Archive for ‘Vice President’

29/05/2019

China looks to Russia, Central Asia for support amid tensions with US

  • President Xi Jinping will meet Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin next month and address economic summit in St Petersburg
  • Diplomatic flurry will also include regional security forums in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan
Xi Jinping has met Vladimir Putin more times than any other foreign leader since he took power in 2013. Photo: AFP
Xi Jinping has met Vladimir Putin more times than any other foreign leader since he took power in 2013. Photo: AFP
Beijing is stepping up efforts to seek support from regional and global players such as Russia and Central Asian nations as its geostrategic rivalry with Washington heats up.

President Xi Jinping is expected to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin next month, when he will also address the St Petersburg International Economic Summit,

Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov told state-run TASS news agency earlier.

The Chinese president will also visit the Kyrgyzstan capital Bishkek for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in June, as well as another regional security forum in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

Meanwhile, Vice-President Wang Qishan is visiting Pakistan before he heads to the Netherlands and Germany, according to the Chinese foreign ministry.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan meets Chinese Vice-President Wang Qishan in Islamabad on Sunday. Photo: AFP
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan meets Chinese Vice-President Wang Qishan in Islamabad on Sunday. Photo: AFP
The latest flurry of diplomatic activity comes as competition between China and the US intensifies on several fronts including trade and technology, the South China Sea and the Arctic, where Beijing’s partnership with Moscow –

funding and building ports, berths and icebreakers off Russia’s shores

– has drawn criticism from Washington.

It will be Xi’s second time at the St Petersburg forum, and observers expect the Chinese leader will reaffirm Beijing’s commitment to multilateralism and promote the nation as a champion of openness and cooperation.
China-Russia ties unrivalled, Beijing warns before Pompeo meets Putin
It will also be his second meeting with Putin in two months, after talks on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing in late April, when the Russian president

offered his support

for the controversial China-led infrastructure and investment initiative.

With China and Russia edging closer, the latest meeting is likely to see efforts to coordinate their strategies on a range of issues – including Venezuela, North Korea, nuclear weapons and arms control, according to observers. Xi has met Putin more times than any other foreign leader since he took power in 2013.

“This time it is very likely that the latest anti-China moves by the US, such as new tariffs and the Huawei ban, will feature prominently in their conversations,” said Artyom Lukin, an associate professor at Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok.

Lukin said Russia’s stagnating economy and sanctions imposed by the West limited its role as a substitute for the foreign markets and technologies China could lose access to because of the US crusade. But he said Putin would “provide political and moral support to Xi”.

“That is also significant as Russia has been withstanding intense US-led sanctions pressure for more than five years already,” Lukin said, referring to sanctions imposed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Xi and Putin are also expected to talk about Venezuela, where US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido is attempting to oust socialist President Nicolas Maduro, who has the support of China and Russia.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has the backing of China and Russia. Photo: AP
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has the backing of China and Russia. Photo: AP

“Moscow and Beijing are not able to seriously hurt Washington by raising tariffs or denying access to high technology. However, there are plenty of areas where coordinated Sino-Russian policies can damage US interests in the short term or in the long run,” Lukin said. “For example, Moscow and Beijing could intensify their joint support for the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro, frustrating Washington’s efforts to dislodge him.”

China and Russia would also be seeking to boost economic ties. Bilateral trade, dominated by Chinese imports of gas and oil, reached US$108 billion last year – falling far short of the target set in 2011 by Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, of US$200 billion by 2020.

China and Russia to forge stronger Eurasian economic ties

Li Lifan, an associate research professor at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said bilateral trade was a sticking point. “This is one of the potential hindrances in China-Russia relations and Beijing is hoping to [address this] … in the face of a possible global economic slowdown,” Li said.

Given the escalating trade war with Washington, he said China would seek to diversify its investments and markets to other parts of the world, particularly Russia and Europe.

“China will step up its investment cooperation with Europe and Russia and focus more on multilateral investment,” Li said.

But Beijing was not expected to do anything to worsen tensions with Washington.

“China is currently taking a very cautious approach towards the US, trying to avoid heating up the confrontation and further aggravation of the situation,” said Danil Bochkov, a contributing author with the Russian International Affairs Council. “For China it is important to demonstrate that it has a reliable friend – Russia – but that should not be done in an openly provocative manner.”

Stephen Blank, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, said Beijing and Moscow would also seek to contain US influence “as far as possible” from Central Asia, where China has increased its engagement through infrastructure building under the “Belt and Road Initiative”.

Leaders from the region will gather in Bishkek next month for the SCO summit, a security bloc set up in 2001 that now comprises China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan. Those members account for about 23 per cent of the world’s land mass, 45 per cent of its population, and 25 per cent of global GDP.

Newly re-elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi could meet the Chinese president for talks in Bishkek next month. Photo: EPA-EFE
Newly re-elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi could meet the Chinese president for talks in Bishkek next month. Photo: EPA-EFE

There is growing speculation that Xi will meet newly re-elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of that summit.

Independent analyst and author Namrata Goswami said India would be seeking a commitment to a WTO-led and rules-based multilateral trading system during the SCO talks.

“This is interesting and significant given the current US tendencies under President Donald Trump focused on ‘America first’ and the US-China trade war,” Goswami said.

Counterterrorism will again be a top priority at the SCO summit, amid concerns among member states about the rising number of Islamic State fighters returning from Syria and Iraq. Chinese scholars estimated last year that around 30,000 jihadists who had fought in Syria had gone back to their home countries, including China.

Alexander Bortnikov, chief of the main Russian intelligence agency FSB, said earlier that 5,000 fighters from a group affiliated with Isis had gathered in areas bordering former Soviet states in Central Asia, saying most of them had fought alongside Isis in Syria.

War-torn Afghanistan, which shares a border with four SCO member states – China, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – is also likely to be high on the agenda at the Bishkek summit.

“With the Trump administration drafting plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, the SCO will assess the security situation there and decide whether to provide training for Afghan troops,” Li said.

Eva Seiwert, a doctoral candidate at the Free University of Berlin, expected the security bloc would also discuss Iran after the US withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and ordered new sanctions against the country.

Iran, which has observer status with the SCO, was blocked from becoming a full member in 2008 because it was subject to UN sanctions at the time. But its membership application could again be up for discussion.

Iran presses China and Russia to save nuclear deal

“The Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 made it easy for China and Russia to present themselves as the proponents of peaceful settlement of conflicts,” Seiwert said. “Discussing the possibility of admitting Iran as a full member state would help the SCO members demonstrate their support of multilateral and peaceful cooperation.

“This would be a strong signal to the US and enhance the SCO’s standing in the international community,” she said.

Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov (right) meets Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Bishkek on Tuesday last week. Photo: Xinhua
Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov (right) meets Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Bishkek on Tuesday last week. Photo: Xinhua

As well as security, Xi’s visit to Central Asia is also likely to focus on economic ties. Meeting Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov in Bishkek last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Beijing would continue to “provide support and help national development and construction in Kyrgyzstan”.

Li said China may increase investment in the Central Asian region, especially in greenfield projects.

“China will continue to buy agriculture products from Central Asia, such as cherries from Uzbekistan, and build hydropower projects to meet local energy demand,” Li said. “Investment in solar and wind energy projects is also expected to increase too.”

Source: SCMP

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19/05/2019

Brazil’s vice-president Hamilton Mourao heads to China to mend relations

  • General will spend five days meeting top Chinese leaders including President Xi Jinping
  • Mission seeks to patch up wounds caused by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s anti-China rhetoric
Hamilton Mourao favours maximising engagement with China. Photo: EPA-EFE
Hamilton Mourao favours maximising engagement with China. Photo: EPA-EFE
Brazil’s vice-president is expected to land in Beijing on Sunday on a mission to patch up wounds caused by President Jair Bolsonaro’s lacerating anti-China rhetoric.
General Hamilton Mourao will spend five days in China rubbing shoulders with some of the country’s most powerful leaders, culminating in an audience with President Xi Jinping, in an effort to shore up the relationship between the two emerging market giants. Bolsonaro himself is due to visit later this year, while Xi is due to visit Brasilia in November for the BRICS summit.
China – Brazil’s most important trading partner for the past decade – remains a sensitive subject in the Bolsonaro administration. While Mourao and the other business-oriented members of government favour maximising engagement with the Asian giant, Bolsonaro and his more radical appointees view China with a high degree of suspicion, as a predatory economy that wishes not merely to invest in Brazil, but to own it.

“The Chinese can buy in Brazil, but they can’t buy Brazil,” the president said at a breakfast with journalists last month.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said last month that the “Chinese can buy in Brazil, but they can’t buy Brazil”. Photo: AFP
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said last month that the “Chinese can buy in Brazil, but they can’t buy Brazil”. Photo: AFP

Still, in comparison with his pre-election criticism of China as “heartless”, Bolsonaro in office has dialled down his anti-Beijing sentiment. Mourao’s visit is part of an effort to reset that relationship.

“The Chinese understand that Mourao plays a central role in toning down Bolsonaro’s rhetoric,” said Oliver Stuenkel, a specialist on BRICS – an association of five major emerging economies, namely Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – at the FGV business school. “They know that the Mourao-China relationship will be fundamental.”

Should China be worried about Bolsonaro’s bromance with Trump?

Speaking to reporters recently, Mourao recognised the need to balance the Bolsonaro administration’s desire to pivot towards the United States with practical considerations of China’s economic significance.

“The US are the champions of democracy and freedom and our government has left it very clear what this represents,” the vice-president said. “But on the other side we have to be sufficiently pragmatic to understand the importance of China for Brazil’s economic development.”

Chinese investment in Brazil reached almost US$134 billion between 2003 and 2018, Brazilian government figures showed.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to meet the visiting Brazilain vice-president. Photo: AP
Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to meet the visiting Brazilain vice-president. Photo: AP

While the trade war between the US and China may offer Brazil some short-term gains, particularly for its agricultural sector, the downsides outweigh the benefits, according to Renata Amaral, a foreign trade analyst at Barral MJorge consultancy.

“In truth this war is no good for anyone,” she said.

Mourao said that Brazil was monitoring the situation “critically and cautiously”.

Why US-China trade war could be good for Brazil
From the Chinese perspective, Beijing is looking for Brazil’s formal support for its “Belt and Road Initiative” – Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature global infrastructure megaproject. Asked whether Brazil might sign up to the programme, Mourao said that any agreement would have to be approved by Bolsonaro in the second half of the year.
After trips to the Great Wall of China and the Shanghai Stock Exchange, Mourao will meet Xi, in a clear sign of Brazil’s importance to China. “The visit of vice-president Mourao will reinforce mutual political confidence, deepen our friendly cooperation and add new dimensions to our strategic partnership,” according to Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.
With Beijing both uncertain about the direction of Brazilian foreign policy under Bolsonaro and eager to strike deals on infrastructure and food security, it makes sense for the Chinese to roll out the red-carpet for Mourao, according to Hussein Kalout, a specialist in foreign policy and a researcher at Harvard.
China trade vs economic growth: the dilemma for Brazil’s president
While the federal government remains ambivalent about its relationship with China, some of Brazil’s powerful state governors are seeking to develop their own relationship with the Asian country. One of them is Carlos Massa Ratinho Junior, the governor of the southern state of Parana, who travelled to China recently to discuss agriculture and railroad projects.
“We’re open to talk with any country that wants to and understands that the state of Parana is the best to place to invest in Brazil,” the governor said in an interview, adding that his actions did not conflict with the federal government’s stance towards Beijing.

But in a sign of the domestic pressure Bolsonaro is under not to abandon entirely his sceptical attitude to China, Luiz Philippe de Orleans e Braganca, the vice-president of the lower house’s foreign affairs committee and a lawmaker from Bolsonaro’s own party, said the government should set limits to the partnership.

“It’s good to talk to China, but it depends what is being discussed,” he said. “For example, the 5G network set up by China is dangerous because it will give the Chinese more information about Brazilian citizens than the Brazilian government.”

Source: SCMP

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