partner in the Middle East. Its energy procurements have ballooned from 3 per cent of the region’s oil exports to 30 per cent over the past 30 years, and it is the biggest buyer of Saudi and Iranian crude oil.
That has given China considerable clout as a trading partner — Saudi Arabia’s largest — and source of investment. China is also one of the world’s few major powers to have healthy relations with Iran, with which the US has not had formal diplomatic ties since 1980.
Inside China’s Peace Plan for Ukraine
China’s vague plan is aimed not at actually ending the war, but at impressing the developing world and rebutting accusations that Beijing has become a silent accomplice to Moscow.
(Carnegie)Those who expected a roadmap to peace in Ukraine will surely be disappointed. Yet the authors of the Chinese position paper have no such ambition, and certainly do not intend for Beijing to become deeply embroiled in the conflict. The document is sooner a rebuttal to Western allegations that China has been a silent accomplice to Russia, and an attempt to bolster its image as a responsible world power in the eyes of developing countries.
China Is Flooding the Pacific with Money, Corruption
(China Unscripted) The Chinese Communist Party knows that if it can get a foothold in the Pacific islands, its rivals would have a hard time coming to Taiwan’s aid. Joining us in this episode is Cleo Paskal, a senior fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
High-profile ‘Belt and Road’ plan to build Europe’s first ‘smart city’ in Bulgaria lies in tatters (paywall)
Billed as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a project to turn a shabby Bulgarian village into Europe’s first ‘smart city’ hasn’t got off the ground. What went wrong?
(SCMP) The houses dotted around the square are crumbling, the roads potholed, and the only signal of profitable activity comes from the rumble of trucks passing through on their way to and from an industrial estate and a supermarket warehouse.
An air of somnolence and quiet decay hangs over the village, which seems stuck in its Communist-era past, nearly unchanged since 1990, when a wave of protests in the nearby capital, Sofia, brought a close to Bulgaria’s four dark decades behind the Iron Curtain.
The backstory: Europe’s first ‘smart city’ to land in Bulgaria Bulgaria’s capital Sofia will see Europe’s first “smart city” to be built later this year. This project will be consigned to a Chinese company and the construction will start from the moment the upcoming 16+1 summit begins. The concept of the so-called “smart city” continues as before and has so far been implemented in various places around China. It represents integration of the latest construction and information technologies. ( CGTN 6 July 2018)
China’s expanding interests in the Middle East
Full throttle in neutral: China’s new security architecture for the Middle East
By Tuvia Gering
(Atlantic Council) This report addresses two widely held beliefs about the nature of China’s engagement in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) that ought to be revisited in light of notable developments. First, while it is widely assumed that Beijing’s interests in the region are limited to energy security and economic ties, this report will show how cooperation has expanded in recent years across the board. Indeed, China has been fortifying its strategic ties and expanding its cooperation by heavily investing in local Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects, as well as the infrastructure and technologies of the future. In doing so, it seeks to further integrate each nation’s development strategy with its own.
Second, this report will review the assumption that there is no substitute for the United States’ security and diplomatic dominance in the region. It will describe how China currently provides limited security alternatives that directly and indirectly undermine US dominance, even without displacing it.
Solomon Islands ousts official who is critical of close relations with China
Daniel Suidani, premier of the South Pacific nation’s Malaita province, is a longtime critic of the country’s deepening relations with China, which culminated in a security pact signed last April. He has banned Chinese companies from the province and accepted development aid from the United States.
Opinion: How Beijing is controlling Chinese media in Canada and around the world
The biggest Chinese-language news outlet in Canada, the Sing Tao Daily, has shifted from more independent coverage of China to consistent pro-Beijing coverage, as has the main Sing Tao in Hong Kong, writes Joshua Kurlantzick, who says it exemplifies a worldwide trend
While becoming more autocratic at home during Xi Jinping’s rule, Beijing has become much more willing, over the past decade, to throw its weight around inside other states. It is increasingly trying, for the first time since Mao’s days, to intervene in the domestic politics, media, information environments, and societies of other countries. Beijing’s campaigns today reflect a departure from the more limited and defensive Chinese foreign policy of the late Cold War and early post–Cold War eras. China in many ways has supplanted Russia as the authoritarian foreign power most dedicated to meddling inside other countries.
An excerpt from Joshua Kurlantzick’s new book — Beijing’s Global Media Offensive: China’s Uneven Campaign to Influence Asia and the World
Indo-Pacific region remains the future engine of the global economy: Experts
British Parliamentarians and experts have called the Indo-Pacific region one of the greatest current and future engines of the global economy at an event titled Indo-Pacific APPG Dialogue at the House of Commons in London on Wednesday.
The Indo-Pacific is emerging as one of the most important geopolitical regions in the world. Despite recent trends and the rise of nationalism and sub-nationalism in political discourse, the transnational interests of countries today have in reality moved well beyond the strict geographical categorisations of earlier times.
The region is made up of 14 countries: Australia, Bangladesh, Burma, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. In a narrow sense, sometimes known as the Indo-West Pacific or Indo-Pacific Asia, it comprises the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean, the western and central Pacific Ocean, and the seas connecting the two in the general area of Indonesia
Across much of the Indo-Pacific region, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is using military and economic coercion to bully its neighbours, advance unlawful maritime claims, threaten maritime shipping lanes, and destabilize territory along the periphery of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) The speakers provided a detailed insight into the emergence of the Indo-Pacific as a region of significance and explored the need for the UK to engage more proactively on the Indo-Pacific framework.
Cleo Paskal, a strategic Indo-Pacific expert spoke about the People’s Republic of China’s influence operations in the Pacific Islands and provided deep insight into the Chinese manoeuvring in the pacific islands over many years.
China-Solomon Islands Security Agreement and Competition for Influence in Oceania
(Georgetown Journal of International Affairs (GJIA))The China-Solomon Islands security agreement alarms Western countries concerned about China’s growing influence in Oceania. While the agreement is unlikely to result in the establishment of a Chinese military base in Solomon Islands, China’s influence will continue to grow. Meanwhile, attempts by the United States and its allies to counter China could lead to the establishment of more military bases elsewhere in the Pacific, increasing the militarization of Oceania as a whole. Solomon Islands and other Pacific Island countries must ensure they are true partners, rather than merely pawns in the increasing geopolitical competition.
A Belt & Rough Road?: China-Latin America Relations
The writing has been on the wall for several years, as China’s economic engagement with the region has tapered.
(Wilson Center) In addition to rubber-stamping Xi Jinping’s third term as Chinese Communist Party general secretary, the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which concluded last week, offered signs of a bumpy road ahead for China. The country is confronting both economic troubles and an increasingly unfavorable geopolitical environment. Xi’s work report, delivered during the party congress, gives insights into how China will respond to these challenges in its domestic and foreign policy, and the implications for Latin America could be significant.
The highly choreographed proceedings alluded to China’s economic headwinds, which will limit economic growth rate to about 3 percent this year. The slowdown will leave Beijing with fewer resources to commit to its once-expansive foreign policy agenda.
China appears to be downplaying its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), previously a priority for CCP foreign and economic policy. Xi mentioned the initiative just twice in his lengthy party congress address. Instead, he emphasized the Global Development Initiative and Global Security Initiative, two new, loosely defined platforms for overseas engagement that are not expected to produce the type of multibillion dollar overseas infrastructure investments characteristic of the BRI.
Analysis: Does China’s ‘palace diplomacy’ benefit Africa or Beijing?
China’s practice of gifting million-dollar buildings to governments across Africa is under renewed scrutiny.
(Al Jazeera) According to a 2020 study by the Washington, DC-based Heritage Foundation think tank, at least 186 government buildings in Africa have been at least partially financed and built by China. That number has grown rapidly over the past two decades as China’s economy has become more robust, and Beijing has thus been willing to wield the soft power it can afford.
The true implications of these gifts remain unknown because details about Chinese investment deals on the continent are usually vague and obscure, said Bhaso Ndzendze, associate professor of politics and international relations at the University of Johannesburg. “The ambiguity means that some packages can simultaneously be interpreted as loans, investment, and aid”. …
In a number of countries, regular citizens are beginning to criticise China’s presence on the continent. There have been protests about work conditions on these projects over the years in places like Zambia and Malawi, as well as elsewhere on the continent.
Experts believe that the primary reason for China’s initiatives is to, on the one hand, expand its geopolitical influence on the continent especially as it continues its Belt and Road Initiative, while also decreasing the influence of its global competition, namely the United States and Europe.
“We should not underestimate the extent to which China’s investment-based diplomacy in Africa can reshape alliances,” said John McCauley, associate professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland. “Paying for buildings and infrastructure may seem like a lazy and transactional means of building friendships at the national level, but it works politically.”
… Beyond diplomatic influence, China may also be getting just as much as it has been giving, as its economic interests in Africa have been expanding. Despite the pandemic, trade volumes between China and Africa reached a record $254bn in 2021, according to the Chinese customs agency, four times that between the US and Africa. And Zeng explains why the trend could continue.
China’s dim prospects turn disastrous
Beijing itself is owed $1 trillion by struggling governments around the world that cannot afford to pay back loans for Belt and Road Initiative projects.
By Diane Francis
(The Hill) … [T]here is the Belt and Road Initiative debacle. Bloomberg reported that 19 emerging economies (such as Sri Lanka, Lebanon, El Salvador and Pakistan) are virtually bust due to huge indebtedness to China as a result of unaffordable, ambitious infrastructure projects. These loans were granted without concern for credit ratings or the ability to repay and accused of being politically motivated “debt traps.” But these have become China’s “debt traps,” and now protests and pushbacks take place in these countries against Beijing. China must forgive loans, restructure them or walk away and let more Sri Lankan-style collapses occur.
Port politics: How China fits into Sri Lanka’s economic crisis
(Christian Science Monitor) China’s financing and operation of Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port, where a Chinese missile-tracking vessel docked this week despite objections from the United States and India, have been raised as a cautionary example of “debt trap diplomacy” – a strategy in which a country loans money to smaller nations, which may not be able to repay their debts, as a way to boost geopolitical influence. Some even blame China for the island nation’s economic nosedive. Yet experts say Sri Lanka’s debt crisis is more complicated, and China is just one player, albeit an important one.
China denies Belt and Road Initiative ‘debt trap lie’ as infrastructure spending tops US$1 trillion
Beijing says it has signed ‘cooperation documents’ with 149 countries and 32 international organisations, while taking on 3,000 projects
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused China of creating a ‘debt trap’ through its Belt and Road Initiative
(SCMP) China has worked with almost 150 countries and spent US$1 trillion as part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative to open cross-border trade routes while placing no one in a “debt trap” despite accusations from the United States, according to its foreign ministry.
The government has signed belt and road “cooperation documents” with 149 countries and 32 international organisations as of July 4, while taking on 3,000 projects, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Thursday.
The initiative, which is now in its ninth year, offers Chinese support, often through major state-backed enterprises, for roads, airports, seaports and other infrastructure that smooths trade in goods.
Understanding China’s Economic Presence in the Arctic
Are tangible investments following the hype?
(Inkstick) In January 2018, China published its first-ever Arctic policy, emphasizing the role China sees for itself in Arctic affairs. China has extended its interests in the region beyond the country’s previous focus on scientific research to also engaging in economic activities along with the “Polar Silk Road” (PSR). As a new expansion of China’s grand and crucial foreign policy strategy, the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI), the PSR aims to develop “a blue economic passage linking China and Europe via the Arctic Ocean”.
Cleo Paskal: Right to vote being snatched from Solomon Islanders by PRC-backed PM
Beijing has studied the importance of the vast Pacific Islands region—for instance, you need to be able to hold it, or deny it to others, to take Taiwan. It also knows the cost and difficulty of taking it by force, as those on Bloody Ridge remembered.
China’s growing reach is transforming a Pacific island chain
(WaPo) As China rapidly extends its reach in the Pacific, its growing influence is unmistakable in the Solomon Islands, a country with which it established diplomatic ties only in 2019. The relationship between the world’s most populous country and this Pacific archipelago of 700,000 people was thrust into the spotlight this year when word leaked that they had struck a secret security agreement. The United States and its allies fear the pact could pave the way for the establishment of a Chinese military base in the strategically valuable island chain.
… The United States and Australia are both increasing their aid and diplomatic engagement with Pacific nations, including the Solomon Islands, where the Biden administration announced in February it would reopen the long-closed U.S. Embassy. Some Solomon Islanders feel the efforts by China’s rivals are too little, too late. But cracks also are showing in China’s promises.
Is China to Blame for Sri Lanka’s Debt Woes?
China’s role in lending to Sri Lanka has expanded in the last 20 years, but fewer Chinese loans would not have saved the country from its current economic crisis.
(The Diplomat) …in 2007, pre-dating the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the Sri Lankan government announced the idea to build a port in Hambantota near the Indian Ocean shipping lane that accounts for more than 75 percent of the world’s marine-borne trade. Forecasting a growing middle class in Africa and India and a growing demand for Chinese goods, Sri Lanka wanted to snag a proportion of cargo that would otherwise go through Singapore – the world’s busiest transshipment port. China Harbor Group eventually built the port by 2010; it was funded using a 15-year loan of $307 million with a grace period of four years, and a fixed interest rate of 6.3 percent, from China Eximbank. There are other such examples of lending from China.
[China fails on Pacific pact, but still seeks to boost regional influence 1 June 2022]