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President Xi Jinping with Vladimir Putin

China Exploits Russia’s Vulnerabilities

by Ksenia Kirillova

According to reports from Chinese media in late November, Beijing has refused to invest in the construction of the Power of Siberia-2 natural gas pipeline, proposing instead that Moscow fully cover the multibillion-dollar project. China also insists on substantial discounts for Russian gas, demonstrating strong “bargaining power” in negotiations with the Kremlin (South China Morning Post, November 24). Power of Siberia-2 is pivotal for Russia in mitigating the losses incurred after Gazprom’s withdrawal from the European market. As Western sanctions have weakened Moscow’s geopolitical leverage with its energy resources, Beijing has capitalized on the situation to increase energy flows to China at cheaper prices. Most economists argue that Moscow cannot fully compensate for the losses resulting from limited access to European markets. They also point out that the gas supplies currently flowing through the Power of Siberia-1 pipeline are already being sold to China at almost half the price of rates for the European Union and Turkey. Russian oil and gas analyst Mikhail Krutikhin emphasizes that Beijing has little interest in the construction of the Power of Siberia-2 pipeline, as China does not require large quantities of natural gas. He notes that the planned capacity of the new pipeline is 50 billion cubic meters (bcm), while Gazprom, on average, has exported 155 bcm to the West. According to Krutikhin, with the discounts, Russian gas exports to China do not even cover the operational costs of their extraction and transportation. The Kremlin, nevertheless, is forced to construct a second gas pipeline because it cannot guarantee the promised gas supplies of existing agreements without it due to the limited gas deposits supporting Power of Siberia-1 (VOA Russian Service, November 28). China’s exploitation of Russian vulnerabilities should not come as a surprise. Experts observed last spring that Beijing only supports Moscow to serve Chinese interests, for example, leveraging Russian anti-Western narratives in its own propaganda and treating the Russian Far East as a “resource colony” (see EDM, February 6). China will not assist Russia to its own detriment. Marina Rudyak, a professor of Sinology at Heidelberg University, believes that the Chinese government may genuinely fear that a Russian victory in Ukraine could strengthen Moscow’s influence in Central Asia and beyond (Svoboda, May 21, 2022). At the same time, Beijing has provided practical assistance to Moscow for projects personally important to Russian President Vladimir Putin. For example, China has actively shared its experience with censorship and digital control over the Internet since 2015, offering insights on the functions and capabilities of China’s “Great Firewall” (, June 5, 2019; Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, April 5). This cooperation, however, does not prevent China from competing with Russia for influence in Central Asia, the South Caucasus, and other regions (, September 20, 2019; see EDM, October 5, 2022, November 15, 2022, May 24, August 10). Moscow’s predicament lies in unrealistic expectations for cooperation with its “Eastern partners,” including China and other “non-Western” countries. Putin has repeatedly stated that the expansion of the BRICS countries (originally Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) will become a movement “against the hegemony and neo-colonialism policy of the West” (Izvestiya, August 23). In contrast, the organization’s members are not planning to sever relations with Western countries and are attempting to extract maximum benefits in finding a balance between the East and West. Another of the Kremlin’s unrealistic hopes was the dream of creating a single currency for BRICS members to strengthen Moscow’s ability to circumvent sanctions. Such talks began emerging in the Russian press at the end of last year (, December 3, 2022). By mid-summer, central Russian media predicted that the currency would be created in August, noting that the realization of this idea was “closer than ever before” (Moskovskij komsomolets, July 9). Pro-Kremlin experts discussed how the new currency would replace the “toxic and inconvenient” US dollar and be used for intergovernmental payments and settlements (Vechernyaya Moskva, July 3). The most optimistic among them speculated that the dollar might not withstand this challenge (, May 17). Following the August BRICS summit, Russian officials were compelled to acknowledge that their partners had no intention of creating a single currency in the near future. On August 24, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov officially relented on Moscow’s hopes for a unified currency at the summit in Johannesburg (Rossiyskaya gazeta, August 24). That same day, South African Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana announced that the creation of a single currency had never been discussed within the BRICS format, even informally (, August 24). A parallel situation of unrealistic expectations for allies is unfolding for Russia with Iran. In early 2022, Russia extended a credit line of $1.4 billion for the construction of the Sirik thermal power station in Iran, a debt that Tehran has yet to settle. In July 2022, Gazprom and the National Iranian Oil Company signed a memorandum of understanding and cooperation, leading to agreements on projects valued at $40 billion. These projects encompass the development of the Kish and North Pars gas fields and Russia’s involvement in the operations of the South Pars field (Nezavisimaya gazeta, November 7, 2022). Even with the agreements in hand, little tangible progress has been made. The lack of progress in joint Russian-Iranian projects closely mirrors the breakdown in Russian-Chinese cooperation with Power of Siberia-2. Independent analysts noted last year that Moscow should not anticipate Iran’s assistance in modernizing underdeveloped infrastructure along the “North-South” corridor. Russia has sought to develop this route to connect with the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean via the Caspian Sea and Iran. Even if the new corridor is further developed, it will not be able to wholly replace the traditional transit routes Russia utilized before its war against Ukraine (Carnegie Politika, October 28, 2022). Russia is being increasingly forced to supply strategic resources to partners on highly unfavorable terms in exchange for minor displays of political support and assistance. In the long run, such a policy will likely result in significant losses for Moscow. While cooperation with China and Iran has improved in some areas, the current circumstances underline that, in the end, both Beijing and Tehran will pursue their own interests, even at Moscow’s expense.

Flags of Taiwan and Estonia

Estonia Catches Taiwan Fever: What Will the Side Effects Be?

by Thomas J. Shattuck

In early November 2023, Estonia announced a decision to allow Taiwan to open an unofficial, non-diplomatic economic and cultural representative office in Tallinn. The opening of an office does not mean that Tallinn and Taipei are establishing official diplomatic relations, nor does it mean that Estonia is opening its own office in Taiwan. It is following in the footsteps of countries around the world that have unofficial ties with Taipei and want an unofficial government presence in the country to facilitate economic relations. For its part, Beijing has expressly condemned the decision by Tallinn to allow Taipei to decide if it wants an office in Estonia, with China’s Foreign Ministry making a clear statement calling for Estonia to reverse course. Estonia’s announcement occurred just before Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu embarked on a three-country tour of the Baltic states — a rare trip for the foreign minister to visit three countries with which Taiwan does not have formal diplomatic relations. Baltic leaders and ministers stated that they had no plans to meet directly with Wu, though Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis spoke at the same event as Wu, and his grandfather, the first president of post-Soviet, Lithuania Vytautas Landsbergis, did meet with Wu. Estonia’s move to open a representative office comes after Lithuania made a similar decision, sparking controversy and drawing political and economic ire from Beijing. The Vilnius office, which opened in November 2021, is called the “Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania,” which balks the traditional use of “Taipei” over “Taiwan” to avoid Beijing’s complaints and any alleged notions of formal relations. The opening of the Vilnius office resulted in the downgrading of the bilateral relationship with China and the expulsion of the Lithuanian ambassador from Beijing; the removal of Lithuania as a “country of origin” for Chinese trade; and a formal World Trade Organization complaint against China, supported by the United States and European Union. Beijing’s main complaint at the time was that the office provided legitimacy to Taiwan by using the word “Taiwanese,” thus the reason for the strong reaction. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda conceded the point, “I think it was not the opening of the Taiwanese office that was a mistake, it was its name, which was not coordinated with me.” Now, with Estonia’s announcement, that complaint has proven hollow. It is not the “Taiwanese” reference with which Beijing has a problem — the real issue is the expansion of Taiwan’s international space. As I argued in January 2022, “The name of the office [in Lithuania] is the supposed sticking point, but the reality of the matter is that Beijing wants to prevent the expansion of Taiwan’s international space. The mere opening of an office, regardless of name, represents the expansion of Taiwan-Lithuania ties. Likewise, any new de facto embassy would be perceived as offensive to Beijing. … As more countries build ties with Taiwan, leaders will be able to better assess the risks and benefits of diplomacy with Taiwan. Beijing’s wolf warriors now cry foul at any perceived attempt to foster closer relations with Taipei.” Beijing perceives any “win” by Taiwan as a direct threat to its long-term plan to completely isolate Taipei. A possible office in Estonia provides Taipei with the ability to more easily interact with the Estonian people, expand bilateral trade, and demonstrate itself to be a good international partner — all of which threaten Beijing’s ability to shape the narrative regarding cross-Strait relations. As expected, PRC Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin made clear the Lithuania office name issue was fake. During his regular press conference on November 8, Wang called for Estonia to change course, making no mention of the prospective name of a future office: “We firmly oppose any form of official interaction between the Taiwan region and countries having diplomatic ties with China and oppose any action supporting ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces. We call on Estonia to stay committed to its solemn commitment of adhering to the one-China principle, not to allow Taiwan to set up any organization of official nature, and earnestly safeguard the political foundation of its relations with China.” Wang’s language and warnings are less strident than what could be expected, but given that the announcement of the office in Estonia was just made, details are not yet firm. Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna hinted to Politico that the office would be “representation—economical representation—of Taipei, not Taiwan,” which, if the name is the true issue, should appease Beijing’s concerns. As more is known, Beijing will assuredly increase its pressure on Estonia, which already includes the Chinese ambassador in Estonia threatening to leave the country if the office opens. The true test will come once details about the office are released. How will Beijing seek to punish Estonia for the move? Will the reaction be less severe than what China did to Lithuania? How will the European Union and the United States support Tallinn should Beijing utilize its coercive toolkit again? Beijing’s response to the office will demonstrate a few key things in the aftermath of the Lithuania example. How Beijing responded to Lithuania created immense international support and attention for Vilnius. Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen opened up a $1 billion fund for joint Taiwanese-Lithuanian projects and another $200 million fund for Taiwanese investment in Lithuania’s industrial sector to show support for the decision, and the Biden administration announced a $600 million credit line. Because Beijing initiated pressure on other countries, such as Germany, to push Lithuania to change course, the overreaction became a critical case study in China’s coercive toolkit. The collective West closed ranks, supported Lithuania for the decision, and warned Beijing against further reprisals. If Beijing treats Tallinn in a similar way as Vilnius, then it will be clear that Beijing will ignore international warnings to serve its own goals — bluster over substance and compromise. The most important thing for Estonia to do in the coming days and weeks is to be resolute in the decision. Divisions within Vilnius prolonged Beijing’s attempt to pressure politicians into changing course. Knowing how angry President Nausėda was about the ordeal provided an opening, but other actors did not back down. At the moment, Estonia’s Foreign Minister Tsahkna is taking the lead in publicly responding, but the coalition government needs to adhere to the same line to diminish Beijing’s ability to pressure specific politicians. If Estonia does not back down, the country could stand to benefit from new Taiwanese-Estonian projects. Since the Taiwanese and Lithuanian offices opened in the respective capitals, Taipei has agreed to assist in building an 8-inch semiconductor wafer production line in Lithuania. The two also agreed to open a joint research center on laser technology in Taiwan. Lithuania is home to two projects funded by Taiwan’s National Development Fund (NDF). Another Lithuanian company, Solitek, received around $8.5 million from the $1 billion fund. During a recent visit to Taipei by Seimas Speaker Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen, the two sides signed a memorandum of understanding on health and made a decision to eliminate double taxation — the latter of which is still an issue that Taiwan has with the United States. Progress between Taipei and Vilnius has been slow, but it has gained steam with these investments. Tallinn can expect to reap some new investments with a Taiwan office and take part in the NDF. However, the benefits that Tallinn receives not only from Taiwan but also from the United States will likely depend on how loudly and forcefully Beijing complains — and acts on those complaints. No matter how much investment Estonia receives as a result of this new office opening, Tallinn is now a part of the cross-Strait competition — in an election year. With the upcoming January 2024 presidential election in Taiwan, Tallinn may have inadvertently become a foreign policy issue for the candidates, but that largely depends on Chinese retaliation. Any office will likely open under a new leader in Taipei, so while the announcement and prospective investment promises will occur under President Tsai, the implementation of such things will be up to her successor. After Lithuania defied China and its intense pressure to reverse course, Beijing is now in a situation where another Baltic country has allowed Taiwan to expand its unofficial international space — and thus expanded the threat landscape in its push to eliminate Taiwan’s presence abroad. The more these seemingly small countries defy China and the more they are backed by large countries (and, more importantly, fulfilled promises from Taiwan), the harder it will be for Beijing to keep the next case of Taiwan fever from spreading. The views and opinions expressed in this article solely belong to the author and do not represent the perspectives or stance of World and New World Journal, nor do they reflect the opinions of any of our employees. World and New World Journal does not endorse or take responsibility for the content, opinions, or information presented in this article. Readers are encouraged to consider multiple sources and viewpoints for a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter. Thank you for your understanding.

President of Philippines Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr during press-conference

Saudi visit was successful and productive – PBBM

by Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.

Although the visit to Saudi Arabia was brief, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. said that it was a successful and productive one with various engagements accomplished to reaffirm the Philippines’ commitment to the partnership between the GCC and ASEAN countries, as well as to promote the country to prospect investors. In his arrival speech on Saturday following his visit to Riyadh, the President ticked off his accomplishments, mentioning the business-to-business agreements that would guarantee additional employment for Filipino workers. President Marcos described the ASEAN-GCC Summit held in Riyadh as a landmark event, adding that it was the first time that ASEAN and GCC Member States gathered together to discuss regional and international issues and on future cooperation. The six GCC member countries are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates while Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam compose the ASEAN. “The Summit provided an opportunity to project the Philippines’ long-standing promotion of a rules-based international order, which is essential to the maintenance of peace, security, and stability in our regions which sit astride two of the most vibrant sea-lanes of trade and communications in the world,” President Marcos said. The President said that the Summit also provided an opportunity for the Philippines to secure a US$120-million Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that would establish a 500-person capacity training facility in the country to upskill Filipino workers in the construction industry. “The facility aims to train at least 3,000 Filipinos a year and more than 15,000 in the next 5 years, ready for deployment at any time,” President Marcos said. Another three business-to-business agreements were also discussed among Saudi and Philippine human resource companies “for the training and employment of Filipinos across a wide range of industries including healthcare; hotel, restaurant, and catering; and maintenance and operations, amongst other operations.” “These agreements are expected to generate more than USD 4.2 billion and additional 220,000 jobs for Filipinos over the next few years,” he said. President Marcos also reported resolving the outstanding bilateral issue with Kuwait at the sidelines of the Summit, including working out the lifting of the deployment ban of Filipino workers. “Now, that will end and we will now return to the normal state of affairs with the Kuwaiti government,” he said. The President said he also had the opportunity to meet with the Crown Prince and Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia, and he referred to their discussion as “very encouraging,” with anticipated capital investments pledged by the government of Saudi Arabia to the Philippines. “We exchanged views on issues of common concern to our two countries, and I expressed hope that we can sustain the momentum of high-level exchanges as we expand cooperation in key areas of mutual benefit to our peoples,” President Marcos said. In his arrival speech, President Marcos reiterated his commitment to continue to advance the country’s interest and at the same time, expand the Philippines’ partnership with ally nations. “Let me assure you that we will continue to advance our national interests as we further expand our partnerships abroad,” Marcos said. In his speech during the Summit, President Marcos emphasized further cooperation in key areas including energy and food security and enhancement of logistic chains. He also called for safeguarding of rights and welfare of Filipino workers. President Marcos arrived at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City at 2:50 p.m. Saturday. PND

President Joe Biden and President Xi shaking hands

Don’t be fooled by Biden and Xi talks − China and the US are enduring rivals rather than engaged partners

by Michael Beckley

There were smiles for the camera, handshakes, warm words and the unveiling of a couple of agreements. But beyond the optics of the first meeting in over a year between the leaders of the world’s two biggest economies, not an awful lot had changed: There was nothing to suggest a “reset” in U.S. and China relations that in recent years have been rooted in suspicion and competition. President Joe Biden hinted as much just hours after the face-to-face talks, confirming that he still considered his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, a “dictator.” Beijing hit back, with foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning telling reporters Biden’s remark was “extremely wrong and irresponsible political manipulation.” As a scholar of U.S.-China relations, I believe the relationship between the two countries can be best described as an “enduring rivalry” – a term used by political scientists to denote two powers that have singled each other out for intense security competition. Examples from history include India and Pakistan, France and England, and the West and the Soviet Union. Over the past two centuries, such rivals have accounted for only 1% of the world’s international relationships but 80% of its wars. History suggest these rivalries last around 40 years and end only when one side loses the ability to compete – or when the two sides ally against a common enemy. Neither scenario looks likely any time soon in regards to China and the U.S. How enduring rivalries end China “is a communist country … based on a form of government totally different than ours,” Biden said after his meeting with Xi. That comment gets to the heart of why diplomacy alone cannot reset the U.S.-China relationship. Washington and Beijing are not rivals due to any misunderstanding that can be sorted out through talks alone. Rather, they are rivals because of the opposite reason: They understand each other only too well and have come to the conclusion that their respective world outlooks cannot be reconciled. The same is true for many of the issues that divide the two countries – they are framed as binary win-lose scenarios. Taiwan can be governed from Taipei or Beijing, but not both. Similarly, the East China and South China seas can be international waters or Chinese territory; Russia can be crippled or supported. For the United States, its Asian alliances are a force for stability; for China, they’re hostile encirclement. And both countries are right in their respective assessments. Diplomacy alone is insufficient to resolve a rivalry. At best, it can help manage it. When the US calls, who picks up? Part of this management of the U.S-China rivalry involves finding areas of agreement that can be committed to. And on Nov. 15, Biden and Xi announced deals over curbing China’s production of the deadly drug fentanyl and the restoring of high-level, military-to-military dialogue between the two countries. But the fentanyl announcement is very similar to the one Xi gave to then-President Donald Trump in 2019. The U.S. administration later accused China of reneging on the agreement. Similarly, committing to restarting high-level dialogue is one thing; following up on it is another. History is dotted with occasions when having an open line between Beijing and Washington hasn’t meant a whole lot in times of crisis. In 2001, when a U.S. surveillance aircraft collided with a Chinese jet over Hainan Island, Beijing didn’t pick up the phone. Likewise, during the Tiananmen Square massacre, then-President George H.W. Bush urgently tried to call his counterpart Deng Xiaoping but was unable to get through. Moreover, focusing on what was agreed to in talks also highlights what wasn’t – and is unlikely to ever be – agreed to without a substantial shift in power that forces one side to concede to the other. For example, China wants the U.S. to stop selling arms to Taiwan. But Washington has no intention of doing this, as it knows that this will make the disputed island more vulnerable to Beijing. Washington would like China to end its military displays of strength over the Taiwan Strait; Beijing knows doing so risks seeing Taiwan drift toward independence. American policymakers have long said what they want is China to “change” – by which it means to liberalize its system of governance. But the Chinese Communist Party knows that doing so means self-liquidation – every communist regime that has allowed space for alternative political parties has unraveled. Which is why American attempts to engage China are often met with suspicion in China. As former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin commented, engagement and containment policies have the same aim: to end China’s socialist system. For similar reasons, Xi has shunned attempts by the U.S. to bring China further into the rules-based international order. The Chinese leader saw what happened when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev tried to integrate the Soviet Union into the Western order in the late 1980s – it only hastened the demise of the socialist entity. Instead, Xi calls for a massive military buildup, the reassertion of Chinese Communist Party control and an economic policy based on self-reliance. Actions speak louder … The encouraging words and limited agreements hammered out in the latest meeting between Xi and Biden should also not distract from the actions that continue to push the U.S. and China further apart. China’s show of force in the Taiwan Strait has been sustained for three years now and shows no sign of abating. Meanwhile, Beijing’s navy continues to harass other nations in the South China Sea. Similarly, Biden has continued the U.S. path toward military alliances aimed at countering China’s threat. It recently entered a trilateral agreement between the U.S., Japan and South Korea. And that came two years after the establishment of AUKUS, a security partnership between the the U.S., Australia and the U.K. that has similar aims. Meanwhile, the U.S. administration will continue to tighten the screws on China’s economy through investment restrictions. Biden is well aware that easy flowing money from Wall Street is helping China weather choppier economic waters of late and is keen to turn off the tap. The point of diplomacy This isn’t to say that diplomacy and face-to-face talks are pointless. They do, in fact, serve a number of interests. For both men involved, there is a domestic upside. For Biden, playing nice with China projects the image of a statesman – especially at a time when, due to U.S. positions on Ukraine and the Middle East, he is facing accusations from the political left of being a “warmonger.” And encouraging Beijing to tread softly during the U.S. election year may blunt a potential line of attack from Republicans that the administration’s China policy is not working. Meanwhile, Xi is able to showcase his own diplomatic skills and present China as an alternative superpower to the U.S. and to potentially cleave the Western business community – and perhaps even major European nations – from what he would see as the U.S. anti-China coalition. Moreover, summits like the one in San Francisco signal that both the U.S. and China are jointly committed to at least keep talking, helping ensure that a rocky relationship doesn’t descend into anything more belligerent – even it that doesn’t make them any friendlier.

Joe Biden at the airport in China with President Xi Jinping

Can US and China Avoid the Thucydides Trap? The Structural Limits to a US-China Reset

by Dr. Stephen Nagy

The meeting at San Francisco between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping offers a short respite in the broader strategic conflict that both states have been waging since at least 2017. The friends and trade partners of both nations now have an opportunity to employ middle power diplomacy to advocate for their interests and also the moderation of competition. In his book Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?, Graham Allison provided historical examples of when a status quo power met a rising power and whether and why it resulted in war. Unlike his peer John Mearsheimer, author of the Tragedy of Great Power Politics, who concludes that competition and conflict between the US and China are inevitable due to the structure of the international system, Allison’s book provides a warning to both the US and China that the decisions they make could be positively or negatively consequential, leaving room for agency to be the final arbiter of the fate of bilateral relations. The pre-APEC meeting between President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping was an invitro international relations experiment testing the premises of Allison and Mearsheimer as to whether US-China strategic competition will be shaped by the agency of leaders or the structure of the system. Superficially, the 15 November 2023 meeting allowed for an agreement limiting the precursors of fentanyl coming into the United States and, importantly, reviving regular talks under what is known as the military maritime consultation agreement. These modest but important agreements followed a throng of high-level cabinet visits to Beijing and reciprocal visits by Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, that were meant to stabilise US-China relations. These agreements suggest that leaders in both countries can find diplomatic crosswalks to stabilise the relationship in functional areas. It also intimates that other window of cooperation such as climate change, anti-terrorism, transnational disease prevention, and poverty alleviation may be fertile ground for collaboration if leaders choose to move forward. While the modest takeaways from the meeting in San Francisco underscores that agency does have a role in bilateral relations, we should be realistic that they also reflect the deep structural challenges that exist between the United States and China. Moreover, they also represent the intractable nature of the structural challenges in the relationship, placing friends and allies of the United States and major trading partners of China, such as Australia, Japan, Canada, and Southeast Asian nations, with a difficult quandary: How to balance their economic prosperity and stability through a vibrant and beneficial trade relationship with China while maintaining a strong, comprehensive relationship with the United States as it deepens its strategic competition with China? In the US, there is bipartisan consensus that China represents a challenge to US leadership that needs to be dealt with comprehensively. Under the Biden administration, we have seen a systemic, sequential, and allied-first approach to competing with China. It has brought accolades from friends and allies and, predictably, criticism from China that Biden has not only adopted a continuation of policies towards China from the Trump administration, but that his policies are even more severe. The Biden administration has reinforced and reified its alliance partnerships with South Korea and Japan. It then enhanced its commitment to the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) and demonstrated substantial leadership in terms of pushing back against Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine. More recently, the Biden administration forged a new trilateral partnership between South Korea, Japan, and the United States, under the so-called Camp David Principles. It also strengthened the quadrilateral security dialogue and its efforts to provide public goods to the Indo Pacific region. And we’ve gradually seen a more coherent AUKUS strategy that aims to create synergy between the UK, Australia, and the United States in the areas of AI research, quantum computing, hypersonic missiles, cyber, and importantly nuclear power submarines. Last, but not least, the adoption of the Chips Act, limiting the sale of sophisticated semiconductor chips to China and the associated technologies, suggests that the United States is not stepping down from its competition with China, but stepping up in the same way that the United States transformed every aspect of its governance following the 911 attacks. Similarly, there seems to be consensus in the Chinese political elite that the US and its allies are intent on containing China and attenuating its development. Xi Jinping’s 20th Workers Party Report at the 20th Party Congress highlighted the concerns China has about its external environment and advocated for strengthening the PLA to deal with separatist forces and external threats, while consolidating it political, social, economic, and ideological systems. Through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the expansion of the BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the advocacy of the Global Development/ Security and Civilization Initiatives, China under the leadership of Xi Jinping is aiming to transform itself, its periphery, and the international system such that all are more conducive to China’s core interests, including preserving its political system. These realities suggest that rather than fostering a reset in bilateral relations, what we are seeing is both China and the United States taking a tactical pause in their strategic competition to amass the resources they need to compete successfully in the Mearsheimer world of great power politics and the maximisation of power. In closed-door discussions on China with Japanese, South Koreans, Australians, Canadians, Southeast and South Asians, as well as Europeans, we hear similar refrains: while China represents a “systemic challenge” in the case of the Europeans and NATO, or is a “disruptive power” in the case of Canada, or as Japan writes in its 2022 National Security Strategy, “the greatest strategic challenge in ensuring the peace and security of Japan and the peace and stability of the international community,” China is also an important and largely irreplaceable economic partner and essential player in dealing with global challenges such as climate change. The question for friends and allies of the United States is how to balance the increasingly difficult and competitive relationship between China and the United States in a way that ensures that they can continue to have strong economic relationships with China while building resilience into their economies and into their economic relationship, such that the economic weaponization of supply chains and the monopolisation of resources cannot negatively affect trading partners of China. Part of these states’ responses to protect their national interests from the structural realities of Sino-U.S. strategic competition will be a middle power diplomacy that aims to shape the competitive nature of the relationship between the US and China. This will be implemented through coordinating their diplomacy and proactively lobbying, insulating, and investing in rulemaking in the realms of security, trade, and international law alongside their like-minded ally the US, but at times also in opposition to the US. This will require investing in diplomatic resources in both the US and China, in the broader Indo-Pacific region, and at the subnational level to forge strong state to state relations to effectively lobby US policy makers to inculcate the interests of allies and friends of the US in their strategic rivalry with China. Similarly, through forging stronger relations with Chinese provincial leaders though trade and investment, middle powers and stakeholders in the US-China strategic competition may be able to have their interests reflected in a moderation of China’s approach to competition with the US.

Japan and China on the world map pinned with their flags

Japan-China Tensions Escalate

by Purnendra Jain

Long-standing unresolved colonial history and territorial issues between China and Japan, as well as the two countries’ opposing world views, have increasingly manifested in the escalation of tensions. With high-level political/diplomatic communication at a standstill, the relationship has become adrift. In August 2023, the latest spate erupted when Japan decided to release treated radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean. Although approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and considered safe by scientists, the discharge sparked vehement criticism from China which rejected the IAEA assessment. Yet it is common knowledge that China, South Korea, and Taiwan as well as many countries with nuclear facilities release radioactive tritium into the sea. Nevertheless, in China’s words, the Pacific Ocean is being used as “Japan’s private sewer.” Stating concerns with “food safety,” the Chinese government has suspended all Japanese seafood imports with an immediate economic impact and price falls in Japanese domestic seafood markets. Beyond the diplomatic row, trolling on Chinese social media and nuisance calls in their thousands have hit Japanese government agencies and businesses. China’s Global Times has characterised Japan as a “rogue state.” With the further planned releases of water, this issue will continue to simmer. Violent attacks in words and actions through Chinese social media and street demonstrations against Japan are not new. Attacks on Japanese establishments in China and anti-Japanese demonstrations have happened before. In 2005, when a new set of history textbooks was released in Japan, many Japanese establishments including the Japanese Embassy in Beijing became targets of attacks from protestors opposing what they called Japan’s attempt to whitewash history. Attacks on Japanese-brand cars and smashing windows of Japanese-owned businesses occurred again in the 2010s following Japan’s decision to nationalise the Senkaku islands which Japan administers but China claims and calls the Diaoyu islands. Tensions had begun to build in 2010 when a Chinese fishing boat rammed two Japanese Coast Guard vessels in the waters near disputed Islands and Japan detained the captain. It was not always like this. Japan and China enjoyed a long honeymoon period and close economic and diplomatic relations after they “normalised” ties and signed a peace treaty in the 1970s. Private investment and government aid poured enormous capital, technology, and human resources into the country, setting China on the path of modernisation. Exchanges at all levels intensified, shelving historical and territorial issues, ushering in an apparent golden era of bilateral ties. The cracks began to open as China started to overtake Japan when the latter was only slowly emerging from years of economic malaise. China overtook Japan as the world’s second-largest economy in 2010, a status Japan had enjoyed for four decades. With China’s prosperity came its economic dominance and military muscle flexing. Since the 2010s, old wounds once papered over, have reopened. China maintains and often claims that Japan has not properly apologised for its colonial and wartime atrocities and that their territorial disputes must be settled (in its favour). Tokyo though, believes it has done all it can and that Japan’s ownership of the Senkaku islands is indisputable. Given China’s now highly confrontational views, the once-strong pro-China constituency in Japan is thinning fast. Public opinion on both sides is now overwhelmingly negative towards the other. Japan considers its neighbourhood strategically far more challenging and dangerous today than at any time in the recent past. Besides North Korea’s sabre rattling and its deteriorating ties with Russia, China’s designs on Taiwan are of special concern as any forceful change in the status quo will have major implications for Japan’s security. Partially reflecting this belief, high-ranking Japanese politicians’ visits to Taiwan in recent months, including that of the Vice President of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and former Prime Minister Taro Aso’s in August, are very significant. Aso’s call to deter China sends strong signals that Japan takes the China threat very seriously. As a result, Japan is substantially increasing its defence budget and has committed to a significant military build-up. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has often referred to the war in Ukraine as akin to what possibly might happen in East Asia, that is, a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan. These developments have enraged China, causing further deterioration in the relationship. China even cancelled a planned August visit by Natsuo Yamaguchi, the leader of the ruling party’s coalition ally, Komeito. This leaves no room for summitry at the leader level in the near future. Notably, Komeito, the political arm of the Buddhist Soka Gakkai, has been a key interlocutor between Tokyo and Beijing, since the 1970s. Japan-China tensions are not just limited to bilateral matters. Irreconcilable differences stem from their broader perspectives on world politics. Japan is deeply embedded in Western systems and advances the free-and-open Indo-Pacific, and has strengthenied military ties with the United States and its allies and partners. Japan offers alternative models of development to the Global South, such as quality infrastructure initiatives as opposed to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Japan’s Quad initiatives, leadership in the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership and its support for AUKUS stand in contrast to China’s leadership in the BRICS, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, its “no limits” ties with Russia, and support for North Korea. Japan long separated politics and economics (seikei bunri) in its ties with China, but the boundaries which once kept economic ties strong despite political differences have weakened with what Japan calls China’s increasing economic coercion. The earlier narrative of “hot economics and cold politics” has given way to a new reality with all matters including an increasingly securitised economic relationship. With China’s “coercive and intimidating” behaviour such as its 2010 export ban on rare earth elements and the latest ban on seafood, Japan is cautiously but constantly trying to de-couple and de-risk as well as carry out onshoring and “friendshoring.” China remains Japan’s number one trading partner and a major destination for private capital, but this may well change, albeit gradually as Japanese businesses consider other options. Signs of some improvement through then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Beijing in 2018, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and President Xi Jinping’s meeting on the sidelines of a multilateral forum in 2022, may give a false impression of thawing, because the relationship has become so fractious and adversarial that progress remains elusive. As long as China continues flexing its military muscle and deploys economic coercion while building spheres of influence countering Japan; and Japan in turn strengthens its military ties with the US and establishes strategic partnerships to balance China, the relationship is unlikely to improve.

Pakistani protestors holding up Pakistani flags

Pakistan’s Political Crisis - A country in transformation

by Joel Moffat

An unpredictable political establishment and a swiftly deteriorating economic situation; recent developments in Pakistan expose the instability at the core of the state, threatening its intricate, yet delicate, domestic power balance. The political chronicles of Imran Khan’s and his treacherous challenge to the political establishment retain a prominent shadow over the countries upcoming elections. The ex-cricketer’s ousting last year and his subsequent extensive legal ordeals are indicative of the entrenched political dynasticism of Pakistan. The transitional governments that have overtaken Khan have experienced persistent shock and tragedy in their first year of power. With the turbulent context surrounding Khan, the build-up to the upcoming general elections early next year could prove to be some of the most consequential periods of the country’s recent history. With the recent return of three-time PM Nawaz Sharif to the political sphere, the situation remains dynamic. By: Joel Moffat Keywords: South Asian Politics, Military leadership, Internal Rivalry A Background on Pakistani Politics Following the violent cessation of Bangladesh in 1971, Pakistan has shifted between intermittent eras of military dictatorship and civilian governance. The latter periods have been characterised by the intertwining dynasties of the Bhuttos and the Sharifs. Through their associated political parties, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the various incarnations of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN), respectively, the two families have long dominated civilian governance. However, even during these intervening periods of civilian control, the military has retained its domineering influence over domestic politics in a clandestine manner. Indeed, it is often seen as the country’s ‘kingmaker’. Pakistan is territorially divided into four provinces (Baluchistan, Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and Sindh) and two administrative units (Azad and Jammu Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan). The capital Islamabad operates as a distinct federal territory. These divisions are generally distinguished by their linguistic and ethnic characteristics but are also indicative of distinctive voting patterns. Indeed, Pakistan’s predominant parties have often defined themselves along these regional cleavages. For instance, Sindh has been the historic centre of PPP support, whereas the PMLN has generally been favoured in Punjab [1]. With the latter province being by far the most populous of the country, it holds a fundamental role in the political process. Indeed, governments are often made through winning a majority vote in Punjab. The creation of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (Movement for Justice, PTI) party by Imran Khan in the late 1990s significantly upset a political status quo defined by entrenched dynasticism. At the creation of the PTI party, Khan had already cemented his position as arguably Pakistan’s most recognisable face, enjoying a notorious playboy lifestyle during his Oxford education and then gaining international stardom by bringing Pakistan to it’s one and only Cricket World Cup victory in 1992. Despite the publicity of its figurehead, the party initially achieving little success for the first few decades of its existence. In one election the only Parliamentary seat the party won was for Khan himself [2]. However, its victory in the 2018 General Elections proved a historically unprecedented moment, becoming the most voted party in Punjab in the 2018 General Elections. This robbed the PMLN of its regional stronghold. The Ousting of Imran Khan and the Pakistani Judicial System Despite riding a seemingly perfect storm of political ascension, Khan’s Prime Ministership was cut short by the no-confidence vote placed against him in April 2022. Khan attempted to block this vote by dissolving parliament, an action the Supreme Court quickly ruled unconstitutional [3]. Khan persistently stressed a US-backed conspiracy against him during his tenure, founded on a continued unwillingness to reduce support for Russia and China [4]. For example, Khan travelled to Russia to meet with Putin just prior to the Ukrainian invasion. It was this move away from dogmatic adherence to US interests that he claims prompted the military elite to facilitate his downfall. Following his removal, Shehbaz Sharif (brother of three-time PM and recent returnee Nawaz Sharif) took the position of interim Prime Minister. The aftermath triggered a period of heightened internal political tension. The subsequent year has witnessed Khan’s fight for his political future. This has been met with widespread protest across Pakistan. Khan’s fate has been tested through an extensive legal battle and a seemingly infinite set of allegations. The first arrest of Khan was based on multiple corruption accusations that he has consistently rejected as “biased” [5]. These attacks have allowed the ex-PM to depict himself in a classically populist fashion. The continuous strain of legal charges against Khan only serve to facilitate the image of an individual struggle against the corrupt establishment, as a true representative of the people’s will. The first arrest of Khan in April allowed for the mobilisation of the populace, actualising grievances that had simmered for the preceding months. Following the claims of Khan, pro-PTI protesters targeted their indignation at the military. The official residence of an army commander in Lahore and the army headquarters in Rawalpindi were both targeted [6]. This extensive legal battle has exposed a previously unseen rift between the courts and the military. The military has long acted as the domineering influence on the judicial system, in many cases covertly dictating its rulings [7]. Where it was in the interest of the military for dissidents to be removed or journalists pushed away, the courts provided legal recourse. Indeed, they even granted three military coups the legal stamp of approval [8]. Shortly following Khan’s arrest, the Supreme Court issued a declaration that the act was unlawful and ordered his immediate release [9]. Furthermore, the Islamabad High Court granted Khan pre-emptive bail on several corruption cases [10]. The emergence of the judicial system as an independent power broker within the Pakistani political domain is historically unprecedented. The conflation of interest between the courts and the military regarding Khan’s political campaign against corruption facilitated his successful rise to power in 2018. It is ultimately the break of this coercive alliance that is facilitating Khan’s survival, with the Supreme Court issuing several rulings that have undermined the military’s attempts to permanently remove Khan from the Pakistani political realm. However, more recent legal proceedings appear to expose this as a temporary phenomenon, as the courts are seemingly once again swept under the wing of the military. The 5th of August saw a further arrest of Khan, representing the culmination for months of turmoil. This has proved a significant upset to the ongoing political drama of the preceding year. The final verdict found Khan guilty of financial corruption, forcing him to serve a 3-year term [11]. During this time he will be unable to run for office. Following the arrest, Khan posted a video to his personal twitter page demanding the immediate mobilisation of his supporters. As the battle against the state appears increasingly futile, Khan’s political future appears increasingly dim. These allegations have been reinforced by an additional legal case. Mr. Khan is alleged to have leaked a clandestine cable that proved the US had pressed the Pakistani military to orchestrate the fall of his government in 2022 [12]. Despite proving to be evidence to legitimate Khan’s narrative, the evidence has yet to be released publicly. The chances of this happening are now very slim. The Transition Government and The Upcoming Election The arrest of Khan saw a subsequent transitionary government come to power. The first incarnation of this was headed by Shebhaz Sharif, younger brother to three-time PM Nawaz Sharif. Last month saw the former step down following the completion of the Parliamentary term [13]. Though currently holding an interim government, Pakistan looks to be pre-emptively establishing its post-election government. Despite initial plans to hold elections in November, these have been pushed back. This is to allow the interim government to allow completion of a census to redraw electorates [14]. As has been illustrated throughout the political history of Pakistan, much of the political movement of the state appears to concern elite military manoeuvring and not the democratic will of the people. In late October, Nawaz Sharif stood in front of thousands of PLM-N supporters in Lahore, a grand gesture to mark his return from exile in the UK [15]. The older brother of until-recent PM Shehbaz Sharif, Nawaz is a storied figure of Pakistani politics. This is his fourth bid for power, with three preceding terms marking him as the countries longest serving PM. Despite only escaping his seven-year prison sentence due to an artificially extended medical leave in the UK, Sharif appeared to face no fears of arrest when re-entering the country [16]. Just prior to Mr. Sharif’s arrival he was granted protective bail by the Islamabad High Court [17]. The appointment of his younger brother as PM certaintly facilitated this environment of re-acceptance into the Pakistani political establishment. As with Khan, the military have rewarded or punished Sharif relative to their interests. The same elite-military establishment that ensured his arrest in 2017 is the very same establishment that is now facilitating his return. With the PLM-N losing Punjab to the PTI in 2018, it is notable that the signal of Nawaz Sharif’s return was held in Lahore. It is clear that the winds of changing favour in Pakistan are reserved to the realm of its dynastic political parties. Their success or failure is ultimately at the will of the entrenched elite military establishment. The domestic political strife of Pakistan is not beholden to the realm of elite political manoeuvring. The Pakistani people are victims of severe national financial insolvency. Indeed, the country is surviving month to month. It is predicted that a failure of IMF support will ensure a near 100% chance of government default within 6 months [18]. Sharif’s government worked to unlock at least a portion of the $2.5 billion left out of a $6.5 billion programme Pakistan entered in 2019, which was set to expire by the end of July [19]. The government was able to secure this money by the middle of that month [20]. The recently proposed budget must satisfy the demands of the IMF lest Pakistan be plunged further into a fiscal crisis. Furthermore, the interim government is still dealing with the previous year’s traumatic floods that submerged much of the country early in its tenure. The financial resources needed for reconstruction and safeguarding the vulnerable are simply not available domestically, with foreign aid and investment also being dreadfully insufficient [21]. With Pakistan under significant risk from climate-induced threats, securing financial resources to ensure future climate security is an existential threat. Yet, the internal power politics and kingmaking of Islamabad have left little time for politics to leave the confines of the capital’s courts and ministries. Despite retaining significant historic support across Punjab, the PLM-N party will need to modernise and adapt its public appearance. The PTI have long retained their effective use of social media [20]. This use of social media is particularly attractive to the significant Pakistani diaspora, who’s engagement with their home country may remain online. With the expulsion of several PTI politicians, the party is in dire circumstances. Indeed, the witch-hunt of PTI members, with disappearances lasting weeks. The preceding year has witnessed a domestic crisis engulf Pakistan. Since the ousting of Khan, the provisional government has fought a political battle for the future of the state. The continued contention of Khan against this transitory government has exposed the dissolution of the delicate power balance between Parliament, the Supreme Court, and the military that has historically been a tenet of the state. The transitional government’s management of this situation is beset by several domestic challenges that have disputed their tenure since its initiation. Politics work fast and unpredictably in Pakistan. With the return of Nawaz Sharif and protest to the arrest of Khan, anything is possible in these months leading up to the election. The stakes of control have never been higher. References [1] - “Explainer: Pakistan’s Main Political Parties”, Al Jazeera, 6 May 2013 [2] - “Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf: Pakistan’s Iconic Populist Movements”, Populism Studies, February 3 2021 [3] - “Pakistan court rules presidents move to dissolve parliament is unconstitutional”, NPR News, April 7 2022 [4] - “Imran Khan ousted as Pakistan’s PM after vote”, BBC News, 10 April 2022 [5] - “Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan arrested by paramilitary police”, CNN News, May 9 2022 [6] - “Imran Khan, Pakistan’s Ex-Leader, is Arrested”, The New York Times, May 9 2023 [7] - “Pakistan’s Powerful Military Faces New Resistance From Courts”, The New York Times, May 31 2023 [8] - “Pakistan’s Powerful Military Faces New Resistance From Courts”, The New York Times, May 31 2023 [9] - “Pakistan’s Powerful Military Faces New Resistance From Courts”, The New York Times, May 31 2022 [10] - “Islamabad Court Grants Imran Khan Bail”, The Diplomat, May 12 2023,usually%20is%20renewed%20in%20the%20Pakistan%20judicial%20system [11] - “Imran Khan: former Pakistan prime minister sentenced to three years in jail”, The Guardian, 5 Aug 2023, [12] – “Pakistan court extends ex-PM Imran Khan’s custody in ‘cipher’ case” Pakistan court extends ex-PM Imran Khan’s custody in ‘cipher’ case | Imran Khan News | Al Jazeera [13] – “Pakistan Imran Khan Custody Extended” [14] – “Imran Khan family fear former Pakistani PM may be killed in jail” [15] – “Pakistan looks back to the future as Nawaz Sharif eyes fourth stint as pm” [16] – “Pakistan looks back to the future as Nawaz Sharif eyes fourth stint as pm” [17] – “Pakistan’s ex-PM Nawaz Sharif to return from exile for political comeback” [18] - “Pakistan lays out budget but may not satisfy IMF”, Al Jazeera, 9 June 2023, [19] - “Pakistan lays out budget but may not satisfy IMF”, Al Jazeera, 9 June 2023, [20] - “Will Pakistan’s IMF agreement save its economy”, Al Jazeera, 14 July 2023,'s%20board,the%20South%20Asian%20country's%20economy [21] - – (Pakistan’s FM: ‘We’re at the fork in the road towards democracy’: Talk to Al Jazeera) [22] - “Pakistan’s ex-PM Nawaz Sharif to return from exile for political comeback”

Flags of Palestine and China on the world map

Israel-Hamas war puts China’s strategy of ‘balanced diplomacy’ in the Middle East at risk

by Andrew Latham

On Oct. 30, 2023, reports began to circulate that Israel was missing from the mapping services provided by Chinese tech companies Baidu and Alibaba, effectively signalling – or so some believed – that Beijing was siding with Hamas over Israel in the ongoing war. Within hours, Chinese officials began to push back on that narrative, pointing out that the names do appear on the country’s official maps and that the maps offered by China’s tech companies had not changed at all since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas. Indeed, the Chinese Foreign Ministry took the opportunity to go further, emphasizing that China was not taking sides in the conflict. Rather, Beijing said it respected both Israel’s right to self defense and the rights of the Palestinian people under international humanitarian law. This assertion of balance and even-handedness should have come as a surprise to no one. It has been the bedrock of China’s strategic approach to the Middle East for more than a decade, during which time Beijing has sought to portray itself as a friend to all in the region and the enemy of none. But the map episode underscores a problem Beijing faces over the current crisis. The polarization that has set in over this conflict – in both the Middle East itself and around the world – is making Beijing’s strategic approach to the Middle East increasingly difficult to sustain. As a scholar who teaches classes on China’s foreign policy, I believe that the Israel-Hamas war is posing the sternest test yet of President Xi Jinping’s Middle East strategy – that to date has been centred around the concept of “balanced diplomacy.” Growing pro-Palestinian sentiment in China – and the country’s historic sympathies in the region – suggest that if Xi is forced off the impartiality road, he will side with the Palestinians over the Israelis. But it is a choice Beijing would rather not make – and for wise economic and foreign policy reasons. Making such a choice would, I believe, effectively mark the end of China’s decade-long effort to positioning itself as an influential “helpful fixer” in the region – an outside power that seeks to broker peace deals and create a truly inclusive regional economic and security order. Beijing’s objectives and strategies Whereas in decades past the conventional wisdom in diplomatic circles was that China was not that invested in the Middle East, this has not been true since about 2012. From that time onward, China has invested considerable diplomatic energy building its influence in the region. Beijing’s overall strategic vision for the Middle East is one in which U.S. influence is significantly reduced while China’s is significantly enhanced. On the one hand, this is merely a regional manifestation of a global vision – as set out in a series of Chinese foreign policy initiatives such as the Community of Common Destiny, Global Development Initiative, Global Security Initiative and Global Civilization Initiative – all of which are designed, in part at least, to appeal to countries in the Global South that feel increasingly alienated from the U.S.-led rules-based international order. It is a vision grounded in fears that a continuation of United States dominance in the Middle East would threaten China’s access to the region’s oil and gas exports. That isn’t to say that Beijing is seeking to displace the United States as the dominant power in the region. That is infeasible given the power of the dollar and the U.S. longstanding relations with some of the region’s biggest economies. Rather, China’s stated plan is to promote multi-alignment among countries in the region – that is to encourage individual nations to engage with China in areas such as infrastructure and trade. Doing so not only creates relationships between China and players in the region, but it also weakens any incentives to join exclusive U.S.-led blocs. Beijing seeks to promote multi-alignment through what is described in Chinese government documents as “balanced diplomacy” and “positive balancing.” Balanced diplomacy entails not taking sides in various conflicts – including the Israeli-Palestinian one – and not making any enemies. Positive balancing centers on pursuing closer cooperation with one regional power, say Iran in the belief that this will incentivize others – for example, Arab Gulf countries – to follow suit. China’s Middle East success Prior to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, Beijing’s strategy was beginning to pay considerable dividends. In 2016, China entered a comprehensive strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia and in 2020 signed a 25-year cooperation agreement with Iran. Over that same timespan, Beijing has expanded economic ties with a host of other Gulf countries including Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Oman. Beyond the Gulf, China has also deepened its economic ties with Egypt, to the point where it is now the largest investor in the Suez Canal Area Development Project. It has also invested in reconstruction projects in Iraq and Syria. Earlier this year, China brokered a deal to re-establish diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran – a major breakthrough and one that set China up as a major mediator in the region. In fact, following that success, Beijing began to position itself as a potential broker of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The impact of the Israel-Hamas War The Israel-Hamas war, however, has complicated China’s approach to the Middle East. Beijing’s initial response to the conflict was to continue with its balanced diplomacy. In the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attack, China’s leaders did not condemn Hamas, instead they urged both sides to “exercise restraint” and to embrace a “two-state solution.” This is consistent with Beijing’s long-standing policy of “non-interference” in other countries’ internal affairs and its fundamental strategic approach to the region. But the neutral stance jarred with the approach adopted by the United States and some European nations – which pushed China for a firmer line. Under pressure from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, among others, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reiterated China’s view that every country has the right to self-defence. But he qualified this by stating that Israel “should abide by international humanitarian law and protect the safety of civilians.” And that qualification reflects a shift in the tone from Beijing, which has moved progressively toward making statements that are sympathetic to the Palestinians and critical of Israel. On Oct. 25, China used it veto power at the United Nations to block a U.S. resolution calling for a humanitarian pause on the grounds that it failed to call on Israel to lift is siege on Gaza. China’s U.N. ambassador, Zhang Jun, explained the decision was based on the “strong appeals of the entire world, in particular the Arab countries.” Championing the Global South Such a shift is unsurprising given Beijing’s economic concerns and its geopolitical ambitions. China is much more heavily dependent on trade with the numerous states across the Middle East and North Africa it has established economic ties than it is with Israel. Should geopolitical pressures push China to the point where it must decide between Israel and the Arab world, Beijing has powerful economic incentives to side with the latter. But China has another powerful incentive to side with the Palestinians. Beijing harbours a desire to be seen as a champion of the Global South. And siding with Israel risks alienating that increasingly important constituency. In countries across Africa, Latin America and beyond, the Palestinians’ struggle against Israel is seen as akin to fighting colonization or resisting “apartheid.” Siding with Israel would, under that lens, put China on the side of the colonial oppressor. And that, in turn, risks undermining the diplomatic and economic work China has undertaken through its infrastructure development program, the Belt and Road Initiative, and effort to encourage more Global South countries to join what is now the BRICS economic bloc. And while China may not have altered its maps of the Middle East, its diplomats may well be looking at them and wondering if there is still room for balanced diplomacy.

South China Sea on a map

Beijing’s Aggression Behind Emerging India-Philippines Defense Relationship

by Peter Chalk

The People’s Republic of China’s increasingly assertive stance on affirming its territorial claims in the Indo-Pacific is informing the evolution of a closer defense relationship between New Delhi and Manila. On September 25, the Philippine Coast Guard removed a floating barrier that China had installed at Huangyan Dao (黄岩岛, an island in the Scarborough Shoal) in the South China Sea (SCS) the previous day. Responding to questions about the incident, PRC Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin (王文斌) maintained that “China Coast Guard did what was necessary to block and drive away the Philippine vessel,” and that “Huangyan Dao has always been China’s territory. What the Philippines did looks like nothing more than self-amusement” (FMPRC, September 26; FMPRC, September 27). Earlier in September, New Delhi’s Ambassador to the Philippines Shambu Kumaran expressed solidarity with Manila by pointedly rejecting the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s new extended ten-dash map of its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea (SCS) and Line of Actual Control (LAC). He criticized the move from Beijing as unhelpful “cartographic expansionism” (Manila Times, September 3). These two incidents, occurring in the space of less than a month, are only the most recent in a string of aggressive acts in recent years. The reactions of both India and the Philippines are indicative of growing unity among some of China’s neighboring countries as a direct response to the security threat that China poses. In recent years, these two partners have increased the areas of engagement for security collaboration and expressed an intent to further such initiatives. The PRC lambasts the Philippines for choosing “to ignore China’s goodwill and sincerity” (MOFA, August 8), but this rhetoric only reaffirms Manila’s shifting calculus. There are limits to how close the Indo-Philippines defense relationship will get, but there is still ample room to explore various forms of cooperation short of a mutual defense treaty. The coming years will see much more of that exploration start to materialize. The PRC has several options in terms of responding to this emerging dynamic. These range from economic coercion, influence operations, and leveraging its relationship with Russia to put pressure on India. It is unclear which combination of these the PRC will ultimately pursue, though the PRC has made it abundantly clear that backing down in the South China Sea is not an option it is willing to entertain. India’s Reorientation over the SCS and Growing Defense Cooperation with the Philippines In June, the fifth session of the Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) took place at Hyderabad House in New Delhi. At the meeting, the Philippine Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Enrique Manalo, and Indian External Affairs Minister (EAM), Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, issued a joint communiqué calling for full adherence to the 2016 Arbitral Award on the SCS. This was the first time that the Narendra Modi government explicitly endorsed the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA)’s ruling in favor of Manila. Until then, the administration had adopted a neutral stance on the issue, merely stressing that it supports freedom of navigation, overflight, and unimpeded commerce in the region, based on the principles of international law. Even after the 2016 judgment, India only acknowledged the outcome of the award, and did not take sides on the legitimacy of the decision (Observer Research Foundation, July 12; South China Morning Post, July 9). The June 2023 statement is therefore a highly symbolic diplomatic gesture, indicating a burgeoning bilateral relationship between New Delhi and Manila to promote an open, rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific. India’s tensions with China have long revolved around managing disputed territory along their 2,100-mile-long northern border in the Himalayas, known as the Line of Actual Control. For a long time, the Modi administration maintained a neutral stance on the SCS disputes. This is not just to avoid unwanted provocation: The Modi government has also been sensitive to the possibility that blanket opposition to the PRC’s stance in the SCS could provoke Beijing to expand naval deployments in the Indo-Pacific, potentially undermining the regional balance of power—and concomitant stability—that is critical to India’s own economic development. New Delhi has also generally been unwilling to comment on the domestic policies of its neighbors in Southeast Asia, lest this be construed as violating the two cardinal principles of the so-called “ASEAN way”: non-interference in internal affairs and mutual respect for national sovereignty. Although these considerations are still germane, the Modi administration has recently exhibited a more outspoken and proactive position on the SCS. Not only is preserving peace and stability in this body of water now a central tenet in the prime minister’s reinvigorated Act East Policy (EAP), in August 2021 his government sent naval ships to the region to take part in a series of coordinated sailings and exercises with Australia, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam (The Tribune, August 3, 2021; South China Morning Post, August 13, 2021). New Delhi is also a member of the Quad, a grouping of like-minded states that in 2022 declared their joint opposition to any unilateral or coercive actions that seek to change the status quo in the East and South China Seas. While the wording of the declaration does not mention the PRC by name, its message clearly aims to denounce Beijing’s activities as a threat to stability, transparency, and the rules-based order in the region. Indeed, during a state visit to Washington, DC in June 2023, Modi and President Biden declared themselves “among the closest partners in the world” and committed to forging a more robust relationship—within the parameters of the Quad—to countering a clear and upward trend of Chinese aggression in the SCS (Asia Financial, June 29). India has also been more direct in articulating its concerns over the harmful effects the PRC is having on diplomatic efforts to resolve territorial disputes in the SCS. For instance, at the 15th East Asia Summit in November 2020, EAM Jaishankar expressed concern about actions and incidents in the SCS that “erode trust” and said ongoing negotiations on the proposed code of conduct “should not be prejudicial to legitimate interests of third parties and should be fully consistent” with the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) (The Hindustan Times, November 14, 2020). It is in this context that India has steadily moved to ramp up its defense cooperation with the Philippines. Security Collaborations In recent months, New Delhi and Manila have closely collaborated on a range of security matters beyond the explicit recognition of the 2016 PCA’s ruling against Beijing in the SCS. In January 2022, the government of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. signed a deal worth $374.96 million to obtain a shore-based variant of the BrahMos supersonic anti-ship cruise missile system. This makes Manila the first foreign customer for the weapons platform jointly developed by India and Russia (The Hindu, January 28, 2022). The Philippine Marine Corps’ newly developed Coastal Defense Regiment (CDR) will receive three batteries, the first of which will arrive before the end of 2023 (Indian Aerospace & Defence Bulletin, August 3). Notably, during Balikatan 23 (April 11–28), the most recent iteration of the annual military exercises between Manila and Washington, the CDR played a leading role in helping to retake the Filipino island of Bosco from a fictitious foreign aggressor, i.e. China. During the 13th India-Philippines Foreign Office Consultations in August 2022, both sides expressed their desire to deepen security cooperation, which they again reiterated at the conclusion of their 4th Joint Defense Cooperation Committee and 2nd Service-to-Service meeting in March 2023 (Manila Times, August 23, 2022; The Economic Times, June 30). To give substance to this commitment, the two countries agreed to work together on projects related to cyber and space security, military medicine, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. They also pledged to look into the possibility of deploying a permanent Indian Defense Attaché (DA) to Manila (Philstar, April 4). This latter possibility was again highlighted as a shared desire by both parties at the fifth JCBC meeting in June 2023, as was enhancing security ties through regular or upgraded interactions between defense agencies and combined maritime drills. India also offered the Philippines a concessional line of credit to buy indigenously manufactured military equipment, including naval and aviation assets (The Hindu, June 29; South China Morning Post, June 30; Mint, August 15). In August 2023, the Philippine and Indian coast guards signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to enhance professional maritime linkages in the areas of law enforcement, search and rescue, and pollution response. The MoU additionally mentioned exploring future avenues for joint exercises and training collaboration, while the two services also inked a Standard Operating Procedure for exchanging “white” (aka, licit) shipping information (The Economic Times, August 23). Rationalizing India’s Recalibrated Policy to the SCS and the Philippines Accounting for India’s recalibrated approach to the SCS issue and its defense relations with the Philippines relies on several interrelated factors. First, the Modi government has clearly balked at the CCP’s growing assertiveness in the region. New Delhi views it as a direct threat to freedom of navigation in a strategic sealine of communication that plays a crucial role in fostering the Act East Policy’s long-term goal of deepening engagement with Southeast Asia. Beijing’s extensive territorial claims in the SCS also undermine political and economic stability in the broader Indo-Pacific region and challenge the legitimate sovereign rights of littoral states. All of this runs counter to New Delhi’s prioritization of a peaceful, transparent, and inclusive maritime order. Second, India’s membership of the Quad has further reinforced and entrenched the country’s commitment to offsetting the PRC’s rapidly rising influence by supporting an open and rules-based Indo-Pacific and opposing unilateral actions that unduly raise tensions in the South and East China Seas. This was precisely the message that emanated from the Quad’s most recent Ministerial Meeting in New Delhi on March 3, 2023, where the grouping expressly presented itself as a force for regional and global good (The Hindu, March 3). Third, the June 2020 border clash with China in the Galwan Valley on the LAC (and subsequent periodic flareups) have encouraged New Delhi to assume a much more forceful stance against Beijing. Modi’s government now sees the PRC as the only major power in the region that poses a direct threat to its core national security interests (China Daily, July 27). Moreover, the border clash, which left 15 Indian soldiers dead, has encouraged India to be more supportive of countries in the Indo-Pacific that have similarly suffered from China’s belligerence. The Philippines is one such country, having borne the brunt of the PRC’s incursions in the SCS (especially in and around the Manila-controlled Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Island chain). Fourth, forging a closer defense relationship could open the door for India to ink more high-tech arms agreements with the Philippines. In this way, the sale of the BraMos cruise missile system in 2022 could be the first of many. As noted above, in June 2023 the Modi administration offered Manila a concessional line of credit to buy indigenously produced military hardware, so a suitable funding mechanism for orchestrating munition transfers is in place. Any future agreement to send advanced weapon platforms to the Philippines would represent a significant export revenue stream for New Delhi. The country’s coast guard has already expressed interest in buying a batch of MK III multi-role light helicopters from India (The Print, July 17; The Eurasian Times, August 24). Just as importantly, such deals would send a strong signal to the PRC of the type of security and diplomatic headaches India is willing to instigate for Beijing if it pushes its territorial claims along the LAC too aggressively. Fifth, since assuming office on June 30, 2022, President Marcos has reversed the previous administration’s foreign policy agenda to one that is now largely congruent with India’s: emphasizing adherence to democratic principles, ensuring the country’s sovereign border rights, reconsolidating the military alliance with the United States, and shoring up links with regional allies to counter Chinese intimidation. With similar outlooks on regional affairs and no immediate conflict of interests, it should come as no major surprise that the two nations have found common ground in strengthening and enhancing their bilateral defense cooperation. Deepening Collaboration Short of Alliance The PRC’s aggressive advances in the Indo-Pacific provide a mutual motivation for New Delhi and Manila to cooperate militarily. A serious escalation of tensions along the LAC or an act of overt aggression in areas of the SCS that fall within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone could well precipitate a renewed push to further intensify bilateral ties based on a common commitment to deter and blunt Chinese adventurism. The likelihood of a codifying bilateral defense commitments, however, is low. India has always been wary of such formalized arrangements, especially in the conflict-prone Indo-Pacific theater, as they could ultimately force the country into a costly confrontation with China. The statutory strategic partnership agreement that Australia concluded with Manila in September is therefore something that the Modi administration would likely eschew. Rather, future defense relations can be expected to take the form of more flexible MoUs and protocols calling for greater information sharing, additional port calls, a higher tempo of exercises and training, and increased support for international rulings on the law of the sea. None of these will transform the Indian-Philippine partnership into a “mini alliance.” Nevertheless, opportunities for deepening the strategic coordination of two nations that already engage in a range of security collaborations represent a enhancement of India’s positioning in the region, to the exclusion of China. The PRC will doubtless interpret closer ties between New Delhi and Manila as part of a wider U.S.-led containment policy aimed at shutting China out of its own geostrategic “backyard.” As it routinely does when outside nations dispatch forces to the SCS, Beijing will almost certainly reject any Indian naval presence in the area as an unjustified—if not illegitimate—intrusion in its sovereign sphere of influence. For instance, an August article from Baijiahao, one of China’s largest blog platforms for independent writers, argues that New Delhi’s approach to the Philippines in part of a broader plan to wrest control of the entire SCS (Baijiahao, August 27). This echoes a line that CCP propaganda has often deployed in recent years (Remin Zixun, March 3, 2021). Despite these rhetorical protestations, the PRC would probably not move to actively counter any such deployment for fear that this could spark a direct clash both with New Delhi and its partners in the Quad. The preferred strategy would likely default to economic coercion—wielding the country’s considerable financial leverage to pressure pliable Southeast Asian actors into distancing themselves from the Indo-Philippine partnership. As has been evident with past “lobbying” efforts directed at Cambodia, a precedent exists for this type of economic offensive. The PRC may also look to subversive foreign influence operations (FIOs) as a means for decoupling Indian-Filipino maritime defense cooperation. The CCP’s United Front Work Department (UFWD), which has a remit for exercising political influence inside and outside China, enjoys an active presence in the Philippines. Local intelligence sources have already linked the Department to FIO campaigns aimed at manipulating public and elite opinion in favor of Beijing’s claims in the SCS (China Brief, May 19). As it has done with regards to negatively shaping popular attitudes on Manila’s alliance with Washington, the PRC could easily use the UFWD as a conduit for generating opposition—if not outright hostility—to Marcos’ closer security collaboration with Modi. Finally, the CCP may move to capitalize on Russia’s growing reliance on Chinese support—which has become more pronounced in the wake of the Kremlin’s international isolation over its war in Ukraine—to pressure President Vladimir Putin into towing an anti-India agenda in the Indo-Pacific. While Moscow and New Delhi have historically enjoyed warm ties, bilateral relations have cooled somewhat in recent years due to the latter’s closer alignment with the United States. This, combined with the fact that Russia continues to have strategic relevance for India, accounting for around 45 percent of the country’s arms imports (The Hindu, March 13), could make Putin a useful ally in backing a PRC drive to counter Modi’s evolving defense outreach to the Philippines.

Flags of Israel and China

Political Insights (2): The Chinese Position on the Israeli War on Gaza

by Dr. Mohammad Makram Balawi

Developed Chinese-Israeli Relations… However: China’s diplomatic relations with Israel began in 1992. Beijing has believed that its relations with Tel Aviv would help improve its image in the West and enable it to obtain Western military technology, where bilateral trade reached about $24.4 billion in 2022. However, it has been proven to China, on several occasions, that Israel is not completely immune to US pressure, as it has faced several difficulties in implementing some Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects in the port of Haifa. It was prevented from winning a bid to operate the Sorek desalination plant for 25 years, because it is adjacent to the Palmachim Air Base, where US forces are stationed, and is near the Nahal nuclear research facility. Israel has also terminated an arms deal with China and was forced to pay financial compensation, etc. The Israeli position on the Russia-Ukraine war and the Western alliance against Moscow, has reinforced China’s belief that Israel is aligned with the US-Western powers, and that Israeli calculations may change if Western powers decide to take more hostile steps against China, for it’s a fact that the US openly declares that Beijing is its next most dangerous enemy. Furthermore, Israel’s participation in the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) project that Biden announced on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi on 9–10/9/2023, linking India to the Middle East and then into Europe via Israel, and which Netanyahu hailed, have given negative indications. For China sees it as an alternative project to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and that it aims to challenge it. China is seeking to enhance stability in the region for the sake of the BRI projects. It has been working on political initiatives, the most prominent of which was the Saudi Arabia-Iran announcement to resume diplomatic relations, which came following Chinese-brokered talks held in Beijing. However, the US, in partnership with Israel, are working to threaten Tehran and maintain its conflict with regional countries, which counters China’s endeavors, destabilizes the region and harms China’s strategic projects. The Position on Operation Al-Aqsa Flood and the Aggression Against Gaza From the onset of the Ukraine war, China has increased its interest in the region, especially Palestine. This was evident following the 20th Communist Party Congress in October 2022, the subsequent summits held by the Chinese President in the Gulf and Arab region, the quiet rapprochement with Hamas and its invitation to visit China, and China’s offers to mediate between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. On the internal level, a small segment of the Chinese elite has shown admiration for the Israeli model and sympathized with it as modern and advanced. However, Operation Al-Aqsa Flood dispelled these illusions and revealed Israel’s bloody racist nature and showed that the West, which established international law and imposed it on the world, does not abide by it, but rather uses it selectively. This has united the Chinese popular and elite position, which considers Israel an occupying state obstructing the two-state solution, and supports the Palestinian people in obtaining their rights. Operation Al-Aqsa Flood strengthened the Chinese conviction of the importance of the region to the Chinese strategy, and the importance of its relationship with Hamas in the Palestinian context, which is consistent with the Russian stance—China’s undeclared ally—regarding the region and the Movement. This consistency in positions was demonstrated in the Russian-Chinese diplomatic support of Hamas, albeit indirectly, and refusing to classify it as a “terrorist” movement. The official Chinese position can be summarized as follows: • Calling on all parties to exercise restraint and ceasefire. • Expressing dissatisfaction with the continued Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip and targeting of civilians, and fear of not maintaining the minimum level of respect for life and international law. • Emphasizing the historical injustice that occurred against the Palestinian people and that it cannot continue; and stressing that the long-term stagnation of the peace process is no longer sustainable. • Using the veto power in partnership with Russia against the US proposal to condemn Hamas and label it as “terrorist.” Concerns about Western US Intervention The Chinese are concerned about the US-Western offensive and defensive military mobilization in the region (including the arrival of US aircraft carriers). They believe that such mobilization is not only related to supporting Israel in its war on Gaza, but also to controlling the regional environment in a way that prevents any force from intervening to support the Palestinian resistance. In addition, it may be intended to exploit the situation to impose Western agendas on the region, including dominating energy sources and prices, especially in light of the significant restrictions imposed by the US and its allies on Russian oil. It may be considered a direct threat to the Chinese economy that depends mainly on energy coming from the Middle East and Gulf oil, and it also threatens China’s projects and economic relations in the region. Supporting Palestine Based on Accurate Calculations It may be in China’s interest to support the Palestinian resistance, even if only politically, and to perpetuate the exhaustion of the US in the region, to reduce Western pressure on East Asia. However, Chinese policy has so far distanced itself from direct intervention in regional conflicts and from direct entry into a conflict—that has military dimensions—with Western powers. This means that China will be very reluctant to do any move beyond the political and humanitarian support of the Palestinian people, and if it is forced, it will be in the near term indirectly, and through intermediary or third parties such as Syria and Iran. However, if the conflict is prolonged and Chinese interests are severely damaged, China may review its policies to protect its interests, including strengthening its military presence and supporting its allies and friends in the region.