China Should Woo Global South Under BRI to Counter West, Shape New Order: Chinese Magazine Editor

Yang Ping claimed that the confrontation between the West and Russia over Ukraine has led to events which were unimaginable earlier.

New Delhi: With the West using sanctions and export controls to exclude Chinese firms from international supply chains and projects, China needs to be ready to de-couple by building a new international system with the help of the global south, asserted the editor of an influential Chinese magazine.

In January, the editor-in-chief of the Beijing Cultural Review (BCR), Yang Ping, gave a speech at an event hosted at Renmin University’s Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies on the topic of the great power game.

Based on a Chinese-language transcript, the Sinification blog published an English translation of the speech recently. As the blog post noted, Chinese scholars and analysts have debated ways to respond to the China-US economic and political estrangement, with a range of opinions pronounced publicly over the months.

Yang Ping claimed that the confrontation between the West and Russia over Ukraine has led to events which were unimaginable earlier. “These include the fracturing of the financial system, the expropriation and seizure of Russian private assets and the freezing of Russian foreign exchange reserves. These are all abominable and unimaginable forms of confrontation”.

He noted that the China-US trade war started by US President Donald Trump has become broader under his successor, Joe Biden. The multiple strategies taken by the US to isolate China include allowing friendly countries to be part of supply chains, forming alliances and proactively targeting China’s high-tech industry, said Yang.

He claimed that the number of Chinese companies in the US entity list had increased fourfold under the Biden administration. “The world is moving inexorably in the direction of decoupling. The phenomenon of politics affecting the economy and the capitalist political order no longer upholding the capitalist economic order are extremely striking.”

China’s response to this type of aggression should be to construct “a new type of international system that is not dominated by the West”, Yang asserted.

“That is to say, [we should] build a new type of international relations and a new type of international system that has strategic depth and in which China and the countries of the global South are jointly integrated. [This] is, in my view, an important strategic task for China’s international relations in the coming decades.”

The talk of shaping a “new world” has been a leitmotif of Xi Jinping’s regime since he took over. Further, Yang’s argument echoes what Xi Jinping has said in various platforms.

Two years ago, at the Boao Forum for Asia, Xi called for a new world order, basing his criticism of US’s economic targeting of China. “Xi did not name the US in his 18-minute speech but he took aim at Washington’s efforts to decouple supply chains and bar critical American semiconductors and other high-tech goods from being sold to Chinese companies such as Huawei,” reported the Financial Times in 2021.

Yang asserted that China’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) had to “go beyond mere business”. “The development of the BRI should be considered at the strategic level.”

Stating that BRI should have space for loss-making endeavours, he noted, “If you raise [the development of the BRI] to the strategic level, there are countries where you won’t be able to make money and will have to lose money, and there are countries where you will be free to make money. You have to unite the two within your organic strategy.”

While Yang claims that Chinese leadership must use BRI strategically, it is somewhat puzzling for most observers. China has always perceived the BRI as a strategic initiative, with Beijing making massive investments in infrastructure projects like ports, which have turned into white elephants. Because of this strategic component in the BRI, the West has been trying to scramble to find an alternate financing mechanism to fund connectivity projects in developing countries.

The Chinese publisher also failed to note that BRI has lost some of its sheen in developing countries due to debt burden or local sentiment against importing Chinese labour.

While Yang looked at the BRI as a way to bring the global south on China’s side, another Chinese economist called for building up a network of alliances of business to “help neutralise the impact of Western sanctions”.

In an article in the Foreign Affairs Review published by China’s Foreign Affairs University, Ye Yan, senior economist at National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and adjunct professor at China’s Southwest University of Political Science & Law, wrote that Beijing should not adopt tit-for-tat responses to US sanctions as it would be counterproductive.

Instead, he suggested building up an alliance of business firms made up of those companies already sanctioned – and those “after a ‘risk premium” and not afraid of attracting sanctions.

“The network would help shore up supply chains, reduce the isolation felt by sanctioned businesses and provide new opportunities for Chinese businesses to develop and prosper through trading with sanctioned entities both within China and across the world,” he wrote.

Ye also stated that Chinese firms that have not faced sanctions should be encouraged to comply with US sanctions, provided they do not harm China’s core national interests.