Americans have done business with China for over 40 years despite all its human rights violations, and after hastening Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan, American/Western shrill rhetoric on China sounds farcical.
At the G-7 Summit at Cornwall, UK (June 11-13, 2021) with his carefully chosen words, US President Joe Biden extended a hand of friendship to his European allies, stressed on the importance of the trans-Atlantic alliance and pronounced, “America is back in the business of leading the world alongside nations who share our most deeply held values.”
Commemorating the 100th anniversary of CCP (1 July 2021), looking dashing in a grey buttoned up Mao suit, speaking from the same balcony atop the Tiananmen gate from where Mao Zedong had announced the foundation of the PRC in 1949, a combative Xi Jinping issued a stern warning: “The Chinese people will never allow any foreign forces to bully, oppress or enslave us…whosoever wants to do so, will face bloodshed in front of a great wall of steel.” Those who demonize China must have heard it loud and clear.
The most significant announcement of the G-7 Summit for the developing world was: B3W, Build Back Better World, with a projected budget of US$20 trillion for undertaking connectivity and infrastructure projects in developing countries that will be a “values-driven, high-standard and transparent” partnership”; as against China’s ambitious BRI, which has already got 120 countries on board, even though some beneficiaries accuse her of lacking transparency and pushing them into a debt trap.
Will Biden’s assertion that a global minimum tax of 15% help promote global equity, finance infrastructure projects in the developing countries, counter China’s growing influence, and, will a “democratic alternative” ever materialize? Given their failure in fulfilling their pledge to contribute US$100 billion annually to the Climate Fund, their ability to raise US$20 trillion for B3W is suspect.
China’s bloody incursion in Galwan valley in June 2020 has deepened India’s distrust. The Narendra Modi government has so far banned more than 3,000 Chinese applications including Tik Tok, introduced a regime of stringent scrutiny of China’s FDI proposals, decided against buying Huawei’s 5G and exhorted Indians to buy less from China. But Indians fill their homes with Chinese goods including the figures of Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesh. No wonder India’s imports from China, in 2020 were higher than imports from the US.
65% Americans have a negative view of China. Donald Trump had called Covid-19 the Wuhan/Chinese virus and demanded a compensation of US$20 trillion. Biden is pursuing Trump’s China policy with a diplomatic face, carrying along America’s traditional allies. Phrases like “decoupling” and “trade war” with China have been junked. But Biden has singled out China as America’s main rival and vowed to out-compete China. He is seeking US$1.3 trillion to revamp US’ creaking infrastructure; the Senate has already passed a comprehensive bill of US$250 billion for research, innovation and remaining ahead of China in next generation technologies.
The interview with David Brooks of the New York Times last month, gave a glimpse of Biden’s thoughts: “We are kind of at a place where the rest of the world is beginning to look to China.”
Taking note of China’s defence budget, rapid expansion and modernization, its defence forces including Navy, use of AI and work on space weaponry, nuclear arsenal, military cooperation with Russia, its ability to hack Western institutions, the NATO summit of 14 June 2021 admitted, “China’s growing influence and international policies can present challenges that we need to address together as an alliance.”
Wisely, Biden put a non-confrontational spin: “US is not looking for a conflict with China but will respond to actions that are inconsistent with international norms…we are in contest not with China per se, but contest with authoritarian and autocratic governments around the world.”
In spite of security concerns about China’s rise as a military power, both Germany and France have advised caution and refrain from looking at Europe’s engagement with China from this perspective alone. UK Premier Boris Johnson, host of the G-7 summit, was more practical: “There were risks and rewards in relations with China.”
Interestingly, Boris Johnson’s line also reflects the sentiments of most of the ASEAN and many countries that have China as their largest trading partner. Countries around South China Sea that have territorial disputes with China don’t like her aggressive and assertive claims, but none of them would like to break with China and come aboard an anti-China bandwagon led by the US.
Both Japan and Australia have, of late, been very critical of China in Quad, but neither can afford to risk their economic relationship with China. In 2020, 20% Japan’s global exports went to China, while China was the largest importer of Australian wines. Notwithstanding Trump’s exhortations to exit China and set up manufacturing plants in the US, very few American companies did so. The rhetoric about creating reliable supply chains to reduce dependence on China has produced very little.
China’s lack of democracy and human rights in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet are flagged internationally. However, having done business with China despite these violations for 40 years and hastening Taliban’s—the antithesis of democracy and human rights—return to power in Afghanistan, American/Western shrill rhetoric sounds farcical.
In his 1 July speech, Xi reiterated China’s “unswerving historic mission” to unify Taiwan with China and warned Taiwan against declaring its independence. As for Hong Kong, he advised its administration to maintain order and ensure China’s national security.
While praising socialism with Chinese characteristics and talking of the need to accelerate modernization of the national defence forces, Xi applauded CCP for removing absolute poverty from China.
China’s GDP, currently 20% of the global GDP, has grown 80 times between 1980 and 2020 (PPP) according to the IMF. At US$14.8 trillion, it’s closing on America’s GDP of US$21.8 trillion. As the world’s largest manufacture and exporter, with US$3.4 trillion in FER, as the largest trading partner of 47 countries, with the second largest army with nuclear stockpile, and with the determination to overtake the US in innovations and technologies of tomorrow, China under Xi looks to shape the new world order. The actions of Xi Jinping are placing countries such as US and India in the quandary of considering the option of meeting force with force or forswearing the military option and expanding and intensifying engagement with China.
Surendra Kumar, a former Ambassador, writes on political and strategic affairs. The views expressed are personal.