According to the Western view, China and Russia were successful at the BRICS summit in Johannesburg with their objective of strengthening BRICS as an anti-Western alliance. It is indeed surprising that India, South Africa and Brazil have joined the invitation to six other countries, including Iran, albeit after some resistance. Western commentators are now faced with the mystery of why important countries of the Global South are behaving in a completely unreasonable manner.
The draft of Germany’s China strategy, which was presented on July 13, vacillates between the demand to checkmate the enemy and the desire to continue reaping the benefits of cooperation – both of which will be expensive in any case. The Federation of German Industries (BDI) immediately demanded that ‘Germany as a business location’ be made more attractive again. And the partners in the Global South courted for the balancing act between ‘risk reduction’ and ‘decoupling’ are predominantly skeptical.
In the report of General Secretary Xi Jinping for the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Belt&Road was only mentioned in passing. Even in the speeches of other top politicians, the former flagship project, with which the government in Beijing has stirred up the global development discourse since 2013, hardly figures anymore. Some observers therefore already want to declare BRI dead.
As Chinese companies go global, allegations of social and environmental violations related to their activities overseas have surged in number alongside China’s expanding economic footprint and influence across continents and sectors. A recently published report analysed publicly recorded allegations of human rights abuses linked to overseas Chinese business operations between 2013 and 2020.
In the West, China is currently seen as an important driving force behind the global economic recovery after the Corona crisis. But can it continue to fulfil this role – or is “the future of globalisation with China at stake”, according to the European Chamber of Commerce in China? The background to this apprehensive question is the “new economic model” that state and party leader Xi Jinping announced in May 2020, the ‘Dual Circulation Strategy’, DCS.
If the ‘8th Forum on China Africa Cooperation’ at the end of November was an indicator of the intensified competition between the United States, Europe and China for Africa, Beijing kept a fairly low profile. The limited media attention given to the meeting, which was scheduled only at the ministerial level, gives the impression that most observers wanted to quickly and graciously spread the cloak of silence over FOCAC8 and its results.
With the ‘Dual Circulation Strategy’ (DCS), the government in Beijing has once again thrown a stone into the water to test the effects of the announcement. However, after a few critical articles, the international discussion has remained surprisingly quiet. Yet the deliberations could have far-reaching implications for further globalization and China’s leading role in it.
China’s authorities report soaring foreign trade figures, despite of the on-going Corona pandemic. A further shift towards the BRI countries is emerging, a trend that plays into the narrative of the ‘Dual Circulation Strategy’ announced this summer. This “new development model” intends, on the one hand, to further enhance the internal economy, while ‘external circulation’ refers to further integration into the global economy through foreign trade and investments.
The narrative of Chinese “debt diplomacy” is rather simplistic: Lending by state-owned banks is not transparent, encourages corruption, and serves primarily Chinese corporations, it goes. This would lead inevitably into a debt trap. It appears as if Beijing’s policy is fundamentally different from the practices of international financial institutions, governments of Western industrialized countries or large commercial banks.
When China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Myanmar in January this year, he combined the announcement of vaccine supplies with offers of deepened economic cooperation. The timing of the visit was astute, coming after the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, the NLD, was re-elected for a second term in November 2020 – and two weeks before the military coup.