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Defense & Security
Shenzhen, Guangdong, China - Apr 27 2023: A China Coast Guard boat is cruising on the sea.

Philippines: Calming Tensions in the South China Sea

by International Crisis Group

“This article was originally published here by the International Crisis Group”Tensions between China and the Philippines are increasing the risk of armed conflict in the South China Sea. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2024 – Spring Update, Crisis Group looks at how the EU can support regional diplomacy to mitigate maritime disputes. Rising maritime tensions between China and the Philippines have highlighted the risk of armed conflict in the South China Sea and the dangers it would pose to global trade. Several countries are implicated in the set of complex sovereignty disputes in the sea, which stem from rival claims to various features and the maritime entitlements they generate, but recent incidents involving Beijing and Manila have triggered the greatest concern. The Philippines controls nine outposts in the Spratlys, a contested group of land and maritime features at the heart of the South China Sea. A submerged reef known as Second Thomas Shoal has become a dangerous flashpoint, with Chinese boats continually trying to block Manila’s efforts to resupply the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusting ship housing a handful of soldiers that a former Philippine government purposely grounded in 1999 in a bid to assert sovereignty over the atoll. China, which also claims the shoal, first started interfering with these missions in 2014, but relations between the two countries in the maritime domain have never been as volatile as during the last seven months. Chinese boats have regularly rammed the Philippine supply vessels or doused them with water cannons, occasionally wounding the sailors on board. Manila has a Mutual Defence Treaty with Washington, making this burgeoning maritime dispute part of the geopolitical competition between the U.S and China. In effect, the South China Sea has become a zone where conflict risks are rife – and where Washington and Beijing could be drawn into direct confrontation. Considering these developments, the EU and its member states should: • Seek greater diplomatic engagement with both Beijing and Manila to keep tensions in check. They should also expand their diplomatic presence across South East Asia and, where relevant, establish reliable channels through which they could communicate with high-level authorities in China and other claimant states should disputes at sea escalate; • Work to promote respect for international law, particularly the law of the sea, as a source of neutral rules for dispute resolution and conflict prevention, for example by organising public events, roundtables and dialogues in Manila and elsewhere. While this measure may not bridge the divides between Manila and Beijing, it could at least help establish a level of mutual support and understanding among the other South China Sea claimant states; and • Strengthen coast guard cooperation with the Philippines, focusing on building capacity in areas such as environmental protection, safety and search-and-rescue procedures. Troubled Waters The sovereignty disputes that underpin the tensions between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea go back decades. But it was Beijing’s manoeuvres to take control of Mischief Reef (in the east of the Spratlys) from Manila in 1995 that altered the perceived balance of power between the two states and in the region, setting off the territorial dispute that has now taken a turn for the worse. China’s assertiveness in the sea has grown in the past few years, along with its military capabilities. The brewing territorial dispute made headlines in 2012 when Beijing in effect took control of Scarborough Shoal, an atoll 220km west of the Philippine mainland but within Manila’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), after a maritime altercation. The incident prompted then-President Benigno Aquino to file a case challenging China’s territorial claims under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). On 12 July 2016, the presiding arbitral tribunal ruled in favour of Manila, dismissing China’s claim to all the waters within its “nine-dash line”, which constitute almost the entire South China Sea. But it was a Pyrrhic victory. Beijing not only rejected the adjudication and the subsequent ruling, but it had also already undercut efforts to settle the dispute through legal channels by building and fortifying seven artificial islands in the Spratlys while the case was winding its way through the system. This move fundamentally changed the status quo, enabling Beijing to post permanent garrisons in the area for the first time. By many accounts, China has thus ensured itself control of the sea in any situation below the threshold of armed conflict. A short lull in the maritime dispute appeared to follow. After coming to power in 2016, Aquino’s successor, Rodrigo Duterte, pursued a pragmatic policy toward Beijing. Duterte downplayed the tribunal’s decision and cast sovereignty issues aside, hoping to benefit from Beijing’s economic largesse in exchange. Yet his ambitious gambit did not pay off. Tensions at sea continued in the form of regular standoffs between the country’s coast guard and Chinese vessels. Filipino fisherfolk struggled to reach their traditional fishing grounds, and Manila could not exploit the precious oil and gas reserves within its EEZ to which it is entitled under international law. In March 2021, Chinese ships massed around Whitsun Reef, an unoccupied feature in the sea, ringing alarm bells in Manila, where senior officials voiced public criticism of China’s behaviour for the first time in years. By the end of the Duterte administration, the Philippines had revived its ties with the U.S. and become more assertive still, filing several diplomatic protests with the Chinese government. Elected in 2022, President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., Duterte’s successor, was initially disposed toward friendly relations with Beijing, but the relationship soured only a few months into his presidency. Although China remains the Philippines’ top trading partner, Marcos, Jr.’s meetings with President Xi Jinping did not achieve the desired results: Beijing neither agreed to make major new investments nor curtailed its “grey zone” tactics in the South China Sea, understood as coercive actions that remain below the threshold of armed conflict. These rebuffs have helped push Marcos, Jr. toward strengthening ties with Washington, and the Biden administration has, on several occasions, publicly committed that the countries’ Mutual Defence Treaty would be deemed triggered in the event of an armed attack on Philippine warships, aircraft or public vessels. In perhaps the most significant recent development, after a series of high-level visits by U.S. officials to Manila, the two countries agreed to scale up implementation of their Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which gives U.S. troops rotational expanded access to Philippine military bases, and which China perceives as a provocation, especially given these bases’ proximity not just to the South China Sea but also to Taiwan. Manila has also received defence and diplomatic support from a host of other countries, particularly Japan and Australia. Despite the dispute it has with Vietnam over parts of the South China Sea, it has engaged, more quietly, with Hanoi, and acquired maritime defence equipment from India, thus expanding its circle of partners. Joint naval exercises with various countries have included large-scale ones with the U.S. in April, which involved the deployment of missiles that can reach targets almost 1,600km away – something that was sure to draw Beijing’s attention – and took place just after Manila wound up its first-ever trilateral presidential summit with Washington and Tokyo. In the meantime, the Marcos, Jr. administration has pursued what it calls a “transparency initiative”, publicising information about maritime incidents by inviting journalists to join its coast guard ships or posting video recordings of events almost as they are happening. Dramatic footage of Chinese vessels blocking, ramming or attacking its resupply missions to Second Thomas Shoal with water cannons has generated widespread condemnation in the Philippines and abroad. Many consider these tactics to be bullying. For its part, and despite the 2016 ruling, Beijing asserts that Manila is intruding into its waters and maintains that it is demonstrating maximum restraint. China has also recently referred to a so-called gentleman’s agreement under former President Duterte that it says foresaw preserving a status quo in the South China Sea, with Manila ostensibly agreeing to supply only humanitarian goods and no construction materials to the BRP Sierra Madre; Manila denies that there was any such arrangement. Given the Philippines’ determination to continue resupplying its troops on the BRP Sierra Madre, Second Thomas Shoal will likely remain a flashpoint. Due to the constraints imposed at sea by the Chinese maritime militia and coast guard, Manila is starting to look into other means of provisioning its outpost, some of which are likely to irk Beijing even more, such as airdrops or closer U.S. naval escorts. In September 2023, a U.S. plane was in the shoal’s vicinity during a resupply mission, while a U.S. warship passed through waters nearby in December. But the shoal is not the only possible source of tension. Chinese vessels, both official and non-official, sail through many areas where Philippine fisherfolk traditionally work, while other features, such as Scarborough Shoal, are also points of friction. A large-scale encounter or accident at sea could be especially dangerous. Should a Filipino or Chinese national die during such a confrontation, it could stir nationalist sentiments in Manila and Beijing and heighten threat perceptions on both sides. In case of loss of life on the Philippine side, Manila would expect its U.S. ally to assist under the Mutual Defence Treaty, especially given the recent exchanges with Washington on that topic, although the U.S. has not said precisely how it would come to the Philippines’ aid. How such a dangerous situation would evolve depends in large part on Manila’s political decision to invoke the treaty and the choices Washington makes about how to fulfill its commitments. In principle, Beijing and Manila remain open to negotiations. But the bilateral consultative mechanism, a confidence-building measure designed in 2017 to manage maritime issues between the two countries, among other things, has generated no results of note. Meanwhile, efforts to create a Code of Conduct, which aims to reduce tensions at sea by setting up norms and rules between claimants and has been under discussion between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for over two decades, have stagnated. Why the Sea Matters The South China Sea is a vital waterway through which around one third of global shipping passes. Peace and stability in the sea are a prerequisite for safe trade and are demonstrably in the interest of the EU and its member states. At over 40 per cent, the share of the EU’s trade with the rest of the world transiting the sea is even higher than the global average. Instability in the area would deal a major blow to the European economy; even a slight disturbance of shipping routes could result in higher transport costs, shipping delays and acute product shortages. Should there be an escalation that pits China against the U.S. in a direct conflict, the consequences could be catastrophic and global. European positions toward South China Sea disputes have traditionally highlighted the importance of all parties respecting international law and the need for peaceful resolution, while being careful not to take sides. But over the last few years, China’s assertiveness and expanding military capabilities have driven a greater sense of urgency and something of a shift in European thinking. First, the EU and several of its member states have developed “Indo-Pacific” strategies, designed to guide and promote cooperation with countries throughout the region. Secondly, Brussels has increased its diplomatic support for the Philippine position following maritime altercations, offering supportive statements in December 2023 and March 2024. Brussels and several European capitals now back Manila in regularly underlining the importance of UNCLOS and maritime law in the South China Sea context. Meanwhile, Europe’s presence in the region is growing, if slowly and in part symbolically. In 2021, the EU appointed a special envoy for the Indo-Pacific for the first time, while European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen visited Manila in July 2023, the first trip to the Philippines by someone holding that office and an opportunity to express, at the highest level, the EU’s readiness to strengthen cooperation with the government in maritime security, among other areas. A German frigate entered the South China Sea in 2021, and French and Italian ships made port calls in Manila in 2023. In March 2024, the EU and the Philippines agreed to resume negotiations over a free trade agreement, while a month later France announced talks regarding a Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines. While EU interest in the region is rising, European stances on the South China Sea are complex, with member states harbouring different views on maritime disputes in the region and, more broadly, on big-power competition. Some, such as France – which is the only EU member state to have overseas territories in the region (and which has significant EEZ interests there) – see themselves as having stakes higher than others and are keen to participate in the region’s discussions on security. Others, such as Greece and Hungary, are less concerned with maritime flare-ups so far away and tend to ascribe greater importance to maintaining good relations with Beijing. What the EU and Its Member States Can Do As the EU and its most powerful member states are drawn deeper into the South China Sea, they should raise their diplomatic game in the region – both to ensure awareness of mounting tensions and to look for ways to manage corresponding risks. As a practical matter, Brussels could leverage its status as an ASEAN Strategic Partner to seek more participation in that bloc’s security mechanisms and regional forums; the EU and member states could seek higher levels of engagement with regional powers such as Japan, Australia, and South Korea on matters concerning the South China Sea; and Europe could post more diplomats to the region, including permanent defence attachés who speak the language of naval diplomacy. Of particular importance will be maintaining strong lines of communication with Beijing, where Europe is seen as still having some distance from the U.S.-China strategic rivalry, which works to its diplomatic advantage. While to some extent this communication will be traditional bilateral statecraft, it may also mean looking for new opportunities and new channels for dialogue. For example, some member states could also seek to follow the precedent set by France and China in establishing a coordination and deconfliction mechanism between their militaries. Brussels should also continue raising the South China Sea in its engagement with Beijing as it did during the EU-China summit in 2023. Maintaining these channels will become both more difficult and more important if and when the EU and member states expand their operational presence in the region – for example, if they decide to establish a calibrated maritime presence in the South China Sea, as proposed by the EU envoy to the Indo-Pacific. Such a move is still deemed unlikely for now. As for public diplomacy, Brussels and EU member states should consider practical ways to promote principles of the law of the sea in the region, making the case that broader regional support for and adherence to these principles would provide neutral ground for peacefully avoiding and resolving disputes. While it is hard to see this approach appealing to Beijing, which has rebuffed the UNCLOS tribunal’s decision, there could still be benefits in forging closer cooperation among other claimant states. Convenings in Manila and other regional capitals could cover topics related to the continuing disputes but also to cross-cutting themes of regional interest such as fisheries. With negotiations over a regional Code of Conduct stuck, like-minded countries in the region could use these occasions to at least develop common positions on discrete issues that might be addressed by the Code or that could foster regional confidence-building in the South China Sea. Finally, in the realm of capacity building, European governments should continue to strengthen coast guard cooperation with South China Sea claimant states, helping them develop tools and protocols that might be used where appropriate to avoid confrontation and conflict. Since Aquino’s administration, Manila has tried to boost its coast guard capabilities. Given that many of the other claimant states’ vessels in the South China Sea are coast guard ships, and find themselves embroiled in maritime confrontations, a common approach on rules of engagement could help avoid misunderstandings at sea. Building on the EU’s integrated coast guard system, the EU could host or sponsor joint workshops to develop operating principles for the region’s law enforcement vessels and exchange best practices with Philippine authorities. Brussels could also fund agencies such as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime to strengthen coast guard expertise on issues such as environmental protection, safety and search-and-rescue procedures. European member states could also participate in joint activities with the Philippine and other ASEAN coast guards to strengthen fisheries control and maritime border protection and deter piracy or smuggling.

Energy & Economics
U.S. President Joe Biden participates in a bilateral meeting with General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping. Monday, November 14, 2022, at the Mulia Resort in Bali, Indonesia.

Retaining US influence in Africa requires bridge-building with China

by Jakkie Cilliers

In a complex new multipolar world, a country’s allies and friends will determine the global pecking order. Despite its large population, Africa is a small global player. Its combined economy is less than 3% of the world economy, and Africa’s political heterogeneity makes it difficult to stand united on contentious issues such as China’s claim over Taiwan or the war in Ukraine. Although most African countries aren’t part of global value chains, external economic challenges and tensions affect them deeply. Africa’s most violent period since independence was in the years before the Berlin Wall collapse in 1989. At the time, tensions between the United States (US) and former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) led to intense proxy wars in the Horn of Africa and Angola. Based on that experience, a new era of competition between the US and China doesn’t augur well for the continent. At its peak, the USSR’s economy was only half that of the US, whereas the US and China will be roughly equivalent in the next decade. China is already larger when using purchasing power parity. By 2050, the Chinese economy will be almost 30% bigger. China is the world’s factory, manufacturing cheaper and more than anyone else. It has flooded the world with affordable solar and wind products to fuel the green transition. China is the global trade destination for many and it builds much of Africa’s infrastructure. China and surrounding Asian countries are emerging as the most important source of economic growth globally. According to an in-depth study by The Economist in May 2022, ‘No other country comes near the breadth and depth of China’s engagement in Africa.’ In contrast, US trade and investment with Africa is declining. If the US wants to maintain its influence on the continent, it should find ways to collaborate rather than compete with China. The bill proposed in April by a bipartisan group of senators to renew the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) for another 16 years shows that influential US groups are willing to engage with Africa for the long haul. With its low levels of trade reciprocity, the AGOA trade model is well suited to Africa’s needs. The US should use AGOA as a carrot to boost Africa’s exports, not a stick for economic coercion to achieve political objectives. The rise of China in a crowded world means the future will be quite different to previous periods of competition and cohabitation. Many of Africa’s ruling elites cast longing eyes towards China’s autocratic development model as a means to reduce poverty. Democracy and the free market haven’t delivered development, they argue. There is a sense of restlessness in Africa, where the median age is only 19. The youth bulge is expanding with limited prospects for formal employment, a healthy life or meaningful education. To analyse the impact of various global futures on Africa’s development, the Institute for Security Studies’ African Futures and Innovation programme has examined recent and likely global power shifts. For the past century, the US has been the most powerful country in the world. It has successfully presented a narrative that equates global development, stability and progress with American interests and values. Many Africans look to the US, given its freedoms and opportunities – although positive views of the US are dropping in number. The image of a violent mob descending on the Capitol in January 2021 shattered the myth of American exceptionalism, exposing a country torn asunder by its political divisions. Rural America’s reaction to globalisation and the rise of domestic populism detracts from US soft power. At the same time, its declining ability to deter others is on display in the Middle East, which is on a knife edge. Instead of oil from Africa, the next commodities boom for the continent will come from minerals needed for the renewable energy transition. This is reflected in a recent United States Institute of Peace report exploring Africa’s role in diversifying US critical mineral supply chains and strengthening the rule of law, transparency and environmental and labour standards. The US faces an uphill struggle since China has already secured much of Africa's known supply of critical minerals. China’s dominant position regarding these resources reflects the extent to which it is in a different league to the former USSR. Instead of confronting China in Africa, the US must find ways to collaborate with it. Africa cannot again serve as an arena for proxy conflicts and competition, this time between the US and China. Plus, it is Russia, not China, that is now the spoiler in Africa. The extent to which Sahelian countries are experiencing a resurgence of military coups with regime protection provided by Russia’s Africa Corps (previously Wagner) augurs poorly for the continent’s future. The more significant challenge is that the West faces a much larger and more powerful cohort of detractors, perhaps most readily depicted as the G7 versus BRICS+. The impunity that the West has provided to Israel for its war in Gaza and further afield reinforces global south views that different standards apply to them compared to the developed north. Current indications point to China becoming more influential in Africa, with many countries turning eastward. Rather than a new unipolar or even bipolar order, the trend is towards a complex, multipolar global power configuration where one’s allies and friends will determine the international pecking order. Learning to rely on them will be a new experience for the US. This article was first published in Africa Tomorrow, the African Futures and Innovation blog. Exclusive rights to re-publish ISS Today articles have been given to Daily Maverick in South Africa and Premium Times in Nigeria. For media based outside South Africa and Nigeria that want to re-publish articles, or for queries about our re-publishing policy, email us.

Defense & Security
Hanoi Vietnam - Jan 30 2023: People go about daily life under Vietnamese flags in a narrow residential alleyway called Kham Thien Market in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Convergence in Vietnam, EU Interests a Harbinger of Indo-Pacific Order?

by Richard Ghiasy , Julie Yu-Wen Chen , Jagannath Panda

In March and April, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son’s nearly back-to-back visits to the U.S. and China highlighted Vietnam’s increasing penchant for delicate diplomacy with major powers amid the U.S.-China strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific and Vietnam’s territorial tussles with China especially in the South China Sea (SCS), which Vietnam calls the East Sea. Much of the (perceived) disorder in the Indo-Pacific hails from the SCS, and one of Vietnam’s principal challenges is fostering order on its maritime borders. Therefore, Vietnam—historically distrustful of major powers—has been diversifying its relations by seeking security and defense ties with Indo-Pacific partners like the European Union (EU), India, and Japan, as well as with Russia, a country that poses an “existential threat” to the transatlantic allies. At the same time, Southeast Asia is battling disunity within the region for resolving disputes in the SCS, for instance. The regional multilateralism embodied by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) seems to lack teeth even as China ‘controls’ some of its members using its financial and economic heft. So clearly, efforts beyond Vietnam’s “bamboo diplomacy” that deepen international solidarity are required. In a similar vein, Europe’s reluctant rapprochement with China in recent times amid the EU calling China a strategic challenge but continuing to look for economic engagement is reminiscent of Vietnam and much of Asia’s predicament vis-à-vis China. Moreover, like in Southeast Asia, not every member-country of the EU is embracing the Indo-Pacific construct, led by the U.S. Or even if a member does, like France or Germany, it does not spell the end of a productive relationship with China. Nonetheless, it is clear that the EU has started to take a greater interest in the growing geopolitical situation in the Indo-Pacific, even as the disunity over the extent of the Indo-Pacific priorities, including China, is as apparent. In such a scenario, is it possible for the EU and Vietnam, and by extension ASEAN, to have greater convergence, if not congruence, in their policies? Revisiting Vietnam’s Lack of an Indo-Pacific Tilt The Indo-Pacific, the maritime space and littoral between the western Indian and Pacific Oceans, has become the world’s most geopolitically critical region. In this region, much of the focus and debate among the EU’s more proactive members, such as France, the Netherlands, and Germany, is in response to Chinese unilateralism, trade dependency, and unchecked Sino-U.S. contestation. Several of these EU members have come to understand each other’s positions on the Indo-Pacific. Gradually, there is a realization that it is not just about what the EU and its members seek to accomplish in the region but just as much the perspectives and priorities of key Indo-Pacific resident actors—and their views on European strategies and contributions. Vietnam is one such country that is worthy of greater European strategic attention. Vietnam is known for its “bamboo diplomacy”—a reference to the bamboo plant’s strong roots, sturdy stems, and flexible branches—balancing ties with the two big powers, the U.S. and China. In the words of Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son, Vietnam’s foreign policy caters to “independence, self-reliance, peace, friendship and cooperation, and multilateralization and diversification of external relations and proactive international integration.” However, Hanoi has never officially and fully embraced the term “Indo-Pacific” nor the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific construct although it does recognize that some aspects of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific tenet advocated by the U.S. and its allies are compatible with its national interests. For instance, the order in the Asia-Pacific, a term that Hanoi prefers to use, should be rule-based. This speaks to one of Vietnam’s most important foreign policy priorities: finding peace and stability in the SCS disputes with China and other claimants. However, the order that Vietnam seeks is in more than just the security domain. The goal of development has been the highest priority since Doi Moi (renovation) in 1986. Economic growth is considered the backbone of national security and regime legitimacy. Hanoi’s development of foreign relations can be said to be grounded in its national development experience, with the stress on economic priority leading to national stability and international standing. Vietnam chooses to engage in the Indo-Pacific construct on its terms. Vietnam and EU Convergence On both economic and security fronts, Vietnam and the EU can find converged interests that align closer to each other. Even as Hanoi has not officially adopted the term “Indo-Pacific,” the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy, if implemented well, could address both Vietnam’s economic and security needs. Despite its security and military power limitations in the Indo-Pacific, the EU can still play a crucial role in effectively addressing these needs, which are vital for the EU’s strategic interests as well. The two already have a Framework Participation Agreement. Vietnam is also part of the EU’s Enhancing Security In and With Asia (ESIWA) project, which covers crisis management and cyber security. This also aligns with the EU’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, where Vietnam is considered a “solid” partner. Notably, both the EU and Vietnam face (potential) economic coercion from China. As China is now Vietnam’s largest trading partner, sudden trade restrictions hindering Vietnamese exports to China would dramatically hurt the Vietnamese economy. In this vein, Hanoi welcomed the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), hoping it would give opportunities to diversify its trading partners and thus mitigate the risks of economic coercion from China. On the other hand, the EU and its member-states are also trying to increase economic resilience by diversifying trading partners as they wrestle with economic overdependence on China. So, strategically, Brussels presents an excellent opportunity for Hanoi and vice versa. However, challenges remain. For example, all the EU member-states are still to ratify the Investment Protection Agreement signed along with the EVFTA. Even though this is usually a time-consuming procedure, the imperative to reap benefits as soon as possible has taken a setback amid a challenging geopolitical landscape. Nonetheless, the two sides are concerned about more than just traditional economic development; they are concerned about sustainable development and green transition. For instance, under the EU’s Global Gateway framework, the EU and Vietnam have signed the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP), which looks to provide a multi-projects credit facility worth €500 million. This is supposed to be the EU’s primary focus in Vietnam now. Yet, Hanoi’s cautious approach for fear of falling into any potential debt trap could stymie smooth cooperation. Projects involving vast sums of money, such as the JETP, are also practically challenging to push at the moment as officials are afraid to be the targets of the Communist Party of Vietnam’s anti-corruption campaigns. Vietnam would also be keen for ASEAN and the EU as blocs to reinvigorate multilateralism and shore up security cooperation, particularly in the SCS disputes. ASEAN states, in general, are looking to the EU as a non-threatening balancing power to reduce the impact of the China-U.S. strategic competition. Among the potential areas of cooperation between the EU and Vietnam within the ASEAN are regional climate action measures, food security, digitalization, and tech innovation. The two sides must also use their partnership to realize an ASEAN-EU FTA. EU as a Security Balancer? The EU and Vietnam also share their commitment to upholding the rules-based order—an essential component of security cooperation because of the region’s strategic importance. However, improving communication and understanding of maritime incidents more effectively is challenging. The SCS territorial conflict is simmering, particularly between China and the Philippines. In 2016, an arbitration tribunal constituted under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) overwhelmingly ruled in favor of the Philippines, which China rejected. However, the ruling bolstered Vietnam’s claims, which were not openly welcomed by other ASEAN states besides the Philippines. In the absence of an agreement for a code of conduct (CoC) between China and ASEAN, which has been dragging on for years, China’s violations of international law in the SCS, including the latest against Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin, have increased. Against this scenario, Vietnam and the Philippines have signed maritime security deals. At the same time, Vietnam would be reluctant to do anything more drastic, such as support the Philippines in its attempt to draft a “separate” CoC for fear of Chinese retaliation. While Vietnam is less discussed in major global media than the Philippines on the issue, Hanoi is actively using diplomatic means to internationalize the problem, bringing in more players to address complex territorial disputes to safeguard its sovereignty and promote regional peace. In this context, winning the support of the EU and its member-states would be strategically important for Vietnam. The Vietnamese side can facilitate this by providing foreign entities, including the EU, with more transparent and timely information when incidents occur. Naturally, using a media strategy like the Philippines might sensationalize the issue, which might be different from what Hanoi prefers as it walks a tightrope to balance its complex relations with China. However, Hanoi can at least offer foreign diplomats transparent and detailed information in a timely fashion to help them verify and assess the situation on the ground. This will speed up the EU’s and other potential like-minded states’ response to sea incidents and foster ways forward for more multilaterally agreeable forms of modus vivendi in the South China Sea. Ultimately, such a modus should serve China too. EU No Longer a Bystander The EU’s recent stance on the SCS issue has been its respect for a rule-based order and freedom of navigation, strong opposition to unilateral actions, and supporting the ASEAN-led “effective, substantive and legally binding” CoC while mentioning China but not singling it out. This is a change from the EU’s pre-Indo-Pacific embrace when it was a more divided, neutral house. The EU’s heavy dependence on maritime trade through the SCS mandates that the EU can no longer stand as a bystander. However, ASEAN claimant states, particularly Vietnam, would perhaps expect a sharper or clearer position, which the EU has indeed been moving toward. For example, in March 2024, the EU released a statement expressing concerns about the incidents involving “repeated dangerous maneuvers” by the Chinese Coast Guard and Maritime Militia in the SCS. This tilts to the U.S. line, even as the U.S. has been more vocal in directly criticizing China on the SCS, by calling China’s claims “completely unlawful” even before the current events. One could argue that despite the U.S. and its allies having been vocal, this has yet to lead to a concrete resolution of the conflict. However, if the EU cannot send clear signals on the issue, the division among like-minded countries will be seen as weak and exploitable in China’s eyes. Importantly, this is true not just for the SCS disputes but also for China’s coercive activities in general. Therefore, given the convergent non-confrontational, inclusivity-, and economic interests-oriented attitudes of both Vietnam and the EU toward the Asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific region, both sides are primed to embrace the other’s strategic outlook and up their game in the face of a challenging China and efforts to foster order.

Diplomacy
japan, australia, usa and india friendship against china, Quad plus countries flags Quad plus countries flags over china flag, Quad plus countries, Quadrilateral Security Dialogue

The strategic adjustments of china, india,and the us in the indo-pacific geopolitical context

by Nguyen Tuan Binh , Tran Xuan Hiep , Nguyen Dinh Co

한국어로 읽기Leer en españolIn Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربيةLire en françaisЧитать на русском Abstract: Since the beginning of the XXI century, the Indo-Pacific region has become the “focus” of strategic competition between the world‟s great powers. This area included many “choke points” on sea routes that are strategically important for the development of international trade, playing an important role in transporting oil, gas, and goods around the world from the Middle East to Australia and East Asia. The article analysed the geostrategic position of the Indo-Pacific region and the strategic adjustments in foreign affairs of some major powers in this region, specifically the US, China, and India. To achieve this goal, the authors used research methods in international relations to analyse the main issues of the study. In addition to reviewing previous scholarly research and reviews, the authors used a comparative approach to assess the interactions between theory and data. The authors believed that these data are important for accurately assessing the strategic importance of the Indo-Pacific region, and this area was an important trigger for the US, China, and India to make adjustments to its foreign policy. If the US proposed a strategy called “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” (FOIP), India‟s strategy was called the Indo-Pacific Initiative. China‟s Indo-Pacific strategy was clearly expressed through the “String of Pearls” strategy and the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI). As a result, in the geopolitical context of the Indo-Pacific region, the competition between major powers (the US, China, India...) is also becoming fiercer and more complex. It has a significant impact on other countries in the region. INTRODUCTION Nowadays, the conception of geopolitics has not received a consensus among generations of scholars, and it tends to increase complexity in the international context after the Cold War and create different schools in the study of political science and international relations. This diversity reflects the interplay between the development of theory and the development of international political status and shows the diverse nature of international politics and international political studies. Hans J. Morgenthau, a typical realist theorist (1948), said, “International politics, like every other kind of politics, is a power struggle. Whatever the ultimate aims of international politics, power is always the immediate aim” (p. 13). In geopolitics, this relationship is expanded into a highly complex tripartite relationship between three factors: geography - power - politics. The Britannica Dictionary defines geopolitics as “the analysis of the influence of geography on power relationships in international relations” (Deudney 2013). Geopolitics can be understood as a dialectical next step of the relationship between geography and power. Geography does not fully determine how a power interaction happens, but geography significantly affects any political analysis. It is one of the sources of hard power, but sometimes, it is the leading cause of disputes between powerful actors. Ultimately, increasing ownership of geographical factors will increase power/hard power. This is the last and perhaps the most significant factor enabling an international political actor to prevail in imposing their political will on one or more other political actors. In past centuries, powerful Western countries consistently sought methods to expand their colonies and garrisons, aiming to control major transportation routes worldwide and exploit natural and human resources in their areas of influence or occupation. Their objective was either to maintain hegemony on a global or regional scale or to challenge and contest existing hegemony. This approach is commonly used to explain peace, conflict, competition, and development through a geopolitical lens. Traditional German geopolitics, the birthplace of modern geopolitics, which rose during World War I and flourished under the Third Reich, was influenced by geographical determinism, especially theories that occurred in the mid-twentieth century. The German school believes that geopolitics is the study of space from the state‟s point of view. Specifically, Karl Haushofer asserted that “Geopolitics is the new national science of the state (...) a doctrine on the spatial determinism of all political processes, based on the broad foundations of geography, especially of political geography” (Cohen 2015, 15). In this way, geographical factors are believed to be objective actors that are relatively fixed in nature; the effects of geographical factors on the political policies of a country are considered intuitively cognizable through deductive methods, and their consequences to power interactions in a relevant region can be predicted accurately with the same method of thinking. However, it is more complex and ambiguous due to the diverse coexistence of geographical and non-geographical variables. In the early XXI century, one way to understand shaping theory was not to study geography or politics but from politics to geography or a bidirectional way between two factors. Saul Bernard Cohen‟s point of view is one of the most common conceptions of the impact of geography on politics. Cohen (2003): “Geopolitics is the analysis of the interaction between, on the one hand, geographical settings and perspectives and, on the other hand, political processes. (…) Both geographical settings and political processes are dynamic, and each influence and is influenced by the other. Geopolitics addresses the consequences of this interaction” (Cohen 2015, 16). The point of view of Yves Lacoste (French geographer) represents the opposite. He noted that: The term „geopolitics‟ is understood in a variety of ways. It refers to all things that involve the competition for power or influence over territories and the people living there, the competition between all types of political powers, which is not only countries but also political movements or secret armed groups, the competition for controlling or dominating large or small territories (Lacoste 2012, 28). We ignore the extension of the political interaction entities, and this definition shows that “competition” between political entities plays a leading role in this idea of geopolitics. There are two points we need to expand from this conception of geopolitics. The first is the purpose of the disputes, though often the manifest purpose rather than the latent purpose is to own natural and human sources. The second is competition between political entities, which is organic interaction, like what Foucault recognizes as power. These traditional ways of studying were challenged by the School of critical geopolitics, which occurred and developed at the beginning of the XXI century. the XXI century. According to critical geopolitics, which comes from the social structuralism approach, when experts in state administration create ideas about geographical locations, these ideas influence and underpin their political behaviour and policy choices. And these ideas affect how people process their concepts of place and politics. This tendency has led researchers to focus on analyzing geographical discourses to identify underlying assumptions about power. This aims to break the major concepts of international politics (Flint 2006; Toal 2006). The conceptual awareness of critical geopolitics has been abandoned (Fouberg et al. 2012, 535). In this article, we maintain a unified concept of terminology. Concepts that begin with the prefix “geo” are usually theories of behaviour or policies (military, economic, politics, etc.) of one or more states through geographical, natural, or humanistic aspects rather than focusing on the influence of geographical variables only. Prefix concepts (“geo”, short for geography) should be in the politics/political science sub-disciplines rather than in geography. THE GEOPOLITICAL IMPORTANCE OF THE INDO-PACIFIC REGION The Indo-Pacific region is situated along the coasts of the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific Ocean, with seas connecting these two vast bodies of water. The Indo-Pacific region is home to more than half of the world‟s population and has abundant resources and strategically significant international sea lanes. It is one of the most dynamic economic regions, fostering cooperation and growth between developed and developing economies. Interestingly, the term “Indo-Pacific” is not novel but instead borrowed from the field of geo-biology, where it denotes tropical waters stretching from the western coast of the Indian Ocean to the Western Pacific Ocean. The term “Indo-Pacific” with a geopolitical connotation was first mentioned by Gurpreet S. Khurana, Director of the National Maritime Foundation in New Delhi (India). In the article “Security of Sea Lines: Prospects for India-Japan Cooperation”, published in Strategic Analysis in 2007, G. S. Khurana defined the Indo-Pacific as a maritime space connecting the Indian Ocean with the Western Pacific Ocean, bordering all countries in Asia (including West Asia, Middle East) and East Africa (Khurana 2007, 150). He argued that India and Japan‟s common and core interests in the maritime domain would be complex to secure if the Indian and Pacific oceans were divided in strategic perception. Thus, the term “Indo-Pacific” was born as a new regional strategic vision. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in his address to the Indian Parliament in 2007, restored an ancient geographical view of Asia called “The Confluence of the Two Seas” (Chandra and Ghoshal 2018, 34), considering it a “dynamic coupling as seas of freedom and of prosperity” (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan 2007) in Asia, set the target of linking the Pacific Ocean with the Indian Ocean to become the “Indo-Pacific” region, replacing the term of “Asia-Pacific”. The “Indo-Pacific” concept is supposed to be a geopolitical concept associated with countries inside and outside the geographical boundaries of the Asia-Pacific. Since 2010, this concept has become increasingly prevailing in strategic and geopolitical discourse and is employed by policymakers, experts, and scholars worldwide. Besides the geographical reference to the connection between the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean, the concept also has strategic and geopolitical significance, reflecting strategic changes, particularly in maritime security. Regarding geographical space, the “Indo-Pacific” term is a connecting space between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, which combines these two oceans into a singular regional construct (Berkofsky and Miracola 2019, 13). This region mainly stretches from the east coast of Africa to the west coast of the US. Indo-Pacific is located along the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific Ocean, with the seas connecting these two oceans, including Northeast Asian, Southeast Asian, and South Asian countries, as well as many Middle East and African countries. Regarding the roles, functions, connectivity, and interdependence of the two oceans, the Indo-Pacific has a diversity of ethnicities, religions, cultures, languages, and politics. This region has rich resources and important sea lanes, has the three largest economies in the world (the US, China, and Japan), is one of the most dynamic regions in terms of economy, and can support and promote each other between developed and developing economies. The Indo-Pacific has 9/10 busiest seaports in the world. About 60% of the world‟s maritime trade passes through this region, of which a third passes through the South China Sea (The US Department of Defense 2019). In addition, the sea route in the Indian Ocean is vital for transporting oil, gas, and goods worldwide, from the Middle East to Australia and East Asia. This is also a famously unstable sea with piracy and terrorism. Therefore, ensuring security for the lifeline of the world economy has received special attention from many countries. Almost 90 percent of global trade and 2/3 of hydrocarbons have been transported across oceans, most concentrated in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The Indian Ocean, in particular, carries over half of all global container shipping capacity and accounts for around 70% of all transshipment hydrocarbons. The Indian Ocean is one of the busiest international maritime trade channels, accounting for 1/9 of global seaports and 1/5 of the world‟s import and export cargo (Zhu 2018, 4). Every year, more than 100,000 ships pass through the Indian Ocean, including 2/3 of the oil tankers, 1/3 of the large cargo ships, and 1/2 of the container ships in the world (Kumar and Hussain 2016, 151). Strategically, the Indo-Pacific is viewed as a seamless structure connected by the strait of Malacca, the leading trade route connecting the two oceans. Two rationales explain the Indo-Pacific‟s strategic potential: Firstly, China‟s footprint throughout this region; secondly, the relative weakening of the US alliance system and its attempt to revive it (Das 2019). With topographical tectonics, the Indo-Pacific is also an area that holds the world‟s most important sea lanes and is home to strategic “choke points” of the world - the Suez Canal, Bab-el-Mandeb and the Strait of Hormuz to the northwest, the Mozambique Channel to the southwest and the Strait of Malacca (the strategic connection point between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean), the Sunda Strait, and the Lombok Strait in the southeast and the Cape of Good Hope. In particular, the Strait of Hormuz accounts for 40% of global crude oil shipments. Between Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia, the Strait of Malacca holds half the world‟s merchant shipping tonnage (Kaplan 2010, 7). In the context of increasing tensions in the South China Sea, the strategic location of the Strait of Malacca has become the focus of attention of countries whose economies are heavily dependent on this nasopharyngeal shipping route. Currently, the amount of oil transported through this strait is three times higher than the Suez Canal and 15 times larger than the Panama Canal (Tan 2011, 93). It can be said that the Indo-Pacific region has the most critical position for international maritime trade and the intersection of the political and economic strategic interests of many powerful countries. This region plays an increasingly important role in the XXI century, becoming the focus and center of world power. However, the Indo-Pacific is witnessing geopolitical competition and competition of interests among major powers. The US, China, India, Japan, and Australia have all made strategic adjustments to increase their influence and protect their interests in this region. The XXI century is considered “the century of seas and oceans” and is accompanied by fierce competition among world powers to gain strategic interests in the seas. In the past, nations primarily focused on competition for military objectives, geostrategic bases, and maritime traffic routes. However, in contemporary times, countries worldwide have shifted their focus towards competing for economic advantages and marine resources. The advancement of military capabilities and endeavours to vie for resources at sea increasingly indicate a trend toward leveraging maritime control to influence continental affairs. The “sea power” theory of US foremost thinker on naval warfare and maritime strategy - Alfred T. Mahan, has generated a premise for nations promoting sea power: “Control of the sea, by maritime commerce and naval supremacy, means predominant influence in the world; because however great the wealth product of the land, nothing facilitates the necessary exchanges as does the sea” (Mahan 1897, 124). Maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region has therefore become a “hot” focus in the maritime foreign policy agenda of powers. For the time being, the Indo-Pacific region is by and large peaceful and secure; however, it is confronted with some maritime security challenges: Firstly, regarding maritime disputes, there are about 40 maritime disputes between countries in the region, which could be disputes over territorial sovereignty or sovereign rights over the waters. Many disputes, including those in the East China Sea, South China Sea, Indian Ocean, or Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, are viewed as potential flashpoints for a Sino-US war or even a Third World War (Echle et al. 2020, 126). While direct armed conflicts have yet to erupt in these areas, they serve as the underlying cause of the region‟s escalating security challenges. These conflicts stem primarily from the diverse security needs of numerous countries in the region. Moreover, given their strategic significance, these areas represent complex issues in Indo-Pacific maritime security, highlighting the intricate nature of the disputes. Secondly, piracy and armed robbery have driven the Strait of Malacca, the South China Sea, and the Indian Ocean to the top of the list of the most dangerous waters. In 2018, the number of piracy and robbery cases in these areas was 8, 57, and 25, respectively, placing them second only to West Africa, which had 81 cases (International Maritime Organization, 2019, 2). While the number of piracy cases in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean decreased to 34 and 10, piracy cases in Malacca Strait increased to 45 in 2019 (International Maritime Organization 2020, 2). Another notable transnational maritime security issue in the Indo-Pacific is piracy off the coast of Somalia, which affects the waters of the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea, and the Western Indian Ocean (Elleman et al. 2010, 210). In response to this threat, the United Nations Security Council has passed Resolution 1816, which states that cooperating countries may enter Somali territorial waters and use all necessary means to combat piracy and armed robbery (Klein 2011, 280). Thirdly, alongside piracy, the Indo-Pacific region serves as a focal point for terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and Al-Shabab. Following the 11 September terrorist attacks (commonly known as 9/11), countries including Singapore, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia have consistently coordinated their naval forces to combat terrorism in the Strait of Malacca, safeguarding oil tankers traversing the area. Additionally, new maritime security risks are emerging, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region, as terrorists exploit the Malay Archipelago as a sanctuary to identify vulnerable targets in the region and collaborate with extremists, Islamic insurgents, or members of organized crime networks. This fear has become much more real since the 2002 Bali bombings (Tan 2011, 91). Furthermore, terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf, and Jemaah Islamiyah have extended maritime terrorism into Southeast Asia, affecting the broader region. The bombing of Super Ferry 14 in the Philippines in 2004 stands as the deadliest maritime terrorist attack globally to date, claiming the lives of 116 individuals (Safety4Sea 2019). Lastly, drug trafficking and human trafficking are frequent transnational concerns in the Indo-Pacific. Many multinational organized criminal groups rely heavily on drug trafficking by water for a significant portion of their revenue. Drugs produced in Afghanistan, India, and Indonesia are transported by sea to other countries via illegal markets. The manufacture and transport of drugs are rising in the Indo-Pacific region, and criminal groups are exploiting the Malacca Strait as their primary distribution route to Southeast Asia countries (Zulkifli et al. 2020, 19). Moreover, the human trafficking issue remains unresolved as the coast guard, or the security department of port and ship facilities cannot predict the consequences. Furthermore, one of the threats to maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region is arms trafficking. Most of the arms trade was carried by criminal organizations by sea in containers from southern Thailand to Aceh, Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka via the Malacca Strait and the Andaman Sea (Zulkifli et al. 2020, 19). The increase in arms trade is a significant contributor to the rise in maritime crime, particularly in Southeast Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific region. Consequently, territorial and maritime sovereignty disputes, coupled with the intricate linkages between transnational crime, piracy, and terrorism, have heightened the complexity of security threats in the marine domain. These developments strongly influence the adaptation of foreign strategies by several major powers, including China, India, and the United States. THE STRATEGIC ADJUSTMENTS OF SOME MAJOR POWERFUL COUNTRIES FOR THE INDO-PACIFIC REGION The Indo-Pacific region, with nearly half of the Earth‟s population, is at the center of the world‟s political and economic strategic interests. Currently, being rich in resources, many “throat” sea routes, and most dynamic economic and trade activities, this region plays an increasingly important role in the XXI century and beyond. However, the Indo-Pacific has been experiencing intense geopolitical competition, increasing pressure on trade and supply chains, and tensions in the technology, political, and security sectors. Great powers such as the US, China, India, Japan, and Australia have all made strategic adjustments to increase their influence and protect their interests in this region. United States of America Although not the first country to propose the Indo-Pacific concept, the US pioneered executing and implementing the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy. In recent years, the power has responded to global geopolitical changes by developing an Indo-Pacific strategy that seeks to rebalance the US to Asia as a counterweight to China‟s rise, developing alliances and partnerships to strengthen the Washington authority‟s interests over a large area stretching from the west coast of India to the west coast of the country. The US first coined the term “Indo-Pacific” through Secretary of State Hillary Clinton‟s official speech in Honolulu in October 2010. In 2017, following his inauguration, President Donald Trump intensified the term “Indo-Pacific” in official policy discourse (Turner and Parmar 2020, 229). In early June 2019, the US Department of Defense officially announced the Indo-Pacific Strategy Report for the first time. This strategy aims to enhance the US‟s bilateral alliances and multilateral cooperation mechanisms across economic, security, and maritime domains, establishing a comprehensive network spanning South, Southeast, and Northeast Asia. Subsequently, in November 2019, the US Department of State released a Progress Report detailing the implementation of the Indo-Pacific strategy. These developments underscore the significance of US engagement in the Indo-Pacific region as a top priority in President Donald Trump‟s foreign policy agenda. President Donald Trump chose the Indo-Pacific to underscore India‟s historical and contemporary significance in the region while affirming US interests and those of other countries. During a press conference in early April 2018, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alex N. Wong elaborated on the concept, offering insights into how the Trump administration defines “freedom” and “openness”. According to Wong, “freedom” in the strategy primarily emphasizes international freedom, aiming for countries in the Indo-Pacific region to pursue their paths without coercion. At the national level, the US seeks to foster societies in the region that gradually embrace freedom, characterized by good governance, protection of fundamental rights, transparency, and anti-corruption measures. On the other hand, “openness” is primarily focused on expanding sea and air traffic. Maritime traffic is crucial to the region‟s vitality, as approximately 50% of international trade traverses the Indo-Pacific, mainly through the East Sea. Therefore, expanding sea and air routes in the Indo-Pacific is increasingly vital and significant on a global scale (Le 2018). The US‟s “Vision for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific” was born for two primary reasons. Firstly, it stems from the internal factors of the US that are associated with the vital nature of national security and the role of the US in the world. As an area adjacent to many oceans, gateways, and throats connecting the US with the world, the Indo-Pacific has always been considered by the US to be a critical geostrategic area, directly affecting national security and the world leadership role of America. Implementing the FOIP strategy is a way for the US to protect national interests, ensure the freedom and security of maritime traffic, maintain the balance of forces, and promote diplomatic activities and society-culture exchanges in the area. Second, stemming from the regional security situation, China‟s rise along with construction and militarization in the East Sea are seen as threatening the free flow of trade, threatening to narrow the sovereignty of countries, and reducing stability and security in the region. Not only that, but China‟s BRI is also challenging the US‟s leadership role in the Indo-Pacific region - where there is no multilateral mechanism on security, mainly based on bilateral agreements and arrangements, such as the US-Japan Security Treaty, the US-South Korea bilateral defense treaty (Pham and Vu 2020, 103-104). The US‟s Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy is constructed upon three fundamental pillars: security, economy, and governance. The objectives of this strategy are multifaceted. Firstly, it aims to sustain long-term US leadership within the Indo-Pacific region and globally, particularly in light of China (and Russia) being explicitly identified by the US as America‟s primary strategic competitors in the National Security Strategy of 2017 and the National Defense Strategy of 2018. Secondly, the strategy promotes free, fair, and reciprocal trade. The US opposes trade deficits and unfair trade practices by other nations, instead demanding equal and responsible behaviour from its trading partners. Thirdly, it aims to uphold open sea and airspace within the region. Fourthly, it effectively addresses traditional and non-traditional security challenges, including North Korea‟s nuclear program. Lastly, the strategy strives to ensure adherence to the rule of law and the protection of individual rights (The US Department of Defense 2019). The US‟s Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy focuses on ensuring the country‟s interests, focusing on the “4P” formula in a clear order of priority: prosperity, peace, power through the deployment of American power, and finally, influence through American values and principles – Principles (Nguyen 2021a, 49). US‟s Indo-Pacific Strategy is expected that the vital sea lanes of the Indo-Pacific will “create the foundation for the global trade and prosperity” (The US Department of Defense 2019). Therefore, the US strives to promote a Free and Open Indo-Pacific by promoting economic, governance, and security linkages. The core goal of the US‟s Indo-Pacific strategy is to build an alliance axis, Quadrilateral Security Dialogue1 (QUAD) (including the US, Japan, Australia, and India) to curb and prevent China‟s rise in the region, gain dominance, and control the entire region, thereby continuing to maintain the economic interests, political power, military and diplomatic power of the US (Pham and Vu 2020, 103). This is one of the main pillars that help to realize this connectivity strategy between the two oceans. The QUAD aims to foster the sharing of common interests, values, and perceptions of security threats among the four member countries. This collaboration aims to establish a balanced power dynamic that upholds a “rules-based” order in the Indo-Pacific region. On 12 March 2021, the QUAD officially convened online to reaffirm its primary maritime security mission. The overarching objective is to counteract China‟s growing regional and global influence (The White House 2021a). Besides QUAD, on 15 September 2021, the US, UK, and Australia officially announced establishing a tripartite security partnership in the Indo-Pacific region (AUKUS). The first step can confirm that AUKUS is a new structure prone to “triangle” security in the Indian Ocean. The Pacific Ocean space aims to protect and maintain the shared interests of the parties in this region. A joint statement by US President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson affirmed the partnership in AUKUS “guided by the enduring ideals and shared commitment to the international rules-based order” (The White House 2021b). This alliance aims to “help sustain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region” (The White House 2021b). [1] The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) was established in 2007 with four member countries: the US, Australia, Japan, and India. Its primary objective was to establish a trans-Pacific economic mechanism, potentially serving as the nucleus of the Asia-Pacific Economic Forum (APEC). After a 10-year hiatus, the QUAD group officially resumed the four-way dialogue in 2017, elevating it to a dialogue of foreign ministers. This resurgence occurred amidst heightened tensions between the US and China across various fronts, with Beijing's assertive behaviour posing security concerns for Japan, India, and Australia (Buchan and Rimland 2020, 3; Brunnstrom 2017). Therefore, the US‟s efforts to promote strategic cooperation, enhance engagement across economic, political, and security domains, and forge partnerships and alliances with regional countries reflect its ambitions in the Indo-Pacific. The Free and Open strategy serves as an extension of the “America First” policy, gradually bolstering the role and preserving the influence of the US in the region. China As a major power in Asia and globally, China inevitably focuses on strategically significant regions like the Indo-Pacific. Since the Cold War, particularly in the first two decades of the XXI century, China‟s ascendance has profoundly impacted global development, reshaping power distribution worldwide. This perspective is echoed by Robert D. Kaplan, a professor at the US Naval Academy: “China is currently changing the balance of power in the Eastern Hemisphere. On land and at sea, its influence extends from Central Asia to the Russian Far East and from the East Sea to the Indian Ocean” (Kaplan 2012, 200). China has stepped up its presence in the Indo-Pacific with the “String of Pearls” strategy and the “Belt and Road” Initiative (BRI). “String of pearls” is a term coined by American analysts to describe China‟s network of shipping lanes extending from southern China to the Indian Ocean, traversing strategic points such as the Strait of Mandab, the Strait of Malacca, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Strait of Lombok. It also encompasses other fundamental naval interests, including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Maldives, and Somalia. Within this network, notable installations such as the military base on Hainan Island, the container shipping facility in Chittagong (Bangladesh), the deep-water port in Sittwe, the Kyaukpyu port, the Yangon port (Myanmar), the naval base in Gwadar (Pakistan), and the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka are referred to as the “jewels” or “pearls”. This chain of “pearls” extends from the coast of China, through the East Sea, the Strait of Malacca, across the Indian Ocean, and to the reefs of the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf (Kaplan 2012, 200). Each “jewel” within the “String of Pearls” represents China‟s geopolitical influence or military presence in key regions such as the Indo-Pacific, the East Sea, and other strategically significant seas. Through this strategy, China aims to extend its influence from Hainan in the East Sea through the world‟s busiest sea lanes towards the Persian Gulf. The primary objectives include restraining India, ensuring energy security, and asserting control over vital shipping lanes (Tran 2012, 77). To implement the “String of Pearls” strategy, China has improved relations with most of India‟s neighbours, including Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. In that context, Myanmar is a place that China can use as a springboard for its ambitions to expand its sphere of influence into Southeast Asia and South Asia (Gupta 2013, 82). Myanmar has an important strategic position between two major Asian countries, China and India. Besides, Myanmar is a coastal country in the Indian Ocean, so for Chinese policymakers, Myanmar is increasingly of more strategic value to China. Myanmar is strategically important to India and a key player in China‟s ambitions to reach the Indian Ocean. Myanmar is the only neighbouring country that can give China access to the Indian Ocean from the east, namely the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea (Myo 2015, 26-27). China’s moves in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea are the first steps to ensure China’s best interests in the Indian Ocean. China has also assisted Myanmar in developing naval bases at Sittwe, Hianggyi, Khaukphyu, Mergui, and Zadetkyi Kyun by building refuelling facilities and radar stations for Chinese submarines to operate on the Bay of Bengal (Singh 2007, 3). These facilities gather intelligence on Indian Navy activities and are forward bases for Chinese Navy operations in the Indian Ocean. With India‟s naval expansion efforts at a standstill, the Chinese Navy‟s growing presence in the region has had enormous strategic consequences for India because India‟s traditional geographical advantages are increasingly threatened by China‟s ability to penetrate deeper into Myanmar. According to US military experts, the “String of Pearls” is the basis for China to inspect and monitor all vital sea lanes in Asia and the world, curb India, Japan, and Korea, and gain the advantage of direct access to strategic locations in the Pacific. “String of Pearls” strategy, China strengthens ties with regional countries through aid, trade, and defense agreements and launches new cooperation initiatives. In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This initiative consists of two main parts: (i) The Silk Road Economic Belt (also known as the Land Silk Road) is a roadway designed with three branches (from China to Central Asia and Russia to Europe, from China through Central Asia, West Asia to the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean Sea, from China to Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Indian Ocean); (ii) Maritime Silk Road in the XXI century aims to build transport routes between major ports in different countries, including the development of an economic corridor across the Indian Ocean, connecting China with South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and the Mediterranean (Pham 2019, 31-32). The objectives of this BRI are: first, to expand the strategic space and create a backyard area of China to control the Eurasian - African continent, creating a counterbalance to the US‟s Indo-Pacific strategy; second, dominate the Indian and Pacific Ocean regions, control related shipping lanes and regional seaport systems, dominate oil and gas supplies, establish military bases in these areas through which these roads pass; third, create a socio-economic environment for the expansion of China‟s “soft power”; fourth, build a security perimeter around China to prevent the US and its allies from entering the area that Beijing considers its “backyard”, supporting China to go out into the world; fifth, promote regional economic cooperation, rely on economic cooperation to promote political relations, create a catalyst to solve problems in relations between China and countries in the region, prevent the contraction of countries in the region that have disputes with China, including the issue of maritime and island disputes; sixth, through the “5 channels” (through policy, communication (on land, at sea), trade, currency and people) to access, penetrate and control the regional economy in order to promote economic development in the region to take control of international trade, the right to evaluate and the right to distribute international resources; seventh, solve the problem of excess production capacity, find a market for stagnant goods, find an investment market, effectively use China‟s huge foreign exchange reserves, find a market for the yuan, speeding up the process of internationalization of the renminbi; Eighth, access to energy resources, especially oil and gas; Ninth, take advantage of the surrounding environment to create conditions for more equal development among regions in the country, especially the border areas, western China (Dinh 2021, 7-8). China‟s BRI prioritizes the maritime sector when it proposes the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” to connect seaports, one of the two main connections between China and Europe (Kuo and Kommenda 2018). It can be said that the BRI aims at strategic goals in terms of politics, security, economy, territorial sovereignty, and building a new framework of rules of the game in the region and the world, in which China plays a leading role (Tran 2017, 100). In addition, to counterbalance the Indo-Pacific strategy of the US and the QUAD, China has strengthened its relations with Russia and Iran by strengthening the Sino-Russian alliance in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and admitted Iran to this organization on 17 September 2021. China, Russia, and Iran have formed a “new maritime power triangle” and are preparing to launch a joint maritime exercise in the Persian Gulf. Previously, in December 2019, these three countries also conducted a joint maritime exercise in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman in the context of tensions between Washington and Tehran showing signs of escalation. India As a continental power occupying a strategic position in the heart of the Indian Ocean, India has become a prominent player in the Indo-Pacific region and one of the countries deploying manoeuvres to adjust foreign strategy. India‟s “Look East” policy (implemented since 1992) has extended India‟s foreign strategy to Southeast and East Asian countries. Over the years, India‟s regional involvement has shifted from economic ties to security cooperation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi‟s “Act East” policy (implemented since 2014) underpins India‟s approach to the Indo-Pacific region, in which this foreign policy will strengthen India‟s participation through strategic partnerships. In addition, the country has its vision for the Indo-Pacific region. India wants to promote peace and stability through an equal approach at sea and air, freedom of navigation, combating maritime crime, protecting the marine environment, and developing a green economy (Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India 2018). In 2015, in the Report “Ensuring Maritime Security: India‟s Maritime Security Strategy”, India clearly stated that its strategic vision shifted from the Euro-Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific, associated with the “Act East” policy. In his speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue (June 2016), Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid out India‟s vision for the Indo-Pacific region, emphasizing India‟s participation in organizations, taking ASEAN as the center of the region, such as the East Asia Summit (EAS), the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM+). Indian Prime Minister N. Modi first announced the Indo-Pacific Initiative during his speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue held on 1 June 2018 in Singapore. Prime Minister N. Modi affirmed, “The Indo-Pacific is a natural region (...) India does not see the Indo-Pacific Region as a strategy or as a club of limited members” (Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India 2018). On 4 November 2019, Prime Minister N. Modi once again mentioned this idea at the 14th East Asia Summit (EAS), held in Bangkok (Thailand), which “propose a cooperative effort to translate principles for the Indo-Pacific into measures to secure the shared maritime environment” (Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India 2019). This proposal also transforms India‟s conception of the Indo-Pacific region into practical and enforceable measures in the maritime domain. Regarding the policy, India has demonstrated its determination to implement the Indo-Pacific Initiative through the establishment of a Directorate-General for the Indo-Pacific under the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) since April 2019, based on merging international organizations, such as ASEAN, the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and the QUAD including the US, Japan, Australia, and India. In September 2020, India continued to establish the Directorate for Oceania in the MEA to promote India‟s administrative and diplomatic fields, stretching from the Western Pacific Ocean to the Andaman Sea. India‟s Indo-Pacific Initiative consists of 7 pillars, including 1) Marine security, 2) Marine ecosystems, 3) Marine resources, 4) Capacity building and resource sharing, 5) Disaster risk reduction and management, 6) Technology and trade cooperation, and 7) Connectivity and shipping, which can be grouped into six groups: 1) Maritime security; 2) Marine ecosystems and marine resources; 3) Building maritime enforcement capacity and information sharing; 4) Manage and reduce disaster risks; 5) Science and technology cooperation; 6) Trade connection and sea transportation (Nguyen 2021). India‟s approach to this strategy is inclusive and transcends traditional security issues or geopolitical challenges. India also wants to promote cooperation in environmental issues related to the sea and ocean sectors. Through the Indo-Pacific Initiative, India wishes to lead, chair, and coordinate in cooperation inside and outside the region, especially with small and medium-sized countries. Compared to the US‟s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy, India expands the geographical reach of the region under the Indo-Pacific Initiative, whereby the Indo-Pacific covers the African coast to the west of the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea, including neighbouring countries in the Gulf, islands in the Arabian Sea and the African region. By asserting “both geographical poles” of the Indo-Pacific Initiative, India emphasizes the balance between the two groups of policies, “Act East” and “Act West”, forming an integral part of the country‟s strategy in the Indo-Pacific region. For India, strengthening security cooperation with the US, forging a special strategic partnership with Japan, and maintaining the relationship with Australia are strategic focuses in shaping economic and security architecture in the region based on the “diamond quadrilateral” alliance. At the same time, to connect with the open Indo-Pacific space, India also strengthened ties with Asian, European, and African countries. CONCLUSION Due to the Indo-Pacific region‟s current structural makeup, the major regional powers have gradually turned it into a strategic area of power competition. Countries interested in the region actively participate in the Indo-Pacific regional architecture and seek ways to strengthen their positions to act as a counterweight in regional international affairs. Today, the Indo-Pacific is seen as a crucial element in the changes in global geopolitics and the focal point of numerous power struggles. In this region, besides the US, two Asian powers play a major role in regional security, China and India, because both countries seem to be putting all their efforts into improving regional security, greater competition than other areas due to their position. India is prepared and actively involved in a motivated strategy against China in the Indo-Pacific, in contrast to other regions where it has historically been more passive and weaker. India is moving toward the US in this competition but maintaining a neutral stance. Additionally, it is working to increase influence and fortify multilateral ties to close the power gap with China. With regard to China‟s growing influence in the region and its security implications for India and other regional countries, there exists a wide pessimism, particularly in Western analyses. It is quite pertinent to point out here that the India - China relationship is nicely balanced between the elements of cooperation and conflict, like that of the US-China relationship. Especially there is enough space in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond to accommodate both rising China and India. They can coexist and grow peacefully. However, the trends and issues will ostensibly continue to unfold in the region with greater worrying security concerns. In the coming years, maritime security within the Indo-Pacific region will be a key factor in the development of many countries. It, however, remains a major concern in the area because of the growing non-traditional security threats, in addition to maritime boundary disputes. Particularly, events in the SCS will continue to attract much of the regional and international attention. These could engulf the regional and international stakeholder‟s capability to maintain peace, security, and stability within the region in a sustained and effective manner. Most importantly, countries in the Indo-Pacific region share many of these common concerns. Invigorating greater cooperation and coherence in their strategy could help address the problems collectively. Moreover, establishing an Indo-Pacific Regional Security Architecture will be very handy in addressing common security concerns and threats. As a result, as the Indo-Pacific area is being shaped, the competition between the major powers is also becoming more complex and severe, significantly impacting the other nations in the region. In short, during the first two decades of the XXI century, the Indo-Pacific region has witnessed constant competition among numerous world powers. The region‟s strategic, economic, and commercial significance has positioned it at the heart of global contention, reshaping the character of international politics. The Indo-Pacific has become the focal point of international conflicts and power dynamics, heralding a significant new geopolitical landscape in the XXI century. It can be asserted that the power competition among these nations will shape the interaction patterns among Indo-Pacific countries in the ensuing years of this century. 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Energy & Economics
SHENZHEN, CHINA - CIRCA NOVEMBER 2019: ZTE room at the High-Tech Fair China 2019 at Shenzhen Convention & Exhibition Center.

What should Europeans do about the U.S.-China Rivalry in key strategic technologies?

by Roberta Haar , Hengyi Yang

한국어로 읽기Leer en españolIn Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربيةLire en françaisЧитать на русском In October 2023, the EU Commission identified four technology fields as critical: advanced semiconductors; artificial intelligence (AI); quantum, and; biotechnologies.[1] All four areas are greatly impacted by the U.S.-China rivalry in technology, making it essential for Europeans to understand the Sino-American competition. This article examines this rivalry from the Chinese and U.S. perspectives. It recounts their prevailing attitudes, which are shaped by recent events, and that, in turn, mold Chinese and American strategic approaches. From the Chinese policymakers’ perspective, its geo-technological competition with the U.S. is novel and passively learned. During Xi Jinping’s first term, the Chinese government still positioned technology under the economic-oriented strategy of innovation-driven development. This stance followed the idea that ‘science and technology constitute a primary productive force’ and the ‘peaceful development’ principles set during Deng Xiaoping’s era. However, around 2018, two sanctions incidents that targeted Chinese telecommunications giants shifted Chinese leaders’ understanding of tech strategy into the geopolitical context. The first sanction incident involved ZTE, China’s second-largest communications equipment manufacturer. In 2016, the Barack Obama administration accused ZTE of selling telecom equipment containing American chip technology to Iran, which violated U.S. sanctions. In 2017, ZTE pleaded guilty and paid a fine of $1.2 billion. However, in 2018, Trump’s government stated that ZTE did not comply with the settlement agreement, coupling previous sanctions with export controls on ZTE in April 2018. The second incident involved Meng Wanzhou, then Vice-Chairwoman and CFO of the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, who was arrested in Vancouver, Canada, during a layover in December 2018. Her detention was at the extradition request of the Trump administration, which levied charges related to alleged violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran. These included bank and wire fraud and outright violations of U.S. sanctions via a subsidiary called Skycom Tech, which allegedly concealed Huawei’s activities in Iran. The necessity of a strategic adjustment These two incidents caused an uproar in the Chinese media, followed by a surge in public patriotic sentiment. However, for the Chinese government, the impact and significance of the two cases were quite different. The essence of the ZTE case was commercial sanctions, which meant that ZTE violated business norms and deserved economic punishment. The official Chinese government stance was that ‘this is just an individual case of corporate violation.’ Despite this position, the fact that the government was actively involved nonetheless politicized the incident within China. It was Xi Jinping himself who negotiated with Trump to save ZTE from bankruptcy after which ZTE became a state-owned enterprise with absolute state control—a move that ultimately resulted in ZTE gaining a greater domestic market share than Huawei. At the international level, the top-level nature of negotiations prevented the ZTE incident from overly politicizing then-ongoing trade frictions between the U.S. and China. While the ZTE episode was resolved with little rancor, Chinese senior officials became concerned about the impact that the U.S. might have on China’s strategic technology companies.[2] In November 2018, Tan Tieniu, then Deputy Secretary-General of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, reported to China’s top leaders that they should learn from the ZTE incident. They should avoid overreliance on imports of core electronic components and chips, and they should not repeat mistakes made by ZTE. In the same month, Xi Jinping mentioned in a speech that ‘internationally, advanced technology and key technology is more and more difficult to obtain… forcing us to travel the road of self-reliance.’ Terms like technological security, technology ‘chokepoints’ (卡脖子), and core technologies in key fields (关键核心技术) began to appear frequently in Chinese official discourse. These reflected Chinese leadership’s views about the ZTE incident that were in turn shaping strategic thoughts on the geopolitical technology competition with the United States. It was the Meng Wanzhou incident at the end of 2018 that for Chinese leaders confirmed the necessity of a strategic adjustment. As in the ZTE case, Huawei was involved in a business violation that from the Chinese perspective should have resulted in corporate punishment. Instead, a personal arrest warrant was issued for Meng, thereby escalating a commercial sanction into a political and diplomatic incident. Le Yucheng, then Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, urgently summoned the U.S. and Canadian ambassadors to China and issued a stern protest. The Chinese government also arrested two Canadian citizens in China, sentencing one to 11 years in prison. The Chinese Ambassador to Canada wrote that the Meng Wanzhou case was a ‘premeditated political act in which the United States wields its regime power to hunt a Chinese high-tech company out of political consideration.’ Chinese Defensive Deterrence These two episodes shaped and reinforced Chinese leaders’ strategic thinking about its geopolitical technology competition with the U.S. The 14th Five-Year Plan issued by the CCP in 2020 proposed ‘making technological self-reliance’ a strategic goal. Soon all official documents established a new tone for China’s technology strategy based on self-reliance. Previously, China pursued a reassurance strategy, a strategy that showed goodwill towards the U.S. and the system it led. Thus, in theory, China had two strategic options: reassurance and/or deterrence. The former strategy involves showing friendliness towards the U.S. and its allies, thereby releasing tension, and maybe re-joining the U.S.-led system. A reassurance strategy allowed China more time for stable development—the logic of ‘keeping a low profile’ of the Deng Xiaoping era. The Xi Jinping government picked the second option, deterrence, which is to show strength or use countermeasures to reduce the likelihood of further U.S. trade or coercive action. To make a deterrence strategy work, however, Xi further believed China needed to gain strong capacity in key tech fields. Therefore, Xi first mobilized domestic R&D resources and tried to acquire advanced technologies before using diplomatic countermeasures. The core logic underlying this geopolitical technology strategy is one of ‘defensive deterrence.’ A typical example of this strategy in play concerns the semiconductor industry. Facing export controls on semiconductor equipment from the U.S., the Netherlands, and Japan, the Chinese government first increased R&D investment in the sector, trying to overcome ‘chokepoint’ technologies. As a result, China’s investment in semiconductor R&D grew from $10 billion in 2018 to $25 billion in 2022, an increase of 150%. At the same time, the Chinese government increased investment in the production of key raw materials (silicon, gallium nitride, etc.) and semiconductor production bases. It also guided industries upstream while also pushing for downstream integration through policies to improve and strengthen supply-chain security. Chinese policy also moved to increase international supply-chain dependence on China through its comparative advantages in the semiconductor industry (and even other industries) in a hedging move against the U.S. and its allies. For example, in the automotive chip sector, in the supply of vital raw materials, and in the semiconductor equipment markets, China sought to utilize its significant comparative advantages. In August 2023, the Chinese government announced export controls on gallium and germanium, two key materials for manufacturing semiconductors. China Seeking More Regulatory Power But in addition to responding to what was perceived as U.S. containment policies in the area of technology, China’s strategic use of technology followed another approach, one led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT). This third approach sought more regulatory power, for example, in the areas of civilian AI where China has huge potential.[3] Starting in 2018, the Chinese government showed a strong determination to introduce and study AI ethics and technical standards.[4] Based on these domestic framework policies, various diplomatic initiatives, and standards proposals, the MFA and MIIT expanded China’s regulatory influence in the field of AI. For example, the MFA proposed the ‘Global Data Security Initiative’ in 2020 and the ‘Global Artificial Intelligence Governance Initiative’ in 2023. Minister Wang Yi explicitly stated ‘We hope to provide a blueprint for related international discussions and rule-making.’ The China Electronics Standardization Institute, affiliated with the MIIT, also actively participates in the formulation of international new technology standards. Selectively decoupling: U.S. Attitudes and Strategies When it comes to strategic technologies, the Joe Biden administration has generally maintained a stance toward China that aligns closely with the previous administration led by Donald J. Trump. This is especially the case concerning competitive technologies such as 5G/6G, the specialized processors designed to handle the computational demands of AI, quantum computing, and electric vehicles (EVs). Taking a page from U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s Cold War playbook of outspending the Soviet Union, president Biden initiated a $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan. This plan, not unlike China’s policy to increase domestic innovation and strength, allocated funds for sectors such as transportation, manufacturing, renewable energy, clean water, and high-speed broadband for both wired and wireless technologies. The justification for these investments, part of the Build Back Better Act (BBB) policy and later incorporated into the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) and Science Act, was that they were a response to Xi Jinping’s ambitious goals of doubling China’s economy by 2035, intending to establish China as a global leader in biotechnology, green energy, and AI. In addition to a spending strategy to boost U.S. competitiveness in strategic technologies, the Biden administration continued with some of Trump’s punitive measures. For example, Biden maintained tariffs amounting to approximately $300 billion. He also continued action against Huawei, which has the potential to outcompete in 5G/6G mobile network technology. The Trump administration used the Bureau of Industry and Security to exclude Huawei from global semiconductor supply chains and it placed the company on the Commerce Department’s Entity List, thus requiring U.S. companies to obtain a license before exporting to Huawei. As discussed above, Trump’s executive branch also brought fraud allegations against Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng. While Biden kept in place Trump-era prohibitions on sales of U.S. goods to companies like Huawei, as well as maintaining restrictions on exports of U.S. critical technology, he did quickly resolve the dispute over Meng. Within hours of the deal for her release, the two men caught up in the game of hostage diplomacy left China on a flight back to Canada. Highlighting the political nature of the incident, when Meng returned to China, senior local officials at the airport met her. Encourage Multilateralism to meet Global Challenges Along with strident measures, the Biden administration also sought a more nuanced stance. Indications that suggest a less hawkish approach to China include emphasizing a collaborative approach toward global challenges like climate change and future pandemics. Biden further pushed for engagement in high-level meetings with, for example, Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, who held talks with their Chinese counterparts, Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi, in Anchorage, Alaska, in March 2021. These talks were frostier than U.S. officials would have preferred but they got the two sides to engage in some dialogue. Similarly, Biden sought to engage with China in multilateral forums and organizations where both countries are members, such as the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum that Biden hosted in November 2023. Even the choice of San Francisco as the venue was designed to be conciliatory as it has historic ties to Asia as well as a central role in global technology as the home of Silicon Valley. Still, one must keep in mind that in deciding on a strategy towards China, Biden must also contend with a Congress and public opinion that are growing increasingly skeptical of doing business with China, which they believe steals good jobs and sends balloons over American territory to spy on U.S. critical infrastructure. One primary shaper of U.S. attitudes towards China are the leaders of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, Republican Representative Mike Gallagher and Democratic Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, who lead one of the last bastions of functioning bipartisanship in Washington, D.C. With their many investigations, subpoenas, and policy recommendations, the House China Committee has become the ‘beating heart’ of U.S. Congressional policy, which, with regards to technology, argues for selectively decoupling from China for national security reasons.[5] A way forward Faced with the U.S.’ decoupling or blunting strategies and China’s defensive deterrence strategy, what steps might European nations take to navigate through the choppy, contentious waters of strategic technologies? Are there also steps that Europeans can take to mitigate the impact on their own strategic technology vulnerability? First, recognizing the pivotal role of technology in the rapidly digitizing global economy, Europeans need to stress that it is in the collective interest of everyone to establish institutions, norms, and policies for effective global governance. Rather than engaging in reactive geopolitical maneuvers resembling a chess game, these institutions could concentrate on constructing a more cooperative foundation for crucial technology sectors. Second, along with this recognition, efforts could be directed toward the development of future institutions, policies, and norms that set standards for next-generation and sensitive technologies. Such efforts should take into account initiatives already made by the Chinese and the Americans. Such efforts could also coincide with a third approach of encouraging the Biden administration to adopt a comprehensive multilateral approach. The U.S. needs to push for collaboration beyond issues such as climate change and economic inequality to encompass the intensely competitive areas in technology like those discussed in this article. For one, Europeans could point out that U.S. blunting strategies are simply not working and may even be backfiring by accelerating Chinese technological advances. In September 2023, Huawei released the Mate 60 Pro smartphone equipped with a 7nm domestic chip, revealing that China has overcome some hurdles that U.S. bans were designed to stymie.[6] Since no one knows how long China’s defensive deterrence strategy will hold (and shift to what Chinese leaders believe is a more offensive deterrence), nor whether Trump or someone as equally anti-multilateral as Trump will be (re)elected, Europeans have many incentives to encourage a softer engagement between China and the U.S. Changing the narrative is a fourth important recommendation. It is essential to recognize that the essence of the Sino-American technology competition is more about narrative construction than a description of the current situation. One indication of this is that both sides believe that the other side started what has been described as the ‘new Cold War.’[7] It does not help that both sides have engaged in behavior that supports the other side’s narrative with some hawkish actors employing similar bash-the-other tactics to gain political advantage.[8] Typically, the factual basis for technological competition is grounded in industrial competition, corporate rivalry, or intellectual property disputes. However, the high-tech relationship between China and the United States has been one of complementarity as well as rivalry. Both China and the United States, as well as European stakeholders, need to be careful of the narratives they espouse, lest they become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This work has been funded by the REMIT project, funded from the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 101094228 Footnotes [1] EU Commission Recommendation of 3.10.2023 on critical technology areas for the EU’s economic security for further risk assessment with Member States. [2] Gregory C. Allen. 2023. ‘China’s New Strategy for Waging the Microchip Tech War.’ csis.org, May 3. [3] Jing Cheng and Jinghan Zeng. 2023. ‘Shaping AI’s Future? China in Global AI Governance.’ Journal of Contemporary China 32(143): 794-810. [4] See White Paper on AI Standardization, a Guide to the Building of a National Standard Framework for New Generation AI, a report on Ethical Norms for New Generation AI, a White Paper on Trustworthy AI as well as other regulatory documents. [5] Robbie Gramer. 2023. ‘The Masterminds: Washington wants to get tough on China, and the leaders of the House China Committee are in the driver’s seat.’ foreignpolicy.com, November 27. [6] Weiwen Wang. (2023). ‘China Breaks Through 7nm Chip Technology, Has the China-U.S. Tech War Entered Phase 2.0?’ (中国突破7纳米芯片技术 中美科技战进入2.0阶段?). Lianhe Zaobao (联合早报), September 17. Retrieved from https://www.zaobao.com.sg/news/china/story20230917-1433739 [7] Patricia M. Kim, Matthew Turpin, Joseph S. Nye Jr., Jessica Chen Weiss, Eun A Jo, Ryan Hass, and Emilie Kimball. 2023. ‘Should the US pursue a new Cold War with China?’ Brookings.edu, September 1. [8] Roberta N. Haar. 2020. ‘Will China replace the U.S. as the world’s predominant power?’ Atlantisch Perspectief 44(3):9-13.

Energy & Economics
Chinese Yuan on the map of South America. Trade between China and Latin American countries, economy and investment

Ahead of the curve: Why the EU and US risk falling behind China in Latin America

by Ángel Melguizo , Margaret Myers

한국어로 읽기 Leer en español In Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français Читать на русском As Beijing’s investment approach to Latin America focuses on industries of strategic importance, the EU and US will need to contend with growing Chinese competition China is pouring less foreign direct investment (FDI) into Latin America. But while this may seem like a sign of Beijing’s disinterest in the region, data suggests that Chinese companies are simply recalibrating, not retreating. In doing so, they are becoming important players in sectors key to Western interests: critical minerals, fintech, electric vehicles, and green energy. While the European Union and the United States have long been top investors in Latin America, increased competition with Chinese investment now jeopardises their interests in the Latin American industries that will become most crucial to the digital and green transitions. The number of Chinese projects in Latin America grew by 33 per cent from 2018-2023, compared with the previous five-year period of 2013-2017, even as the total value declined. In other words, Chinese companies are making more investments in the region but are pursuing smaller-scale projects on average. These investments are also more focused on what China calls “new infrastructure“ (新基建), a term which encompasses telecommunications, fintech, renewable energy, and other innovation-related industries. In 2022, 60 per cent of China’s investments were in these frontier sectors, a key economic priority for the country. Beijing also views smaller projects in these industries as incurring less operational and reputational risk, especially compared to some of the large-scale infrastructure investment projects often associated with the Belt and Road initiative. Like China, the investment priorities of the G7 grouping – particularly the US and the EU – are centring on critical minerals, fintech, electric vehicles, and green energy as they aim to grow and reinforce existing economic and political partnerships in Latin America. However, both the US and the EU risk falling short of China’s investment strategy in the region. The US has signalled want for greater economic engagement with the region, especially in sectors of strategic interest. However, to date, US efforts to compete with China remain largely focused on building US domestic capacity in these strategic sectors, even as some US companies, such as Intel, are increasingly focused on including regional partners in their supply chains. Some see opportunity for Latin America in Joe Biden’s landmark legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which is aimed at incentivising the energy transition while also de-risking critical supply chains. For example, certain countries in the region may benefit from preferential market access for their lithium or other key inputs to new energy and technology supply chains. However, the reach of the IRA – which remains a largely domestic policy – does not stretch as far as China’s current investment reshuffle. The Americas Act, announced by members of Congress in March could generate promising new investment opportunities for the region, as it encourages US companies and others to move their operations out of China, to which Latin America stands as a promising replacement. But Americas Act reshoring would primarily incentivise textiles and potentially medical equipment manufacturing, with less overall focus on the range of “new infrastructure” industries that China is prioritising. Chinese interests in information and communication technologies reveal a similar story. While the US has focused its policy on 5G equipment sales, China is undertaking a process of vertical integration in Latin American tech sectors that will dramatically boost its competitiveness. For instance, Chinese company Huawei is rapidly expanding its focus to include data centres, cloud computing, cybersecurity, and other services, especially in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. (Computing accounted for a sizable 41 per cent of total Chinese information technology investment in the region between 2018 and the first half of 2023.) At the same time, Global Gateway, the EU’s proposal for a global investment initiative is yet to reach its potential in the region. Brussels is looking to be Latin America’s partner of choice by building local capacity for making batteries and final products like electric vehicles, as European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen noted last year. Yet even as the EU signals renewed commitment, China is becoming increasingly dominant in the electric vehicle market in Latin America and other regions. China surpassed the US in electric vehicle sales in 2023, with Chinese companies accounting for 45 per cent of total global sales and three times that of Germany’s. What is more, China has invested $11 billion in lithium extraction in the region since 2018, as part of a bid to control a third of global lithium-mine production capacity. Meanwhile the EU has secured some access to lithium as part of trade deals with Chile, alongside other nations, but this pales in comparison to what will be required to fuel the future of EU battery production. Latin America as a whole accounts for an estimated 60 per cent of the world’s lithium reserves. Based on its current levels of engagement in the region, the EU risks falling short of lithium, stalling its battery production and subsequently, its electric vehicle sales, just as China advances in this field. The window is closing for the EU, the US, and other partners looking to both maintain market share and compete with China in these Latin American industries, despite still-high rates of US and EU investment in and trade with the region. Indeed, US automakers increasingly see Chinese competition across the globe as an “extinction-level event.” Ensuring competitiveness in “new infrastructure” and related sectors will require a continuous commitment by partners to building and supporting project pipelines, and to delivering products and services at price points that can compete with China’s subsidised offerings. Both the EU and the US remain critical economic partners for Latin America and are contributing in ways that China is not. Still, complacency risks allowing China to take the lead in emerging industries in the region, some of which weigh heavily in the EU’s green and digital transformation. To protect their own future industries, the EU and the US need to first take a longer look at Latin America’s – especially as China vies for a dominant position.

Defense & Security
Solomon Islands

Russia and China co-ordinate on disinformation in Solomon Islands elections

by Albert Zhang , Adam Ziogas

한국어로 읽기 Leer en español In Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français Читать на русском Moscow and Beijing likely worked together to sow disinformation globally that was propagated locally by political parties in the lead-up to Solomon Islands’ national and provincial elections on 17 April 2024. Both countries’ propaganda systems accused the United States, without evidence, of using its foreign aid and networks across the country to interfere in voting and of preparing to foment riots and orchestrate regime change in response to an unsatisfactory election result. This campaign adds to a growing body of evidence showing that China’s and Russia’s ‘no limits’ partnership extends to coordinating their disinformation campaigns in the Indo-Pacific. The narratives haven’t gained widespread attention or media coverage in Solomon Islands. Australia, the United States and other Pacific partners should nonetheless be concerned, as Russia and China can be expected to learn from this campaign and will likely use the lessons to further improve their influence operations in the region. Individually, China and Russia are adept and expert at pushing disinformation to disrupt other nations but, by coordinating their efforts, they have a force-multiplier effect. The campaign consisted of an alleged ‘leaked’ letter, articles published on authoritarian state-controlled media outlets and a fringe journal publication, which were then shared and amplified on social media platforms. A fortnight before election day, an unknown author by the name of Richard Anderson published an explosive article in CovertAction Magazine alleging that the US was seeking regime change in Solomon Islands. The US-based magazine was co-founded in 1978 by the late Philip Agee, a former CIA officer who after his retirement became a vocal critic of the agency and of US policy and had reported links with Soviet and Cuban intelligence. The magazine was set up ‘on the initiative of the KGB’, the Soviet Union’s main intelligence agency, according to a book by KGB defector Vasili Mitrokhin and British intelligence historian Christopher Andrew. Anderson had no previous history of writing for CovertAction Magazine. A week after that article was published, Russian state-controlled media agency Sputnik further fuelled the allegations, writing that the US was ‘plotting [an] electoral coup’. This article cited an anonymous source who had ‘intimate familiarity’ with the activities of USAID, the main United States foreign aid and international development agency. This mirrored how Anderson is described in his CovertAction Magazine bio, though Sputnik’s article did not explicitly mention him or his article. Sputnik’s claims were amplified four days later by the Chinese state-controlled tabloid newspaper the Global Times, which did directly reference Anderson’s article and has the potential to legitimise these narratives to an audience the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is actively targeting. During the same period, a poorly fabricated letter from an unconfirmed (and potentially non-existent) IFES project consultant was circulated among Solomon Islanders by an unknown source claiming that the US was seeking a ‘democratic transition by violent means in necessary circumstances.’ The text in this letter mirrored language used by Sputnik’s alleged anonymous source. Figure 1: Paragraph from Sputnik article (top) and a screenshot of the alleged IFES letter (bottom).     To be clear, there is no evidence that the US, or any other country, is supporting violent riots or interfering in Solomon Islands. Ann Marie Yastishock, US Ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu, has strongly refuted these allegations. This is not the first time the CCP-controlled media has spread disinformation in Solomon Islands or accused the US of seeking to instigate riots in the country. Following the 2021 Honiara riots, the CCP falsely accused Australia, the US and Taiwan of organising the riots, fomenting unrest and discrediting the relationship between Solomon Islands and China. In contrast, Russian media outlets also covered the 2021 Honiara riots but didn’t promote any explicit accusations of US or foreign interference. This time, China and Russia have been in lockstep. In the lead-up to the April elections, Russian state media was more direct and damning in its reporting with the release of Sputnik’s original article and in the subsequent coordination and dissemination of false narratives alongside Chinese state media. While Sputnik published only one follow-up article to the initial investigation, China’s Global Times was more prolific and varied, with six articles alleging US meddling in Solomon Islands. Of these six articles, four explicitly referenced Sputnik’s claims and two referenced US influence operations in more general terms. The indications of Russia-China propaganda coordination in this campaign were further supported by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) post on 19 April 2024 titled ‘The Hypocrisy and Facts of the United States Foreign Aid’. The post on their website claims the US is giving aid to Solomon Islands, among other countries, only because it sees it as a political threat. This was the first article ever published by the MFA to smear USAID. Moscow, however, has consistently campaigned against USAID since it ejected the US agency from Russia in 2012 for ‘meddling in politics’. Russian media has pushed a consistent narrative that the organisation is a US imperialist tool of regime change, accusing it of fomenting civil unrest and coup attempts as far afield as Belarus, Cuba, Georgia and Mexico. However, this latest attack against USAID appears to be the first where Russia’s narratives are working to the benefit of CCP interests. It’s been clear since at least 2018 that Russian and Chinese state media are converging on media narratives that serve their governments’ strategic and political interests. According to leaked documents from Russian state broadcaster VGTRK, Russian and Chinese propaganda entities also signed an agreement to ‘further cooperate in the field of information exchange, promoting objective, comprehensive and accurate coverage of the most important world events’. While previous ASPI research has demonstrated Russian and Chinese state-coordinated narratives on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the repeated re-airing of Sputnik’s conspiratorial claims of interference in Solomon Islands’ elections in Global Times articles indicates this propaganda cooperation is now a global initiative. There was also some evidence of amplification by inauthentic accounts on social media of these narratives, but they were limited and it is unclear whether they were state linked. For example, one X account with the handle @jv79628 shared the original Sputnik investigation. The account posts links almost exclusively from Sputnik, Global Times, Australian website Pearls and Irritations and videos with artificial intelligence-generated voices from the pro-CCP YouTube channel Chinese Revival, which may be linked to the Shadow Play network previously uncovered by ASPI. Other accounts sharing the original Sputnik report, such as @de22580171, pose as pro-Russian US citizens. They share articles mostly from Sputnik or Russia Today. At the time of publication of this report, Russia’s and China’s state media articles, and the accusations contained in them, have had minimal reach into online Pacific communities. In the public Solomon Islands Facebook groups ASPI viewed, online discourse remains more focussed on the emergence of new coalitions and the election of a new Prime Minister than on discussion of foreign influence or interference. According to Meta’s social monitoring tool, CrowdTangle, none of the articles from the Global Times have been shared in open and public Solomon Islands Facebook groups. However, Sputnik’s first article may have been more successful in reinforcing anti-Western sentiments in outgoing Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s O.U.R. Party, who are strong contenders to be part of the coalition that forms the next government. That article was posted on the O.U.R. Party Solomon Islands Facebook page, which is run by the party, on 10 April. It was reshared to several public Facebook groups in Solomon Islands, including news aggregation sites and local island forum pages. This is significant because it is the first time a news article has been posted on the O.U.R. Party Solomon Islands Facebook page, which typically shares positive images of the party’s activities and political campaigns. As of 1 May 2024, the post (below) has had over 180 interactions, which is higher than the average number of interactions a typical post has on this page. Figure 2: Screenshot of Sputnik article posted in O.U.R Party Solomon Islands Facebook page.     Sogavare, a founding member of the O.U.R. Party, has made similar remarks about ‘foreign forces’ previously. According to an article published in the Solomon Star, when US Ambassador Yastishock visited Solomon Islands in late March to present her letter of credentials to Governor-General John Oti, Sogavare claimed foreign forces were ‘intervening in the national general election’ and ‘may fund some political parties and plan to stage another riot during the election to disrupt the electoral process and undermine social stability’. Despite the low online interaction so far, the barrage of US regime change allegations lays the foundation for future narratives that may resurface if Solomon Islands experiences future unrest. Beijing and Moscow can be expected to learn from these disinformation efforts, leaving the US, Australia and their Pacific partners no room for complacency about the threat the regimes pose, nor the need for effective strategic communication. The Russian and Chinese governments are seeking to destabilise the Pacific’s information environment by using disinformation campaigns and influence operations to undermine traditional partnerships. In this digital age, leaders of governments and civil society across the region need to consistently confront and counter baseless lies pushed by authoritarian state media, such as accusations that the governments of Australia and the US are instigating riots. If they fail to do so, partnerships with, and trust in, democratic countries are at risk of deteriorating, which can reduce the development benefits provided to Pacific Island Countries by Western partners. Australia, the US, and other close Pacific partners, such as Japan, New Zealand and the European Union, must take a stronger stance against false and misleading information that is starting to circulate in the region as a result of authoritarian state-backed disinformation campaigns. These nations must also better support and encourage local media and governments to take further steps to identify and combat false information online. This includes providing more training packages and opportunities for dialogue on media-government communication procedures to tackle disinformation and misinformation. Countering the effects of disinformation requires ongoing efforts to call out false statements, educate the public, and build country-wide resilience in the information environment. Greater transparency and public awareness campaigns from the region’s partners can also help to ‘prebunk’—or anticipate and delegitimise—disinformation and alleviate concerns about malign activity.

Defense & Security
China, USA and Iran Flags

Iran’s Strategies in Response To Changes in US-China Relations

by Sara Bazoobandi

한국어로 읽기 Leer en español In Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français Читать на русском Bazoobandi, S. Iran’s Strategies in Response to Changes in US-China Relations. Middle East Policy. 2024;31:120–132. https://doi.org/10.1111/mepo.12727 Abstract The dynamics of the relationship between the United States and China have been shifting. This has prompted changes in strategic calculus and policy adoption by the friends and foes of each side. Iran, given its decades-long links with China, has made several. First, it has deepened its ties with the Asian power beyond collaboration in business and trade. Second, it has revised its policies in the Gulf region to be a part of what it sees as China's network of influence, hoping to better position itself in a multilateral global order. Third, it has been seeking opportunities to project power through showing off its military capabilities in Ukraine. This article examines these strategic responses and concludes that Iran has been pursuing an agenda in line with the world vision of its senior leaders. The end goal for Tehran is to gain more power and relevance in the global strategic calculus. This analysis is part of a special issue examining the responses of Gulf countries to rising Sino-American competition, edited by Andrea Ghiselli, Anoushiravan Ehteshami, and Enrico Fardella. Over the past decade, the relationship between China and United States has been going through fundamental changes.1 “Engagement, cooperation, and convergence,” previous pillars of the ties between the world's largest economic powerhouses, have been replaced by the trade war between Beijing and Washington.2 These changes have influenced strategic choices made by states around the world, including Iran. The country has increased its commercial ties with China, which has been instrumental in Tehran's efforts to circumvent US sanctions and maintain the regime's financial bloodline. As a result, China has remained Iran's largest trade partner for more than a decade.3 The Islamic Republic perceives the changes in US-China relations as a sign of US decline and foresees the end of unipolarity in the global system. This has emboldened Tehran's attempt to pursue three main strategies: deepen its ties with China, revise its policies in the Gulf region, and project power through showing off its military capabilities in Ukraine. This article analyzes Tehran's strategic calculus in pursuing these strategies. It aims to provide a holistic understanding of Iran's vision for a multipolar world system that the country's senior leaders sense as increasingly viable. The article starts with a brief review of the expansion and strengthening of Iran-China ties, which has undoubtedly been crucial in Iran's economic survival. This section underscores that in addition to economic hardship, the changing dynamics between Beijing and Washington, combined with Iran's ideological framework of the “new world order” and the regional struggle over the balance of power, have influenced Iran's relations with China. In 2022, Iran's supreme leader, its most senior political figure, stated: “The world is on the threshold of a new world order” in which “the United States is becoming weaker day by day.”4 The analysis indicates that Iran sees this as the starting point for the emergence of a multipolar order, in which the global clout of non-Western powers such as China and Russia is on the rise. By expanding and strengthening its ties with China, Iran is aiming to align itself with the leading global powers that are both deemed to be trustworthy by the senior political leaders and expected to emerge as stronger than the United States. The second section focuses on the impact of US-China relations on Iran's strategy toward the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. China has been visibly increasing its involvement in the Gulf region. Trade and investment levels have been rising, and both sides have indicated their intentions to boost their strategic partnership. The United States has for several decades played the role of the security guarantor of the Arab nations in the Gulf. Given Iran's perception of America's weakening, navigating these regional dynamics, particularly the strengthening of GCC-China ties, has influenced Tehran's strategy in the region. The article argues that Iran is seeking to improve ties with the GCC, in line with its strategy of expanding relations with China as a non-Western power in an emerging global multipolar system. For example, the consolidation of the ties between China and the GCC has motivated Iran to shift its hostile approach toward some member states, particularly Saudi Arabia. This section provides an overview of the Gulf-China partnership in light of changing relations between Washington and Beijing. It aims to provide a better understanding of how Iran's strategies have been shaped by its perception of the shifting dynamics among the Western and non-Western powers in this region. Next, the article investigates the impact of US-China relations on the ties between Tehran and Moscow, given the perception of Iran's senior leaders of American decline and their determination to gain more significance in the global order. Russia and China's mutual desire to redefine the normative principles of the international order has strengthened their cooperation in various areas, including military, energy, and finance.5 Their interest in pushing against the US-led, liberal global system has motivated them to form networks of partnership with like-minded states across the world.6 They have used international platforms and frameworks to promote their visions and constrain the West.7 Unlike the Western powers, both China and Russia seem to have been able to navigate Iran's complex and ideology-oriented political system.8 As a result, Tehran has been inspired to pursue strategies that share Moscow and Beijing's vision for the world order, and to seek to establish itself as a more powerful global player.9 The final section examines the influence of the visions and ideologies of Iran's political leaders on the country's strategic direction. It argues that Iran's quest for power projection is its main response to the changing US-China relationship. This shift has prompted Iran's leaders to seek ways to pursue the “resistance strategy” beyond its traditional realm of influence in its immediate neighboring region. As part of this, Russia's war in Ukraine has offered Iran the opportunity to project power through military collaboration. This article concludes that Iran's strategic response to the changing relationship between Beijing and Washington is based on anticipation of the decline of US hegemony and aimed at claiming a powerful position in the new world order. Iran's aspiration to increase its relevance and strength in the global and regional strategic calculus is reflected in official government documents that highlight the regime's vision. “The Islamic Iranian Progress Model” and the declaration of “The Second Phase of the Revolution” by Iran's supreme leader provide an outline of the regime's vision, which includes economic and political independence from the West and resistance against global imperialism.10 Against this backdrop, the analysis concludes that this ideological framework, built around the notion of American decline and the emergence of a new global order, has been Iran's main strategic response to the changes between the superpowers and the most effective driving force for Tehran's policies toward China, the GCC, and Russia. The study uses qualitative analysis to trace the processes of policy formation, considering states’ visions and ideologies, as well as regional and global events. It employs a variety of sources, including academic literature, news articles, and government websites. CHINA-IRAN RELATIONS: AN OVERVIEW The need to build and strengthen links with the world's strongest non-Western economic powerhouse, particularly in times of harsh US-led economic sanctions, has driven Iran's relations with China. Other factors have influenced the development of non-economic aspects of Tehran-Beijing ties, including the changing dynamics between Beijing and Washington, domestic ideological frameworks, global and regional balance-of-power struggles, and domestic dissent. Iran's relations with China began before the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Despite the country's “no East, no West” slogan that marked its policies in the early years after the revolution, the regime has consistently maintained its ties with China.11 The presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a significant period for the bilateral relationship, and it was considered the starting point of Iran's “Asianization” era. During that period, Tehran accelerated its nuclear program and reactivated the anti-West narrative.12 Since then, China has wavered between promoting a diplomatic solution to Iran's nuclear file, supporting a decision by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2006 to refer the file to the United Nations Security Council, and helping Iran in its efforts to circumvent sanctions. The two countries began a nuclear-cooperation agreement in the early 1990s, which quickly ended under US pressure. In 2006, China agreed with IAEA's decision to refer Iran's file to the Security Council. This was a turning point in the decades-long nuclear dispute. Between 2006 and 2010, China agreed to Security Council resolutions that led to increasing economic pressure on Iran through international sanctions. Despite that, during the Ahmadinejad presidency, bilateral trade between Iran and China increased from $10 billion to $43 billion. This was a clear signal of their cooperation to bypass the sanctions, which at times had negative consequences for China and for globally recognized Chinese businesses, such as Huawei. Such strengthening of Iran's relations with the East (non-Western great powers) was largely influenced by the personal views and foreign-relations goals of the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.13 In recent years, he has openly driven the strategy of strengthening ties with China, publicly declaring Beijing a trustworthy partner and explicitly stating that the Islamic Republic will never forget its support in bypassing the sanctions.14 Following Khamenei's guidance for closer ties with China, President Ebrahim Raisi has in recent years described “the friendship” between the two countries as based on mutual respect and trust.15 Such political language indicates a long-lasting and perhaps all-encompassing commitment to maintain and expand ties with China. In response, the Iranian regime has received Beijing's support beyond the bypassing of sanctions. For example, despite the concern raised by other regional players, particularly GCC members, China supported terminating the arms embargo on Iran in 2020.16 This, in theory, allows Iran to purchase weapons and upgrade its military armaments.17 A year later, in March 2021, the two countries announced a comprehensive strategic partnership aimed at strengthening bilateral relations in energy and the economy, as well as cybersecurity and the military.18 Not much detail is available on the agreement, which Khamenei described as a wise decision, and its implementation.19 China has been Iran's most important trade partner for more than a decade.20 Before the US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement in 2018, Tehran had hoped to benefit more from freer trade and investment by both the Asian power and Europe. In 2015, Iranian officials announced plans to rebuild relations with Europe and expand ties with China.21 However, the calculus changed with President Donald Trump's decision to impose a maximum pressure campaign on Iran. Despite European and Asian leaders’ initial disagreement with the US decision, European firms quickly responded by ceasing business with Iran.22 The Chinese banking system also limited the scope of its operations with the country.23 This has posed a major challenge to all aspects of bilateral trade and investment. Undoubtedly, the Chinese business and economic collaboration promised by the framework of the comprehensive strategic partnership was affected by American pressure. Considering its location, Iran has the potential to be a valuable element of Chinese economic initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).24 Hacked documents obtained from the Centre for Strategic Studies, a research entity within the Office of the President of Iran, revealed that Raisi has officially ordered the Foreign Ministry to facilitate economic collaborations with China.25 This reflects the government's desire to turn Iran into a key player in the “Chinese value chain.”26 This expansion of economic ties with China has been challenged by the Western sanctions.27 Consequently, Iran has not been successful in attracting Chinese investment, either in the BRI or other projects. The pressure eased under the Biden administration, which restored some sanctions waivers.28 Iran's oil exports to China, through subterranean methods, have continued to flow relatively steadily. This has benefited both sides, maintaining Iran's vital revenue stream and helping facilitate the import of Chinese goods and services in return for discounted energy.29 Collaboration between Iran and China has expanded into areas such as technological exchange. Beijing's cooperation model is more favorable toward Tehran in comparison to those of the Western governments, as it does not impose values on partners.30 While Western companies have been reluctant to engage with Iran due to sanctions, China has offered technological assistance. This has been, in part, facilitated by China's strategy to develop its technological and scientific industries, civil-military integration, and dual-use technologies through the export of products and standards.31 Iran has also been pursuing strategies to expand its scientific and technological capabilities, driven by the views of its senior political leaders. In his 2006 Persian New Year speech, Khamenei stated, “Knowledge is authority, it is equal to power; whoever finds it can rule; a nation that finds it can rule; a nation that cannot [build its scientific and technological capacities] must prepare itself to be ruled by others.”32 This clearly indicates Iran's motivation and intention. Khamenei has frequently encouraged the country's policy makers to promote strategies that support the “jihad of knowledge.”33 This phrase has gained significance in Iran's strategic planning in recent years, driving the country's efforts to advance its defense and military capacities. Technological assistance in fields such as artificial intelligence (AI) and cybersecurity has been a major area of collaboration between China and Iran.34 For example, the Chinese firm Tiandy, one of the world's leading video-surveillance companies, has been reportedly working with the Iranian government.35 Rising domestic dissent over the past few years may have played a role in advancing this technological collaboration. There is very little public information about the nature of such cooperation. However, technologies accessed through collaboration with Chinese companies have helped Iran spy on its citizens, crack down on protests, and monitor dissidents.36 Trade and business partnerships have dominated the bilateral relationship.37 China has cooperated with Iran to get around sanctions while taking advantage of discounted energy prices.38 At the same time, the two countries have been expanding into other areas, such as technology. The regime in Tehran, heavily influenced by the supreme leader, sees China as the main challenge to US hegemony and is determined to consolidate its ties with Beijing while trying to maximize its power in the global system. The next section explores the changing relationships between Iran and the GCC, analyzing the impact of US-China relations on Tehran's strategies toward its neighbors. US-CHINA RELATIONS AND IRAN'S STRATEGIES IN THE GULF Senior Iranian politicians have frequently stated that they foresee a new international order to replace the US-led unipolar system.39 As the previous section demonstrated, such anticipation has motivated Tehran to maintain close ties with Beijing. This section investigates how Iran's vision of a new world order has prompted the strategy of normalization with the GCC. It examines the regime's understanding of the future Chinese and American roles in the region and how this impacts Tehran's strategy toward its southern neighbors. In the years before the 2023 Iran-Saudi agreement that re-established diplomatic ties between the two countries, the dynamics between Iran and the GCC were predominantly based on “intra-regional threat perceptions and intense mutual securitisation.”40 The deal brokered by China seems to have shifted this formulation. One factor that played a significant role in changing Iran's policies was the advancement of the China-GCC relationship. In 2021, Beijing officials described this as a part of building a “synergy” between the “new development paradigm in China” and “major development strategies” in the region.41 Such statements may well have been perceived by Tehran as indicating Beijing's increasing strategic influence and its pushing back against US involvement in the security structure of the region. This has motivated Iran to be a part of what it sees as a newly emerging realm of influence for China. Further, the normalization of diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia is anticipated to pave the way for a much needed, yet challenging, “tripartite peace deal between Iran, Saudi Arabia and Houthis”42 that can address one of the most pressing security concerns across the GCC. Iran has long desired a new security structure forged by eradicating US influence and presence. In 2019, the Iranian government proposed the “Hormuz Peace Endeavor” (HOPE), a security-cooperation initiative that would include all of the Gulf's littoral states.43 Motivated by Iran's long-held aspiration to undermine US hegemony, it was presented during the GCC's internal crisis with Qatar, which coincided with the initial stage of the US-China trade war.44 During the long-running hostilities between the GCC and Yemen's Houthi rebels, Washington was not able to offer any meaningful solutions. The Saudi government, disappointed by this inability to protect its security, therefore welcomed the Chinese-backed rapprochement with Iran. As for Tehran, this shift toward Riyadh demonstrates how the perception of US decline and Chinese rise influenced its strategic calculus in relation to the GCC countries. Iran's decision to normalize with the GCC came at a time when policy makers anticipated an increase in China's regional power and saw it as helping fulfill their strategic vision. Collaborations between the GCC and China have convinced Tehran that Beijing is determined to increase its engagement with the region. Iran assumes this will be to the detriment of the United States. Against that backdrop, the Islamic Republic is also motivated to be a member of the newly emerging realm of influence. Over many decades, the GCC countries have had warm relations with the United States, leading to a strong American military presence in the region that has excluded Iran from a position of influence in the Gulf. Iran sees an expansion of China-GCC cooperation as an opportunity to enter China's realm of influence that will, according to its senior leaders, end the US-led global system. Whether Iran's assessment of China's intentions for expanding ties with the GCC is accurate can be debated. Nevertheless, Tehran perceives China's ties with the region to be aimed at creating a new area of influence, one hospitable to its own vision. Moreover, Iran has for a long time perceived high strategic value in its economic ties with China and is hoping to improve such relations with both China and the GCC.45 The Iran-Saudi deal is estimated to boost bilateral trade to $2 billion, and Iran's drive to improve relations with the GCC could similarly be motivated by the prospect of economic gain.46 To highlight the impact of China-US relations on Iran's strategies in the Gulf, it is important to review the development of Beijing's relations with the GCC countries. The most significant aspect has been business and trade cooperation. China has been a net oil importer since 1993.47 The country's reliance on foreign energy has played a crucial role in its policies toward the Gulf's oil-exporting countries. Bilateral trade between China and the GCC increased from $182 billion in 2014 to about $229 billion in 2021, making China the region's largest trading partner.48 This volume has been substantially larger than that of China-Iran trade (about $16 billion in 2022).49 While energy demand has been a key element of bilateral trades with the GCC, business relations have been expanding into other areas, such as infrastructure investment and the exchange of technology, goods, and services. Iran has undoubtedly been envious of this cooperation between China and its southern neighbors. This has induced Tehran's efforts toward normalization in the hope of benefiting from collaboration with both Beijing and the GCC. This is manifested in the comprehensive strategic partnership and other forms of collaboration examined in the previous section. Chinese political leaders have adopted an effective narrative in describing their strategy for engagement with the GCC, emphasizing “equality between countries regardless of their size” and support for their “independent sovereignty.”50 This is aimed at persuading local leaders to see expanding ties with Beijing as “an opportunity to enrich the strategic substance” of the relationships.51 Such a narrative has undoubtedly been well received by Tehran, as it advances multilateralism. Saudi Arabia, until recently considered Iran's most obvious regional rival, has been one of China's most important partners and largest recipient of its investment in the region.52 Tehran sees normalization with a former foe—one becoming an even closer partner of China's—as both strengthening anti-US collaboration in the region and winning for itself a place in a network of partnerships based on equality and independence, as expressed in the Chinese narrative. Being part of such a network will help Tehran position itself better in a multilateral global order. Ultimately, Iran is pursuing its agenda in line with the world vision of its senior leaders, the goal of which is to gain more power and relevance in the global strategic calculus. For decades, the United States was considered a close ally of some of the regional powers. By brokering a deal between Tehran and Riyadh, China has undertaken a role that the United States and Europe have failed to play in recent years. Iran-Saudi normalization came at a time when European policy makers, who have been seeking to facilitate a regional dialogue, failed to achieve any tangible results between Tehran and Riyadh. Indeed, Iran has become skeptical of the EU's potential in resolving regional issues, particularly in the aftermath of Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear deal.53 The Iran-Saudi rapprochement highlighted China's mediation capacity and boosted the country's status among regional leaders. By welcoming Beijing's intervention, Iran sought to demonstrate that the United States and its Western allies can no longer shape regional dynamics. Iran has envisioned a multipolar world order and aspires to play a role in achieving this in the Gulf region. Beijing seems to have successfully managed to convince the regime in Tehran, along with the leaders of the Arab Gulf countries, of its capacity and willingness to support their aspirations. While the Western world has failed to maintain the regional leaders’ trust, China has gained it. These developments have been motivated by the changing relations between Beijing and Washington, which Tehran sees as signaling China's deep strategic influence in the region. Further, it serves Iran's belief in the decline of US power, particularly in the Gulf. THE US-CHINA RIVALRY AND IRAN'S POWER PROJECTION This section analyzes the effects of the changing dynamics between the United States and China on Iran's power-projection strategies. Tehran's perception of the decline of American global power, particularly in the Gulf, has driven Iran to restore ties with its main regional competitor, Saudi Arabia. Regardless of the future of normalization between Tehran and Riyadh, China's mediation indicates Tehran's anticipation of the strategic role the Asian power will play in the Gulf. It has also influenced Iran's power-projection strategies, particularly beyond its traditional realm of influence. Senior Iranian leaders have long seen realism as the main pillar of their relationship with China and Russia.54 More recently, however, Iran has pursued a policy of “looking East,” largely aimed at strengthening relations with those two powers. In 2019, Iran, Russia, and China conducted a naval exercise in the Indian Ocean symbolizing their commitment to breaking down American global unilateralism.55 Undoubtedly, the aims, motives, and extent of the relations among these countries varies. However, the common denominator is their anti-hegemonic sentiments, which have gained significance with the shift in dynamics of US-China relations. The Russian war in Ukraine has provided Iran a chance to project power, demonstrate its military capability, and remain relevant in the international calculus given the changing world order.56 This section argues that anti-hegemonic principles shared among Russian, Chinese, and Iranian political leaders play a significant role in strengthening their relationships, and the Ukraine war is a great opportunity for Iran to pursue its world vision and power-projection aspirations. Russia's overarching global strategy has been focused increasingly on challenging a unipolar system dominated by the United States.57 This has resonated with political ideologies in Tehran and China.58 Iran's supreme leader, who exerts a strong influence over the country's strategic policy making, has frequently emphasized maintaining and expanding “strategic depth” as one of the country's fundamental strategies.59 Moreover, he has expressed his anticipation of a “new world order” and accentuated the significance of “Geography of Resistance.”60 This ideology reflects Tehran's desire for influence in global and regional systems and has played a crucial role in driving the country's power-projection aspirations. Khamenei's use of theological concepts like jihad and resistance indicates his strong anti-hegemonic and anti-West views.61 He sees the West's policies as continuing the historical clash over identity and destiny between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds. According to this view, Iran is located at the heart of the geography of resistance and is the main powerhouse of the Muslim world.62 Therefore, joining non-Western security and economic initiatives will help Tehran gain a more powerful global position to advance its strategic agenda. The Ukraine war presented Iran with new arenas in which to project power.63 The synergy between the Russian vision, manifested by its invasion, and that of Iran is perceived in Tehran as promising for the new global order. Iran's delivery of hundreds of Shahed-136 drones to Russia has been a clear signal of its determination to collaborate with powers that share its perception.64 In an order in which US power is challenged by China, Iran aspires to advance its ambitions, demonstrate its military capabilities, and gain relevance outside of its traditional realm of influence. The perceptions of Iran's political leaders and their visions for Iran's position in the world system are a driving force behind their strategic decisions.65 Their anticipation of the decline of the West, particularly the United States, is the crucial foundation. Historically, Iran's strategy of building a “Resistance Axis” has been used to project power through “a mix of strategic alliance, security community, and ideational network”66 in the Middle East and North Africa region. The war in Ukraine presented a new arena for this. CONCLUSION The relationship between the United States and China has been going through fundamental changes, prompting strategic responses by Iran on various fronts. Tehran believes American global power is declining while China's is rising. This interpretation has dominated Iran's policies and its envisioned regional and global roles. The senior political leaders in Tehran have been advocating for what they refer to as “the new world order.” This is a multipolar system in which the West, specifically the United States, no longer dominates. Iranian officials perceive the war in Ukraine and the October 7 attacks on Israel as powerful blows to the Americans. Khamenei has referred to the Hamas attacks as the starting point for the formation of a new map in the Middle East based on “de-Americanization.”67 Iran has welcomed these crises and supports the aggressors, with rhetoric based on the notion of resistance to the Western oppression of the Muslim world.68 Iran's understanding of the changing China-US relationship has prompted three strategies. First, the country has been seeking to deepen its ties with the Asian power. The relationship between Iran and China has been formed mainly around trade and business collaborations that have been strengthened by Tehran's efforts to circumvent sanctions. Iran sees China as the main challenge to US hegemony and a key player in fulfilling its envisioned world order. It is therefore determined to consolidate ties with Beijing, along with implementing strategies that can establish a more powerful position for Iran in the global system. Second, Iran has revised its policies in the hope that it can help contribute and be a part of what Tehran perceives as China's new realm of influence in the Gulf region. Iran's envisioned multipolar world system drives its aspirations of making itself more relevant and influential in the regional strategic calculus. Tehran interprets China's engagement in the Gulf as not negating its desired role in the emerging multipolar world. Third, Iran has been seeking to project power by aiding Russia in Ukraine, thus showing off its military capabilities, and forging an anti-Israeli front. These conflicts have presented Iran with new arenas to project influence, within and beyond its traditional regional realm. Tehran understands the synergy between the Russian vision and its own as the most promising for materializing a new global order. This analysis of how the changing US-China relationship is perceived in Tehran is crucial to understanding its strategic calculus and policy choices. In Iran's view, a new global order is emerging because of these shifting dynamics. As US power declines, Iran is seeking every opportunity to emerge as a powerful global player. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Open access funding enabled and organized by Projekt DEAL. REFERENCES 1 An earlier version of this article was first presented at “The Persian Gulf and the US-China Rivalry,” a roundtable held in Rome on July 6, 2023. That event and this special issue have been sponsored by the ChinaMed Project of the TOChina Hub and the HH Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah Programme at Durham University. 2 Evan S. Medeiros, “The Changing Fundamentals of US-China Relations,” Washington Quarterly 42, no. 3 (2019): 93–119, https://doi.org/10.1080/0163660X.2019.1666355; Pablo Fajgelbaum et al., “The US-China Trade War and Global Reallocations,” National Bureau of Economic Research, 2021, https://www.nber.org/papers/w29562 3 China Daily, “China Remains Iran’s Largest Trading Partner for 10 Consecutive Years,” 2023, https://global.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202302/16/WS63ee40d8a31057c47ebaf3ee.html 4 Al-Monitor, “Khamenei Urges Iranians to Prepare for ‘New World Order,’” 2022, https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2022/04/khamenei-urges-iranians-prepare-new-world-order 5 Brett Forrest, Ann M. Simmons, and Chao Deng, “China and Russia Military Cooperation Raises Prospect of New Challenge to American Power,” The Wall Street Journal, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/china-russia-americamilitary-exercises-weapons-war-xi-putin-biden-11641146041; Reuters, “China’s Xi Looks to Strengthen Energy Ties with Russia,” 2022, https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/chinas-xi-looks-strengthen-energy-ties-with-russia-2022-11-29; Mrugank Bhusari and Maia Nikoladze, “Russia and China: Partners in Dedollarization,” Atlantic Council, 2022, https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/econographics/russia-and-china-partners-in-dedollarization. 6 Gregorio Betizza and David Lewis, “Authoritarian Powers and Norm Contestation in the Liberal International Order: Theorizing the Power Politics of Ideas and Identity,” Journal of Global Security Studies 5, no. 4 (2020): 559–71. 7 Anthea Roberts, Is International Law International? 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Can the World Agree?” Think China, 2020, https://www.thinkchina.sg/china-wants-multipolar-world-order-can-world-agree. 59 Sara Bazoobandi, Jens Heibach, and Thomas Richter, “Iran's Foreign Policy Making: Consensus Building or Power Struggle?” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, March 16, 2023, 1–24, https://doi.org/10.1080/13530194.2023.2189572; Hamshahri Online, “عمق استراتژیک ایران [Iran's strategic depth],” 2019, https://www.hamshahrionline.ir/news/141615. 60 Al-Monitor, “Khamenei Urges Iranians to Prepare”; Khamenei.ir, “بیانات در دیدار مجمع عالی فرماندهان سپاه,” October 2, 2019, https://farsi.khamenei.ir/speech-content?id=43632. 61 Bazoobandi, “Populism, Jihad, and Economic Resistance”; Bazoobandi, “Re-Revolutionising Iran.” 62 Karim Sadjadpour, “Reading Khamenei: The World View of Iran’s Most Powerful Leader,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2008, https://carnegieendowment.org/files/sadjadpour_iran_final2.pdf. 63 Robbie Gramer and Amy Mackinnon, “Iran and Russia Are Closer Than Ever Before,” Foreign Policy, 2023, https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/01/05/iran-russia-drones-ukraine-war-military-cooperation. 64 David Brennan, “Shahed-136: The Iranian Drones Aiding Russia’s Assault on Ukraine,” Newsweek, 2022, https://www.newsweek.com/shahed-136-kamikaze-iran-drones-russia-ukraine-1770373. 65 Yahia H. 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Energy & Economics
Concept of the trade war between the USA and China.

How to better equip the U.S. DFC to compete with China

by Andrew Herscowitz

한국어로 읽기 Читать на русском Leer en español Gap In Deutsch lesen اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français When U.S. President Biden and Chinese President Xi met in November 2023, Biden remarked that the countries must “ensure that competition does not veer into conflict.” A recent ODI report Hedging belts, de-risking roads: Sinosure’s role in China’s overseas finance illustrates the scale of the competition and reveals how one of China’s less-known institutions – Sinosure – has been giving China the edge. This blog offers some thoughts about how the U.S., through its U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) can better compete. Competing requires resources, but really not as much as you think Competing credibly requires money, dedicated staff, and creativity. It requires studying the competition. Infrastructure development requires low-cost financing, capacity-building, and getting everyone aligned. As Sinosure has demonstrated again and again, deploying guarantees and insurance – particularly from official financing – can de-risk overseas investment, reducing costs of finance and mobilising commercial investment from the private sector. When it comes to infrastructure, China has a far more robust, albeit imperfect, track record when compared to others. The U.S. and its G7 partners have not been much of a match for China in financing infrastructure worldwide. The G7 could successfully compete with China, and doing so does not have to cost hundreds of billions of dollars. The U.S. Congress, despite its strong desire to counter BRI, has yet to appropriate the resources necessary to compete credibly in a battle of influence against China in developing countries. There’s been plenty of rhetoric, repurposing of existing programs and resources into initiatives like the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII) and the Global Gateway. Each time the U.S. launches a new overseas economic development initiative, however, it rarely dedicates sufficient resources to help it scale – examples include the Partnership for Growth, Power Africa, Prosper Africa, and PGII. When it was fully funded, Power Africa, which coordinated the efforts of 12 U.S. government agencies, helped 120 power projects in Africa get across the finish line in just a few years, building a strong brand for the U.S. in Africa for economic development for the first time in decades. Then the U.S. cut Power Africa’s budget by 75% because of political shifts. The initiative stalled in its progress on new infrastructure, while still helping 200 million Africans get access to more reliable electricity. PGII, which has no dedicated budget, involves a handful of smart people working hard to deliver on a G7 promise of $600 billion in global infrastructure by 2025. Other than the Lobito Corridor project, it has not been clear to date what PGII is able to deliver at scale in Africa without additional resources. That could be about to change, though. The State Department just requested another $4 billion from Congress to up its game against China, which should help tremendously if that funding is secured to support PGII. Why Sinosure has been such an effective tool for China, despite its low margins BRI has not been particularly innovative, but it’s been steady. Sinosure, along with other Chinese export credit agencies, offers highly favorable terms and longer-term finance – this approach has well suited Global South governments in advancing their development and political objectives. While some projects have been problematic, Chinese creditors have provided the low-cost, patient capital at scale that many countries need for long-term productive infrastructure investment. But as the report shows, this approach has challenged established regimes governing the use of public money (link to blog 2). Sinosure insurance covers non-payment up to 95% of the insured equity or debt for up to 20 years, but most OECD Export Credit Agencies (ECAs) only provide 85% coverage for up to 10 years – though this policy soon will soon change [link to blog 2] Sinosure can work anywhere, except where there’s a live conflict or in cases of repayment arrears. By contrast, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) has a list of over 100 countries where it cannot do business. Sinosure’s premiums max out at 7% of the total debt servicing cost of a project, making it relatively cost-effective. In this aspect, it is surprisingly transparent. DFC’s fees and costs are numerous and opaque, with DFC passing some of its own costs on to its clients. By the end of 2022, Sinosure had provided over $1.3 trillion-worth of insurance on export and investment, with a quarter of this going only to BRI countries. In 2022 alone, it supported a total portfolio of $900 billion through its insurance for over 170,000 clients, of which $80bn went to overseas investment and long-term finance, which mostly supports projects in infrastructure such as power, transportation, construction, telecoms and shipping. It received a total net insurance premium of $1.9 billion and paid out $1.5 billion in insurance claims. Despite its significant payouts, however, Sinosure continues to earn a modest profit of $102 million – not much of a margin, but enough to propel China’s global leadership on trade and infrastructure development.     By contrast, DFC’s current total portfolio-wide exposure is $41 billion, with just over $9.3 billion committed in fiscal year 2023 for 132 transactions – of which only around $3.5bn of this was for guarantees and risk insurance. DFC has many of the same tools available to it as the Chinese government, and DFC is not even legally required to earn a return on its investments. Yet DFC has not made full use of its capital resources and has not deployed its capacity for risk-mitigation finance in the same way. An unleashed DFC could make the U.S. more competitive It’s not too late for the U.S. and others to compete. The U.S. has an opportunity to further change how it conducts business to compete with China, while promoting sustainable development. DFC is starting to flex its competitive muscles with its own insurance product, recently using political risk insurance to support a $1.6 billion debt-for-nature swap in Ecuador and another $500 million debt-for-nature swap in Gabon, which support broader debt relief efforts, as well as channelling money towards climate and conservation goals. Moreover, those deals come at a very low cost to the U.S. government given DFC’s pricing models. DFC is up for reauthorisation in 2025. It has both foreign policy and development mandates. In a previous blog, we laid out 10 recommendations about how DFC could be more effective in achieving its development mandate. Here are 9 recommendations to help DFC be more effective in competing with China and achieving its foreign policy mandate: 1. Spend some money and spend it right All it took for Sinosure’s expansion in the early 2010s was a capital injection of $3 billion. To make its financial institutions just as competitive, the U.S. only needs to commit a few extra billion dollars of appropriated resources per year, just as State Department has proposed, not hundreds of billions. Sinosure, with its somewhat loose investment criteria, still managed to earn over $100 million profit on a $900 billion portfolio in 2022. Even if DFC were to spend $1 billion/year of additional budgetary resources – for the purpose of leveling the playing field with China and providing developing countries with the type of inexpensive financing they need – that could be money well spent for the U.S. taxpayer. That money could cover legal fees that DFC currently passes on to clients. It could be deployed through innovative instruments: to take on some of the currency risk on strategic transactions, to cover first loss on strategic investments, or to provide technical assistance that does not need to get repaid–comparative advantages that Chinese financial institutions still sorely lack. That funding also could be used, simply, to reduce interest rates and fees, at a time when borrowing costs for lower-income countries have risen astronomically. 2. Structure deals to outcompete China Encourage DFC to structure transactions to use its funding to maximize competition with China in a way that promotes a more level playing field. DFC should not crowd out competitively tendered and transparent private sector investment, but where inexpensive or even concessional DFC co-financing might help the private sector out-compete opaque Chinese investment, DFC should be equipped to support those projects. 3. Don’t obsess over returns Even though DFC is not legally required to earn a return on a portfolio-wide basis, most members of Congress expect DFC to be revenue neutral to the U.S. Treasury. If members of Congress would adjust their return expectations even slightly, DFC could significantly advance its development and foreign policy goals. Effective development and foreign policy are not free – especially when competing with China. Even earning back $.95 on the dollar on a portfolio-wide basis would be a significant leverage of 1:20 of appropriated resources to private investment – giving DFC broad flexibility to structure deals that prioritise development impact and foreign policy. 4. Remove DFC’s limits Eliminate ceilings on DFC financing – including the $1 billion transaction limit, the $10 billion annual portfolio limit, and the $60 billion total portfolio exposure. It really doesn’t cost anything to do this. It’s like raising its credit card limit. 5. Let DFC work anywhere when necessary Give DFC the authority to determine the countries where it can do business on a case-by-case basis, depending on what the foreign policy and development priorities are. DFC should be required to continue to prioritize investments in low and lower-middle income countries, but it should have flexibility to respond quickly and selectively anywhere that doing so will credibly advance a compelling U.S. national security interest, such as financing a strategic port or lithium processing. To prevent DFC from sliding into becoming just a national security tool, abandoning its development mandate, DFC should be required to clearly articulate the compelling national security interests of projects and should provide a detailed report to Congress each year on its investments in upper-middle income and high-income countries to explain these interests (even classified, if necessary). 6. Empower DFC to support “nearshoring” DFC can help the U.S. diversify its supply chains and reduce dependencies on China. To encourage companies to move operations out of China and into the Americas (if operating in the U.S. is not commercially viable), give DFC broader authority to support strategic transactions in the region. 7. Make it easier for DFC to support equity investments in strategic infrastructure When DFC takes an equity position in a company or an investment fund, it gets a seat at the ownership table. That allows DFC to drive decisions regarding sourcing of goods and services (i.e., making sure contracts do not always go to Chinese companies). Investing in equity funds that develop and finance a portfolio of infrastructure projects is an effective way for DFC to increase and spread its strategic influence -- except that DFC often struggles to make these types of investments because U.S. legal requirements make DFC a slow and clunky, and hence, an unattractive investment partner. DFC needs flexibility to bypass some of these requirements. 8. Help DFC scale its risk insurance instrument For years, DFC has been hugely innovative in deploying its insurance products to leverage capital from others. DFC used its political risk insurance tool to crowd in private investment in Ukraine, and to catalyze pioneering debt-for-nature swaps worth hundreds of millions of dollars in Ecuador and Belize. But according to recent reports, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget has been threatening to start treating insurance investments like guarantee instruments from a budgeting standpoint. This will make it more expensive for DFC to deploy this tool. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? As we’ve shown, one of the main factors behind China’s competitiveness abroad is through Sinosure’s expansive use of its insurance tool: OMB’s changes will make it more expensive and difficult for the U.S. to scale its own. OMB needs to read the room. We’re not going to suddenly balance the U.S. budget by tinkering with a formula that has worked for decades. Let DFC do more of what it does well. 9. Help speed DFC up Before committing any transaction over $10 million, DFC is required to notify Congress in advance. This “Congressional notification” requirement provides a valuable extra level of oversight to ensure that DFC does not doing anything out-of-whack with Congressional priorities. But the process slows DFC down, when Chinese financiers are known for their speed. Even though DFC only is required to “notify” Congress of its deals, and not seek “approval,” practically and politically speaking nobody wants to run afoul of any one of the 535 members of Congress. Consequently, DFC rarely moves forward on a project until it can resolve the concerns of members of Congress. DFC needs to work with Congress to come up with a reasonable alternative to the Congressional notification process that balances speed with continued close collaboration with Congress. In addition, DFC’s Board can help speed things up by focusing its efforts on high level policy guidance instead of individual transactions. The Board should delegate more decision making on individual deals to DFC’s CEO. It makes no sense for the Secretary of State, who chairs DFC’s Board, to dig into a $20 million investment into a healthcare fund, not to mention the hundreds of State Department staff with little development finance experience who review the documentation before it goes to the Secretary with a recommendation for a vote. U.S. taxpayers probably would prefer to have the State Department focus on resolving the Middle East conflict. From the perspective of many Global South countries, this competition between the G7 countries and China is not inherently bad if it brings them more desperately needed resources and improves the quality of their infrastructure. The U.S. could be more competitive if it empowered its development finance professionals to use DFC’s tools the way they were designed to be used. DFC must be properly resourced with enough people and enough money to allow it to grow its portfolio. While development impact remains the key priority for DFC, delivering for the needs of partner countries is what also will deliver long-term influence. That is how the U.S. can compete – and all at relatively low cost to the U.S. taxpayer.

Diplomacy
China and the USA wrestle over Taiwan

When Giants Wrestle: The End of Another Round of Tensions Between the United States and China?

by Ofir Dayan , Shahar Eilam

How are the fluctuating tensions between Washington and Beijing over Taiwan expected to affect Israel? On January 13, William Lai, the leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), was elected president of Taiwan. A few days earlier, for the first time in four years, the United States-China Defense Policy Coordination Talks took place in Washington, marking the end of a prolonged round of tension between the two powers, which had peaked in August 2022 when the speaker of the US House of Representatives visited Taiwan. Taiwan is a major point of friction in the already tense relations between the two powers. Managing the disagreements between them has broad implications, including for Israel. The ongoing strategic rivalry between the two superpowers—the United States and China—is the most important geostrategic factor of our time. The two countries are vying for technological dominance and control over resources, that will shape our future, and infrastructure that is critical for civilian, economic, and military purposes. The United States and China are also competing for global influence by forming partnerships and trying to influence world order, including its values, institutions, and mechanisms that regulate it. Can they shape the rules of the competition between them without spiraling into a military conflict that would have devastating global consequences? Taiwan may be the most volatile flashpoint in the complicated relationship between the two powers. For China, the “reunification” with Taiwan is one of its “core interests”—a top objective and a flagship issue in its foreign policy. Although the United States has repeatedly declared that it is committed to the “one China” policy, it is also an ally of Taiwan. The United States has warned China to refrain from making unilateral, aggressive moves vis-à-vis Taiwan, while supplying Taiwan with military resources to deter China and prevent a forceful takeover. Since assuming power in 2013, President Xi Jinping of China has repeatedly emphasized Taiwan’s unification with China as a key objective. During a meeting with President Joe Biden in November 2023, President Xi said that China “prefers” a peaceful unification, but he did not dismiss the use of force. On the eve of Taiwan’s 2024 elections, President Xi further stated that unification is “inevitable.” The tensions between the powers over Taiwan had escalated following the previous elections on the island in 2020. During this period, senior American officials visited Taiwan, and the United States and Taiwan signed weapons deals in August and September of that year, followed by a marked increase in Chinese military aircraft penetrating the island’s air defense identification zone and crossing the “midline” between the island and mainland China. China’s perception of encirclement was further heightened by the United States’ strengthening of its alliances and initiatives in the Indo-Pacific region (such as QUAD, AUKUS, and IPEF) and by the increased diplomatic pressure exerted on China, through boycotting the 2022 Winter Olympics and protesting its human rights record. But even during this period, despite rising tensions, the two nations maintained ongoing communications, including the Alaska talks in March 2021—although they were notably tense—and the meeting between the presidents in November of that year. The tension peaked in April 2022, when then Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi announced her intention to visit Taiwan. China strongly protested, and the White House even recommended Pelosi to reconsider her visit due to concerns about potential military escalation. Pelosi refused and proceeded with her visit in August, delivering a speech at the Taiwanese legislature and advocating for increased American–Taiwanese cooperation. In an article published in the United States before her visit, Pelosi wrote that “at a time when the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy . . . it is essential that America and our allies make clear that we never give in to autocrats.”   In response to Pelosi’s visit, China held a large-scale military exercise that disrupted air and maritime traffic in the region and released a white paper emphasizing “The Taiwan Question and China’s Reunification in the New Era.” Furthermore, as a countermeasure to Pelosi’s visit, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it was suspending all dialogue and cooperation with the United States, including dialogues between the military commands, the ministries of defense (DPCT), and the maritime military coordination (MMCA), and cooperation in the fields of illegal immigration, criminal legal assistance, transnational crimes, counternarcotics, and climate change. In November 2022, presidents Biden and Xi met in Bali, Indonesia, in an attempt to put the relations between the two powers back on track. After the meeting, the White House issued a statement announcing that the United States will continue to compete actively with China, but the two countries must manage their competition responsibly, without letting it escalate, while maintaining open channels of communication and continuing to cooperate on global issues such as climate change, counternarcotics, debt relief, health, and food security. Regarding Taiwan, the United States reiterated its commitment to the one China policy but strongly opposed China’s aggressive actions, which violate peace and stability in the Strait and in the entire region. The Chinese also released a statement, noting that President Xi highlighted that Taiwan is a core Chinese interest and constitutes a red line that is nonnegotiable in the relations between the two countries. It was anticipated that the year 2023 would begin on a more positive tone, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s scheduled visit to China in February. The visit was canceled when a Chinese balloon was discovered floating over US territory for a week until the US Air Force intercepted it. Although the White House at first tried to downplay the incident, with President Biden initially referring to it as a “minor breach” and said that the Chinese government was unaware of the issue. China claimed that a weather monitoring and research balloon had strayed off course. Public pressure, however, led the administration to cancel Blinken’s visit. Subsequently, the US Department of Commerce imposed restrictions on six Chinese companies linked to balloon and aviation technologies that are used by the Chinese military, requiring that they receive special approval to access American technology. In April and May, China retaliated at a relatively low bar by imposing sanctions on a US member of Congress who visited Taiwan and sentenced an American citizen living in Hong Kong to life imprisonment, for alleged espionage for the United States. These actions reflect the efforts of both China and the United States to take focused, restrained measures, to avoid escalating tensions. The absence of a strong reaction from China to the establishment of a select committee within the US House of Representatives, focused on examining the US–China strategic competition, suggests that China sought to prevent further escalation of the conflict.   Efforts to end the crisis and restore talks were renewed in May 2023 when the head of the CIA met with his Chinese “counterparts.” In June, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chinese Minister of Defense Wei Fenghe met on the sidelines of the Shangri-La conference in Singapore. Secretary of State Blinken’s anticipated visit to China took place later that month. In July, US Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry and Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen traveled to China, followed by a visit of US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo in August. These high-level meetings concluded on a note of cautious optimism, with both sides acknowledging “progress” but not a “solution,” as the purpose of the meetings was to stabilize relations rather than to resolve the issues in dispute. In September 2023, Secretary of the Treasury Yellen and Chinese Finance Minister He Lifeng launched two new working groups on economic and financial issues. Moreover, Pentagon officials and their Chinese counterparts met and discussed the US Department of Defense’s cyber strategy, followed by a meeting of the American and Chinese presidents in San Francisco in November. The American efforts to renew the military dialogue between the two countries was initially met with refusal by China until December, when General Brown, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke with his Chinese counterpart General Liu Zhenli. In early January 2024, a few days before the elections in Taiwan, the annual Defense Policy Coordination Talks between the two countries were held at the Pentagon for the first time in four years. These developments reflect China’s acute sensitivity toward the Taiwan issue and its willingness to take significant measures against perceived violations of its One China Policy, especially by the United States. Despite numerous disputes, the growing rivalry between them, the defiant measures, and the reciprocal sanctions, these events highlight that the two powers recognize the importance of keeping channels of communication open. This dialogue is crucial for pursuing shared interests, resolving disputes, and minimizing the risk of military escalation that could have far-reaching consequences for both nations as well as the global community. The ongoing tension between the United States and China over Taiwan also has implications for Israel. First, the increasing friction between the powers has accelerated the formation of two opposing camps and has limited Israel’s ability to maneuver between them. As demonstrated (again) since the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas, the United States is Israel’s greatest friend and its most important strategic ally. While China is an important economic partner of Israel, its policy is not that of a friend, and its oppositional stance toward Israel has the potential to cause significant damage. The United States expects its allies to stand by its side and to align more closely with its policies vis-à-vis China, especially concerning advanced technologies and critical infrastructure. Failing to meet US expectations could strain US–Israel relations. Second, a military escalation between the United States and China would also have global economic consequences, seriously disrupting supply chains of raw materials and essential goods crucial to Israel. Finally, the US administration recently linked the military aid granted to Israel to that of both Taiwan and Ukraine, framing them as three democracies under threat. While this linkage underscores the US commitment to its allies, it also creates constraints and interdependencies. The attention and resources that the United States currently allocates to Israel and to the broader challenges in the Middle East could be compromised if the United States faces serious military crises elsewhere in the world, and this could have far-reaching impacts on Israel.