24.11.2022 Author: Vladimir Terehov

China factor in recent international fora

The phrase “shifting the center of gravity of global processes to the Indo-Pacific” has long been a well-established meme, i.e. it reflects a fairly obvious reality. In this regard, the fact that from November 8 to 19 this year in Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand, in the three countries of the (sub)region of Southeast Asia, a series of international events was held with the attendance of plenipotentiaries of all significant participants in the current stage of the “Great Game”, is fully in line with the above-mentioned realities.

The mentioned shift itself is in a large part due to China’s emergence as a new global power. In this connection, the presence of Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the most important of the events outlined above was of particular significance.

  The rise of China’s role in the world is perceived diversely by different players. It is viewed primarily in Washington and Tokyo as a challenge to their own interests. While such assessments by the latter can in some way be explained, the reason for the wary attitude towards Beijing on the part of London and Paris remains unclear to the author. Perhaps this is a kind of “relic glow” from the “collective West” which is still showing signs of life.

But its intensity is waning. This is evidenced by the increasingly obvious manifestation of the individual interest factor in the specific activities of distinct members of the “collective West”. In this context, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s recent trip to the PRC was undoubtedly a landmark visit.

The growing role of Germany on the European continent due to this, as well as the (possible) prospect of Germany forming a partnership with the PRC-Russia tandem, has provoked a sharp increase in bile production in the “stomach” of those forces that do not like it at all. What they are prepared to do to avoid such a prospect is shown by the undermining of gas pipelines linking Russia to Germany (and a number of other European countries).

Against the background of an event which deserves to be labelled as a “terrorist attack of the 21st century”, it is strange to see regular “hate speeches” (to put it mildly) uttered on state television towards a country which has been almost the main victim of it.

The Prime Minister of the country suspected of the attack cancelled the meeting with the Chinese leader on the sidelines of one of the aforementioned events, the G20 summit, at the last minute. In terms of assessing the nature of the current stage of the “Great Game”, this fact seems hardly less significant than the content of the “for all good against all bad” document that was signed at the end of the event. As this kind of platform is interesting mainly because it gives the world’s leading players the opportunity to talk about truly significant international issues.

And this opportunity (if only to probe the state of relations with the second world power) was not seized by the newly appointed Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Opinions differ on the immediate reasons for the “last minute disruption” of the Xi Jinping-Rishi Sunak meeting. One thing is certain: Beijing felt that the current state of bilateral relations was not yet conducive to its implementation.

 However, there has long been a clear interest on the part of British business in developing a business relationship with the PRC. A similar aspiration was expressed in a congratulatory message sent by his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang to R. Sunak on the occasion of the said appointment.

This is despite the fact that there were repeated anti-Chinese diatribes by the latter (both on the eve and after his appointment as the UK Prime Minister). And one of the new British Prime Minister’s first defiantly anti-Chinese actions was to send Minister of State for Trade Policy Greg Hands to Taiwan. There he was gratefully received by the “leader of the Taiwan separatists” (according to Beijing’s official language), but in fact by President Tsai Ing-wen. There is also talk of the possibility of British arms being sent to Taiwan.

Other Europeans equally indulge in the dubious pleasure of teasing the (outwardly phlegmatic) Chinese panda (which, however, can suddenly and instantaneously turn into a dragon). But this does not usually happen at the level of incumbent governments (the exception here so far has been the Eastern European limitrophe states). This is mostly done by members of national parliaments of varying ranks who owe nothing to the official authorities of their own countries. Although more often than not, they are not responsible for anything.

Unlike the British, other Europeans, as well as the Japanese, Indians and even Americans, retain for themselves a window of opportunity in maintaining relations with the PRC. All of them took the occasion to talk to the PRC leader. This is important in itself, irrespective of the practical outcome of such contacts.

Since talks between Chancellor O. Scholz and Xi Jinping were held in Beijing only a week before all the above-mentioned events in Southeast Asia, French President E. Macron had the main role in representing Europe at the meeting with the Chinese leader. They spoke on November 15 on the sidelines of the G20 summit in the Indonesian island of Bali. Since the EU shares with the US and ASEAN (one of the main participants in the events under discussion) the top three positions on China’s list of trading partners and there are still problems in this area of China-Europe relations (despite notable progress in resolving them, these were at the center of the talks.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s message on their contents drew attention to the Chinese leader’s commitment to “opening up” and “advancing Chinese modernization”, which “will offer France and other countries new opportunities.” The French President’s words, on the other hand, were politically correct and general in nature. The overall impression is that the parties so far seem to agree on the very need to continue (multi-year) negotiations with a view to overcoming the remaining problems.

The venue for the first Japan-China summit in three years was the APEC calendar meeting, which took place on November 18-19 in Bangkok, Thailand. The very rarity of such bilateral meetings already amply demonstrates the dysfunctional political environment between the two major powers in East Asia. However, the sphere of mutual trade continues to develop successfully.

In general, the prediction made on the eve of this meeting by an American CSIS (Center for Strategic & International Studies) expert “about weak signs of renewed relations” turned out to be correct. It was hard to expect anything different when, during the talks, Japanese Prime Minister F. Kishida insisted on the “importance of peace and security in the Taiwan strait” and also “conveyed … grave concerns about the situation in the East China Sea, including the Senkaku Islands.” The only thing that was agreed upon was a (repeatedly postponed) visit to China by the head of the Japanese Foreign Ministry. But there is no guarantee that this “postponement” will not continue. Reasons for this keep multiplying in bilateral relations.

The longest encounter (which took about four hours) was the key meeting of the Chinese leader’s entire discussed overseas trip, during which he held talks with US President J. Biden. The assessment of their outcome was also predominantly skeptical in tone. It seems that throughout the meeting the sides limited themselves to conveying to their negotiating partners their own vision of solutions to the problems in bilateral relations.

In this respect, commentators draw attention to the (threateningly crucial) factor of the outcome of the just concluded US midterm elections. Even today, though, Congress is probably the main generator of negativity in bilateral relations. As such, however, it will only strengthen with the Republicans winning the lower house of the US parliament.

After the sharp breakdown in relations between the two Asian giants in the summer of 2020, the fact that Xi Jinping shook hands with Indian Prime Minister N. Modi on the sidelines of the G20 summit already looks very positive.

On the latter, it is once again critical to note that India maintains its current (relatively) neutral course in the international arena. This already seems to be a very difficult task. But New Delhi should expect even greater difficulties next, given the ongoing problems in relations with China and the almost continuous stream of sweet songs poured into the ears of India’s leadership by leading Western “sirens”. The most talented “singers” are undoubtedly located in the capital of the former metropole. In this context, the talks between R. Sunak and N. Modi (allegedly with the former not infrequently switching to Hindi) held on the sidelines of the same G20 summit could not fail to draw attention.

Overall, the outcome of the bilateral contacts made by the Chinese leader during his first trip after the milestone (notably for him personally) 20th CPC Congress with representatives of countries variously positioned as the PRC’s opponents is not exactly in line with the positive results recorded in the documents adopted at the series of international fora just held.

However, it may well be inferred that it is not China at all but these countries that are missing some important trends in the current stage of the “Great Game”.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.


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