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The East and The West — Cooperation via Belt-Road-Initiative #OBORI

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China owns the Belt Road Initiative, or the world owns it? Cooperation comes with collective vision and effort. It does not only from friends, but also from "rivals". In a Chinese saying, there is no forever friends, also no forever enemies/rivals. Aiming for the joint prosperity and just keeping working on it does matter. - writes Dr Ying Zhang.

 Deeply rooted in the ancient Eurasian Silk Road developed over a thousand years ago and lately revisited by the Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 in the period of China’s economic transition, the BRI, also named as New Silk Road and One-Belt-One-Road, has been seemingly widely accepted as an initiative to facilitate cross-continent trade, geo-economic integration, and global prosperity. However, with regard to this idea, since its emergence, it has been interpreted variously, mainly in two directions: aptly reflecting what China has been challenged in terms of domestically slowing-down economic growth and boldly projecting the growing influence of China onto the global landscape with an alternative international geo-economic relationship approach. This initiative has also elicited the respect and awe as well as the enthusiasm and paranoia to its proposer—China — as a visionary idea of the world— in dire need for, but also raised questions that whether this idea is an altruistic game changer for the world, or is just another plot of an egotistically motivated superpower to further its own self-interest.  

 The concern comes with a reason, similarly to the pursuit of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) by the other superpower being lauded as well as criticized. Some thought of it as a beacon of world trade, giving the economies of the pacific rim of their well-deserved trading club; while others saw it as just another instrument of the USA to align its pacific rim allies in an exclusive club of economic cooperation. With the unexpected withdrawal of the USA from the TPP in the Trump’s Administration, the general attention has shifted to the other forward-looking initiative of BRI and China has ultimately been catapulted into the position as a thought leader to build a new world order.  This position will undoubtedly draw the eyes of the entire world to discuss BRI from China and of course expose China to the risk of losing its ordinary charm vis-à-vis the ordinary onlooker.

 The current wave of reaction to BRI is similar but also different, with the different profile showing both an enthusiasm to BRI from some countries, and criticism from others. The criticisms are mainly loaded by those against changes, and those “favoring” self-power and populisms rather than being oriented to collective prosperities. Over three years of BRI -framework projects happening cross the Eurasian Continent since the mid of 2013, the lines have been shifting as disappointment has to face the reality.  Typically many countries of the world started to be supportive to BRI platform as they see tangible advantages, both in short and long-run, while other continue to beat the drum against a change. There are also some being torn between believing into the benefits of a new vision and fearing its ramifications that they cannot fully grasp. Their wait-and-see-attitude is a linchpin. 

 In the same line, AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank), the BRI’s sister-initiative, however, has been widely accepted and operated.  AIIB, commonly labelled as a “crowd-funded and crowd-owned” project, gives an insight to question if BRI can share the same label. It would make sense that BRI is not only a joint owned platform, but also the one requiring shared-commitment (including design, plan, investment, and execution).  If we shall label AIIB as a bridge to the future financial order of the new world, BRI should be another arm for the logistic and trade of new order. 

 Furthermore, to face the change of the world, with the pulling force of technology such as digitalization, DNA technology, and AI from the front, as well as the pushing force of geo-social-economic reshuffling deriving from a new model in the format of sharing economy from the back, to build a harmonious global society, each participant needs to carefully take a consideration of the facts of the past, seriously see through the phenomena of the current, and ethically plan for the future. We need to bear in mind that the future is the future for all communities, not only for a particular member or a particular club. BRI, as a cross-continent platform with the purpose of facilitating global common prosperity, can be used as an instrument to nurture the future society in the nature of equality-based social-economic environment, and can be used to cultivate the principle of conducting such a setting in the loop of “Acceptance-Trust-Support”. 

 This vision will probably take ages to achieve, but does not mean not possible. In addition to carry such a faith and resolve the concerns from many in parallel, both the East and the West need to own up to the concept of BRI, and be more responsible and mindful to sync with one another. Both sides should cooperate in finding solutions to existing crippling problems, eliminate an overall defensive and competitive mentality, and create a cooperative foundation for the future agenda. These tasks as a condition for BRI should not only be on the shoulder of governments of countries, but also on the shoulders of business, research institutes, educations, and each of individuals. By taking both sides of force from different stakeholders, a systematic road map for an inclusively equality-oriented community can be set up. But something we need to always bear in mind is that differences are the source of the disputes, however it is also the origins of the creativity as well as the motivation for us to aim for building a harmonious global community.

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Chinese president Xi Jinping visits troubled region of Tibet

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President Xi Jinping (pictured) has visited the politically troubled region of Tibet, the first official visit by a Chinese leader in 30 years, writes BBC.

The president was in Tibet from Wednesday to Friday, but the visit only reported by state media on Friday due to the sensitivities of the trip.

China is accused of suppressing cultural and religious freedom in the remote and mainly Buddhist region.

The government denies the accusations.

In footage released by state broadcaster CCTV, Mr Xi was seen greeting a crowd wearing ethnic costumes and waving the Chinese flag as he left his plane.

He arrived in Nyingchi, in the south-east of the country and visited a number of locations to learn about urban development, before travelling to the capital Lhasa on the high-altitude railway.

While in Lhasa, Mr Xi visited the Potala Palace, the traditional home of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

People in the city had "reported unusual activities and monitoring of their movement" ahead of his visit, advocacy group International Campaign for Tibet said on Thursday.

Mr Xi last visited the region 10 years ago as vice-president. The last sitting Chinese leader to officially visit Tibet was Jiang Zemin in 1990.

State media said Mr Xi took time to learn about the work being done on ethnic and religious affairs and the work done to protect Tibetan culture.

Many exiled Tibetans accuse Beijing of religious repression and eroding their culture.

Tibet has had a tumultuous history, during which it has spent some periods functioning as an independent entity and others ruled by powerful Chinese and Mongolian dynasties.

China sent in thousands of troops to enforce its claim on the region in 1950. Some areas became the Tibetan Autonomous Region and others were incorporated into neighbouring Chinese provinces.

China says Tibet has developed considerably under its rule, but campaign groups say China continues to violate human rights, accusing it of political and religious repression.

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More Tibetan Buddhists behind bars in July

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On 6 July 2021, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetans, the Dalai Lama, turned 86. For Tibetans around the world, the Dalai Lama remains their guardian; a symbol of compassion and hope to restore peace in Tibet, and ensure genuine autonomy through peaceful means. For Beijing, the Nobel Peace Prize winner is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” who seeks to undermine China’s integrity by pursuing an independent Tibet, write Dr Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy and Willy Fautré.

As a consequence, Beijing considers any country engaging with the spiritual leader or raising the situation in Tibet as interference in its internal affairs. Similarly, Beijing does not allow Tibetans to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday. Moreover, the communist government in Beijing applies harsh punishment for any such attempt, just as it continues its campaign to undermine the Tibetan language, culture and religion, as well as the rich history through brutal repression.

For year Beijing has continued to discredit and subvert the Dalai Lama. Displays by Tibetans of the Dalai Lama’s photo, public celebrations and sharing of his teaching via mobile phones or social media are often harshly punished. This month, as they celebrated the Dalai Lama’s birthday many Tibetans were arrested according to Golog Jigme, a former Tibetan political prisoner now living in Switzerland.

As such, Chinese officials in Sichuan province arrested two Tibetans. Kunchok Tashi and Dzapo, in their 40s, were taken into custody in Kardze in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). They were arrested on suspicion of being part of a group of social media that encouraged the reciting of Tibetan prayers to commemorate their spiritual leader’s birthday.

Over the past years, the Chinese authorities have continued to intensify pressure on Tibetans, punishing cases of ‘political subversion’. In 2020, the Chinese authorities in Tibet sentenced four Tibetan monks to long prison terms following a violent raid by the police on their monastery in Tingri county.

The cause of the raid was the discovery of a cell phone, owned by Choegyal Wangpo, a 46-year-old monk at Tingri’s Tengdro monastery, with messages sent to monks living outside Tibet and records of financial contributions made to a monastery in Nepal damaged in a 2015 earthquake, according to a Human Rights Watch report. Choegyal was arrested, interrogated and severely beaten. Following this development, police and other security forces visited his home village of Dranak, raided the place and beat more Tengdro monks and villagers, detaining about 20 of them on suspicion of having exchanged messages with other Tibetans abroad or of having possessed photographs or literature related to the Dalai Lama.

Three days after the raid, in September 2020, a Tengdro monk named Lobsang Zoepa took his own life in apparent protest against the crackdown by the authorities. Soon after his suicide internet connections to the village were cut off. Most of the monks detained were held without trial for months, some are believed to have been released on the condition of committing to not carrying out any political acts.

Three monks were not released. Lobsang Jinpa, 43, deputy head of the monastery, Ngawang Yeshe, 36 and Norbu Dondrub, 64. They were subsequently tried in secret on unknown charges, found guilty and given harsh sentences: Choegyal Wangpo was sentenced to 20 years in prison, Lobsang Jinpa to 19, Norbu Dondrub to 17 and Ngawang Yeshe to five years. These harsh sentences are unprecedented and indicative of the increase in restrictions on Tibetans to communicate freely, and practice their fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression.

Under President Xi, China has become more oppressive at home and aggressive abroad. In response, democratic governments across the world have amplified their condemnation of China’s human rights violations, with some taking concrete action, such as imposing sanctions. For the future, as China’s regional and global clout continue to increase, like-minded democratic allies across the world must hold Beijing to account concerning the situation in Tibet.

Willy Fautré is the director of the Brussels-based NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers. Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy is a research fellow at Academia Sinica and an affiliated scholar at Vrije Universiteit Brussel’s political science department. 

Guest posts are the opinions of the author, and are not endorsed by EU Reporter.

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Caught between China and the US, Asian countries stockpile missiles

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An Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF) fighter jet and missiles are seen at Makung Air Force Base in Taiwan's offshore island of Penghu, September 22, 2020. REUTERS/Yimou Lee
An Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF) fighter jet and missiles are seen at Makung Air Force Base in Taiwan's offshore island of Penghu, September 22, 2020. REUTERS/Yimou Lee

Asia is sliding into a dangerous arms race as smaller nations that once stayed on the sidelines build arsenals of advanced long-range missiles, following in the footsteps of powerhouses China and the United States, analysts say, write Josh Smith, Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee in Taipei, Tim Kelly in Tokyo, and Idrees Ali in Washington.

China is mass producing its DF-26 - a multipurpose weapon with a range of up to 4,000 kilometres - while the United States is developing new weapons aimed at countering Beijing in the Pacific.

Other countries in the region are buying or developing their own new missiles, driven by security concerns over China and a desire to reduce their reliance on the United States.

Before the decade is out, Asia will be bristling with conventional missiles that fly farther and faster, hit harder, and are more sophisticated than ever before - a stark and dangerous change from recent years, analysts, diplomats, and military officials say.

"The missile landscape is changing in Asia, and it’s changing fast," said David Santoro, president of the Pacific Forum.

Such weapons are increasingly affordable and accurate, and as some countries acquire them, their neighbours don't want to be left behind, analysts said. Missiles provide strategic benefits such as deterring enemies and boosting leverage with allies, and can be a lucrative export.

The long-term implications are uncertain, and there is a slim chance that the new weapons could balance tensions and help maintain peace, Santoro said.

"More likely is that missile proliferation will fuel suspicions, trigger arms races, increase tensions, and ultimately cause crises and even wars," he said.

According to unreleased 2021 military briefing documents reviewed by Reuters, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) plans to deploy its new long-range weapons in “highly survivable, precision-strike networks along the First Island Chain,” which includes Japan, Taiwan, and other Pacific islands ringing the east coasts of China and Russia.

The new weapons include the Long-range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW), a missile that can deliver a highly manoeuvrable warhead at more than five times the speed of sound to targets more than 2,775 kilometres (1,724 miles) away.

An INDOPACOM spokesman told Reuters that no decisions had been made as to where to deploy these weapons. So far, most American allies in the region have been hesitant to commit to hosting them. If based in Guam, a US territory, the LRHW would be unable to hit mainland China.

Japan, home to more than 54,000 U.S. troops, could host some of the new missile batteries on its Okinawan islands, but the United States would probably have to withdraw other forces, a source familiar with Japanese government thinking said, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Allowing in American missiles - which the U.S. military will control - will also most likely bring an angry response from China, analysts said.

Some of America's allies are developing their own arsenals. Australia recently announced it would spend $100 billion over 20 years developing advanced missiles.

"COVID and China have shown that depending on such extended global supply chains in times of crisis for key items – and in war, that includes advanced missiles – is a mistake, so it is sensible strategic thinking to have production capacity in Australia," said Michael Shoebridge of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Japan has spent millions on long range air-launched weapons, and is developing a new version of a truck-mounted anti-ship missile, the Type 12, with an expected range of 1,000 kilometres.

Among U.S. allies, South Korea fields the most robust domestic ballistic missile programme, which got a boost from a recent agreement with Washington to drop bilateral limits on its capabilities. Its Hyunmoo-4 has an 800-kilometre range, giving it a reach well inside China.

"When the U.S. allies' conventional long-range-strike capabilities grow, the chances of their employment in the event of a regional conflict also increase," Zhao Tong, a strategic security expert in Beijing, wrote in a recent report.

Despite the concerns, Washington "will continue to encourage its allies and partners to invest in defence capabilities that are compatible with coordinated operations," U.S. Representative Mike Rogers, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, told Reuters.

Taiwan has not publicly announced a ballistic missile programme, but in December the US State Department approved its request to buy dozens of American short-range ballistic missiles. Officials say Taipei is mass producing weapons and developing cruise missiles such as the Yun Feng, which could strike as far as Beijing.

All this is aimed at "making the spines of (Taiwan's) porcupine longer as the abilities of China's military improve", Wang Ting-yu, a senior lawmaker from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, told Reuters, while insisting that the island's missiles were not meant to strike deep in China.

One diplomatic source in Taipei said Taiwan's armed forces, traditionally focused on defending the island and warding off a Chinese invasion, are beginning to look more offensive.

"The line between defensive and offensive nature of the weapons is getting thinner and thinner," the diplomat added.

South Korea has been in a heated missile race with North Korea. The North recently tested what appeared to be an improved version of its proven KN-23 missile with a 2.5-ton warhead that analysts say is aimed at besting the 2-ton warhead on the Hyunmoo-4.

"While North Korea still appears to be the primary driver behind South Korea's missile expansion, Seoul is pursuing systems with ranges beyond what is necessary to counter North Korea," said Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association in Washington.

As proliferation accelerates, analysts say the most worrisome missiles are those that can carry either conventional or nuclear warheads. China, North Korea and the United States all field such weapons.

"It is difficult, if not impossible, to determine if a ballistic missile is armed with a conventional or nuclear warhead until it reaches the target," Davenport said. As the number of such weapons increases, "there is an increased risk of inadvertent escalation to a nuclear strike".

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