Tag Archives: Xinjiang

Expansionist China and the Economic War

Lalit Shastri

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif signed the Iran-China strategic partnership pact, Saturday 27 March 2021

The die has been cast. The World is getting divided. There are enough signs of a no-holds barred economic war between nations wedded to democracy on one side and expansionist China with countries inextricably tied to it due to the economic stranglehold on the other. After the Indian Army pushed back China in the Galwan Valley and banned its money spinning apps, and challenged both its military might and sway in digital technologies, trade and commerce, we now have a scenario where China is against the wall due to so many factors. And this, despite its position as world’s leading economic power. China is now hyper active on the world stage to counter the Quad.

At the Quad meeting between the US, India, Japan and Australia, earlier this month, US President Joe Biden renewed commitment to ensure that the Indo-Pacific region is governed by international law, committed to upholding universal values, free from coercion and also announced the launch of an “ambitious new joint partnership” to boost vaccine manufacturing, for the global benefit and strengthen vaccinations to benefit the entire Indo-Pacific region. He also underscored the Quad is going to be a vital arena for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stamped the moment by reiterating that the Quad will now remain an important pillar of stability in the region.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison joined the discussion by asserting that together the Quad nations will create a different future. It is the Indo-Pacific that will now shape the destiny of our world in the 21st century, he asserted.

The Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga echoed the same sentiment by stating that Japan-Australia-India-U.S. leaders working together will help in realizing a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Days later, addressing his first press conference after his swearing-in, the US president had underscored “a stiff competition with China, while pointing to China’s overall goal to become the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world, and the most powerful country in the world. Biden also used this important interaction with the media to categorically drive home the message that it is not going to happen during his presidency and the United States are going to continue to grow and expand.

Picking China in no uncertain terms, Biden also informed media-persons at this press meet that he has already told Jinping in straight terms: “as long as you and your country continues to so blatantly violate human rights, we’re going to continue, in an unrelenting way, to call to the attention of the world and make it clear what’s happening to the Uighurs, what’s happening in Hong Kong”.

Besides the message delivered through the Quad, China also has been facing the heat on the issue of forced labour in China’s Xinjiang region and the call for boycott of goods produced through blatant violation of human rights.

Expansionist China
Expansionist China, which has a long standing territorial dispute with India and Japan, is also locked in South China Sea disputes over maritime and island claims with Taiwan, Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia. The strategic importance of South China Sea can be gauged from the fact that a third of the global maritime trade and close to 40 per cent of China’s total trade passes through the South China Sea shipping lanes.

To ensure strategic balance in the South China Sea, U.S. warships and aircraft have frequently been moving into that area in a “show of force” and carrying out exercises in the disputed waters.

Then there is the Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure development strategy, a brainchild of Chinese President Xi Jinping adopted in 2013 to invest in close to 70 countries to build economic land and rail transportation routes through Central Asia. China describes the Belt and Road Initiative, which has 2049 as the deadline for completion, as “a bid to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future.”

Significantly, India, a major regional power, has refused to join China’s Belt and Road project. India has point blank declined to join the BRI because the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is integral to the BRI, passes through Pak occupied Kashmir (PoK).

Notwithstanding the fact that China is Australia’s largest trading partner and also their interdependence economically – China needs raw matrial from Australia, while Australia ships almost a quarter of its exports to China – the situation has reached such a pass that Australia is now thinking in terms of diverting much of its shipment to other countries.

China-Iran: Comprehensive Partnership
During Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s six-nation tour to Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Oman, Bahrain and the UAE, China and Iran on Saturday 27 March 2021 signed what has been described by a section of the media as a 25-year “Political Strategic and Economic Treaty”.

The treaty was signed by Wang Yi and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. From China’s point of view, the pact with Iran is significant especially due to the Belt and Road Initiative in the region.

During his meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhan, who has hailed the Iran-China strategic partnership as ‘major step’, the Chinese Foreign Minister reiterated that China’s willingness to develop the China-Iran relations will not change.

In Riyadh Wang batted for a five-point initiative to achieve security and stability in the Middle East. The fine-tuning of the objectives of Wang’s West Asia tour obviously points to an attempt by China to counter the takeaway and the deep message conveyed to the entire world by Biden, Modi, Morrison and Suga when they went on a virtual platform for the Quad Summit.

Wang spoke of mutual respect, upholding equity and justice, achieving non-proliferation, collective security, and accelerating development cooperation in Riyadh.

China also is in an overdrive mode to counter sanctions over the “Xinjiang forced labour” narrative. In a latest move, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has responded to unilateral sanctions on Chinese officials over Xinjiang by announcing sanctions against two US individuals, one Canadian politician and entity on Saturday. China has also sanctioned nine UK individuals and four entities following what it has decried as “their provocative statements”.

The Chinese mouthpiece Global Times said in a report Sunday that the “West has forced companies including H&M, Nike to politicize the Xinjiang cotton supply chain issue and pushed them to offend Chinese consumers and the market. It is inevitable that they will be punished by the market”.

The Global Times report goes on add “Foreign brands may see their total enterprise value, in perspective of growth prospects, reduced by about 50 percent in five years, due to their groundless vilification over cotton…”

Chinese Minister of Defense Wei Fenghe, on Friday during a visit to the site of Chinese Embassy in former Yugoslavia, said: “The Chinese military will never allow history to repeat itself as China is capable and determined to defend its national interests,” Wei Fenghe was there to pay tribute to martyrs in Belgrade, where the Chinese Embassy in former Yugoslavia was bombed by NATO in 1999.

Chinese Foreign Ministry also said on Friday that the US-led NATO, owes a debt to the Chinese people, in the backdrop of the condemnation of NATO by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and the Serbia’s nation-wide commemoration of the deaths of thousands of innocent people by NATO.

On March 25, China and Turkey kept the Quad Summit in perspective when they agreed to oppose what they described as “attempt by some countries to politicize the COVID-19 vaccine cooperation” and pledged to continue their cooperation in fighting the pandemic.

A day earlier, Hungarian President Janos Ader had also said that Hungary and China will continue to strengthen cooperation on anti-pandemic, economy, trade, tourism and military affairs, and would promote in-depth development of the Hungary-China comprehensive strategic partnership.

These are not merely utterances. In fact, the die has been cast. The world is getting divided and there are enough signs of a no-holds barred economic war between nations wedded to democracy on one side and expansionist China with countries inextricably tied to it due to the economic stranglehold on the other. After the Indian Army pushed back China in the Galwan Valley and banned its money spinning apps, and thereby challenged both its military prowess and sway in digital technologies, trade and commerce, we now have a scenario where China is against the wall due to so many factors. And this, despite its position as world’s leading economic power. China is now hyper active on the world stage to counter the Quad by embracing allies or by trying to build new alliances in West Asia, and with countries of Central and Eastern Europe to retain its stranglehold on national economies.

Gwadar Military Base a reality: CPEC not Benign

Major General S B Asthana,SM,VSM

China’s handing over of two combat ships to Pakistan on January 14, 2017, for ‘safety of Gwadar Port’ (Dawn, 15 January,2017) and later the headline was changed to ‘for Maritime Security’, on clarification from Pakistan Maritime Security Agency. It opens a new line of argument, which China has been avoiding to commit so far, that the project is not as benign as China has been claiming it to be, and its conversion to a military base, besides commercial hub is a matter of time.  With arrival of first Chinese commercial ship at Gwadar port on 11 November 2016, sailing of two container ships from there on 13 November, preceded by a Chinese trade convoy reaching there through land route from Xinjiang, carrying exports for Asian, Gulf and other countries, a formal signaling of the 3218 km long China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project commencing to be a potential reality is evident. Pakistan was overjoyed to advertise a windfall of economic bounty, was very quick to announce the Chinese Naval deployment in Gwadar, and over assured presence of Chinese military to secure their Lines of Communication and related SLOC, with release of such statements. (The Times of India, 26 and 27 November 2016). Pakistan was also quick to announce the Russians request to use Gwadar Port (Geo News), although Russian media later denied it. The Chinese on the other hand, seem to be trying hard to convince everyone that CPEC and Gwadar port are purely developmental, integrative, economical activities with no military intent. China seems to be adopting step by step approach, by testing the water, without ignoring the potential security concerns. Both these countries know it well that it is not going to be that easy, as it is made out to be. It also raises some concerns for India by re-igniting its sovereignty issue of POK and recalibrating Indian response in potential conflict, assuming Chinese presence in Pakistan. It also signals encroachment of China into historic strategic space of US, who cannot dump Pakistan completely due to its strategic location, and usefulness for having a foothold in Middle-East, although no significant statement has appeared from President-elect Donald Trump on this specific issue.

The $46bn CPEC  does provide connectivity from Kashgar to Gwadar, warm water access to Western region of China, avoiding Malacca and other choke point for her energy and trade flow, outlet to its over-capacities and trade surpluses, and development of its Western Region. It helps Pakistan in their economic development, with heavy investments and meeting critical energy shortages. Strategically, it clearly indicates China’s effort to seek security in Xinjiang through economic development, hoping that it will help in tackling insurgency by Uyghur related militant groups (especially militants taking refuge inside Pakistan like ETIM, working in conjunction with TTP and other militant groups). Although China, Pakistan and world media have published numerous articles on CPEC, highlighting its economic and developmental potential and airing some security concerns of CPEC, however, in the recent past the realistic realization of the actual problems and concerns are being aired by various authors, think-tank’s and global organizations including that of  China and Pakistan. Let me highlight some of them including military impact of the project on India.
Concerns of Pakistan
• IMF calculates that CPEC will push Pakistan into greater debt burden/trap to reach a current account deficit of approximately 1.5 Percent of its GDP. In case Pakistan fails to repay loans, China can take the ownership of the projects.
• China is not gifting money. The infrastructure will be built by its own companies using their own workers (sending revenue back to China, hence limited jobs and no significant economic bounty generated for Pakistan), and the energy produced may be too costly to be affordable by average Pakistanis.
• The dream of SEZ may remain on paper due to peculiar governance system of Pakistan, like there is no drinking water in areas around Gwadar supposed to be a SEZ, indicating the priorities of China. Such incidents do ignite resentment in Baluchistan, besides threatening crucial projects like railways through it. Declan Walsh in his article Pakistan’s secret dirty war (Guardian), has highlighted the atrocities of Baluchis by Pakistan Army since quite some time, but the recent outburst of Baluchis, and military operations of Pakistan leading to selective killings of people opposing CPEC, as highlighted by world media, definitely is leading to the belief of local population that SEZ is nowhere in sight, and CPEC is going to benefit few powerful variety of people who are Punjab centric.
• Providing double the number of security personnel to increasing number of Chinese workers may not be sustainable in the long run. The commitment of their critical combat resources like Marine Squadron on security duties in Gwadar and SSG on CPEC not being sustainable, is also a concern.
• Unrest in Baluchistan, Gilgit-Baltistan and activation of militant groups opposing any foreign elements in Pakistan, as it disturbs their Jihadist freedom and terror industry.
• Facing the collective wrath of US and India, internal political opposition (neglected population calling it China-Punjab Economic Corridor) and militant groups, vis a vis the anticipated gains is questionable.
Concerns of China
• Some of the projects may not be economically viable, e.g. the consumption of oil in Western region may not be sufficient to make an oil pipeline economically viable. Its transportation by land to mainland over rough terrain may work out to be costlier than old sea route.
• Reactivation of Uyghur related militancy in conjunction with other militant groups inside Pakistan, inimical to any foreign presence. After all some militant groups earlier nurtured by Pakistan are regularly attacking their own Army, hence assurance of Security by Pakistan cannot be relied upon. The recent incident of withdrawal of all passports of residents of Xinjiang may add fuel to fire.
• China also needs to be concerned about the sustainability of the project in terms of cost to its own security. The policy of appeasement of some militant groups like JeM does not work for long time with militants, who are uncontrollable demons, ready to bite their own sponsors. They follow their own interests, dynamics and sympathies for their Uyghur community, which may not coincide with interests of China. Once they start shooting Chinese, China will realize the dynamics of entering a new kind of warfare, just as US realized after 9/11. China needs to worry about expansion of militancy into its mainland as a result of CPEC-Gwadar adventure, because fidayeens, who are mentally prepared to die, are not easy to deal with.
• A possible US reaction to encroachment of China into some of their strategic space, and disturbing the fine equilibrium with them in using Pakistani territory for their strategic gains by both of them, without undue clash. China has made best use of pre and post election period in US, when bold decisions from US were not expected, to increase her strategic influence, but it may not be that rosy always.
• Potential of US and India to actively pursue their concerns, which may hamper success and sustainability of this project. The sovereignty issue of India over POK is being voiced much more, after CPEC plans were rolled out, with a new set of sentiments to take back POK.
• In case of hostilities, Gwadar may well prove to be a vulnerability for China rather than strength, as PLA Navy in near future may not have the combat power to take on entire hostile environment from East China Sea, South China Sea, Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea together. Chinese presence in Gwadar does not make it immune to blockade by other powers, although the other scenario based implications may have to be thought through by anyone trying such action.
Is there a Need for India to be concerned?
• Improving economic potential/opportunities, development and its trade prospects is a sovereign right of every country and to that extent, if CPEC and Gwadar improve these prospects for China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, and possibly Russia, India has no reason to be concerned about it, but if its aligned to pass through Indian sovereign territory without its consent, then India has every reason to be concerned about it.
• India has no reason to worry as it is well used to China developing infrastructure in its neighborhood to include Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Srilanka, therefore such developments in Pakistan can be taken in a stride, but infrastructure  being a dual use facility (civil and Military) facilitates military deployment, hence India needs to calibrate her policies.
• The competition for strategic space in Asia-Pacific is a reality and US, China and India cannot ignore it. Indian concern of Sovereignty over POK needs to be addressed, because in absence of such efforts, Indian voices for taking back POK may gain momentum.
• The strategic and military options of India against Pakistan, for counter-militancy operations will have to cater for Chinese presence, and the effect on their trade, however considering their “All weather friendship” the possibility of their collusive reaction is not new for India, and has to be planned as such.
• India will have to cater for the maritime military balance in view of China handing over combat ship to Pakistan, amounting to signaling about developing  of Gwadar as a military base, strengthening Pakistan maritime capability, with a view to dominate Gulf and Indian Ocean. India will have to develop its maritime capability with similar pace, if not more.

The author is Chief Instructor, USI of India

Daniel S. Markey and James West (2016), Behind China’s Gambit in Pakistan, Council on Foreign Relations, May 12, 2016.     http://www.cfr.org/region/pakistan/ri246
Akber Ali (2016), China Pakistan Economic Corridor: Prospects and Challenges for Regional Integration,School of Journalism & Communication, Shanghai University, China. http://www. -2151-6200 omicsonline.com/open-access/china-pakistan-economic-corridor-prospects-and-challenges-for-regionalintegration -1000204.php?aid=77852
Ian Price (2016), Is the US Trying to Sabotage the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor? The Diplomat, September 29, 2016. http://thediplomat.com/2016/09/is-the-us-trying-to-sabotage-the-china-pakistan-economic-corridor/