A Shanghai consensus?

Author: Conrad Guimaraes, APYO

Whether it is exemplified by the US$45 billion World Expo last year, or its possession of the world’s largest (by tonnage) port, Shanghai is an outstanding symbol of Chinese growth.

Now an economic hub of the East, Shanghai’s qualities do seem to be a microcosm of China itself. Could the understanding gained through the city’s recent prosperity be extrapolated on to form the basis of something to the effect of a ‘Shanghai Consensus?’ The Shanghai Consensus would provide a framework for the understanding of Chinese foreign policy by taking into account China’s demonstrated behaviour in the international arena.

This could contrast with the controversial ‘Beijing Consensus.’ Depicted by Francis Fukuyama as a ‘mixture of authoritarian government with market economics’ the Beijing Consensus is limited in scope and not designed to offer a framework for the understanding of certain aspects of the Chinese government, including foreign policy.

Three key patterns are important to the Shanghai Consensus.

The first is the centrality of commerce in Chinese diplomacy. China’s moves in Africa appear to have focused exclusively on ‘commercial diplomacy,’ dwarfing old-fashioned diplomacy. This trend, if taken by recent Chinese moves in Africa, is being reversed, as China has been anxious to secure its huge commercial interests and energy security there.

More accurately, China is not abandoning commercial diplomacy; it is instead strengthening it by employing non-commercial means to secure its interests in Africa. Two recent examples of this trend are the deployment of the PLA Navy to patrol pirate hotspots around the Horn of Africa and UN-sanctioned Chinese peacekeepers in the African continent.

The deployment of the PLA Navy beyond the Western Pacific marks the first Chinese naval vessels to be deployed away from home since the time of the great fleet of Admiral Zheng He, nearly 600 years ago. Back then, as now, the primary reason was to secure a trade route, but it also served a cocktail of diplomatic goals, such as gaining military experience and enhancing China’s international image.

The second example of commercial diplomacy is China’s UN-backed presence in Africa. Here China’s involvement in peacekeeping missions has a close correlation to countries where Beijing has significant commercial interests, such as Sudan and the Congo. On top of official UN peacekeepers, a recent Eurasia group report estimated that ‘Sudan hosts between 5,000 and 10,000 Chinese workers, some of them decommissioned PLA soldiers charged with protecting China’s investments.’ This is evidence of China’s willingness to become more involved in safeguarding its national interests by non-commercial actions, even if through official channels.

The second pillar of the Shanghai Consensus is the international reach of Chinese diplomacy. This can be seen in the recent Middle East upheaval, especially in Libya, which prompted the evacuation of thousands of Chinese nationals. The swiftness with which the Chinese government operated to protect and ensure the safety of its citizens in this complex operation was hailed in national media as the biggest evacuation operation since the founding of the PRC in 1949.

Historically, transcontinental capacity is often linked to established or emerging superpowers. A prime exhibit is the Spanish-American War of 1898, fought in two continents. The Americans mounted an offensive attack against the Spaniards in the Philippines that resulted in the smaller (but modern) force under Commodore Dewey decisively defeating the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay, which in turn proved the key to winning the Pacific Theatre of the war.

The history books credit the Spanish-American war for bringing the US in par with the Imperial powers in its own right. The historical parallels between 1898 US and 2011 China are compelling — an emerging and economically vibrant power finds itself rubbing against an established and declining power in control for pre-eminence in a key region of the globe. And while China’s military capabilities are substantially smaller its international projection is in rapid ascent. As in 1898 there is much debate over the nature of the emerging power: Will it establish a new empire or will it continue along the lines of its traditional rhetoric?

What is clear is that China’s active participation internationally will be the rule not the exception from now on. The nature of China’s own global web of commercial interests, huge diaspora abroad and assertive political nature requires its foreign affairs to be equipped to act in anyplace, anytime.

The final pillar of the Shanghai Consensus is maturity and stability of diplomacy beyond political rhetoric. Chinese foreign policy rhetoric has been unanimous on key issues such as territorial integrity and sovereignty since the early days of the PRC. A more recent example of this rhetoric has been China’s rejection of Kosovo’s independence. The Kosovo situation is symbolically important for China, as it has its own issues with Tibet, the Diaoyu Islands and of course Taiwan.

The Shanghai Consensus must take into account the effects of China’s domestic politics on the country’s foreign policy.  Securing China’s energy supply to its domestic market seems to be the only plausible reason for the recent visit of Vice-Foreign Minister Zhai Jun to the newly independent state of South Sudan. Arguably, China’s continued relationship with the secessionist country has shown remarkable maturity in respect of its goal to foster the construction of a harmonious world where China can enjoy prosperity and stability, playing down political principle.

These recent actions by China, collectively, suggest a new paradigm for China’s foreign policy in the form of a Shanghai Consensus which will certainly stay relevant while energy security dominates China’s economic growth and social development.

Conrad Guimaraes is Founder and CEO of the Asia-Pacific Youth Organization (APYO).

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  • Ellen Frost

    This is an interesting and insightful article. But I think it is time for all of us to avoid the word \consensus\ in articles of this kind. John Williamson of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, who coined the term \Washington Consensus\ (and wishes he hadn’t), was writing about macroeconomic stability in Latin America in the 1980s. He recently tried hard to identify the specific, detailed meaning of the so-called \Beijing Consensus\ and couldn’t find any. The Chinese themselves don’t like the term. Mr. Guimaraes’ article is about diplomacy, not economic policy. In short, the word \consensus\ has become an eye-catching buzzword — a distraction rather than a meaningful label.

  • Policies and developments in the exchange of interests between China and Afghanistan.

    In March 2010, Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited China in Beijing, meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and Wu Bangguo, member of the Politburo Standing Committee. During the visit, Karzai signed agreements with Chinese leaders on economic cooperation, technical training and preferential tariffs for exports of Afghanistan. This is the fourth visit of an Afghan President to China, particularly important, since most of all, it showed that Washington’s impatience expressed for example by pressure on the Afghan government to promote electoral reform, push the Karzai regime in search for new sponsors and patrons.
    As an actor of hegemony in the region, China is therefore the most obvious option. In fact, successfully wooing Beijing could lead to Kabul to getting many advantages in terms of trade, economic assistance and also in military training.
    The interest appears to be mutual. The objective of Hamid Karzai is likely to make his country one of the closest allies of Beijing, in order to attract substantial investments from China (free from any sort of democratic conditionality) and thus have more resources available to devote the strengthening of executive control over the rest of the country.
    Given President Barack Obama’s decison to give a date, July 2011, which provides for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, China is therefore aware of the importance of its role in the region and will play in the same territory of Afghanistan.
    China’s interests in Afghanistan are essentially two: security and trade. Afghanistan is essentially a form of instability in the west of China, especially considering the fact that it borders the restive Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Concerns about Islamic militancy to the western borders have intensified as a result of the revolt of the Uighurs in July 2009 and will increase once the final U.S. withdrawal took place.
    The Islamic Party of Turkestan (former Islamic Movement of East Turkestan), which often accuses Beijing of attacks within China, based in Afghanistan and the border of Pakistan. In September 2003, Hasan Mahsum, leader of the TIP (Turkistan Islamic Party), was killed in South Waziristan by Pakistani security forces backed by Chinese intelligence officers. In February 2010 a prominent Turkish leader was killed in North Waziristan by U.S. forces, Abdul Haq al-Turkistan, one of the leading figures of the current TIP.
    The western corridor in the region would offer a greater freedom of action to separatist and terrorist groups, becoming a dangerous threat to the stability of China. In addition, the reduced international presence in Afghanistan would make drug trafficking easier in its operations. In 2007, according to Li Xianhui, the director of drug prevention of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security, 386 kilograms of heroin were smuggled into China from the so-called Golden Crescent of Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, a total that exceeds the cumulative figure for the 2001 to 2004.
    It had been feared, therefore, the hypothesis of a contribution in terms of Chinese troops to be deployed on the Afghan chessboard. This might have allowed Beijing to take a further step towards its recognition as a responsible and stabilizing force, but on the other hand would almost certainly have created alarm in the region.
    Beijing has basically interest that the Afghan military is able to monitor the border that separates the two countries and this objective was highlighted at the meeting held in March between the Afghan defense minister, Abdul Rahmid Wardak, the minister and National Defense of China, Liang Guangli. The latter was willing to engage in and supply logistics and training for Afghan military personnel.
    During the visit to China by Hamid Karzai, that issue was taken up as well as an interest in the fight against illegal drug trafficking have become more intense after the fall of the Taliban.
    The Chinese President Hu Jintao, as well as a general duty of cooperation in documents signed, said that Afghanistan would play a major role in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a body in which Kabul holds membership status as an observer.
    In essence, despite the presence of various threats posed to the order of the country, especially the so-called Three Evils which identify the dangers of separatism, terrorism and religious extremism, the Chinese government is unlikely to encourage the deployment of Chinese troops in combat missions or even to security roles. China is in fact well aware that even if you send troops to support humanitarian efforts of Western forces in Afghanistan, this sound like an alarm bell in the region as capitals such as New Delhi and Tokyo do not perceive the threat of a return to politics China’s neo-imperial foreign type.
    However, China has a particular interest in ensuring that the Afghan army is actually able to effectively monitor the border that separates the two countries. This objective was also stressed during the March meeting with Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and the Chinese Minister for National Defense Liang Guangli. Chinese Defense Minister has in fact promised to continue supporting its low-key support to Afghan forces in the form of military supplies and personnel training. Indeed, both governments seek to strengthen the capacities of the national army and Afghan police, so that, in the words of Wardak, they will be “strong enough to defend against the countries internal and external threats” in a post-NATO environment.
    Trade and development assistance are still a primary part in the Afghan-Chinese relationship. Although the Afghan economy accounts for only one-tenth of one percent of the total portfolio of business in China, the many possibilities of using low-cost economic resources on its boundary, are of great interest to Beijing.
    Afghanistan is a country with substantial oil reserves, estimated at 1.596 million barrels of oil, natural gas, estimated at 15,687 trillion cubic feet, and other raw materials such as iron ore, making it one of the major potential sources of natural resources in the region.
    Since 2013, the taxes and royalties arising from the mining sector will, annually into the coffers of the government about $ 2 billion that will be used in Kabul for it to strengthen its control over the country through the strengthening of the military and police. This money will be found through the granting of exploitation of rights on more complex mines that the government headed by Karzai is trying to offer the highest bidder. According to the new minister for mines, Wahidullah Shahrani, the airline of choice for its acquisition would, once again, be the Chinese Metallurgical Corporation.
    The strategy of Chinese foreign policy is surely then an attempt to satisfy its growing demand for raw materials. It has found the urgent problem of finding resources to Beijing to continue his ascent without any obstacle. The huge liquidity available to it and an absolute lack of interest in the nature of those with whom we trade, make it an actor with whom it is very difficult to compete and it is difficult to set limits of any kind.
    However, if the Afghan government is genuine with it’s face value, others are watching with apprehension and discomfort to the expansion of Chinese interests abroad.
    China has made the largest foreign direct investment in Afghanistan: $ 3.5 billion was invested in the Aynak copper mine in Logar province. Under the agreement, signed in May 2008, China will also build a 400 megawatt coal plant, a freight rail line that runs from the autonomous province of Xinjiang (XUAR) through Tajikistan to Afghanistan, a hospital and a mosque. These agreements also serve to meet a secondary need of China to develop its western regions. Despite the ethnic violence of July 2009, or perhaps because of this, Beijing has stepped up its efforts to boost the economies of the two western provinces, the XUAR and the Tibet Autonomous Region, which has also assisted in ethnic clashes in 2008.
    In March, President Hu Jintao said that the development of the western region is one of the priorities of the Twelfth Five-Year Plan of China which will take place between 2011 and 2015. These concerns are likely to lead China to engage in the development of local infrastructure in the Wakhan Corridor, the narrow strip of land that leads to the only direct passage to the border of the two countries. Beijing is funding the construction of new road, therefore, storage of supplies, and mobile communication center that will allow greater movement and trade across the border. It is also possible that China open’s Wakhjir Pass, crossing a high mountain that was once part of the ancient Silk Road to boost trade with the unstable region of the XUAR.
    The establishment of agreements in Afghanistan on the basis of non-intervention, therefore, respond appropriately to the needs of both capitals. Beijing may in fact pursue their own agenda of promoting trade and the fight against insurgents, while Kabul will gain a reliable partner over the long term will make few claims about corruption and democracy. The prospect of an imminent withdrawal of U.S. and NATO military commanders, would accept the hypothesis of a stronger China and regionally influential in the relations between the countries of the region.