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Yasushi Tomiyama

【#489】Democracies’ Solidarity Required to Counter China Risk

Yasushi Tomiyama / 2018.01.10 (Wed)

January 9, 2018

     At the beginning of 2018, Western media are filled with predictions on the new year’s international situation. One of focuses in these predictions is China’s growing influence. While some analysts warn that China could fill the international order vacuum created by the U.S. Trump administration’s “America First” policy, others predict that resistance to China’s expansionism could increase across the world, making the future course of the international community uncertain.

Looming geopolitical crises
     Emphasizing a strong alertness to China is the international consulting firm Eurasia Group. At the top of 10 major risks in international politics for 2018, the group cites China’s potential to provide the world with a political model replacing Western liberal democracy and extend its global influence.
     A report released by the group on January 2 concludes that the “America First” foreign policy has eroded a U.S.-led global order, giving a doomful prediction that as a decline in U.S. influence on the world accelerates, the world may see a geopolitical crisis equivalent to the 2008 global financial crisis. “Trump has renounced the U.S. commitment to Washington-led multilateralism and generated much uncertainty about the future U.S. role in Asia, creating a power vacuum that China can now begin to fill,” the report said.
     Washington Post opinion writer Fareed Zakaria shares the alertness to China. While many countries are attempting to fill the power vacuum, “only China truly has the wherewithal and strategic prowess to potentially shape the next chapter of the story of our age,” he wrote in a column on December 28.

Resistance seen to “Belt and Road” initiative
     However, we may have to pay attention to the fact that China’s moves to expand influence abroad have begun to face backlashes in Western and developing countries. In Australia, an opposition lawmaker has been forced to resign after receiving contributions from a Chinese businessman and making remarks defending China over territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Germany’s intelligence agency has warned that China has gleaned the personal data of German politicians and civil servants through an Internet social networking service. The U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China has held a hearing to investigate China’s activities in the United States.
     China’s “One Belt and One Road” initiative for a wide economic zone also has faced resistance from relevant countries. Pakistan, given a key position in the initiative, has shelved a hydropower dam project for the reason of China’s tough financing terms and conditions. In Sri Lanka, the government has been criticized for ceding control of the Port of Hambantota to China for a 99-year lease in the face of heavy debt burdens regarding Chinese loans for developing the port.
     In his contribution to The New York Times on December 27, Luke Patey, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies, cited such resistance and predicted that 2018 may see “new efforts to tackle the challenge from China.” “If it [China] does not pull back from these intrusions on Western democracies, the overreach will ultimately reduce China’s global power,” he wrote.
     Will the China risk increase or decrease in 2018? As Japan will be most affected by the outcome, she should increase solidarity with fellow democracies, Australia and India, in enhancing diplomatic efforts to lead the inward-looking Trump administration to continue engagement with the Indo-Pacific region.

Yasushi Tomiyama is Senior Fellow and Planning Committee Member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.