The Beijing Winter Olympics 2022: China’s Soft Reset?

Siddhant Hira, China-analyst and incoming MA National Security Studies student at King’s College London

Introduction

Just like Beijing’s 2008 Summer Olympics, the run-up to the 2022 Winter Olympics also has “angry pro-Tibet protests along much of the Olympic Torch relay.” 2008 was a watershed moment in Chinese foreign policy: the Games was a major soft power victory. China proved to the world that it was capable of hosting a green and high-tech event by investing $40 billion in four years.

Chang Ping puts it aptly: pre-2008, ‘connecting the world’ was popular but post the games, China’s new message was “now the world should follow us”. At that time, the Olympics was a sports diplomacy tool for it to consolidate its status as an emerging superpower. A 2009 Congressional Research Service Report stated that after the Beijing Olympics, China’s economy enjoyed a domestic boom while its international trade and investment declined sharply.  By implementing economic measures for short-term benefits, Beijing projected the image that its economy was surging despite the rest of the world combating global recession.

Beijing’s 2022 Winter Olympics will be the first to allow foreign visitors in the post-Covid world. It will certainly be a welcome distraction, both domestically and globally. Domestically, it is perceived as a potential major success: China’s 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) outlines the country becoming a sports power by 2025 as one of its long-term goals. China wishes to use the Games to fabricate a diplomatic victory after Covid-19 by inviting the world to witness first-hand, on-the-ground Chinese economic and soft power.

Today, China faces a credibility crisis ahead of the Olympics that is not just economic but an amalgamation of military, political, human rights and democratic challenges. China is not yet a global superpower but is much stronger than in 2008; however, now it has a different agenda for the 2022 Winter Olympics: a reset in its global perception and a restoration of credibility against the backdrop of Covid-19.

Loss of Face?

For decades, China has maintained an aggressive posture in the South China Sea, with numerous ongoing territorial and/or maritime disputes with nations in the region. Threats to and flight incursions over Taiwan continues to be a major issue. According to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense, the PRC has violated Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ) 380 times in 2020, a record figure. It does so in three ways, from most to least common: “circumnavigational flights of Taiwan, ADIZ intrusions, and violations of the cross-strait median line.”


Source: Statista

                                              

In recent times, there have been two heavyweights in Tibet’s corner: the United States (US) and Great Britain (GBR). The former passed the Tibetan Policy and Support Act in January 2020 in Congress: Tibetans choose a new China-independent Dalai Lama, strict measures against Chinese officials who interfere in his succession, environmental protection of the Tibetan plateau, potentially no new Chinese consulates in the US until a consulate in Lhasa and recognition of the Central Tibet Administration. Just two months later, GBR’s Foreign Secretary, Domininc Raab, spoke at the United Nations Human Rights Council, stating that human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims were “… taking place on an industrial scale.”

On 30th June 2020, China circumvented Hong Kong’s legislature by passing a draconian national security law. This Law grants vast and extremely vague powers to the Chinese Government to curb dissent and protest; criminalises secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign/external forces. Even though China has faced heavy backlash from the free world, the law is still in effect and the democratic and humanitarian freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong remain curtailed.

Image: Tibetans protesting against China in Lausanne, Switzerland
  Source: Freetibet.org

2020 began with the grim news of Covid-19, with most of the world holding China responsible for its origins and development. One theory propounded is that it was intentionally developed in a Wuhan laboratory with links to China’s army – the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The other theory considers it an accidental leak by human negligence.

Cases first emerged early November 2019, but the world only came to know in late December. Before the virus emerged, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had conducted an exercise in August 2019 – Crimson Contagion – to simulate a pandemic originating in China. David Sanger of The New York Times said that the result of the exercise may have been alarming enough to be “marked draft, sensitive, not for distribution”. The numbers projected were extremely sobering: “90% chance that the pandemic will be of very high severity, with 110 million forecasted illnesses, 7.7 million forecasted hospitalizations, and 586,000 deaths in the U.S. alone.” There is no evidence of a published exercise report, nor of any follow-up action. Had necessary steps been taken, Covid-19’s initial impact on the American public health system would have been minimised. The US Government’s apprehension of this becoming public knowledge potentially allowed China to control the narrative by obstructing impartial and independent studies on the origins and development of the virus. But now, the US Intelligence Community is conducting a thorough fact-finding investigation on the direct command of President Biden.

For India from an international relations perspective in 2020, its two greatest challenges which continue to shape its policy are Covid-19 and the clash with Chinese troops in Galwan Valley on 15th June 2020. Soldiers from both sides came to blows in Eastern Ladakh, using clubs, stones, fists and the like – with India losing 20 men – and the Chinese – four, and possibly more. Typically, China takes decades to admit if and when it has lost soldiers in battle but this time, it took eight months. Forced by its own citizens sharing information publicly and with international sources quoting higher casualties, China had to admit its losses.

Image: The Galwan Valley in Ladakh, Sino-Indian border
Source: South China Morning Post

Conclusion

China also lost, and continues to lose, face because of the Belt and Road Initiative, its alleged involvement in the Myanmar coup and the Uighur-related controversy surrounding the Disney film Mulan. Its medium of aggression is primarily wolf-warrior diplomacy, a term that has become synonymous with China’s foreign policy.

For any state, hosting the Olympic Games is an opportunity to display the strength of its public diplomacy, status and soft power. There have even been some comparisons between the 1936 Munich Summer Olympics and the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, and the significance for both nations. The Biden administration is yet to take a stand regarding any boycott – with various stakeholders expressing a range of reactions including outright boycott, hosting elsewhere and legally punishing sponsors. Political leaders across North America and Europe have also coordinated legislative action against China hosting the Games.

The greatest challenge for the democratic world order is to ensure that the spirit of the Olympics is upheld, and yet strong action is taken against China’s humanitarian track record. The question facing China is whether it will be able to reset its image to the pre-Covid era, or has it already done irreversible damage in the eyes of the free world.

Biden Picks Nicholas Burns for China Envoy: Right Man, Wrong Destination?

Hemant Adlakha, Honorary Fellow, ICS

 Image: Nicholas Burns        
   Source: bloomsberg.com          

Summary

President Biden’s China policy in his first hundred days is already drawing flak in Beijing. Notwithstanding recently witnessed smart US-China “climate diplomacy” during Washington-sponsored Earth Summit, the US watchers in the People’s Republic are further irked by weird signals Biden is sending in picking Nicholas Burns as the next China envoy.

“The US ambassador to Beijing must be someone who can show to the world the importance of the Unites States’ relationship with the Peoples’ Republic of China,” is how a former US envoy to China under President Obama reacted to the news of the likely Biden pick for the job. “It’s also critical that the person is empowered to negotiate on the president’s behalf and should not just be a person to deliver messages,” the former Montana Democrat Senator was quoted in the US media when Bloomberg first disclosed two months ago that Nicholas Burns might be the next China envoy. 

On March 18, the South China Morning Post’s seasoned China correspondent Shi Jingtao in an exclusive report claimed that Beijing had decided to stay on with Cui Tiankai, as China’s envoy to the US during the Biden presidency. Cui is already well over the usual retirement age for a Chinese official of his rank but “his connections and knowledge” are highly valued, citing sources in Beijing, Jingtao wrote. It is pertinent to point out, given that the Party general secretary, who is also at the same the President of the PRC, is assigned the responsibility by the seven-member politburo standing committee – the CPC’s highest decision making body – to deal with China’s affairs with the United States, which means Cui Tiankai is Xi Jinping’s man in Washington.


  Image: Chinese envoy in US Cui Tiankai: Xi Jinping’s “Mr.  Indispensable”
Source: news.cgtn.com

Furthermore, if what Shi Jingtao claims is true, then it is clear that 71-year old Cui or Xi Jinping’s “Mr. Indispensable” will be creating a history of sorts in the diplomatic annals by serving as Xi’s ambassador in Washington for long 11 years. It was the newly appointed Chinese president Xi, who picked Cui as the Chinese ambassador to the US in 2013. Cui’s continuation as China’s envoy in Biden era is also indicative of Beijing’s conviction that China-US rivalry is here to stay, at least for the next four years if not beyond. Let us recall, following the Alaska talks failure last month, China’s “independent” English language CX Daily in reaction to Biden administration’s relentless vitriol against China did predict that in Biden era and beyond “we are going to see at least 10 years of frosty ties between Beijing and Washington.”  

Let us return to the early reactions to Burns as the next potential US envoy for China. In the US media, as soon as the news of Nicholas Burns being considered for the most crucial ambassadorial appointment under the new Biden administration was disclosed two months ago, the reactions were positive and welcoming. While the state department and the White House both made it clear the next China envoy must be finalized based on the more “traditional mix of political and career,” the purpose was also to have fewer (key) political appointees than during Trump presidency. On the other hand, most ex-diplomats and foreign affairs experts too underscored the importance of having someone in Beijing who will be “perceived as having influence with the President Joe Biden.”

The influential Bonnie Glaser, a senior advisor for Asia and the director of the China Power Project at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, emphasized the person (the likely China envoy) to have access to both Biden and Xi. “The most important thing I think for an ambassador is to have a good relationship with the President and have some ability to directly communicate with the President and the key people around him.” she was quoted by the CNN as saying. “It’s important for the person to have access to Xi Jinping as well,” Glaser added.

In Beijing, the first thing commentators have pointed out is the strange “missing” of the US envoy since October last year when Terry Branstad was unceremoniously recalled by President Trump, saying “Branstad would be coming home from China” as he wanted to join the presidential campaign. Branstad, a former long-time Iowa governor was handpicked to the posting in Beijing by Trump in part because of the ambassador’s strong personal relationship with Xi Jinping. Earlier on in February, scholars in China had commented on the new President’s going slow in finalizing ambassadorial nominees to several countries, including China.

Image: Xi Jinping’s friend and the last US envoy in Beijing
  Source: cbs2iowa.com

Diao Ming, a well-known expert on US-China relations and professor at the Renmin University in Beijing had told the Global Times: “Since Biden’s major officials in the foreign affairs sector attach great importance to China affairs, the ambassador to China needs to be a person with strong experience in politics, top-class professionalism, a well-known reputation and prestige in political circles, as well as trust from the president.” For Branstad, though ambassadorship came as political “reward,” he not only fitted the bill in several ways but he also proved to be a hit with the authorities in Beijing.

“Branstad’s departure would be a loss to China-U.S. diplomacy as it would mean one less political heavyweight with a deep understanding of China based here,” was how Wang Huiyao, an adviser to China’s cabinet and founder of the Centre for China and Globalization, had reacted to the news of the end of Branstad’s tenure. Branstad had arrived in Beijing as the US envoy during the early days of the new Trump administration. Branstad was also one of the first ambassadorial announcements – made as early as in December 2016, within a month of Trump’s victory. 

Just like Branstad, if appointed, Burns too will be among the first diplomatic nominees under President Biden. Burns’ reputation of a “no-nonsense” veteran professional diplomat – he has been a former ambassador, had served in the state department under the Bush administration and enjoyed his role in academic circles as professor with the Harvard Kennedy School – is well-acknowledged by the Global Times which has declared him as the “ideal choice for the position of US ambassador to China.” Interestingly, the GT, known for its strong hawkish views, while ignoring harsh remarks on China made by Burns in 2017 has lavishly praised the career diplomat for not “holding extreme views on China.” “Given his views on China that are not extreme, it is unlikely China will be averse to him. It should be said that Biden’s choice for Burns is very reasonable,” the newspaper opined.

  Image: Ex-Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was among nominees for  Beijing but is finally US envoy pick for Tokyo
Source: Bloomberg.com 

In contrast to the GT commentary, Shanghai-based influential and widely popular Chinese language online news platform guancha.cn, has described Burns as “senior professional diplomat but not a diplomatic veteran.” Echoing what Hans Nichols wrote of Burns for AXIOS two weeks ago, cited above, the guancha.cn observed “choosing Burns would be indicating a preference for a seasoned diplomat instead of a high-wattage politician.” The online news platform did not fail to point out however that the past four US ambassadors in succession were all influential politicians. Guancha.cn also wondered on the choice of Burns as the US envoy for three additional reasons: one, Burns is known to be an expert on “Soviet Union” and Europe and not for handling China’s affairs; two, he would be filling in the challenging diplomatic assignment as “non-China” hand and that too when the coveted position in Beijing has been vacant for the past six months at a time considered as the most difficult period in the last 40-years of the bilateral relationship; and finally, unlike his past predecessors, Burns will have tough time doing liaison between President Biden and Blinken-Sullivan-Campbell trio. Not to forget, Biden’s China envoy will have to maintain a fine balance with the Biden administration’s first high-ranking traveller to China, John Kerry, the former secretary of state and now the president’s special climate envoy.

To sum up, as Lü Xiang, an expert in US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has observed, Biden will decide on who will represent Washington in Beijing “once the state department announces comprehensively the US foreign affairs plan.” But scholars in Beijing are also saying, though Burns may not be a political heavy weight and “an old friend of Chinese people” like his immediate predecessor was, yet Beijing might be pleased with him. For the simple reason that he not only strongly supports the view that the US-China “decoupling” is impossible and that cooperation between the two largest economies is a must in containing Covid-19 pandemic and in climate change. But also because like his immediate predecessor who actively tried to ease China-US tensions, if experienced and professional diplomat like Burns succeeds as ambassador to China, he will play an even greater role than Branstad. 

                                                                                                   (1397 words)

This is modified version of an earlier article  published by the NIICE, Kathmandu under the title

‘Nicholas Burns for China Envoy: Is Biden Sending Wrong Signals to Beijing?’ on 26 April, 2021

On Kissinger, China, US Presidential Candidates and Presidents

Hemant Adlakha, Honorary Fellow, ICS  

Summary

Last week, Henry Kissinger warned that US-China tensions threaten to engulf the entire world and could lead to Armageddon-like clash between the world’s two military and technology giants. Surprisingly, some Chinese are interpreting the warning as threat to intimidate China in order to “accept and obey” the US-led world hegemonic order.

In January 2015, the peace group CODEPINK dangled a pair of handcuffs in front of 91-year old former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at a Senate hearing. Twelve months later, at the February Democratic Debate Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton were seen engaged in a heated duel attacking and defending the acclaimed diplomat. The late writer Christopher Hitchens in his book The Trial of Henry Kissinger warned editors, TV news channel producers and presidential candidates to stop soliciting Kissinger’s “worthless and dangerous” opinions. The never ending outburst of enmity on the part of CODEPINK, Sanders and Hitchens was due to Kissinger’s brutal role in the killing of thousands of civilians, gang rape of hundreds of female detainees, and allegedly slaughtering of over one million people in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos among countless similar crimes against humanity since the early 1970s. 

As documented in “Kissinger and Chile: The Declassified Record,” as some 5,000 people were being detained and tortured in Chile’s National Stadium, Kissinger told the ruthless Augusto Pinochet: “You did a great service to the West in overthrowing Allende.” But Sanders-Clinton “spirited exchange” five years ago, as mentioned above, was not confined in Sanders’ words to Kissinger being “one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the modern history” of the United States. Sanders’ rare outburst also included Clinton defending her foreign policy mentor – Kissinger – on China. “[Kissinger’s] opening up China and his ongoing relationship with the leaders of China is an incredibly useful relationship for the United States of America,” Hilary Clinton emphatically pointed out.

  Image: Kissinger, Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong             
Source: thekootniti.in

Sanders responded disdainfully and berated Clinton for admiring Kissinger. “Kissinger first scared Americans about communist China and then opened up trade so US corporations could dump American workers and hire exploited and repressed Chinese,” Sanders had retorted. However, no one in Beijing either knows or seems interested in all the so-called negative traits attributed to the veteran diplomat who is generally known as arguably the most “influential figure in the making of American foreign policy since the end of World War II.” Instead, according to Peter Lee, editor of the online China Matters and a veteran Asia Times columnist, the CPC leadership value Kissinger as the “symbol, custodian and advocate” of a US-China relationship that is special.   

Professor Aaron Friedberg, author of A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia, described the re-opening of relations with China as Kissinger’s greatest achievement. In a review of Kissinger’s massive book On China, Friedberg wrote: “Kissinger’s six hundred pages on China are an attempt to apply the principles of foreign policy realism to the most pressing strategic challenge of our day.” (Emphasis given) However, the approach, taken alone, was far from inadequate in anticipating the behavior of an increasingly powerful China on the one hand, and for prescribing an appropriate American strategy to deal with a rising China, Friedberg went on to add.

Since Mao, all successive top Chinese leaders have met with Kissinger one-on-one in Beijing, some even more than once. China’s current President Xi Jinping is no exception. In fact, given the deep esteem with which reform era CPC leadership has been embracing Henry Kissinger, the general wisdom in Beijing is President Xi has horned his diplomatic skills by learning well his (Kissinger’s) oft-quoted aphorism “you don’t go into negotiations unless your chances of success are 85 percent.” Kissinger had first met with Xi in 2007, when Xi, as the party secretary in Shanghai, had received the most frequent foreign visitor to China on a visit to the city. When asked for his assessment of the party’s new general secretary within days of the 18th party congress in November 2012 by the Wall Street Journal, Kissinger had said “Xi Jinping is a strong leader capable of rising up to any challenge.”


  Image: With Deng Xiaoping        

Source: china.org.cn \

In the past little over four decades of Kissinger-CPC bonhomie, the first decade thanks to Cold War passed off rather smoothly and uneventfully. The second decade ushered in with perhaps the first most serious test for both Kissinger as well as for the US-China relations since the unfreezing of the bilateral ties by Nixon-Kissinger pair in the early 1970s. In June 1989, the CPC rulers used brutal force to crush peaceful student demonstrators at the Tiananmen Square and launched nationwide crackdown on suspected dissidents. Though criticized by the US political elite for “Kowtowing to Beijing” for defending the CPC authorities by saying “a crackdown was inevitable,” Kissinger did influence the Bush administration in imposing comparatively mild sanctions while deflecting congressional pressure for tougher action.

In third and fourth decades respectively, unlike during the first two stages, ideology gradually regained initiative over geopolitics in influencing the bilateral relationship. There are mainly two factors for this. First, from 1979 to the end of the last century, China was relatively weaker than the United States both economically and in military technology. Following China’s rapid economic growth beginning late 1990s and at the turn of the twenty-first century, a section in the US political elite became apprehensive of China’s assertive and highly competitive stance. These concerns soon gave birth to the “China threat theory” which Beijing unsuccessfully tried to pass off as “China’s peaceful rise.”


   Image: Kissinger with Jiang Zemin

  Source: cfr.org                  

The second factor has much to do with the world financial crisis in 2008 which resulted in the beginning of decline of the US economy on the one hand, and the unfolding of the seemingly evident intent of the CPC leadership to “eventually displace the US” and “re-establishing their own country as the pre-eminent power in East Asia.” In other words, with Cold War and the Soviet Union both long gone, and China threatening to soon replace America as the world’s number one economy, the communist rulers in Beijing were under no illusion that the ideologically hostile US was gearing up to plot “color revolution” to replace the CPC with democratically elected leaders in the People’s Republic.

The chilling of US-China bilateral relations during the first year of Obama presidency itself, with China replacing Japan to become the world’s second largest economy in 2010 and further hardening of the US stance towards China, and finally the US “pivot to Asia” strategy introduced by the Secretary of State Hilary Clinton – all these were perceived by Beijing as the US “creating political framework for a confrontation with China in order to maintain the global hegemony of American dominance.” Even Kissinger was very much aware of the changing stance in Beijing, as is reflected from what he wrote in On China: “China would try to push American power as far away from its borders as it could, circumscribe the scope of American naval power, and reduce America’s weight in international diplomacy.”

Interestingly, although the most frequent US visitor to China has continued to visit China ever more frequently during the past decade, given the changing nature of polity in both the US and in China it is not incorrect to say the Kissinger magic has been gradually fading away. Last Friday, when the “old friend of China” warned both Beijing and Washington in a speech at McCain Institute’s Sedona Forum in France that their escalating tensions are leading the world towards Armageddon-like clash, the opinionating Chinese social media reacted with caution. “Kissinger used the so-called end of the world argument to threaten and intimidate China in order to accept and obey the hegemonic order by the United States.


  Image: With Hu
Jintao

  Source: wsj.com

Another commentary in Chinese pointed out, ever since Trump launched “all out political war” against China, Kissinger has been in subtle and cunning way warning China to “cooperate” with Washington. The signed article entitled “Kissinger Continues to Scare the Chinese People” stated: “For the past two, three years, Kissinger has been repeatedly saying, China must continue to compromise and obey the US hegemony and US-led global order. Otherwise, China will face the danger of World War I-like situation.”

To sum up, an angry guancha.cn – one of China’s most widely read online Chinese language news platform – reader posted in the chat room: Kissinger is no longer qualified to advise China or the world. Instead, the world will be a peaceful if America first puts its own house in order!   


   Image: With Xi Jinping…who is walking whom?
Source: cnbc.com                               

This is edited version of an earlier article published under the same title in moderndiplomacy on 5 May, 2021.

The Arakan Army and China’s Relationship with Ethnic Armed Organizations in Myanmar

Jelvin Jose, Research Intern, ICS

The Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic armed organization (EAO), engaged in armed struggle for ethnic self-determination of the Rakhine Buddhist people has been a significant newcomer to Myanmar’s ethnic conflicts. The fierce tensions  between the AA and the Tatmadaw, following AA’s police station attack on 4 January 2019, led to the displacement of 157,000 people and prompted a global outrage. The public support consequent to the political marginalization of the ethnic Rakhine community, and Chinese material backing, expedited the rise of AA as a lethal outfit within a short period since 2017. In order to safeguard its economic and strategic goals in Myanmar, Beijing needs to balance both the Tatmadaw and AA.

Arakan Army and its Rise

The AA was formed in April 2009 in Laiza, a town in Kachin state. It aims to set up an autonomous territory with substantial autonomy in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, similar to the one run by the United Wa State Army (UWSA). The Rakhine State of Myanmar is one of the poorest regions in the country. AA, seeks to garner public support by upholding Rakhine nationalism, promising to bring prosperity to the region, and preserving the identity and cultural heritage of the ethnic Rakhine community.

Though the AA had been initially trained and operated under the umbrella of Kachin Independence Army (KIA), it later shifted to the fold of the powerful UWSA. After gaining training and battle experience from its operations in the Shan and Kachin states in the initial years, AA started shifting focus to Rakhine state by 2012. However, it was only after 2017 that the AA has risen to prominence in the Rakhine state.

Chinese Material Backing to AA

Although there is little evidence for direct supply of arms to AA by the Chinese government, multiple instances, including the Sittwe naval vessel attack, confirm the flow of Chinese weapons to AA’s hands. In the words of Anders Corr, around 90 percent of AA’s financial resources come from China. Chinese backing to the AA also extends in terms of uniforms, weapons, and ammunition. In the Sittwe vessel strike that AA carried out in June 2019, the AA rebels reportedly fired at least three Chinese-made 107mm surface-to-surface rockets.

The primary source of weaponry for AA is the purchase from other EAOs, mostly from UWSA and members of the Northern Alliance. UWSA- Beijing’s closest ally and most prominent beneficiary of Chinese weapon supply is said to have installed factories producing Chinese weapons in its territory. UWSA, leading the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC) – a seven-member coalition of EAOs including AA – is reportedly used by Beijing to influence AA to secure its interests.

The flow of sophisticated Chinese weapons to AA’s arsenal strengthens the claim of Chinese backing of AA. In July 2020, the Thai military seized a massive stock of Chinese armaments worth US$1 million from Mae Tao district, bordering Myanmar and Thailand. The weapons reportedly were destined for the AA and insurgent groups operating in India’s North East. In November 2019, Tatmadaw captured another stock of Chinese-made weapons, including FN6 anti-aircraft guns, RPGs, and around 40,000 rounds of ammunition from the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) – AA’s partner in the Northern Alliance- at Homein village of Northern Shan State.

It is notable that AA rebels, who have obstructed India’s Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project (KMMTTP) at different points, have not, similarly, targeted any Chinese projects. The statement by AA spokesperson U Khaing Thukka in March 2020, that China recognises us, but India doesn’tfurther exposes Beijing’s connections with the AA.

Arakan Army and China’s Links with Ethnic Armed Organizations

Unlike several EAOs such as UWSA, Beijing has not directly backed AA. Instead, China pipelines weapons and other resources to AA via other EAOs, to secure its strategic and security interests in Myanmar. In a broader sense, Chinese indirect backing to the AA is part of Beijing’s balancing act between EAOs and the government to retain its influence in Myanmar. Keeping links with AA helps Beijing to shield its infrastructure projects from harm. Swedish Journalist Bertil Linter explains the strategy Beijing adopts in Myanmar as a  “Carrot and Stick Policy.” On the one hand, China assists Myanmar with investments and necessary political cover from global human rights outcries at international bodies such as the UN Security Council. On the other hand, China also keeps links with the armed ethnic outfits, providing them with necessary political cover, funding, and weapons.

In fact, for Beijing, the existence of AA as a cause of turmoil in Rakhine is unwanted business. China critically needs a stable situation, conducive to the smooth implementation of its economic projects in Myanmar. Beijing perceives that the AA claims are implausible to be accepted by the Tatmadaw, thus posing obstacles to stability in the state by instigating prolonged political stir. As a cause of violence, the persistence of AA without striking any workable deal with the government (or at least with Tatmadaw) seriously hampers Chinese interests in Myanmar. First, violence and resultant disruption of stability would impact the rollout of Chinese projects and their functioning. Second, border security is a crucial aspect of Chinese interests in Myanmar. Beijing believes that its porous border with Myanmar is vulnerable to exploitation by external players. Thus, the extreme turmoil AA has been making, pressing for greater international involvement, is not in China’s interest. Third, the presence of AA as a formidable power would necessitate Beijing to balance between the government and AA simultaneously. Otherwise, Beijing could have much more easily secured its interests by striking a deal with the government and Tatmadaw. Fourth, though Tatmadaw and Nyaypidaw have been long suspicious of Beijing’s connections with various EAOs, Beijing’s material backing to AA seems to have further exacerbated this distrust.

Notwithstanding this, given the reality that the Tatmadaw cannot control the whole territory on its own, Beijing requires links with both the EAOs and the government to safeguard its economic and strategic interests in Myanmar. Rakhine state, the focal point of AA, is the hub of both economically and strategically important BRI projects such as Kyaukpyu port and China-Myanmar oil and gas pipeline. These projects are critical for China from the geostrategic perspective to reduce its vulnerability in the crucial Malacca Strait- often described as  “China’s Malacca Dilemma.” Hence, Beijing essentially requires establishing links with the AA to prevent the disruption of these ambitious projects.

Given the factors mentioned above, the Chinese backing to AA is conditional. Beijing does not see any end to Myanmar’s ethnic crises in the foreseeable future. Thus, Beijing can be expected to continue its direct or indirect engagements with EAOs, including the AA, while maintaining strong ties with Nyaypidaw in order to minimize its risks and maximize the profits from Myanmar’s ethnic conflicts.

China’s Changing Role in The United Nations Security Council, 2007-2017

Chandam Thareima, Research Intern, ICS

In almost 50 years since the People’s Republic of China’s accession into the United Nations on 25 October 1971, there have been a series of shifts in its role as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. From a cautious beginning as a newcomer to the game of UN multilateralism (1971-1978), to one of pragmatic engagement and steady integration with the global economy in pursuit of modernization (1979-1989), China has sought, in the post-Tiananmen incident period, to salvage its international image while continuing its modernization drive (1990-2000), before assuming an increasingly pro-active stance at the turn of the new century. Especially since 2008, the Chinese role became increasingly wide-ranging in its strategic scope and reach as well as more assertive and strident.  One important indicator of this is China’s voting pattern in the Council. The period 1971-2000, may be depicted largely as “going with the flow” or “passive” approach except in extraordinary circumstances.  During this entire period, China cast its veto only four times – twice in 1972 and one each in 1997 and 1999. For the most part, its votes were affirmative, non-participative and abstentions, as illustrated below. This was to change decisively in the following two decades.

Time period Affirmative votes percentage Non-Participation Abstentions Vetoes
1971-1978 54.9 % 47 4 2
1979-1989 93.5% 17 1 0
1990-2000 87.9% 0 43 2

Source: United Nations Security Council Documents: Volumes of Resolutions and Decisions

China’s first veto in 1972 was against a resolution for Bangladesh’s membership in the UN, on behalf of its regional ally Pakistan; and the other 1972-veto was on an amendment to a NAM (Non-Aligned Movement)-sponsored resolution against Israeli use of force in the Middle East. This veto was not very substantial considering it was on an amendment rather than a resolution but could be inferred as showing solidarity to NAM countries and opposition to the US which had vetoed the resolution. The remaining two vetoes were against resolutions on Guatemala (1997) and on Macedonia (1999). Both these vetoes were in protest against the former two countries’ recognition of Taiwan- a threat to China’s core national interests. China’s UN representative Qin Huasun explained the 1997-veto as: “The Guatemalan authorities cannot expect to have the cooperation of China in the Security Council while taking actions to infringe upon China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”. 

Since the turn of the century, China’s enhanced capabilities were translated into activism and confidence in global affairs. As Zhiqun Zhu argued, “China is gradually becoming more responsive to international demands to put diplomatic pressure on authoritarian regimes such as Sudan and North Korea”. Such confidence and cooperativeness were also reflected in its UNSC voting pattern during 2001-2006 in which its abstentions were drastically reduced to eight, increased its affirmative votes to 95.5 per cent, and a total lack of vetoes. However, the timeframe of this analysis, 2007-2017 is marked by a total of eight vetoes, a stark departure from China’s earlier record in which it had cast only four vetoes in a span of 30 years since its UN admission. It is often surmised that China’s frequent use of its vetoes in this period implied assertiveness on its part as a result of its rising power, rendering the Council ineffective in discharging its function of maintaining international peace and security. China’s assertiveness from this period onwards can also be seen in its broader foreign policy behaviour, for instance in the South China Sea.

Moreover, this period also assumes significance because unlike in the past when it traditionally used to veto resolutions on countries that impinged on its territorial integrity, China’s vetoes during 2007-2017 were against resolutions that had nothing to do with its one-China policy. Furthermore, the eight vetoes during this period were on resolutions against countries that had questionable human rights records‒ Myanmar (2007), Zimbabwe (2008) and Syria (2011, 2014, 2016, 2017 and two vetoes in 2012)— an association with which China risked tarnishing its international image which it had been striving to build since the Tiananmen incident. By not only stepping away from its consensus seeking stance on the UNSC resolutions, but also by blocking them from being adopted, China has shown that it is willing to stand against the larger consensus, in pursuance of its interests as also for the principles it upholds, and enforce it through its veto power. This marks a sharp shift from its earlier Security Council diplomacy wherein China has always refrained from using its veto power except in Taiwan-related cases or in cases in which its immediate geo-political interests were involved.

Although China defended its stance in UNSC on grounds of the principles it upholds such as respecting the sovereignty of the nations concerned, its opposition to sanctions, or the lack of consensus in the Council, China’s actions could also be attributed to its desire to protect its economic, political and strategic interests in those countries. For instance, China vetoed the 2007 UNSC Resolution calling for Myanmar to cease military attacks against civilians in ethnic minority regions and to put an end to the associated human rights and humanitarian law violations, on the grounds that “the matter was an internal affair of a sovereign state and did not pose a threat to international or regional peace and security”. However, China’s economic and strategic interests in Myanmar also seem to influence China’s decision to censure the latter from international scrutiny.

Most of China’s vetoes coincided with Russia’s, implying that both these countries support one another when their respective national interests are at stake and to avoid taking an isolationist stance. This could be seen in the cases of Libya and Syria when both these nations concurrently abstained or vetoed. China is also increasingly seen to shadow its vetoes and abstentions behind Russian vetoes or abstentions. During 2013-2017, China’s vetoes (3) and abstentions (14) were all on resolutions against which Russia had vetoed or abstained. This helped China diminish the negative attention of international community’s disapproval as Russia’s concurrent vetoes or abstentions insulated China’s own. 

Furthermore, China’s reduction of vetoes from five to three, and of its affirmative votes from 98.8 per cent to 97.7 per cent, increase of abstentions from five to 15 from the period 2007-2012 to the period 2013-2017; its exercise of vetoes and abstentions largely in support of Russian vetoes and abstentions, and not entirely to protect its own interests, could very well be interpreted as an act of cautiousness in the UN. This cautiousness could be seen as a tactical response to the international community’s apprehensions about China’s assertiveness. Nevertheless, the period 2007-2017 was also marked by an increasing number of UNSC Resolutions having been adopted without any apparent opposition from China. Thus, the argument that it was creating obstacles in the functioning of the Security Council is not entirely true.

From the foregoing account, it could be inferred that China’s UN policy, reflective of its broader foreign policy behaviour, has been undergoing distinct changes, reflecting the changing internal as well as external environment. Overall, it must be noted that in both the phases – 2007 to 2012 and 2013 to 2017- although China exercised its veto power, it nevertheless maintained a high rate of affirmative voting affinity with the rest of the Council members. This is enormously significant, especially in view of the fact that China has, on balance, maintained a posture of collaboration with the other powers in UNSC matters rather than a contentious one. This in turn provides some pointers to understand China’s foreign policy behaviour in the backdrop of its growing power.

Chinese Claims on the South China Sea are Infringing on India’s Economic and Geopolitical Interests

Halim Nazar, Research Intern, ICS


Source: The Week

Introduction

The South China Sea dispute involves conflicting land and maritime claims of sovereignty between China and several nations in the South China Sea area. Although China’s claims that they historically exercised “exclusive control” over the sea was rejected by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, they haven’t been deterred in their pursuit. Almost a quarter of the global trade passes through these waters, so many non-claimant nations like India require the South China Sea to remain open as international waters. The region is of immense importance to India as India has been increasing trade and economic linkages with several East Asian nations and also with the Pacific region.

The South China Sea is the second-most used sea lane globally, with one-third of the world’s shipping (over $3 trillion) passing through the area. A single country having complete control over this maritime route would have significant economic and military advantages for itself. Thus, enabling this region to be the geopolitical pivot for achieving control over the rest of Asia. Opposing China, The Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan all lay claims to sections of these waters.

China has laid claim to most of the South China Sea via a looped line called the “historic line” or the “nine-dash line”. The “loop”, or the “cow’s tongue” as it is called, surrounds many islands from China to Malaysia and Singapore, including the Spratly and Paracel chain of islands.

It is apparent that as Beijing accumulates more political, military and economic power, it would use it to further their interests, inevitably at the cost of other nations, regardless of the rhetoric of “win-win” situations. By following a delaying strategy, wherein a state maintains its claims over the contested land without offering concessions or using force, China seeks to consolidate its claims while deterring other states from strengthening their claims. Under the course of a delaying strategy, if a state occupies a piece of contested land, the passage of time strengthens its claim in international law; states can go beyond diplomatic statement and utilize civilian and military actors to further assert their claims. In the South China Sea, China would only compromise when improved ties with the other states become more critical than the maritime rights and islands that are contested. A similar compromise has precedence in Chinese statecraft as Mao had ordered the transfer of the disputed Bailongwei (White  Dragon  Tail) Island to  North  Vietnam in 1957, as part of improving the alliance between China and North Vietnam. Such a shift in priorities is improbable but can be orchestrated. For example, China could oppose the formation of any counterbalancing coalition in the region, especially one under the US’s leadership. In this scenario, China could be expected to offer some concessions to improve ties with the affected states.

India’s Interests

India has significant geo-economic and geopolitical stakes in the South China Sea. Although India is not geographically in the South China Sea region, it is extensively involved with several littoral states in the area, mostly through naval exercises, oil exploration, strategic partnerships and diplomatic discussions. India considers the South China Sea as its “extended neighbourhood” and has extended its diplomatic outreach to the various nations there.

The Chinese have estimated that the South China Sea has one of the world’s largest oil reserves, second only to Saudi Arabia and will ultimately yield around 130 billion barrels of oil. India’s state-run explorer, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), had come into agreement with Petro Vietnam for developing long-term cooperation in the oil sector via its overseas investment arm, ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL), and it had accepted Vietnam’s offer of exploration in certain specified blocks in the South China Sea and signed a letter of intent on September 15 2014. OVL had already forayed into Vietnam in 1988 when it obtained the exploration license for Block 06.1. The company also got two exploration blocks, Block 127 and Block 128, in 2006. However, Block 127 was relinquished as it wasn’t profitable, and the other block is currently under exploration and roughly coincides with the current area of Chinese escalation.

India has high stakes attached to the uninterrupted flow of commercial trade in the South China Sea as well as in maintaining the movement of its Navy in these waters. Over 55 per cent of India’s trade passes through the South China Sea. Therefore, ensuring peace and stability in the area is of paramount importance to India.

The South China Sea lies at the intervening stretch of waters between the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific. As Indian maritime cooperation grew with America and Australia, these waters have come to be referred to as “Indo-Pacific”. Indian Navy now operates in the Western Pacific in collaboration with the United States and Japanese navies. Therefore, it becomes all the more important that India gets secure access through the South China Sea. To navigate from the Indian Ocean to Western Pacific, easy, unhindered access through the South China Sea is essential for India.

Conclusion

As China engineers strategic investments and partnerships throughout the South Asian neighbourhood, particularly under the ambit of the ambitious BRI project, it is imperative that India capitalize on the advantages of its geographical position and emerging naval profile as well as its cooperation with the ASEAN and legacy of goodwill to balance its eastern neighbour. India’s response to the South China Sea issue is based on the realist balance of power logic. India plans to deter China’s ambitions in the South China Sea whilst complementing ASEAN’s stance of indirect balancing of China by fostering an alliance based on the principle of cooperative security. The successful execution of the “Look East Policy” (LEP) and strides taken by the “Act East Policy” (AEP), which were premised on the adherence to the principle of ASEAN centrality, complemented India’s strategy of containing Chinese footprints in its “extended neighbourhood” by putting its weight behind countries like Vietnam caught in the dispute over overlapping claims to sovereignty in the South China Sea with Beijing. The LEP and AEP have constituted the bulwark for the development and entrenchment of India-ASEAN ties. Besides, it has also erected the foundation for India’s enhanced participation and assumption of responsibility in Indo-Pacific affairs.

The current policies have served India well. India, along with the US, Australia and Japan, held the first Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) summit, where they pledged to work together to ensure a free and open Indo-pacific and also cooperate on cybersecurity and maritime. A realist approach, tempered by strains of critical, tangible geopolitical imperatives, complemented by the constructivist logic of intangibles, would be most appropriate for India.

Climate Diplomacy or Climate ‘Politrick’

Hemant Adlakha, Honorary Fellow, ICS, and Associate Professor, Centre for Chinese and Southeast Asian Studies, JNU

Special series on US-China Climate Diplomacy (2 of 2)

  Image: Earth Day Summit 2021               
 Source: firstpost.com

Summary

Earlier on, climate skeptics had wondered if President Biden’s January 27 Executive Order on “climate crisis” was “climate politrick?” Now, scholars in China have likened the US climate envoy’s hurried China visit last week to “a weasel calling on a friendly New Year visit to a chicken” – or a visit with evil intentions. Some overenthusiastic critics of the US in Beijing are even warning President Xi to not login for the online Earth Summit in Washington this week.

People in China believe a snake and a wolf must never be rescued. The belief comes from a popular idiom: the Zhongshan wolf or “The Wise Old Man and the Wolf.” In a few words, the essence of the popular Chinese adage is well-captured in the following sentence: a popular fairy tale about the ingratitude of a creature after being saved. Last year, the idiom entered China’s foreign policy discourse as several IR commentators employed it to describe “ingratitude” of the Trump-led America towards the Peoples’ Republic. Following the ascent of President Biden in the White House, the Chinese commentariat quickly course-corrected itself, i.e. neither Trump nor Biden, it is the US bipartisan anti-China consensus which is the real “wicked wolf.”

Just like the curt and bland statement issued by China’s foreign ministry acknowledging China will host the US climate envoy Kerry for three days in Shanghai, 14-17 April, China released on last Sunday the text of the joint China-US statement following Kerry’s departure on Saturday. The statement said: “The United States and China are committed to cooperating with each other and also with other foreign governments to tackle the climate crisis which must be addressed with seriousness and urgency it demands.” Interestingly, or rather conspicuously, the statement neither indicated nor was followed by another press release regarding whether China will be represented at the upcoming crucial 40-nation Earth Summit being hosted by President Biden.

Image: Earth Day Summit 2021               
 Source: firstpost.com

While it is true a few Chinese scholars and think tanks have welcomed the worlds’ two largest carbon emitting nations to come forward to cooperate with each other upholding the spirit of the Paris climate agreement. What is perhaps unprecedented and more significant is the warning to President Xi by a section of China’s leftist intelligentsia to beware of Biden’s “climate politrick.”

Talking of those who welcomed Xi-Biden climate cooperation initiative – the first sign of bilateral cooperation since the Trump interregnum, Zhang Jianyu, chief representative and vice president of the non-profit Environmental Defense Fund’s China Program, reacted positively and said: “The fact that the joint statement has been signed, means that both Beijing and Washington believe in climate change. We are hoping both China and the US take bold actions.” Li Shuo, senior climate adviser for the environmental group Greenpeace, said China could soon respond to a new U.S. pledge with one of its own, building on the “momentum” of the Shanghai talks. “The statement in my view is as positive as the politics would allow: It sends a very unequivocal message that on this particular issue (China and the United States) will cooperate. Before the meetings in Shanghai this was not a message that we could assume,” Li added. 

 

In contrast, an article in Utopia, one of the influential “anti-US” platforms for ideological debate in China, cautioned China’s top leadership while questioning Biden’s credentials to host the Earth Summit. The pro-Mao, leftist online intellectual discourse forum advocates Maoist and communist ideology. In a signed article on the forum’s website last Saturday – the day John Kerry concluded his 3-day stay in Shanghai and left for Seoul, a commentator using strong words not only “condemned” Joe Biden for his “arrogant” and “hypocritical” foreign policy thinking, but also urged the Chinese leadership to thwart Washington’s attempt to regain the US leadership by holding the Earth Summit beginning Thursday. The article was entitled: “China must resist and fight back hypocrite Biden.”   

  Image: Biden and Kerry at Earth Day Summit   
  Source: firstpost.com

In fact, as early as in November last year, within days of the presidential voting, a section of scholars in China were writing “the election of Biden may or may not turn out to be a turning point for easing Sino-US frictions…with Biden in power, the nature of Sino-US relations will not see a fundamental change, but the mode of confrontation will be relatively soft and the direction of negotiations will be more predictable.” However, with each passing day since taking office, President Biden’s China policy has consistently been predictable in only one direction – in enduring the Trump legacy. The most recent manifestation of which was on display at the testy diplomatic summit last month in Anchorage where senior officials from the two countries “traded sharply critical assessment” of each other’s policies.

Another Chinese commentary has highlighted six ideological “attacks” the US has carried out against China in the international arena under Trump and Biden administrations respectively. First is the classic example of the US-Japan nexus in politicizing and turning on its head the Chinese opposition to Japan’s decision to release radioactive contaminated water from Fukushima into the sea; second is the Western governments and media carrying out slanderous campaign of China’s “economic colonialism” in Africa; third, as soon as China succeeded in containing fight against COVID-19 last year in May and started offering humanitarian assistance abroad, the US-led started defaming and discrediting China by launching “mask diplomacy” campaign against Beijing; fourth, just like vicious propaganda maligning China’s economic assistance to Africa and China’s humanitarian aid by free supply of PPE and masks, the US launched “vaccine diplomacy” campaign to vilify China; the fifth is attacking China using the virus trajectory and accusing China of developing COVID-19 virus and exporting it from chemical laboratory in Wuhan; the sixth and the latest anti-China “false” propaganda is the “genocide” in Xinjiang. Unlike the genuine human rights violation by Japan to release the contaminated water into the sea, the false propaganda against China is aimed at creating anti-China world public opinion, creating social unrest and turbulence in China and ultimately achieving their goal of destroying China, the article stated.   

Finally, it is not incorrect to view President Xi’s highly charged remarks made at two most recent international events respectively in the context of strongly-worded articles published in Utopia and other left-leaning online websites in the past few days. Two days prior to the arrival of Kerry in China, President Xi, according to the Xinhua news agency, warned the US in his speech at the China-Germany-France trilateral video conference on climate change: “Climate change could be used as a tool to disparage some countries for not doing enough.” Then two days prior to the Earth Summit, Xi apparently reiterated his stern warning to President Biden: “We must not let the rules set by one or a few countries be imposed on others, or allow unilateralism pursued by certain countries to set the pace for the whole world.” The remarks by Xi were made at China’s annual Boao Asia Forum on Tuesday.    


  Source: globaltimes.cn

                                     

China’s semi-official “independent” English language CX Daily interpreted Xi’s above remarks as “veiled swipe at the new US administration under Biden” that has been busy forming alliances challenging China over issues such as Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang. Of late, mainstream media in China has been accusing Biden of not only carrying on and enduring the Trump legacy in relentlessly “attacking” China, but also that Biden has gone far beyond Trump in insulting and condescending Beijing. In fact, the Utopia commentary uses another Chinese idiom “externally strong, empty inside” to caricature Biden’s personality. It cites two recent incidents to establish how weak and hollow is President Biden, i.e. the US-China talks in Alaska and Putin’s resolve to dare the US in the Black Sea – in both instances, Biden simply caved in after he was challenged, the commentary observed. “On Iran nuclear deal issue too we saw Biden acting in the same surreptitious and crude manner. He [Biden] is typical treacherous man,” the Utopia commentary continued its verbiage.

Some Chinese scholars, therefore, have welcomed Xi’s remarks as clear rebuff to what the mainstream Western media, in particular the Wall Street Journal has been spreading, i.e. “Xi would participate in the US-initiated climate summit later this week.” These scholars are invoking yet another ancient Chinese proverb “Mouth honey belly sword” or Koumifujian in Chinese. The idiom is used as a metaphor for describing someone extremely sweet on the outside but actually shrewd, cunning and sinister. Most Chinese IR commentators are telling us, the idiom is a perfect description of Biden. 

The article was first published as “Is the Washington Initiated Climate Summit a Biden ‘Politrick’” in Modern Diplomacy on 22 April 2021.

Climate Envoy Kerry in Shanghai to ‘Woo Xi’ to Attend Biden’s Climate Summit

Hemant Adlakha, Honorary Fellow, ICS, and Associate Professor, Centre for Chinese and Southeast Asian Studies, JNU

Special series on US-China Climate Diplomacy (1 of 2)

Image: Weasel calling on
chicken
 Source: thebeijinger.com

Summary

A section in the international press claims the US climate envoy John Kerry’s mid-week Shanghai visit was aimed at the White House “wooing Beijing” before the upcoming Earth Summit on April 22. But some foreign commentators while not disagreeing see Kerry’s task as arduous. Then there are those who no doubt believe the visit to be an essential part of Biden’s “climate diplomacy” and as a “bright spot” in tension-ridden China-US relations. Not unexpectedly, Beijing has mandated Xie Zhenhua, China’s “environment man” and Kerry’s old buddy, to go by the script and stick to protocols while hosting his US visitor.

                                                                          ***

On April 13, the US State Department website claimed, the President’s special climate envoy John Kerry will be visiting Shanghai and Seoul from April 14 -17. The agenda for the visit was mentioned as to conduct consultations on global climate crisis. Seasoned diplomatic affairs commentators in Beijing sensed something odd in the sudden state department announcement. Li Guangman, a veteran IR analyst and widely respected “influencer” in the arena of foreign policy opined: “The fact that the news was released only after Kerry departed for Shanghai is an indication it was perhaps only a last-minute decision in Beijing to host Kerry. This also shows Beijing could have declined the visit too.”

  Image:  Kerry in Shanghai             
Source: moderndiplomacy.eu

As regards on the purpose of Kerry visit, a section of the international press has been fed, i.e. the visit is “seen as a chance to set aside existing political tensions and focus on areas of potential climate collaboration.” Highlighting Kerry as the first high-level Biden administration official to fly into China – though not into the capital city Beijing, the US as well as Western media took particular notice of the visit’s timing, that is, just days ahead of Joe Biden’s virtual summit with world leaders on climate change on 22 April. It was on expected lines that the foreign media did not fail to mention the failure of the first top officials-level dialogue in Alaska exactly a month ago in “yielding a breakthrough,” when speculating whether Kerry’s travel to China would be any different.     

In sharp contrast, Beijing’s foreign ministry mandarins did not seem particularly enthused by the visit. Without either referring to the upcoming virtual Earth Summit or attaching extraordinary attention to the first trip to China from the highest official in the Biden government since 20 January, China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment disclosed on Wednesday: “The U.S. president’s special climate envoy John Kerry will visit China from Wednesday to Saturday.” In a rather curt and short press release, the foreign ministry in Beijing said: “China’s special climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, will meet with his U.S. counterpart John Kerry in Shanghai this week and exchange views on a key United Nations climate conference or COP26 at Glasgow later this year.” 

Beijing Downplays Kerry’s Visit

Besides downplaying the high-profile maiden trip to China by Kerry as the US climate envoy, a lot is being read into Beijing keeping the US visitor strictly within “visiting one city, meeting one official” limits. China’s English language Caixin Daily has confirmed “after talks in China, Kerry will travel on to Seoul, South Korea. The US Embassy in Beijing said no media events are planned before Kerry heads to Seoul.” Remember, John Kerry has been flying around the world with twin purposes, namely: one, to urge various countries to commit themselves to fight against climate change in time for the Washington initiated Earth Summit beginning on Thursday; second, starting from the Earth Summit and before the UN conference on climate in November this year, reclaim America as a leader on climate action.

  Image: China’s ‘climate man’ Xie Zhenhua    
 Source: chinadaily.com.cn

One of the key stated agendas of Kerry’s visit was to seek China’s endorsement to Biden’s ambitious plan to prod countries to step up their respective carbon emissions reduction goal in order to limit planetary warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius – a goal set by the Paris Agreement in 2015. Biden has invited nearly 40 world leaders to assemble for the Earth Summit, including China’s President Xi Jinping and the Russian leader Vladimir Putin. To help Biden achieve climate change mission, Kerry has already visited several countries including UK, India, Bangladesh and United Arab Emirates. However, not only China, there are many other countries and individuals/institutions who do not trust the US to fulfill its own climate change commitments. A Bloomberg report last Friday has observed: “Before the U.S. can lead, however, it will first have to overcome the world’s mistrust. After all, the country has reneged on its climate promises before.”

A former Obama administration official, Pete Ogden currently serving as vice president for energy, climate and environment at the United Nations Foundation, was cited in the Bloomberg report mentioned above as saying: “They’ve [the White House] clearly been looking to try to encourage other countries to also increase their ambition, but I don’t think this is the date. I do not expect that everything will be on a glide path to 1.5 degrees after the [Earth] summit.” While Kerry and Biden most likely are going to fail in cajoling major emitter countries barring a few close US allies such as Canada, Japan and maybe South Africa as it [Washington] must first “overcome the world’s mistrust.” India and Brazil, notably, have already indicated the two countries strongly differ with the US-led developed countries’ offered solution at the coming Earth Summit.

China or Xi Jinping might skip the earth Summit

Kerry’s “mission Shanghai” may not have been as “fiery” as the Alaska talks, yet one is certain it must have been equally, if not less, testy visit. According to a Chinese article, both the timing and agenda of Kerry’s “mission Shanghai” are seen as problematic in Beijing for following few reasons. First, as pointed out above, Beijing no doubt views both Biden’s promised commitment to Paris Climate Accord and inviting world leaders to the Earth Summit as mere attempts to salvage the damaged US image on one hand, and to establish the United States as the leader in the global fight against global warming on the other. In other words, it is Biden’s political and not climate change agenda.

  Image: Climate crusader friends     
  Source: thewirechina.com

Second, just like on the eve of the Alaska talks the secretary of state Blinken made provocative statements in Tokyo and Seoul making Beijing unhappy. This time round too Washington initiated not one but two highly provocative moves to gauge the mood in Beijing: one, just as climate envoy Kerry was packing bags for Beijing, the Biden administration dispatched three former US officials with high credentials to Taiwan in an unmarked private jet last Wednesday; two, the US intelligence chief Avril Haines in a report released on last Wednesday has repeated the China threat to the US saying: “There is no other country that represents a more severe threat to our [the US] economic security, innovation and ideas than China, a threat which is deep, wide and persistent.” It is ridiculous to expect Beijing to promise “tangibles” to Kerry in this backdrop, observed a scholar in Beijing.

Third, while officially the PRC government strongly objected to and challenged the Biden-Suga joint statement at the end of the two leaders’ first in-person meeting at the White House last Friday. Typically, reactions from China’s strategic and security affairs community have been far more bellicose and scathing on the mention of Taiwan in the US-Japan joint statement. The last such mention in their joint statement was made in 1969 during Nixon-Sato talks. Disdainfully rejecting any claims that the timing of Kerry’s visit overlapping with Biden-Suga jointly plotting against China as “mere coincidence,” a Chinese commentator seriously wondered if this was “how the US wants to improve relations” with China?

    Image: Xi to attend Biden’s Earth Summit 2021   
  Source: kyivpost.com

Finally, no doubt President Biden has been consistent during the presidential campaign last year and since he took office in January this year, that “effectively tackling climate change requires cooperation with China.” But in response to Blinken and Kerry persistently seeking China’s support and cooperation on global warming, a recent statement by the foreign ministry spokesperson in Beijing, Zhao Lijian, should leave no one under any illusion why Beijing is not going to oblige Washington. “The cooperation between China and the US in certain areas such as climate change is not a flower in a greenhouse, and is bound to be closely related to all pervasive bilateral relationship,” (emphasis added) Zhao Lijian had stated.   

 Image: Biden opens Climate Summit   
   Source: people.com

No wonder, Beijing has been questioning the Biden administration’s credentials, or in other words, the US “eligibility” in seeking China’s cooperation on the so-called “areas of convergence.” It seems Beijing has seen through Biden’s “climate diplomacy” trickery. Why else ancient Chinese idiom “a weasel paying a New Year call to a chicken” – someone with evil intentions – is being invoked by scholars to describe Kerry’s “mission Shanghai?”    

The article was first published as “Kerry’s China Visit: ‘A Weasel Paying a New Year Call to a Chicken”  in Modern Diplomacy on 19 April, 2021.

Xinjiang in the Xi Era: Preliminary Remarks

Amb. Vijay Nambiar, Honorary Fellow, ICS, former Indian Ambassador to China,     and Chef de Cabinet to United Nations Secretary General

Image: Cover of Countering Internal Security Challenges in Xinjiang: Rise of Surveillance State?

For many scholars of history, the rule of Qing dynasty over Tibet, Mongolia and Xinjiang did not differ in principle from the European colonial penetration of Asia and Africa. Indeed, Manchu territorial expansion to the north, west and south of China proper was described, in magnitude, as one of the largest territorial expansions in 17th and 18th century world history.

Though the declared aim of the imperial rulers then was to “educate” the Uyghurs without changing their customs, religion, moral principles, food, clothing or language, the induction of Han administrators and the steady policy of population transfers encouraged during Qing times, led inexorably, by the end of the 19th century, to a consolidation of Manchu sovereignty and Xinjiang was turned into a province of China in 1884 bringing it under the Qing junxianzhi or Confucian-trained magistracy.

In the post-1911 (Xinhai revolution) period, Chinese leaders like Sun Yat-sen used the rhetoric of the unity of the “five peoples” [wuzu]—Manchu, Mongol, Han, Muslim, and Tibetan’ —to bring the territory under republican control. During the 1950s, under the PRC, quasi-military Han settlements called Production and Construction Corps were established in northern Xinjiang to exploit the agricultural and mineral resources and to populate the region. Han migration and settlement in Xinjiang continued over the decades and today the Han population in Xinjiang is over 40% as compared to 46% Uighurs.

Comprising one sixth of the country’s landmass, Xinjiang has abounded in natural resources, and provided China connectivity with Eurasia. While the region has faced stability challenges throughout its history, it was since the breakaway of the Central Asian republics from the USSR in 1992 that Beijing began, particularly, to see Xinjiang’s integration as a strategic and economic imperative for advancing its overall position in Central Asia.

For outsiders, the Xinjiang problem is a manifestation of identity politics, marked by the ethno-national resurgence of the Uyghur population.  This has stemmed from a prolonged history of interethnic tensions, discrimination and prejudice that have defined the policies of the Chinese state combined with other elements such as Han supremacism, the suppression of protest or dissent, as well as the repression of all forms of Islamic practice and local culture in the region. 

Within China, however, the troubles in Xinjiang are portrayed against the backdrop of the “three evil forces” (san gu shili) namely, religious extremism, ethnic separatism and terrorism, which have been the major source of internal security challenges in Xinjiang. The Chinese official media has persistently viewed Uyghur political activities through the single prism of their ethno-religious identity. Viewed as a “biological threat”, “a virus” in Chinese society that had to be eliminated, Uyghur identity was consistently projected in binary terms and its affiliation towards Islam was seen as a symptom of the “extremization” of the community and a threat to the national security of China. At the same time the Chinese state, its academics and media have constantly underlined the “sinister designs” of external terrorist organizations and the “anti-China” designs of some foreign countries.

While Hu Jintao’s focus was primarily economic development-oriented, his dictum being that functioning markets, water, electricity and heating were as much part of counter-insurgency operations as “police work and brute force,” with Xi Jinping’s accession to power, a novel approach to governance was adopted in Xinjiang in the light of what was called “new circumstances”. The new focus was firmly on advancing “social stability and permanent order” and the modernization of the Xinjiang governance system and capacity. This shift occurred primarily in the context of Xinjiang’s increased geopolitical importance in China’s neighborhood diplomacy in Central, South, and West Asia. The two main priorities of governance were to advance “ethnic unity” and promote “de-extremization”. Ethnic unity was defined as inter-ethnic relations based on parameters defined by the Party Centre. It stressed patriotism and the subordination of local identity to the larger national purpose determined by Beijing. “De-extremization” effectively meant the redefinition of all local religious and cultural practices from the viewpoint of national unity. It involved the regulation of Uyghur values, beliefs, and loyalties including adoption of dress, appearance and behavior as well as social campaigns, community events, and visual propaganda in public spaces in a manner that was instrumental to the consolidation of political stability. 

The author of Countering Internal Security Challenges in Xinjiang: Rise of Surveillance State? explains that two different trajectories were successively followed in Xinjiang by two senior party officials in the period immediately before and during the Xi Jinping era. Initially, under Zhang Chunxian, Xinjiang’s official policy of fighting extremism, violent separatism, and terrorism was pursued with great nuance by delinking religion and ethnicity from extremist ideas. Zhang mingled with people from all walks of life and brought a balanced approach by emphasising improved conditions of the people’s livelihood and by scaling down of the rhetoric of the campaign against separatism and terrorism.

However, the violent attacks inside the region and other parts of China between 2013 and 2014, and especially during Xi Jinping’s visit to Xinjiang in April 2014 changed all that.  In May 2014, Zhang Chunxian, himself in a People’s Daily article called for a “people’s war on terror” and for social stability, in which he declared that terrorists should be “chased down the streets like rats”.  This is hardly the kind of speech that would come from a moderate. In fact, though he was speaking of “terrorists”, his use of dehumanizing references is extremely revealing considering that around the world such references had invariably been used in instances where very grave crimes against humanity had subsequently taken place. Late in May 2014, the party held the famous Second Central Xinjiang Work Forum (XJWF-II) where all seven Politburo Standing Committee members attended and which signaled the new priority attached to Xinjiang by the leadership. 

With the replacement of Zhang Chunxian in August 2016 by a confirmed hardliner Chen Quanguo, it was clear that the central leadership had decided to abandon any kind of moderation in dealing with the troubles of this Muslim-dominated region. Under Chen’s leadership, counter-terrorism, stability maintenance and de-extremisation work were all integrated within a single social control system and surveillance mechanism in Xinjiang. Stern steps were also taken against all elements suspected of providing support to such forces or working against the interest of the state. A whole range of surveillance measures were adopted including physical, electronic, digital and biological surveillance, the setting up of extra-judicial detention camps as well as measures to crackdown on irregular groups mobilising any kind of local religious or cultural symbols and even targeting Uyghur pride.

Meanwhile, Xi Jinping also began to unveil his ambition of an Economic Belt linking China with the rest of Eurasia and Europe along with a Maritime Silk Road linking China through the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean all the way to the West, Xinjiang was to become the very fulcrum of this ambitious initiative.  As the main gateway to Central and West Asian as well as European markets through the land, Xinjiang could emerge as a major growth centre in Western China. The plan was to develop the region into a major logistic centre under the Initiative with a railway network in Kashgar connecting eventually to South Asia.

Crucially underpinning such a grandiose vision for the region was the assumption that a secular culture could be nurtured in this region characterized by urbanization, consumerism, education and modern communication. Such a culture, it was assumed, would replace the outmoded religious and ethnic values of the local population of Xinjiang. The new phase of economic development and integration under the Belt Road Initiative (BRI) in Xinjiang was seen as an opportunity to raise the conditions of the local population to a higher level, while, at the same time, establishing the success of the Party’s national and social security policies in Xinjiang.

But things do not seem to be panning out in this manner.  Rather Xinjiang is increasingly becoming the flashpoint of political confrontation between China and the Western powers. On the one hand, a rising China is showing off its economic successes and rise as exemplifying a new model of leadership to the world, one characterised by what Professor Yan Xuetong calls “humane authority” or “Wangdao” (kingly way) of governance, in contradistinction to what he calls the “hegemonic authority” or “Badao” of the “liberal democracies” of the West. But this is belied by the ruthless Chinese policies of detention, forced labour, forced sterilization of women of the minority Uyghur community and Han majoritarian assimilitionism inside Xinjiang.

This has produced a major international backlash, arousing condemnation of China, with calls in the UN Human Rights Council and elsewhere for China to be more accountable, for it to formally adhere to the ILO Convention against Forced Labour and for punitive measures against it including cancellation of the recently concluded investment agreement with the EU, boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics etc.

China’s official response to such charges has, predictably, been to describe them as part of a “deliberate smear” campaign, a sign of anti-China bias and illustrative of the obsolete mentality of ideological confrontation of the Cold War.

Within Xinjiang, however, it is still unclear if the state’s growing determination to control Uyghur minds, to police Uyghur society, and to reorient popular Uyghur attitudes will succeed in bringing local sentiment closer toward Beijing. The present indications, at least are not very promising.

This blog piece is based on the opening remarks by Amb. Nambiar as Chair for ICS webinar on ‘Xinjiang in the Xi Era’  held  on 14 April, 2021.

Do Bilateral Summits Mean Anything Anymore in Diplomacy?

Hemant Adlakha, Honorary Fellow, ICS

Image: Bilateral diplomacy online course     
   Source: diplomacy.edu

Abstract

“No-show” in Alaska and naked hostility with Moscow at feverish pitch  are raising a big doubt about what President Biden said in his State Department address: “Diplomacy is back at the centre of our foreign policy”.  If Biden chooses to hold a bilateral summit on the sidelines of the upcoming Earth Summit later this month, as is being speculated, who is it going to be with – Xi or Putin? 

Do bilateral summits in diplomacy mean anything anymore? As the Biden administration tries to revive the “American leadership” in the world by signalling “the end of the Trump interregnum, it is largely relying on multilateral and summit diplomacy to achieve the goal. In order to win back trust of its major allies and partners, President Biden has been bellicosely reiterating his “America is back” rhetoric. At the same time, following a spree of virtual foreign policy appearances from Munich Security Conference to G7 to more recently Quad leaders’ summit, “statesman” Biden is now desperately wanting to hold a summit diplomacy with the leader of a major country – not an ally or a friendly leader. The purpose will only be served if a bilateral summit is held with a competitor nation or with an “enemy” power. The sooner it is done, the better. The White House admits its heightened expectations for Biden-Xi summit if the Alaska talks were productive.

Following the World War II, summit diplomacy or conference diplomacy between heads of government became the “New Normal” as the advent of new technology accelerated the tempo of diplomacy. The practice of world leaders calling each other on telephone in the 1930s was epitomized as “hot line” by the Soviet and American leaders. The establishment of the Munich Agreement in 1938 was the result of British Prime Minister, Chamberlain’s flights to Germany – a new trend in diplomacy. Taunting “air diplomacy” of the leaders of the colonial and imperialist powers in the West during the post-war decades, a Ghanaian diplomat once remarked, “Radio enables people to hear all evil, television enables them to see all evil, and the jet plane enables them to go off and do all evil.”


Image: President Biden awaits Xi or Putin?           
Source: moderndiplomacy.eu  

                                     

But summit diplomacy entails risks too. A point well-articulated by the Burgundian diplomat Philippe de Commynes six centuries ago: “Two great princes who wish to establish good personal relations should never meet each other face to face, but ought to communicate through good and wise emissaries.” 

Trump-Kim summit diplomacy not too long ago, ridiculed by the Democrats as “treason,” serves a good example. Surely, neither Trump (obviously) nor Kim Jung-un (not expected of him) had enough intellectual resources to be aware of the wisdom left behind for modern day diplomacy by the 15th century diplomat and chronicler cited above. Yet even most bitter critics of President Trump’s foreign policy enthusiastically welcomed the prospect of a Trump-Kim first summit in 2018, despite being fully aware the outcome would least lessen (nuclear) tensions on the Korean peninsula. Why? “It’s delightful to watch Donald Trump discombobulate the bipartisan American national security and foreign policy establishment with his impulsive assent to talks with DPRK leader,” is what Jim Kavanagh, the editor of The Polemicist wrote within days after the news of Trump-Kim summit was first made public.

The other good example of risks involved in face-to-face diplomacy, as Philippe de Commynes had warned, is the “2+2” meeting in Anchorage, Alaska between the top “pair” of emissaries of the worlds’ two largest powers two weeks ago. Too much has been already been written on the frothy exchange which was everything but diplomatic for us to chew. For the early reactions on the no-show in Alaska, my two articles – one a couple of days before the talks and one a day after the opening day talks – reflect the heightened tensions produced and not abated by the dialogue in Alaska.

Perhaps, a bigger setback entailed in the anti-climax at Alaska was the dashing of all hopes of much anticipated possible virtual Biden-Xi summit on the sidelines of the upcoming Earth Day global leaders gathering on April 22. “Beijing is seeking a meeting between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping next month if the first high-level U.S.-China talks in Alaska starting Thursday are productive,” a Bloomberg report claimed while the two-day high-level diplomatic tete a tete was still being held in Anchorage. A similar claim was made by VOA news on the eve of the dialogue to be held in Alaska. “U.S. President Joe Biden could meet virtually with Chinese President Xi Jinping as early as April 22, as Biden hosts the ‘Global Leaders Climate Summit’ in Washington on Earth Day,” speculated Nike Ching of the US largest broadcaster

Image: Biden’s China policy…?        
Source: nytimes.com             

Yet the optimists in Beijing welcomed the Alaska outcome and called it “testy opening dialogue”. “Although Antony Blinken was very blunt in talking about a fight between rivals, he did not officially single out China,” observed Professor Shen Dingli of Institute of International Studies, Fudan University, one of China’s globally most respected US affairs watchers based in Shanghai. “The two-day, three-session talks did yield more than symbolic deliverables. Such frank exchanges of dissatisfaction could well become the new normal between China and the U.S.,” Shen Dingli commented.

Who will Biden choose to hold bilateral summit first? A summit with Iran is ruled out at the outset. For two reasons – Biden’s decision to bomb Syria and Team Biden’s condition that Tehran returns to compliance with JCPOA or the Iran deal, i.e. limitations on its nuclear development. Summit with Kim Jung-un was out of question even before Pyongyang fired two ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan last Thursday – the first such violation of ballistic missile test ban since Biden became the US President. Two additional reasons are: the DPRK vehemently opposing the US-South Korea joint military exercises; the North Korean refusal to denuclearize without the US first committing to not using nuclear weapons against Pyongyang.

This leaves Biden to choose between Beijing and Moscow. Norman Soloman, who founded the Institute of Public Accuracy in Washington a quarter of a century ago, has appealed for an urgent Biden-Putin Summit in an article last Tuesday. “The spate of mutual denunciations is catnip for mass media and fuel for hardliners in both countries,” Soloman wrote. The urgency in Soloman’s appeal has arisen from the recent outbreak of rhetorical hostilities between White House and Kremlin thanks to Biden’s undiplomatic remark of calling Putin a “killer.” To which Putin replied in his characteristic style, saying “It takes one to know one.” Interestingly, in Moscow’s assessment the Biden remark confirms “He [Biden] doesn’t want normalization” with Kremlin. In other words, this implies no prospects whatsoever of an early Biden-Putin summit.

   Image: Will Biden-Putin summit happen soon?   
  Source: asia.granthshala.com

On the other hand, despite no-show fiasco in Alaska, there is more than one reason to expect a virtual Biden-Xi summit on Earth Day next month. First, as Professor Shen Dingli, cited above, said: “According to the post-dialogue statements of both sides, Beijing and Washington have agreed to set up a joint working group on climate”. Echoing similar sentiments, senior US officials have described the need for the world’s two largest carbon emitters to cooperate with each other on climate change as a “critical standalone issue”. Second, although ruling out that China is in any kind of hurry to hold summit meeting with Biden, Professor Cui Lei of influential think-tank, China Institute of International Studies, agreed on the likelihood of a virtual summit between the two leaders on climate change: “When positive achievements in these areas take place, there will be ample reason for the two heads of state or senior officials to meet,” Third but not the last, following the appointment of John Kerry as the US Special Envoy for Climate, China followed suit and brought back its most well-known environment official Xie Zhenhua from retirement as special climate envoy. Xie, China’s chief negotiator for the Copenhagen Accord or COP 15 has been described by friend Kerry as “environment man, not geo-politics man.”

Finally, oblivious of the warning by Philippe de Commynes, and going by all positive indications in the spirit of Biden’s earlier remark during Chinese Lunar New Year telcon with Xi on areas of convergence of interest between the two competing powers, Biden and Xi virtual summit in April or in Singapore’s “Davos” WEF from May 25-28 may not promise anything but will be a welcome move to just ease tensions by “opening champagne and celebrating via the internet”. Or, as they in Chinese: “ganbei!”                                             

This is revised, updated version of an earlier article “Biden’s Summit Diplomacy: Who will he choose first, Xi or Putin?” published in Modern Diplomacy on 2 April, 2021.