Posts Tagged ‘East China Sea’

China, not North Korea, to dominate Japan military planning

March 20, 2018

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FILE PHOTO: A Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) soldier takes part in a drill to mobilise their Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile unit in response to a recent missile launch by North Korea, at U.S. Air Force Yokota Air Base in Fussa on the outskirts of Tokyo, Japan August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File PhotoREUTERS

BY TIM KELLY AND Nobuhiro Kubo

TOKYO (Reuters) – North Korea’s growing missile arsenal might be the most obvious and immediate military threat facing Japan, but defense planners in Tokyo are focused on a much larger and more challenging foe as they prepare for the years ahead.

China has stepped up military spending and already dominates the South China Sea, through which Japan’s trade with major markets including Europe and the Middle East flows.

Now, Japanese military experts are worried Beijing may be on the brink of opening access to the Pacific through a Japanese island chain that has marked the limit of China’s military influence for decades.

Tokyo sees unfettered passage for Chinese warships and warplanes through the Okinawan island chain as a threat to vital sea lanes. For China that access is part and parcel of becoming a global superpower.

“Now, we are evenly matched but the reality Japan faces is that it is becoming the underdog,” said Nozomu Yoshitomi, a professor at Nihon University in Tokyo who advised Japan’s government as a Self Defence Forces military analyst.

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In addition to having Asia’s second-largest military, Japan is also defended by U.S. forces that have used the country as their main Asia base since the end of World War Two. Under a security treaty, Washington is obliged to aid Tokyo if its territory is attacked.

China has “essentially established de facto control over the South China Sea and the East China Sea is next,” said a retired senior U.S. military commander on condition he wasn’t identified. “The United States, for its part, has been in relative retreat in the Western Pacific for a decade.”

Beijing is ramping up military spending to build a world-class fighting force by 2050 with advanced kit, including stealth jets and, according to state-run media, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

In 2018, Beijing plans to spend 1.11 trillion yuan ($175 billion) on its armed forces, more than three times as much as Japan.

That would also be around a third of what the United States pays for the world’s most powerful military, including 30,000 marines in Okinawa and a navy carrier attack group based near Tokyo.

“The pace of Chinese activity in waters around Japanese territory has expanded and accelerated,” Japan’s Minister of Defence Itsunori Onodera said this month. “China is building the capacity to operate in distant seas and that can be see with China’s acquisition of its first carrier and its construction of a second flat top.”

China says its military is for defensive purposes and its intentions in the region are peaceful. China’s Defence Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.


Japan’s defense outlays for the past five years have risen by just 1 percent a year. It will likely grow at around the same pace over the next five year plan as health and welfare spending on an aging population takes priority, a government defense official said.

“Finance is our weakness, but our strength is the resilience of our society,” said another defense ministry adviser, who also asked not to be identified. If Japan is able to hunker down long enough, he explained, the threat from China should recede as future internal strife, economic woes or other events prompt a retreat.

To restrain Beijing in the meantime, Japan needs advanced weaponry and new munitions able to strike targets further away, said the sources with knowledge of the plans.

Japan’s defense reviews, which will likely be released in December, may propose it establish its first joint command headquarters to coordinate air, ground and naval forces and strengthen cooperation with Washington, the sources said.

New equipment may include amphibious ships along with aerial drones to monitor Chinese activity and potentially target missiles in the boost phase of any launch.

Japan’s military will get new air and ground missiles able to hit shipping and land targets at greater ranges. It will also place fresh orders for Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 stealth fighters including vertical take off and landing versions, the sources said.

The review will lay out plans to train more Ground Self Defence troops (GSDF) in marine fighting tactics and for their wider deployment to Okinawa. The GSDF’s unit there will grow to division strength from a battalion, said former defense minister Gen Nakatani.

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Gen Nakatani


Yet as Tokyo formulates those plans, Beijing is already testing Japanese defenses.

In a maneuver in January that Japan protested as a “serious escalation”, a Chinese submarine entered waters contiguous to disputed islands in the East China Sea claimed as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

That followed a series of longer range sorties by People’s Liberation Army Air Force bombers and fighters.

China can “test the readiness and response of Japanese forces, to better understand Japanese defenses, and, over time, to engage in peacetime attrition,” said Toshi Yoshihara, a professor and Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington. “If Chinese operations become routine, they force Japan to accept the PLA’s growing presence as a fact of life.”

Tokyo was especially alarmed in November when six Xian H-6 bombers flew through a 290 km (180 mile) gap in Japan’s island chain between Okinawa and Miyakojima, accompanied by an electronic warfare TU-154 and a Y-8 monitoring plane.

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H-6 bomber

One senior defense official said the exercise “looked like a practice strike package on Guam”, another major U.S. military base.

China’s Defence Ministry did not respond to request for comment on the exercise.

“The pace of Chinese activity is faster than we anticipated,” Nakatani said at his Tokyo office, where an arrow scribbled on a map of Japan on the wall highlighted the breach in the island chain. “Japan’s security environment has not been this harsh since World War Two.”

(Reporting by Tim Kelly and Nobuhiro Kubo; Editing by Lincoln Feast)


No terms limits could give Xi more sway on Hong Kong, Taiwan

March 13, 2018
(Associated Press) – March 13, 2018


FILE – In this Dec. 15, 2017, file photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, left, poses with Chinese President Xi Jinping for a photo during a meeting in Beijing. China’s move to scrap term limits and allow Xi Jinping to serve as president indefinitely puts him on track to deal with some of the country’s weightiest long-term sovereignty challenges, especially the fates of Hong Kong and Taiwan. (Xie Huanchi/Xinhua via AP, File

BEIJING — China’s move to scrap term limits and allow Xi Jinping to serve as president indefinitely puts him on track to deal with some of the country’s weightiest long-term sovereignty challenges, especially the fates of Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Some believe Xi views Taiwan and Hong Kong as equally important to cementing his authority.

Hong Kong offers a delicate initial test. Since passing from British to Chinese rule in 1997, the financial hub has operated as a “special administrative region,” retaining its own legal and economic system and enjoying a considerable degree of autonomy from Beijing.

That arrangement was supposed to last 50 years, until 2047, but calls for political reform in the city and what many see as Beijing tightening its controls and encroaching on freedoms there have created rising tensions.


Earlier this month, a member of the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee delivered a stern warning to Hong Kong delegates to China’s rubber-stamp parliament over the central government’s limits of tolerance.

“Using the high degree of autonomy to reject, fight and erode the central government’s comprehensive jurisdiction is absolutely not allowed,” Zhao Leji told members of the National People’s Congress, which passed a constitutional amendment Sunday abolishing presidential term limits, opening the door for Xi to rule for as long as he wants.

Hong Kong activists had already been set on edge by the disqualification of pro-democracy lawmakers from the city’s Legislative Council and the apparent abduction by Chinese security forces of several men who published salacious tomes about China’s leadership.

Still, Hong Kong remains one of the world’s freest economies and a window to the outside for the Chinese financial system, which operates under much tighter restrictions. The cosmopolitan city of 6 million, with its vibrant tourism, arts and education sectors, also remains a beacon to many aspiring Chinese.

“I don’t think bold action is necessary with respect to Hong Kong,” said Michael Mazza of the American Enterprise Institute think tank in Washington, D.C.

Xi is “already well along in the process of turning (Hong Kong) into just another Chinese city,” he said.

Self-governing Taiwan, however, is quite a different story, posing a direct challenge to the Communist Party’s claim as the representative of all Chinese and guardian of Chinese sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.

Since splitting from the mainland amid civil war in 1949, the former Japanese colony has evolved into a wealthy, vibrant democracy whose 23 million people take an increasingly dim view of any form of political integration with Beijing.

By casting himself as a leader of historic standing, Xi has assumed the mantle of unifier and may regard failure in this regard as a stain on his reputation. In his most direct comments on the issue, he told a Taiwanese envoy in 2013 that a final resolution was required, and that what he regards as the “sacred mission” of unification “cannot be passed on from generation to generation.”

“Action on Taiwan is certainly possible. Unification is a key aspect of Xi Jinping’s goal of ‘national rejuvenation,’ necessary for achieving the ‘China Dream,'” Mazza said, referencing two of Xi’s chief goals.

Xi “may conclude that peaceful unification is not in the cards any time soon, leaving him to rely on coercion or outright force to achieve his goals,” he said.

Already, China over the past two years has been ratcheting up political, diplomatic and economic pressure on Taiwan’s independence-leaning president, Tsai Ing-wen.

A military attack, however, could quickly draw in the U.S., which is legally bound to respond to threats against the island.

Yet the risks of an attack on Taiwan remain prohibitively high, to the point of threatening regime stability in China, due in no small part to its embrace by the U.S. and Japan, said Miles Yu Maochun, a China politics expert at the U.S. Naval Academy. Hong Kong, meanwhile, remains too valuable to Beijing in its present form to risk upsetting, he said.

Xi views Taiwan and Hong Kong as equally important to cementing his authority, said analyst Teng Biao, a visiting scholar at New York University’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute.

“When he has strengthened his own power, he will show zero tolerance for Taiwan and Hong Kong independence, and even more threaten the use of force,” Teng said.

While it is broadly assumed that an increasingly dictatorial Xi will also grow more aggressive on the world stage, it’s unclear how that will manifest itself. China says it is committed to seizing a group of uninhabited flyspeck islands in the East China Sea from Japan, but is also aware that such action would trigger the U.S.-Japan security alliance.

And despite President Donald Trump’s “America first” policy and his withdrawal of the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Washington and its armed forces show no sign of giving up the West Pacific to China.

While Xi’s position appears unassailable, domestic political risks remain that may prompt him to take an even harder line at home and abroad, said Teng, who was detained by Xi’s regime while working as a human rights lawyer.

“When the Communist Party faces political, economic and ideological challenges, and given the fact that the party firmly refuses a democratization, the only way seems to become more dictatorial and oppressive,” Teng said.


Russia’s conflict-laden foreign policy

March 12, 2018

Russian foreign policy has hardened under President Vladimir Putin. Although Russia is looking for cooperation, it is not afraid of confrontation, which has often led to difficult foreign relations. DW has the lowdown.

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United States

Russia has an ambivalent relationship to the US. During the US presidential elections in the fall of 2016, Russia apparently tried subtly to influence public opinion to benefit the future president Donald Trump. At least, that is the gist of special investigator Robert Mueller’s work to date.

But since Trump’s inauguration, the relationship between the two heads of state has been strained. At the beginning of March, Putin announced in his speech on the state of the nation that he wanted to turn new, and what he described as impossible to attack, nuclear missiles against the West.

This was also a reaction to the US’ withdrawal from the treaty with Russia on missile defense in 2002. In any case, the US did not seem surprised by this move. Trump announced the construction of new nuclear missiles with reduced explosive force. Political scientist Susanne Spahn told DW that she suspects it is important to Putin to strengthen his country’s position of power specifically in relation to the US.

“The main enemy is the United States. Putin has used very threatening rhetoric towards the West along the lines of, ‘in the past you did not want to listen to us, then at least listen to us now’.”

Middle East

Russia’s ambition to become an international political heavyweight again is most evident in the Middle East. Russia strongly supports the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is at war with sections of his own population. Russia has set up a substantial military contingent to protect Assad and his established political order.

Read moreWhat foreign powers want from the war in Syria

There are several reasons for Moscow’s involvement: Firstly, it is about having a military foothold in the Mediterranean region. Above all, however, Russia has become an actor in the region that no one can avoid. Together with Assad’s other key ally, Iran, Russia now has considerable influence in the region between Iran and Israel.

Russia’s authority holds significantly more weight than at the beginning of the Syrian war, in Iraq, Syria and in areas of Lebanon controlled by Iran-backed Hezbollah. Russian authority also counts in Turkey, which intervened in northern Syria in January. The US had largely withdrawn from the Middle East under the Obama administration. They left behind a gap that Russia is increasingly filling.

Central and Eastern Europe

Russia has rather difficult relations with the former satellite states of the Soviet Union. Lithuania has barely had any political contact with Russia since the Ukraine crisis. Around 65 percent of Lithuanians regard Russia as an “unfriendly” neighbor, while around 18 percent do not rule out the possibility that Russia could invade their country. This has made them all the happier about the 1,000 NATO soldiers who have been deployed to Lithuania.

Lithuania has also distanced itself economically. For a long time, the Baltic country was heavily dependent on Russian energy exports. It has systematically reduced this dependence.

Russian relations with Poland are also at a low point. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, whose role as chairman of the right-wing conservative ruling PiS party makes him a kind of eminence grise of Polish politics, is a staunch anti-communist. He has also distanced himself from Putin’s Russia. For example, he is a strong supporter of the EU’s sanctions against Poland’s neighbor to the east. Neither country has any discernible interest in rapprochement.

On the other hand, Russia enjoys good relations with Serbia, which is in large part due to the good personal relationship between Putin and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. Serbia also gets a substantial part of its arms and energy imports from Russia.


Russia has had a difficult relationship with Germany since the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis. Germany supports the EU’s decision to impose trade sanctions on Russia, despite the fact that German firms have suffered heavily as a result; around 40 percent of trade losses affect Germany.

Nevertheless, Germany is maintaining its critical stance on the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Ukraine, SPD foreign policymaker Rolf Mützenich told DW. The breach of international law in Crimea is unacceptable, he said. However, he explained that the relationship with Ukraine and Russia generally remains a focal point of German foreign policy. “We must not put ourselves at the mercy of domestic political actors in either country,” said Mützenich.

Russia’s President Putin has an unclear relationship with Germany. On the one hand, Moscow maintains a close dialogue with Berlin. On the other hand, Putin questioned Germany’s sovereignty in June 2017. “There are not that many countries in the world that enjoy the privilege of having sovereignty. I don’t want to offend anyone, but what Mrs. Merkel said [in a previous speech – Ed] is an expression of the resentment of a limited authority that has accumulated over a long period of time.” The relationship is also strained by alleged Russian hacker attacks on German government computers.


Since relations with the EU have cooled as a result of the Ukraine crisis, Russia has increasingly turned its attention to China. Both countries want to expand their trade relations. Russia also wants to participate in the expansion of the “New Silk Road” — the dynamism of this primarily Chinese-European trade route should also benefit the Russian economy.

Read moreAre China and Russia challenging US military dominance?

In political terms, both states maintain a similar style, in particular, authoritarian dealings with critics and opponents within the country and a robust representation of their own interests to the outside world. Both states have repeatedly spoken out against Syria’s condemnation in the UN Security Council. They argue that interference in the country’s internal affairs is not admissible.

The two states have also come closer to each other militarily. They conducted several joint maneuvers — not only in central Asia, but also in the East China Sea. As a result, Russia has moved away in part from its previously cultivated neutrality in the dispute between China and Japan over islands in the South China Sea — a state of affairs that weighs heavily on Russian-Japanese relations, but that has further strengthened those with China.

China’s military flexes muscles for domestic objective: more funding

February 28, 2018


BEIJING (Reuters) – With stealth jets entering service, leaked pictures of new high-tech naval artillery and proud reports of maneuvers that “dare to shine the sword,” China’s armed forces are putting on a show of power as they lobby for greater defense spending.

Although it is the world’s largest military, the People’s Liberation Army has been privately unhappy that it got less than double-digit funding increases the past two years. It has recently been making the case that it needs more money to deal with increased global uncertainty, diplomats and several sources with ties to the armed forces say.

In the run-up to the defense budget’s release at the annual meeting of China’s parliament next week, state media outlets have been filled with coverage of military drills, advanced new equipment and thrilling tales of derring-do in a new film very loosely based on China’s evacuating people from Yemen’s civil war in 2015.

The overall message is clear: China faces serious challenges, from U.S. President Donald Trump’s threats of force against nuclear-armed North Korea to an increasingly tense border dispute with India and what Beijing sees as efforts by self-ruled Taiwan to assert its sovereignty.

Confronting those challenges requires cash, a point the military is now trying to drive home.

“If you keep telling your people China is facing all these threats, you have to be able to back it up to show you are spending enough,” said a senior Beijing-based Western diplomat.

President Xi Jinping promised in his keynote speech to the Communist Party Congress in October to make China’s armed forces world-class by the middle of the century. The military has deployed an increasingly sophisticated propaganda machine to make sure that promise stays top of mind.

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A professionally shot air force video released to celebrate the Lunar New Year this month entitled “New fighters of the great power to safeguard the new era” led with footage of the latest fighter to enter service, the J-20 stealth jet, designed as a counterpart to the radar-evading the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.

“It looks like they are making the case for a large rise in defense spending,” said an Asian diplomat, speaking of the recent uptick in military-related stories in China.

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China’s defense spending is only about one-quarter that of the United States, if official figures are accurate. China has repeatedly said that it has no hostile intent, that its military is for defensive missions, and that defense spending is transparent.

Many of the country’s neighbors beg to differ, calling out what they see as Chinese sabre-rattling as it ramps up drills in the region.

Vietnam, one of the most vocal opponents of China’s South China Sea claims, has tightened its military relationship with the United States. Taiwan has pledged to grow defense spending, and wants to buy new, advanced U.S. equipment.

The official People’s Liberation Army Daily said this month that although China was committed to a defensive military policy, it had to “dare to shine the sword” with air patrols far from China’s coast, whether close to Taiwan or over uninhabited islets disputed with Japan in the East China Sea.

Such flights, it said, protected China’s “bottom line” on strategic issues.

One source with ties to the military said another pressing area for more spending was salaries, which have not kept up with those of private-sector workers.

“Simply relying on ‘the great Xi to lead us to victory’ won’t cut it,” the source said, referring to efforts to recruit the best and the brightest into the military by appealing to national pride.


The defense budget will only disclose a top-line number, with a percentage comparison to the previous year. No breakdown on spending is provided.

Last year, China’s parliament did not initially release the figure, sparking questions over transparency. But when it did, the budget increase was 7 percent, the smallest in more than a decade.

The budgeted increase of 7.6 percent for 2016 was the lowest in six years and the first single-digit rise since 2010, following a nearly unbroken two-decade run of double-digit increases.

Experts say the true figure is likely much higher than what is officially reported, with money for some military projects included in ostensibly non-military spending.

“Particularly given China’s civil-military integration, it is difficult to know where defense spending ends” and civilian research and development begins, said another Western diplomat, who analyses China’s military.

Some defense experts say that China is eroding the United States’ military technology dominance and that the People’s Liberation Army could surpass the U.S. military in artificial intelligence capabilities, which have become a spending priority for Beijing.

But in the absence of transparency about new technologies, such as an experimental electromagnetic railgun state media suggested this year was being tested aboard a Chinese warship, there is skepticism about their combat readiness.

China has not fought a war since 1979, a brief invasion of Vietnam that ended badly for China.

China’s Defense Ministry declined to comment ahead of the figure being released by parliament. The general percentage rise is typically given the day before parliament opens, and the raw figure the next day. Parliament opens March 5.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina; Editing by Gerry Doyle

Will China’s new foreign policy dream team be the key to achieving its global ambitions?

February 25, 2018

Beijing’s top leadership is packed full of highly trained foreign affairs experts hand-picked to help deliver on President Xi Jinping’s global goals

By Shi Jiangtao
and South China Morning Post staff

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 February, 2018, 1:48pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 February, 2018, 2:11pm

After five years in office, President Xi Jinping has put together a team of top foreign-policy makers with substantial experience in handling the West, especially the US, to achieve China’s growing global ambitions.

Apart from Xi himself, the leading figure is Wang Qishan, the former Communist Party anti-graft tsar who is Xi’s most trusted ally.

According to several Beijing-based sources, Wang is highly likely to be named vice-president soon and take on a large foreign affairs portfolio in the midst of a major overhaul of the country’s diplomatic hierarchy.

“Wang will play a key role in foreign affairs work in the years to come, especially on thorny issues involving Sino-US relations,” a source close to the leadership told the South China Morning Post. He declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Wang’s surprising comeback, just a few months after he retired from the party’s apex of power, is expected to give a boost to China’s diplomatic decision-making at a critical juncture, especially amid emerging strategic rivalry with the United States.

There have been signs hinting at Wang’s new role, with sources saying he recently met US and Japanese officials in Beijing.

 Wang Huning (left) and President Xi Jinping at the announcement of the new Politburo Standing Committee line-up at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in October. Photo: Reuters

Unlike previous top leadership line-ups, the new Politburo Standing Committee announced after the party’s national congress in October is packed with foreign affairs experts, including outgoing Vice-Premier Wang Yang and Wang Huning, an international affairs scholar turned party theorist.

Wang Huning, known as the chief architect of Xi’s Chinese dream, has been a foreign policy adviser and often accompanied Xi on foreign trips.

Pang Zhongying, a Beijing-based foreign affairs expert, said Wang Huning was among the first Chinese experts to translate and introduce the concept of soft power to China in early 1990s. It had been coined by Harvard University professor Joseph Nye in the 1980s to encompass a country and an associated culture’s ability to attract and persuade.

Wang Huning, who became the first party theorist to be elevated to the Politburo Standing Committee since the end of the Cultural Revolution, is expected to play a big role in addressing the mismatch between Beijing’s outdated, China-centric propaganda apparatus and its grand foreign policy goals.

Another new Politburo Standing Committee member, Wang Yang, was China’s point man in economic talks with the US during Xi’s first five years as president.

Among career diplomats, State Councillor Yang Jiechi, a former foreign minister and ambassador to the US, is set to become China’s most powerful foreign affairs supremo since late vice-premier Qian Qichen. Also a former foreign minister, Qian was a vice-premier who served as a foreign policy guru in the party’s powerful Politburo under Jiang Zemin, and Yang looks to be on the same path after becoming a Politburo member in October.

 US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (right) shakes hands with State Councillor Yang Jiechi at the State Department in Washington this month. Photo: AP

Wang Qishan’s appointment as vice-president will be formally confirmed at the annual session of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s legislature, next month, setting in motion a sweeping government reshuffle that will include vice-premiers, state councillors and prominent ministers.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi has been tipped to replace Yang as state councillor while retaining his current position as the country’s second-ranked diplomat, sources and party insiders said.

Pundits say the overhaul and strong line-up of foreign policy officials underlined Xi’s eagerness for China to emerge as a global power and project its political and economic clout far beyond the Asia-Pacific region at a time of US retreat from world leadership under his American counterpart Donald Trump.

Wang Qishan, 69, Yang, 67, and Wang Yi, 64, are above or approaching the traditional retirement age for senior officials, but the pundits say Xi appears to view them as irreplaceable for the moment in implementing his assertive foreign policy and overseeing China’s expanding global interests.

There are growing signs that Wang Qishan, once seen as China’s second most powerful leader after Xi, will not just take on ceremonial duties as vice-president but will continue to wield considerable influence in the country’s secretive and opaque elite politics.

As in most other countries, the vice-presidency in China has usually been a weak, ceremonial, titular position with little sway over real policy issues.

But Wang Qishan is likely to be different. In a sign of his close ties with party general secretary Xi, the former Politburo Standing Committee member had been continuing to attend meetings of the party’s innermost circle of power, albeit without voting power, sources said.

 Foreign Minister Wang Yi addresses a press conference in Beijing in December. Photo: Kyodo

In a further move defying political convention in China, which includes an unwritten rule that top leaders retire at the age of 68, he retained his NPC seat last month, paving the way for his vice-presidency.

Wang Qishan’s political future was the centre of intense speculation in China’s corridors of power over the past year. His continued roles basically confirmed widespread rumours that an increasingly strident Xi had decided to retain one of his most trusted allies.

Wang Qishan earned that trust by overseeing Xi’s ruthless crackdown on corruption over the past five years.

American officials and experts have generally welcomed Wang Qishan’s likely vice-presidency as he has been heavily involved in dealing with Washington in various jobs over the past two decades, especially on the economic and trade fronts.

As a vice-premier he was China’s point man and top negotiator in the now-defunct strategic and economic dialogue with the US between 2009 and 2012.

Senior US diplomats who know Wang personally describe him as a party veteran with a global vision, an advocate of economic reform and a seasoned troubleshooter who understands the importance of navigating often fraught US-China relations in an increasingly chaotic and uncertain world.

One foreign diplomat who has met Wang described him as articulate and said he appeared to be someone Xi trusted to solve problems.

But the scope of his power or his exact role in China’s largely centralised foreign-policy decision-making process remain unclear.

Even more intriguingly, it remains to be seen how he would coordinate and work with other party leaders and top diplomats, especially Yang, Wang Yi and Song Tao, the head of the party’s international liaison department, which is in charge of ties with foreign political parties.

 Communist Party international liaison department head Song Tao (left) is greeted by Ri Chang-gun, vice-director of the Korean Workers’ Party’s international department at Pyongyang International Airport in November. Photo: Kyodo

“While it is positive to have more people with diplomatic expertise and experience on board, it is too early to tell if they are able to work together efficiently as a lack of efficient coordination has long plagued the decision-making and implementation of China’s foreign policy,” Pang said.

It could pose new challenges and dilemmas for internal coordination, which would go beyond cooperation and collaboration between the military and civilian authorities, he said.

As vice-president, Wang Qishan would also be expected to replace incumbent Li Yuanchao as deputy head of the Central Leading Group on Foreign Affairs, a powerful supra-ministerial decision-making body.

The group, like more than a dozen other leading groups and other decision-making party institutions Xi chairs to drive policy on security, political, economic and diplomatic issues, consists of a dozen party and government agencies, including the foreign and commerce ministries as well as the military and security authorities,

Several Beijing-based European diplomats said there were growing signs Wang Yi, tipped to succeed Yang as state councillor, would also stay on as foreign minister in the government reshuffle next month.

Yang is director of the office of the Central Leading Group on Foreign Affairs, dealing with the daily routines of foreign policy coordination and implementation, while Wang Yi is also a member of the group. There had been speculation Yang might be promoted to become a second deputy head of the group, alongside the vice-president, with Wang Yi succeeding him as office head, but sources said Yang was likely to remain director. In either scenario, Wang Yi would continue to serve under Yang.

 Vice-premier Qian Qichen shakes hands with US president George W. Bush at the White House in Washington in March 2001. Photo: AP

But officials and experts said that if Wang Yi became a state councillor, Yang was unlikely to become the first vice-premier in charge of foreign affairs since Qian Qichen stepped down in 2003, as previously speculated because such an appointment was very rare.

The last time China officially had both a vice-premier, usually a Politburo post, and a state councillor, which ranks above cabinet ministers, overseeing foreign policy was soon after the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.

But then vice-premier Wu Xueqian was largely sidelined for political reasons, while Qian was promoted to state councillor in 1991 while still serving as foreign minister before replacing Wu as vice-premier two years later. He was both foreign minister and vice-premier for the next five years.

The rumoured moves are being widely read by Chinese diplomats and international affairs experts as signalling an end to the erosion of the foreign ministry’s role in China’s diplomatic decision-making hierarchy over the past decade.

However, it remains to be seen if the overhaul of the foreign policy structure will help tackle long-term problems such as wrangling and poor coordination among various party and government agencies and inconsistency between what officials say and what they do.

One area that requires coordination is the stances of the military and the civilian government.

There was an embarrassing moment in January 2011 when the Chinese military staged the maiden test flight of the J-20 stealth fighter jet during a visit by then US defence secretary Robert Gates aimed at defusing military tensions between the two big powers.

After raising the test flight during a meeting with then president Hu Jintao, Gates told reporters the Chinese leader was taken aback and appeared to have little idea the military had been planning such a muscle-flexing move.

 US defence secretary Robert Gates (left) shakes hands with president Hu Jintao at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in January 2011. Photo: AFP

There may have been a similar incident last month, when a Chinese submarine was spotted by the Japanese navy near the disputed Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan. While the Chinese authorities did not explain what had happened, military experts said the submarine could have been forced to leave the waters around the islands, which are claimed by both countries.

Foreign relations experts said the incident had overshadowed Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono’s first trip to Beijing just two weeks later.

Beijing-based security expert Zhang Tuosheng, director of the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at the China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies, said it could be a sign the military and civilian authorities were still not communicating and coordinating effectively ahead of important diplomatic events.

He said Beijing had rolled out quite a few moves in the past decade aimed at streamlining the multi-layered decision-making process and smoothing out wrinkles in inter-agency coordination, including the establishment of the National Security Commission (NSC) in 2013.

“However, we have yet to see significant improvement as some of the existing bodies are repetitive and overlapping, with many yet to be clearly defined,” Zhang said.

The NSC, modelled on the similarly named US agency, was supposed to play a big role in decision-making and coordination on foreign policy issues at the top leadership level, but it has largely disappeared from view after its first meeting four years ago.

Zhang said there was a need for “an overarching agency like NSC and professionals and experts to help with decision-making”, but the NSC had, unfortunately, not operated as efficiently as expected.

Zhang and other observers also noted that like the NSC and the Central Leading Group on Foreign Affairs, most Chinese bodies tasked with coordinating foreign policy were secretive party organs instead of government ones, which made it hard for them to deal with their foreign counterparts.

“With China’s rise to global prominence, we will inevitably be facing more challenges, scepticism and pushbacks from other countries and it remains to be seen if the new leadership is up to task of turning the country into a responsible world power and securing a favourable international environment for domestic development,” Pang said.

Additional reporting by Choi Chi-yuk, Catherine Wong and Laura Zhou

As China Puts Pressure on Taiwan, Signs of a U.S. Pushback

February 23, 2018

BEIJING — As China ratchets up pressure on Taiwan, the self-governing island it claims as its territory, the United States is cautiously starting to push back.

In recent months, Chinese strategic bombers have been conducting “island encirclement” flights, escorted by fighter jets. The Chinese government has discouraged tourism to Taiwan and imports of goods like fish over the past year and a half, hurting its economy. And China persuaded the island’s most important remaining diplomatic ally, Panama, to switch diplomatic recognition last summer from Taipei to Beijing.

Concern about Taiwan’s fate now appears to be building slowly in Washington, even as President Trump continues to seek China’s help on other issues. Through his first year in office, Mr. Trump pressed Beijing to put more pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, with limited success. He has also sought to limit China’s nearly $400 billion trade surplus with the United States, which has nonetheless continued to widen.

Against that backdrop, Washington has recently begun moving gradually to reinforce its ties to Taiwan, a vigorous democracy facing an increasingly authoritarian government in Beijing.

Bills have been introduced in Congress to promote visits to Taiwan by warships and by civilian officials. A small gathering of defense contractors is planned for May to discuss Taiwan’s production of parts for weapons assembled in the United States. And in June, an American institute that functions as an informal diplomatic channel plans to open an elegant new complex in Taiwan’s capital.

China has stepped up pressure on Taiwan since Tsai Ing-wen was elected president two years ago. Her party has a long history of favoring formal independence for the self-governing island. Credit Taiwan Presidential Office/European Pressphoto Agency

“It looks like the Trump administration is playing the Taiwan card for whatever purpose — to put pressure or to seek concessions,” said Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Chinese officials are showing signs of annoyance, and raising accusations that the United States is interfering in what Beijing considers one of its redline issues. “It is horrible that the present situation of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait will probably be turbulent,” said a commentary earlier this month on Huaxia, a Beijing-controlled news service on Taiwan issues.

Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the second-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Forces Committee after Senator John McCain of Arizona, is in Taiwan this week, leading a large delegation of House and Senate committee members and staff.

They have been meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen and her senior ministers, a dialogue likely to offend Beijing officials. In an emailed reply to questions, Senator Inhofe endorsed continued American support for Taiwan, including a bill pending in the Senate that would encourage senior administration officials to visit the island. The bill has already passed the House.

“With China becoming more aggressive and intent on expanding its influence globally, the United States-Taiwan security relationship is now more important than ever,” the senator said. “By ensuring they have the ability to defend themselves, Taiwan will continue to be an important part of promoting regional stability.”

Military exercises in eastern Taiwan. China’s president, Xi Jinping, has put more emphasis on reunifying Taiwan with the mainland than his recent predecessors have. Credit Mandy Cheng/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

President Trump signed separate legislation in December, bitterly opposed by Beijing, that included a provision encouraging mutual port calls by naval vessels from Taiwan and the United States. The president has long had the authority to order port calls and dispatch senior officials, so both measures are somewhat symbolic but nonetheless irritate China, said Richard C. Bush, a former head of the American Institute in Taiwan, which handles the United States government’s contacts with the island.

Two events coming up in Taiwan may further annoy Beijing.

Read the rest:


An air force base in southern Taiwan. Chinese pressure on Taiwan has included “island encirclement” flights by strategic bombers, escorted by fighter jets. Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times

Japan to buy at least 20 more F-35A stealth fighters

February 21, 2018


TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan plans to buy at least 20 additional F-35A stealth fighters over the next six years, some or all of which it may purchase directly from Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) in the United States rather than assemble locally, three sources said.


FILE PHOTO: An Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jet flies during an aerial demonstration at a graduation ceremony for Israeli air force pilots at the Hatzerim air base in southern Israel December 29, 2016. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo

“In view of budgets and production schedules a new acquisition of around 25 planes is appropriate,” said one of the sources with knowledge of the plan. The sources asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

The sources said buying complete aircraft from the United States, at about $100 million each, will save Japan about $30 million per airframe.

The purchase will add to an earlier order for 42 of the fighters, most of which are being constructed at a “final assembly and check out” plant in Japan operated by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (7011.T), the country’s leading defense contractor.

That plant is one of only two such factories outside the United States. The other, in Italy, is operated by Leonardo Spa (LDOF.MI).

As China fields ever more advanced aircraft, including stealth planes, and as North Korea pushes ahead with its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs, adding F-35s will further increase Japan’s reliance on U.S. military technology to give it an edge over potential foes in East Asia.

Japanese military planners are also considering buying F-35Bs, the vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) version of the aircraft. Those models can operate from small islands skirting the East China Sea or from ships such as the Izumo-class helicopter carriers.

“We have not yet made any plan and we are evaluating what fighter aircraft we need,” Itsunori Onodera said at a news briefing on Tuesday when asked whether Japan planned to buy more F-35s.

  • LMT.N
  • 7011.T

Onodera’s ministry will release two defense reviews by the end of the year that will outline Japan’s security goals and military procurement plans for the five years beginning in April 2019.

The first of the 42 F-35As ordered by Japan’s Air Self Defence Force (ASDF) are being deployed to Misawa Air Base in northern Japan. Japanese government officials and Lockheed Martin executives are set to attend a ceremony there on Saturday to mark the entry of the first Japanese F-35 into service.

The F-35 accounts for about a quarter of Lockheed Martin’s total revenue. The company is hiring 1,800 workers for its Fort Worth, Texas, factory to build a fleet that is expected to grow to more than 3,000 jets worldwide. Lockheed Martin is scheduled to nearly triple annual production to more than 160 jets by 2023.

The first Japanese F-35s will replace aging F-4 Phantom fighters that date back to 1960s. The next batch will allow Japan to retire some of the aging 200 F-15s flown by the ASDF that are the main interceptor workhorse of the nation’s air defenses.

Japan also wants to build its own stealth fighter, dubbed the F-3, although the high cost of military aircraft development means it will probably need to find foreign partners to share the expense.

US intelligence lists Philippines President Duterte as threat to democracy in Southeast Asia — More like China and Cambodia

February 21, 2018


President Rodrigo Duterte, in his speech during the 10th Biennial National Convention and 20th Founding Anniversary Celebration of the Chinese Filipino Business Club Inc. at the Manila Hotel on Feb. 19, 2018, insists that he has been doing what he can to fulfill his campaign promises.

Presidential photo/King Rodriguez

Patricia Lourdes Viray ( – February 20, 2018 – 4:00pm


MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte, along with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, are among Southeast Asian leaders that pose a threat to democracy and human rights in the region, according to the US Intelligence Community.


In its world threat assessment published last week, the US intelligence noted that democracy and human rights in many Southeast Asian countries will remain “fragile” this year.


“In the Philippines, President Duterte will continue to wage his signature campaign against drugs, corruption, and crime,” the report read.



Daniel Coats, Director of National Intelligence of the US, noted that Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao has been extended until the end of 2018.

“Duterte has suggested he could suspend the Constitution, declare a ‘revolutionary government,’ and impose nationwide martial law,” Coats said.


In a congressional hearing last week, US Pacific Command commander Harry Harris Jr. said that Duterte’s drug war have strained ties between the Philippines and the US.


“In the Philippines, the scourge of drug use has had multiple destabilizing effects, at the family-level, community-level, and the national level, as President Duterte’s efforts to address the problems have created relationship challenges with the US and others,” Harris told the US House Committee on Armed Services.


The worldwide assessment threat also cited the Freedom House report where the Philippines was listed as among the governments that used social media to spread government views and counter government criticism online.


“We note that more governments are using propaganda and misinformation in social media to influence foreign and domestic audiences,” the US intelligence chief said.


US intelligence, on the other hand, noted that Southeast Asian countries will struggle to preserve an autonomous foreign policy in the face of Chinese “economic and diplomatic coercion.”


Cambodia is seen to forge closer ties with China as Hun Sen alienates Western partners, pushing Phnom Penh to rely on Beijing for political and financial support.


“Cambodian leader Hun Sen will repress democratic institutions and civil society, manipulate government and judicial institutions, and use patronage and political violence to guarantee his rule beyond the 2018 national election,” the report read.


The Rohingya crisis in Burma increases the risk of violent extremism and will provide an opportunity for China to expand its influence, according to Coats.


China also predicted to pursue an active foreign policy in the Asia Pacific region, as seen on its firm stance on its sovereignty claims in the East China Sea and South China Sea.


Meanwhile, Thailand’s new Constitution will give way to the military’s influence despite their leaders’ pledge to hold elections late this year.


“Democracy and human rights in many Southeast Asian countries will remain fragile in 2018 as autocratic tendencies deepen in some regimes and rampant corruption and cronyism undermine democratic values,” the report read.


The US Director of National Intelligence released the report which seeks to assess the threats to US national security for 2018.








South China Sea: US Navy officer says won’t be bullied by China in disputed waters

February 18, 2018


US Navy

A Navy officer aboard a mammoth U.S. aircraft carrier brimming with F18 fighter jets said American forces will continue to patrol the South China Sea wherever “international law allows us.” 

One of the US Navy’s longest-serving active carriers arrived in Manila on Friday for a routine port visit during its Western Pacific deployment.

More than 5,500 sailors from aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and guided-missile destroyer USS Michael Murphy will participate in community service projects while in Manila.

Philippine Star


US Navy in South China Sea: ‘We’re Here’ No Matter China’s Military Buildup

  • Associated Press
Fishermen on board a small boat pass by the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier at anchor off Manila, Philippines, Feb. 17, 2018.
Fishermen on board a small boat pass by the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier at anchor off Manila, Philippines, Feb. 17, 2018.
U.S. forces are undeterred by China’s military buildup on man-made islands in the South China Sea and will continue patrolling the strategic, disputed waters wherever “international law allows us,” said a Navy officer aboard a mammoth U.S. aircraft carrier brimming with F-18 fighter jets.

Lt. Cmdr. Tim Hawkins told The Associated Press on board the USS Carl Vinson that the Navy has carried out routine patrols at sea and in the air in the region for 70 years to promote security and guarantee the unimpeded flow of trade that’s crucial for Asian and U.S. economies.

“International law allows us to operate here, allows us to fly here, allows us to train here, allows us to sail here, and that’s what we’re doing and we’re going to continue to do that,” Hawkins said Saturday on the flight deck of the 95,000-ton warship, which anchored at Manila Bay while on a visit to the Philippines.

When President Donald Trump came to power, Southeast Asian officials were uncertain how deep the U.S. would get involved in the overlapping territorial claims involving China and its Southeast Asian neighbors. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, was a vocal critic of China’s increasingly aggressive actions, including the construction of seven man-made islands equipped with troops, hangars, radar and missile stations and three long runways.

China claims the South China Sea almost in its entirety and has challenged the U.S. naval supremacy in the western Pacific.

“We’re committed,” Hawkins told reporters. “We’re here.”

With fighter jets in the background, Lt. Cmdr. Tim Hawkins talks to the media on board the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier anchored off Manila, Philippines, for a five-day port call along with guided-missile destroyer USS Michael Murphy, Feb. 17, 2018.
With fighter jets in the background, Lt. Cmdr. Tim Hawkins talks to the media on board the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier anchored off Manila, Philippines, for a five-day port call along with guided-missile destroyer USS Michael Murphy, Feb. 17, 2018.

Trump strategy

The Trump administration has outlined a new security strategy that emphasized countering China’s rise and reinforcing the U.S. presence in the Indo-Pacific region, where Beijing and Washington have accused each other of stoking a dangerous military buildup and fought for wider influence.

Washington stakes no claims in the disputes but has declared that their peaceful resolution and the maintenance of freedom of navigation are in its national interest. U.S. officials have said American warships will continue sailing close to Chinese-occupied features without prior notice, placing Washington in a continuing collision course with China’s interests.

In January, China accused the U.S. of trespassing when the U.S. guided missile destroyer USS Hopper sailed near the Chinese-guarded Scarborough Shoal, which Beijing wrestled from the Philippines in 2012, despite its proximity to the main northern island of Luzon. After voicing a strong protest, China said it would take “necessary measures” to protect its sovereignty.

The nuclear-powered Carl Vinson patrolled the sea before its Manila visit but did not conduct a freedom of navigation operation, Hawkins said.

“That’s not to say that we won’t or we can’t, but we have not, up to this point,” he said.

U.S. military aircraft sit on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier anchored off Manila, Philippines, Feb. 17, 2018. Lt. Cmdr. Tim Hawkins said American forces will continue to patrol the South China Sea wherever international law allows.
U.S. military aircraft sit on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier anchored off Manila, Philippines, Feb. 17, 2018. Lt. Cmdr. Tim Hawkins said American forces will continue to patrol the South China Sea wherever international law allows.

Stop in Vietnam?

There are reports that the Carl Vinson will also make a port call in Danang in Vietnam, another critical rival of China’s ambitions in the South China Sea, as the first American aircraft carrier since the Vietnam War ended in 1975, but Hawkins declined to provide details of future trips.

China has also opposed the Philippine military’s deployment of a Japanese-donated Beechcraft King Air patrol plane in late January to Scarborough, a Philippine official said on condition of anonymity because of a lack of authority to discuss the issue publicly. Chinese officials have relayed their objection to their Philippine counterparts, the official said.

China and Japan have their own territorial rifts in the East China Sea.

There was no immediate comment from Philippine military officials about China’s opposition to the surveillance flights at Scarborough.

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Chinese H-6 bomber at Scarborough Shoal last year

Gunboat diplomacy

U.S. and Chinese officials have said they have no intention of going to war in the disputed sea, but their governments have projected their firepower and clout in a delicate play of gunboat diplomacy and deterrence.

“We’re prepared to conduct a spectrum of operations, whether that’s providing humanitarian assistance, disaster relief in the time of an emergency, or whether we have to conduct operations that require us to send strike fighters ashore,” Hawkins said. “We don’t have to use that spectrum, but we’re ready to, in case we need to.”

The U.S. Navy invited journalists Saturday on board the 35-year-old Carl Vinson, which was packed with 72 aircraft, including F-18 Hornets, helicopters and surveillance aircraft.

President Rodrigo Duterte has tried to back down from what he said was a Philippine foreign policy that was steeply oriented toward the U.S., but has allowed considerable engagements with his country’s treaty ally to continue while reviving once-frosty ties with China in a bid to bolster trade and gain infrastructure funds.

China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have long contested ownership of the South China Sea, where a bulk of the trade and oil that fuel Asia’s bullish economies passes through.


白痴國家 (Means “Idiot Nation”)

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Mischief Reef now an extensive Chinese military base

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Chinese military bases near the Philippines

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China has no greater rights than any other in the sea. China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.

As China takes ‘center stage,’ Europe stands at a crossroads

February 16, 2018

China’s position as a global superpower is indisputable. As leaders gather to set the agenda of global security at the Munich Security Conference, the EU is at a crossroads between Washington and Beijing.

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Global leaders are converging on Germany this week for the 2018 Munich Security Conference at a time when the declining US influence in international politics continues to play out under President Donald Trump.

China, meanwhile, has increasingly been defined by a growing presence on the world stage, from the fight against climate change to global trade rules. The country’s rise to the position of a superpower may not be a new phenomenon, but the past year has seen its status cemented.

In a speech described by risk consultancy Eurasia Group as “the most geopolitically noteworthy event since Mikhail Gorbachev formally dissolved the Soviet Union,” Chinese leader Xi Jinping pronounced Beijing’s newfound status during China’s 19th Party Congress in October.

“With decades of hard work, socialism with Chinese characteristics has crossed the threshold into a new era,” Xi said. “It will be an era that sees China moving closer to the center stage and making greater contributions to mankind.”

Images of China's past and present leaders

During the 19th Communist Party Congress in October, Xi Jinping (pictured right) consolidated his rule in China

‘World leader, at all costs’

In the 1990s, under the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, Beijing implemented a foreign policy that leaned toward slogans such as “hide our capacities and bide our time,” which meant  “maintaining a low profile” to focus on developing the country, according to the party-owned Global Timesnewspaper.

But Chinese historian Zhang Lifan told DW that such a strategy “is no longer suitable for China’s status of quo.”

“The current situation is China wants to be a world leader, at all costs,” Zhang told DW. “The United States is now employing the ‘America First’ policy. China and Xi Jinping want to seize this opportunity to become the leader of globalization.”

Read more: How Trump’s unreliability is pushing EU and China closer together

In many ways, China’s leadership role over the past year has been shaped by US foreign policy objectives under Trump. This has also seen China strengthening its position on strategic areas that will continue to drive international relations, including climate changeArctic securitycyberspaceinternational trade and space exploration.

China “seems to be the rational actor that’s fighting climate change, that is keeping markets open, that is continuing to praise the merits of globalization, which are undeniable,” Jan Gaspers, head of the European China Policy Unit at the Berlin-based Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), told DW. “Of course, most of that is just rhetoric and they’re not living up to what they’re saying.”

Infographic showing China's lead in renewables

Europe’s lifeline?

For Europe, Beijing has tacitly started to fulfill a role that its traditional ally, the US, has seemingly cast aside under an “America First” doctrine. The Chinese government understands that by partnering with the EU, it can increase its legitimacy in the eyes of global stakeholders and ensure its influence in any shake-up of international leadership roles.

“China and the European Union are global powers: We have a joint responsibility to work together toward a more cooperative, rules-based global order,” Federica Mogherini, the EU’s top diplomat, said as she wrapped up an official visit to Beijing last year.

China is not seeking to undermine any kind of rules-based relationship in the near-term, and neither is Europe, especially as it redefines its position. But an increasingly relevant question is how the EU will position itself in what appears to “be a more conflicting relationship between the US and China.”

“It will be interesting how Europe will navigate those difficult waters, especially given that Europe itself is not actually united … and then there are growing differences between the EU and US on climate change, open markets and global trade,” Gaspers said.

An infographic showing Chinese Foreign Direct Investment in Europe

China’s ‘better alternative’

Besides the benefits of the EU being China’s largest trading partner, Beijing’s rise has also had an adverse affect in Europe. China’s strong leadership has found support within the EU from the likes of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Czech President Milos Zeman.

China has become much more confident in presenting its economic and political model as a “better alternative” to liberal democracy, Gaspers told DW, noting that China’s influence had extended beyond Europe’s political periphery.

Read more: Is the Czech Republic moving closer to China?

A report published by MERICS last year showed China “creating layers of active support for Chinese interests” by “fostering solid networks among European politicians, business, media, think tanks and universities,” including in Brussels, the heart of European politics.

“China’s rapidly increasing political influencing efforts in Europe and the self-confident promotion of its authoritarian ideals pose a significant challenge to liberal democracy as well as Europe’s values and interests,” the report said.

While the merits of a deep economic relationship will continue to push the China-EU relationship forward, serious concerns as to how this could develop at the political level, both domestically and globally, will impact the EU’s liberal aspirations and China’s ambitions to become a world leader.

Ju Juan of DW’s Chinese service contributed to this report.

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