Country Report: China (December 2019)

In late 2019, Chinese analysts advocated for a Chinese conception of global governance to replace that previously put forward by the United States and the West. They urged China and South Korea to seize the opportunity created by reduced tensions on the Korean peninsula to strengthen their bilateral security cooperation. They also tried to make sense of the Trump administration’s contradictory Russia policy and explored Sino–Russian partnership relations.

Global governance

In Taipingyang Xuebao, No. 10, 2019, Jin Canrong and Shi Yusong compare Xi Jinping’s approach to global governance to that of the United States and its Western allies. Not surprisingly, they argue that Xi’s approach is superior in all ways. After the end of the Cold War, the expansion of globalization required the development of effective global governance. Since the global financial crisis, however, the international situation has changed markedly as the election of Trump and the British Brexit vote have brought forth a new era of “protectionism, nationalism, and racism.” These developments, along with the election of rightwing leaders in countries like Brazil and Austria and numerous incidents of extremism, have contributed to the current regression in globalization.

Given China’s successful development, Jin and Shi argue that it is uniquely positioned in this challenging international environment to take the lead in guiding global governance. The world, in their view, desperately needs Chinese leadership. The United States is no longer promoting globalization, but has instead started to act on its own selfish interests in ways that cause globalization to retreat. Furthermore, Jin and Shi argue that China’s increasing national strength and expanding national interests mean that it is not only duty-bound to protect globalization, but also must do so to protect Chinese interests. Consequently, Xi has embraced global governance since the 18th Party Congress.

The concept of global governance first emerged in the West and gained popularity in the 1990s. Nevertheless, Jin and Shi argue that the Western approach to global governance has not been very successful and is insufficient to respond to current trends. With the uncertainty in the global situation and the decreasing willingness and ability of the United States and the West to lead, China is becoming a stabilizing factor. Jin and Shi see the changing balance between East and West as part of a broader shift from the unipolar system of the immediate post-Cold War era to an emerging structure characterized by two superpowers (the United States and China) and multiple strong powers. This shift was propelled by the global financial crisis and the transition in economic power that it entailed, as well as by China’s successful implementation of “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” which increased its comprehensive power. Nevertheless, Jin and Shi acknowledge that China is still far from able to compete with the United States, and that it remains unknown whether China will surpass it.

The shifting power balance between China and the United States poses a challenge for global governance, as the United States’ relative power declines, and with it, its desire and ability to lead global governance. In economic affairs, the United States seeks to shift its domestic crises onto others. In security and diplomatic affairs, the United States has adopted failed policies that hurt its leadership ability and damage the world order. No other Western power is able to take the place of the United States. Consequently, Jin and Shi contend, many in the international community look toward China to step up and play a more active role in global governance, and to prevent the disintegration of existing mechanisms.

According to Jin and Shi, China must also take an active role in global governance for its own national interests. China and other emerging countries are beneficiaries of current global governance mechanisms and the peaceful international environment they foster. The loss of effective global governance and the public goods it entails would harm China’s ability to achieve lasting growth and waste the resources it has already invested. Furthermore, China’s active engagement in global governance is good for its international image and increases its soft power. Despite international support for Western and American values, there have been many contradictions in the West’s implementation of “universal” values. The rise of the rightwing in Europe and the United States is consistent with the US shift toward a “selfish” foreign policy that fails to seek mutual benefits. In this context, China’s top leadership recognizes that the time has come for China to shift from “biding its time” to taking a much more active role in international affairs.

Jin and Shi next detail Xi Jinping’s global governance concept, which has played a key role in his approach to Chinese foreign policy since 2015. China’s experience with global governance has been much shorter than that of Europe, which began 300 years ago during the era of colonialization, and the United States, which took the reins after World War II. Its approach is embodied in both the BRI and its pursuit of a community of common destiny, and is characterized by the protection of the current global order; the pursuit of cooperative, win-win results; efforts to achieve shared development and security; the democratization of international relations; and non-intervention in other countries’ internal affairs.

The Chinese approach to global governance seeks to work through the UN to resolve a variety of traditional and non-traditional security issues. According to Jin and Shi, this stands in marked contrast to the United States, which has left agreements out of self-interest and has recently done significant damage to multilateral mechanisms. Jin and Shi condemn the United States for approaching global issues that concern the future of humanity from the perspective of its own narrow interests, at the expense of those of other countries, and for going back on its word. A second key aspect of Xi’s global governance concept is its emphasis on common development. China recognizes that its own development is inseparable from global development. By contrast, the United States prioritizes its own interests and security, and seeks to transfer its own problems onto other parties. Rather than trying to solve global problems, Jin and Shi charge, the United States tries to protect its hegemonic position. Third, Xi’s approach to global governance prioritizes non-intervention in other countries’ internal affairs. By contrast, the United States acts as an intrusive and indiscreet older brother in trying to solve other countries’ problems.

Finally, the Chinese approach views all global partners as equals, with shared interests, and is not directed against particular enemies. Consensus is foundational to its partnership relations. China does not force other countries to accept its protection and seeks common ground to expand shared interests. In contrast, Jin and Shi contend, the United States divides the world’s countries into eight levels. The first level is occupied by the United States, the second level comprises
England and other white Anglo-Saxon countries, and the third level comprises more than fifty other US allies. England and the other allies that compose the second and third levels pay protection money to the United States to live under its security umbrella. The fourth level, which contains most of the world’s countries, is made up of US partners. The United States does not see its partners as equals; it may abandon them at any time. Starting at the fifth level, which is occupied by the United States’ strategic competitor, China, the previously positive relationships start to shift toward the negative. The sixth level is occupied by the United States’ strategic adversary, Russia. (Interestingly, Jin and Shi argue, against ample evidence, that Russia wants to be a US partner, but that domestic sentiment in the United States prevents this from occurring.) The seventh level contains the United States’ enemies (for example, Iran, North Korea, Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime, Somalian pirates, and ISIS). The United States perceives those countries that compose the fifth, sixth, and seventh levels as enemies. Finally, the eighth level consists of the world’s least developed countries. (Here, Jin and Shi quote Trump’s memorable, profanity-laden description to illustrate the utter disdain with which they believe the United States perceives these countries).

Overall, Jin and Shi argue, Xi’s global governance concept is characterized by openness and forgiveness. This stands in contrast to the Western approach, which was once viewed in utopian terms, but whose problems are now being revealed. Jin and Shi criticize the United States for defining freedom, democracy, and human rights as universal values, and judging non-Western countries by whether they meet these standards. (Jin and Shi are skeptical that universal values can possibly exist, given global diversity.) They argue that the United States’ main global governance objective is not to help other countries to develop, but rather to use these so-called universal values to make the world converge, maintain control over other countries, and secure Western hegemony.

Jin and Shi conclude that China’s approach to global governance is a better solution for the current troubles that globalization faces. It is also consistent with changes in both the international order and China’s position: China’s rejuvenation, they argue, marks the first fundamentally important power transition in hundreds of years. (This seems obviously ahistorical, given that the US rise occurred only in the past century, but it suggests that their vantage point is East vs. West, and changes within the West matter little.) The decline of the power of the United States and the West, and the adoption of unilateral measures by the United States, mark an era of international structural uncertainty. Meanwhile, although they are confident that globalization will continue, it remains uncertain who will lead and whether the globalization process will be fair. Given doubts about globalization in both developing and developed countries, Jin and Shi argue, the world needs China’s leadership.

Sino–South Korean relations

In Xiandai Guoji Guanxi, No. 10, 2019, Bi Yingda urges China and South Korea to deepen their security cooperation, which has lagged behind their economic ties. Previous efforts to strengthen their security relations have been hampered by various events. However, Bi argues that the shift of the Korean nuclear crisis back toward dialogue in 2018 provides a good opportunity for South Korea and China to reemphasize their security relations, even though the impasse in US–North Korean talks makes the situation uncertain. As key actors on the peninsula, stronger Sino–South Korean security relations are important for avoiding a regression of the situation on the peninsula, ensuring continued progress on denuclearization efforts, and preventing a new regional Cold War. Consequently, South Korea and China must seize this opportunity to strengthen their security ties.

According to Bi, the alleviation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula provides a rare opportunity for China and South Korea. Peninsular denuclearization is at a key stage, and future steps will be hard. If the United States and North Korea cannot move beyond their current impasse quickly, the current easing of the situation will revert to earlier patterns, and denuclearization, which both China and South Korea see as critical, will remain out of reach.  Although Sino–South Korean relations have faltered because of South Korea’s deployment of THAAD, the foundation of their relationship remains firm at the political and economic levels. Even from a security perspective, there is a certain foundation for deepening cooperation. The two countries have a common interest in achieving denuclearization through peaceful means and already have many strategic communication mechanisms that help them to manage bilateral and multilateral security problems. They also have established a basis for cooperation to maintain regional peace and stability. With regard to the South China Sea, South Korea has been very cautious; besides expressing its support, in principle, for freedom of navigation, it does not take a public position that might lean toward either the United States or China. China and South Korea also respect each other’s positions on their respective island disputes; South Korea is neutral on China’s Diaoyu/Senkaku dispute with Japan, while China is neutral on South Korea’s Dokdo/Takeshima dispute with Japan. South Korea takes a positive view of promoting regional multilateral cooperation, which aligns neatly with China’s BRI. China opposes US efforts to make its alliances more multilateral; meanwhile, South Korea has promised not to push for a trilateral alliance between Japan, the United States, and South Korea, or to further participate in the US guided missile defense system.

Despite the opportunity to deepen security cooperation and these promising foundations, however, Bi frets that South Korea and China have not seized the current opportunity. Instead, their strategic doubts seem to be increasing. China has expressed multiple times its desire to work with South Korea to advance the denuclearization process, but the Moon administration has emphasized the principle of a “South Korean-led solution.” His administration wants to promote the North Korean–US denuclearization talks by improving relations with North Korea, and seeks to emphasize trilateral South Korean–North Korean–US resolution of the problem, with South Korea playing a coordinating role. South Korea does not want any external powers to get involved. This worries China, and poses another test for a South Korean–Chinese security relationship that has already been tested by THAAD. Disagreements about how to achieve denuclearization lead to increasing doubts between the two countries, which are also evident in other political areas. Another problem, according to Bi, is that South Korea’s THAAD deployment seriously damaged popular support for bilateral relations. Bi fears that this antagonism will spread to other issues and hamper security cooperation over the long term.

Without supportive popular sentiment, Bi worries that it will be difficult for China and South Korea to achieve deeper security cooperation. The biggest factor is the United States, which wants to prevent the rise of competitors and is therefore wary of China. Rising US–China competition has negative implications for efforts to advance both US–South Korean alliance relations and Sino–South Korean relations simultaneously. Second, there is a risk that disputes will emerge between South Korea and China in sensitive areas. In the security field, these include THAAD, overlapping air defense identification zones, and disputes over maritime economic zones and the South China Sea. With regard to economics, Bi cautions about the politicization of economic problems. Although the two countries have close economic ties, China has a trade deficit with South Korea, while South Korea is economically dependent on China. Their trade complementarity is decreasing as the two countries increasingly compete in the same areas. As trade protectionism and nationalism increase, economic and politics are more closely tied together, and economic policies are more often used as a political tool. Consequently, Bi worries that trade tensions could spill over into security relations. Bi also argues that South Korea’s “New Southern Policy,” under which it seeks stronger cooperation with countries in Southeast Asia and South Asia, is aimed at decreasing its economic dependence on China, but will also increase its competition with China in Southeast Asian markets. Furthermore, domestic political changes in South Korea may cause problems in the future.

Bi concludes with a number of recommendations for deepening Sino–South Korean security cooperation in order to promote denuclearization and achieve a peaceful order on the peninsula. These fall into two categories. The first is aimed at increasing understanding. To this end, the two countries need to further define their strategic positions and strengthen their understanding of the importance of common development. They also need to move away from the mentality of “using economics to promote politics” and to strengthen their strategic mutual trust. South Korea needs to understand that denuclearization is a complex process and that its pursuit of a South Korean-led solution is not optimal. Bi argues that China, as a creator of the Korean armistice and as a country that is deeply affected by the nuclear crisis, has a right to be part of the denuclearization process and the achievement of peace on the peninsula.

The second category is aimed at various practical issues. First, China and South Korea need to effectively utilize already existing strategic communications and strengthen their risk management procedures to prevent rising tensions. In this vein, they need to intensify discussions regarding their respective EEZs so they can resolve their overlapping air defense identification zones, although in the meantime they should establish effective joint management and communication mechanisms including an inter-military hotline. They also need to reach a basic consensus on freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and consider strengthening maritime exchange programs to increase mutual trust. They should ensure that the media does not spread erroneous reporting that could increase nationalism and cause further damage to public sentiments toward each other. Second, the two countries need to work hard to make the denuclearization process “irreversible” and protect it from any reversals that might be caused by changes in domestic politics in the relevant countries. Third, they should improve their economic cooperation and prevent economic problems from turning into broader conflicts. In sum, Bi argues that the two countries need to promote denuclearization, reduce differences in the positions of the United States and North Korea, manage peninsula affairs well, prevent relevant parties from taking actions or expressing views that harm constructive dialogue on denuclearization, work to prevent unilateral US actions, and act as part of four-party or six-party talks to promote denuclearization of the peninsula and the creation of a mechanism for peace.

Trump’s Russia policy

In Guoji Wenti Yanjiu, No. 5, 2019, Cheng Kefan evaluates contradictions in Trump’s Russia policy. US–Russian relations reached a low point after the 2014 crisis, and although Trump’s election brought hopes that they would improve, this has not occurred. Trump’s Russia policy is characterized by two contradictory elements. On the one hand, Trump makes lofty and warm overtures toward Russia. He has publicly praised Putin, sometimes at the same time as he criticizes Obama. Trump has rejected the Obama administration’s Russia policy as too harsh, and has repeatedly accepted Putin’s denial of any Russian interference in the 2016 election, contradicting the findings of US intelligence agencies. Trump and his high-level officials have repeatedly interacted with their Russian counterparts, and Trump has publicly proposed inviting Russia to rejoin the G7. When first elected, he also hired numerous people with positive views of Russia, including Michael Flynn, Stephen Bannon, and Rex Tillerson, who sought warmer bilateral ties.

On the other hand, the Trump administration has put significant pressure on Russia. It has clearly defined Russia as an adversary and continued sanctions. It also required the Russian media outlet RT to register as a foreign agent, closed the Russian consulate in San Francisco, and closed Russian facilities in Washington, DC and New York. The Trump administration has escalated military antagonism with Russia by building up military capabilities in Poland, the Baltics, and, via THAAD, on Russia’s eastern flank; pursuing various military exercises with US allies; and withdrawing from the INF. Furthermore, the United States has sought to counter Russia’s influence in various regions by providing military aid to Ukraine (this article was written before the delay in US aid to Ukraine became public), increasing strategic investment in the Middle East, and insisting that Russia not get involved in Venezuelan politics. In Central Asia, the United States has sought to strengthen its relations with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

Cheng argues that the Trump administration’s two-sided policy toward Russia results from deep structural contradictions. Trump’s positive overtures arise from practical considerations. The United States and Russia have economic ties that are hard to cut; despite US sanctions, bilateral economic relations have not been seriously damaged. The United States also seeks to drive a wedge between China and Russia. It sees China as a much bigger threat than Russia, and fears that stronger Chinese–Russian ties could help the two countries counter US hegemony. Russia has positively responded to Trump’s desire to improve relations. In Cheng’s view, Russia wants a more relaxed relationship with the United States because stable bilateral relations will help to rebuild Russia’s international prestige and boost its domestic economic development and political stability.

Nevertheless, US–Russian relations face difficult hurdles that are hard to move past. At a structural level, the United States seeks to defend its postwar status as the world’s sole superpower and wants Russia to accept its global leadership role, while Russia is trying to recover its great power status and is unwilling to resign itself to acting as a junior partner to the United States. These two sets of objectives are fundamentally incompatible. Trump’s Russia policy is aimed first and foremost at eliminating any threat from Russia and protecting US leadership of the world order. In addition, domestic US attitudes toward Russia are quite negative. Americans perceive Russia as undemocratic, as the loser of the Cold War, and as a declining regional great power. With the departure of Flynn, Bannon, and Tillerson, Trump has gradually come to be surrounded by anti-Russia hawks who are pessimistic that relations with Russia can improve. These hawks advocate comprehensive constraints on Russia, with particular attention to maintaining US military superiority. Finally, Cheng argues that anti-Trump elements in the United States have worked to limit any improvement in relations with Russia. Cheng puts forth the theory that Robert Mueller, acting as part of a domestic anti-Russian elite, announced the indictment of twelve Russians for hacking the DNC just before the Trump–Putin Helsinki summit in an effort to cast a shadow over the meeting. Following the meeting, Cheng argues, Republicans and Democrats attacked Trump for “selling out” the United States and forced Trump to compromise by cooling down his attitude toward Russia.

Cheng next considers the future of US–Russia relations. Following the results of the
Mueller investigation and the 2018 midterm elections, the restraints on the Trump administration’s Russia policy have been somewhat reduced. The Trump administration has continued its overtures and sought breakthroughs at the bilateral and multilateral level. Russia is optimistic, but still cautious. Nevertheless, the possibility of a meaningful improvement in relations is still beset by difficulties. First, the gap in economic and military strength between Russia and the United States will increase. The United States does not regard Russia as an equal, and the two countries’ economic ties are weak. Russia has no economic leverage over the United States, meaning that the United States can impose its damaging economic sanctions on Russia. The US military budget far exceeds that of Russia, and it holds clear technological superiority.

Second, there is weak domestic US support for improving relations. Putin is demonized in the US, while the Russian media ridicules US leaders. Americans view Russian diplomats as spies, while Russians fear that US paranoia will lead to a new McCarthyism. Polling data find that the US view of Russia is more negative than in 1986. Trump is concerned with quieting this opposition as he runs for re-election, while Putin seeks to arouse Russian patriotism.

Third, Russia is unwilling to abandon its principles as the cost of improving relations with the United States. From long experience, Russia knows that the United States seeks to constrain and weaken Russia, and believes that Russia can only hold the strategic initiative by holding fast to its fundamental principles. Consequently, Russia will persist in the US policy it has already developed, rather than being led by Trump. It will actively respond to Trump’s efforts to improve relations and seek wide-ranging dialogue with the United States. At the same time, it will be unwilling to give an inch on matters of principle. For example, Russia has responded to US military intimidation by developing its own technologies, and has responded to US assertions of regional power by strengthening its military presence in the Middle East.

Although Cheng is not optimistic that US–Russian relations will improve, he does not think the situation will devolve into a new Cold War. Rather, he expects that the two countries will form a “limited partnership.” (This stands in contrast to Jin and Shi’s ranking of Russia as a “strategic adversary.”) Cheng does not believe the current international environment is conducive to the emergence of a new Cold War. Mutual integration and reliance among great powers are strong, and the power structure is shifting toward a more balanced distribution. Pacifists greatly exceed those who would prefer a war. The deepening of economic globalization further raises the prospects for peace, while global governance structures are expanding to handle emerging problems. Furthermore, the conditions that led to the Cold War are no longer present. During the Cold War, Russia and the United States were more evenly matched and the world was characterized by a zero-sum bipolar system. Both countries held fast to their respective ideologies. By contrast, today a multipolar world is forming, the Russian military is far weaker than that of the United States, and the United States has no desire for confrontation. The role of ideology is also much weaker. Although the United States criticizes Russia for being authoritarian, the two countries do not have significant differences when it comes to their preferred model for the international system. (This seems to contradict Cheng’s earlier assertion that the United States wants to remain the world’s sole superpower.) Both advocate the market economy and globalization, and each primarily pursues its own national interest.

The current situation is much better than the constant crises of the Cold War. Trump is pursuing a pragmatic approach toward Russia, rather than seeking revenge. Given Russia’s global influence, the United States cannot avoid working with it, especially on issues such as non-proliferation and anti-terrorism. At the same time, Russia realizes that it cannot compete with the United States, and that positive relations with the United States are necessary for maintaining a positive external environment. Consequently, Russia should not perceive the United States as an enemy, especially because Western sanctions against Russia are damaging and improved relations with the United States would be beneficial for achieving their eventual elimination. Therefore, both countries act on the basis of protecting their strategic interests. They seek to manage their frictions well and prevent the bilateral relationship from losing control. Cheng concludes that China needs to take account of US–Russia relations as it develops its bilateral relations with each country in order to maintain the best possible external environment for China’s continued development.

Chinese–Russian relations

In Dangdai Shijie, No. 10, 2019, Shi Shantao evaluates the Chinese–Russian strategic partnership as the two countries celebrate the seventieth anniversary of their relationship and have reached what Shi sees as an unprecedented peak in their relationship. Shi argues that the current era has prompted a new direction for the bilateral relationship. The basis of this relationship rests on the long-standing friendship between the two countries. (Shi acknowledges, but quickly dismisses, the Sino–Soviet tensions of the Cold War era.) Since the 18th Party Congress, Chinese leaders have prioritized relations with Russia as an important part of Chinese foreign policy. To this end, Shi argues, the two countries have developed strong levels of mutual trust, steady progress in deepening their economic cooperation, closer strategic cooperation on international affairs, and more fruitful person-to-person exchanges. Their bilateral relationship is characterized by regular meetings between the countries’ top leaders, a multidimensional approach, a comprehensive strategic relationship that is non-ideological and not directed against any third party, and cooperation on a range of practical issues. Shi argues that this approach is necessary to respond to a world in which the political and economic orders are rapidly changing, and in which many security problems require a global response.

To fully achieve a “comprehensive strategic partnership for the new era,” Chinese leaders are focused on finding new opportunities to further develop the bilateral relationship. The two countries share a common position on a variety of international issues and should commit, Shi argues, to achieving the “community of common destiny” together. Achieving this new relationship is premised upon the traditional Chinese concept of “giving mutual help and protection,” meaning that when neighbors face enemies or unexpected disasters they should unite to help each other. This, in turn, requires the two countries to develop friendly relations, and to develop their strategic political and economic cooperation. By further developing their already strong mutual trust, cooperating on a range of security and practical issues, and coordinating on international affairs, the two countries’ relationship can benefit international society. Overall, Shi presents a rosy view of China’s current relationship with Russia.