May 7, 2021 – Stealth War 36: G7; China in Africa; 5G in India

By: Jamestown Foundation

Fri May, 2021, Age: 2 years



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May 7, 2021

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Strategic Indicator
This issue’s number to watch
230 million

The number of travel bookings reported ahead of China’s May 1 national holiday, up 3 percent from pre-pandemic numbers, bolstering the government’s hopes in a consumption-driven economy following an early recovery from the pandemic.

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International leaders have continued stiffening their response to China’s growing influence in the European Union (EU) and G7 this week. Earlier this week, it was reported EU trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis had signalled the suspension of efforts to ratify the China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment after concluding that “it is clear that in the current situation, with the EU sanctions against China and the Chinese counter-sanctions, including against members of the European Parliament, the environment is not conducive to the ratification.” A written statement was later issued denying those reports, but did note that the deal “cannot be separated from the evolving dynamics of the wider EU-China relationship” and that “the prospects for…ratification will depend on the evolving situation.”

On Wednesday, the EU proposed new rules cracking down on foreign state-subsidized companies investing in European strategic assets, a move widely seen as targeting China. It also revealed an updated industrial strategy to reduce dependency on China in six strategic areas including raw materials, pharmaceutical ingredients and semiconductors. In response, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson complained that the EU should not put up new trade barriers and said that “China stands ready to maintain communication and coordination with the EU and work together for the early entry into force of the deal,” a prospect that observers have seen as increasingly unlikely since amid China’s continuing dedication to antagonistic “wolf warrior” style diplomacy.

The growing disconnect between China’s stated desires to return to pre-pandemic “win-win” economic relations while refusing to accept criticisms of its territorial aggressions and human rights violations has sat poorly with other nations’ increasing refusal to separate politics from economics. This was reflected by the release of a communique from a G7 foreign ministers meeting on May 5. Western observers quickly complained that the G7 statement had “refrained from spelling out any concrete steps to counter China,” even as it included language condemning China’s “arbitrary, coercive economic policies and practices” and calling for it to “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms” and reduce tensions in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea. But even such criticisms proved too much for Beijing to accept. In addition to hitting back at the G7’s support for including Taiwan’s participation in international forums, a foreign ministry spokesperson said that the group “should not criticize and interfere with other countries with a superior mentality.”

The state tabloid Global Times’s reaction was blunter, sharing a photoshopped image created by a well-known nationalistic satirist portraying the G7 as colonial powers (see right picture above) and quoting his social media post saying that, “The last time when these guys colluded to [suppress] China was still in 1900; 120 years have passed, they are still dreaming…”

Policymakers are increasingly concerned about China’s growing security presence in Africa. Following recent news last May that China has completed construction of a pier at its Djibouti base large enough to hold an aircraft carrier, U.S. General Stephen Townsend, who leads Africa Command, warned this week that China has “approached countries stretching from Mauritania to Namibia” looking to establish a port capable of hosting aircraft carriers or submarines. Such access would allow China to expand its naval reach to the Atlantic ocean in a significant way. Still, while gaining foreign basing access is a key part of China’s aims to develop a blue water navy, Chinese strategists see many obstacles to developing reliable basing partners.

As the Pentagon shifts its attention from counterterrorism to “strategic competition” with countries such as Russia and China, U.S. military leaders around the world who may lose resources and troops to a refocus on the Indo-Pacific have argued that China has played a long-term gaim building up its economic and political influence in regions such as the Middle East, Latin America and Africa, and that the U.S. must remain a competitive presence. “The Chinese are outmaneuvering the U.S. in select countries in Africa,” Townsend says. “They are hedging their bets and making big bets on Africa.” In addition to the more well-known infrastructure and economic investments associated with the wide-ranging Belt and Road Initiative, China has also been expanding its security cooperation with African military and police forces through intelligence-sharing, peacekeeping, anti-piracy, and counterterrorism initiatives.

The Philippines has changed its tone toward China’s maritime claims in the Indo-Pacific. The Philippines Foreign Minister Teodora Locsin Jr. went on an expletive-laced Twitter tirade on Sunday, angrily demanding that China withdraw from the Philippines’ claimed maritime territory, and calling China an “ugly oaf.” The outburst comes as Chinese vessels have remained in waters near the Kalayaan Island Group and Scarborough Shoal since March. The Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs has issued multiple statements calling for China’s exit from the area, in conjunction with increased marine patrols and military exercises to assert its sovereignty. In Foreign Policy, Derek Grossman argues that domestic opposition to China’s growing power in the region has prevented President Rodrigo Duterte from his preferences to align with Beijing, instead pushing him back towards the U.S.

Relations between Australia and China have continued to deteriorate. On Thursday, China indefinitely suspended the China-Australia Strategic Economic Dialogue and accused Australia of possessing a “Cold War mindset.” The decision comes after Australia cancelled two major Belt and Road Initiative deals in April. Domestic analysts have also become increasingly concerned about Australia’s response to China’s rising tensions with Taiwan while publicly debating the future of Australia-China relations. Australian Major-General Adam Findlay recently described a “high likelihood” that Australia and China would have an armed conflict, and called for closer ties with regional allies such as Indonesia. Defense Minister Peter Dutton claimed that Australia was “already under attack” in cyberspace and suggested that he was willing to go to war over Taiwan. Such fiery language needs to be understood in the context of domestic politics and a still-strong economic relationship. Despite the elevated political rhetoric, bilateral trade between Canberra and Beijing grew in April, particularly in farm products.

In a widely expected move, India’s Department of Telecommunications has excluded Chinese firms Huawei and ZTE from a list of companies approved to conduct a six-month trial of 5G technologies in the country. Although not expressly banned from conducting 5G trials in the future, Huawei and ZTE will miss out on the early stages of India’s 5G implementation, a huge loss for the companies for which India represents the second-biggest mobile phone market. The Chinese Embassy in New Delhi quickly “expressed concern and regret” that Chinese companies were not allowed to take part in the 5G trials, with spokesperson Wang Xiaojian saying that the move would “exclude Chinese telecommunications companies from the trials,” and “harm their legitimate rights and interests.” Xiaojian pointed out that Huawei and ZTE have “been operating in India for years, providing mass job opportunities…”

The decision came on May 5, the anniversary of the beginning of border tensions between India and China. On May 5, 2020, Indian and Chinese troops engaged in violent face-offs in the Galwan Valley and Pangong Tso. The decision on not including Chinese companies in India’s 5G trials cannot be separated from the ongoing crisis, which has quickly become a central source of tension in the Sino-Indian relationship. On the day the 5G decision was made, Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said at an event in London that “I can’t have friction, coercion, intimidation, and bloodshed on the border, and then say let us have a good relationship in other domains. It is not realistic.” Reuters also reported today that India has, for months, held off the importation of Chinese wifi modules and other electronics, likely in retaliation for the border dispute.

India and China normalized their relationship in 1988, under the understanding that the two sides would negotiate the border dispute separately while preserving the status quo of economic cooperation. This modus vivendi began weakening in the mid-2010s, following a series of major border confrontations. The ongoing border tensions that began in 2020 have completely broken this norm. As Jaishankar said, “[India] has been very clear that peace and tranquility on the border areas is essential for the development of our relations.” One should expect that India will continue to seek to disentangle its economy from China as political tensions remain high.

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