What China wants

  • And how it’ll get it

Prime Minister Imran Khan left a burning country back home to visit China last week just so he could get a bailout package along the lines of what Saudi Arabia offered. Of course, none of the journalists that China has silenced recently made global headlines, so here Pakistan couldn’t sell diplomatic support or whatever it sold to the Saudis.

That meant that the bailout didn’t come, and what came instead was a barrage of warnings asking Pakistani officials to watch their words with regards to China and especially the China Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Having made clear that nothing meaningful would be altered in the CPEC agreements, Beijing has given Islamabad little choice but to nod and head home, and wait for the next order. It is pretty evident that the current government is completely clueless in its foreign policy dealings.

Even so, considering how little it appears to know about the country that it governs, it isn’t particularly shocking that such is the case. Having said that, if the government officials are interested in understanding China, especially the way it functions and what its ambitions are they would find libraries worth of literature being produced virtually every nanosecond.

One such book is China’s World: What Does China Want? written by Kerry Brown, a professor of Chinese Studies and Director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College, London.

For everyone’s convenience Brown has divided the book into zones – zonal marking if you will – and discussed China’s interests in each. However, first the book begins with the ‘Principles of Chinese Foreign Policy’.

Historically, China has avoided Zone 4 – which is the primary reason why all the regions have been lumped together in one section. This is largely because Beijing has historically deemed these areas unprofitable

In discussing these principles, the book encapsulates Chinese history beginning with the Qing Dynasty. The roots of Chinese foreign policy can be traced to the 19th and early 20th century, especially the aftermath of the 1911 revolution and its conquest in the Second World War, the communist usurpation followed which.

‘The history of Qing and Republican China had been one of victimization and suffering, and one of the PRC’s first promises was to break with the past by sticking to clear principles of behaviour in foreign policy matter. In 1949, after all, it was still vulnerable.’

An entire chapter is dedicated to how Chinese President Xi Jinping sees the world. It is Xi who actually defines the zones that the book delineates and narrates how he has a separate strategy for each of these zones.

‘For Xi Jinping’s generation of leadership, the country they are in charge of is intrinsically global. Even when they are considering domestic issues like the construction of new cities, changing the country’s energy profile to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and focus more on renewable or nuclear sources, or liberalising their currency, the size of China and its role in the global economic and security system means there are external repercussions, some of which can be considerable.’

Zone 1 is US; Zone 2 are the ASEAN countries and those within geographical proximity; Zone 3 is the European Union and Zone 4 is basically everyone else: Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East.

The Sino-US relations are a double edge sword in how the two share geopolitical rivalry and fiscal partnership.  After all it was China’s positions in its south that prompted the President Obama led US ‘pivot to East Asia’.

Brown argues that the mammoth financial benefits for both would ensure that they work their way around the strategic differences, with Taiwan being underlined as a potential dangerous exception. Surprisingly, North Korea is not.

‘Due to the colossal amounts involved, it is not easy to see how China would be able to walk away from the United States. There are no other large, reliable investment vehicles to put their money in; it is by far and away the best bet for fiscally cautious Beijing.’

China’s relations in Zone 3, the EU, are similarly hinged on the money.

Meanwhile, China perceives Zone 2 as its own greater extension – and this is where Pakistan comes in. In Pakistan, China sees its unchallenged sphere of influence just like it does in East Asia, Central Asia and the Pacific Rim. To understand what China expects from Pakistan it would be advisable to look into Beijing’s policies in South And East China Seas.

Historically, China has avoided Zone 4 – which is the primary reason why all the regions have been lumped together in one section. This is largely because Beijing has historically deemed these areas unprofitable. And so, even as it looks to take the One Belt One Road project towards the Middle East, Chinese interests are purely based on where it can make the most money with the least cost – financial and otherwise.

For Pakistan, however, the message from China is clear: sort your security out, let us make money on your behalf, and don’t ask too many questions. And it was almost as if Brown was prophesising last week’s events when he wrote the following lines:

‘Pakistan’s internal instability, and its political and diplomatic complexity, means those declarations that it is a reliable friend to Beijing have been met, in recent years, with what looks a little like weary resignation by elite leaders there.’