The possibility of greater cooperation exists, if President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping, seen here in Beijing in November 2017, can focus on areas of shared interests such as in maintaining the UN system and the acceleration of the free-trade structure. Photo: AFP
The possibility of greater cooperation exists, if President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping, seen here in Beijing in November 2017, can focus on areas of shared interests such as in maintaining the UN system and the acceleration of the free-trade structure. Photo: AFP
Kazuki Nakamura
Opinion

Opinion

Kazuki Nakamura

Attention US: China is not seeking to upend the existing Western-led global order

  • True, China wants to change aspects of the system, but its motives include political legitimacy and economic growth – not an end to the liberal world order
  • It pays for the US to understand this and work to mitigate the impact of Chinese actions rather than seek direct confrontation

TOP PICKS

The possibility of greater cooperation exists, if President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping, seen here in Beijing in November 2017, can focus on areas of shared interests such as in maintaining the UN system and the acceleration of the free-trade structure. Photo: AFP
The possibility of greater cooperation exists, if President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping, seen here in Beijing in November 2017, can focus on areas of shared interests such as in maintaining the UN system and the acceleration of the free-trade structure. Photo: AFP
The US clearly identified China as a revisionist power back in 2017, in the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy report. Last year, Federal Bureau of Investigation director Christopher Wray expressed the shared American intelligence community’s concern about China,
saying
it is “not just a whole-of-government threat, but a whole-of-society threat” during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.
In recent years, China’s global rise has been accompanied by the creation of institutions to engage with the rest of the world. Under the control of the Communist Party, China has either created or supported institutions such as the
Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank
(AIIB), the
Belt and Road Initiative
and the
Cross Border Interbank Payment System
(CIPS).

However, contrary to the US intelligence community’s assessment, China does not necessarily seek a complete overturn of the Western-led global system. Its latest defence white paper, “China’s National Defence in the New Era”, states that “China unswervingly endorses the central role of the UN in international affairs”, adding: “It firmly maintains multilateralism, advances democracy in international relations.”

A good example of engaging in West-led multilateralism is China’s increased contribution to United Nations peacekeeping, accounting for more than 10 per cent (the
second largest
contributor after the US) of its total budget. China also contributes the most peacekeepers – 2,519 compared to 34 from the US.
READ FULL ARTICLE
China is also in negotiations to conclude the
Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership
agreement with 15 countries in the Asia-Pacific. China may be unsatisfied with certain elements of the global order, but not the entire system. Instead, it is motivated to make selective changes. Therefore, it is important to correctly understand its motives.

Although the US tends to perceive China’s institutions only in geostrategic terms, the Communist Party has non-geostrategic motives in creating institutions to interact with the international community.

The first is to consolidate party legitimacy inside and outside China. The recent inclusion of the party’s role and
Xi Jinping Thought
– which stresses party legitimacy and the “
one country, two systems
” policy – in the state constitution reflects the urgency to strengthen the party’s legitimacy as the ruling government of China.
Also, maintaining economic growth is one source of legitimacy that has allowed the party to secure power in China. The recent
slowing
of growth and the growing
income inequality
harms that legitimacy.

Therefore, the party wants to boost economic growth by creating institutions such as the belt and road global infrastructure push. Through this, Beijing sees potential benefits such as jobs growth and the expansion of its export market.

The second important reason for China to create institutions is to promote the principle of
non-intervention
in the internal affairs of other countries as a global norm.
China has often criticised the US for intervening in the internal affairs of other countries in what it claims is a violation of the UN charter.
Lu Kang
, director of the foreign ministry’s North American and Oceanian Affairs Department, has repeatedly stated that China upholds the principle of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs.
China has also criticised the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development for asking countries to change their style of domestic governance in exchange for developmental aid. As
opposed
to the Washington consensus, China, as a donor, guarantees the core elements of the so-called
Beijing consensus
, including non-interference and non-conditionality through the AIIB and the belt and road initiative.
Moreover, China has
condemned
the unilateral
sanctions
by the US against Iran. China’s CIPS may become an alternative to the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) international payment system that the US politicised as part of its sanctions against Iran in 2012.

However, to achieve its two goals, China does not have to change the global system’s fundamental institutional framework, such as the World Trade Organisation and the UN.

Given that the Communist Party is not pursuing the complete overturn of the liberal world order, the US should work to mitigate the impact of Chinese actions rather than seek
direct confrontation
.

If China has a business partnership with authoritarian states through their institutions, it does not necessarily mean Beijing will enhance those regimes; the same goes for democratic states with a business relationship with China.

For example,
Italy
recently joined the belt and road community, but China is not pushing authoritarian ideologies merely because Italy decided to join the partnership. President Xi said in a speech that the infrastructure initiative “does not differentiate countries by ideology … as long as countries are willing to join, they are welcome”.

The US should be comfortable with letting its allies take advantage of China’s economic support because that might strengthen its democratic political system in the end.

The US should also learn to consider comparative advantages when thinking about how to compete with China in providing development assistance. Since China’s primary focus for its development assistance has been on
infrastructure projects
, the US should focus its assistance efforts on ways to improve people’s lives by investing in areas such as education and health care.
Finally, labelling China as
revisionist
may make it less cooperative even in areas of shared interest, such as maintaining the UN system and acceleration of the free-trade structure. The goal should be to create a virtue out of competition rather than create a situation where everyone loses.

Kazuki Nakamura is a research intern at the Pacific Forum, a Honolulu-based international think tank, where he studies international institutions focusing on the Asia-Pacific region. He is also a master’s candidate at New York University

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a signing ceremony after their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on June 5. Photo: EPA-EFE
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a signing ceremony after their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on June 5. Photo: EPA-EFE
Zhou Bo
Opinion

Opinion

Zhou Bo

As China and Russia draw closer, it would be a fool’s errand for Trump to try to separate them

  • Sino-Russian rapprochement is at an all-time high, and the splintering West can forget about driving a wedge between them. Beijing owes Moscow a debt of gratitude, and it is the US that has lumped China and Russia together as its rivals

TOP PICKS

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a signing ceremony after their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on June 5. Photo: EPA-EFE
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a signing ceremony after their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on June 5. Photo: EPA-EFE
Last September, 3,200 Chinese troops joined
Vostok-2018
, Russia’s biggest military exercise in nearly 40 years. But far more alarming to the West should have been the first joint aerial patrol over the Sea of Japan and East China Sea on July 23, involving two Chinese H-6K bombers and two Russian Tu-95MS strategic bombers: this was a joint operation, not an exercise.

Yet, although strategic theorist Zbigniew Brzezinski once warned of the danger of the “grand coalition of China and Russia”, The Economist has counselled patience. The magazine reckons the West can afford to wait until a Russian president looks westwards again, and “the man or woman in the Oval Office should emulate Nixon – and go to Moscow”.

This sounds like
Waiting for Godot
.
(He never arrives.) The rapprochement between Beijing and Moscow is at an all-time high. President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin have met nearly
30 times
since 2013.

In 2016, Russia replaced Saudi Arabia as China’s largest supplier of crude oil. In 2018, bilateral trade hit a record high of over US$100 billion and it is expected to double by 2024. When Putin ends his fourth term in 2024, his successor shouldn’t want to change this.

READ FULL ARTICLE
It would take a lot of imagination to figure out what could erode the bedrock of Beijing-Moscow ties. This relationship is no longer based on ideology, but on growing mutual needs. The old fear some Russians had, that Russia’s Far East might be gradually occupied by Chinese immigrants, is gone. Instead, Russians cross the border for work and Russian tourists flock to beaches on
Hainan Island
.
True, Moscow views Central Asia as its backyard, but Moscow and Beijing have managed to adapt to and accommodate each other. Now the two countries are working together to advance the projects of Beijing’s
Belt and Road Initiative
and Moscow’s Eurasian Economic Union.
China and Russia are not united by “complementary grievances” against the West, as Brzezinski wrongly asserted. Both want a multi-polar world, but for different reasons. China is a beneficiary of the existing international order and only wishes to improve it. Russia resents that order, especially after its
annexation of Crimea
in 2014 invited Western sanctions.
If China and the United States were to sleepwalk into a
new cold war
, would Russia take the US’ side? This cold war is still rhetoric, and Putin’s position on the US is harder than that of Xi, who still seeks a healthy China-US relationship.
But it is not impossible. In such a scenario, Russia would probably choose not to get involved in the first place. Russia hasn’t explicitly supported China on the South China Sea issue (nor did China explicitly support Russia’s annexation of Crimea). Its primary security concern is to prevent Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine from breaking out of its orbit and joining the European Union and
Nato
.

Between the US and China, Russia is more likely to stay closer to Beijing for two reasons. Politically, it is impossible for Moscow to wholeheartedly embrace the West so long as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation exists. The transatlantic security alliance still draws oxygen from the Russia threat, which is both its raison d'être and its reason for expansion whenever possible.

Every expansion of Nato is aimed at Russia and can only be taken by Russia as a threat. Economically, Moscow learned a bitter lesson in the 1990s, when Russia’s whole-of-government plan to become a Western market economy resulted in a national disaster.

Russia’s future lies in the east. Geographically speaking – unless it further develops the sparsely populated eastern portion that makes up more than 75 per cent of the territory – Russia looks more like the world’s largest developing country than China.

And who can best help develop Russia’s Far East? Only China. If China does become the world’s largest economy in the next 15 years or so, Russia ought to benefit from the prosperity of its neighbour. Russia has military, geopolitical and strategic conflicts with the US-led West that are hard to reconcile, but not with China.

As Harvard professor Graham Allison rightly observes about Beijing-Moscow ties: “At every point the United States and Western Europeans imposed pain, China has offered comfort.”

China needs to continue offering such comfort, even if the gap between China and Russia as measured in GDP, military budgets and hi-tech is widening. China is grateful.

The Soviet Union was the first country to recognise the People’s Republic of China, and, without the Soviet Union’s help in laying the foundations, it would not have been possible to develop the Chinese industry that is second to none today. Moscow’s decision to let Chinese tech company Huawei build Russia’s first 5G wireless network also provided badly needed support for Beijing in an escalating
trade war
with Washington.

How could the West ever break up the Sino-Russian relationship, which is at the strongest while transatlantic ties are at their weakest? The West as a whole is less stable. US President Donald Trump is shaking it from within, and whoever succeeds him in the White House will try to “Make America Great Again”, too, albeit using a different slogan.

Nationalism and populism of different hues are raging in Europe. Even Nato doesn’t look as strong, next to Sino-Russian non-alignment. Despite the US’ outcry, Nato member
Turkey
bought S-400 air defence missiles from Russia.

Furthermore, the US’ labelling of China and Russia as “strategic competitors” can only draw the two closer together. Alas, Washington simply cannot lump Beijing and Moscow together and hope to drive a wedge between them at the same time.

Zhou Bo is an honorary fellow with the PLA Academy of Military Science in China