A Peek Into Everyday China : Emergence of the Fairweather Friend by Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)

China has become more assertive in its global forays despite a visibly slowing economy. The reasons for a slowing economy are many…omicron, failed common prosperity, reality melt down, isolation, ageing, internal politics, supply chain disruptions, higher input costs and more. Historically, Communist China has been assertive and aggressive when it was it was at its weakest. Hence the assertion to continue to expand influence and prove that it still counts in Global affairs is a natural genetic reaction. However, what China is experiencing these days borders on rejection as being even a fair weather friend. These articles which I have put together suggests so. All these have happened in a short time span. As days go by, the chorus is likely to get louder. The article on Sri Lanka from even as staid a paper as South China Morning Post very explicitly suggests China’s fairweather behaviour in International relationships. It is an eye-opener. Combine it with the reaction from smaller nations in the Pacific and Philippines. Add the newfound attitude of the G7 and NATO towards China. The emergent larger picture is that China’s Fairweather Friend image is getting reinforced. It also explains China’s outreach to India and proposal of a FTA in the BRICS forum as also a feeler from their foreign ministry to meet ‘Halfway’.


Headline : Is China anyone’s ‘all-weather’ friend? Sri Lanka’s experience suggests otherwise


Excerpts : Cash-strapped Sri Lanka faces its worst economic crisis in living memory, yet China has offered comparatively little to help its ‘all-weather’ friend…Perhaps it’s time to retire the over-the-top phrases Beijing uses to describe its relations with others, if it cannot abide by them when the going gets tough…Sri Lanka’s recent debt crisis is a stark reminder that even with the best of intentions, it’s hard for China to be an “all-weather friend”…But surely expectations were higher that China, as an “all-weather friend”, would and should do more to help Sri Lanka out of its worst economic crisis since independence?…Perhaps because of its own Covid-induced slowdown, China’s response to Sri Lanka’s economic meltdown has been low-key, to say the least…Last month, Beijing offered to lend a “few hundred million dollars” for essential imports. But that amount falls far short of the US$500 million in foreign exchange Sri Lanka requires every month to cover its basic imports, according to the country’s central bank….This has led to accusations that Beijing, which extended huge infrastructure loans to Sri Lanka back when times were good, has been conspicuous by its absence now the island is in crisis…Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa suggested as much earlier this month when he said that China appeared to be shifting focus towards Southeast Asia and Africa, with South Asian nations no longer getting the same attention as before…It’s almost as if he was suggesting that, far from being an “all-weather” friend, China had turned out to be a fair-weather alternative…Not helping matters were comments Chinese Premier Li Keqiang made in April that seemed to suggest a condition of China’s continued assistance would be the prompt signing of a bilateral free trade agreement. At least, that’s how his call for an early start to negotiations on the pact was widely interpreted – and greeted with consternation – in Sri Lanka…Apart from Sri Lanka, Pakistan has also been described as China’s “all-weather friend”, alongside African nations such as Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia…But perhaps the term should be retired, along with expressions that describe China’s bilateral relations as “higher than the mountains and deeper than the oceans”, or “stronger than steel, and sweeter than honey”…Apart from sounding excessive and unconvincing, these expressions disregard an international relations truism: that there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests…They also, unfortunately, paint China as a country that has over-promised and under-delivered…India, meanwhile, has provided close to US$3 billion worth of assistance to Sri Lanka over the past few months, while its currency swaps, loan deferments and lines of credit for essentials have kept the island nation afloat…As for its ties with Colombo, New Delhi said it will always be a “dependable partner and reliable friend”. Go figure.


Headline : Why China should brace itself for a Pacific rebuff

Excerpts : Pacific island leaders have repeatedly expressed their reservations about being drawn into the power struggle between Beijing and Washington. With the US navy already having a foothold in the region, China needs much more than one base to gain military relevance in the South Pacific. Pacific island nations continue to send negative signals or buy time on China’s bid to strike a security pact with them. This suggests that a strategic debacle may be in the offing for China, which risks losing the opportunity to hit the United States in what seems to be its soft underbelly along the Pacific Rim. Samoan Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa said South Pacific countries could deal with their own security affairs without the intervention of outside actors. Just three days earlier, Mata’afa had pointed out that China’s proposal for a comprehensive security arrangement should be considered by the 18-strong Pacific Islands Forum. Australia and New Zealand, two US allies worried by Chinese activism in what they consider their geopolitical backyard, are part of the forum. It also includes the Federated States of Micronesia, which loudly opposes the stipulation of a security deal with the Chinese while welcoming economic cooperation with them. Fijian Defence Minister Inia Seruiratu bluntly emphasised that “machine guns, fighter jets … are not our primary security concern. The single greatest threat to our very existence is climate change Having bases or extended rights of stopover and replenishment in the South. Pacific would be a great strategic coup for China. If it were to succeed in establishing some sort of military presence in the region, it might attack US frontline troops and hardware along the first island chain from behind. China recently signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands, but the real contours of the agreement remain obscure. Many speculate that China could establish a naval outpost in the Pacific nation. While the possible control of Cambodia’s Ream Naval Basewould give China an advantage in the southern section of the disputed South China Sea, the country needs much more than one base to gain military relevance in the South Pacific. It would need at least three or four. Aside from the Guam military complex, in the South Pacific the US military has facilities on the Republic of the Marshall Islands and Wake Island, which is a US territory. With the cooperation of Australia, Washington also plans to refurbish a naval base built during World War II on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island. A new base in the Federated States of Micronesia is in the offing too, as well as a US$197 million tactical radar system in Palau. The US has another operational advantage in the South Pacific compared to China. Under the Compacts of Free Association (COFA) treaties with three Pacific island nations, US forces can freely conduct activities in the waters and airspace off these islands, and can also prevent military operations from other countries. China’s diplomatic offensive in the South Pacific is clearly a response to the US Indo-Pacific challenge, especially after the administration of US President Joe Biden fleshed out the Quad format with Japan, India and Australia, and launched the Aukus pact with Britain and Australia.


Headline : South China Sea: Philippines, China abandon joint energy exploration talks


Excerpts : The Philippines’ outgoing foreign minister said on Thursday that talks over joint energy exploration between his country and China in the South China Sea had been terminated, citing constitutional constraints and issues of sovereignty. The two countries have sparred for decades over maritime sovereignty and had since 2018 pledged to jointly explore oil and gas assets in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), despite China also laying claim to them. A 2016 international arbitration ruling made clear the Philippines had sovereign rights to exploit energy reserves inside its 200-mile EEZ, but China, which claims about 90 per cent of the South China Sea as its territory, has refused to recognise that decision. The two countries set up a special panel to work out how they can jointly explore those areas, without needing to address the touchy issue of sovereignty…But Locsin said that could not be achieved without violating the Philippine constitution, or China’s government renouncing its claims. Duterte, he said, made the call to scrap the talks….“The president had spoken … oil and gas discussions are terminated completely. Nothing is pending; everything is over,” Locsin said.


Headline : China can expect a ‘harder line’ from G7, Nato countries at summits

Excerpts : US officials predict Beijing will be named for the first time in the North Atlantic alliance’s policy framework. G7 meeting of the world’s most developed economies is expected to discuss ‘unfair and coercive’ practices by China. G7 and Nato countries are expected to take a harder line on China following what they called “increasing” economic and security threats in the past year. The meetings take place against a backdrop of US efforts to bolster alliances and partnerships, taking aim at China in the form of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) – a security pact with Australia, Japan and India – and the introduction of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. In last year’s summit, the G7 reached consensus on the need for a shared approach on China’s “non-market economic practices”, accused China of abusing human rights in its Xinjiang region and called for Hong Kong to keep a high degree of autonomy.


Overall Comments: Very obviously, the China story and its international romance is under a dark cloud. That was bound to happen. Chinese outreach to India under these headwinds is also understandable. They want to get out of the two front situation they are in and concentrate on Taiwan only. The only problem with China’s concept of ‘Halfway’ is that it starts at the foot hills of Arunachal Pradesh or at the base of the Saltoro Range. Hence the farther we keep China away from us the better. The real issue of this fair weather image is its all-weather relationship with Pakistan. India has to watch out. Pakistan might have to do an ‘Hambantota’ type of deal with concessions in Gilgit Baltistan. What will India’s reaction be? Are we prepared for a strong response? Are we in a position to prempt it diplomatically and politically? I wish the Government gives more thought to this than what it gave to the Agnipath scheme.

PS : – This is a break from Agnipath. China and Pakistan recharge my thinking powers like they are aphrodisiacs.                 


One response to “A Peek Into Everyday China : Emergence of the Fairweather Friend by Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)”

  1. I dont think China has dropped their interests on our border in favour of Taiwan. They are still building permanent infrastructure on our borders. That takes time plus they would be training their Army even more to counter our strong response. Col Vivek Bopiah.

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