China’s geopolitical grand strategy in the Pacific unfolds. Premier Li Keqiang speaks to 1,00,000 officials about the Chinese economy. The People’s Liberation Army published an article about India’s naval strategy. Chinascope brings you the stories that changed our world last week.
China over the week
There are a few moments in world history when we can observe the arc of change unfold before our eyes. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi’s trip to the Pacific portends to be a historical event.
The 10-day visit to seven countries from 26 May to 4 June gives us a glimpse of the cards Beijing is playing with, and the plan will include military, economic and diplomatic ties with the region.
In the Solomon Islands, Wang Yi signed key bilateral agreements to boost economic and security ties with Honiara. The agreements come after Beijing and Honiara agreed to a security pact that would allow the PLA to conduct port calls among other security-related arrangements. Yi tried to calm the rumours about a potential military base in the Solomon Islands. “No intension at all,” said the foreign minister.
But the visit to the Pacific has a far more expansive plan. In Fiji, Beijing’s plan for a region-wide agreement with almost a dozen Pacific Island countries was leaked.
China seeks a region-wide trade agreement with Samoa, Fiji, Kiribati, Tonga, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. Beijing has a pitch that it is selling to the Pacific nations called ‘Common Development Vision’.
China may have had some success, but not all Pacific countries are sold on security cooperation with Beijing. Kiribati is pushing back by suggesting that it is interested in trade and tourism with China, but not the security agreements offered by Beijing. China wants to help Kiribati upgrade a World War II-era landing strip, but the Pacific island nation isn’t interested.
The next few days will be crucial to assess the success of Beijing’s gamble in the region.
Economic scramble, military might
On 26 May, news leaked on Chinese social media that Premier Li Keqiang was hosting a national-level conference on the economy. The teleconference involved 1,00,000 officials from across China to remind them about a new initiative to revive the economy. But no news articles mentioned the meeting until the State media published the images of the meeting a day later. “We are currently at a critical juncture in determining the economic trend of the whole year. We must seize the time window and strive to bring the economy back to the normal track,” said Li Keqiang. Li’s meeting was briefly mentioned on the front page of the People’s Daily without any pictures of the teleconference.
Curiously, there was no mention of Beijing’s Covid control strategy in Li’s remarks — an issue that has been the top priority for President Xi Jinping.
As the leaders of Australia, India, Japan and the US gathered in Tokyo at the Quad summit on 24 May, Chinese and Russian forces decided to flex their military muscle in the Sea of Japan.
The two Russian Tu-95 bombers and two Chinese H-6 strategic bombers flew into the Sea of Japan and over the East China Sea. China and Russia called the aerial patrol a part of their annual exercise. But the joint China-Russia annual patrol exercise is usually held later in the year. No one can deny that the two countries had a message directed at the Quad member countries in Tokyo. Beijing also held military exercises close to Taiwan as US President Joe Biden spoke about his cross-strait policy in Tokyo.
There are rumours about upcoming promotions in Beijing’s power circles.
Liu Jianchao, who has twice headed the foreign ministry’s information department, is likely to be promoted to the top position in the State Council Information Office. The State Council is a key role responsible for foreign propaganda and liaising with foreign media. Another rumour is the likely promotion of Vice foreign minister Le Yucheng to the head of the National Radio and Television Administration. If Le is promoted, he will become a full member of the CCP Central Committee.
We will continue to hear these rumours about Chinese politicians’ promotion in the lead up to the National Party Congress later this year.
The much-awaited United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s visit to Xinjiang finally took place last week. But many are disappointed with its outcome. Bachelet handed Beijing a home run with her remarks about the visit.
Bachelet said she could assess the scale of the “vocational education and training centres” and that she had concerns about the lack of independent judicial review of “training centres” in Xinjiang.
China in world news
The much-awaited address by the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on China had many wondering what he had to say. But we now know the address had no surprises. Blinken spoke at the George Washington University on 26 May.
“China is the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do it. Beijing’s vision would move us away from the universal values that have sustained so much of the world’s progress over the past 75 years,” said the Secretary of State.
Ian Johnson of the Council on Foreign Relations, who is critical of the US administration’s China policy, summarised the assessment of the address when he said, “In its more developed iteration, the policy focuses mainly on non-China actors. The first is ‘invest’, which calls for the United States to invest more in high tech and other future-oriented industries so it can compete with China.”
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India in China
The PLA website prominently published an article about the upcoming launch of India’s indigenously built aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant.
“The second is to boost the implementation of India’s ‘two oceans’ strategy. At present, India’s only aircraft carrier ‘Vikramaditya’ is deployed in the western waters of India. After the INS Vikrant aircraft carrier is commissioned, it will strengthen the control of the waters east of India and promote India’s ‘Eastward Strategy’ implementation, thereby expanding India’s influence in Southeast Asia and the Asia Pacific”, wrote author Hong.
The public discussion about China’s recent actions at the Line of Actual Control has gripped the public imagination. But we seldom hear about the Chinese’s views on India.
A recent survey by the Central European Institute of Asian Studies has revealed that India ranks second only to the US in terms of the countries perceived negatively in China. What is even surprising is that views on India are relatively more negative than in Japan, a country that remains a part of China’s national imagination when discussing the ‘century of humiliation’.
Experts this week
Liu Zongyi, secretary general of the South Asia and China Center, Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, wrote, “Judging from what the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework is now revealing, India is interested in some of them, especially the second and third pillars because the goal of India’s participation in the US Indo-Pacific strategy is to counter the Belt and Road Initiative, taking the opportunity to promote the transfer of Asian supply chains to India, replacing China’s position in the global supply chains. India especially hopes that Western countries such as the United States, Europe and Japan can provide it with capital and high technology because of its important role in containing and containing China. In order to promote Quad, the United States has used Quad and ‘Quad+’ platforms to make promises.”
The author is a columnist and a freelance journalist, currently pursuing an MSc in international politics with focus on China from School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He was previously a China media journalist at the BBC World Service. He tweets @aadilbrar. Views are personal.
(Edited by Humra Laeeq)