China Geopolitical Watch – From 4 March to 10 March 2023

Watch contributors: Thomas Taochy, Protasius Isyudanto, Marie Corcelle, Emilien Kauffman, supervised by Anna Balawender

The files we follow: China’s relations with the United States, Russia, Central Asia and Africa; Taiwan situation, Chinese military expansion and demonstrations in the South China Sea; News of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and the Chinese involvement with and within the major international organizations.


– China – Russia and Central Asia Relations, Belt and Road Initiative in Central Asia – Emilien Kauffmann

– China confirms its neutral position in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict; or rather its «pro-peace» position. Between Russia’s fantastic narrative and NATO’s unrealistic expectations, world geopolitics is crystallizing in a «West versus the rest» philosophy. Indeed, while NATO and its allies call for the destruction of Russia through arms, the developing world favors a way out through peace and compromise. The developing world operates geopolitically according to their own, mostly pragmatic, national interests, while the West is actively advancing its «universal democracy principle» agenda.

Following the Group of 20 in New Delhi, a summit of developing economic powers, the National University of Singapore’s Kishore Mahbubani argued that a «hazardous peace» is better than a «monstrous war».

During the G20, Foreign Ministers Qin Gang and Sergei Lavrov discussed the Ukrainian crisis. According to the strong and steady maintenance of Sino-Russian relations, the two countries have contributed to solidarity and cooperation between emerging markets and developing countries.

China says it is ready to work hand in hand with its Russian partner for the purpose of peace, security, development and prosperity to build a community of destiny for humanity, according to the Chinese Foreign Minister. For his part, Mr. Lavrov said he was ready to work with his Chinese counterpart to achieve the goals decided by the two heads of state.

Russia will actively participate in the international actions proposed by China, namely the Global Development Initiative (GDI), the Global Security Initiative (GSI), as well as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

Mr. Qin also said that in the context of the conflict in Ukraine, China continues to uphold the goals and principles of the UN Charter to engage in peace talks and a political resolution of the crisis and to reject further escalation of the armed conflict. Lavrov said Russia remains open to negotiations and dialogue.

– The first freight train connecting China and Europe was put into operation on the morning of March 4 in Shenyang, capital of Liaoning province in northeast China. The train left for Russia with 55 containers, inaugurating the China Railway Express Hub. The train can run from Suzhou to Hamburg in about 20 days.

The consolidation center has a total area of 92,000 square meters and can accommodate up to 3,000 TEUs (20-foot containers). The center is capable of handling 1,000 freight trains from China to Europe per year.

The inauguration of this freight train after the rumors of China delivering weapons to Russian troops is an opportunity that seems timely.

– Taiwan situation, Chinese military expansion and demonstrations in the South China Sea – Anna Balawender

– In the «Two Sessions» that began on March 4, newly appointed NPC spokesman Wang Chao addressed the issue of the military budget. The term «Two Sessions» refers to the annual plenary session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), where, among other things, the government’s financial allocations for the coming fiscal year are determined.

On March 4, Wang Chao announced a 7.2 percent increase in the budget for the Chinese military, bringing the total military budget to US$224 billion. This increase is in line with the budgetary evolution of the past years: 7.1% in 2022, 6.8% in 2021 and 6.6% in 2020. However, the spokesman cared to precise: «The modernisation of China’s military will not pose a threat to any country. On the contrary, it will only be a positive force for safeguarding regional stability and world peace

– On March 5, at the end of his annual review of the government’s actions, outgoing Chinese Premier Li Keqiang spoke about the Chinese government’s position on Taiwan. After reiterating Beijing’s opposition to «Taiwan independence» and recalled the desire for «reunification», the Premier emphasized the desire for somewhat more peaceful relations: «As we Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are one family bound by blood, we should advance economic and cultural exchanges and cooperation […] and improve the systems and policies that contribute to the well-being of our Taiwan compatriots»

– China – South-East Asia and Oceania Relations – Protasius Isyundanto and Anna Balawender

China’s Foreign Minister, Qin Gang, has mentioned ASEAN’s position in the midst of China-US tension at an annual parliament meeting in Beijing on March 7. The foreign minister was responding to a question about how Southeast Asian countries are feeling great pressure related to the US Indo-Pacific strategy. «I noticed that leaders of a number of regional countries have recently stated that ASEAN should not be a proxy for any party and should stay clear from big power rivalry. As a pacesetter in global development, Asia should be a stage for win-win cooperation rather than a chessboard for geopolitical contest. No Cold War should be reignited, and no Ukraine-style crisis should be repeated in Asia,Mr. Qin stated.

The foreign minister also shared his view of the US Indo-Pacific Strategy, declaring it as a strategy to create an «Asian NATO” and that it is bound to fail. He also criticized the strategy as it «will only disrupt the ASEAN-centered, open and inclusive regional cooperation architecture and undermine the overall long-term interests of regional countries.” In the midst of China’s rise, Southeast Asia and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations – the region’s most important bloc) is discussed more and more in the international stage as it lies as a so far neutral region in the middle of Western-aligned and Chinese-aligned countries.

– Chinese involvement with and within the major international organizations – Protasius Isyudanto

– On March 7, 2023, UN rights chief, Volker Turk, stated his «grave concern» and demanded action from the Chinese government over the human rights situation in Xinjiang. «In the Xinjiang region, my office has documented grave concerns — notably large-scale arbitrary detentions and ongoing family separations — and has made important recommendations that require concrete follow-up», Mr. Turk has declared. The new UN human rights chief did not stop there as he extended his concern over Tibetans’ condition and the 2020 national security law which has affected Hong Kong.

Volker Turk raised this concern in his office’s annual assessment of rights around the world. Just 13 minutes before stepping down on August 31, Mr. Turk’s predecessor, Michelle Bachelet, published the long-awaited report on Xinjiang. It stated «credible» allegations of widespread torture, arbitrary detention and violations of religious and reproductive rights in the province. This has provoked criticisms from Western countries and human rights organizations which consequently pushed the UN rights chief to discuss this matter.

Nevertheless, the speech delivered by Mr. Turk is not limited to China. Human rights conditions in war-torn Ukraine were also comprehensively talked through. It also mentioned the effects of climate change to human rights in various countries, from Zambia to Afghanistan. Western states such as Australia, France, Ireland, and the UK were also cited on the topic of discriminatory police treatment.

– As concerns for data security in TikTok prompted restrictions in several Western governmental institutions, TikTok is pledging security reassurances. «There are genuine concerns that Western governments have about China and therefore as a company whose founder was Chinese. I think there is a higher obligation on us to demonstrate how we keep users’ data secure,» Theo Bertram, TikTok’s vice president of European public policy, stated on March 4, 2023. He unveiled the social media’s plan to open three new data centers in Europe and work with a partner. TikTok is aiming to replicate its cooperation with Oracle in its US branch which means that a third party company will have full access to the platform’s policies and updates. In the US, it is Oracle who published the app in the app store, not ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company.

– China – Africa Relations, Belt and Road Initiative in Africa – Marie Corcelle

Faced with accusations that China is setting up a debt trap in Africa, Foreign Minister Qin Gang refuted them at a press conference on 7 March. He cited World Bank data to show that in reality, «debts held by multilateral financial institutions and commercial creditors account for nearly three-quarters of Africa’s overall external debt,» as reported by many local media (Global Times , Global China Daily) He also added that «China has been working hard to help Africa ease its debt burden and has taken an active part in the G20 debt-servicing suspension initiative», mentioning that China has been the biggest contributor to the deferment of African countries’ debt among G20 members.

For several years, Beijing has become Africa’s largest trading partner, according to the State Council’s November 2021 white paper China and Africa in a New Era: A Partnership of Equality. According to the paper, by the end of 2020, direct investment by Chinese companies in Africa would have exceeded $43 billion, and the country would have established more than 3,500 enterprises of various types on the continent. This focus on Africa is part of China’s massive Belt Road Initiative (BRI); at the same press conference, the Foreign Minister said that the BRI is a «pragmatic and open initiative, guided by the principles of broad consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits», and «friendship is privileged in exchanges».

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