China has been a hot topic of discussion in the foreign policy corridors of most countries. Some have termed its policies as expansionist while some are critical of its trade policies and human rights. But to some, it is an all-weather ally.
China recently got back at nearly all countries that criticised its handling of Covid – sending warplanes to Taiwan strait, clashes with India, problems with Canada on Huawei and heavy handling of protesters in Hong Kong. Owing to its responses, China has been a source of anxiety and cause of exhaustive strategic thinking for the diplomatic community worldwide. It has been often deliberated as to what precisely guides the Chinese foreign policy.
In 1949, the Chinese communists won a nationwide civil war, which ultimately changed the Republic of China (ROC) to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The nationalist government had to find a place in Taiwan. With Mao being in charge, the next ten years saw close cooperation, in fact, an alliance with the Soviet Union on international affairs. Their cooperation was visible formidably during the Korean war. Beijing’s hostility towards the US and Washington’s reciprocation intensified the Cold War in the region.
Later, Deng Xiaoping took an unprecedented course wherein successful reforms were done to provide openness for a capitalistic international economy along with the continued one-party rule of the Communist party. The new thought process, namely ‘Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedongism,’ is still the foundation of new China. The relations between China and the USSR deteriorated when Khrushchev was in power in the USSR, who, according to Chinese leadership, had adopted a policy of ‘blow hot, blow cold’ towards the West. With President Nixon’s visit to Beijing, ties between the US and China improved.
It is essential to understand the foreign policy objectives as per the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to accurately gauge China’s relation with the world. The CCP’s foreign policy edifice rests on adhering to ideological principles while being flexible. After 1980, it became more ideologically flexible while opening up internationally. As per Evan Medeiros, a specialist in East Asian affairs, China’s foreign policy objectives primarily are economic development, access to natural resources and reducing Taiwan’s acceptability.
China is opening up to the outside world in all directions and at all levels. New methods are employed to exercise its influence on other nations. Internally, its primary aim is robust economic development and sustainable growth. However, challenged security would require China to divert resources away from economic reform, resulting in reduced growth in the long run. Unlike other nations who got independence around the same time, China has succeeded in developing its military muscle along with the economy. Foreign policy initiatives supported by military muscle has stabilised its regional security to address both old and emerging threats.
An essential pillar for today’s foreign policy of China is to expand access to trade, aid, investment, resources and technology. This may require the creation of blocs, infrastructure development and maintenance of bilateral political relationships. One of the many examples is the OBOR (One Belt, One Road) initiative, which focuses on bringing together China, Asia, Russia, and Europe. It will also link China with the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea through Central Asia and West Asia.
Another important aspect is the ‘feel-good factor’, incorporated by the Chinese leadership in the late 90s. They realised that their Asian neighbours had become apprehensive of their intentions. It started when China expressed willingness to pursue disputed territorial claims such as those in the South China Sea and Taiwan. Rising Chinese economic and military power created anxieties for neighbours and around the world as well. This prompted the Chinese establishment to portray itself as a responsible regional power that would contribute to its neighbour’s growth and prosperity. Many countries availed Chinese help in terms of finance and expertise. This made more countries join its Belt and Road initiative.
It is important for China to maintain easy access to natural resources worldwide to fuel its continued economic growth. This includes not only hydrocarbon but also copper, wood and cement. According to projections, China’s demand for most of these resources is expected to grow significantly in the next 20 years. It has also prompted new warmth in China’s relationship with the Middle East and many mineral-rich African and Latin American countries. This increased vigour in the relationship, which ultimately resulted in blocs, is the cause of worry for other countries with whom China often has trade disputes and competition.
Internationally, China often puts ‘dollar diplomacy’ to work to bring about desired foreign policy results. Many experts have quoted that aid packages have often been used to deny Taiwan any international space or standing to make it inclined towards Beijing. It worked well with many African and Latin American countries. The best examples are Costa Rica and Paraguay.
China has built Iran’s port at Chabahar, which is critical for a pipeline project that can challenge the efforts to ban Iran exports. China has also made $400 billion in investments to upgrade Iran’s oil sector, which would significantly boost its economy. The Chinese presence also helps keep an eye on strategic movements around the Middle East.
China has control of Hambantota port in Sri Lanka for the next 99 years, putting it at a strategic advantage in the Indian Ocean. As per The New York Times, around 35 ports worldwide have been financed by China. They are in Africa, many in Asia, Europe, and even in Australia.
With so much influence of China worldwide, it will be worthwhile to deal with China only after taking allies and creating a united front. The US administration has been trying to do it by taking Japan, Australia, and even India (to some extent) together. China is expected to be more friendly and reasonable once it has to deal with a combined front. But it will be difficult to find allies as there are vested interests involved considering China’s massive role in global manufacturing and international affairs. Without a coherent approach, we will find it difficult to get the desired results.
(The author is a finance professional based in Toronto)
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