PHRASE OF THE MONTH:
“When hungry wolves get in the way and attack, Chinese diplomats must dance with the wolves” (当豺狼挡道、恶狼来袭，中国的外交官必须“与狼共舞” dāng cháiláng dǎng dào, è láng lái xí, zhōngguó de wàijiāo guān bìxū “yǔ láng gòng wǔ”)
– replied Qín Gāng, a new Foreign Minister and a well-known “wolf-warrior” after receiving a journalist’s question regarding the fate of China’s “wolf warrior diplomacy”.
DOMESTIC POLITICS & FOREIGN AFFAIRS
1. Anniversary of the War in Ukraine: China’s Peace Proposal
On the 24th of February, which marked the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released its peace proposal titled “China’s Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis”. The 12-point proposal ranged from a call to abandon the Cold War mentality to the facilitation of grain exports. While the plan lacks concrete details for implementation, it aims to give the impression that China has started to play an active mediating role in solving the conflict. However, Li Mingjiang, a professor at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, has stated that “the basic tone and the fundamental message in the policy are quite pro-Russia”.
2. Lukashenko visits China
On the 1st of March, the authoritarian leader of Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko, arrived in Beijing for a three-day state visit to China. During the meeting, Xí Jìnpíng praised China’s unbreakable friendship with Belarus, whereas Lukashenko reiterated its support for China’s peace proposals to end the war in Ukraine. At the end of the visit, both leaders signed a joint statement elevating the bilateral relationship to the ‘China-Belarus All-Weather Strategic Partnership’, including numerous cooperation agreements in different spheres from security to trade.
3. The Meeting Between “Dear Friends”: Xi’s Russia Visit
On the 20th of March, Chinese President Xí Jìnpíng arrived in Moscow, beginning his two-day state visit to Russia, the first visit after Russia invaded Ukraine. As stated by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Xi was accompanied by a high-level delegation, including a member of the Politburo Standing Committee Cài Qí, Director of Central Commission for Foreign Affairs Wáng Yì, and Foreign Minister Qín Gāng. In the background of a recently issued arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court, the Xi–Putin meeting shows strong support from China. For Putin, this was a diplomatic highlight of the year – the Chinese president even praised Putin’s strong leadership and encouraged Russians to support him in the next elections. While talks on Ukraine did occur, and Putin acknowledged China’s peace proposals, there were no concrete actions or hints of any changes. Perhaps one of the most interesting moments happened as Xi bid farewell to Putin and stated, “Right now there are changes the likes of which we have not seen for 100 years. And we are the ones driving these changes together.”
4. China’s Peace Prescription for the Middle East
China has negotiated the final settlement of the restoration of diplomatic ties between long-time rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia. The announcement’s timing came during China’s biggest annual legislative gathering, ‘Two Sessions’, an effective tactic to show the domestic and global audience that China is a force for peace. Without having a traditional military and security footprint in the Gulf region, where the US has been the most influential player for decades, the brokered deal marks a big win for Chinese diplomacy as Beijing extends its tentacles into the region that goes beyond its strategic sphere of influence in Asia and the Indo-Pacific. This is the beginning and a successful manifestation of the Global Security Initiative (GSI), which President Xí Jìnpíng recently launched, opening and signalling a new chapter in a competition between Beijing and Washington on a global stage.
5. “Tenacious Like bamboo”: China’s ‘Two Sessions’ Wrapped up
During ‘Two Sessions’, China’s biggest political legislative gathering, Xí Jìnpíng used a phrase from the 300-year-old Qing dynasty poem ‘Bamboo in a Stone’ by calligrapher and poet Zhèng Xiè, who is apparently a favourite of Xi’s: “Tenacious like bamboo rooted in the rocks of the mountain” (咬定青山不放松 yǎodìng qīngshān bú fàngsōng). Bamboo is a metaphor for being tough and holding on to your position no matter what the world throws at you while also being proactive and gaining grounds where possible. This encapsulates China’s trajectory and priorities for 2023: under the newly elected Premier Lǐ Qiáng, China aims to robustly restore and stabilize economic growth after the economic downturn, with a projected economic growth target of 5%; to proactively modernize the military amid a deteriorating strategic security environment, with an increase of 7.2% in defence spending; and to become self-reliant in science and technology at a faster pace.
SECURITY & MILITARY AFFAIRS
1. War Games Around the Globe
On the 15th of March, Russia, China, and Iran held their third 5-day joint naval manoeuvre “Security Bond-2023” (or “Security Belt 2023” in some sources) in the Gulf of Oman. This is already the second joint naval exercise for Russia and China this year. On the 17th of February, Russia, China, and South Africa conducted a 10-day joint naval drill, “Exercise Mosi II”, off the South African coast. The military drills attracted significant attention because they were held when the world marked a full year of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The first joint naval exercise involving these countries took place in 2019.
2. AUKUS Partnership Worries China
As China’s military build-up and behaviour in the Indo-Pacific are breeding insecurity, several members (the US, the UK and Australia) of the so-called AUKUS – the most consequential trilateral defence technology partnership in modern history – signed a landmark pact valued at nearly $400 billion that will allow Australia to deploy long-range nuclear-powered submarines for the first time. China vehemently voiced its strong opposition to AUKUS and the nuclear submarine deal, arguing that they will only “exacerbate the arms race, undermine the international nuclear non-proliferation regime and hurt regional peace and stability.”
BUSINESS & TECHNOLOGY
1. Clipping the Wings of China’s Self-sufficiency Ambitions
During China’s annual legislative gathering “Two Sessions”, President Xí Jìnpíng has said that China should build “high-level self-reliance and strength in science and technology at a faster pace”. The remark was made to a room full of the People’s Liberation Army and the People’s Armed Police Force delegates. However, the US and its Western allies have been shoring up efforts to derail China’s self-sufficiency plans. For the first time, the Dutch government confirmed that it will impose new export control on chip manufacturing equipment to China, following the US’ lead in efforts to choke off China from cutting-edge chips supplies. Concurrently, Germany is stepping out of its Merkel-era ‘Huaweiphilia’ and making a 5G U-turn by preparing to force telecom companies to rip equipment made by China’s Huawei and ZTE out of their networks.
2. The Sword of Damocles Hangs Over TikTok
TikTok, China’s most-successful social media export, has been facing bans, restrictions and inquiries in Europe and the US. The European Union institutions introduced a ban on the app on officials’ devices over data security concerns, and in the US, TikTok might be banned entirely. Calls are growing in Washington to purge the popular Chinese-owned social media app from the country over fears that the Chinese government might be able to access its users’ data. However, in the testimony before the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Zhōu Shòuzī, TikTok’s chief executive officer, has defended the company with a statement saying that “TikTok has never shared, or received a request to share, U.S. user data with the Chinese government. Nor would TikTok honour such a request if one were ever made.”
3. Positive Signs in China’s Economic Landscape
China’s economy is recovering after lifting COVID-19 restrictions last year. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, industrial output in January and February was 2.4% higher than in the same period in 2022, up from 1.3% annually in December. In addition, retail sales have led to a rebound, with consumers being able to spend money freely for the first time in three years.
SCIENCE, HEALTH & ENVIRONMENT
1. China on a Slippery Slope to Meet its Climate Goals
According to a new report from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, China approved the largest expansion of coal-fired power plants since 2015 last year, which signals China’s deviation from its commitments to decarbonisation and its goals of peaking in 2030 and reaching net-zero emissions in 2060. China has also capitalised on steeply discounted Russian coal exports in conjunction with coal plants to ensure it would meet its domestic energy needs. However, it is further gravitating away from its transition to cleaner energy by using more renewables.
2. A Green Light for China’s First mRNA Vaccine
China has approved its first home-produced mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, months after ending its strict pandemic rules. Drug regulators cleared the vaccine, developed by CSPC Pharmaceutical Group, for emergency use. China has declined to use Western COVID-19 shots to support domestic research, so the approval is a significant achievement in the country.