A lonely China

Harsha Kakar
A full-page paid advertorial by the Chinese embassy to project China’s views at the recently concluded BRICS summit was posted in an Indian newspaper last week. The Chinese ambassador to India, Sun Weidong, who has blocked all critics of China on social media, went to great lengths to praise India and project Indo-China collaboration. He stated that the presence of the Indian PM displayed India’s support to China’s chairmanship. He added, though absolutely untrue, that India and China have maintained close cooperation in multiple multilateral institutions and international fora. India has only looked at its own national interests and has had NO discussion NOR cooperation on global issues with China.
The highlight of Sun Weidong’s message was that ‘BRICS nations should follow the trend of the times of peace and development.’ It is China which has broken all barriers of peace, whether it be in the South China Sea or Ladakh or even along its border with Nepal and Bhutan. It is China leading nations into debt traps. Of course, there was also no mention in the advertorial of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s accusations of the US, for its sanctions policy.
Xi had stated, ‘Politicizing, instrumentalizing and weaponizing the world economy using a dominant position in the global financial system to wantonly impose sanctions would only hurt others as well as hurting oneself, leaving people around the world suffering.’ None of the BRICS nations agreed with China and these comments found no reference in the joint statement. This major rebuff to China, has been hidden from public glare.
Simultaneously, Pakistan’s Dawn reported that India had blocked Pakistan’s participation in the ‘High-level Dialogue on Global Development,’ held on the side-lines of the BRICS summit. 13 other nations had participated in the event. What hurt Pakistan was China succumbing to Indian pressures. The fact that China had no option or else the summit would have failed, had India pulled out.
Large parts of the joint statement of the QUAD summit in Tokyo in May this yearwere directly aimed at China. It mentioned, ‘We strongly oppose any coercive, provocative or unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo and increase tensions in the area, such as the militarisation of disputed features, the dangerous use of coast guard vessels and maritime militia, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore resource exploitation activities.’ China has been terming the QUAD as an ‘Asian NATO’ and ‘ganging up while simultaneously creating trilateral and quadrilateral cliques.’
The US led Indo-Pacific Economic Forum (IPEF), launched alongside the QUAD meeting drew in all nations facing Chinese provocations in the South China Sea, though the IPEF does not have a military quotient. China termed the IPEF as an ‘economic NATO.’ To counter illegal Chinese fishing in the region, QUAD nations launched Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness. There is no doubt that all nations in the region seek to contain Chinese aggressiveness.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi’s 10 South Pacific nations tour in May-Jun enhanced security concerns in Australia and New Zealand. Wang Yi had sought to bring these nations into a regional trade and security pact. However, despite all efforts, negotiations collapsed, possibly due to Sri Lanka falling into a Chinese created debt trap, hurting Chinese ego. The leaking of a possible security pact with the Solomon Islands gave rise to fears of China opening a naval base in the region.
In response, the US, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and UK launched ‘Partners in the Blue Pacific (PIBP),’, aimed at offering far more attractive support to island nations, thereby drawing them away from China. The grouping has pledged USD 2.1 Billion in developmental funds. The Chinese Washington embassy spokesperson,in disgust, stated that the South Pacific was, ‘not the backyard of any country, still less an arena for geo-political games.’
While the official stated aim of PIBPis to assist island nations in tackling issues varying from climate change to illegal fishing it is also intended to counter growing Chinese investment initiatives. Officially there is no security component in this initiative, though it could emerge later.Western nations are simultaneously enhancing their diplomatic presence in island nations.
Recently formed anti-China military alliances include AUKUS (Australia-UK-US) trilateral defence pact and the Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) between Japan and Australia. This is the second RAA signed by Japan, the first being with the US. China has protested against these initiatives, aware that these are aimed at it.
Global infrastructure projects challenging the Chinese BRI (Belt Road Initiative) include the Asia-Africa economic corridor involving India, Japan and few African nations, Blue Dot network launched by the US, Japan and Australia and the Global Gateway initiative of the EU. Not much progress has been made on these initiatives, mainly due to COVID, however, they may soon gain momentum. With Sri Lanka moving into a debt trap, Pakistan just averting it and other nations who have taken loans from China struggling to stay afloat, takers for the BRI are dropping.
In Jun 2021, the G7 announced the launch of BBBW (Build Back Better World).It was revamped in the recent EU summit into ‘Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment.’ It intends to mobilize USD 600 billion by 2027, offering an alternative to infrastructure models that sell ‘debt traps,’ implying the BRI. The EU President, Ursula von der Leyen, stated, ‘It is up to us to give a positive and powerful investment impulse to the world to show our partners in the developing world that they have a choice (from China).’ The G7 also passed a resolution intending to reduce dependency on China led global supply chains.
China is being countered by a collection of security and economic initiatives mainly on account of its aggressive policies and debt trap funding, for which it has no counter. Reports also mention that the BRI may be faltering due to financial and logistical challenges pushed by the Ukraine war, sanctions on Russia, its own sinking economy and geopolitical tensions. However, China remains secure in the belief that it still controls the global supply chain. This will also change with passage of time. The world is steadily moving to side line China. If this has to succeed, then economic groupings challenging the BRI must move aggressively.
The author is Major General (Retd)