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How China Perceives the World and India: Reading Li Qiang’s Government Work Report

  • Geopolitics
  • 13 d ago
  • 8 min read
How China Perceives the World and India: Reading Li Qiang’s Government Work Report | Dr. Jabin T. Jacob - Associate Professor,  Shiv Nadar Institution of Eminence

13th National People's Congress in progress at the Great Hall of the People, Beijing on March 5. Photo Credit | VCG/Caixin Global.

Jabin T Jacob
Jabin T Jacob - Associate Professor, Shiv Nadar Institution of Eminence

While Li Qiang makes the call “for an equal and orderly multipolar world and universally beneficial and inclusive economic globalisation” and claims China will be “firm in opposing all hegemonic, high-handed, and bullying acts and in upholding international fairness and justice”, his country’s record speaks otherwise. If China is “promoting a new type of international relations”, then this is a form of international relations where its interests seem to have priority over the interests of other nations. It is as “hegemonic, high-handed, and bullying” as it implies the US is.

Introduction

In the Chinese system, foreign policy is the remit of the Communist Party of China (CPC) General Secretary and Chinese President Xi Jinping. This said, the government work report delivered on 5 March at the National People’s Congress by Chinese premier Li Qiang1 offers a useful summary of key developments in Chinese foreign policy as well as those that have foreign policy implications.

Perceived External Pressure

Li starts by two direct references to the external world and at least two indirect ones saying, “In the face of an unusually complex international environment and the challenging tasks of advancing reform and development and ensuring stability at home, the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core brought together the Chinese people of all ethnic groups and led them in withstanding external pressures and overcoming internal difficulties with dedicated efforts.”2 The references to “stability at home” and “all ethnic groups” is meant to signal that efforts involving these elements are also undermined by foreign forces.

As it happens this alleged external pressure comes at a time when the CPC under Xi Jinping is also encouraging greater nationalism and suspicion of the outside world as a way of deflecting attention from the country’s economic difficulties – weak domestic consumption and continuing reliance on exports, high local government debt, unprecedented youth unemployment, and overcapacity in several industries, all of which have been aggravated by the Party-state’s mismanagement.

In addition, an unrelenting anti-corruption campaign has also stilled initiative at lower levels of government and in the economy, more generally. The spectre of the world – or at least of the Western world – conniving against China, offers, therefore, a convenient distraction that its leaders frequently play up.

In fact, one could argue that the reference to “promoting high-quality Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) cooperation” is another way of saying that China will no longer have the resources to throw at such projects and that it will be more concerned about returns on investment going forward. This will have implications for Chinese diplomacy in the coming times.

At the same time, Li also takes the trouble to highlight China’s diplomatic weight and prowess. In his work report, he lists a series of major multilateral events that China participated in or led – the 15th BRICS Summit, 30th APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting, China-Central Asia Summit and 3rd Belt and Road Forum.

These are meetings that Xi attended or hosted while there was no mention of the G20 Leaders’ Summit that Li himself had represented China at, suggesting that foreign policy is being used to raise Xi’s profile and interests above everything else. The Chinese premier also referred to key talking points such as the “community with a shared future” as well as the three BRI spin-offs of the Global Development Initiative, Global Security Initiative and Global Civilization Initiative.

China’s “important contributions”

Li also highlights China’s apparently “active and constructive role in addressing international and regional hotspot issues” saying “China has made important contributions to global peace and development.” The reality is obviously a little different – Beijing has stood resolutely behind the Russians in their attempts to conquer Ukraine and contributed little to achieving any resolution of the Israel-Hamas conflict underway in Gaza.

Elsewhere, Beijing has actually contributed to creating “hotspot issues”. It has refused to de-escalate tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India or to walk back from its illegal reclamations in the South China Sea. It has continued to harass Philippine naval vessels and to cross the median line in the Taiwan Strait.

The Chinese premier’s declaration that his government would “strengthen and improve our work related to overseas Chinese and protect the lawful rights and interests of Chinese nationals abroad” might seem at first glance an unexceptional statement except that he follows with nationalist and race-based rhetoric about “forg[ing] a powerful force for all the sons and daughters of the Chinese nation, both at home and abroad, to dedicate themselves to national rejuvenation.”

Clearly, the Party-state expects those of Chinese ethnicity outside of China’s borders to hold this identity, and by extension service to the CPC government in China, above other considerations. China’s outreach to the diaspora in countries like Australia and New Zealand have, for example, become a major concern in their domestic politics. China’s goal of “reunification” of Taiwan is also of a piece with this approach.

But while attention is always on a potential military takeover of Taiwan despite its very low likelihood, the more serious issue at hand is Beijing’s attempt to undermine the democratic dispensation in Taiwan with means other than war or military coercion. China’s disinformation campaigns and influence operations in Taiwan have attempted to sway electoral outcomes in the island nation.

Taiwanese businesses and businessmen in China have also been regularly pressured to promote the CPC’s talking points in Taipei. On the diplomatic front, meanwhile, China has frequently weaned away countries from the ranks of Taiwan’s already few diplomatic allies.

 On India

While there is no reference to India or any other country, for that matter in the Chinese Premier’s report, elsewhere at the lianghui or ‘two sessions’ – that of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference – Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s statement at a press conference, that "the next China is still China"3 offers an insight into how the CPC views the world in zero-sum terms.

The phrase implies that no country can replicate what China has achieved in the last four and a half decades in terms of economic growth and development and the consequent accretion in diplomatic influence and military prowess.

Most countries in the world do not possess the scale of China and so this can be a rather unremarkable statement. Not so, for India, which has the scale and the potential to match China. Wang’s statement thus suggests that the Chinese leadership is unwilling to countenance the possibility of a replacement or a rival power in the form of India.

It is this that must be kept in mind, when the Chinese declaim both countries are “ancient civilizations” or that they “share common visions for the future of mankind”. Even when they say that both countries “have been playing increasingly important roles in maintaining global stability and promoting common development”,4 the intent is to encourage India to take an independent line from the US and to align itself more with China on issues such as the Russia-Ukraine conflict and other global hotspots.

If the Chargé d’Affaires of the Chinese Embassy in India, Ma Jia points out, as she did in a recent piece referencing the 70th anniversary of the Panchsheel Principles, “the two countries could once again offer oriental wisdom hand in hand”,5 the idea is to separate India from its natural partners in the West and to highlight the so-called Asian values.

These values in the Chinese scheme are about respect for authority and hierarchy, about promoting the rights of rulers and political parties in power at the expense of democracy and civil liberties.

Note also Wang Yi’s call on the US to do more to improve bilateral relations. Clearly, the Chinese have no interest in doing their part to improve ties and since the prevailing belief in Beijing is that New Delhi acts in concert with or at the behest of the US, this should also indicate that the situation on the LAC with India is unlikely to improve anytime soon. In the absence yet of capability to confront the Americans directly, China seems to have adopted the path of militarily targeting US allies like the Philippines and partners like India.

In a press conference that lasted 90 minutes, Wang made a reference to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor but not a single one to India with which its military standoff will soon enter the fifth year, and despite playing up the role of the BRICS and Group of 77, both of which have India as an important member.

Wang Yi also referred to the Global South and its role as “a key force for reforming the international order” and declared China’s support for Brazil in holding the next G20 Leaders’ Summit.6 China’s lack of interest in reforming the UN Security Council, however, belies the former claim, while Xi’s absence at the G20 Leaders’ Summit held last year in India stands in stark contrast to the support now being shown to Brazil.

Conclusion

While Li makes the call “for an equal and orderly multipolar world and universally beneficial and inclusive economic globalisation” and claims China will be “firm in opposing all hegemonic, high-handed, and bullying acts and in upholding international fairness and justice”, his country’s record speaks otherwise. If China is “promoting a new type of international relations”, then this is a form of international relations where its interests seem to have priority over the interests of other nations. It is as “hegemonic, high-handed, and bullying” as it implies the US is.

(Exclusive to NatStrat)

Endnotes:

  1. https://english.news.cn
  2. https://english.news.cn
  3. https://www.fmprc.gov.cn
  4. http://in.china-embassy.gov.cn
  5. http://in.china-embassy.gov.cn
  6. https://www.fmprc.gov.cn

     

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