CHINA DESPERATE TO KEEP THE U.S. AWAY FROM ASIA

Chinese President Xi Jinping uses the Bangkok summit of the Asisa-Pacific Economic Cooperation to press for a confrontation-free Asia, a euphemism for keeping the United States and recognising China’s pre-eminence on the continent.

The Asia-Pacific region is “no one’s backyard” and should not become “an arena for big power contest,” Xi said in the statement. He is attending the APEC summit, close on the heels of the G20.

Reuters quoted Xi as also saying: “Unilateralism and protectionism should be rejected by all; any attempt to politicize and weaponize economic and trade relations should also be rejected by all. No attempt to wage a new cold war will ever be allowed by the people or by our times.”

Since he secured his third term of power at the 20th Party Congress, Xi has been using all opportunities to promote China’s role in resolving pending global disputes, blind to the reality of China being at the root of some of them.

Xi met the leaders of Germany and Pakistan in Beijing. He used the opportunity to bring Islamabad closer to Beijing even as the United States tries not to antagonise Pakistan. Similarly, Xi gave a patient hearing to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, eve as the European Union was unhappy with Germany talking to China about Europe’s problems with gas supplies due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Xi ‘s state media sought to interpret the two meetings as evidence of the world community interested in seeking China’s intervention to resolve bilateral and multilateral disputes.

The Chinese President was also seen promoting his new-found dispute-resolution tendency as he met several world leaders at the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia where Xi met President Joe Biden for the first time since the latter took over the American presidency.

However, Xi tactfully stopped short of naming the United States in his remarks in Bangkok as he possibly tries to avert a direct confrontation with the Americans. It is now clear that the Chinese and the Americans will never see eye to eye on three issues – the independence of Taiwan, the Ukraine conflict North Korea’s nuclear course, and the transfer of technology and the trade and tariff war.

Both sides came closest to a confrontation in August following a visit to Taiwan by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. China fired several missiles into waters around the self-governing island and ramped up naval and warplane exercises in the surrounding area. Dire threats preceded Pelosi’s visit and Beijing thereafter cancelled several dialogues with the US.

But US-China tensions, which which did not erupt afresh following a landmark meeting between Xi and Biden in Bali, are not the only shadow hanging over the APEC summit.

Leaders raised their eyes at Xi Jinping as North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) as Bangkok readied for the APEC summit session. This is the second missile test by the Kim Jong Un regime in under a week and part of a period of increased provocation from Pyongyang.

China, however, continued to use the APEC as a platform to promote its pro-Asia policies. Xi sat down with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida Thursday, in the first meeting between leaders of the two countries in nearly three years. Both sides called for more cooperation following a breakdown in communication over points of contention from Taiwan to disputed islands.

The Chinese president also met with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in a bid to underline the importance of regional relationships for China.

Not satisfied with the meetings with Asian leaders, Xi also told them that China would consider hosting the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation next year. The event, linked to China’s overseas development and infrastructure drive, has not been held since 2019, as China has continued to restrict its borders following the outbreak of Covid-19.

On the face of it, in the absence of President Joe Biden and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, as the third most important leader at the APEC, may appear to be playing the senior counselor’s role.

In reality, too, Xi is eager to play that role if only to wean away the growing number of Asian countries that are flocking to the West. The Chinese are not so dense not to understand that these countries are intent on joining forces with the United States for a single reason. It certainly is not about spreading democratic values across Asia. Rather, it is about the growing uncertainty and unease over China’s growing military and economic power and the fact that China has unresolved territorial disputes with almost all Asian countries in that region. They are wary of China’s attempts to entice them with financial loans and other projects with a view to exercise control over them. This is also the contest that explains Xi Jinping’s irritation with the United States “intervening” in Asian affairs, especially in and around the South China Sea.

However, Xi’s efforts are not bearing much fruit. As Yana Leksyutina of the Valdai Discussion Club writes in an article titled. ‘The Potential Impact of the US-Chinese Conflict in Asia’, “most of the small and medium-sized countries of the region still do not want to make a mutually exclusive choice between the US and China and be drawn into the Sino-American rivalry”.

Leksyutina argues: “They seek to diversify their foreign ties and security partners, maintain neutrality in the Sino-American confrontation and retain their strategic autonomy. Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, and Mongolia belong to this group of countries that still maintain a strategic equidistance from the United States and China. These countries are also interested in developing trade and economic relations both with the United States, which remains their major trading partner, investor and donor of economic and other assistance, and with China, which has a huge consumer market located at the centre of regional and global value chains, and promises loans and investments, as well as assistance in their infrastructural development.”

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