Archive for the ‘Whose World Order?’ Category

And final catch up post, this time for a think tank I worked for a while ago, the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), with whom I am still doing some things. This is a post for their site which focused on some of the issues of the ‘Belt and Road’ strategy and what they need to do to get greater European cooperation on it. This is a topic that is very rich and has lots of work in the pipeline around it.

This aside, to catch up on some media conversations, spoke to The Times, Reuters and La Liberation about the leak of ISIS documents, to Newsweek about al Shabaab targeting aviation and training Boko Haram fighters, to Buzzfeed about Brexit and national security questions, to The Independent about Prevent issues in the UK, to the Press Agency about the attacks in Ivory Coast, to the Associated Press about the latest round of talks in Afghanistan the Chinese are helping with, and a presentation I did recently in Washington on China-Russia in Central Asia got a write up in the Diplomat.

Building Support for the Belt and Road

Xi Jinping has laid out what is going to be the defining foreign policy vision of his leadership in the form of the Belt and Road. An all-encompassing initiative, it is something that repeated Chinese leaders have said they want to engage with foreign partners on, in particular with European capitals given the vision is one that starts in China and ends in Europe. Yet, there is still a lack of clarity around exactly what this initiative actually looks like and how it is that foreigners can engage with China on this project. Beijing needs to lay out more clearly what it needs and wants from the world to implement this vision.

Seen from the outside, the Belt and Road initiative is one that appears to in essence be about building economic and trade corridors emanating out from China. Through the development of transport links – be they rail, road, ports or airports – and the construction and rehabilitation of pipelines, markets, economic zones and more, China aims to open Eurasia while reconnecting China to Europe across the wide landmass they share. The potential impact is a game-changing effect on a wide swathe of Eurasia, something that has not gone unnoticed in Europe where policymakers spend lots of time thinking about how to develop their continent. Yet, connecting on the initiative has so far proven difficult. If China genuinely wants greater cooperation on this strategy, then a number of key things need to happen.

First, Beijing needs to clarify where the routes of the Belt and Road will actually go. At the moment, all of the maps that have been produced are ones that are done by enterprising journalists interpreting official statements. The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the body responsible for the vision, has so far not expressed a view or produced a map. This is problematic as it means people are unable to know exactly which Beijing’s priorities are and what specific routes Europe should focus on developing to support and work with China’s plan. For example, generally it is clear that the Silk Road Economic Belt will pass through Central Asia, but which specific road or rail projects is China going to focus on first?

Second, China needs to understand that if they want to maximise external support on the vision, then Chinese led funding initiatives need to be open to foreign contractors. European investment structures like the EBRD or EIB (as well as international ones like the ADB) are very keen to work with China on this vision, but need to ensure that the subsequent project contracts to emerge from investments are put out to open tender. This ensures that the best possible contractors will undertake the projects and ensures that the vision gets carried through in the most effective way possible. This is something that extends beyond simple financing terms and contract procedures: it needs to be made clearer that there is a role for others in Chinese led projects. The key point here is that China needs to be open to working with others in very practical terms to try to advance this vision.

Third, China needs to find ways to discuss sensitive security questions with outsiders. Through the Belt and Road, China is going to increasingly find itself becoming one of the most consequential players on the ground in large parts of Eurasia. With such power will increasingly come a greater regional role, including on sensitive security questions where Beijing will find itself having to try to broker negotiations and agreements between sides in open conflict with each other. This is already happening in Afghanistan, and as time goes on Beijing will find itself ever more involved in such discussions across the continent. Europeans have some experience and understanding of some of these questions and would be willing to share their intelligence and experience with China if Beijing showed an equal level of openness in discussions. Genuine cooperation and deeper understanding come from a full and frank exchange.

There are clearly a great deal more detailed issues that need to be discussed, but these three overarching points need to be addressed before greater detail can be gone in to. China needs to understand that many in Europe are keen to cooperate on this vision, but they need some greater clarity to able to find practical ideas for what cooperation can look like in practice. By offering a more detailed outline of what this initiative physically looks like and what projects Beijing is prioritising, opening up to the idea of making joint investments, and being willing to participate in more frank and open security discussions, Beijing will find receptive doors across Europe. All of which will be essential to ensure President Xi’s vision turns into a long-standing foreign policy legacy reconnecting the Eurasian landmass along the old Silk Roads.

Raffaello Pantucci is Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI)

A new post for Whose World Order? this time based around comments I heard at an event I attended in Shanghai. Very interesting debate, more of which will feature in future posts once I get around to writing them. Note the quote that I left under the original post, a lovely quote I meant to include but omitted. Oh well.

Shanghai View: China as an external actor

Date: 30th June 2011  |  Author: Raffaello Pantucci,

Categories: ChinaMiddle East And North Africa,
Tags: None

Recently, with Jonas Parello Plesner, I wrote a policy paper in which we suggested that China’s reaction to Libya was something that reflected the glimmers of a new foreign policy direction for China. While I have since had some push back from foreign friends who tell me that we are focusing too much on one instance to read a bigger trend, I listened to an interesting presentation by a Chinese friend the other day in which he berated his leadership for their incapacity to act on the international stage.

The presentation came during a two-day conference on what Afghanistan was going to look like post- the US withdrawal. The event itself was a small discussion with long presentations and short discussions. Two elements leapt out at me: first was the fact that over two days of discussions (with mostly Chinese speakers) there was next to no outline of what a Chinese strategy towards Afghanistan (or Pakistan) might look like, and second, the final presentation by a Chinese friend that was a full-on broadside at China’s inactive foreign policy. In no uncertain terms he said that non-interference was another way of saying, “do nothing at all.”

With specific reference to Libya, he praised the successful evacuation of Chinese citizens, but also quoted Churchill’s comments after Dunkirk, that “wars are not won by evacuations.” In fact, he was rather condemning of the fact that it had taken the Chinese government so long to reach out to the rebel’s side when it was clear that they were headed for victory in the long run. Gadaffi was a busted flush, and the Chinese government (that has never liked Gadaffi for various reasons – his support of Taiwan, his former foreign minister’s comments about Chinese colonialism in Africa and Gadaffi’s own comments comparing what he was doing to Tiananmen Square), should have taken less than 80 days to get around to reaching out to the other side.

And the problems were not solely linked to indecision: there was also a very basic lack of capacity within the government in foreign policy terms. People had no idea about the Sunni-Shia difference and there was incomprehension about why the Iranians and the Saudis hated each other so much. This is something I have also heard in industry, where the big State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), have difficulties figuring out whom to send abroad to run their factories or branches since their staff have very little experience with the world. The government has been advocating for companies to reach out to gain managerial capacity and expertise from American or European counterparts.

Overall, his sense (and that of most participants) was that China had generally chosen to abrogate its policy in the Middle East and North Africa since it was a bit too far from home and it was a European/American sphere of interest. While China may have interests there, there was no particular interest in the body politic to actually go out and do anything about this. Instead, the focus was domestic, or more generally focused on waiting to see how things shake out over time while continuing to pursue new investments where they can be advanced.

But the problem with this is two-fold: first of all, this means China will wander into more situations like Libya where almost $20 billion has been written off and 30,000+ people have been evacuated at great expense and effort at short notice. And/or secondly, China will be obliged to simply go around paying people off to protect their interests in the world. The problem with this of course is that pay-offs will simply attract more predators. After it was discovered that the Italian government would tend to pay for its people who were being kidnapped in Iraq or North Africa, Italians were more actively targeted.

The discussion did not particularly come to an absolute conclusion. Instead, it circled around a group of serious thinkers who all seemed to agree with the broad conclusion that China’s foreign policy needed adjustment and in a more proactive direction. While a fellow foreign participant who was new to discussions with China was quite alarmed by this, in many ways it struck me as a potentially positive shift, showing China’s growing willingness to mature as a foreign policy actor. This was not quite the “responsible stakeholder” that Robert Zoellick had called for, but it was the inklings of a China that saw its interests lay beyond its borders as well. How it advances them, however, will be the subject of discussion for the next five years at least.

A short post for Whose World Order? on the pending birthday of the CPC. I am planning on doing another one on the upcoming film that is being released to coincide with it. Will undoubtedly be a big melodrama – Chinese friends are already warning me about it.

Shanghai View: Happy Birthday CPC!

Date: 24th June 2011  |  Author: Raffaello Pantucci,

Categories: China,
Tags: , ChinaShanghai

July 1st marks the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) 90th Birthday, and the country is gradually gearing up for the big event, with large red Communist party flags going up all over the place. I noticed a giant flag appear on the huge shopping mall near me: a somewhat incongruous location for the hammer and sickle logo of socialism to appear, but strangely in keeping with the slightly surreal nature of this anniversary.

The mall itself has a certain history. Ba Bai Ban (八佰伴) was one of the first giant malls to appear in Shanghai (and I believe China), established in December 1995 by a Japanese company. It has eight floors of retail space and is somewhat comparable to something like Selfridges in London – selling high end consumer goods with concessions inside dedicated to recognisable brands like Hugo Boss, Zegna, and so on. According to a factoid I picked up online, it remains a leader in terms of volume of sales, shifting the most goods nationally for a single day’s sales on December 31st, 2008.

So to see the giant symbol of socialism to appear on it is a bit strange, though apt within the general contradiction of viewing Shanghai as a city in a Communist state. The city is awash with conspicuous consumption, with Ba Bai Ban long having been overtaken as the most high-end mall in Shanghai. Liujiazui, the most recognizable part of Shanghai, is littered with giant malls, an Apple Store and- I noticed the other day – a new Ferrari and Maserati showroom, which is soon to open.

Yet at the same time, Shanghai-ren are still proud of their Communist heritage. The city boasts the location of the first Communist Party of China National Congress, and has one of the three main national Party schools in it. But even the site of the first CPC meeting has been swept up in China’s more capitalist recent history, located as it is in the middle of Xintiandi, one of the city’s most affluent tourist attractions. It is surrounded by branches of Starbucks, and some of the Shanghai’s priciest restaurants whose prices top (or match) London’s best.

This contradiction exists at an ideological level too. For a planned central government to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship is bizarre, but the very ongoing existence of Party Schools is also strange. Senior individuals, or individuals who are tipped for the top, have to pass through these institutions of higher learning before they ascend further. As far as I can tell, while they are there they are drilled in the latest party doctrine and reminded that Mao and Marx are still their ideological forefathers.

I was asking around the institute whether people are excited about the CPC birthday, and for the most part received blank stares. Everyone is aware of it, and everyone will attend the big party meeting that is going to take place, but few seemed that enthused – dismissing it as “politics.” This is likely because, as they tell me, they are not getting a national holiday to mark the anniversary. That decision is probably intended to emphasise that it is industry and not indolence that should be celebrated, though I imagine productivity will be quite low.

For the time being, however, everything is going red, and the hammer and sickle is emblazoned everywhere. The newspapers are full of stories praising the CPC and looking forward to next period of high growth and success. An unnamed party official recently claimed that party membership has risen to 80 million – more than the population of France – though it remains the case that most people join because they think it will advance their careers. Whether it really makes any difference or not, the fact that people think it does shows the ongoing power that the CPC continues to have after nine decades.

A post for Whose World Order? offering some thoughts to have emerged from a recent conference that I helped organize in Shanghai around the EU-China Year of Youth. Should be some more bits coming out from this soon.

Shanghai View: Generation gaps in China & Europe

Date: 21st June 2011  |  Author: Raffaello Pantucci,

Categories: China,
Tags: , EuWelfareYouthChinaCultural Revolution

We were lucky this week to be able to help organise a conference in Shanghai around theEU-China Year of Youth, supported by the EU STF Programme and co-hosted by theShanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS). The one-day event was entitled “What World Have They Left Us? A discussion about generations between Chinese and European Youth,” and brought together a group of young Chinese and Europeans to talk about generation gaps, and what they would advise their leaders to do to address the problems these gaps create.

One major point of discussion was the expanding welfare burden that both China and Europe face, thanks to ever-growing aging populations. In both, current younger generations are paying for welfare and pension benefits that they are unlikely to be able to enjoy themselves. But in China, these problems are exacerbated by the fact that there is estimated shortfall of 30-70 million girls, due to the combination of the one child policy and a preference for male children over females. This is going to lead either to a lot of frustrated men in the future or a large influx of foreign brides (or maybe both). The one child policy was continuously raised as an issue, but no-one could offer a solution to it. Most of the Chinese participants said that they felt that the government was right to introduce it, given the over-population in China.

From a European perspective, the aging question is not a new one. It was noted, however, that while in Europe the young used to be seen as a problem and a threat, aging populations suddenly mean that they are now seen as a potential resource that must be exploited more effectively.

The other big focus of discussion was the question of values between generations. The difference in life experience between old and young in China is huge: one generation has lived through the ardors of the cultural revolution, while the younger one is enjoying an Apple-designed and Starbucks-fuelled lifestyle, and being told that China is the new superpower. As one European characterised it, China has gone from a “no culture” generation to a “Chinese culture is the best in the world” generation.

A young Chinese recalled being in Australia when the patriotic film The Founding of a Republic was screened. She described sitting in a cinema full of Chinese students, who got up when the flag appeared at the end and sang their national anthem – much to the surprise of the Australians in the theatre. The intriguing thing was that the young woman who raised this story used it in the context of being quite concerned about the extreme nationalism she noticed among her age group. Another young Chinese later launched into a rather angry diatribe about the utter loss of values amongst younger generations – his particular anger focused on the sexual amorality he saw around himself.

From a European perspective, it seemed as though the generational dislocation was less dramatic – one European participant said that he felt that his values were probably quite similar to those of his parents. Perhaps the bigger gap in Europe’s case is one generation further back – it was his grandparents’ generation that experienced the earth-shattering events of World War Two, and which often has very different values and experiences to those of their children, our parents.

In the end, one of the key conclusions was the fact that there was a homogenisation of views on the problems that younger generations face in China and Europe. Younger generations are going to be dealing with problems that are remarkably similar, and what is striking is the fact that both seem to be responding in similar ways. A bland conclusion maybe, but at the same time one that perhaps bodes well for the broader EU-China relationship, pointing towards an increasing confluence of opinion that might help the two overcome the current tensions that dominate the bilateral relationship.

A post over at Whose World Order? for ECFR after a protracted silence on that front due to travel. Am going to hammer out a few more of these over the next few days as we have quite a busy period here in Shanghai with an upcoming conference I am helping run which should produce some interesting insights that would be interesting in this format.

Shanghai View: What are you watching?

Date: 13th June 2011  |  Author: Raffaello Pantucci,

Categories: China,
Tags: ChinaHollywoodSiffSoft PowerShanghai International Film Festival

The Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF) got underway this weekend. Amongst the speakers that they attracted to the opening events, media mogul Rupert Murdoch made an appearance, lavishing praise upon the rapidly growing Chinese film market – from $150 million in box office takings in 2005 to $1.5 billion in 2010 – but also highlighting the still highly restrictive nature of the market to outsiders. Few outside China know that the government only allows 20 foreign films onto Chinese screens every year.

To clarify, this does not mean 20 American films (though of course the 20 tend to mostly be American), but the Chinese government only allows in 20 films from outside the nation every year to be screened legally in Chinese cinemas. These are also edited for extreme violence or sexuality, leading to some rather odd cutaways. I went to see GI Joe – not a proud admission – and at a crucial point when a character was having his face altered, it cut rather abruptly to the next scene. It took me a moment to figure out what had happened and most of the rather simple film to figure out what had taken place in the missing minute or so. The idea is to protect the Chinese public from the amoral depravity of some foreign films (something that is also practiced in Singapore for example), but also it is a way to keep out films with questionable political content. This equally applies to television, though in a more curious way since while Korean soap operas are hugely popular, western ones cannot be found on Chinese television.

An underlying logic of all this is to give the Chinese film industry a chance to develop and grow in a protected environment. The result of Chinese blocking of websites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter has been to create a raft of local alternatives (Youku/TudouRenren and Weibo) some of which are now floating on international exchanges like the NASDAQ. By keeping foreign films out, they hope a domestic industry will develop that can compete with Hollywood or Bollywood. But it is unclear that this is working. In a Wikileaked US diplomatic cable from March 2007, expected incoming leader Xi Jinping was reported stating, “Chinese moviemakers neglect values they should promote.” In contrast he thought that Hollywood made movies well and the films “have a clear outlook on values and clearly demarcate between good and evil.”

I feel like the demarcation between good and evil in Chinese films is usually pretty clear. But what is missing is a level of quality and diversity. Chinese films tend to fall into categories of being Romantic Comedies (with storylines like Friends), epic historical films (like the Founding of a Republic, a massive film starring just about every famous Chinese actor, that came out to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the PRC), or elaborate special effects laden Kung-fu films (into this category I also put Sci-fi, fantasy and other such movies). Very few introspective or profound Chinese movies are released. The result is that they do not get a huge amount of airplay outside China – occasional breakthroughs do appear, but they often tend to have some heavy outside influence as well. For example, the hugely successful Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a Chinese-Hong Kong-Taiwanese-American production.

Despite the availability of pirate DVDs (have a look around Youku and Tudou) this deprives the US and EU of a key part of their soft power – or at least puts it in a legal grey area. This is unfortunate as the free-flow of stories from the West to China and back is clearly one of the most effective ways to foster deeper understanding between the two. Clearly the next Chinese leader likes American movies; surely Xi Jinping can see the advantages of bringing more of these stories to the population he is about to lead.

A somewhat inflammatory title for my latest for Whose World Order? – but oh well. Daily life feels pretty far from a police state to be honest. Addresses some points I have touched upon previously, and I am going into greater detail about in an upcoming longer piece.

Shanghai View: Living in a police state

Date: 10th May 2011  |  Author: Raffaello Pantucci,

Categories: China,
Tags: , AppleIpadPla

Things are strange in China at the moment. This past week there was the announcement that the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) had told broadcasters not to show TV dramas related to spying, criminal cases, romance or time-travel during May, June and July. The reason is the upcoming 90th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the desire of the organs of state that the public is entertained appropriately. This came on the heels of an article published in the magazine of the Central Party School by Zhou Yongkang, the powerful politburo member in charge of State Security, in which he proposed the creation of a massive ID card database including all adult citizens on the mainland to ensure “perfection of citizen identification registration and management.” Orwellian sounding stuff indeed.

Of course, some objectivity needs to be maintained here – the ID card system has only been proposed, and many Chinese already have something similar (though this new version would contain more information). SARFT, on the other hand, was quite quick in clarifying that “we aimed not at forbidding but delaying the broadcast of TV shows relating to spies, crime and time-travel.” Their intention was solely to encourage channels “to play dozens of excellent shows on revolution and development of the Communist Party of China.” So that’s ok then – but I leave it to your vivid imaginations to imagine what would happen if any of this was proposed in Europe.

Additionally, on the eve of the big US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue happening in Washington, the New York Times ran a story detailing the growing number of problems that diplomats and journalists have been encountering in China. With regard to both groups, I can testify from a conference I attended last week, and from speaking to friends in Beijing, that things seem particularly glum at the moment. Many of those I spoke to talked of a prevailing tense wind in the air. In one visible demonstration of this, after crowds got unruly at the Apple store in Beijing while queuing frantically for the new iPad2, a foreign store owner came out and ended up getting into a fight with scalpers. Rather than even try to thrash out the case in court, the Apple store chose to quickly settle, giving the aggrieved party (a likely scalper, as even reported now in the state press) 20,000RMB to go away – that’s about £2,000. It is a testament to the company’s fear of generating a bad name for itself in China that it so quickly capitulated to make the story go away.

But not everything is bad and scary. On a more positive note, while researching this post, I came across the reassuring news that the “PLA denies rumours of massive cutbacks.” We were, of course, all very concerned that the People’s Liberation Army was shrinking.

A new post for Whose World Order? at ECFR focusing on meetings in China and the importance of them. Some of the ideas hinted at will be fleshed out in a larger paper that I should be coming out in a few weeks.

Shanghai View: To Meet or Not to Meet

Date: 27th April 2011  |  Author: Raffaello Pantucci,

Categories: China,
Tags: ChinaDalai LamaTibetUsa

Many westerners who to come China often find themselves stuck in long and seemingly interminable meetings with their Chinese counterparts. The conversation is often held in impressively fluent English that can sometimes be deceptive, making it seem as though the nuance of intended meaning is getting through while the conversation nevertheless drifts with no apparent purpose. At the end of the meeting, the Chinese participants will express gratitude for a productive and useful session, seemingly enthused by an encounter that the foreigner reflects on with bemusement.

There are a number of reasons for this. First, for some Chinese academics and low level local officials, it is often simply the act of meeting that fulfills their ambitions for the appointment. The more foreigners they meet, the more important they seem to others they work with.

Secondly, ascertaining useful information from Chinese people at any level takes a certain amount of relationship building – in Mandarin it is called Guan Xi (关). This is basically networking, and as with any network you build elsewhere, it takes effort and a few meetings before you can get to the crux of the matter. This process is a bit slower in China, and it takes a few more meetings than it might elsewhere to start developing the capacity for a frank conversation. Like many other things, this process is starting to shift in a westerly direction – networking is speeding up as the Chinese interact with more foreigners and realise how they do things. Nevertheless, whoever you are dealing with, and no matter how western-experienced they are, it always pays dividends to put in some time with the guangxi.

Thirdly and more crucially, there is the underlying message that the Chinese side was trying to impart during the meeting but did not want to say explicitly. Meetings at every level are usually littered with these implicit messages. A meeting that seems to be drifting can often be, in reality, a meeting that has an underlying message that you are simply not getting. Usually, at mid-levels, they will be a bit blunter when they see the message is not getting across. At higher levels, there seems to be more resolute belief in the Chinese system; that messages can be passed in a desperately opaque manner. Either way, meetings are key.

So when China starts to cancel meetings it is clear that there is a problem. Cancelling meetings is about as clear a message as you can send, and for the typically polite and status-fixated Chinese it is a very blunt message. The EU (and France in particular) got this full in the face when the Chinese side pulled the plug on the EU-China Summit in late 2008, in retaliation for meetings with the Dalai Lama and a raft of other perceived Tibet-related slights, which were seen as being initiated by the French.

Now it seems that they are meting out a similar punishment to outgoing US Ambassador Jon Huntsman, with the FT reporting that “Beijing cancelled several bilateral academic and cultural programmes hosted by the US after Jon Huntsman was photographed in February in the capital near where anonymous internet users had called for a demonstration…several people familiar with the matter said the ruling Communist party had also ordered provincial bosses to cancel meetings with Mr Huntsman over the past two months.”

The US is looking at retaliatory measures, including the possibility of making it harder for high-ranking Chinese officials and family members to get expedited visas.

On the one hand, this seems to be part of a broader crackdown. Diplomats in Beijing have told me about bizarre complaints they are getting from Chinese officialdom about the activities of nationals and diplomats in cities outside the capital, while foreign journalists report that they are facing an increasingly difficult work environment. One journalist I know who works for a very mainstream global news organisation told me that they got stuck waiting for a work visa for about five months.

But if China feels that it can so bluntly slap someone as senior as Ambassador Huntsman – not only the US envoy to China but also a potential future President – then something is afoot. Usually, Chinese leaders relish the opportunity to have high-profile meetings, especially with high-ranking Americans. It gives them the opportunity to look like globe-trotting leaders before a domestic audience. That they are cancelling them at the moment means either that they think the US is behind the trouble they are cracking down on within their borders, or that their sense of self-importance has been elevated to the point that they see themselves as beyond needing to play nice with their biggest partner and “frenemy,” the US.

Either way, all of this is deeply negative, as it highlights how increasingly hostile the system seems to be to outsiders. The tensions we have seen with China in the last couple of years do not seem to be subsiding, and if this FT report is accurate, they seem in fact to be getting worse.