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China: The Source or Target of Pressure at Global Summits?; By Asma Masood

Updated: Jan 31, 2023


Image Courtesy: Bloomberg.com


Article No. 69/2018


China has been drawing up another string of pearls- Global Summitry. While this is not a recent phenomenon, Beijing is increasingly emphasizing its interests at the international forums- the latest ones being ASEAN-China, APEC and G20 summit this year.


While Beijing’s stand on strategic and geopolitical issues as expressed during the summits remains debatable, its call for a more open world economy seeks to resonate with global stakeholders, especially during the present time of rising protectionist attitudes. One asks whether China has begun to reap rewards from its image-building exercises, which take place via, among other channels, prominent international summit meetings. Trump meanwhile is focussing on domestic appeasement to some stakeholders, as seen in his conspicuous absence at APEC Summit 2018 and the U.S.-ASEAN Summit 2018. This lack of leadership by U.S.A at global forums is giving China an upper hand, as Beijing takes up a more prominent role while voicing the concerns of the developing nations. The opportunity for China gets easier, as G20 2018 did not see any European power assume a leading role, given the continent’s own issues such as growing right-wingism, immigration issues and stagnant unemployment.


Beijing must surely be taking note of the global flux and attempting to bring in its own version of a new international order. It is doubtful that it will be done in tandem with another rising power, India, given China’s treatment towards its Delhi in several other global summits. China on no account is showing signs of budging on contentious issues with India, be it by Beijing vetoing against India’s membership for the UN Security Council, blocking India’s membership to the Nuclear Supplier’s Group, or the veto by China at UN to designate as terrorist Pakistan-based Masood Azhar, the JeM chief who was the mastermind behind the 2016 terror attack on Pathankot, India.


India needs to sustain working with other international actors to ensure its interests, in terms of the aforementioned issues, see the light of day. However the prospects of Trump being of keen assistance seem bleak, as apparent from his personal prism of international relations. Nevertheless the attempt by Trump to promote ‘America First’ viz. trade with China may have briefly come to halt when the U.S. announced during G20 2018 that the country would not impose the proposed additional 25% tariffs on imports of $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from January 1 2019. The word ‘briefly’ is used because some sources say that, “It is a 50-50 deal that can still unravel in the next three months”[i], with the U.S either imposing the new tariffs from March next year, or cancelling them. Meanwhile China agreed to purchase a significantly increased share of agricultural and industrial goods from U.S.A. This may reflect a combination of Xi Jinping’s caution against seeing a more unsettled Trump, and a sign of the former having no choice but to practice a pragmatic economic diplomacy amidst trade tensions.


In fact, China is not tackling the scenario by a one-to-one with U.S.A alone. China is also shifting its imports from U.S.A to other source nations such as India, for instance for goods like cotton. India, while coming under China’s pressure at some global summits as seen earlier, is also gaining an indirect benefit from the China-U.S. trade war in the background. This should not give room for complacency, as India can join U.S.A in putting pressure on China to ensure Beijing does not violate international laws on Intellectual Property (IP). This issue was highlighted at the recent G20 Summit, whereby U.S. seeks to tighten enforcement of IP laws, which in turn can impact China’s technology sectors.


China seems to be straining to handle to the pressure at global summits, as was apparent at APEC and ASEAN this year. Despite the the overarching issues, China is pushing through its own agenda via the summits’ themes which were ‘Harnessing Inclusive Opportunities, Embracing the Digital Future’ (APEC) and “Resilience and Innovation” (ASEAN). Xi while dealing with the bilateral issues with U.S.A is keen that his country with its increasingly innovative approach to technology and finance, makes the most of international technology cooperation, including through the summit ministerial meetings.


Notably, China along with Germany presided over the G20 ministerial meeting at Salta, Argentina in August 2018, which reached a consensus over strengthening digital economy for development. It is noted here that the share of China’s digital economy in 2017 was about 32% of the country’s total GDP.[ii] India must prod Beijing to share its experiences of successfully digitizing a large share of its economy. Interestingly, one area the above G20 Ministerial Declaration emphasizes on is ‘Bridging the Digital Gender Divide – Delivering Impact’. While China may be discriminating against women while hiring for its civil services,[iii] it is certainly keen to sustain the momentum for gender equality in the workforce and economy as generated by Mao Zedong’s belief that “Women hold up half the sky”. It is intriguing to note the statistics which, according to 36Kr, indicate that 36% of China’s digital economy was comprised of women entrepreneurs, and about 64% of these were in the BAT (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent) ecosystem.[iv]


China’s support to women goes beyond business and economy. As seen at the UN Women Global Leader’s Meeting 2015, China has pledged to donate US$ 10 million to the UN body. China will also help to enhance education levels of poor women and children in developing countries through 100 projects from 2015-2020. This may appear laudable; however China could be carrying out another image building exercise for reducing global mistrust towards itself. These suspicions may be legitimate, given that in China, it is an official declaration by the government controlled All-China Women’s Federation, that single women with M.A or PhD are like “yellowed pearls”.[v]


The inconsistency in certain policies is not denting China’s drive to continue its foreign policy goals by means of global summits. This is evident, when the 21st ASEAN-China Summit held at Singapore on November 14 2018 included in its joint statement on S&T cooperation that China would support the ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN). This cooperation is already manifested as seen in China’s tech giant Alibaba supporting Malaysia’s City Brain project since January 2018. This project to begin with would assist Kuala Lumpur, via Alibaba’s data mining and video and image recognition capabilities, tackle the city’s traffic congestion issue.[vi] This is one win for China, a country which currently has 500 smart city projects- the highest in the world.


The funding for these projects would depend on Renminbi values, another aspect China is assertively promoting at the global forum of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It gained a major step when the RMB was included in the SDR basket in 2016. China, via means including summit talks, is trying to race against the U.S- the world’s leading and dominant currency player.


It is significant that China is such taking initiatives and is perhaps shaping a ‘summit foreign policy’ to deal with international issues. China is even hosting several high-profile global summits and international conferences within itself. The aim is clear from the fact that the country’s think tanks are commissioned for projects only which match the government’s agenda, and promote the Communist Party of China’s principles. In fact, Chinese scholars are conducting in-depth research on China and the role of governance in G20.[vii] They are going one step further to analyze India’s position in the G20, and how Beijing, while cooperating with Delhi on areas of common interest, should safeguard China’s national interests.[viii] India’s increasingly prominent voice at major international summits seems to be a matter of concern for Beijing’s power corridors. Nonetheless, India can harness this concern and use it to work with China for forwarding Delhi’s aims.


There would be an element of both contest and cooperation in this approach by India. For instance, a more recent concern for China would be the demand from environmentalists during the ongoing COP 24- the UN Climate Change Conference 2018, being held from December 3-14 at Katowice, Poland. The demands on China include a call for submitting hard data on emissions, given that the country is world’s largest polluter, and can afford unlike poor nations to carry out such a review.[ix] The ‘contest’ would stem from Indian activists also making such demands. The cooperation could be sourced from issues of common ground. For example, there is a possibility that China would support India’s demand at COP24 for an accurate review on flow of finance from developed nations to developing economies. This is essential, as there is yet to be a clear picture on the direction and accounting of the US$ 100 billion committed by developed countries for climate adaptation and mitigation, on an annual basis.[x]


The common stand of China and India at global summits, however, is limited to only some non-traditional security issues and general principles of a free international economic order. There is yet to be a consensus between the two nations on other crucial energy and security issues, as seen earlier.


Such decisions by China show that Xi Jinping may be using global summits to not only reduce pressure on itself due to trade and other related issues, but to barricade India’s rightful ascendancy on the international stage. This does not show the trappings of a truly responsible power. China must act to protect its goals at global summits but without stifling India’s legitimate interests and the valid demands from other countries.


Xi’s stress on innovation and free trade are incomplete without a fair and just ‘summit foreign policy’. It would not be easy task for Xi in upcoming summits, especially given the ongoing debacle over the arrest in Canada of Meng Wanzhou, the Chief Financial Officer of Huawie, which is a leading Chinese tech company. The arrest, made upon U.S’ request, reflects that Trump is not going to be easy on China, given allegations of technology theft and misuse by Huawei. It is time Xi Jinping polishes his government’s decision making, to ensure that his country can have a more credible voice at international platforms. Unless Xi Jinping finds this balance, China’s achievements through the channel of global summits will not be a ‘string of pearls’ that seeks to encircle countries like India. Rather, it can be said that China is tightening the string around itself, and China’s moves against India would remain the real ‘yellowed pearls’.


References

[i] Kanth, D. Ravi, “US, China finally agree to halt levy of new tariffs for 90 days”, LiveMint, December 2 2018, https://www.livemint.com/Politics/zdRij2UXKFIxxZLsv3Rr7I/G20-summit-USChina-agree-to-trade-truce-no-new-tariff-af.html

[ii] Tse, Edward and Tai, Josie, “Dare to fail: why China’s women entrepreneurs are finding greater success”, South China Morning Post, August 22 2018, https://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/hong-kong/article/2160786/dare-fail-why-chinas-women-entrepreneurs-are

[iii] “China: Female Civil Servants Face Discrimination, Harassment”, Human Rights Watch, November 8 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/11/08/china-female-civil-servants-face-discrimination-harassment

[iv] Ibid Note 2

[v] Lovell, Julia, “Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China – review”, The Guardian, June 5 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jun/05/leftover-women-gender-inequality-china

[vi] Gnanasagaran, Angaindrankumar, “Building a network of smart cities in ASEAN” The ASEAN Post, February 18 2018, https://theaseanpost.com/article/building-network-smart-cities-asean

[vii] XIANG Nanyue, LIU Hongsong. Analyzing the effectiveness of the G20’s cooperative governance

model, World Economics and Politics, 2017 (06): 122–147.

[viii] XU Fan, India’s G20 strategy and interests in global governance, South Asian Studies, 2015 (3): 43-

58+155-156

[ix] Jordans, Frank/ AP, “Divide Continues Between Nations and Companies at United Nations Climate Talks”, TIME, December 6 2018, http://time.com/5473198/united-nations-climate-talks-poland/  

[x] Choudhary, Srishti, “Set climate finance in order for action on climate change: India at COP24”, LiveMint, December 5 2018, https://www.livemint.com/Politics/6fQGF6tTwxB04MzwRvJJ0N/Set-climate-finance-in-order-for-action-on-climate-change-I.html


[Ms. Asma Masood is Research Officer, Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S), India and President, Young Minds of C3S. The views expressed are of the author. She can be contacted at asma.masood11@gmail.com. Twitter:@asmamasood11]

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