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  Opinion   Columnists  13 Jun 2024  Claude Arpi | How China stokes unrest globally to contain West

Claude Arpi | How China stokes unrest globally to contain West

The writer is based in South India for the past 40 years. He writes on India, China, Tibet and Indo-French relations.
Published : Jun 14, 2024, 12:05 am IST
Updated : Jun 14, 2024, 12:05 am IST

Examining China's expanding influence in Africa through infrastructure diplomacy, alleged connections with Hamas, and geopolitical maneuvers

 Israel's Iron Dome air defence system intercepts rockets fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip near Kibbutz Kfar Aza along the Israel-Gaza border on June 13, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)
  Israel's Iron Dome air defence system intercepts rockets fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip near Kibbutz Kfar Aza along the Israel-Gaza border on June 13, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

At the end of an informal meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing earlier in May, the two leaders hugged each other, something rather unusual for Mr Xi (though he did it with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well). US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby jokingly commented: “I’m not good at talking about personal human bodily affection one way or the other. I think I’ll leave it to these two gents to talk about why they thought it was good to hug one another.”

Whatever the US spokesman may say, the encounter was significant, as it heralded a still closer relationship between Russia and China. According to Reuters: “Russia, grappling with Western sanctions after its invasion of Ukraine, is increasingly reliant on its booming trade with China, which is challenging US supremacy in areas from quantum computing to espionage and hard military power…. The leaders signed a lengthy statement that sharpened their opposition to a US-led world order and pledged cooperation across fields ranging from space and nuclear technologies to finance and manufacturing.”

It is a fact that for Moscow, though the Chinese economy may be facing serious difficulties, Beijing is an ally of weight.

 

The Three Battles

At the same time, China is more and more asserting itself all over the planet. Long Kaifeng, a PLA commentator associated with the Kunlun Policy and Strategy Research Institute, a Communist Party of China think tank, recently wrote about “CPC’s 3-Battle Scheme” to erode America’s power prior to a clash in the Taiwan Strait; among other things, the author argues that the outcome of the “Three Battles” will see the US dollar becoming worthless.

Long explains: “On a global scale, three major battles are in Europe, the Middle East and Asia respectively. The Ukrainian war represents the European front; the Middle Eastern battle will be a conflict between Israel and Palestine, and the Asian theatre might be the second Korean war. After these battles, the US military and dollar dominance established post-Cold War will fall. The US dollar will depreciate, becoming worthless -- a trend seen as inevitable.”

The PLA scholar further notes: “Given the current situation, Russia seems poised to win in Ukraine. Reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran and unity in the Arab world are crucial to counter US-Israeli dominance. In East Asia, North Korea is ready, possessing nuclear capabilities and openly challenging US dominance.”

 

Beijing’s Assertiveness

In India’s neighbourhood, this translates, for example, in the Maldives falling for Beijing’s promises or in Nepal, a recrudescence of territorial claims in the Kalapani area, clearly influenced by Beijing.

Regarding Africa, China is, of course, deeply involved. In a research paper, Hema Narang from Delhi University believes that infrastructure diplomacy is the key to China’s influence in Africa.

The scholar gives an example: “China gifted Zimbabwe a new Parliament building in 2023. This gift is emblematic of China’s strategy of gifting large-scale projects worldwide, especially in Africa, to establish itself as a modernisation facilitator and gain international prestige. These projects, often grand structures such as government buildings and stadiums, transform the dynamics of donor-recipient relationships, augmenting China’s global reputation and subtly reinforcing material inequalities, while their architectural grandeur and visible labels such as ‘China Aid’ prominently emphasise China’s commitment to development and cooperation.”

She concludes: “In international societies, gifts work in a similar way, establishing prestige for the giver and reaffirming the receiver’s position.”

At the same time, everybody is not fooled by Beijing’s generosity: a “gift” does not always mean a free meal.

 

The Ukraine War

Another question often asked: Is China supporting Russia in the Ukraine war? There is no doubt that China is a vital partner for Russia, helping Moscow to soften the impact of sanctions imposed by the United States.

When asked if China was providing Russia with weapons, US secretary of state Antony Blinken told BBC: “What’s not happening is the provision of actual arms by China to Russia for use in Ukraine.” However, the US leader added: “About 70 per cent of the machine tools and 90 per cent of the microelectronics Russia imports come from China.”

Without Beijing, Moscow would certainly not have survived the Western sanctions so easily.

 

The Hamas War

More important perhaps is China’s hand behind the Hamas attack on Israel. A newspaper article says: “The evidence of the PRC green-signalling Hamas’ attack on Israel goes beyond the circumstantial.”

Quoting Guermantes Lailari, a retired US Air Force foreign area officer specialising in counter-terrorism, who recently visited New Delhi, the article says: “Massive quantities of Chinese arms, ammunition, military grade communication and other intelligence gathering equipment were found in Hamas warehouses in Gaza during the raids conducted by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), in the aftermath of the October 7, 2023 attack on Israel by the Palestinian terrorist group. At least two tunnel engineers from China’s People’s Liberation Army were captured by the IDF, suggesting that extensive Chinese help was given to Hamas to construct the huge network of tunnels under Gaza City. Apart from this, the PLA has been giving military training to Hamas.”

The informant added that the head of Hamas’ military wing, Mohammed Deif, who masterminded the attack on Israel, lived in the China for years, and maintains deep contacts with the PLA.

 

One More Battle

One more front (or “battle”) seems to be in the French enclave of New Caledonia, which witnessed an insurgency from of the local population. While President Emmanuel Macron struggles to restore some order, a question is recurrently asked: Who is behind the unrest?

Paris has put the blame for the violence on extremist independence groups, supported from outside; Gérald Darmanin, the interior and Overseas France minister, asserted that Azerbaijan has some responsibility for the unrest: “It’s not a fantasy, it’s a reality”, he said. The Azerbaijan flag was repeatedly seen in the hands of rioters.

The next question is logically: “Who is behind Azerbaijan?”

Has Russia opened up a second front in its proxy war against France?

Though Azerbaijan has described the allegations “insulting”, and said: “We deny any link between the leaders of the Caledonian freedom struggle and Azerbaijan”, one could also put the question differently.

Who benefits most from the current mess in New Caledonia?

No doubt China is trying hard to make its presence felt in the chain of Pacific islands and an independent Caledonia would be a great boon for Beijing, while President Macron has never been in such a weak position, particularly after the recent European Parliament elections.

 

Tags: israel palestine conflict, gaza air strikes, china, hamas