It has been nearly two decades since a Chinese head of state visited its southernly neighbour. The last time a Chinese head of state set foot in Myanmar, the country was still under full military rule and the capital was still Yangon. China was yet to be admitted as a WTO member and the champion of globalisation was still hiding its strength and biding its time.
On 14th January, the 15th round of the ‘China-Japan Strategic Dialogue’ was held in Xi’an, the ‘Terracotta Army’ city of China’s Shaanxi province. The mechanism is one of the few communication channels that remain active between the two countries: in addition to this Dialogue and regular diplomatic exchanges, the ‘China-Japan High-Level Economic Dialogue’, the ‘China-Japan Security Dialogue’ and the ‘China-Japan High-Level Political Dialogue’ make up for the entire system of bilateral consultations between Beijing and Tokyo.
Not just a new president and a new parliament: Taiwan’s elections will be heavily influenced by the country’s relationship with Beijing, its increasingly meddlesome neighbour.
South East Asia is set to be a key driver of global economic growth in the coming decades, with Indonesia alone projected to be the world’s fourth biggest economy by 2050. Vietnam and the Philippines, each with approximately 100 million people and fast-growing economies, will likely emerge as middle powers themselves. While Thailand and Malaysia have begun to age and are battling to avoid middle-income traps, they are already large, globalized economies.
A traditional stronghold for the US ‘pivot to Asia’, South East Asia has recently been on the receiving end of China’s courtship display. The conflicting messages conveyed by the US and China have also been aggravating the electoral challenges that many South East Asian states are currently facing. In particular, general elections in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand have offered new evidence of the type of political transition that the region is en route to complete.
Following President Xi’s visits to Kazakhstan and to South East Asia in 2013, China unveiled its grand Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), with two main components, namely the “Silk Road Economic Belt” (SREB), a network of transporation starting from China, encompassing several Euroasian countries on its way, ending in Europe; and “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” (MSR) connecting China and Europe via South-East Asia, South Asia and Africa.
It was a visit worthy of a plethora of superlatives. The arrival of China’s President Xi Jinping in Athens (November 10-12) was termed a “vote of confidence” for Greece. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis underlined that Greece and China are bound together by their cultural heritages, linking ancient civilizations of the West and East. President Xi described China’s multi-decade anchor investment in the Port of Piraeus as the “biggest project of the One Belt, One Road Initiative” (OBOR, the official Chinese term for the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ (BRI)).
While Balkans-China relations have deepened in a number of policy areas over the last decade, two particular forms of interaction have been most visible and talked about: a) cooperation on large-scale infrastructure projects undertaken by the Balkan governments, funded via Chinese loans, implemented by contracting Chinese state-owned enterprises (with the notable exception of the Pjelešac Bridge in Croatia, which is financed primarily by EU funds); and b) Chinese greenfield and brownfield investments in other infrastructure assets as well as manufacturing capacities in the
The more you discuss with China, the better you will understand each other. The more you cooperate with China, the more incentives Beijing will have to pursue a liberal reform agenda. So went the underlying logic of “constructive engagement”, an unofficial approach taken by the EU vis-à-vis China for the most part of the last two decades.