In Asian Media this week: Chinese see Biden Admin as ‘incompetent and ignorant’. Plus: China ready to sign no-nuke zone treaty; spending on nuclear weapons surging; Beijing, Delhi expel each other’s journalists; ambassador slams Seoul’s foreign policy; China passes 50pc non-fossil fuel power supply
Anthony Albanese warned of the dangers of the diplomatic deep freeze in US-China relations in his recent speech to the Shangri-La Dialogue, yet at the same event Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu refused to talk to his US counterpart, Lloyd Austin.
The immediate reason for the rebuff was that Washington refuses to remove sanctions imposed on Li for allegedly helping procure military equipment from Russia.
But there might have been a more fundamental factor at work.
Lanxin Xiang, a visiting scholar at the Harvard Kennedy School, says Beijing is no longer keen on high-level talks with the Biden team. “It has pretty much given up on the Biden administration,” he says in an article in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post.
“[It] is widely seen by China’s political elite as incompetent, ignorant about Chinese culture and history and extremely arrogant.”
Xiang, professor emeritus of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, says China seems to be betting the next US presidential election will produce anyone but Joe Biden.
The renewed US interest in high-level diplomacy was motived by a desire to calm allies’ fears that lack of communication might lead to war – and to portray China as being unreasonable.
Xiang’s analysis would seem to have been borne out by a phone call this week between Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in advance of Blinken’s visit to Beijing on Sunday.
An SCMP report says Blinken talked about maintaining open lines of communication while Qin repeated Beijing’s stern position on core concerns, such as Taiwan (and delivered a mini-lecture on the need for the US to show respect).
Despite the frosty tone of the conversation, both countries confirmed Blinken’s visit would go ahead.
But as Xiang says in his piece: “On the issues of Taiwan, economic competition and geopolitical rivalry, serious communication between the two sides has become all but impossible.
“Not since the Cold War have we witnessed such a dangerous situation. It has become the new normal that the two most powerful nations talk past each other most of the time.”
ASEAN strives to avoid ‘collateral damage’
Southeast Asian countries publicly deal with the US-China strategic rivalry by calling for more dialogue and co-operation between the superpowers. But privately they are continually consulting each other on how to avoid becoming collateral damage.
An important element of ASEAN’s thinking has been the 1995 Bangkok Treaty, aimed at making the region a nuclear-weapons-free zone. Last month, China informed ASEAN it was ready to accede to the treaty without reservations.
This should be a big step forward but, according to Bangkok Post regional affairs columnist Kavi Chongkittavorn, ASEAN has been reluctant to accept China as a signatory: it wanted China and other nuclear powers – the US, the UK, France and Russia – to sign the no-nukes treaty simultaneously.
A ministerial meeting of the treaty commission is to be held soon and it will decide whether to let China accede to the treaty. “A day of reckoning is coming,” Kavi writes.
“ASEAN is mindful that any decision…must not be construed as a favour for China.”
Kavi, however, quotes ASEAN Secretary-General Kao Kim Hourn as saying China’s request was a matter of “first come, first accept.”
Kavi says: “ASEAN has instinctively chosen to avoid any possible nuclear annihilation in its backyards through a new pathway – one nuclear power signatory at a time.”
Footnote: Kavi says AUKUS has caused considerable unease among ASEAN countries. Indonesia and Malaysia fear it could fuel an arms race and destabilise the region. “Other [countries] remained quiet,” he says, “but they could not hide their anxiety.”
Nuclear nations’ high spending on modernising weapons
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida represents Hiroshima and he wants to see a world without nuclear weapons. The G7 summit was held there last month and the countries agreed to try to spur momentum towards a nuclear-free world.
But the pledges by G7 nuclear powers are mere words.
The Japan Times reported this week that spending on nuclear weapons continued to surge last year – for the third year in a row.
The nuclear-armed countries – the US, China, Russia, the UK, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel – spent almost $US83 billion on nuclear weapons and related systems in 2022.
A report by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons said the US alone spent $43.7 billion, not on increasing its arsenal but on modernising weapons and delivery systems. Russia spent $9.6 billion and China’s nuclear budget was $11.7 billion.
The paper also said a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found that the global inventory of nuclear weapons in January was 12,512 of which 9,576 were in military stockpiles ready for potential use – 86 more than a year earlier.
The Jakarta Post carried a longer story on the SIPRI report. It said most of the increase could be attributed to China, which increased its stockpile from 350 to 410 warheads.
India, Pakistan and North Korea all added to their stockpiles.
Russia’s stockpile is 4,489 weapons. The news story does not report the US number but the original report shows it is 3,708.
Russia and the US have 90 per cent of the world’s nuclear weapons, the Post said.
After AUKUS comes ‘INDUS’ – a new American lure
Ties between India and China have been fraying since the armed border clash just over three years ago but relations have become even more strained in recent weeks, at the same time as India is strengthening military ties with the US.
Rohini Mohan, India correspondent of The Straits Times newspaper, reports India and China have been expelling each other’s journalists, leaving only one representative in each country.
“Tension between India and China has been on the boil over territorial limits since the May 2020 military clash,” she writes. “Mutual distrust has deepened since then, with India issuing frequent bans on Chinese products and investment, and both countries granting fewer travel and business visas.
“Former diplomats worry that the two sides will soon have no accredited journalists in each other’s country, closing a crucial channel for amicable communication.”
A South China Morning Post report says India and the US are stepping up defence ties with a new defence co-operation plan, the co-production of military hardware and potential big-ticket deals for fighter jet technology.
The two governments agreed on a defence road map during a two-day visit to New Delhi earlier this month by US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin. The two countries agreed on a new initiative for co-operation between defence equipment companies. It is called INDUS X.
The report, by Mumbai journalist Kunal Purohit, says the deals seem to be Washington’s way of weaning India off its reliance on Russia for defence equipment.
An editorial in The Indian Express newspaper says India wants access to advanced defence technology that the US political class does not easily part with. But the Ukraine war had led to a rethink in Washington: might Delhi have taken a neutral position if it had not relied so much on Russia for defence supplies?
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to visit Washington in the coming week and he will be feted by President Joe Biden. SCMP speculates he might also be offered a deal to jointly produce fighter engines in India.
Betting against China a ‘losing wager’
As South Korea edges closer to the US, its relationship with China is deteriorating. The tension came to the fore in an unusual way this month when Chinese Ambassador Xing Haiming publicly criticised Seoul’s foreign policy.
The Korea Times reported Xing read from a prepared text when expressing discontent with South Korea’s increasing alignment with the US.
“The current China-Korea relations are facing various difficulties and, frankly speaking, the responsibility for these problems does not lie in China,” he said.
“With the US exercising full-fledged pressure on China, some people seem to bet that the US will prevail and China will be defeated. That is a wrong bet…Those who bet on China’s loss will surely regret their decision.”
The Korea Herald quoted John Kirby, the US National Security Council spokesman, as saying South Korea had the right to make its own foreign policy decisions.
“It certainly appears as if there was some sort of pressure tactic here,” Kirby said.
But Global Times, an official English-language newspaper, said Xing’s focus was to express high regard for South Korea and for China-South Korea relations.
Of his statement that people who bet on China losing would regret their choice, Global Times said: “Wasn’t he just saying the truth?”
Asia central to net-zero transition
China seems to have passed a milestone in the supply of electricity from non-fossil-fuel sources. Installed electricity generation capacity from non-fossil sources – wind, nuclear, solar and hydro – is now at 50.9 per cent.
Lin Boqiang, head of Xiamen University’s China Institute for Studies in Energy Policy, told China Daily there was no doubt the country could meet its goals of peak-carbon by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060.
Lin said China had been the leading country in the production and deployment of renewables.
China had been building massive wind and solar power facilities, said China Daily, an official English-language newspaper. Most of the projects were in the country’s north west, a region that had vast renewable energy resources.
An opinion piece in The Japan Times says China is leading the world in technologies needed for the new economy that will tackle climate change, India is investing heavily in renewable energy and Singapore and Vietnam are positioning themselves as preferred destinations for green finance.
The article, written by Patrick Suckling, a former Australian ambassador for the environment, says urgency about climate change has been accelerating. The US and the EU had seen a dramatic surge in the political and financial capital devoted to climate action.
There was a focus on global decarbonisation at last month’s G7 summit in Hiroshima (supported by the countries of the Quad).
“The talks that took place…show how important the Indo-Pacific will be for the net-zero transition that’s underway,” Suckling writes.
“The name of the game in this competitive environment is recognising risks and grasping opportunities, because both are present in abundance.”