Book Review: Brendan Taylor, Dangerous Decade: Taiwan’s Security and Crisis Management (London: Taylor and Francis, 2019) pp.264 ISBN 978-0-367-43748-0

Amogh Sharma, Research Intern, ICS

On A ‘conflict hotspot’ is what Brendan Taylor, author of the book ‘Dangerous Decade: Taiwan’s Security and Crisis Management’ calls the situation across the Taiwan Strait. A Professor at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University(ANU), Taylor is a specialist in Asia-Pacific and East Asian’ flashpoints’ and Asian security architecture. In the book, Taylor argues that the situation in Taiwan looks increasingly precarious, and flaring tensions could create a major strategic conflict. A crisis could brew slowly as a new Cold War grows to hold over the US and China or erupt suddenly with an accidental collision of military ships or aircraft operating in the Taiwan Strait. He proceeds to say that the possibility of conflicts over Taiwan is real and intensifying by the day and despite this, it is not being treated with the seriousness and urgency the situation deserves. Taylor espouses robust countering mechanisms to deal with the situation to avoid an affair with global ramifications.

The book is structured into four chapters, and the author has used this division to present the situation as of 2019. Building upon previous books by Richard C. Bush and Michael J. Cole that dealt with the previous two decades, Taylor focuses on changes and potential flashpoints in the Taiwan Strait towards the end of the 2010s. The first three chapters deal with the past, present, and potential conflict zones between three powers in the region. The first chapter takes a historical perspective on the conflict, and  Taylor describes China, Taiwan and the United States’ stakes in the conflict.

The gulf between the first two stakeholders, Taiwan and China, is growing rapidly today. The author cites a Lowy Institute survey that says those under the age of 29 living in Taiwan consider themselves ‘exclusively Taiwanese’. Post-Mao leaders have adopted a wait-and-see approach; reunification has always been an inevitable fact for the Chinese leadership. However, with each progressing year, younger generations in Taiwan identify lesser and lesser with being “Chinese”, and mainland China is wary of letting this sentiment grow. The author says Xi has been tougher toward Taiwan to retain the image of a single group of people.

The third stakeholder in this scenario is the United States. Washington has traditionally been a deterrent against Beijing’s use of force against Taiwan while at the same time dissuading Taiwan from splitting away completely. But the rapid rate at which Chinese military advancements overcame Taiwanese forces and continued to catch up with the US has resulted in a rise in stronger anti-China sentiments among the American leadership, which Taylor spends significant time dealing with through the actions of the Trump administration such as their reaffirmation of the Taiwan Relations Act in the 2019 National Defence Authorization Act. Growing strain between the US and China has detrimental effects on cross-strait peace, which was seen during Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan trip in 2022.

Taylor is at home in the second chapter. Using his expertise in South Asian military architecture, he compares the nation’s military capabilities and relates them to varying escalation points. This raises questions at first glance. Does the existence of a certain number of frigates imply that in a conflict, they could be pointed all at once towards Taiwan? It is to be thought about Chinese conflicts with Japan, India, the Philippines and other countries. Will these conflicts not play into the deployment of Chinese forces in the Strait?

Despite an expanding military toolbox, Beijing deemphasised the use of military coercion against the island, fearing an American response. But with American influence slowly declining after Tsai Ing Wen’s reelection, China seems to be getting restless. Taylor cites this as an example of international stakeholders not taking the situation seriously. As Chinese power grows, he notes, so does the number of new methods it can use to address its ‘Taiwan problem’. Due to  growing Chinese power and declining US influence, Chinese incentives to navigate this situation via force only increase. Even a slight miscalculation or misconception could be deadly, according to the author.

The author borrows the term tipping points from Malcolm Gladwell, the Canadian journalist, to describe four possible situations in the Cross-Strait scenario which could cause the whole status quo to go awry, forming some of the book’s best reads in Chapter Three. According to the author, these tipping points might lead to the collapse of peace across the Strait and result in a full-blown worldwide conflict, which he begins by describing an ‘accidental’ crossing of Beijing’s ‘red lines’. The “red lines” are a  vague concept, almost akin to the US “strategic ambiguity” towards Taiwan. Even sending a senior official for the opening of new American Institute in Taiwan was seen as crossing a Chinese “red line”. Taylor cites historic flashpoints which could easily have caused a kerfuffle such as the accidental Taiwanese missile firing in 2016 and the infamous intentional crossing of the median line by two J-11 fighters in March 2019.  Taylor points out that due to the lack of a formal agreement between Taiwan and China like the  Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea for Asian nations, there are no systems of checks and balance between the two.

Taiwan’s salience for the US remains its commercial importance. The idea that Taiwan could become a proxy in this new cold war was brought up, and the author delves briefly on how the Taiwanese can use it to their advantage. Although Taiwan is not a formal US ally, the author believes that the level of US commitment towards Taiwan could influence their relations with other East Asian nations like Japan. He continues that the stakeholders are standing along a hair-triggered border. Even a slight infraction could result in calamitous results. 

In the fourth chapter, the author lists possible ways this circumstance could go, and they all get progressively dire, from peace agreements to catastrophic conflict. The policy options like the inclusion of Taiwan in the CPTPP, and potential bargains between the two countries do not even account for the world-changing COVID-19 pandemic or the Presidential race in the United States as it was published in 2019. The policy options suggested by the author emphasise a step-based-situational approach instead of a long-term thought. Overall, the text exhibits Brendan Taylor’s understanding of the dispute with the larger logistics of the three stakeholders involved. The only issue is that three years have passed since its publication, and the “status quo” has changed.  The ADIZ intrusions that caused large-scale unrest were absent when the book was published. However, it is an interesting entry for even a lay person to enlighten themselves about the ‘conflict hotspot’ in the east.

Book Review: Rewriting Gender: Reading Contemporary Chinese women

Taal Seth, Research Intern, ICS

Book Review: Rewriting Gender: Reading Contemporary Chinese women by Ravni Thakur, London, Cynthia Street, 1997, published by Zed Books Ltd, ISBN 1-85649-410-1 (Paperback)

Through Rewriting Gender, Ravni Thakur conducts research on the lives of women in post-Mao Chinese society. She imagines gender roles as discursive practices, reproduced through their representations in literature and other texts. To this end, she conducts discourse analysis of prevalent works of literature written by women writers as well as their literary criticism that were published between the end of the Cultural Revolution (1976) and the suppression of pro-democratic protests at Tiananmen Square (1989). The author chooses this timeline as it coincides with the rise in the number of women authors at this time. Moreover, it allows her to study reflections on ideals of gender set in place by Confucianism, socialist realism as well as by the changing face of Chinese society under Deng Xiaoping.

The central theoretical argument of the book is that the social institution of gender is a discursive practice that gets produced by and reproduced in literature. Thakur employs Michel Foucault’s concept of knowledge production as the basis of her theoretical framework. To apply this work in her particular research, she uses Pierre Bourdieu’s tenets of literary analysis and knowledge production within the ‘the literary field’ for discourse analysis of Chinese literature. She creates a distinction between orthodox and heterodox thoughts on gender roles and the position of women in society, which is reflected in the prevalent literature of the period. She observes that the theme of socialist realism was enforced in orthodox literature. Through socialist realism, Thakur refers to a literary theme wherein characters within a story are expected to stand as role models for the readership, and the stories are supposed to deliver a moral message in line with the tenets of Chinese socialism. This is done on the basis of Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of ‘discourses of power’ (which she relates with orthodox discourses in Chinese literature) and ‘discourses of resilience’ (represented in the heterodox gender discourse in Chinese literature).

The introduction of the book highlights its two main questions: what is the orthodox discourse on gender roles and how does heterodox discourse challenge it? The book is divided into two parts to answer these questions. Thakur uses the first chapters of each part to lay down the theoretical background. In the first part of the book, ‘Orthodox Gender Discourse and the Literary Field,’ she reviews secondary literature on the discourse of ‘labour heroines’ championed during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, when the popular political attempt was to revive and accelerate economic growth within and through Chinese society. In contrast was the post-Cultural Revolution period, when women’s natural worth was founded in motherhood and familial loyalties.

Thakur argues that the most obvious signifier of orthodox thought in Chinese literary circles is the very attempt to club women writers together and to assert that their work has a distinct voice from men’s. She primarily reviews literary criticisms on the works of women authors such as Ru Zhijuan, Zong Pu, Zhang Jie, Shen Rong etc. and argues that this literature is stuck in a prison architectured by China’s party-state, which limited authors from exploring uncharted themes. Thakur also argues that literary criticism for women’s work falls short, since there was no framework in place to critique women’s work; this is because of the sudden rise of women authors in China along with the very small number of women critics to prepare a framework.

The second part of the book titled ‘Responses to Gender Discourse,’ engages with literary works that display heterodox thought. In this part, the author reviews works of writers whose criticism was analysed in the first part. Specifically, she studies characters and settings, the theoretical model for which is outlined in Chapter 4 (A Methodology for Character Analysis). Through this section, she breaks down the myth of the nuxing wenue or women’s writings, by bringing forth the divergent themes, stories, and styles of writing in different popular works authored by women (displayed in Thakur’s analysis of Zhang Jie’s The Ark and Zhang Xinxin’s On the Same Horizon). Thakur argues that whilst the orthodox discourse enjoys institutional power, heterodox discourse has the power of resistance, of bringing radical ideas into the minds of the public. This is reflected in her book title that expresses that the literary field is a breeding ground for change in gender roles that are being rewritten during this period  (‘rewriting gender’).

Thakur’s research testifies that there is a strand of literature in China which subjectifies women by exploring the voices of women characters instead of adopting the orthodox mainstream thought propagated by the Chinese state. In this part of the book, there is a self-conscious change in the question asked itself. Heterodox discourse challenges the orthodox discourse not by questioning particular tenets of socialist realism, but by asserting that there should be no singular thought that attempts to describe all women — that Chinese women are subjects who cannot be judged through one arbitrary framework.

While the book employs theories about literary and discourse analysis that originate in the West, they are adapted to the specific Chinese context thoughtfully, with attention given to the type of literary communities that exist in China, how works of literature are published and distributed, and the scope of the agency women are given to write their own stories. This is reflected in the attention paid to literary criticism given to the writers’ work, keeping in mind the institutionalisation of this criticism. In this way, Rewriting Gender provides a strong methodological framework for discourse analysis of the literary field to understand social relations in China.

***

The views expressed here are those of the author(s), and not necessarily of the mentor or the Institute of Chinese Studies.

Smog Stories: A Tale of Two Cities

-Amogh Sharma, Research Intern, ICS

Introduction

Every winter, newspapers in India are flooded with articles about the national capital, New Delhi, succumbing to haze-filled skies and poor air quality. Citizens are subject to distressing reminders of the increasing pollution, with schools being shut for as long astwo weeks to protect young students from respiratory issues like asthma and pneumonia. Decreased visibility leads to horrific accidents on highways. This seasonal return of poor quality is the smog problem. Another Asian capital, the city of Beijing, was often involved in the same conversation. However, there is a difference in the way the situations were handled in both cities. This blog aims to observe and investigate these differences.

International Guidelines

The word smog is a portmanteau of the words smoke and fog. This term was coined in 1905 by Dr Henry Antoine Des Voeux to describe a “smoky fog” in the skies of London. Around the 1950s, the term gained widespread usage to describe the air conditions around London and Los Angeles. In 1987, the WHO published its report[4] on global air quality guidelines for the first time. The guidelines were crafted as quantitative, evidence-based information whose goal is to assist policymakers in creating policies that mitigate the risks posed to public health by air pollution. These guidelines have been regularly updated, the most recent in 2006 and 2021. The quantitative measure used to formulate these guidelines[5] is often the PM2.5 concentration levels in micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m³). PM2.5 is a particulate matter made of particles 25 microns or smaller in diameter. It is considered one of the most dangerous due to its prevalence and harmful effects. PM2.5 particles are released from running vehicles, factory production, stubble burning in agriculture, construction processes, and residential coal burning. Natural events like forest fires and dust storms also release these particles. Although new research says no level of PM2.5 is healthy, the recommended levels are 5 µg/m³. In highly polluted countries, incremental steps of 10, 15, 25 and 35 µg/m³ were recommended by the WHO. Using these stats scientists have been able to correlate the amounts of particles in the air, and corresponding stresses to humans.

Empowering the World to Breathe Cleaner Air | IQAir

China’s Smog Problem: A Case Study of Beijing

By 2008, China was the second-largest energy consumer in the world, but fossil fuels met only 8 per cent of its demand. Increasing population, urbanization, and industrialization increased airborne pollutants immensely. Today, China is the largest producer and consumer of coal, and coal is one of the significant causes of PM 2.5 pollution.

In Beijing, the smog problem can be traced as far back as 600 years. The Chinese language has many terms for ‘smog’, but wumai and hui-mai are the most popular terms. ‘Wumai’ has been used to describe a mixture of smoke and fog for decades, but wumai as a concept of dangerous pollution took weight only recently as in 2013. Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences published a report on fighting climate change had pointed out that the haze and smog problem was at the worst it had been since 1961. This event was called the “Great Eastern China Smog”. At the time, Wang Anshun, Bejing’s mayor called the city “unlivable”.

In 2012, 78.6% of energy was provided by coal production. Seven of the top twenty-five cities located in industrialized areas (which were heavily dependent on coal) were in the vicinity of Beijing. The mountain regions to the west and the north blocked this heavy pollution in Beijing, up to 1000 µg/m³ at some points in 2013. Other factors adding to the grey skies over Beijing included vehicular exhaust, crop burning and fireworks.

Great Eastern China Smog, 7 December 2013
Smog Shrouds Eastern China (nasa.gov)
Same region, 3 January 2022
A Winter Haze Over China (nasa.gov)

Beijing’s Plan of Action

To address this severe air pollution crisis, the State Council of China created one of the toughest Air Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan towards the end of 2013. Three regions were targeted Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region (BTH), the Yangtze River Delta region (YRD), and the Pearl River Delta region (PRD). The strict regulations entailed rigid industrial emission standards, phasing out small and polluting factories, upgrading the industrial boilers, promoting clean fuels in the residential sector, and strengthening vehicle emission standards. 


Between 2013 and 2017, PM2.5 concentrations in Beijing decreased from 68 µg/m³ to 42 µg/m³. From 2017 to 2021, air quality improved further in the next five years to just under 35µg/m³. The regular monitoring and regulation of the action plan showed marked improvement in the air quality index. In the past ten years, China’s ranking dropped from the top to 22nd in the PM2.5 concentration rankings. There is a marked difference in satellite images of the region taken by NASA’s Terra satellite. However, as Anshun says, the companies that “irresponsibly relocate” to neighbouring areas of Hebei and Tianjin are not solving the problem at all.

India’s Smog Problem: A Case Study of New Delhi

New Delhi has faced international controversies regarding its air quality for ages. In 2010, concerns were raised about the city prior to its organization of the Commonwealth Games. There was quite an uproar in early 2014 when New Delhi surpassed Bejing as the world’s most polluted city in the Environmental Performance Index. The PM2.5 rating was around 100 in New Delhi, much higher than Beijing’s 68. In 2017, Delhi was once again in the news when the visiting Sri Lankan team refused to play in the adverse conditions. In 2021, this value was 85 for New Delhi, but almost a 50% drop for Beijing at 34.

Between November 1 and 7, 2016, New Delhi faced a Severe Air Pollution Episode (SAPE) called the “Great Indian Smog“. Industrial activities, construction released pollutants, vehicular exhaust gases, dust from roads and power plant emissions were often listed as the principal culprits in this scenario. However, an additional cause was the casual stubble burning by farmers in the neighbouring agricultural belt. Farmers traditionally burn the stubble in their fields yearly to prepare for the subsequent crops. These farmers are reluctant to use more environmentally friendly methods like hiring machines to uproot and roll the stubble back into the field because of the costs involved. NASA’s Terra satellite shows numerous fires burning across the region; the soot mixes with the seasonal fog, creating the harmful smog.

New Delhi’s Plan of Action

India has undeniably made efforts to combat this issue in recent years, including New Delhi’s large fleet of CNG buses. The government added parking fees for nights to discourage driving to work, and the number of metro trains was increased. United effort from government and non-government players has been essential to the changes visible in the capital. The most significant push was provided in 2017 by the GRAP (Graded Response Action Plan) in New Delhi, created by the Central Pollution Control Board.  If the air in Delhi were severely polluted for more than 48 hours, trucks would not be allowed to enter the city, and all construction work in the region would be halted. Several similar measures were clearly defined in the plan. Experts believe that the creation of expressways to bypass the city, a ban on PET Coke as industrial fuel, and the introduction of BS-VI fuel have also helped this drop.

Data from Delhi Pollution Control Committee, 2019

In October 2021, while announcing a new ten-point “Winter-Action-Plan” Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal was quoted as saying that despite the ambitious graded action plan, pollution in Delhi was a direct consequence of stubble burning in neighbouring states. A collaborative plan is of absolute necessity.

Berkeley Earth (18/04/2022) Map of Air Quality
Red is unhealthy, Orange is unhealthy for sensitive groups, Yellow is moderate, Green is good.
There is still a long way to go for both countries.

A recent satellite image from Berkeley-Earth’s website shows us the levels of pollution still present in these regions. The governments in both cities had set ambitious targets, but even these are too small to counter the devastating effects. Even as recent as April 2022, Delhi is a stark maroon and there is a similar story for Beijing. At some point, the nations have to decide between their extensive development and competitive strategies and take a far-sighted approach. It is increasingly important to shift from just bringing down a mere stat like PM2.5 or AQI, and listen to the people who suffer every day because of it.

Conclusions

However, there is a marked difference in how these crises were handled in Beijing and New Delhi. Beijing favoured a heavy top-down approach, and similar strategies cannot be applied in New Delhi. For example, the “Parade Blue” phenomenon in Beijing, where stringent policing by the Chinese government makes for clear skies around special events. Such measures are not possible in India, whereas in Bejing, it was censored from the internet. In an authoritative political regime, it is easier to enforce rulings without opposition. It, however, remains to be seen how New Delhi is able to adopt a participative approach to tackle this issue in the Indian context.

The Blog was written under the guidance and supervision of Dr. Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman,Independent Researcher and Consultant (International Relations, Transboundary Rivers and Borders) and Visiting Faculty (Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati). The views expressed here are those of the author(s), and not necessarily of the mentor or the Institute of Chinese Studies.

Biden’s Dilemma to or not to Lift Tariffs on Chinese Imports

-Hemant Adlakha

Lift China Tariffs? – WSJ
Image: wsj.com

Increased tariffs didn’t cause high inflation, lifting them is not going to curb it either, experts say

Easy monetary policy, expansionary fiscal policy, rising oil prices, the war in Ukraine, and not the additional tariffs on Chinese imports are among the key factors for the record-high 8% US inflation currently. Facing the midterm elections this fall and with approval ratings as low as 39%, President Biden is under mounting pressure to reduce the additional tariffs from the Trump era. However, with over 82% of Americans holding a negative view of China at present, will or can Biden risk lifting China tariffs and appear looking weak before the US’s enemy number one?

In March 2018, when President Trump announced his administration’s decision to increase tariffs on imports from China, the move was welcomed by most Americans. Those endorsing a “trade war” with China ignored the view that the so-called punitive measures against China would adversely impact US consumers and the economy. This is a midterm election year but President Biden’s approval ratings are as low as a miserable 39%. Biden is now eighteen months into his presidency and still struggling to evolve the administration’s China policy. His dilemma at the present is, should he 1) risk selling “reduce China tariffs” as a panacea to solve a troubled economy to the US voters; 2) “reduce China tariffs” and risk appearing weak before China?

Contrast Nixon’s opening of America to China half a century ago with Biden shutting off China to America today. No one in the early 1970s accused or even considered the Nixon administration “going weak before the communists in Beijing.” Instead, his handshake with Mao was hailed as a geopolitical venture orchestrated by Kissinger. Moreover, no China but the Soviet Union was the US’s main enemy then. However, President Biden today is confronted with a China most Americans fear as the most important threat to US interests.

It is beyond dispute that the imposition of 25% tariffs on Chinese imports worth over $300bn into the US four years ago, also called the US-China “tariff war,” was the beginning of Washington’s long-term China policy of confrontation and containment. It is also beyond doubt that eighteen months into the Biden presidency, notwithstanding the raging Ukraine war in Europe, the United States has become more singularly focused on one country: China. Recall President Biden’s recent Asia visit which took him past China into Japan and South Korea but the US political elite and media alike applauded the five-day Indo-Pacific trip for its one-point agenda, i.e. an aggressive and belligerent China.

Biden chose to kick off his first Asia visit on May 20 by going to Seoul, with the aim of meeting newly elected South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol in order to shore up the US-South Korea alliance which had been “weakened” under the previous Moon Jae-in era; he then traveled into Japan and launched the 13-country Indo-Pacific Economic Fram work on his first evening spent in Tokyo; on his second day in the Japanese capital his agenda was to reinvigorate Quad – the four-nation quadrilateral security mechanism anti-China clique which is increasingly being referred to as “Asian NATO” not just in Beijing but also in Washington, Tokyo, Canberra, and New Delhi.

Additionally, although it is claimed the IPEF is Biden’s attempt to fill up the so-called vacuum in the Asian economy created after President Trump had pulled out America from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Yet the truth is this was more of Biden’s assertion that “America is back” in Asia-Pacific geopolitics. On the other hand, the Quad leaders’ summit, the second in-person meeting of the leaders of the four countries in just eight months, was aimed at signaling to Beijing that despite Covid-19, the war in Ukraine, and the record-high inflation in the US, the Biden administration has not lost focus on the fact that China is its main enemy.

On May 24, as Biden wrapped up his maiden journey into Asia and returned to Washington, he created two records to be remembered by posterity. One, Biden became the first sitting US president in this century who did not visit China in the first year of his presidency. Second, Biden now also holds the record of the longest gap since the last visit to Beijing by a US president – Biden’s predecessor Trump last visited China in November 2017. The second of the two records is more significant and has major implications not only for US-China relations but also for world politics.

It is important to know why Biden skipped going to China during his maiden trip to the Asia-Pacific region. To be fair to President Biden and to his China team, it was announced way back in January this year that his itinerary would not include Beijing. But why? For the following reasons.

First, it is indeed true when Biden took office it was a fraught moment for the US-China relationship. Let us just suffice by flagging the two key issues facing the world’s most important bilateral relationships left behind by the previous administration, the Sino- American relations. One, Trump’s economic warfare against China over the past several years had, as was expected, not only bizarrely failed but also harmed the US farmers in particular and consumers in general. Two, the timing of the US withdrawal from the TPP and China’s forging ahead with the largest regional economic and trade grouping – the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, not only saw China’s economic influence in Southeast Asia expand but at the same time the US political and economic presence in the region entered a phase of dangerously huge uncertainty.

Second, in such a scenario, President Biden was faced with two choices before formulating a new China strategy. One was to carry on with the tough stance on both China and Xi Jinping displayed throughout his presidential campaign, during which he even called the Chinese president a “thug.” The other was to explore an out-of-the-box way to seek conciliation with China. The second option deserved serious consideration for a few simple reasons, namely a) China was not at all a weak economy like the Soviet Union before it collapsed in the 1980s; b) China not only had a strong international standing but was well-integrated into the world economy; c) China had a stable leadership. However, the politician in Biden dominated the economist in him. Biden chose to “punish” Beijing by making sure that “China does not succeed in surpassing the US as the world leader.”

Third, as observed by some US political analysts, not including a visit to China as part of Biden’s recently concluded Asia tour itinerary, has as much to do with US domestic audiences as with US foreign policy or the China policy. This also explains why as Biden took office, he promised to reverse several of the Trump administration’s policies but not the China strategy. Obviously, the Biden administration was aware the dislike for China had been rising among Americans – 46% in 2018, 67 % in 2021, and an unprecedentedly high percentage of 82% today. These figures explain the unmistakably close link between popular negative views and the current administration’s approach toward China.

A more crucial factor in addition to the anti-China “wave” currently prevailing in the United States is what Susan B. Glasser, the veteran US political analyst observed in her column in The New Yorker: “There is no doubt that Biden’s had a brutal second spring in office. The sense of metastasizing crisis threatens to overwhelm any other story about his leadership.” Further, citing the Democratic strategist Doug Sosnik’s observation that in the past four midterm elections public had made up its mind about the leadership in

Washington, she added “June is more or less the last chance for a president and his party to somehow change course and avert a looming political debacle in the fall.” The politician in Joe Biden knew very well the American voter had welcomed Trump’s economic warfare against China. The poor economist as he is, President Biden, ignored when told increased tariffs on Chinese imports had no negative impact on the Chinese economy but acted as a boomerang on the US economy. Now, clueless as to what to do with four-decade high inflation, and also without a clue whatsoever about how to reverse his declining approval rate, Biden is under mounting pressure to lift the tariffs in order to woo voters in midterm elections this fall. But the big question is, Biden, whose favorite line before becoming the US President had been “Here is the deal,” and who, as President, has become infamous for saying “What can I do” and “I can’t make that happen,” can he go against the popular will and lift China tariffs and risk looking go weak before Beijing in a midterm election year?

The views expressed here are those of the author(s), and not necessarily of the mentor or the Institute of Chinese Studies.

ADIZ Antipathy in Cross-Strait Relations

Amogh Sharma, Research Intern, ICS

Introduction

On the 1st October 2021, the Ministry of National Defense of Taiwan reported the sighting of 38 PLAAF aircraft in Taiwan’s air defence identification zone. The combined fleet of jet fighters and nuclear-capable bombers flew in the vicinity of Taiwan-controlled Pratas islands in the southeast of Taiwan. These aircraft were met with radio warnings and scrambled Taiwanese jets. The Taiwanese Premier Su Tseng-chang gave a statement immediately after the incident, criticising these military aircraft manoeuvres by China within the Taiwanese air defence zone, which he deemed an act of “bullying.”

The Chinese responded by sending over 150+ sorties into the ADIZ over the next five days, which outnumbered the total number of incursions previously in that year. These events have been followed by daily flybys of Chinese aircraft and have created uncertainty in the region. This uncertainty builds up between the two sparring states, and observers fear broader, more calamitous incursions.

ADIZ and Aerospace

These aircraft incursions occurred in Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ). In the dawn of commercial flights, nations attempted to generate a uniform code for regulating the air via international treaties. In 1944, the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation established the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). In its first three articles, the convention defines airspace and each country’s exclusive sovereignty over its airspace. The airspace is a legal entity enshrined in the convention. A country’s airspace extends 22 km from its boundaries (12 nautical miles).

The United States was the first country to define its ADIZ in the 1950s, and Annex 15 of the ICAO defines it as a “Special designated airspace of defined dimensions within which aircraft are required to comply with special identification and/or reporting procedures additional to those related to the provision of air traffic services (ATS).” There is no legal provision for the ADIZ yet. Many countries have, however, maintained it for security purposes. It is customary for aircrafts entering the ADIZ to give identification and seek authorisation from the country controlling the zone. The ADIZ is merely a safety measure, but since it is not an international rule, it is often the site of disputes and conflicts. Especially in the cross-strait region of China and Taiwan.

China’s Ambition in the Region

President Xi Jinping has stressed that “China has never, and will never, invade or bully others or seek hegemony.” This statement is in direct contrast to Chinese actions surrounding Taiwan. Despite repeatedly pledging a ‘peaceful reunification, it is a fact that China still considers Taiwan a ‘renegade province’.  There is no doubt amongst Chinese policymakers that reunification of Taiwan is a target for the PRC; their views vary on when and how this should happen. In his book, ‘Return of The Dragon‘, analyst Denny Roy talks about two schools of thought: the ‘patient’ and the ‘impatient’.  The patient group adheres to Deng Xiaoping’s approach of building cross-strait ties and trust, using both to integrate Taiwan over time slowly. The impatient group does not believe there is time for this slow integration, but a quick resolution, even if  a military occupation is used,  is necessary. These ideas have surged in popularity under the current regime. As Xi asserted during the initial years of his presidency, it is time the two sides reach a ‘final solution‘. Xi Jinping, during a meeting with the Taiwanese delegation at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum, Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia. (October, 2013) said “The issue of the political divide that exists between the two sides must step by step reach a final resolution and it cannot be passed on from generation to generation.”

It is unclear how favourable this solution shall be to both parties, as legislations like Article 8 of the ‘Anti-Secession Law’ in China, which allow the use of force for reunification, continue to offset democratic Taiwan. Nevertheless, Xi has made reunification a centrepiece of his ‘China Dream’, a return to glory for the Middle Kingdom. In March 2018, while addressing the National People’s Congress, Xi thundered that Taiwanese separatism ‘will be condemned by the Chinese people and punished by history’.  And four days after the highest burst of aircraft activity in Taiwanese ADIZ in recent memory (one day before Taiwan National Day in 2021), Xi remarked that “The historical task of the complete reunification of the motherland must be fulfilled, and will definitely be fulfilled,”

ADIZ Incursions and Reactions

The 180 km-wide Taiwan Strait is divided by a ‘Median Line’, which till the late 90s was the boundary line between the two countries. When Chinese forces grew in strength over their island neighbours, so did their confidence in crossing this line. Now, the 80 km line is far from the 22 km sovereign airspace, but the flagrant violation of previous understandings after increased power gave a glimpse of Chinese views on this issue.

Map and research by Louis Martin-Vézian of CIGeography

In April 2019, two PLAAF J-11s crossed the median line by 43 nautical miles and stayed there for an abnormally long 12 minutes. Usual violations are accidental due to poor weather or pilot error, but this was the most extended violation since the 1950s. Observers suggest that the motive was provocative rather than accidental. Since the Ministry of National Defence (MND) of Taiwan began recording violations of the ADIZ in 2020, these instances have kept increasing; peaking on specific occasions like National Days or the Huan Kuang exercise.

Beyond just political reasons, several legalities hinder Taiwan’s international appeal against China’s provocations. The United States, which has been a significant player in pushing for ADIZs, does not recognise Taiwan’s ADIZ. Moreover, Taiwan has been excluded from the ICAO since the 70s, when China was given its spot.  Effectively this makes them a single country for the ICAO. Hampered by these liabilities, supported by a weakened US in the region and a rising rival to the East, Taiwan can only try to keep up and maintain vigil over its security.

Conclusions

Taiwanese reunification with mainland China is a central aspect of Xi Jinping’s future vision of China. With a declining American influence, the fate of Taiwan looks increasingly precarious. Not just limited to economic and diplomatic pressure, China is using its military strength aggressively. 

China has ambitions in the South China Sea and regards Taiwan as a pivotal link to its growing power range. Taiwan is a symbol of American presence in China’s periphery, and the increasing rivalry between the global giants is a cause of concern for the small island nation. Taiwan is at a critical junction, a confluence point for two powers, and a hotspot for conflicts. It is an uneasy status quo, and renewed strategic recourses are the need of the hour. Temporary measures like observer status in the ICAO for Taiwan (similar to its presence in WHO until recently) and discussions regarding regulations of ADIZ could be some steps in a direction towards greater peace.

The Blog was written under the guidance and supervision of Dr. Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman,Independent Researcher and Consultant (International Relations, Transboundary Rivers and Borders) and Visiting Faculty (Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati). The views expressed here are those of the author(s), and not necessarily of the mentor or the Institute of Chinese Studies.

RUSSIA-UKRAINE CRISIS: China Looking for ‘Opportunity’ amid Ukraine War

Hemant Adlakha,   Vice Chairperson, ICS and Associate Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Myths are an essential part of all forms of human narrative. Myth-making, likewise, is central to all academic disciplines. Diplomacy or foreign policy as a field of study is no exception. Even more significantly, both construction of myth as well as sometimes relying upon myth for making policy choices are treated as normal professional habits. Is it any wonder therefore diplomacy has been called “a kind of art of the impossible?” We don’t know if the Chinese are genuinely unique in myth-making in the practice of diplomacy. But what is certain is that more than any other society China is known to be a storehouse of mythologies, traditions, dragon-fantasies, and mysteries. Likewise, Chinese diplomacy too is shrouded in mystery and remains an enigma. More often than not, the Chinese do things that are completely at odds with the rest of the world. China’s Covid-19 combat strategy of “Zero virus” versus the global “living with coronavirus” policy is just one latest example.

Image: hindustantimes.com

In a recent post, the pre-eminent foreign policy expert and Harvard Professor Joseph S. Nye, Jr. has tried to elucidate why President Xi Jinping – as against the whole world’s expectations – won’t mediate an end to the Ukraine war. Nye offers three reasons why Xi has chosen to do so: domestic political vulnerabilities, lack of courage and imagination to do “Teddy Roosevelt Moment” and go on to win a Nobel Peace Prize, and third and most important is to prefer to stay on the side-lines and continue to hold on to the belief of “no limits” in his relationship with “dear friend” Putin.

Is China having a good war in Ukraine?

Contrast Nye’s prognosis with two other views. One by a Beijing-based veteran international relations observer, who recently stated in his column that Xi knows “there are limits and those limits have, in fact, been reached.” The other view is at variance with both Nye and the Beijing-based foreign expert. It claims China is in no doubt that the US-led NATO aims at regime change in Russia and that the US/NATO are fighting the war against Russia as part of the US National Security Strategy 2018 which openly declared “US military objectives were to wage ‘great power conflict’ with countries like Russia and China.” Hence, Xi is not at all interested in withdrawing support to Moscow. The three contrasting views above have lead us to ask: are the Chinese really good at myth making? Or as the Chinese say, why is it the West always gets it wrong about us?

China calls it ‘crisis’ in Ukraine
Image: orfonline.org

In the current world crisis situation caused due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, everyone in Washington and Berlin and Paris is wondering why is China risking its global trade and international image by refusing to give assurances that it will not “bail out” Russia as against the Western sanctions? Why is China willing to get entangled with countries with which it has a quarter of its total trade as compared to Russia with which it has only 2.4% of its total trade? How credible is the view that with Russia as an ally totally diminished, China is not having a good war?  

China’s myth-making

It is quite telling how Beijing, in reply to the above questions, has responded by creating the following myths: first, by abstaining on the UNSC vote on condemning Russia for invading Ukraine, China has convincingly conveyed to the world that China is likely to stay on the side-line; the second big myth Beijing has been successfully spreading is that the real target of the US push behind the Russia-Ukraine war is Beijing, not Moscow; the third myth China has effectively woven exclusively targeting the European Union is Beijing’s serious concern that the European countries are threatening a harder-line stance towards China.

China won’t mediate in Russia-Ukraine war
Image: ispion.it

Additionally, the biggest of all myths the Chinese have created is the manner in which Beijing has successfully projected its “marriage of convenience” equation with Moscow as better than having a “security alliance” between two aspiring partners or allies. It is indeed remarkable how the US has been led to believe that, in spite of China and Russia being poles apart in their respective analyses of international politics, the two “bosom buddies” have been lumped together as threats to US national security. Look at how Shi Ze, who once served as China’s diplomat in Moscow, recently summed up the different worldviews of China and Russia: “China and Russia have different attitudes. Russia wants to break the current international order….Russia thinks it is the victim of the current international system, in which its economy and its society do not develop. But China benefits from the current international system. We want to improve and modify it, not to break it.”

Perhaps totally unaware of the Chinese art of myth-making, veteran international affairs observer and Le Monde war correspondent Michael T. Klare has called the Chinese leadership’s support to Russia as “faulty assessment.” “Historically speaking, the Chinese Communist Party leadership has been careful indeed to gauge the ‘correlation of forces’ when facing foreign adversaries. They provided considerable military assistance to the North Vietnam without being viewed by Washington as requiring counterattack. Similarly, on Taiwan they [Beijing] have so far avoided any direct move to seize it by force and risk a full-scale encounter with potentially superior US forces,” Klare opined.

China spins Russia’s war in Ukraine
Image: ft.com

Sun Tzu-style strategic thinking

On the contrary, as the war in Ukraine enters 42nd day, and despite reports filtering in that Russia has decided to withdraw its assault on Kyiv, Beijing feels it is in a pretty comfortable position that the war has not yet ended. A Chinese economist has recently unravelled the Sun Tzu-style “secret” military thinking known to all those residing in Beijing’s Zhongnanhai or inside the “forbidden city.” In a signed article in ftchinese.com Professor Li Wei of Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in the Chinese capital has revealed that a school of thought in Beijing believes, the raging war in Europe is just like the opportunity that followed the “9.11” terror strike in New York – the US devoted itself to combating Islamic terrorism and eased its pressure on China.

Finally, citing Hu Xueyan (1883-65), the only member of the merchant class who was decorated by the late Qing rulers for his business acumen, Professor Li Wei wrote: “The only thing you need to be a successful merchant is the vision. As in business, so in (military) strategy.” So what can China effectively do as the war in Ukraine rages on? One of the most intriguing questions since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been whether China knew of the invasion plan when China and Russia issue their joint statement on February 4? If true, it would mean Beijing indeed had been planning to act on a strategy inspired by Sun Tzu’s advice, also known to be the basic mind-set of the Chinese philosophy’s Yin-Yang concept – “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” Or as Li Wei put it, to end years of the US-led “Trumpian” hostility towards China, the leadership in Beijing has now decided to act. Accordingly, instead of “waiting to hitchhike,” the mood in Beijing now is to take the initiative into its own hands. Much more on this in my next post.

The article was originally published by the IDR on April 27, 2022, under the title “China’s leaders Look for ‘Opportunity’ Amid Ukraine War”   http://www.indiandefencereview.com/news/russia-ukraine-crisis-chinas-leaders-look-for-opportunity-amid-ukraine-war/

CHINA’S STRATEGY TOWARDS NORTH KOREA

Parul Trivedi, Research Intern, ICS

The relationship between People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) remains the most enduring brothers- in arms relationship which was forged during the Korean War in 1950 and solidified with the signing of the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance in 1961. During the heydays of the cold war both Chinese and North Korean leaders described their relationship as ‘lip and teeth’ on the account of shared mutual interests and common ideology.

With the end of the cold war era in 1990s, three differences emerged between the two allies. First, China wanted North Korea to open up its economy but North Korea was reluctant to adopt such measures fearing regime collapse. Second, sticky issue was Beijing’s growing relations with South Korea which made Pyongyang uneasy. The third issue was the Beijing’s concern about North Korean nuclear Programme. Despite numerous differences between the two, it had been observed that Beijing has endeavored to maintain its traditional ties with DPRK as North Korea serves as a buffer state for China as well as PRC is desirous of maintaining stability in the Korean peninsula.

BEIJING’S STRATEGY TOWARDS NORTH KOREA UNDER XI JINGPING

Beijing’s foreign policy towards its North East Asian neighbors includes five no’s: no instability, no collapse, no nukes, no refugees and no conflict escalation. Before Xi Jingping assumed power China had a clear stance over the North Korea’s nuclear issue that it preferred stability over denuclearization and thus Beijing has not been forthcoming in implementation of sanctions. However, under Xi, Beijing supported UNSC resolution against DPRK in 2013 and began implementing international sanctions on North Korea which in North Korea’s views, such Chinese actions was a betrayal to their traditional ties. Xi by choosing to travel to South Korea in July 2014 before visiting North Korea, broke the tradition reflecting a preference for Beijing’s relations with Seoul over Pyongyang.  The relationship between the two countries deteriorated further in 2016 with North Korea which began with its testing missile frequently. China had raised its voice on multiple occasions. For instance: According to U.S. media report: “China can no longer stand the continuous escalation of the North Korean nuclear issue at its doorstep” Another statement made by the official media of the Chinese Communist Party(CCP) cautioned North Korea to ‘avoid making mistakes  and warned’, if North Korea makes another provocative move, the Chinese society will be willing to see the UNSC to adopt severe restrictive measures that have never been seen before, such as restricting oil imports to North Korea. Notwithstanding the fear that excessive pressure on North Korea could lead to regime collapse, in 2017, following Pyongyang’s continued testing ballistic missiles, Beijing not only supported UN backed sanctions but also implemented them earnestly. It is to be noted that:

In response to Chinese actions, North Korea upped the ante both in rhetoric and in action. In a response to commentaries in Chinese state media calling for more sanctions, the Korean Central News Agency warned PRC by reinstating that: ‘China had to better ponder over the grave consequences to be entailed by its reckless act of chopping down the pillar of the DPRK- PRC relations’. It was also added that the ‘DPRK will never beg for the maintenance of friendship with China’ In fact, North Korean act of testing its 6th nuclear weapon hours before the BRICS Summit hosted by China in September 2017 was an act clearly to embarrass Beijing diplomatically to convey Pyongyang’s displeasure of Chinese support for sanctions.

REPAIRING THE TROUBLED RELATIONSHIP (2018-2022) Beijing’s approach of supporting international sanctions meant to convey the message to Pyongyang that undermining China’s interest would not be tolerated and will have its consequences and push North Korea to choose the path of diplomacy. However, when North Korea shifted its approach from confrontation to diplomacy towards United States in 2018, Beijing was concerned that Pyongyang was drifting away from China as well as its influence on Pyongyang was on decline and it appeared that its interests were threatened.

In an effort to reassert its influence in the changing Korean peninsula dynamics that was fast evolving, Beijing doubled down on its efforts to patch up things with Pyongyang. China hurriedly organized the first Kim- Xi Summit on April 14, 2018, ahead of inter- Korean and the US-DPRK Summit. The two leaders met four times over the span of one year. The last meeting was held in June 2019, during President Xi’s first state visit to North Korea. The last Chinese leader to visit Pyongyang was Hu Jintao in 2005. President Xi’s visit to North Korea was significant as it came following the failure of the second Summit between Kim and Trump in February 2019.

Since, the first Xi-Kim meeting, Chinese narrative of the bilateral relations began emphasizing the value of their traditional alliance relationship and filled with deep appreciation for warm comradeship in championing the socialist cause. President Xi promised to promote a ‘ long term, sound and stable’ relationship with North Korea and Korean leader Kim Jong Un also sent a message to Xi stating that “invincible friendship will be immortal on the road of accomplishing the cause of socialism as two countries marked the 70 years of their diplomatic relations”.

Since, the diplomatic rapprochement in 2018, Beijing once again began assuming the big brother role and started investing further in restoring its alliance with Pyongyang. On the occasion of celebrating the 60th anniversary of the alliance in July 2021, the two countries renewed the Treaty for another 20 years as they had done before in 1981 and 2001. The growing diplomatic rapprochement between the two countries have also given impetus to restore the traditional party to party ties and furthermore, Beijing promised its support to the Korean Workers Party on its pursuit to a socialist economy. Since, 2018 China has been voicing its support for North Korea in the UN and argued for relaxing sanctions. For instance:  Recently, China stepped up to cover North Korea in the UN by blocking the US bid to impose sanctions for its testing of cruise and hypersonic missiles in January 2022.

In conclusion, it can be inferred that under Xi Jingping China is desirous of enlarging its area of influence in the whole of North East Asian region with an increase in the Sino-US strategic power rivalry. Although China is much wary about North Korea’s nuclearization, but within the given context of growing Sino-US strategic rivalry China might have another calculation towards North Korea’s nuclear program as it would require a nuclear North Korea to restraint the growing US military presence in the Korean peninsula. Therefore, under Xi Jingping’s leadership China has been making efforts to achieve stability in the Korean peninsula by increasing its area of influence over the peninsula as it is geostrategically an outpost for consolidating power in the whole of North East Asian region. However, In near future, it is yet to be observed that whether Beijing’s blossoming relationship with Pyongyang with utmost patience and grudging tolerance for its nuclear programs will still continue if DPRK’S expanding missile programs begins to affect China’s regional and strategic interests in the region.

The Blog was written under the guidance and supervision of Dr. Priyanka Pandit, Ashoka-HYI Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Department of International Relations and Governance Studies Shiv Nadar University, India. The views expressed here are those of the author(s), and not necessarily of the mentor or the Institute of Chinese Studies.

Xi’s Spirited New-Year Address to a “Dynamic” and “Resilient” China

Upasana Ghosh, Research Intern, ICS

While the world has its gaze fixed on China, it stepped into a pivotal political year that is awaited by several economic challenges exacerbated due to the pandemic. On the last day of 2021, President Xi Jinping extended his best wishes to his fellow citizens and delivered the annual New Year address to the nation. During the televised speech, the Chinese President had sent a clear message to the international community that China is “ready” for the long and arduous journey ahead. The crux of the speech revolved around – glorification of the Communist Party of China’s (CCP) achievements in 2021, the elevation of the regime’s image as the best governing institution and Xi’s political objectives for the year, 2022. Another prime focus of Xi’s address was: urging citizens to maintain their “strategic focus” and mindfulness against “potential risks”, that could disrupt CCP’s mission to lead the way in China’s long march towards the great rejuvenation. Consequently, stressing the importance of resilience, courage and determination for the people of China as they look forward to the future.  

Nevertheless, the profound message behind the address reflects articulated camouflaging of the economic and political fallouts at home and abroad. Looking forward to 2022, Xi’s call for more rigorous efforts to foster an economically robust, politically transparent and socially peaceful environment came at the backdrop of the Party’s forthcoming 20th Congress scheduled in autumn this year. The preceding year 2021, was a tough one for China, as the world’s second-largest economy came under severe international pressure due to a range of factors, including obfuscating information on Covid-19 data, aggressive posturing on the South China Sea, and the human-right abuses against Uighurs in Xingjian province.

Further, the downturn in China’s real estate market and the intensifying slowdown in the export-driven national economy due to drastic drop in foreign demands of Chinese produce added to the financial distress at home. Investors from the foreign business community are becoming increasingly sceptical about Beijing’s grip over increasing risks in credit markets. Politically it got worse for Xi, as he faced widespread resentment from his own Party members due to the expelling of many party elites and that of unceasing popular discontent resulting from media censorships, regulations and surveillance on citizens in the name of adjustment of excessive incomes, redistribution of wealth and reduction of income inequality. In addition, a crackdown over Hong Kong and an expansionist approach towards Taiwan led to further dispersal of Beijing’s negative image across the globe. All these combined, contributed to Xi’s pledge in this year’s annual address to meet domestic and global expectations from a responsible world power. The implied undertone was reflected in a burnished manner in his message that  “the world is turning its eyes to China,” and it is ready.

President Xi began his speech with his retrospective appreciation of “continual progress” and contributions made by Chinese citizens and the Party in achieving their first centenary goal of building China into a “moderately prosperous” society during the historically axial year 2021. While looking ahead into the future, he highlighted that as China “confidently” strides toward “a new journey” of achieving its second centenary goal of building a great modern socialist country in all respects, 2022 will be another crucial year for the country. By drawing attention towards the centenary celebration of the founding of the CPC, Xi recalled the Party’s extraordinary achievements and contributions throughout the past century in diminishing Chinese people’s “unyielding struggle” against all challenges, be it the elimination of poverty or towards the accomplishment of their extraordinary mission of Chinese rejuvenation. In the televised address, Xi reminded his people to “always remain true to their original aspiration”, thereby emphasizing loyalty as integral to Party’s founding mission and interests. While conveying about the adoption of the Party’s third resolution on historical issues at the sixth plenary session of the 19th CPC Central Committee, Xi praised CPC’s 100-year achievements and experience as a source of motivation and inspiration. In this context, Xi also referred to the importance of Chairman Mao’s thoughts in attaining the historical initiative. Therefore, it becomes evident that the Chinese President’s New Year address is nothing but a commemoration before his people about CCP’s centrality in Chinese polity. Also, the President in his address attempted to bolster the regime’s image as the quintessential modus-operandi for China’s socio-economic advancement. The speech can further be interpreted as Xi’s attempt to elevate his image and stature in the Party’s history in order to fulfil his intention to ensure his position as party chief for a third term. Hence, in Consequence, establishing himself as the uncontested ‘core’ leader of the People’s Republic of China. It is to be noted that Xi has always relied on Party’s performance legitimacy as his preferred tool to strengthen and maintain his monopoly over national power, dismantle domestic dissent of any kind and to consolidate mass support.

While speaking on people’s struggles from living in poverty, Xi’s address entailed a personal touch. He accentuated experiences from his encounter with poverty and mindfulness from his nationwide field trips about Chinese people’s sustained efforts in scoring ‘complete victory’ in fighting poverty. This relatable and engaging acknowledgement of the common man’s problems conveyed a calculated measure to garner widespread support as an empathetic mass leader. Although Xi called for more strenuous efforts on behalf of the Chinese people to ensure stable and highest-quality of economic development and a truly prosperous social environment, this year’s speech appears to have tactfully evaded from setting any specific economic agenda and growth targets. Instead, in desperate measures to win over people’s confidence before the commencement of CCP’s National Congress in autumn 2022, Xi seemed to hint at looming economic pressure in the country, thereby vowing about his and the Party’s commitment to tackle any such challenges. He devoted a substantial section to his profound concern for the environment, with multiple geographic references, evincing his detailed attention to specific situations. Thus, taking a chance to demonstrate the world about China’s sincerity as a responsible leader, towards advancing sustainable development goals and its resolution and effort to promote collaborative development and prosperity for all in the future. By stressing upon the advancements in China’s space program, Xi tried to draw worldwide attention towards its broadened scientific outreach for humanity. In a very veiled fashion, by capitalizing on the Party’s much-hyped campaign on ‘collective effort on common development and prosperity for mankind’, Xi alluded to his vision for China and next-generation political leaders, that the commitment to China’s aerospace would only intensify in the coming period.

The Chinese President also didn’t miss the chance to be in the spotlight while expressing his plaudits for Chinese contribution in vaccine diplomacy and material assistance across the globe at the pandemic outbreak, contrary to the developed democracy’s struggle to meet their respective national demands. Aggrandizement of the Communist regime’s efficiency is handling the Pandemic crisis, reflected Xi’s motive to instil a sense of admiration for the Chinese way of global leadership among the developing countries. Also, the New Year address flagged Xi’s apprehension over a forthcoming complicated geopolitical environment in the commencing year, particularly concerning Taiwan’s reunification with the mainland and stability in the former British colony of Hong Kong and the former Portuguese-run enclave of Macau. Declaration on establishment and implementation of “One Country, Two Systems in the long run” through concerted efforts came amidst a severely deteriorating US-China relation alongside growing international backlashes and pressure from the US and European Union. To decode the subtle message, underlining a delicate tone of inspiring his people to defend, fight for and promote global peace and prosperity, upholds a firm and uncompromising diplomatic posture on behalf of the country’s President in his attempt to manage and resolve issues, perceived by Beijing as encroaching on its core national interests. The regime’s intent to enforce its political will embodying CCP’s contemporary expression of ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ within its neighbourhood is clear from its expansionism in the region.

To sum up, Xi, in a very colloquial and relatable fashion, intended to demonstrate to China and the World that the Chinese model of socialism is not just delivering desired results but is also flourishing. On the surface, the enthusiastic address directed towards 1.4 billion national audiences resonated a personal one-to-one conversational appeal towards individual efforts for the overall upliftment of China’s global stature. However, underlying this optimism, is an instructive parameter of the communitarian regime for law-abiding Chinese citizens. The apparent portrayal of self as an archetype of a compassionate, charismatic mass-leader – through the application of simple yet catching phrases like “amicable, respectable” and “dream chasers” to address Chinese people, conveyed about the Chinese President’s attempt to uphold his image and political legitimacy at home and abroad. His description of 2022 as a pivotal year for the country by looking backward at Chinese achievements in the preceding year and looking forward as the Chinese together embarks on a new journey to transform their country into a significant global power sets the prime tone for Xi’s vision for Chinese polity in the coming time. Whereas, if Xi continues to stay in office beyond the anticipated decade, which is a high possibility, the international community, particularly its neighbouring contemporaries, must be prepared to face an even more outward-looking, proactive, and assertive China in the global platform. Beijing’s willingness to flex its muscle regarding what it considers defence and procurement of its core national interest in the contested Indo-Pacific and other territorial disputes is more likely than recognized. Xi’s telling phrase that everyone has seen and experienced a resilient and dynamic China further exemplifies contemporary China’s strategic posture in international affairs. Moreover, the two adjectives, “resilient” and “dynamic”, illustrates China’s preparedness for facing future challenges and the country’s zeal to bounce back against them. Henceforth, the upbeat address driven by political and economic exigencies at home and abroad is a clear indication of a further shift towards aggressive diversionary foreign policy approach to reinforce national sentiments and demonstrate competence against alternative administrations, only to retain political power of the party leaderships and thus, continuance of the Party’s legitimacy and authority across the motherland.

The Blog was written under the guidance and supervision of Dr. Priyanka Pandit, Ashoka-HYI Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Department of International Relations and Governance Studies Shiv Nadar University, India. The views expressed here are those of the author(s), and not necessarily of the mentor or the Institute of Chinese Studies.

Of Western Prejudice and Chinese Victimhood

Hemant Adlakha, Honorary Fellow, ICS

Image: The forgotten history of the campaign to purge the Chinese from America
Source: newyorker.com

Much before Trump-Pompeo combined “assault” on China and its ruling communist party, an article penned by a Singapore-based US researcher in Asia Times five years ago accused the communist party leadership of China of taking “victimhood” card to dizzying heights. Richard A. Bitzinger, the author, further claimed “every nation in the Asia-Pacific can claim, with some justification, to be a victim. Even Japan can declare its victimhood, as it was the first (and so far, only) target of nuclear weapons.” A well-known and globally respected scholar in South Korea wrote a decade ago: “the global community must speak with one voice and send China a clear message that it no longer views China as a victim of modern history.”

To most Chinese, including of course the ruling communist party, the above Western narrative demonstrates “the ignorance and prejudice its creators” have long held towards China. However, what Bitzinger and the South Korean professor Jongsoo Lee have been emphatically pointing out over the past decade or so is something new: it’s time China must shed a “victim” mentality. The Western “irritation”, as well as “impatience” with China playing victimhood or “century of humiliation” card, had started following China’s unprecedented economic rise a couple of decades ago. More recently, the worldwide anti-Chinese victim mentality buzz, which was re-launched half a decade ago with China’s “aggression” and “assertiveness” in the South China Sea, reached a crescendo with the global spread of the Covid19 pandemic.

Image: “They thought Jesus and Confucius were
Source: Cambridge.org

This explains why according to the Western narrative, in recent years China’s acute sense of “victimhood” has been more pronounced in the international political arena. In June 2016, as the legal verdict was being awaited on China’s sweeping claims to SCS, the WSJ published a story entitled “The Danger of China’s Victim Mentality” and warned the international community of “Beijing lashing out if a ruling on SCS claims goes against it.” Suddenly, the global media was filled with similar “China against the world” op-ed commentaries. While some genuinely advised China to stop its obsession of playing the victim if the country seriously wished to advance as a society. Others were less charitable and warned China must shed a “victim” mentality. 

At another level, as according to Mark Tischler, a researcher at the Department of East Asian Studies, Tel Aviv University, the fundamental flaw in the Western narrative is, it often overlooks the fact that “China is the first power to challenge the United States” that truly rose from its post-colonial past. (Emphasis added) Perhaps oblivious of how much of China’s modern-day policy is driven by the collective trauma of “victimhood,” a former Indian foreign secretary opined recently “to avenge the ‘Century of Humiliation’ that China endured in the hands of western imperial powers from roughly 1839-1840 to 1949,” the Chinese are pursuing unilateralism instead of compromise in SCS. Moreover, their new brand of “wolf warrior” arrogance is replacing diplomacy of humility of the Zhou Enlai-Deng Xiaoping style, observed the veteran Indian diplomat who also served as ambassador in Beijing. In contrast, Tischler argues the major difference between Beijing’s and Western narrative on “century of humiliation” is the following. For China, it (century of humiliation) means “not just a grim lesson of the past, but also a warning about a possible future.” Hence, the (Chinese) narrative has created “a never again mentality.”

Image: “China and Japan” Source:  factsanddetails.com

Much has been written and published in both Chinese and in English, on China’s victim mentality. Yet the issue has not only not whittled away over the decades since the foundation of New China, instead under Xi Jinping “century of humiliation” has acquired the new meaning of “Chinese rejuvenation” or “Chinese dream,” as it were. Interestingly, in an attempt to twist the “one hundred years of humiliation” narrative into post-Mao or post-Tiananmen Chinese nationalism, some scholars in the West are calling it anti-Western or anti-US Chinese nationalism. Applauding Zheng Wang’s highly acclaimed (Columbia University Press, 2014) Never Forget National Humiliation: Historical Memory in Chinese Politics and Foreign Relations, Edward Friedman described the work as “a vivid and well-informed study of post-Mao nationalism and Chinese foreign policy…” 

Furthermore, it is not incorrect to say scholarly claims of “victimhood” being described as the new Chinese fig leaf for anti-West nationalism and to create post-Mao/pre-Mao “victimhood” dichotomy – as the current Western narrative wants us to believe, are fundamentally flawed. A recent article, for example, accuses the Communist Party of China (CPC) of manipulating the so-called victimhood as nothing less than a cynical ploy to exploit Chinese history and the feelings of Chinese people. It is pertinent to mention, though intangible, such a narrative has been receiving a lot of traction in the international media recently. Consider for example some of the following popular writings: “China doesn’t have to keep playing the victim” in Foreign Policy (2018), “China playing victim after attacking Indian soldiers in Galwan” in theprint.in (2020), “The Danger of China’s Victim Mentality” in TWSJ (2016), “China’s dangerous sense of entitled victimhood” in Asia Times (2016), “China’s New Diplomacy: Victim No More” in Foreign Affairs (2003) and so on.

Image: The Victim politics
Source: openthemagazine.com

Though perhaps understudied in the West, like most intellectuals in the late Qing and Republican eras, Mao Zedong too was not only deeply disturbed by the Chinese “century of humiliation,” several of his foreign policy decisions in the early to mid-1950s were heavily influenced by the “victim” mentality. In a seminal paper jointly authored by China’s widely respected historian, professor Yang Kuisong, and his young protégé and a Ph.D. candidate in Chinese history at the Pennsylvania University, Sheng Mao, have highlighted how Mao’s victim mentality impacted his decision which led to two Taiwan Strait crises in 1954-1955 and 1958 respectively. From both crises, according to Yang and Sheng, Mao’s gains were remarkably rewarding and psychologically productive. The first Taiwan Strait crisis – the shelling of Jinmen in 1954 – resulted in Mao succeeding in “forcing the United States to begin ambassador-level talks with China.” The outcome of the second Taiwan crisis in 1958 enabled Mao to declare: “The United States has put itself into our noose.” “The other thing Mao claimed to have achieved from the crises was confirmation of America’s nature as ‘paper tiger’,” Yang and Sheng pointed out

Finally, as we talk of prejudice and victimhood, and as the scholars in the West have firmed up their resolve to force Beijing to “give up” playing “victim” card, one thing is crystal clear in the minds of the current party leadership, i.e., riding on the past success of Mao’s playing “victim” mentality, the current Chinese leadership is too aware of how well the victimhood narrative has been serving China in its diplomatic strategies to put it aside anytime soon. Analyzing how China’s victimhood strategy was on full display at the Anchorage summit in Alaska two months ago, Drew Thompson, a visiting senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore, views the Chinese “victim” mentality narrative aimed more at the domestic audience than at the world populace at large. 

Image: China must shed ‘victim’ mentality
Source: South China Morning Post

Well, speaking of prejudices and biases, Michael Barr, author of Who’s Afraid of China (2011) argued a decade ago that “fears of China often say as much about those who hold them as they do about the rising power itself.” The book has been described as holding a mirror to Sino-Western relations in order to better understand ideas about modernity, history, and international relations. It is indeed true the Western bias against China predates the “century of humiliation.” What is also historically undeniable is “on no other major civilization do self-regard, self-congratulation and denigration of the ‘Other’ run as deep, as they have in Western Europe and its overseas extensions,” observed a professor of economic history in a recent article “A Eurocentric Problem.” Not at all a surprise, historian Jeffery Wasserstrom wrote in his review of the book above: “This short book provides a clear-eyed critique of the latest versions of Sinomania and Sinophobia.”

In conclusion, as mentioned above, not only China is not going to stop playing victim and behave like a “normal country” as was recently on display during the first top level bilateral summit between the world’s two largest, hostile economies since President Biden took office. On the contrary, as many in the West fear, and as Beijing perceives the US power as well as dominance continuously declining, China is likely to pursue expansionist policies unchecked. Unlike what many in the West see as the nature of Chinese diplomacy is changing, China knows it is pursuing the same Maoist strategy to trap the US in the Chinese noose. As regards the “wolf warriors,” a seasoned Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming, flaunting “victimhood,” recently offered a tongue-in-cheek explanation: where there is a “wolf”, there is a “warrior”.

*This is a slightly edited version of the article published under the title Of Prejudice and Victimhood. https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2021/05/18/of-prejudice-and-victimhood/

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.