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The geopolitics as a whole has seen a massive change in the year 2020, with the Covid-19 pandemic worsening the already fractured world even further. The country which has transformed its foreign policy the most during the
pandemic in China. And the change in Chinese approach towards its foreign policy has led countries all over the world to recalibrate their priorities and foreign policy approaches to either cater to or contain China and its activities. While for a very long time, Chinese foreign policy was a combination of marketing the idea of co-prosperity, increasing its influence all over the world subtly and being vocal about the definition of its borders (be it land or sea) with its vast array of neighbours.

However, as the Covid-19 pandemic gripped the world, Xi Jinping led government in Beijing became more and more aggressive with achieving its foreign policy goals and in its dealings with the neighbouring countries regarding border disputes. Be it the disputes with India in the Himalayas reaching new heights of confrontation, the military manoeuvring in the South and the East China Seas, and even the cross straight intimidation tactics vis a vis Republic of China (Taiwan). Moving beyond the neighbourhood, China has followed what has become popularly known as
‘Wolf Warrior Diplomacy’. China has been partaking in trade disputes of rarely seen magnitudes with the United States of America, and Australia. While on the other hand, it has tried to maintain a conciliatory approach towards the European Union and to some extent ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations).

A shopper in Hangzhou, China, considered a bottle of Australian wine Friday, a day before tariffs. PHOTO: STR/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

The Chinese Foreign Policy, since the opening up and under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping saw a transition towards improving the internal strengths of China and cooperating with the western world, while not compromising on its national interests, like the territorial integrity and the consistency for one-China policy, but the phrase which was synonymous for the time was “hide your strength and bide your time”. With China becoming an economic
powerhouse and the factory of the world, the 2000s saw a change in the foreign policy outlook of China, encapsulated in the phrase, “harmonious rise of China.” It was a time when China accepted its rise & movement
towards the great power status and thus, tried to reconcile the world’s reservations by stating that its rise would be peaceful and it will be a responsible power.

The two defining moments which changed the perception of China and its priorities were the 2008 financial crisis when the USA became dependent on China for a while to move out of the economic slump, and then the rise of Xi Jinping as the leader of the Chinese Communist Party and China in 2012. Since then, China has undertaken very ambitious projects and has moved towards becoming the Asian hegemon, the best exhibit being the handling of the South China Sea dispute, however, it for the longest time never accepted it overtly and maintained its position that it supports multipolarity and Westphalian concept of sovereignty as the two constants of the world order. Xi Jinping symbolized the emboldened and ambitious China by coining the term ‘China Dream’.

A woman in downtown Beijing walks past a building adorned with a patriotic mural by Chinese graffiti artists on April 22. Stephen Shaver/UPI/Landov

Since the accession of Xi Jinping and moving forward, as his hold on almost all the facets of the Chinese Communist Party and government concretized, Beijing’s attempt at creating its areas of influence, even at the expense of the USA and other major powers increased manifolds. The Chinese foreign policy utilizing its massive economic liquidity applied the double whammy of Belt and Road Initiative and Debt diplomacy. By providing loans at very lucrative rates and massive infrastructure projects which were the main consumer of all these loans and grants, it gained influence in countries far and wide.

The activities of China, be it the creation of 17+1 initiative in the European Union, conducting BRI summits, investing in strategic locations which make the regional power-houses redundant, or using its deep pockets and investments to influence the decision making in the countries, created a sense of insecurity among many countries around the world and divided the opinion of analysts, turning the foreign policy community into either being hawkish on China or being bullish on China.

The Chinese approach towards its foreign policy during the pandemic was in very clear terms its show of strengths and the immense capability it holds. Although what was termed as “trade war” with the USA had started way before, the actions of Beijing during the pandemic symboled that it was not deterred by Washington’s actions and was fully capable of furthering its interests. The brutal and forceful implementation of the National Security law in Hong Kong and then the following repression of the pro-democracy protests was a watershed moment, it is at that moment many people who were bullish on the ability of the Chinese regime turned into hawks.

Image source-SCMP

The Chinese actions against the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang which has now been turned as ethenic genocide by the USA, its activities in Outer Magnolia, the brutal repression of scientists and doctors in the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic which is largely believed to have been originated in China has brought the world’s critical eyes into the domestic issues of China. Internationally, China has unilaterally tried to alter the border status quo with India and has taken aggressive posturing vis a vis Senkaku Islands, Taiwan and the EEZs of the South China Sea with the naval and air manoeuvring acting as intimidating tactics. The final straw was the unilateral trade actions against Australia and it led to the Australians who had long been neutral to choose sides.

The Chinese Wolf Warrior Diplomacy coupled with its aggressive posturing in its neighbourhood has turned its most optimistic supporters into hawks. These actions have consolidated the geopolitical understanding of the majority of the world powers, that, China will go to any extents to consolidate what it considers its principal national interests. The meeting of the Foreign Ministers of India, Japan, Australia and the Secretary of State of the USA in Tokyo as part of the annual meeting of the members of Quadrilateral security dialogue, which otherwise would not have been

The Chinese actions have opened the eyes of the countries regarding their overdependence on China as a source of their goods as well as the destination of their raw materials. This concentration of the Supply Chains in China gives it the geopolitical capital to influence the world and specific countries to toe its line or face catastrophic economic impacts as soon as it shuts down the country from international trade, the most prominent example being Australia. It has forced the countries in the Indo-Pacific and around the world to looks for ways to diversify the supply chains and diminish this important piece that China holds in the world’s strategic chessboard. The Japanese action to provide funds to its companies that are moving their manufacturing away from China and to countries like India and Vietnam is a beginning that is sure to be followed by other countries. India too in the Budget presented on 1 st February has increased the customs duty on goods which are being imported from China.

All this has disrupted China’s hold on the world’s supply chains and if it goes on, then the Chinese will be forced to step back on their aggressive posturing. The start of 2021 has seen the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visiting Africa and South-East Asian countries in an attempted charm offensive. However, it will not change much, the goodwill China was gaining before the pandemic has gone for a long time, and with the previously bullish governments improving relations with countries other than China to balance its influence, the world has become more multi-polar
and the rise of China as a great power which is responsible has been delayed for a while. As things stand, things will settle down a little as the year moves on, but the countries will keep up their guard regarding China. Beijing will be looking to improving the distraught relations all over the world, however, with the country struggling domestically it will be interesting to see how China manages to push its economy up, while the companies are declaring bankruptcy left and right. China will need to settle down a little bit and tone down its aggressive foreign policy going ahead.

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