GP Insights # 367, 13 June 2020
On 12 June an Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) was formed to focus on key areas of policy safeguards against China. The safeguards include: protecting the international law and ensuring that China is held accountable for the human rights violations, promoting trade fairness, strengthening security, and promoting responsible development by protecting emerging economies from investment or lending from China.
Few issues could bring the former leader of Britain's Conservative Party Iain Duncan Smith together with his peer in the Labour party Baroness Helena Kennedy or the US Republican Senator Marco Rubio together with his Democrat Senator Robert Menendez.
It is a diabolical sight to behold when German Green Party Member of the European Parliament Reinhard Butikofer united with its ideologically opposed Slovak Conservative Miriam Lexmann and with many senior politicians from left and right-wing political parties in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Norway and Japan to form a coalition to grapple with the challenges posed by China.
What is the background?
First, an opposition against Xi but engagement with China continues. The issue that has united the global coalition of developed countries is the foreign policy challenges posed by China. However, these challenges are essentially led by Xi Jinping and his Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime. The COVID-19 pandemic had forced policymakers across the globe to confront questions of how the CCP has repressed the truth about the coronavirus when it was first identified, silenced the whistleblowers, and failed to report to the WHO on time. In the post-COVID-19 world order, the possibility of an all-time assertive Chinese leader is fathomable which has been evident in the regime's breaches of its international treaty obligations to Hong Kong, mass atrocities against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang and increasing tensions with Taiwan and in the South China Sea. Under these foreign policy challenges, the economic engagements of the coalition partner countries seem to continue without a pause with most recent being that of the Trump administration not leading its efforts to decouple the US and Chinese economies or target the Huawei company during the pandemic.
Second, a divided response to China from the EU to Australia. The coalition has come at a time when the responses by different institutions and leaders have been divided. In spite of Chinese aggression in the Himalayan belt, South China Sea or in its peripheral provinces, a tough stance has been from the US and Australia while the EU and several Scandinavian countries have been soft on China. It is the time of worsening relations between the US and China that has been exacerbated by finger-pointing over the pandemic. Washington has also taken a tough stance on Beijing's actions in Hong Kong, and along with it, Australia was seen calling for an 'independent international' investigation into China's response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its origin. Beijing has been curt in imposing tariffs on Australia's agricultural exports and choking the manufacturing units. At the same time, the EU was seen releasing a policy brief labelling China as the cause for disinformation on the pandemic but also assuring the Chinese foreign minister of no harm in the economic ties.
What does it mean?
First, belated as it may, the coalition is a political statement in a desperate attempt to defend the rules-based international order. China's staunch leadership policy is singled out as a threat that also proves that historically for a system to function and introspect on its own fault lines, an external threat has been essential. In this case, how much will the "Concert of Legislators", a loose network, work? The approaches are bound to vary, and not every member will necessarily be in agreement of a policy to push back on China.
Second, more than the deep-seated frustration with China's assertiveness, the coalition represents how the leaders are disillusioned by their own individual State's soft policy over China politically and economically. The State seems to have accommodated China's forceful pursuing interests in global issues ranging from trade to technology development to environmental regulation.
Last, the missing voice from the developing countries has been glaring where the dominance of China's economy and political clout can be viewed as the maximum. From a racist attitude against African to border transgression with India and the South China Sea, the coalition has representations from only the developed world, making the coalition an elite voice.