Newsletter 5/2023

June 22, 2023

Contents: Hindernisse auf der Seidenstraße +++ Schuldzuweisungen in der Schuldenkrise  +++ Europeans consider economic relationship with China as bearing more benefits than risks +++ „The Future of Geopolitics Will Be Decided by 6 Swing States“ +++ Chinese Investments and Labour Struggles in Indonesia +++ Internationale Solidarität aufbauen! +++ Cambodia: Benefits and Costs of participation in BRI +++ „Guardians of the Belt and Road“ +++ The risks and rewards of economic sanctions +++ Preparing for or preventing war with China

Hindernisse auf der Seidenstraße

Uwe Hoering, Juni 2023

Vor zehn Jahren startete China in vielen Ländern vor allem des globalen Südens eine Initiative zum Ausbau von Handel und Investitionen. Auch wenn es um die „Neue Seidenstraße“ inzwischen ruhiger geworden ist – den weltpolitischen Einfluss Beijings hat sie deutlich gesteigert. Dem globalen Süden bietet sie Chancen auf einen Entwicklungsschub, der aber mit einer neuen Abhängigkeit von China einhergehen könnte. Vor die Wahl gestellt, sich im gegenwärtig eskalierenden Konflikt zwischen China und dem Westen zu entscheiden, ist die Haltung der meisten Länder des globalen Südens klar. Sie verorten sich irgendwo zwischen den Kontrahenten, halten die Beziehungen zu beiden Seiten aufrecht und versuchen deren Konkurrenz zu ihrem eigenen Vorteil zu nutzen. Zum Beitrag

Uwe Hoering, Hindernisse auf der Seidenstraße. Die neue Stärke Chinas schafft auch Konflikte. In: Südlink-Magazin 204, China und der Globale Süden. herausgegeben von INKOTA, Juni 2023

Schwarzer Peter-Spiel in der Schuldenkrise

Uwe Hoering, 19. Juni 2023

Die Vorstellung, dass die Milliardenkredite aus China für Belt&Road wesentlich für die gegenwärtige neue dramatische Schuldenkrise verantwortlich seien, hält sich hartnäckig. Doch in den Zeiten der Niedrigzinspolitik haben sich Regierungen überall billig Geld geholt und hoch verschuldet. Mit Pandemie, sprunghaften Zinserhöhungen und steigenden Energiepreisen sitzen nun vor allem viele Länder des Globalen Südens wieder in der Schuldenfalle und sind ihren Gläubigern im Norden, Westen und Osten ausgeliefert. Zum Beitrag

Europeans consider economic relationship with China as bearing more benefits than risks

In April 2023, the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) conducted an opinion poll across 11 EU member states to understand how European citizens see their place in the world today. From the findings:

„European citizens do not see China as a power that challenges and wants to undermine Europe, and they do not buy into the “democracy versus autocracy” framework promoted by the Biden administration. Despite the “no limits” partnership that China and Russia announced in February 2022 and Beijing’s subsequent refusal to condemn Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, the poll results show that Europeans’ perception of China has changed surprisingly little when compared with the results of the poll conducted in 2021.“

„The prevailing view in almost every country in which we polled is that China is Europe’s, and the respective country’s, “necessary partner”. Germany, Sweden, France, and Denmark are the only countries where the prevailing view is to see China as a “rival” or an “adversary”, rather than an “ally” or “partner”. But this was also the case in 2021. Paradoxically, (the) call to de-risk Europe’s relations with China finds sympathetic audiences in the two countries – France and Germany – whose leaders have, so far, promoted a considerably more obliging approach.“

„If a conflict broke out between the US and China over Taiwan, a clear majority would like to remain neutral.“

„Europeans have no doubt that Russia and China are working together on the global scene. But that does not lead them to conclude that Europe should decouple from China as it has from Russia. Across the countries surveyed, on average only 22 per cent of Europeans consider the region’s economic relationship with China as bearing more risks than benefits.“

Keeping America close, Russia down, and China far away: How Europeans navigate a competitive world, by Jana Puglierin und Pawel Zerka, European Council on Foreign Relations, June 7, 2023

„The Future of Geopolitics Will Be Decided by 6 Swing States“

Die Konflikte zwischen China und den USA bestimmen mittlerweile die geopolitischen Diskussionen und Frontstellungen. Daneben spielen noch die Dreiecksbeziehungen USA – China  – Russland und USA – Europa – China eine Rolle. Und mitten drin der Ukraine-Krieg und seine mögliche Bedeutung als ‚Generalprobe’ für eine militärische Konfrontation im Asien-Pazifik um Taiwan.

Insbesondere im transatlantischen Diskurs wird dabei häufig die Schlüsselstellung übersehen, die die Länder des ‚Globalen Südens’ in dieser hegemonialen Neuordnung haben. Sie werden von den Kontrahenten aktiv umworben, nicht nur durch die Belt&Road-Initiative und deren ‚westliche’ Konkurrenzangebote. Sie haben in den vergangenen Jahrzehnten erheblich an eigenem Gewicht gewonnen und sind in der Lage, es in dem Gezerre um eine ‚neue Weltordnung’ in ihrem eigenen Interesse in die Waagschale zu werfen. „The fate of this contest“, so Tareq Hasan in seinem Beitrag in Modern Diplomacy deshalb, „will not be decided by the actions of Washington, Beijing, or Moscow alone. It will also depend on how a group of influential countries in the global south navigate the shifting geopolitical landscape. These countries are the geopolitical swing states of the 21st century.“

In particular, he mentions Turkey, India, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Indonesia, and Brazil. „They are relatively stable and prosperous nations that have their own global agendas independent of the great powers, and the will and capabilities to turn those agendas into realities. They are more demanding, flexible, dynamic, and strategic than they could have been in the 20th century, when they had to choose between alignment or non-alignment with one bloc or another. And they will often choose multi-alignment, a strategy that will make them critical—and sometimes unpredictable—forces in the world’s next stage of globalization, and the next phase of great power competition.“

According to Tareq Hasan, these geopolitical swing states have several crucial characteristics: a competitive advantage in a critical aspect of global supply chains like strategic resoures, they are uniquely suited for nearshoring, offshoring, or friendshoring because of their development levels like India, they have a disproportionate amount of capital like Saudi Arabia and they have leaders with regional of global visions that they pursue within certain constraints like Brazil’s ‚Lula’ and Turkey’s Erdogan. In addition, they also have considerable military strength. And they are well embedded in regional blocs like Indonesia in the ASEAN in Southeast Asia, South Africa in the African Union or Brazil in Mercosur.

Tareq Hasan, The Future of Geopolitics will be decided by 6 Swing States. June 8, 2023, in: moderndiplomacy, June 8, 2023

See also: Cliff Kupchan, 6 Swing States Will Decide the Future of Geopolitics. These middle powers of the global south should be the focus of U.S. policy. In: Foreign Policy June 6, 2023

Siehe dazu auch: Uwe Hoering, Hindernisse auf der Seidenstraße. In: Südlink-Magazin 204, China und der Globale Süden. herausgegeben von INKOTA, Juni 2023


Chinese Investments and Labour Struggles in Indonesia

The Indonesian government wants to expand infrastructure and upgrade Indonesian industries, also in peripheral regions like Sulawesi. This includes the attempt to reduce exports of raw materials and instead replace them with processing and value creation in the country itself, efforts that other raw material exporters such as Zimbabwe are also pursuing. The expansion of infrastructure is partly financed through foreign loans and investment.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government under President Xi Jinping, in power since 2012, has expanded its economic engagement abroad with its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which began in 2013. Several BRI-projects have been started in Indonesia since, and Chinese investments in Indonesia have grown, especially in the energy sector, the metal industry, in transport, and in real estate. One flagship of these Belt and Road projects is the Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park, or IMIP, on the island of Sulawesi, that has been built up since 2013. IMIP is run by a joint venture between Tsingshan, a Chinese state-owned enterprise and the world’s largest stainless-steel producer, and Bintang Delapan, one of Indonesia’s largest nickel mining companies. According to the reports of two scholar activists about the workers’ composition, working conditions, and labor conflicts in IMIP companies as well as other Chinese investments in Indonesia, the situation in Chinese projects is worse than that in projects of investments in other countries, not only in Morowali, but also in coal power plants in Sumatra that are Chinese investments.

Alfian Al-Ayubby and Y. Wasi Gede Puraka: Chinese Investments and Labor Struggles in Indonesia. In: China from Below. Critical Analysis & Grassroots Activism. Edited by Ralf Ruckus, Daniel Reineke, Jule Pfeffer und Kevin Lin, based on a webinar, that took place on May 15, 2021. Link to the book

Chinesische Direktinvestitionen
Internationale Solidarität aufbauen!

Die Neue Seidenstraße hat eine neue Welle chinesischer Direktinvestitionen nach Afrika gebracht. Doch weder in den alten Fabriken noch in den neuen Industrieparks und Sonderwirtschaftszonen würden die Rechte der Textilarbeiter*innen hoch im Kurs stehen, berichten Globalization Monitor (GM), eine Nichtregierungsorganisation mit Sitz in Hong Kong, und Irene Lanyero, Mitglied der ugandischen Textil-, Bekleidungs- und Ledergewerkschaft UTGLAWU. So  stellten die ugandischen Gewerkschafter*innen fest, dass die afrikanischen Arbeiter*innen während der Coronapandemie in den Betrieben genauso harschen geschlossenen (closed-loop) Produktionssystemen unterworfen waren wie ihre Kolleg*innen in China. Das Resümee: „Angesichts dieser Ähnlichkeiten sollten die Arbeitskämpfe in China und Übersee dringend verknüpft werden, um sich der expandierenden kapitalistischen Ausbeutung mit den „Merkmalen des chinesischen Sozialismus“ besser entgegenstellen zu können. Fehlende Vereinigungsfreiheit und das Vorgehen gegen unabhängige Gewerkschaften sind herausfordernd für die Solidarität zwischen Arbeiter*innenorganisationen in China und den Ländern, in denen China aktiv ist. Aber sollte es nicht möglich sein, internationale Solidarität und einen Austausch zwischen Arbeiter*innen und Aktivist*innen in verschiedenen Ländern des globalen Südens aufzubauen, die von chinesischen Investitionen betroffen sind?“

Die Muster bleiben gleich. Chinesische Textilinvestitionen in Afrika haben Tradition, die schlechte Behandlung der Arbeiter*innen auch. Von Globalization Monitor und Irene Lanyero. Aus dem Englischen von Gerold Schmidt. In: Südlink-Magazin 204, Dossier ‚China und der Globale Süden‘, Juni 2023

Ups and Downs along the Silk Roads

Hinter der aktuellen geopolitischen Konfrontation treten die Entwicklungen entlang der Seidenstraßen, die ein zentraler Bestandteil der chinesischen Außenwirtschaft und internationalen Politik sind, in den Hintergrund. Der Blick darauf hilft gleichzeitig bei der Einschätzung, wo China mit seiner Positionierung als hegemonialer Konkurrent steht. Deshalb gibt es im Newsletter regelmäßig Hinweise auf besonders aufschlussreiche, kontroverse oder gewichtige Vorhaben. Einen guten Überblick über zahlreiche BRI-Projekte gibt die Datenbank ‚People’s Map of Global China’

Cambodia: Benefits and Costs of participation in BRI

Die Regierung Kambodschas unter dem autoritären Langzeitregenten Hun Sen zählt zu den engsten Verbündeten Chinas in Südostasien. Skandalträchtige Entwicklungen wie den Ausbau der Küstenstadt  Sihanoukville zu einem chinesischen Tourismuszentren mit Schwerpunkt Spielcasinos, und die Vermutung, dass unweit davon Chinas zweite maritime Militärbasis entstehen könnte, erwecken den Eindruck, das Land sei inzwischen zu einer Art Kolonie Chinas geworden, so wie es für Laos beschrieben wird. Eine Studie des ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore, veröffentlicht im EastAsiaForum, ordnet die Rolle und Bedeutung Chinas bei der Entwicklung des Landes breiter und differenzierter ein:

„Economic relations have been strengthened by Cambodia’s active participation in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Cambodia has been a vocal and enthusiastic proponent of the BRI since its inception in 2013. In Cambodia, the BRI focuses mainly on loans to develop physical transport infrastructure, although it has also been indirectly associated with the development and transformation of the port city of Sihanoukville. There are also investments in agriculture, energy and light manufacturing.

Participation in the BRI has costs and benefits. As a Least Developed Country aspiring to achieve upper middle-income status by 2030, Cambodia has embraced the BRI as an important instrument for addressing infrastructure deficits and reducing trade and transport costs. The BRI has also supported the development of the power sector and agricultural diversification. This has raised productivity and led to trade expansion and high economic growth without compromising debt sustainability.“

„Rapid economic growth has increased wealth inequality but also raised overall living standards and produced sharp reductions in poverty. Between 2009 and 2019, poverty incidence (US$1 per day) almost halved from about 34 per cent to 18 per cent. These achievements derive from multiple factors but the BRI’s contribution cannot be denied.

Jayant Menon, ISEAS, Cambodia bets on BRI benefits but should count costs. In: EastAsiaForum, 31 May 2023


„Guardians of the Belt and Road“

It is hardly a secret that Chinese companies and workers are repeatedly facing fierce protests and even violent attacks. Beijing has been using more or less private paramilitary security services to cooperate with domestic security forces for a long time. Information about this is naturally even more difficult to obtain than information about the role of Western services and militaries in the fight against ‘international terrorism’ or about Russian mercenary services. They operate below the threshold of direct military cooperation, but are another mainstay alongside economic and political influence and, depending on the escalation of the situation, could very quickly be used for a larger military response.

Encouraged by the charade surrounding the Wagner troops in Russia, two guest writers in The Diplomat speculate on the question of whether, with a weakening of the role of the military battle group in Africa too, Beijing might abandon the “reserved strategy” of its paramilitary security services, whose primary task so far has been to safeguard Chinese investments: „As great power competition between the United States and China heats up, Beijing is likely to support aggressive utilization of PSCs to advance ist gray-zone warfare“.

The Jamestown Foundation, based in Washington DC, publishes a series of studies by Sergey Sukhankin on ‘The Role of Private Security Companies in Securing China’s Overseas Interests’ under the title “Guardians of the Belt and Road”. It states:

„China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is widely recognized as an economic power play that could challenge US influence geopolitically, particularly in vital and resource-rich regions around the world. Little attention, however, has been devoted to the importance of how China plans to secure and defend its economic interests along the BRI. China has increasingly employed private security contractors (PSCs) to safeguard its geo-economic interests in many regions of the world – in particular, politically unstable “grey zones,” such as Central Africa.

However, unlike Russia’s private military companies (PMCs), which have achieved a notorious reputation in the West, Chinese PSCs are almost unknown and receive only occasional coverage in Western media. As China’s presence and influence grows along the various routes of the BRI so does the number of security-related challenges to its overseas mega-projects. Instability in parts of Eurasia, particularly in Central Asia, will likely increase due to the rise in radical Islam, emboldened by the Taliban victory in Afghanistan. Numerous challenges additionally persist for China in Africa, which may require Beijing to increase its military presence there.

However, officials in Beijing realize that the deployment of regular troops or the establishment of military bases—even under the pretext of protecting Chinese nationals and business interests—will result in pushback from both local authorities and the international community, as well as increase suspicions and Sinophobia. With this in mind, China is most likely to instead rely on flexible, multifunctional and efficient PSCs to ensure the physical security of Chinese nationals and businesses and permit Beijing to project hard power into these regions, including improving intelligence collection and further expanding its control over strategic natural resources and transportation routes.

The Contemporary Global ‘Security for Hire’ Industry: An Overview. October 14, 2022

An Anatomy of the Chinese Private Security Contracting Industrie, January 3, 2023.

The Role of PSCs in Securing Chinese Interests in Central Asia: The Current Situation and Future Prospects. February 22, 2023

Chinese PSCs in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Case of Anglophone Africa, May 19, 2023

Chinese PSCs in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Case of Francophone and Lusophone Africa, June 6, 2023

Chinese PSCs in South Asia: The Case of Pakistan, July 14, 2023

The risks and rewards of economic sanctions

Die drastischen und zumindest anfänglich sehr schmerzhaften Sanktionen gegen Russland nach dem Angriff auf die Ukraine haben ebenso wie wirtschaftliche Zwangsmaßnahmen wie der sogenannte ‚Chip-Krieg‘ der chinesischen Regierung die eigene Verletzlichkeit demonstriert. Umgekehrt benutzt China selbst wirtschaftliche Instrumente, um sein Missfallen auszudrücken und Regierungen zu zwingen, politische Entscheidungen zu revidieren – Beispiel Litauen, das Beijing mit der Eröffnung einer taiwanesischen Vertretung verärgerte, oder Australien, das, ausgelöst durch kritische Nachfragen zur Corona-Pandemie und Xinjiang, mit Handelsbeschränkungen belegt wurde. Handel als Waffe einzusetzen ist völkerrechtlich höchst umstritten, wie die jüngste Resolution des UN-Menschenrechtsrats gezeigt hat. Und die Wirkungen sind zweischneidig, wie nicht zuletzt Europa zu spüren bekommt. Sie höhlen das multilaterale Handelssystem aus, auf dem – bei allen Nebenwirkungen – die wirtschaftliche Entwicklung der vergangenen Jahrzehnte beruhte, und zwingen unter anderem zur Umstrukturierung von Produktions- und Lieferketten. Und dieses Instrument steht nicht allen Regierungen, sondern nur wirtschaftlich starken Ländern zur Verfügung.

The latest issue of East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘An age of sanctions’, details the impact of sanctions „as they rip well beyond the battlefield. It explores how far sanctions have succeeded in hobbling Russia’s war machine and questions their deterrent value outside of conflict or universal application. It details how supply chains have reshuffled around the reach of regulators. It asks how nations are using their currencies to plumb opportunities created by the conflict. It explores the rising use of national security exceptions to multilateral accords and the disproportionate impact sanctions have had on the most vulnerable populations.“

The lead article for example by Nicholas Mulder, author of ‘The Economic Weapon: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War’ (2022), „looks at how ‘the mixed results of the economic campaign against Russia demonstrate that a powerful countervailing trend has gone largely unnoticed: the rise of Asian commercial power as a facilitator of trade diversion that blunts Western sanctions’.“ Other regions in the Global South too benefit from the ‚geoeconomic fragmentation’. And Mulder warns: „Together with trade fragmentation and ‘friend-shoring’, technological decoupling can lead to significant economic losses globally. The drive for self-sufficiency is costly and success is not guaranteed.“

The risks and rewards of economic sanctions. By Editorial Board, East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘An age of sanctions’, 12 June 2023

Siehe dazu auch: How China imposes sanctions. A guide to the evolution of Beijing’s new policy tool. Merics report by Francesca Ghiretti, merics, June 6, 2023

See also: Can Export Controls Win a New Cold War: A Historical Case Study. A Commentary by Ramon Marks, The Jamestown Foundation, June 22, 2023. pdf

Preparing for or preventing war with China

Die heftigen Debatten in den USA über die Aufrüstungsstrategie gegenüber China nehmen anscheinend weiter an Fahrt auf. Beispiel dafür sind mehrere aktuelle Beiträge, darunter eine Artikel im Magazin Politico mit dem Titel “The Pentagon is Freaking Out About a Potential War With China (Because America Might Lose)” von Michael Hirsh, früher leitender aussenpolitischer Redakteur und Kommentator bei Newsweek, den William Hartung vom Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft so zusammenfasst:

„As the title suggests, the piece spends the bulk of its time amplifying the views of Pentagon officials, ex-military leaders and analysts at arms contractor funded think tanks to the effect that America has either been a asleep at the wheel and/or too distracted by the war on terror to adequately prepare for what the Pentagon now calls the “pacing threat” posed by China. The solution? More Pentagon spending, a supersized defense industrial base, and (perhaps) a shift in the type of weaponry the Department of Defense invests in going forward.“

Für die Gegenposition verweist Hartung auf einen Bericht von Dan Grazier vom Project on Government Oversight (POGO), der „underscores the folly of current U.S. military strategy towards China. He begins his piece by suggesting that ‚the plans put forward by civilian and uniformed defense officials to defend against China (…) make little sense. The United States is foolishly building a strategy and force to attack where this potential adversary is most fortified.’”

„The thrust of Grazier’s analysis, which is worth reading in its entirety, is that the Pentagon is building the wrong weapons to fight the wrong war at immense and unnecessary expense. The Pentagon’s emphasis on building more aircraft carriers and stealth bombers to “project military power right up to the coast of mainland China and into its interior” amounts to funding “vanity projects” that are untethered from any realistic approach to an actual conflict with China. A defensive strategy designed to deter China from taking military action outside its immediate defense perimeter would be cheaper, more effective, and less provocative, in Grazier’s view.“

William Hartung, It’s Time to Focus on Preventing War with China, Not Preparing for It. In: Forbes, June 12, 2023

Michael Hirsh, The Pentagon Is Freaking Out About a Potential War With China  (Because America might lose). In: Politico, june 9, 2023

Dan Grazier, A Rational China-Oriented Military Strategy. POGO report, June 08, 2023


„One of the defining instruments of 21st century geopolitical struggle isn’t a bomb or a warship — it’s the use of economic sanctions to coerce or punish the adversaries of major economic powers.“

EastAsiaForum, Editorial, 12 June, 2023

Leave a Reply