In Other News – China’s Global Ambitions – 3/17/2023

March 17, 2023

Emboldened by an unprecedented third term, Chinese President Xi’s ambitions are inciting many firsts. In a meeting with members of the Chinese private sector in early March, President Xi accused Washington of enacting a policy of “containment” towards China- a term fraught with negative historic connotation and economic implications. This inaccurate, binary description of the relationship supports Xi’s recently announced vision of a new world order, “the global civilization initiative”, which unsurprisingly seeks to put China at the helm and minimize Washington. But Xi’s attempts to reinvent Chinese foreign policy and capitalize on the global uncertainty stemming from the Russian invasion of Ukraine are not going unchallenged.

It’s also increasingly clear that China’s demands as the world’s second largest economy are what’s informing its new geopolitical strategy. Last Friday, China brokered a historic deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia. It’s unusual for Beijing to step into the role of global mediator, but China is now Saudi Arabia’s top trading partner, and regional stability in the Gulf has assumed new significance. With its great energy dependence and appetite, China can’t afford unstable suppliers, and we can anticipate Beijing to again take up the role of global statesman in other regions where its economic interests are at stake.

It’s also in Russia’s interest to have a stable Gulf as its economic relations and weapons-dependence on Iran have increased over the course of its Ukraine invasion. But as Russia continues to attack Ukraine with no discernable end in sight, China might be angling to serve as a mediator between the battling nations. There are economic implications here as well- China’s trade with Russia hit a record high of $190 billion last year. Riding his success as a Gulf negotiator, Xi is anticipated to travel to Russia as soon as next week and he’s expected to have a phone call with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy after the visit. This would reportedly be the first conversation that the two leaders have had since the onset of the war.

But just as Xi has been establishing political alliances in its effort to take the global lead, Chinese efforts have incited the need for stronger alliances among its adversaries. On Thursday, Japan and South Korea met in Tokyo for their first summit in over a decade. Hours before the meeting, North Korea expressed itself by launching a long-range missile that landed in waters west of Japan. The threat from China and North Korea has necessitated that Japan and South Korea overcome their historic disputes and rebuild their economic and security relations; further developments here are anticipated.

In addition, the Australia-United Kingdom-United States “AUKUS” security pact, founded in fall 2021, is advancing its efforts to increase security in the Indo-Pacific region. This week, the trio announced that Australia will be getting its first nuclear-powered submarines, a least three of them from the United States. The issue of owning a nuclear-powered fleet has been contentious in Australia, which is committed to being a nuclear-free country. President Biden was quick to stress that the subs would be nuclear-powered, not nuclear armed, but it’s the Chinese who appear most miffed.

The subs will grant Australia with the ability to travel farther and more quickly, and potentially carry out long-range strikes as needed. The nuclear fleet underscores the imperative for regional security and the threat imparted by Beijing. While Washington’s previous efforts on Asian security were primarily in the form of bilateral agreements, there is now an incentive to empower independent interactions among regional allies. But it’s murky territory, as by now many regional players like Australia have strong trade relationships with China, and it’s unclear if Beijing will seek to economically punish them for upping their physical defense.