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Diplomacy
Palestinian flag, on the background flags of China and the USA

China’s approach to the war in Gaza is not anti-Israel. It’s designed to contain the US

by Ahmed Aboudouh

China’s position on the war in Gaza is controversial and ambiguous to many observers. Beijing has criticized Israel’s blanket bombardment of civilians and condemned violations of international law. President Xi Jinping waited until after the Third Belt and Road Forum to comment on the crisis, reiterating China’s long-held position that a two-state solution should be implemented and calling for a humanitarian corridor to allow aid into the besieged Gaza Strip. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi went further, describing Israel’s bombardment of civilians in Gaza as actions that ‘have gone beyond the scope of self-defence’. At the same time, Beijing avoided condemning Hamas’s atrocities against civilians. As in Ukraine, China is positioning itself as a peace-seeking, ‘neutral’ great power, in contrast to the US, whose committed support for Israel is depicted by Beijing as a destabilizing, violent influence in the region. But China’s comments on the war, and its non-interventionist stance, mean it is unable to influence events – an uncomfortable position when its interests are directly threatened by the war. That may be why Beijing is increasingly aligning with Russia on the Palestinian issue, an unprecedented development that aims to guarantee a place at the negotiating table at minimal cost to both – and undermine US influence in the region. Familiar tactics It is now clear that China is adopting the Ukraine playbook on the Israel–Hamas war, seeking to publicly chart a different course from the US and its allies and their unconditional support for Israel. Chinese officials’ diplomatic interactions with the region are strictly adhering to Beijing’s policy of balancing between the Gulf States and Iran and between the regional main powers and Israel. The rhetoric from Beijing is carefully designed to focus on the broader context, such as implementing the two-state solution, addressing humanitarian issues and preventing the conflict from turning into a regional one. It has refrained from describing the Hamas incursion into Israel as a terrorist attack but has called Israel’s retaliation ‘collective punishment’ of Palestinian civilians – signalling its opposition to an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza. This is not simply the behaviour of a peace-loving, mercantilist giant. Rather, it is a structured, deliberate strategy to achieve China’s objectives in the region and beyond. ‘Anti-Western neutrality’ China does not aspire to replace the US position in the Middle East, but will undoubtedly be pleased to see the US again drawn into a conflict in the region. Chinese experts believe the more strategic non-East Asian theatres that require Washington’s attention, the more time and space China gains to assert its strategic domination in the Indo-Pacific. China has reaffirmed its historical affinity to the Palestinian cause (its policy since the time of Mao Zedong) and its policy of what might be called ‘anti-Western neutrality’ – that is, neutrality that stops short of condemning any country or force that undermines Western centrality in the global order (rather than explicitly lending support to Hamas). China also uses ‘Anti-Western neutrality’ to appeal to a densely populated and strategically important support base. Many Global South nations are sympathetic to Palestine, and the war is therefore an issue China can use to mobilize support for its leadership of developing countries. This in turn helps win backing for Chinese positions on core issues like Xinjiang and Taiwan – and for Xi’s vision of global governance, enshrined in his signature initiatives: the Global Development Initiative (GDI), the Global Security Initiative (GSI), and the Global Civilization Initiative (GCI). China has also sought to consolidate regional unity, urging the Islamic World to ‘speak with one voice’ with China on Palestine, building on its initiative to mediate a diplomatic agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran last March – a big win for the GSI, which is based on regional countries independently taking the lead in ‘resolving regional security issues through solidarity and coordination.’ The war encouraged Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salaman and Iran’s President Ibrahim Raisi to speak on the phone for the first time, something China was pleased to see. By stressing its neutral stance and its role as a voice of the Global South, China wants to check the US’s moral standing and legitimize internationalization of the issue, calling for a global conference to initiate a peace process – thereby removing Washington from its decades-long position as the unchallenged arbiter in the conflict. The ultimate objective is to degrade the US’s global standing and win the ‘discourse power’ war by capitalizing on sympathy for Palestinians worldwide. A flawed policy However, beyond the short term, China’s policy is flawed and unsustainable. While the Biden administration has failed to speak in a balanced way on the war, instead unconditionally supporting Israel, it has mobilized US diplomatic might to influence Israel’s response – preventing the conflict from spreading outside Gaza and allowing aid to reach civilians. Its committed response to the war, in fact, may put to bed the idea that Washington has departed from the Middle East, strengthening its traditional regional role. Chinese ‘anti-Western neutrality’ meanwhile, has led Israel to retaliate diplomatically by joining the UK and 50 other countries at the UN to condemn China’s policies against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, saying they constitute ‘international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.’ Like the Ukraine war, the Israel–Hamas war shows that ambiguity and ‘anti-Western neutrality’ are complex acts. To be considered neutral, others must also believe it. Neutrality also prevents China from directly influencing these dangerous events in a way that favours its interests. China has significant economic connections to the region. It is the biggest trading partner with most MENA countries and almost half of its imported oil comes from the Gulf. China’s overall trade with the Arab world stood at more than $430 billion last year. These significant interests are vulnerable to regional wars and instability - but Chinese leaders can only watch events unfold from a distance. China should now understand that transactional de-escalation between regional rivals like Saudi Arabia and Iran does not necessarily constitute peace. One of the key lessons of the conflict is that Iranian proxies were ready to blow up the region to impede Saudi normalization with Israel. China-sponsored integration initiatives will be no more successful at preventing another similar episode. Possessing great power capabilities is one thing. Acting like a great power is another. The US has demonstrated its continuing commitment to Israel and ability to influence Israeli policy. China has confined itself to voicing objections and calling for peace. Alignment with Russia may amplify its voice in a peace settlement. But there is a long way to go before that becomes reality. China must understand that in these crucial days, lip service diplomacy is the last thing MENA people want.

Diplomacy
The Westland Lynx, British military helicopter with Royal Navy ship on the background

The UK’s new direction: Prioritising the Indo-Pacific

by Girish Luthra

The recent steps undertaken by the UK show the growing engagement with the Indo-Pacific and the clear intent to accelerate the same In March 2021, the United Kingdom (UK) released ‘The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development, and Foreign Policy’, outlining its vision, priorities, and strategies for ‘Global Britain in a Competitive Age.’ While it covered a broad range of areas aligned with its national objectives, two aspects stood out from a policy-reorientation perspective. One, a departure from its earlier approach of cordiality and accommodation with China; and two, its decision to deepen engagement with and play a more active role in the Indo-Pacific region. It included a separate section ‘The Indo-Pacific Tilt: A Framework’, which stressed that “we will be the European partner with the broadest and most integrated presence in the Indo-Pacific.” The ’tilt’ framework met with scepticism, in some cases with cynicism, because the UK had remained somewhat withdrawn, in general, and peripheral to the Indo-Pacific region, in particular, in the preceding few years. There were questions about the UK’s seriousness and headroom available for resource allocation to follow through with this new strategy. Notwithstanding, the UK government started to take new steps, as well as moving forward with some earlier initiatives related to the Indo-Pacific. The big announcement in September 2021 of AUKUS (Australia, the UK, and the US), an informal security alliance focused on the western Pacific, sent the clearest signal that the ‘tilt’ was more than just a strategy paper. It also indicated that the plans “… to enhance China facing capabilities to respond to systemic challenges it poses to our security, prosperity, and values…” would be realised through partnerships and alliances. The UK seeks to contribute to deterrence against China through the AUKUS, which has taken numerous steps in the last two years to expand defence collaboration in emerging technologies and industrial capabilities. The UK’s ‘tilt’ implementation challenges were compounded by the post-pandemic economic slowdown and the Russia-Ukraine war. At the same time, there were rapid changes in the global and regional strategic environment. For the UK, these implied the continued indispensability of the US, the criticality of the EU, and the importance of the Indo-Pacific. A revised strategy articulation was accordingly done through a comprehensive document titled ‘Integrated Review Refresh 2023: responding to a more contested and volatile world’, published in March 2023. It updated the broad strategic framework across geographies, sectors, and themes and was more explicit about the China challenge. With respect to the Indo-Pacific, it outlined the progress made since the announcement of the ‘tilt’ strategy. These included FTA agreements with Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, and Vietnam. It highlighted deepening several bilateral relationships, partnership roadmaps with India and Indonesia, dialogue partner status with ASEAN, applying for joining the ASEAN regional forum and ADMM Plus, progressing negotiations to join the CP-TPP, deployments by the Royal Navy to the region, digital partnerships, and working together on green transitions. It pointed out that the Euro-Atlantic would continue to be the overriding priority, followed by the Indo-Pacific. Overall, the ‘Refresh’ document showed that the UK’s engagement with the Indo-Pacific was progressing well and that there was a clear intent to accelerate the same. The last two and a half years have firmly established the UK’s new direction, with emphasis on outcomes that are based on diplomatic and cooperative instruments. This trend is supported by a growing anti-China sentiment, increasing consensus for alignment with the Indo-Pacific framework, and a broader agreement on strengthening resilience against coercion and unforeseen events. A recent report by the UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, released on 30 August, has brought out a detailed assessment of the evolution and progress of the Indo-Pacific ‘tilt’ strategy. While recognising the steps taken towards implementation, it has made several recommendations. Some of these include a cross-government approach, focus on long-term objectives and outcomes, seeking to join the Quad, inviting Japan and the Republic of Korea to join AUKUS for ‘Strand-B’ activities of defence cooperation, pushing for Japan to eventually join AUKUS, campaigning to admit Taiwan to CP-TPP, dropping overcaution about offending the CCP over Taiwan, and releasing an unclassified version of its China strategy. This stems from a broad assessment that while Euro-Atlantic is the overriding priority, the long-term threat is from China. Another report on China by the Intelligence and Security Committee of the UK parliament, presented in July 2023, has highlighted that the Chinese approach to pursuing its global ambitions makes China a national security threat to the UK. The report covers diverse challenges emanating from espionage, interference, influence operations, and investments (the UK receives the highest FDI from China, compared to any other European country). It concludes that the response and preventive actions have been slow and inadequate, and recommends a proactive approach to counter China, with increased allocation of resources. These reports are indicative of increased political convergence on the need to take forward the plans for the Indo-Pacific and China with a sense of urgency. The coming months are likely to see increased momentum in the implementation of priorities indicated in the ‘Refresh’. In addition, delivering on the India-UK comprehensive strategic partnership and the 2030 Roadmap for India-UK future relations is being accorded high priority. It is important that this joint roadmap, the UK’s integrated review, and its plans for the Indo-Pacific are seen in sum and as mutually reinforcing. While attention is currently focused on the ongoing negotiations for the India-UK FTA—expected to come to fruition soon—it needs to be highlighted that there are many other important lines of action being pursued under the 2030 roadmap. The term ‘Tilt to the Indo-Pacific’ has also been a subject of debate since it was unveiled. To many, it seemed to suggest movement at the cost of some other important region. The ‘Refresh’ document refers to it but appears to somewhat deemphasise the term. The recent Foreign Affairs Committee report also recommends moving away from using it. While the use of ‘tilt’ in official language may fade away, the UK is likely to continue to lean heavily towards the Indo-Pacific. This priority can be expected to become more enduring, and increasingly credible in the coming years.

Diplomacy
Narendra Modi with Secretary Antony Blinken and Vice President Kamala Harris

India and Vietnam are partnering with the US to counter China − even as Biden claims that’s not his goal

by Leland Lazarus

This fall, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is slated to lead a bipartisan group of U.S. senators to China. The planned trip, like other recent visits to China by high-ranking U.S. officials, is aimed at improving the relationship between the U.S. and China. Such efforts to ameliorate U.S.-China diplomatic relations come amid growing tensions between the two economic giants. They also run parallel to U.S. efforts to strengthen ties with Indo-Pacific countries to limit Beijing’s influence. Take, for example, President Joe Biden’s September 2023 trips to India for the G20 summit and to Vietnam, where U.S. competition with China was a focus of Biden’s discussions. While he was in Asia, Biden made several agreements in science, technology and supply chain security designed to bolster U.S. relations with India and Vietnam. “I don’t want to contain China,” the president told reporters in Hanoi on Sept. 10, 2023, shortly after meeting with Vietnam’s communist party leader. U.S. Reps. Mike Gallagher and Raja Krishnamoorthi echoed similar sentiments during an event held by the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in New York City the following day. But even if the U.S.’s stated goal isn’t to limit China’s global influence, its recent agreements with India, Vietnam and other countries may do exactly that. What US-led G20 deals mean for China The U.S. is actively looking for ways to blunt one of China’s best tools of influence: international loans. During the G20 summit Sept. 9-10 in New Delhi, the U.S. pledged to help reform the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to make them more flexible in lending to developing countries to finance renewable energy, climate mitigation and critical infrastructure projects. Biden committed the first US$25 billion to make those reforms possible and secured additional financial pledges from other countries totaling $200 billion in new funding for developing countries over the next decade. The U.S. also signed onto a deal with the European Union, Saudi Arabia and India that will help connect the Middle East, Europe and Asia through rails and ports. Characterizing it as a “real big deal,” Biden said the rail and ports agreement would help stabilize and integrate the Middle East. These plans are aimed at providing an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Commonly referred to as BRI, the initiative is China’s international infrastructure loan program. Over the past decade, Chinese government agencies, banks and businesses have loaned more than $1 trillion abroad, and 60% of the recipient countries are now in debt to these Chinese entities. The U.S. and other countries have long criticized BRI as “debt trap diplomacy.” One study suggests that the trillions of dollars in infrastructure loans to countries by the government and quasi-government bodies in China typically lead to debt problems that the borrowing countries can’t manage. As China grapples with a slowing domestic economy, it may become more difficult for Chinese entities to keep shelling out funding for big-ticket overseas projects. The new U.S.-led agreements that come out of the G20 could fill the coming gap. These G20 plans complement existing Western economic initiatives to compete with the BRI, including U.S. trade pacts for the Indo-Pacific region and the Americas, the EU’s Global Gateway and the G7’s Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment. What the US’s agreement with India means for China In their meeting on the sidelines of the G20, Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed to deepen collaboration on developing critical and emerging technology, such as quantum computing and space exploration, as well as 5G and 6G telecommunications. This will help India compete with China in the technological arena in the Indo-Pacific. The telecommunications portion of a joint statement by Biden and Modi specifically mentions the U.S.’s Rip and Replace program. It is about helping smaller telecommunications companies rip out technology from Chinese companies like Huawei or ZTE and replace them with network equipment from the West that will protect users’ data. The U.S. has banned Huawei and ZTE equipment from its telecommunication networks, deeming those companies national security risks. The U.S. and India’s pledge to support Rip and Replace is a direct counter to China’s telecommunication technology expansion. What the US’s agreement with Vietnam means for China In Vietnam, Biden elevated the bilateral relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership, expanding the relationship in everything from economics to education to technology in a country that has long counted China as its top trading partner. The enhanced partnership includes the U.S. providing $2 million to fund teaching labs and training courses for semiconductor assembly, testing and packaging. One company in Arizona and two in California have already pledged to set up semiconductor factories and design centers in Vietnam, and the U.S. artificial intelligence company Nvidia will help Vietnam integrate AI into automotive and health care systems. All these investments will make Vietnam even more attractive to U.S. and Western companies that don’t want China to be the sole source of their supply chain. As Vietnam becomes a key player in the semiconductor market, it will shrink China’s share of the market as well as its regional technological advantage. The U.S. also agreed to provide nearly $9 million to help Vietnam patrol the waters around its borders and beef up port facility security, as well as boost efforts to fight illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, or IUUF. While not explicitly mentioned, China is the target of this initiative; China and Vietnam continue to be at loggerheads over disputed claims over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, and Chinese industrial fishing vessels are the largest culprits of IUUF around the globe. By inking these agreements at the G20 in India and in Vietnam, the U.S. broadened its circle of allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific that can help counterbalance China. Along with similar diplomatic accomplishments by Vice President Kamala Harris at the recent ASEAN summit in Indonesia; security partnerships like AUKUS, between the U.S., Australia and the UK, and the Quad, between the U.S., India, Australia and Japan; increased military sales and training to Taiwan; and the recent Camp David meeting Biden held with Japan and South Korea, the U.S. is building partnerships all across Asia. These actions are aimed at restraining China’s political, economic and military might, even if U.S. leaders don’t explicitly say that is their intention. Regardless of rhetoric, actions speak louder than words.

Diplomacy
North Korean President Kim Jong-un with Vladimir Putin

Russia-North Korea talks

by Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin and Chairman of State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Kim Jong-un held talks at the Vostochny Space Launch Centre. Following the talks with participation of the countries’ delegations, the two leaders held a one-on-one meeting. * * * President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Chairman, I am delighted to see you again and to welcome you to Russia. This time we are meeting at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, just as we agreed. We are proud of the way this sector is developing in Russia, and this is our new facility. I hope that it will be of interest to you and your colleagues. However, our meeting is taking place at a special time. The People’s Democratic Republic of Korea has recently celebrated the 75th anniversary of its founding, and we established diplomatic relations 75 years ago. I would like to remind you that our country was the first to recognise the sovereignty and independence of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This year we mark 70 years since the end of the war for independence and the Korean people’s victory in that war. It is a landmark date because our country also helped our friends in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to fight for their independence. Of course, we need to talk about our economic cooperation, humanitarian issues and the situation in the region. There are many issues we will discuss. I would like to say that I am glad to see you. Thank for accepting our invitation to come to Russia. Welcome. Chairman of State Affairs of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea Kim Jong-un (retranslated): I express my gratitude to you for inviting us despite your being busy with state affairs. Our visit to Russia is taking place at a very important time. The Russian side is giving a warm welcome to the delegation from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. From the moment we arrived in Russia, we could feel the sincerity of our Russian friends. On behalf of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, I express my gratitude to you and to the people of the Russian Federation. I also thank you for paying so much attention to our visit to Russia. We have been able to see with our own eyes the present and the future of Russia as it builds itself as a space power. Right now, we are having a meeting at a very special moment, right in the heart of the space power which is Russia. As you mentioned, the Soviet Union played a major role in liberating our country and helping it become an independent state, and our friendship has deep roots. Currently, our relations with the Russian Federation are the top priority for our country. I am confident that our meeting will serve as another step in elevating our relations to a new level. As you have just mentioned, we have many issues pertaining to the development of our relations, including politics, the economy and culture, in order to contribute to the improvement of the well-being of our peoples. Russia is currently engaged in a sacred battle to defend its state sovereignty and security in the face of the hegemonic forces that oppose Russia. We are willing to continue to develop our relations. We have always supported and will continue to support every decision made by President Putin, as well as the decisions of the Russian Government. I also hope that we will always stand together in fighting imperialism and building a sovereign state. Once again, I express my gratitude to you for providing us with the opportunity to visit Russia and for paying so much attention to our visit. Vladimir Putin: Thank you. <…>

Diplomacy
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Denmark Lars Løkke Rasmussen

Speech of Danish Foreign Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen - We will pursue a clear-sighted and realistic China policy

by Lars Løkke Rasmussen

This week I travel to China for the first time as Danish foreign minister. I was there at the end of 2017. At that time, I was prime minister and Xi Jinping had been president for four years. It was clear that there were major political changes underway in China - but also that there was still a desire for engagement and cooperation with the outside world. Here, six years later, the picture is different. China continues to pursue its interests in the world. But now with greater assertiveness and more muscle, and China is trying more directly to change the world order as we know it to China's own advantage. And they go to great lengths to protect their political system from outside influence. We in the West are therefore forced to relate to China in a different way.  And that is exactly why I look forward to setting foot on Chinese soil again. Because even if we disagree politically on a number of things, not least in terms of values, China cannot be avoided. Neither economically nor politically. China is the world's largest economy when adjusted for purchasing power. China's GDP is on par with Europe's combined. China is now and in the coming years indispensable for the value chains of our business life. We also need China to solve the climate crisis. The country accounts for 30% of global emissions of greenhouse gases. Without China, we simply cannot achieve our climate ambitions. Just like China, it is a producer of many – indeed too many – of the technologies and raw materials that form a central part of our own green transition. Over the past many years, we in the West have become too dependent on China in several critical areas. There is no doubt about that. We have been somewhat naive for a long time. But we cannot react by decoupling ourselves from China now. It is simply not possible. We must be pragmatic idealists, as I call it, and pursue a committed, clear-sighted, and realistic China policy. This means, first of all, that we must free ourselves from critical dependencies. We must minimize our risk and become more resilient. In plain Danish, we in Denmark and Europe must be able to stand on our own two feet to a greater extent. The time when we perceived the whole world as one big factory is over. We must look after our supply chains at the seams. This applies to energy, critical raw materials, and technology. And then Denmark and the EU must pursue a more robust and strategic trade and industrial policy. Denmark, the EU, and our allies have significantly tightened their approach to China in recent years. It is wise and necessary. We must continue to address the challenges with China when it comes to interests, values and security with our partners and allies. The latter is important because Denmark cannot cope with Chinese power on its own. No European country can do that alone; for that, the size ratio is too unequal. Therefore, it is alpha and omega that we stand together in the EU on our approach to China in close dialogue with the USA and our allies in NATO. At the same time, pragmatic idealism means that we must not overrule. Driving from one ditch to another doesn't help. Europe must not become generally protectionist and we must cooperate with China on our common interests. My trip to Beijing and Shanghai has three purposes. Firstly, to agree a new Danish-Chinese work programme. Secondly, to open doors for Danish business so that they can deliver the green solutions the Chinese demand. And thirdly, to have an honest conversation with the Chinese government about our bilateral relations, about developments in the world and the things we see differently. There are many issues to discuss with China. Over the past 10 years, China has increased political control over its own population and suppression of fundamental freedoms. In Hong Kong, democracy and freedom of assembly and speech no longer exist. Uighurs are oppressed in Xinjiang. And in Tibet, a slow erosion of ethnic Tibetan culture and identity has long been underway. There is also the conflict over Taiwan. Half of all the world's containers are sailed through the Taiwan Strait, so the relationship across the strait has consequences for the whole world. Also, for the EU and Denmark. We emphasize that the conflict is resolved peacefully without violence, threats, or coercion. Like the USA and most other countries, Denmark pursues a one-China policy. This does not change the fact that we have strong economic and cultural ties to Taiwan. And many Danes have – like me – sympathy for the democratic governance reform that has been chosen in Taiwan. In light of Russia's aggression against Ukraine, it is also clear that China's close partnership with Russia is worrying. China has neither condemned the invasion nor demanded that Ukraine's full territorial integrity be restored, just as China is helping to spread Russian disinformation. In return, China has emphasized that it will not support Russia's aggression militarily. It is an important commitment and signal, and we must take them at their word. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China has a special responsibility to engage actively in the peace dialogue to end the war in Ukraine. We look at many things differently. When it comes to human rights, we must continue to hold China to international obligations. At the same time, the trade and climate conditions are such that we have to cooperate in those areas. Our current work program with China expired in 2020, so it is long overdue for renewal. Several have argued that Denmark should end the cooperation. I don't think that would be in Denmark's interest. At the same time, it would be a significant and wrong political signal not to renew it at all. But we have known for a long time that the program should look different. It used to be quite broad – even too broad, in retrospect. The new program must be more focused. We will cooperate with China on climate, green energy, environment, sustainable food production, green shipping, and health. For example, we can help China reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. It is good for both the climate and for Danish exports. It is important for us to focus the cooperation on the green areas in particular. If we only want to cooperate and talk with those we completely agree with, then I wouldn't have many places to go as Secretary of State. And that would not be good for either the economy or the climate. And not good for the overall political situation either. China is constantly seeking cooperation with countries around the world. They have global ambitions. They are not only asserting their influence in Asia, but also in Africa and Latin America. They offer themselves as partners in very specific ways without demands for democracy and human rights. Construction of highways and railways. Expansions of airports. Mining. China has invested billions of dollars in major construction projects across the African continent and created a huge debt burden. That kind of counts. Also, when it comes to votes in the UN. We in the West have to deal with that. Considered and strategic. We must strengthen existing partnerships and build new alliances based on equality and respect. We need to think more about building relationships. Education. Research. Exchange. We must also be present out there – in Africa, Asia, and Latin America – with offers for concrete collaborations. And get off the moral high horse a little. China's changed face could perhaps be glimpsed in 2017, when I was in China last. Now the challenge is clear to everyone. We must be critical of a number of China's global ambitions and their political system at the same time as we cooperate on trade and climate. This requires a committed, clear-sighted, and realistic China policy.

Diplomacy
Russian President Vladimir Putin with China's Vice Premier Zhang Guoqing during Eastern Economic Forum

Meeting with the Deputy Premier of the State Council of China, Zhang Guoqing

by Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin met with Vice Premier of the State Council of the People's Republic of China Zhang Guoqing. President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Zhang Guoqing, friends, I am very pleased to see you and to welcome you to Russia, to Vladivostok. China has traditionally participated in this forum for many years now. I had the pleasure of welcoming the President of the People's Republic of China to it. He participated in person, spoke here, and then took part in the forum in the videoconference format. I would like to take this opportunity to ask you to convey my best wishes to the President of the People's Republic of China, with whom I have friendly work-related and personal relations. This certainly helps promote bilateral relations and ties between our countries. We know you well as a very business-like person. You headed a major company and now engage in matter of industry. As far as I know, you have already had the chance to meet with your counterparts, deputy prime ministers [Yury] Trutnev and [Denis] Manturov. The latter is in charge of the industrial block in the Government. I would like to note that thanks primarily to the efforts of our governments and business circles, Russia-China relations in this area – the area of economic cooperation – have reached a very high level. Of course, this is a derivative of what has been achieved in the political sphere, but nevertheless the results are more than good, they are excellent, and every year our trade grows by almost one third. This year, too, over the first seven months of it, the trade is up by about the same amount, I think, 24 percent – to as much as 120 billion. The goal President Xi Jinping and I have set – to reach the US$200 billion mark in trade – can be achieved very soon, already this year. I am confident that our relations will keep the current pace. We are glad to welcome you, and I would like to thank you for your decision to come and take part in the Eastern Economic Forum. Welcome. Vice Premier of the State Council of the People's Republic of China Zhang Guoqing (retranslated): Thank you, Mr President, for the opportunity to meet with you. First of all, I would like to pass on to you sincere regards and best wishes from President Xi Jinping. We also wish to offer heartfelt congratulations on the successful organisation of the 8th Eastern Economic Forum. Under the strategic direction of President Xi Jinping and President Vladimir Putin, China and Russia have deepened their overarching partnership and strategic cooperation in this new era. Our relations have maintained a consistently high dynamic. As you rightly noted, our countries have provided resolute mutual support in matters concerning our key interests. We are deepening political cooperation and trust and multiplying our mutual interests, bringing our nations closer. Our multi-dimensional practical cooperation is moving forward progressively, and the range of our bilateral cooperation is constantly expanding. Mr President, you noted the volume of our trade for the first seven months of this year, but in the first eight months of this year, the bilateral turnover reached US$155.1 billion, which is 32 percent higher year-on-year. We have every reason to believe that the goal set at the highest level, to reach US$200 billion in bilateral trade, will be achieved earlier than the end of the year. Last March, President Xi Jinping made a successful state visit to Russia, during which a new large-scale plan for developing China-Russia relations was outlined and new guidelines were set. Currently, the Chinese nation, under the true leadership of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, centred around comrade Xi Jinping, is promoting the comprehensive Chinese modernisation focused on high-quality development. We are ready to share development opportunities and deepen mutually beneficial cooperation with our Russian colleagues. Vladimir Putin: We highly value and appreciate the fact that, as you mentioned, the President of China made his first foreign visit after his re-election to Russia. This indicates that the relations between Russia and China have reached an unprecedented and historic level in the past few years. As you said, we will continue working together.

Diplomacy
The leaders of four BRICS countries, Lula, Xi Jinping, Cyril Ramaphosa with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

BRICS and the West: Don’t Believe the Cold War Hype

by Cedric H. de Coning

While it is prudent to be cautious, it may also be wise to explore cooperation in those areas where there are shared interests rather than assume that the BRICS and the West are strategic rivals on all fronts.This analysis was first published in the Global Observatory, 30 August 2023.When Jim O’Neill coined the BRIC acronym in 2001, the point he was trying to convey was that the global economic system needed to incorporate the world’s largest emerging economies. His advice fell on deaf ears and in 2009, Brazil, China, India and Russia decided to take matters into their own hands and formed the BRIC grouping. South Africa joined the group in 2010 to form the BRICS. This July, the group held its 15th summit in South Africa, where they decided to add six new members: Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. More are likely to join in the future, including countries like Indonesia and Nigeria. What these countries have in common is a frustration, if not a grievance, about being side-lined to the periphery of the world economy. Together, the BRICS represent approximately 40% of the world’s population. The combined size of their economies are approaching approximately 30% of the world’s GDP, which puts them roughly on par with combined size of the economies of the G7 countries, depending on whether size is measured in GDP or PPP.  More importantly, in the next few decades, the combined size of the BRICS economies will surpass that of the G7. Despite this growing parity, all the members of the BRICS, with the exception of Russia, self-identifies as being part of the Global South, i.e., they feel excluded from a global system dominated by the Global North. Their stated aim is to work towards a future system of global governance where they will have equal political and economic say in global institutions, and where no one state will dominate others. In pursuit of this aim, BRICS countries have established their own development bank, set up their own contingency reserve arrangement, are developing their own payment system, and have started to trade with each other in their own currencies. The BRICS want to free their economies from the dollar-based international financial system. They feel exposed to United States interest rates that can have a negative effect on their economies, for no domestic reasons. The dollar-based financial system also provides the US with significant advantages in the global economy, which the BRICS see as unfair. They also feel a dollar-based financial system gives the US hegemonic influence in global affairs, through for example, exerting US jurisdiction on all dollar-based trade or investments that flow through US banks or financial institutions. While the BRICS countries have these clear shared macro-economic interests, many of the members also have competing interests in other domains. China and India are geopolitical rivals in South Asia. Egypt and Ethiopia are at loggerheads over the Nile. Brazil, India, South Africa and the newly-added Argentina are democracies, while other countries in the group are governed by a diverse set of autocratic regimes, which could set up an irreconcilable clash of values on some issues. Many of the members of the BRICS also have close ties to the United States and Europe, including Egypt, India, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, in a televised statement to the nation on the eve of hosting the BRICS summit in South Africa, explained that South Africa remains non-aligned, and he announced that in 2023 the country will also host a major United States-Africa trade meeting and an EU-South Africa summit. South Africa will also host the G20 in 2025, the first in Africa. For many countries, membership of the BRICS does thus not necessarily imply aligning themselves with one global alliance versus another, but rather cooperation in a group around a series of shared interests. Where does this place the BRICS on the Russian war in Ukraine? The BRICS summit in Johannesburg steered clear of taking a position on the war, other than welcoming mediation aimed at resolving it through dialogue and diplomacy. Some BRICS members like Iran are clearly supporting Russia, while most others have stopped short of either supporting or condemning Russia. For many such as Egypt, the war has adversely affected their economy. Two of the BRICS members, Egypt and South Africa, are part of an African initiative to seek a mediated end to the conflict, which is perhaps the first African initiative to mediate an international conflict. Overall, however, the BRICS have their eyes on the medium- to long-term transformation of the global macro-economic and financial system, and countries like China are probably frustrated that the Russian war in Ukraine has drawn attention away from this larger objective. Are the BRICS and the West headed for a new cold war? The shift in the center of gravity of the global economy to the East is an unstoppable fact driven by demographics and economic factors like the cost of production. At the same time, Europe and the United States will remain major economic players. In tandem with these changes in the global economy, it is clear that the global political order will become more multipolar, with China, Europe, India, and the United States representing some of the major centers of influence. In an August 27 article, Jim O’Neil argues that the influence of the BRICS will be determined by their effectiveness, not their size. An expanding BRICS will most likely succeed in helping its members to break free from a dollar-based international financial system, but that will take several decades of incremental change before it reaches a tipping point. Whether that is a good or bad thing depends on the degree to which your economy is tied to the United States. Many of the BRICS countries, including China, Egypt, India, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa all have economies whose prosperity are closely tied to the Unites States. They will thus have an interest in a slow, stable freeing up of the international financial system, and this should give everyone that is prudent time to adapt. The same logic also applies to changes in global governance architecture. Apart from Russia, all the other BRICS countries have an interest in making sure that changes in the global order are managed at a slow steady pace that does not generate instability. All the BRICS countries, apart from Russia, are also strong supporters of multilateralism, with the United Nations at its center. Many Western countries and BRICS members may thus have more shared interests than the doomsday headlines suggest. While it is prudent to be cautious, it may also be wise to explore cooperation in those areas where there are shared interests rather than assume that the BRICS and the West are strategic rivals on all fronts.

Diplomacy
Chinese flag

Elites vs Citizens: How Singapore and Indonesia are Divided on China

by Melinda Martinus

Surveys show that the elite’s opinion toward China diverges with those of citizens in Singapore and Indonesia. Elites tend to weigh long-term geopolitical strategies and have more access to information, but increased citizen engagement will enhance foreign policy. Societies are often divided on policy matters — and foreign policy is no exception. American politics have long been divided between the Democrats, who are cautious of U.S. militarisation, and the Republicans, who traditionally tend to support US global military presence. The U.K.’s Brexit referendum saw opinion sharply divided along generational lines, with young people generally preferring to remain in the European Union and the older generation voting to leave. Are similar divisions manifest in Southeast Asia? Think tanks and research organisations have conducted various surveys to understand how major powers influence the region. Notable ones include the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute’s State of Southeast Asia Survey, Blackbox’s ASEAN Turns 50, the Foreign Policy Community Indonesia’s ASEAN-China Survey, and the Pew Research Centre’s Global Attitudes Survey. Comparisons of these surveys must be mindful of their different objectives, sampling methods, and timing of sample collection. Still, they provide empirical data to explore whether Southeast Asian elites and laypersons have divergent opinions over foreign policies. This article considers how the rise of China is viewed by society in Singapore, the region’s commercial and financial hub, and Indonesia, ASEAN’s largest country and current chair. The findings of several polls are quite revealing. The most recent iteration of ISEAS’ annual survey, targeted at the regional elites and policymakers familiar with international affairs, concluded that the region’s trust in China to provide leadership remains low, including respondents in Singapore. However, in contrast, the survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre in 2021 showed that ordinary Singaporean citizens have favourable views of China (Chart 1). This poll, repeated in 2022 on 19 countries (mostly OECD members), found that Singapore was one of three countries that viewed China and President Xi Jinping in favourable terms. A dissonance can also be observed when comparing surveys in Indonesia – but in this case, the elites’ disposition toward China has grown warmer while the citizens’ mood has chilled over time. The ISEAS surveys concluded that Indonesian elites have become more positive about China in the past three years. Meanwhile, the polls conducted by the Lowy Institute found that ordinary Indonesian citizens tend to be more cautious of China’s influence in their country compared to ten years ago (Chart 2). What explains these divisions between the region’s elites and laypersons? First, elites and policymakers often project national interests and pursue long-term geopolitical strategies, while some ordinary citizens may prioritise immediate concerns such as economic and social issues. The relationship between Singapore and China is strong, as both sides are indispensable trade and economic partners. Understandably, Chinese economic influence can be felt on the ground. In addition, the social ties between Singapore and China are strong. The majority of Singapore citizens are ethnic Chinese who may still maintain some degree of socio-cultural connection with China.  Second, elites and laypersons have varying degrees of access to information, exposure to disinformation, and interests. Those in foreign policy establishments usually have greater access to information and in-depth analysis, affording them more wide-ranging perspectives on specific issues. Meanwhile, the general public primarily depends on media coverage or word of mouth, which may limit their perspective and sometimes expose them to biased narratives. In the case of Indonesia’s elites, who tend to be more optimistic over China’s role, their attitudes might be influenced by more nuanced views, for instance, that China’s economic resources are valuable for Indonesia’s economic development and good rapport with China is key to settling the territorial disputes in the Natuna Islands. On the other hand, Indonesia’s laypersons are more wary of China, possibly due to growing concerns over Chinese investments, Chinese natural resource extraction industries, and the influx of Chinese workers taking away local jobs. While this division might be polarising, the discrepancy can also bring about greater checks and balances between governments’ and citizens’ interests. The cases of Singapore and Indonesia should be a reminder that Southeast Asia is a diverse region at the heart of major power contestations. Taking into consideration different interest groups will help policymakers understand wide-ranging foreign policy preferences so as to better strike strategic balance and neutrality for the region. Countries in the region must not ignore their citizens’ views when crafting their foreign policies or evaluating whether certain foreign policies resonate well with the public. Several countries have attempted to create platforms for citizens to voice their concerns on foreign policy. The Foreign Policy Community Indonesia (FPCI), developed by the prominent former diplomat Dino Patti Djalal, was established to promote non-government views on international relations and to embrace the Indonesian spirit of civic engagement. The club has chapters in local universities, allowing students to express and channel their thoughts on geopolitical issues. Some Southeast Asian countries also have a network of foreign correspondent clubs, most notably the Foreign Correspondent Club of Thailand (FCCT) founded in the 1950s to be a platform for local and international journalists to discuss international affairs. The practice of foreign policy is becoming more complex and multifaceted due to increased political tensions between major powers, with greater considerations placed on the nexuses between economics, security, diplomacy, social development, and climate change. Sovereign border lines have become blurred due to greater people-to-people connectivity between countries. The rise of citizen engagement in foreign policy may be a positive development for the region as it would help to moderate foreign policy in the event that governments operate in their own echo chambers.

Diplomacy
Toy train connecting Europa and China. Symbolizing the New Silk Road or one belt one road Chinese strategic investment in the 21st century. Economic project to connect EU, Central Asia and China

China’s Belt and Road Initiative at a crucial juncture

by Girish Luthra

With US-China rivalry and concerns over the long-term viability of the BRI growing, the third Belt and Road Forum will have much to manoeuvre should it take place this year  In July this year, total investments under China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) crossed a significant landmark of US$1 trillion. The release of BRI data for the first half of 2023 was accompanied by reports that the third BRI forum is being planned to be held in China at the end of 2023. With the stature of being the highest-level gathering of participating countries, the forum is meant to showcase a collaborative approach towards implementation of the BRI, in addition to highlighting progress made and changes planned in its overall direction. The next forum will be the first in the post-pandemic period, after a gap of nearly four-and-a-half years. The road travelled The BRI rapidly gained momentum after its launch in 2013 (initially launched under the title One Belt One Road, which was changed to BRI in 2015 to stress collaboration and inclusivity). There was a sharp increase in the number of projects announced, total investments committed and executed, and the number of countries joining as partners (with the current number at over 150). The geographical scope of BRI also expanded significantly, transforming it from a regional to a near-global initiative, in both of its components—the continental Silk Road Economic Belt, and the maritime Silk Road. China stressed that BRI was a new model for partnership, trade and integration that was free from hegemonic pressures and conditions. In the second half of its decade-old existence, China started to highlight that the principles of multilateralism, environment and sustainability were embedded in the BRI. The importance of BRI for China has been such that it was included in the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) constitution in 2017 and in China’s 14th Five-Year Plan issued in 2021. Before the world was struck by the COVID-19 pandemic, the BRI appeared to be moving at a rapid pace, although numerous problems associated with it had already become evident. Headwinds for BRI  The BRI faced criticism for its underlying objectives of gaining strategic influence through developmental footprint, leveraging assistance for basing and access rights, aggressively linking different regions with Sino-centric value chains, inadequate attention to local needs, lack of transparency, disregard for sovereignty, adverse environmental impact, corruption, and lack of sound financial oversight. In some cases, like the port project in Sri Lanka and the rail project in Kenya, the utilisation and revenues turned out to be well below the initial estimates. The term ‘debt diplomacy’ became popular in reference to the BRI after cases of high debt risk in some partner countries, including Pakistan, Laos, Sri Lanka, Zambia, and Mongolia, became increasingly evident. In some cases, China provided additional lending, while in others, it offered currency swap lines for debt restructuring. Notwithstanding, negative perceptions about the BRI expanded slowly, with some partner countries becoming less enthusiastic about these projects, resulting in a changed stance. New connectivity and infrastructure projects launched by the United States (US), the European Union (EU), the G7, Japan, Australia, India, and others took time to gain cohesion and substance, and have started to take concrete shape post-pandemic. Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (G7), the Global Gateway (EU), the Quality Infrastructure Investment Programme (Japan), and other such initiatives now offer alternatives to the BRI with different structures and processes. These and many linked initiatives have added to the challenges for the BRI, though their ability to rival the BRI in scale is yet to be established. The recent slowing down of the Chinese economy presents another key challenge to the BRI. In the face of high unemployment, a sticky consumer demand, lower trade and growth data, and concerns about the financial health of some big companies, China is being forced to look inwards.  This is also important from the point of view of the stated Chinese strategy of ‘dual circulation’, which links the domestic economy with external trade and investment. In the initial phase, China funded overseas projects under BRI through its policy banks, the China Development Bank, the Export-Import Bank of China, and specialised investment funds having the participation of public and private financing institutions. It adopted a new model of leveraging its foreign exchange reserves (currently at about US$3.2 trillion) to capitalise its state banks and sovereign funds. It subsequently diversified into other financing channels that include equity investment funds, sovereign development funds, private equity (PE) funds, and joint (with local investors) investment funds. As of October 2020, more than 70 percent of commitments undertaken by the Silk Road Fund were in the form of equity, with a medium- to long-term investment horizon akin to a PE firm. The capacity of many of these channels is linked with sustained economic growth and the overall health of the financial and banking sector. With very high levels of debt—some estimates suggest that the overall debt of China has crossed 300 percent of GDP—and new reports of bad loans, the BRI investments are likely to see increased scrutiny and lower risk appetite. The BRI Forum The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) was started by China as a platform for collaboration and networking that would periodically review the broad direction of the BRI, finalise its action agenda, and announce new frameworks and agreements. The first BRF was held in May 2017, and was attended by 29 heads of state, delegates from 30 countries, and representatives from 70 international organisations. The focus was to showcase cooperation and consultation. The Chinese President announced that China would allocate more resources and financial support, and several new agreements and projects were unveiled. The UN Secretary-General, addressing the first forum, praised the BRI as “rooted in a shared vision for global development” and linked it with the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030. By all accounts, the first BRF was highly successful. The second BRF was held in April 2019 and attended by 37 heads of state, a higher number than the first BRF. However, the geopolitical environment had changed significantly, with the US having labelled China as a “revisionist power” and the EU having labelled it as a “systemic rival”. The trade and tariff friction between the US and China had started to evolve, and criticism of BRI projects—including on aspects related to financial terms, debt, local participation, and adverse environmental impacts—had started to grow. Accordingly, the second BRF emphasised consultative mechanisms, high quality and environmental standards, clean and green projects, and improved financial management. A debt sustainability framework, zero tolerance for corruption, and several documents outlining some key principles and deliverables were released. In addition to keeping up the momentum, the focus was also on image makeovers in response to various criticisms. China conveyed that the BRI was adaptive, and the broader assessments in different countries concluded that the BRI was here to stay for a long time. The Third BRI Forum amid a critical phase  The geopolitical and geo-economic shifts between the first two BRFs pale in comparison to those between the second and the anticipated third BRF. With the downward spiral in US-China ties and the unfolding strategic competition, the deterioration in the security environment, the precarious global trade and economic situation, the emergence of new partnerships and alliances, the focus on resilience related to technology and supply chains, and the new emphasis on ‘trust’, the third BRF faces a formidable challenge to reposition the BRI. The BRI itself has been facing some major headwinds, which have been exacerbated by China’s domestic economic problems. As 60 percent of China’s loans are in countries facing debt distress, there may be increased demands for waivers or restructuring at the forum. Given the new environment and re-evaluation by some partner countries, the participation—both in level and numbers—in the third BRF will be keenly watched. This will be a key input for China to schedule and conduct the event and to emphasise that the BRI continues to retain its appeal and enjoys widespread support, despite numerous challenges. For China, the BRI is too important to be allowed to move lower in its national priority. Some trimming of the number of projects and amount of investment is likely, and China may take up smaller projects overseas with enhanced scrutiny and oversight. China must, however, showcase the BRI as a success story whose continuation is in the interest of the entire global community. The third BRF will thus go ahead only if China is confident of a successful event and is able to put forward a plan and narrative that displays its resolve and ability to deal with some major headwinds at a very crucial juncture.

Diplomacy
Rock Islands on the Pacific Ocean

China is playing the long game in the Pacific. Here’s why its efforts are beginning to pay off

by Graeme Smith

A week-long trip to Beijing by the Pacific’s most flamboyant statesman Manasseh Sogavare, was always going to cause concern in Canberra. The substance of the visit was as expected. The relationship between China and the Solomon Islands was upgraded to a “comprehensive strategic partnership” (on par with Papua New Guinea, the first Pacific nation to sign up to the Belt and Road Initiative). Nine agreements were also signed covering everything from civil aviation and infrastructure to fisheries and tourism. The Chinese premier, Li Qiang, who inked the deals with Sogavare, made a point of not mentioning the controversial policing cooperation agreement, the draft of which was leaked more than a year ago to New Zealand academic Anna Powles. Despite repeated calls from Australia and New Zealand to release the text of the policing agreement, there is no indication the Chinese or the Solomon Islands leadership will do so. There were also moments of theatre in Sogavare’s trip. The prime minister declared “I’m back home” when he arrived in Beijing in a clip posted by China Global Television Network. He then said in a longer interview on the same network that his nation had been “on the wrong side of history” for the 36 years it recognised Taiwan instead of the People’s Republic of China, and lauded President Xi Jinping as a “great man”. Sogavare saved his biggest serve for his return to the Solomon Islands, though. He accused Australia and New Zealand of withdrawing crucial budget support and hinted he would look to China to fulfil his ambitions to establish an armed forces, should Australia be unwilling to help.China’s slow start in the PacificSome key questions have been overlooked this week in the pantomime about what Australia should or shouldn’t do to shore up its relationship with an important Pacific partner. (We could start by accepting that Sogavare will never love us, and avoid getting into an arms race in the Solomon Islands with China.) What’s been somewhat lost, though, is how China has made inroads so quickly in a region that it still officially classifies as “peripheral”. China has certainly had to work harder to gain a foothold in the region. Relative to other regions, it has a lack of historical state ties with the Pacific. In Africa and Southeast Asia, China can draw on memories of shared anti-colonial struggles and aid projects like the Tanzam railway. In the Pacific, the Chinese Communist Party is a latecomer. Also holding it back is the remoteness and small population of the region. This has not made the Pacific a good fit for China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which has flourished in countries with rapid transport and communication links, substantial Chinese diasporas and leaders who are easily reached. Most of China’s own Pacific experts were baffled when the region was belatedly included in the project. Yet despite these obstacles, it’s clear the Chinese state’s approach in the Pacific has shifted, most remarkably in its diplomacy and the role state-linked companies are expected to play. Diplomats with serious intent China’s wolf warrior diplomacy has received plenty of attention, but the picture in the Pacific is less straightforward. The recently appointed special envoy to the Pacific, Qian Bo, undoubtedly styles himself as a wolf warrior. Under his tenure as Fijian ambassador, a Taiwanese representative was assaulted by Chinese diplomats for the crime of displaying a Taiwanese flag cake. Yet, other appointments suggest China is appointing higher-calibre diplomats to the region. These include Li Ming, the current ambassador to the Solomon Islands, and Xue Bing, the former ambassador to Papua New Guinea who now holds the challenging post of special envoy to the Horn of Africa. With experience in the region and good language skills, these diplomats have been more able to engage with Pacific communities than their predecessors, who largely focused on sending good news back to Beijing. More serious representatives suggest more serious intent.Chinese companies exerting influence, tooChina’s state-linked companies remain the driving force behind China’s engagement with the Pacific. Unlike the embassies, they are well-resourced and have skin in the game. Many company men (in construction, where Chinese companies dominate, they’re mostly men) are based in the region for decades, developing a deep understanding of how to win projects and influence political elites. Failed projects generate plenty of headlines, but many companies – such as COVEC PNG and China Railway First Group – are effective operators. They are building infrastructure cheaply in the Pacific and winning the favour of multilateral donors, particularly the Asian Development Bank. For larger state-linked companies, like China Harbor Engineering Company and the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), the geopolitical game has shifted. In the past, they could rely on their standing within the Chinese political system (their parent companies often outrank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) to resist pressure to act on behalf of state. Now, they are expected to carry geopolitical water for Beijing. Often this can benefit the companies. For instance, when CCECC lobbied the Solomon Islands leadership to switch their allegiance from Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China, it helped the company when it came to bidding for projects for the Pacific Games in Honiara. The leaders of these companies realise it can harm their image when they are seen as Beijing’s pawns. Yet, the companies, diplomats and Pacific leaders who choose Beijing’s embrace know times have changed. China is now a serious player in the region with a development philosophy to sell. It’s no longer enough to read Beijing’s talking points. You have to look like you mean it.