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Tag Archives | Xi Jinping

West Asia Engagement with Chinese Characteristics

Four parameters that are likely to guide China’s engagement in West Asia

By Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

My previous post Talking about the Asia beyond Pakistan was in light of the Indian External Affairs Minister’s visit to Israel and Palestine. Using The Economist’s Grid of Grievances, the post argued that:

if India were to be mapped on this graphic, it would perhaps be the only state that maintains a non-adversarial relationship with every West Asian state.

Apart from India, there is another state which is missing from the mosaic, and one that has been the quickest off the mark in dealing with the transformed power structure of West Asia: China. President Xi’s visits to Saudi Arabia and Iran, coming immediately after lifting of international sanctions against Iran, have garnered widespread attention in policy circles.

There is a broad consensus that China will be a force to reckon with in the new West Asia but there is little discussion on the direction that China is likely to follow in the process. This post tries to sketch out the parameters of a greater Chinese engagement in West Asia.

First, the Chinese government sees West Asia as an unsaturated market. West Asia in general and Iran in particular have the potential to boost demand for Chinese production. It is no surprise then, that Xi’s arrival was greeted with talks about the ancient Silk Road, reminiscent of a time when the supply chains between China and West Asia were robust.

Second, the Chinese government wants West Asian countries to bandwagon on its side in its efforts to create a new world order that challenges the West. On the geopolitical axis, this means China wants more West Asian participation in institutions like the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation. On the geoeconomic axis, China will look to get greater West Asian commitment to the Asian Investment Infrastructure Bank (AIIB).

Third, China will side with the incumbent political leaderships in West Asia. As a geopolitical actor, China has shown less inclination to regime change except in conditions when a state’s internal political situation directly affects China’s security adversely, as seen in Afghanistan. Going ahead, China will continue to engage the ruling dispensations of all important West Asian countries.

Fourth, China will let others do the fighting against IS. Apart from supporting the incumbent leaderships militarily and economically, China will not put any feet on the ground against the IS, as long as the IS threat remains away from its borders.

These four parameters are likely to guide China’s greater engagement in West Asia. While it remains to be seen what aims this engagement will accomplish, China faces the same challenge as India does on the issue of increasing proximity with West Asian countries: thus far, the two countries have maintained fairly good terms of engagement with West Asia by allowing them to settle at a low level equilibrium, with none of the engagements taking the form of a strategic partnership. As these two states tries to scale these local maxima, the geopolitical environment is bound to throw up new challenges and tough choices that can upset the delicate balance they lie in currently.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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North Korean Nuclear Detonation: China’s Reaction

 

The recent thermonuclear detonation by North Korea has evoked a great concern amongst the international community and with no exception China has firmly opposed the nuclear test. This nuclear  explosion has brought the reclusive country to a diplomatic limelight whilst generating skepticism over the test. The fourth North Korean test after 2013, probably could be a modus operandi to showcase its ability to destabilize the region, and an effort to strengthen its nuclear status before the US Presidential election. Probably an impending demand for the withdrawal of US military alliance from South Korea which is envisioned as a threat to the sovereignty of the region. The North Korean test has not left anyone surprised but lots of speculations run high as there is no conclusive reason why this  test has been conducted despite Kim Jong-un’s assurance to stop the future testing.

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Geographical proximity, cultural and ideological affinity have defined China-North Korea relations. Tracing the past history, China had signed a Treaty of Friendship and alliance with North Korea in 1961 which is intact even today. In 1990 the King Jong II regime adopted the so called first military policy driving the economy to shambles. China economically and diplomatically supported North Korea. For China, North Korea acted as a valuable buffer between South Korea where US soldiers were stationed. Thus almost for a decade survival of North Korea was in the imminent interest of China.  China apparently during Kim Jong Ils period was committed to safeguarding and protecting North Korea. Thus China waded Kim Jong-un of North Korea to consolidation of power.

During Hu Jintao’s leadership, China prioritized the survival of the new regime in North Korea.   The changing approach of Kim Jong-un’s regime and his defiant action such as testing of ballistic missiles created a lot of apprehension for China thus changing its friendly overtures towards North Korea. China is becoming more firm in its approach towards North Korea. The honeymoon retro no longer continues between the two countries.  China’s strong signal hs displeased North Korea. Tough stand by the UN followed by the UN Security Council Resolution 2087 which was well supported by United states and China. This resolution and action testified a strong signal to Pyongyang not to conduct another nuclear test. In spite of the brewing tension in the region, it looks like China is far from ready to abandon North Korea. China is committed to seeking a solution through dialogue probably an attempt to return to the Six Party talks rather than punishing North Korea.

Despite global opprobrium, North Korea continues its act of aggression. These events is making China slowly drift  from apart its one  time socialist ally North Korea.  The traditional ‘lip and teeth’ relation as pronounced by Mao is possibly loosing its relevance. However caution is restrained by China on its  approach towards North Korea, as there is an alluring fear that the collapse of the regime in North Korea could get US to China’s border, testifying US government’s foreign policy pivot to Asia.

China is sending a mixed signal on its stand on North Korea. China sometimes soft pedals North Korea while at other times it is very stern in its approach. At this juncture and the aftermath of the test, the Chinese Foreign Ministry is getting tougher and   in conjecture with United States, has refused to recognize North Korea as a nuclear armed state. North Korea’s provocative detonation of thermo nuclear weapon has increased the danger of a war in the Korean Peninsula. This probably can embroil China in an unwanted war with United States and its allies. A risk averse China now does not want to get entangled in any conflict that would deter its own interest. Is  Xi Jinping recalibrating China’s policy towards North Korea moving forward or does he see North Korea as an unnecessary albatross burdening China with its poor reputation.

Priya Suresh is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution. She tweets @priyamanassa.

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