CLAIRE BERLINSKI, PARIS AND VIVEK Y. KELKAR, MUMBAI
In Part II of this three-part article, we look at the way it has become impossible for the EU, and Turkey, to ignore China.
Over the past decade, particularly during the Trump Administration, China has asserted itself as the center of Asia’s future. Asia is quickly becoming an industrially integrated power bloc. China’s policies, domestic and regional, will determine the future of Europe and the United States. The EU, in particular, needs access to Asian markets. Any barrier—economic or military—to the South China Sea, South Asia, or East Asia would be devastating to its prospects.
In May, China unveiled plans to invest USD 1.4 trillion in the technologies that will shape the economy for decades to come, such as 5G and artificial intelligence. China now has the first-mover advantage: Its domestic market offers the scale and its spending the heft to power the kind of technological development that so far, only the US and Europe have achieved.
The EU has been contemplating these developments for several years. Trump’s presidency persuaded many European leaders that the familiar geopolitical landmarks were gone—for good. The globe was no longer unipolar; the United States no longer reliable. The world was fragmenting, even as the US was renouncing its role as the guardian of global trade routes.
To Germany in particular, a country built on exports, the strategic picture looked dire. Merkel saw a future defined by complexity—systemic and economic—and in response developed a complex strategy. “Blind rearmament” was out of the question.
But hedged strategic trade alliances were not.
XI JINPING THOUGHT ON DIPLOMACY
We note, too, that on New Year’s Day—the first day of the centennial of the founding of the CCP—Yi gave an extended interview to Xinhua and the China Media Group. Like Chinese think tanks, these are not news agencies as we use the term. Xinhua is a ministry-level institution subordinate to the State Council; its president sits on the CCP’s Central Committee. The China Media Group is an organ of the Publicity Department of the CCP Central Committee run by its deputy minister.
Over the course of the interview, Yi reprised the themes of his December 11 speech—in the same order, and often verbatim. This was not the kind of spontaneous exchange implied by the word “interview” in English.
In both venues, Yi began as one must (first, last, always), with hosannas to the Comrade-in-Chief. On December 11: “[U]nder the strong leadership of the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core, the entire nation has rallied together behind a common purpose.” On January 1, to Xinhua: “[U]nder the strong leadership of the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core, the entire nation has rallied together behind a common purpose.”*
Yada, yada, yada. Now the interesting parts.
In the December 11 speech, as we noted yesterday, Yi described 2020 as a “watershed,” and 2021 “a new journey” that would be “groundbreaking” for China’s foreign relations. How so, precisely?
Yi explains, “Covid-19 has “accelerated” a “once-in-a-century transformation.” As he sees it, “unilateralism, protectionism and power politics are standing in the way of international cooperation,” and people across the world have come to recognize this.
This is, in fact, true. No argument from us. It’s China’s solution to this problem that gives us the creeps.
Xi, he says, possessed of a “global vision and strong sense of responsibility,” has notched up 84 meetings with foreign leaders and heads of international organizations, attended 22 key diplomatic events, and “helped to build global consensus on Covid-19.” (All virtually, which in Yi’s words is an important Chinese innovation, called “cloud diplomacy.”) This “point[s] the way forward for China’s foreign policy.”
“Guided by the President’s diplomatic engagements,” says Yi, “ … we in the diplomatic service have forged ahead to meet the challenges head on. … We have fought the novel coronavirus and the ‘political virus’ at the same time.”
What is the “political virus?” He does not say. Clearly, he did mean something by it, because on January 1, he used exactly the same phrase: “Fighting the coronavirus and the ‘political virus’ at the same time, we have done our best to safeguard national interests and global stability.”
In both venues he noted, pointedly, how prominent China had made itself during the crisis. On December 11, he said China had launched a “global humanitarian campaign” not seen since the founding of the People’s Republic. It had provided assistance “to over 150 countries and nine international organizations” and sent “36 medical teams to 34 countries in need.” What’s more, “Leveraging our strength as the largest manufacturer of medical supplies, we have provided countries around the world with over 200 billion masks, 2 billion protective suits and 800 million testing kits.”
In the interview with Xinhua, he goes in even further:
We took the most rigorous control measures to fight the virus. Putting people and life first, we effectively controlled the virus within the shortest possible time, and steadily resumed economic and social activities in our country. We made an early contribution to building a strong global line of defense against the virus.
We conducted the largest-scale online exchanges on epidemic response with the support of science and technology. We organized over 100 video meetings with experts from other countries, opened an online knowledge center to share China’s experiences with all countries, and published eight updated versions of diagnosis and therapeutic solutions and seven updated versions of prevention and control protocols. We shared our experience with other countries without any reservation.
We provided urgently needed assistance by launching the largest global emergency humanitarian campaign since the founding of New China. We provided assistance to over 150 countries and 10 international organizations, sent 36 medical teams to 34 countries in need and provided funding to WHO and other relevant UN agencies. We stood with other countries and peoples to help them prevail over the virus.
By then, he said, China had provided 220 billion masks provided, 2.25 billion protective suits, and more than a billion testing kits. “Made in China” products, he said, were the world’s “key source of supply” in the pandemic. China was the first to pledge to make vaccines available to the whole world, “bearing in mind the greater good of humanity.” And to help poorer countries, “we engaged in active collaboration on the R&D of drugs and vaccines, which brings [them] hope.”
In all this, he says, the Foreign Ministry has stood at the forefront—a word he uses four times in one paragraph:
We have stood at the forefront of preventing imported cases … We have stood at the forefront of serving domestic development, giving diplomatic support to the national endeavor of finishing building a moderately prosperous society in all respects … We have stood at the forefront of advocating international cooperation against COVID-19, making our contribution to forging a global synergy in this battle. We have stood at the forefront of fighting misinformation, rebutting attempts of politicization and stigmatization.
He didn’t need to say which country, once reliably at the forefront, was nowhere to be found.
SILK ROADS GO VIA TURKEY
Turkey, still formally a NATO ally, was once an American ally in more than name. Turkish soldiers were the first to join Americans in battle against North Korea and then the PRC. Turkey sent three infantry battalions, an artillery battalion, and auxiliary units to the frontlines; they were legendary for their ferocity and bravery. At the Battle of Wawon, the US Eighth Army survived because Turks took on the Chinese so ferociously. At Kumyangjang-Ni, the Turkish Brigade repulsed a Chinese force three times its size. To conscripted Turkish villagers, Korea might as well have been in the Andromeda Nebula. They did not do this for Koreans. They did it because of NATO. Turks might not have known much about Korea, but they knew all too much about Russia.
Now, however, the Turkish health minister is on his knees with gratitude to China, which has promised Turkey 50 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine. On December 30, Flight TK6175 took off from Beijing carrying 1.5 million doses. Turks are now seeing containers that say, “Smile without masks, get rid of the distance.”
So are Brazilians. So are Argentines. So are Indonesians. So are Emiratis. So are Egyptians. So are Jordanians. According to Chinese state media reports, Sinopharm has received orders from more than 100 countries.
Recently, Erdoğan refused even to put his name on a UN Human Rights Council statement calling for China to stop putting Uighurs in concentration camps.
Turkey’s growing relationship with China—and its willingness to overlook China’s Uighur concentration camps—is as notable as Germany’s.
Turkey’s location makes it strategically critical to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and China has spared no expense to buy it. In 2009, Erdoğan (aptly) described China’s treatment of the Uighur people as a “genocide.” The Uighurs are ethnically related to the Turks. Even the language is mutually intelligible.
But recently, Erdoğan refused even to put his name on a UN Human Rights Council statement calling for China to stop putting Uighurs in concentration camps.
What happened between 2009 and now? This: China invested more than US$ 15 billion in Turkish infrastructure, high-speed rail, bridges, thermal and nuclear energy plants—the works.
In 2009, trade between Turkey and China stood at US$ 10 billion. Now it’s nearly US$ 24 billion. Particularly because Turkey has run out of foreign reserves to pay down its debt, it’s significant that last July, the People’s Bank of China agreed to swap Turkish lira for Chinese renminbi valued at US$ 400 million, staving off a complete currency collapse.
A Chinese logistics company recently bought 48 percent of Turkey’s third-largest container terminal. It’s not the size of the terminal (though it is big) but its location—at Kumport, on the northwest coast of the Marmara—that makes it so valuable. It’s another key strategic link to Europe.
China lent US$ 2.7 billion to a Turkish-Italian consortium to fund the construction of the massive (and offensively-named) third bridge over the Bosphorus, near the mouth of the Black Sea. When the owners couldn’t pay back their debt, Chinese investors bought it back for US$ 688 million.
In 2017, Turkey’s state lending institution signed a credit arrangement worth US$ 600 million with the China Development Bank. In 2018, the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank authorized a US$ 600 million loan to ensure the “security” of Turkish gas supplies, and another US$ 3.6 billion to enlarge Turkish natural gas storage facilities. More than a thousand Chinese companies operate in the Turkish logistics, electronics, energy, tourism, finance, and real estate sectors. The Chinese ambassador to Turkey, Deng Li, said in 2019 that by 2021 (that’s now, remember), China would double foreign direct investments into Turkey, with a goal of reaching US$ 6 billion.
Uighur organizations say that some 45,000 Uighurs live in Turkey. Uighurs counted on Turkey to be the one place, surely, that would never send them back to China to be tortured to death. They were wrong. The Daily Sabah, which is not a government mouthpiece in the formal way Xinhua is, but functionally the same (it’s owned by one of Erdoğan’s favorite cronies), now mentions the Uyghurs as infrequently as possible.
From the area covered under China’s new trade deal in Asia to the Arctic, China is building roads and debts—literal and economic—as fast as it can. They’re recreating, more or less, the old silk roads. Here’s a map of Marco Polo’s travel, for comparison:
In Part 3 tomorrow we look at the China, Russia angle and how that’s a key to Europe.