In its search for a new paradigm and a new strategy in a rapidly changing world, China should embrace the solidarity of all humans. Yet at an important conference last month, Chinese officials had nothing to say about Africa.
On 17 December 2011, there was the 11th annual conference on Chinese diplomacy organised by the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy held at Tsinghua University with two parallel meetings. Under the title of ‘New Discipline, New Paradigm and New Strategy’, the dominant question in this conference was the changed international situation, especially the new internationalisation of the issues of the South China Sea. Many themes emerged, and I want to identify two. The first was the articulation by various specialists that China will have to be creative and to define new strategies for a foreign policy that will guarantee peace and international stability. The second theme was the reaffirmation by China’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs that China was on the road to build socialism and that its foreign policy was one path in this road.
In relation to the first overriding theme, I was intrigued to hear from one international presenter, Robert Kaplan, that the Chinese involvement in Kenya and the building of a new town in Lamu was part of a wider strategy for the projection of Chinese naval power in the Indian Ocean, linking new port facilities from Kenya to Sri Lanka to Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Meetings such as these reconfirmed the necessity for peace activists to have a global view in order to grasp how rivalries between particular societies can negatively affect the pace of transformation in other societies. On the second theme, there was a basic contradiction between this reaffirmation of the tasks of building socialism and the current intellectual culture at the highest levels, which is subservient to western and realist principles of politics and economics. In my recent work among scholars of international relations at the mainstream universities in China it was rare to encounter a scholar who was familiar with ideas of South–South relations as a theoretical framework. The Marxism of the party cadres was so caricatured that it had no appeal for the young. It was the environmentalists and activists for the landless who were pushing for a new conception of politics.
Those who aspired for intellectual leadership reproduced ideas about China’s rise and ambition to achieve super power status, thus minimising the attention on the tasks of giving meaning to the publicly espoused posture of peaceful development. In the conclusion of this piece I will suggest that partial understandings of the international politics will lead to scholars in China and the USA lagging far behind in grasping how revolutions in societies such as Egypt will fundamentally change international politics in the next two to three decades. The questions of the imbalances of the world especially the exploitation of billions of people and climate apartheid are the most urgent international issues and I will inject the African point of view in the conclusion.
THE MOST IMPORTANT FOREIGN POLICY ISSUES FOR 2011
There were four keynote presentations. The first was by Le Yucheng, Assistant Minister and Director Policy Planning, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who addressed the topic of ‘Current International Situation and China’s Foreign Affairs.’ After surveying the unprecedented changes in the international situation in the past year he noted that every society has to plan for the unexpected and pointed to three unexpected developments in the past year. The first were the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt with the implications for the entire Middle East and North Africa. The second was the depth of the financial crisis in Western Europe, what is called, the Eurozone. The third was the earthquake, Tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan. The vice-minister recounted the view of many financial observers that initially the debt crisis in Europe was confined to Greece, a country that accounted for 2 per cent of the EU economy. The awareness that the Eurozone crisis was not simply a sovereign debt problem in Greece but a fundamental crisis that extended to Italy, France and even Germany came slowly. This confession from a top Chinese leader was supported by the present alertness that societies such as Belgium, Portugal and Spain are all affected by this economic crisis. In the same vein, the minister drew attention to the question of natural disaster as a feature of international relations, with the lessons of the Japan earthquake.
These events make it difficult for foreign affairs experts to predict developments in the coming year and Le Yucheng cautioned that vigilance and alertness were needed to be able to respond to the possible new challenges. The minister noted that he was in the United Kingdom during the rebellion in London and the ferocity of the resistance by the youths made a firm impression on him. He also drew the attention of the more than 200 foreign policy experts to the experience of the shootings in Norway and the fact that many did not expect this kind of racist and xenophobic attack in social democratic Norway.
The Occupy Wall Street movement was also another major highlight of the year 2011, with the changes in the world happening so fast that some of the changes were not expected for fifty years. It was the observation of the minister that global changes were taking place in all parts of the world on a scale unmatched since the fall of the Soviet Union 20 years ago. He pointed out the fact that the uncertainties created by the crisis have led to loss of confidence in certain institutions. In this context, he drew attention to the fact that Wall Street that had seemed as such a solid backbone of international finance was now being challenged. Although the vice-minister did not use the language of the 99 per cent, the reality was that Wall Street was being delegitimised.
SIGNIFICANCE OF DIPLOMATIC AND POLITICAL TIES WITH BRICS ECONOMIES
In contrast to the deligitimisation of the associated financial institutions of North America and Western Europe, there was continued growth in the countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS). In the world economic league table, the BRICS societies were surging with the expectation that by 2020 three of the BRICS economies (China, Russia and India) will be among the top five economies of the world. In the SANYA declaration of BRICS in April 2011, the Chinese President had declared that the leaders of BRICS would be working for the reform of the international monetary system. This declaration was given substance by the incessant meetings in relation to the capitalist depression in Europe. By the end of the year 2011, the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) stated that Brazil had overtaken the United Kingdom. Obviously, these facts were uppermost in the mind of the minister as he pointed to how the BRICS countries were now the anchors of the global economic system with the centre of gravity of the international political economy. Referring to the 9.2 growth rate of the GDP, he reaffirmed the fact that China was playing a constructive role in stabilising the international economic system. He urged attendees to remember that China pulled through difficulties with good results.
The vice-minister made reference to the visit of President Hu Jin Tao to the United States and the efforts of President Obama and President Hu to strengthen partnership between the United States and China. He also drew attention to the positive statements of Henry Kissinger on the occasion of 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Peoples Republic of China and the United States.
The minister continued to say that since that histrionic journey by Kissinger in 1971, trade has grown from US $2.4 billion to over $400 billion. The question was how to ensure that this growth in trade continued. He stressed the importance of keeping good relations with the United States, and noted that the US and China have different opinions on a number of international questions but that dialogue must be kept open. He stressed that China and the United States must continue cooperation, exchanges and strategic dialogue while making reference to the hundreds of thousands of Chinese studying in the United States and the increased volume of people-to-people exchanges between the US and China bode well for the future of relations.
The vice-minister spoke of the numerous summit meetings of ASEAN, APEC, G20, SCO, UN, BRICS and other international obligations that demanded the attention of President Hu Jintao. During the first 20 days of November, the President of China was continuously on the move. This was an indication of the role of China as a global player. Of the overseas trips taken by President Hu in 2011, mention was made of the trips to Russia, Ukraine and other countries in Europe.
There was special mention of the relationship between Russia and China. The minister reiterated the position of the Chinese government that there was a strategic partnership between Russia and China. There was no mention of the Shanghai Cooperation organisation. What was unclear to me was the praise that was meted out in relationship to the celebration of China’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). I understand that there had been a lot of hoopla in China over the acceptance of China into this organization, but there was no indication of the difficulties that are being faced in relationship to negotiations over the Doha round.
One signal of the importance of trade and commerce as the focus of Chinese diplomacy could be gleaned from the statistics that were being rolled off by the vice-minister. These statistics are now reproduced by many international organisations especially because the lending and external financial flows from China now surpass the World Bank. The end of the lecture focused on China’s role in BRICS and the proactive role of BRICS in a number of international fora.
The lecture returned to the European debt crisis and the continued dangers posed by this financial crisis for the international political economy. The vice-minister pointed to the investments made in Europe and asserted that China will continue to provide strong support for Europe. He called on Europeans to take the right decisions to get out of the current difficulties and noted that strong decisions were needed in Europe to ensure ‘European development.’
In relation to the countries of East Asia there was mention of the numerous exchanges at all levels between the governments of China, Japan and Korea. The minister rearticulated the view that China will follow a path of peaceful development.
DANCING WITH WOLVES
The vice-minister used the metaphor of dancing with wolves to characterise China’s interaction with the great powers of today. The reality, according to him, was that the Chinese cake had to be enlarged to share with over 1.3 billion persons. While others had a cake made of butter, China had a small cake made of grain and which it had to conserve and enlarge.
It was in this section that the vice-minister reasserted the goal of China to build socialism. It was his view that the building socialism would take 70-80 generations but China should not move from the path of building socialism. In the process of building socialism, it was necessary for the people of China to maintain strategic positioning and patience. He said: ‘China will not seek maximum profit in commercial relations.’ Reciprocity and mutual benefit were more important considerations than profit. China will be active in searching for peace and provide more opportunities to the world for the stability of the international economic system.
I was curious that the vice-minister did not mention Africa in his presentation, so after the session in the tea break I asked about the silence on Africa. He responded by saying that China and Africa are friends and that he was bringing to the attention of the foreign policy experts the trouble spots around the world.
During the lunch break, one senior analyst observed that the government of China should not have been surprised by the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. It was his view that a good diplomat would have seen this rebellion coming because of the conditions of repression in the above named societies.
Shen Guofeng was the next speaker. He is the Chief Editor of World Affairs Press and former Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs. His presentation went directly at the threats to China from the internationalisation and militarisation of the issues of the South China Sea. This speaker called for China to be prepared in the wake of the activities of the United States in the South China Sea in such a visible manner. Without directly mentioning the November speech by Barack Obama in Australia and the plan to deploy 2,400 marines in Australia, it was clear to me that the speaker was exercised by the new visibility of the United States in the Pacific. This visibility as far as he was concerned was based on an unfriendly relationship between the United States and China. After repeating the importance of the debt crisis in Europe and the future of the Euro, he asked, what role should China play in international diplomacy?
He answered his own question by stating that China should concentrate on regional affairs and participate in multilateral regional platforms such as ASEAN 10+ 3 and ASEAN 10+ 1. Cautioning against empty remarks, he said clearly that the role of Chinese diplomacy was to protect Chinese enterprises overseas. In relation to the EU crisis, he remarked that 19 per cent of Chinese exports reached European markets. In the case of the export of solar products, orders had dropped by as much as 20 per cent in European markets. China will have to find new markets for its solar products. This speaker raised the question of how China could assist the EU and the Eurozone in this crisis. His view was that China needed a faster response to international developments such as Egypt and Libya.
Shen Guofeng called on China to be alert to predict the fast moving changes that confront the international system. He mentioned that there are a number of forces converging and cooperating to face China and that these forces will come back to bite China if China does not act. China needs resources to respond not only at the official level but also at the level of researchers. It is important to deploy these researchers to have predictive diplomacy. This kind of diplomacy was more needed for social and economic issues. This predictive diplomacy needed more transparency in certain areas. It is here where China needs to strengthen public diplomacy. China needs a transformation of its diplomacy to change traditional roles of diplomats and their roles in foreign affairs.
THE PRESENTATION OF ROBERT KAPLAN
I was intrigued that Robert Kaplan was a speaker at this forum. Kaplan is renowned for his 1993 article on ‘The Coming Anarchy’ and for his support for the war against the people of Iraq. His book, Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos, had been one of the neo-conservative tracts in support of the war against the people of Iraq. In 2010, Robert Kaplan had published an article entitled, ‘The Geography of Chinese Power: How Far Can Beijing Reach on Land and at Sea?’ in Foreign Affairs. Those who understand the politics of the United States will know that in areas where the defense industry is linked to the US Navy, there must be experts who will make arguments for this branch of the financial military complex. This presentation restated arguments that he had written in his 2010 article, ‘The Geography of Chinese Power: How Far Can Beijing Reach on Land and at Sea?’ His view was that events in one area will influence events in other areas such as how the Israel response to the transfer of North Korea nuclear technology to Syria affected both sides of Eurasia from the Middle East to East Asia.
It is from this premise that Kaplan waxed on the importance of the straits of Malacca where 90 per cent of all traded goods in Asia passed and 80 per cent of the crude oil imported by China. He spent considerable time on the issue of merchant shipping using the South China Sea and the history of external forces coming into the region, especially the Portuguese (Vasco da Gama), the Dutch, the French, the British and now the United States.
From this historical survey, Kaplan spoke on the access of the US military to this region and the role of the US navy and air force. Lamenting the change in the force structure of the US navy he gave the figure of US possession of 500 warships in 1980 compared to 284 warships today. In a clear reference to debates ongoing in the USA among defense contractors, he referred to the new figures and projections of the Congressional Budget Office on whether the number of warships will go up or down.
US DECLINE OVERRATED
Robert Kaplan told the audience of Chinese diplomats and young diplomats in training that the discussion about the US in decline was overrated. He used the example of the so-called decline of Britain to point to the fact that even during its decline the British won two world wars. Kaplan told this audience that he expected the United States to be active and have primacy in the Asia-Pacific region for the next decade. He noted that there would be the rise of indigenous air forces and navies throughout the region.
Remarking on what was called China’s investment in the military, Kaplan pointed out that China now has 62 submarines in its fleet. This will be a bigger submarine fleet. He made the audience aware of the differences between the US nuclear powered submarine and the diesel electric submarine of nations such as China. He also commented that China was acquiring fourth and fifth generation fighter jets.
COMPARING US AND CHINA: THE US IN 1899 AND CHINA IN 2011
In 1899 the US had moved from being the fifth naval power to third. Robert Kaplan drew attention to the Chinese activity in building ports all over Eurasia. This Chinese port-building project could be seen in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. The building of these ports and access to overland routes through Myanmar could assist China in escaping the Malacca straits dilemma. He went on in great detail on how the building of each of these ports will increase the energy security of China. Taken together, China was building a web of ports and roads all across Eurasia from the Indian Ocean to China. There was a new maritime silk road. In this process China is dictating the questions of foreign policy direction and not the United States.
According to Kaplan, China is in the Indian Ocean and this is how all great powers begin. This early presence in the Indian Ocean will have implications for all of the societies and nations in this region. It was exactly a week earlier in the conference to commemorate Patrice Lumumba on December 10 where the ambassador of Kenya to the People’s Republic of China had spoken about the major plans for infrastructure transformation in Kenya and East Africa. The building of a new harbour in Lamu was one of the major plans announced by the ambassador. It was quite a different understanding when Robert Kaplan framed this harbour as part of the forward planning of the Chinese navy in the Indian Ocean.
IMPACT ON INDIA
Robert Kaplan then referred to the response of Indians to this Chinese expansion in the Indian Ocean and noted that India is now pivoting towards the United States. This was occurring at the same time when the US was pivoting to Asia. Many had followed the active travel schedule of the Secretary of State of the USA, Hillary Clinton, to the region and her much-publicised trip to Myanmar. It was pointed out that India was now working closely with the United States in East Asia. The end of the war in Iraq allowed the US to redirect its attention to Asia after neglecting Asia to fight a war on terror. US had been sidetracked by big events; the Iraq invasion of Kuwait, 9/11, and this 20-year diversion had weakened the USA in Asia. The fact that the United States is planning to exit Afghanistan in 2014 will allow the US to devote its attention to Asia. In the past when wars ended, the US went into isolation mode, but now the USA cannot afford that.
The US has treaty allies in Asia and had an obligation to make its military presence felt and not reduce its military presence in Asia.
This recourse to maritime struggles and old Cold War discourse was followed by the presentation of Wang Yizhou, Vice Dean School of International Studies at Peking University. His topic was ‘Creative Involvement: New Trends in China’s Foreign Affairs.’
His presentation started with three main issues for China in the current period: (a) the changes in the Islamic World and its impact on international politics (b) the financial crisis and (c) the impact of China’s fast growing economy.
Of these three features, he elaborated on the fact that followers of Islam accounted for a sixth of the world’s population and that there was revitalisation in Islam. He located the Egyptian revolution within this revitalisation. That there will be major changes, going beyond our expectations. There will be other changes in the world, especially changes in technology.
On the financial crisis he was explicit that it was unthinkable that a poor and developing country such as China should bail out richer European countries, to wit a socialist country bailing out capitalist countries. The Occupation movement was a new and major force in politics and China should pay attention to this. Europe had gone from being problem-solvers to trouble-makers.
Vice Dean Wang Yizhou argued that these issues required new diplomacy and that military responses were inadequate in the present period. He called for creative diplomacy and the new training of diplomats.
THAT CHINA SHOULD BUILD ON ITS STRENGTHS
One of the examples of the strength of China cited by Wang Yizhou was the investment in oil production in societies such as Sudan. He cited the example of Sudan in ten years becoming not only an oil producer but also a producer with its own capabilities such as pipelines and refineries. He stated that Sudan did not experience a big clash such as in Tunisia and Egypt because of the economic growth in that country.
The third issue that he dealt with was the new activism of the USA in the South China Sea. Wang Yizhou asserted that in the next 10 years China will be respected. He re-echoed his call for a new and creative diplomacy for this period. In this regard the investment choices made by China must be strategic and not simply economic. He also cautioned that China needed strict mechanisms to govern investment strategy like the EU and the US.
This presentation went beyond others because it dealt with issues such as climate change and anti-dumping. He was very clear that the issue of Climate change will be a dominant issue for international relations in the next decades.
CHINA’S GRAND STRATEGY
Cai Tuo, Holli Semelko and myself were the speakers for the afternoon session. This was the session on ‘China’s Grand Strategy.’ There were a number of persons who made comments but there was not enough time for questions and answers. In my submission before the diplomats, I suggested that China cannot be effective in the transformation of its diplomatic posture if it does not have a fuller picture of the world, with clarity of what is going on in Latin America and Africa, which are crucial to an understanding of the changed world economy. I drew attention to the fact that what many now refer to as the global economic crisis is a crisis of capitalism and that it is a contradiction for a society to be thinking of equity and social justice while deepening its integration into the capitalist system. In reference to the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and all parts of North Africa and the Arab world, I spelt out the fact that when there is oppression, people rebel. In reference to the claim by some previous speakers that they had been surprised by the changes, I noted that this would have been akin to some foreign policy experts being surprised by the anti-apartheid struggles. I submitted that wherever there is injustice people would rise up.
In this context, I called on Chinese diplomats to discuss thoroughly the implication of the NATO intervention in Libya. Readers of Pambazuka News will know that I had agreed that this mission was a catastrophic failure for NATO. I noted that China can benefit from going back to its roots in the Afro-Asian peoples solidarity movement when it acted in collaboration with other oppressed and former colonial territories to actively oppose imperialism. It was my view that the discussion on peaceful development had to shift away from realist principles of strength and balance of power if the concepts of peace and building socialism were to be substantive.
The point that I ended with was the question of climate change. I made reference to the observation by the vice-minister that the earthquake and tsunami in Japan brought new issues for foreign policy experts. Building on the lessons from the failure of the COP 17 summit in Durban, I noted that China had to retreat from the ideas of industrialisation in the old ways. This form of industrialisation sharpened competition for resources and provided the fodder for the kind of analysis that was called the New Cold War.
In the summing up of the meeting, we were told that there was another meeting going on with only invited members, including military persons and that the outcome of that meeting would be published next year.
This meeting confirmed to many that we were in a new and unchartered period. Two days after the meeting we heard the news of the passing of the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The flurry of diplomatic activities and the levels of consultations between the Republic of Korea, China, Japan and the United States was an immediate lesson of pro-active diplomacy to prevent misunderstandings.
One fact that came through the discussions was the reality that the year 2011 was momentous with the revolutionary trends of uprising in Egypt and the Occupy Wall Street movement dictating a new direction for international politics. There was indeed a sense that events were moving too fast and that past understandings of international strategic alliances did not prepare some of the experts for the changes. From the attention paid to the challenges in Europe there was a clear message that the Chinese had to rethink their global strategy.
At the end of the year, probably the most significant event occurred: the signing of the currency swap agreement between China and Japan. Under this agreement both countries undertook to promote direct trading of the Yen and Yuan without using dollars. They will encourage the development of a market for companies involved in the exchanges. At the same time the President of China and the Prime Minister of Japan agreed to allow the Japan Bank for International Cooperation to issue Yuan-denominated bonds in China, the first time a foreign government body has been allowed to do so. This is a major assault on the dollar because this means that both Japan and China will have an alternative to the dollar. Japan, a close ally of the United States, has been looking to buy Chinese government bonds because its reserves in US dollars are being devalued.
Many of the scholars of international relations in China are not focusing on these questions and instead focus on the US military. China had produced realists in international relations long before the present era but humanity is now in a different period when military triggers in one part of the world can have devastating consequences for all. China cannot have a sophisticated diplomatic approach when it ignores or pays lip service to the importance of BRICS economies. It was striking that there was so little discussion of Africa when China is so active in Africa. Moreover, the touting of the role of China in Sudan and its relationship with President Bashir as a success was one measure of how much work was still needed in the foreign policy establishment to understand the fast pace of change in Africa and the world. The militarism, chauvinism and religious intolerance of the Sudanese regime should pose real questions for Chinese diplomats and African scholars and peace activists will clarify to the Chinese that the independence of South Sudan is more profound than the activities and the boast of the conservative religious forces in the United States.
Ultimately, the principal challenge was how to minimise war and promote peace. China had operated under a principle of defensive diplomacy for nearly three decades. There are major pressures for China to be more assertive. The question is whether this assertiveness will be in the context of replacing the United States as a hegemon or working to give real meaning to South-South relations. Those Chinese realist scholars who dream of China becoming a super power in the 21st century are living in the pre-quantum era. This was the era of physics when our understanding of the universe was limited. We now know that in the universe there is no centre and that all of us are connected in this multi-verse. Those of us who occupy this space called planet earth are being called upon to grasp our interconnectedness. The new global challenges of the 21st century drastically incapacitate the realist paradigm of international relations that has been characterised by militarism, hegemony, racism, zero-sum game, capitalism and destructive modernisation. In its search for a new paradigm and new strategy, China should embrace the ideas of solidarity of all humans. This is the logic of South-South relations and this logic can be strengthened with the humanist principle of Ubuntu, whose core is the preservation of our linked humanity and the preservation of the planet earth.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS.
* Horace Campbell is professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University. See horacecampbell.net