Dr. Khadga KC is a professor at the Department of International Relations and Diplomacy, Tribhuvan University. He is a Japan Foundation MONBUSHO fellow of the Government of Japan, a US State Department’s SUSI fellow, and a guest professor at Leshan Normal University, China and a visiting faculty at Nepali Army Command and Staff College, APF Command and Staff College, and Nepali Army Higher Command and Management. He holds PhD and Post-Doctoral degree from Nagasaki University, Japan under a Japanese government scholarship. Nepalkhabar talked to Prof. Dr. Khadga KC for his views on the recently held 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC), its implications on the region, and Nepal-China relations. Excerpts:
How do you look at the ten years of Xi Jinping’s tenure as the president of China?
I think during the second tenure of Xi Jinping, China made significant progress in building its international image. China could alleviate poverty and declare itself as a ‘no longer a poverty-ridden country’; and in science and technology, especially in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) and space technology, China made huge progress. Through BRI (Belt and Road Initiative), China could not make an influential global impact, though China was aspiring for it when it was introduced in 2013.
When Xi Jinping got re-elected for the third time, domestically he got legitimized once again to lead China. That means, he could convince Chinese people through socio-economic transformation and was successful to improve the Chinese global image.
Even within the Communist Party, he remained as a non-challenging leader for the next five years. There was much expectation during the second tenure of Xi Jinping, especially through BRI, that Xi Jinping would be highly influential and that BRI could influence China’s global influence. But, in my perspective, China could not achieve it. Despite that, because of Xi Jinping’s strong leadership, anti-corruption drive, poverty alleviation program, activities in domestic politics, and global actions, made him more appropriate to get elected once again for the third tenure. Overall, he did a tremendous job for China. There were some shortcomings that he could not achieve as expected, BRI being one of them.
What are the challenges and opportunities for Xi Jinping during his third term?
While analyzing his two hours long speech at the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, and the committee, which was formed following the convention, China seems soft, aiming at low-profile foreign policy, and following Sun Tzu strategy of pleasing the people and coming up aggressively to engage on the global affairs. This is the Chinese style of foreign policy and strategy that Xi Jinping has also been following for the last 10 years. But this time, when we read Xi Jinping‘s speech it seems like there will be a more clear scenario to show a new era of rejuvenation, in the sense that there will be more confrontation with Western Powers, especially the United States in the context the South China Sea and Taiwan; more specifically Taiwan for its unification with (mainland) China.
What Xi Jinping spelled out has a great challenge for China. Not only for China but also for the whole region, it will create repercussions and possible confrontation between the USA and China after Xi Jinping’s third inning. Xi Jinping is spelling out that, “we will, at any cost, by any means, re-unify our territory”. That does mean that their top priority is to integrate/ unify Taiwan into the mainland.
For the USA, in contemporary global affairs, Taiwan is like Israel in the Middle East. Taiwan is also another top foreign policy priority of American national security and American foreign policy. So, they might probably confront Taiwan. And that will be the most important challenge for China. Even if China realizes that it does not have enough strength to tackle the Western Powers, NATO, or America, probably it could cope with it.
However, the Chinese economy is still slogging. As per the World Bank, the Chinese growth rate is 2.8 percent this year. For 2030 and 2040, the Chinese economic growth rate will be going down compared to the previous decades. If China could not maintain higher economic growth at a time when there is a saturated Western economy - Europe, the European Union and North America especially led by the United States of America, the G7 and the capitalist world are already at a saturation point - the Chinese economic growth rate will go down. And if China has to engage in Taiwan in such a situation, probably that will be a great challenge for China to become a global power.
China also has opportunities. It has the largest amount of dollar reserves. It has been engaging globally through BRI and has developed quite a lot in the Global Innovation Index (GII), and is now among the top 12. In Artificial Intelligence, Space Technology, the Chinese Navy, and the defense sector, it is coming up with very sophisticated technology. Until recently, China was blamed for copying Western technology, but now China has proved that it is capable of developing its own technology, right from AI to space.
Of course, there are some ethnic issues like Uyghur that are being instigated by the Western powers among Islamic/ Muslim population in the southern part of China. That might be one challenge for China but Chinese state power is more than capable enough to resolve such domestic issues because of their political legitimacy back at home. Xi has opportunities and prospects because China did quite a lot in the last 3-4 decades. In the shortest span of time, China has proven the credential that this sort of political regime can also become a role model for development, especially in the case of poverty alleviation and socio-economic transformation.
However, at present, China is on one side and the rest of the world is on the other. China will be engaged more in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Most of those countries are the recipient and Chinese infrastructure development could not make positive results in some of those countries but these kinds of narratives have also been propagated by the Western Powers.
How far China can tackle intellectual property, media and knowledge production is important. Through universities, knowledge production system in China is coming up very aggressively because they have a plan of making world-class universities. Still the West has been predominant with the largest number of patents but China is coming up with a lot of good and progressing knowledge production; although the West started modern education in the 17th century, and China started only in the early 20th century.
There are a lot of challenges to cope with the West, which has been led by the USA, and recently the USA has brought out its national security strategy. In global affairs and regional affairs, China has a lot of challenges and opportunities because the Chinese economy is still doing good so far. Also, China is doing good in innovation, science and technology and economic transformation. So, Xi Jinping has an opportunity, but as per the data, China still needs to do quite a lot.
How do you look at China’s relations with India, the US and Taiwan during his third term?
As I said earlier, when we go through Xi Jinping’s inaugural speech, Xi Jinping used some very typical and special terminology like Security, Strategy, Confrontation, Rejuvenation and Reunification. So, China’s relationship with the United States will be more confrontational. Unlike what Biden spelled out Cooperation, Competitiveness and Confrontation, will be the American foreign policy towards China, Xi Jinping’s speech indicates that during his third tenure there will be more confrontation between the United States and China and the confrontation will be visible in Taiwan and the South China Sea (SCS) issues.
In spite of being a member of QUAD and IPS, so far India a follows pragmatic foreign policy. India’s primary foreign policy while dealing with China seems largely neutral, and non-aligned, despite having some border disputes with China. If there is a confrontation between the USA and China on the Taiwan issue, there would be a confrontation between them in the South China Sea as well as in the Indo-Pacific region. If India openly favored the USA being a member of QUAD and IPS, probably China-India relations will further deteriorate. At present, even if they do have a border dispute, they do have trillion-dollar trade relations. These are not very negative indications of their relations. So far Indian foreign policy, strategy and diplomacy towards China seems really pragmatic. Indian foreign policy so far seems engaging with or aligning with the USA being a member of the democratic front without distancing itself with China.
If China aggressively comes up to unify Taiwan into mainland China and America comes up to counter China in the South China Sea and Taiwan, and if India’s role or strategy is to back the USA openly, then probably China-India relations will deteriorate. Otherwise, the China-India relation will remain as it is. Common Asian values such as peace, non-alignment, Panchsheel and their large trade relations bind both the countries together. But on national security, strategy, and foreign policy issues, it is yet to be seen what kind of role India will play when the USA and China confront in future on some crucial issues like the South China Sea and Taiwan.
How do you look at Nepal-China relations during Xi’s third term?
Probably China will come up more aggressively in its neighborhood. When we go through Xi Jinping’s speech, scenario and Chinese global agenda, it does try to keep its sphere of influence in its neighborhood. Until and unless it does not keep and maintain its sphere of influence in its neighborhood, probably it cannot prove its credential as a global power. Thus, China will keep a close eye on Nepal and Chinese concerns, priorities and engagement in Nepal will increase.
If Chinese wants to come up more aggressively and wants to come up and engage deeper, we can be receptive until it costs our national security, territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence. Without compromising our primary national interest, if those engagements will be beneficial for the greater benefit of the people and country, we will also accept deeper engagements. We signed BRI in 2017 and so far, BRI has not brought anything tremendous or positive results. So, if China comes up more aggressively, especially through BRI for connectivity and infrastructure development projects, by providing more soft loans and grants, that will be positive repercussions for Nepal and will create a more robust engagement with China. If China increases engagement only in the political and security affairs without increasing in the socio-economic development project of Nepal, that will be counterproductive.
So, in my perspective, China will be engaged more in Nepal, than what has been seen so far and we also need a balanced foreign policy. Otherwise, if China comes up aggressively and other global powers react in a similar way, we may become a battleground of geopolitical rivalry between China and the USA. Thus, Nepal needs to adopt a very wise diplomacy and balanced foreign policy.