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Report of Monday Morning Meeting on “Analysing China's Recent Foreign Engagements in the Context of Xi Jinping's 3 Global Initiatives”

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  • May 08, 2023
    Monday Morning Meeting

    On 8 May 2023, Dr. Prashant Kumar Singh of the East Asia Centre delivered a talk during the Monday Morning Meeting on “Analysing China's Recent Foreign Engagements in the Context of Xi Jinping's 3 Global Initiatives”. The meeting was moderated by Dr. MS Prathibha, Associate Fellow at MP-IDSA. Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy, the Director General of MP-IDSA, Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Bipin Bakshi (Retd.), the Deputy Director General of MP-IDSA and scholars of the Institute were in attendance.

    Executive summary

    As the world emerged from the effects of COVID-19, China announced a new set of global initiatives: the Global Development Initiative (GDI), the Global Security Initiative (GSI) and the Global Civilization Initiative (GCI). These initiatives have different focus areas: the GDI on developmental finance and sustainable development goals, the GSI on security, and the GCI on ‘civilizational exchange’. However, as President Xi Jinping charts a more proactive diplomacy, there are concerns about the nature of China’s intentions in pursuing these initiatives. The talk by Dr. Singh analyses the promises and pitfalls the three global initiatives hold within, and what they mean for China’s neighbourhood and the world. It warns of China’s intentions to revise the world order in its favour, and encourages a reconsideration of India’s policy towards Chinese order-building and its contention for the leadership of the Global South. 

    Detailed report

    In her opening remarks, Dr. Prathibha introduced the topic by highlighting the flurry of diplomatic visits conducted by China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang in the wake of the decisions taken during the 20th Central Party Congress. The centrepiece of these initiatives are the three Global Initiatives, which include the Global Development Initiative (GDI), the Global Security Initiative (GSI) and the Global Civilization Initiative (GCI). With this introduction, the Dr. Prathibha turned over the floor to Dr. Singh for his lecture.

    The speaker began by pointing out that the topic under discussion would focus more broadly on the thought patterns of the Chinese policymaking elite rather than bilateral or multilateral relations. He identified certain developments as evidence of these patterns, as China gradually metamorphoses from a low-profile power to an incipient superpower seeking to achieve its goals in the international arena. China’s alternative diplomacy has been attracting attention from interested parties who are wary of US power and has also managed to gain acceptance from countries in the West. For instance, the AIIB and the SCO are particularly relevant in this context for their continued success in becoming alternative multilateral institutions. These initiatives are accompanied by a consistent push to redefine the global order on China’s terms.

    In an effort to pursue these objectives, President Xi Jinping and other high-ranking leaders such as Wang Yi, have articulated the need to promote ‘Chinese wisdom’ on the international stage, a concept which purports to advance ‘Chinese solutions’ to global problems. ‘Chinese wisdom’ is the driving force behind the overarching frame that is articulated as ‘A Community with a Shared Future for Mankind’, and motivates the GDI, GSI and GCI. Dr. Singh argued that these initiatives are taking a comprehensive and holistic view of a new international order premised on the indivisibility of “foreign” and “domestic” in terms of development, and security and also in terms of co-existence of diverse social and political systems.

    The Global Developmental Initiative (GDI), introduced in September 2021 at the 76th United Nations General Assembly meeting, is envisaged by China as an implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Under the GDI, there are six objectives, eight focus areas and several deliverables. Thus far, the progress of the GDI has been mostly good, with nearly US$ 4 billion in investment in the Global Development and South-South Cooperation Funds, training and capacity-building programmes, and the membership of around 70 countries in the Group of Friends set up for the initiatives. However, the speaker pointed out that the GDI remained a state-led initiative to bolster the flagging Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), almost certainly devised to rid the latter of its negative image.  He also noted the issues with the GDI, with no tangible timelines, no clarity on funding sources and no tangible large-scale projects in the offing. Many recipient countries, which have benefited from the BRI, too, may not appreciate the change in focus as the big-ticket projects touted by the BRI are replaced by development finance, a more subtle form of economic assistance. As well, the international community is liable to be concerned, as the strategic communication surrounding the GDI touts China’s old lines of ‘development being the master key to every conflict’, conveniently ignoring the other political and geopolitical aspects of conflicts, strong opposition to human rights and liberal democracies and the linkage between the GDI and the Global Security Initiative.

    Next, Dr. Singh focused on the GSI, introduced at the Boao Forum on Global Security in April 2022. The GSI has six key concepts, which are derived from China’s traditional diplomatic priorities, such as respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty. Flowing from these six priorities are 20 priority areas, ranging from nuclear security to regional institution building and peacekeeping, which are to be given attention through a host of platforms and mechanisms. The GSI, Dr. Singh argued, primarily serves as a projection of China’s views on security issues and issues that matter to the world. He highlighted China’s activities in the Horn of Africa, South Pacific and the Middle East as signals of a proactive policy, which may in turn herald China’s ‘peace activism at the global stage’, inserting itself into future conflicts as a mediator.  

    Finally, the speaker discussed the GCI, the newest and the latest of the three initiatives. Introduced by General Secretary Xi at the World Political Parties Conference on the side-lines of the 20th CPC in March 2023, the GCI primarily revolves around the ‘Four Advocatings’: diversity of humanity and its political systems, the centrality of humanity, the privileging of inheritance and innovation, and people-to-people exchange. Initial reception, according to the speaker, was touted by the Chinese analysts as ‘good’. However, the initiative is yet to gain traction globally as there are only low-key pronouncements in the media and few scattered commentaries.

    Dr. Singh argued that despite its best efforts, China has not succeeded in forging a common identity that could be shared with many countries. Chinese culture is a common civilizational identity in a few countries, therefore the difficulty of ensuring that its views would find a large audience remains to be seen. There is also popular resistance in many countries against the BRI, and there are also concerns about China’s irredentism, self-contradictory promotion of ethno-nationalistic policies overseas, and financial troubles regarding the BRI that are posing a challenge for Chinese diplomacy to navigate.

    In summary, the speaker noted that Chinese diplomacy might be widely seen as an alternative to the US, but it is still going to experience its own share of successes and failures. He pointed to the need for other countries not only to shift and recalibrate their policies towards the new assertive China, but also to pay attention to its narratives. In the speaker’s view, global initiatives are often a form of strategic communication which signal intent and direction, thus pointing to the importance of understanding the role played by the phrasing used to delineate them.

    Comments and questions

    Dr. Prathibha opened the floor for comments and questions, which were led by the Director General, Amb. Sujan R. Chinoy. Ambassador Chinoy observed that China’s hostility towards the outside world represents a form of siege mentality which it has been unable to shake for millennia, and that the US has made significant blunders in hindsight by treating China as a country that could be rehabilitated to look like the US. The best example of this is the rules-based order, which China condemns as a Western imposition even as it profits from it. He also noted that China’s opinion in this regard matches India’s, the only difference being that India has been unable to design the alternative institutions that China has been able to carve out of the international order. Amb. Chinoy also noted that Chinese diplomacy now needs to be taken seriously. He also noted that the GDI is a vehicle designed to gain traction through its linkage with the SDGs, and the GSI brings into question the Western concept of ‘absolute security’. He then characterised the GCI, a challenge to the US-led Summit of Democracies, as most worthy of wariness, as it simultaneously justifies Chinese narratives and weakens the liberal order at the same time.

    The Deputy Director-General, Maj.Gen. Bipin Bakshi, noted the need for a wary assessment of China’s new foreign policy, where it “plays peacemaker while stepping on its neighbours’ toes”. He pointed in particular to the Solomon Islands’ Security Agreement with China as an example of such a policy.

    Commodore Anurag Bisen asked about how Indian policymakers should view the global initiatives, and how to square them with India’s own aspirations for leadership of the Global South. Dr. Singh answered by highlighting the tough choices face by India, as its aspirations, though similar to the ones articulated by China, must nevertheless remain its own; he advocated the continuation of current policy, where areas of commonality are worked on bilaterally, without a broader endorsement of Chinese policies.

    The chair asked whether South Asia, especially disputes between India and Pakistan, might be covered by the GSI. Dr. Singh answered in the negative, but added that reinterpretation of the central principles of the GSI might make it so in the future.

    The Report has been prepared by Dr. Arnab Dasgupta, Research Analyst, East Asia Centre.