Eye on China: Huawei Special Report – RCEP Pressure – SCO Wrap – Trump-Xi Talk – World Bank on BRI

Eye on China is a weekly newsletter offering news and analysis related to the Middle Kingdom. This week we cover the SCO and CICA meetings, India’s approach to Huawei, discussions around the RCEP deal, the World Bank’s new report on BRI, the US-China trade war and much more.

I. SCO & CICA

Over the weekend, SCO member states wrapped up with summit in Bishkek, signing a declaration. The document’s rather interesting, largely because of its intense focus on the US, which is not named of course, and the alignment of India’s views with China in this context. The first bit in breaking down the Bishkek Declaration is the fact that India has continued its stance of not endorsing BRI. But there’s more here that’s interesting. The first substantive paragraph of the document says “the global balance of forces is going through a reconfiguration…the situation in global politics and economy remains turbulent and tense, and the process of economic globalisation is being hindered by the growing unilateral protectionist policies.” The document adds that member states desire a “polycentric world order;” they also emphasize the “importance of initiatives to promote cooperation in building international relations of a new type…and a common vision of creating a community with a shared future for humankind.” This is very much official Chinese rhetoric. Also unsurprisingly, the member states back the WTO mechanism and also support the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal. The two other interesting bits in the document are about the “determination to step up efforts to consolidate the economic component of SCO activities” and the need for “serious attention…to increasing the share of national currencies in mutual financial transactions and settlements.”

On terrorism, the document wants the international community to “work towards a consensus on adopting the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism.” In addition, member states “note that interfering in other countries’ domestic affairs under the pretext of fighting terrorism and extremism as well as using terrorist, extremist and radical groups to achieve one’s own mercenary ends is unacceptable.”

Xinhua’s reportage of the event covered Xi’s remarks at the SCO and bilateral meetings with leaders. Xi called on member states to “appreciate the trend toward world multi-polarization and economic globalization” and “build a closer community with a shared future for the organization.” What this means is closer cooperation across a range of areas, from innovation, technological development, agriculture, education, tourism, etc. Xi also emphasized the “concept of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security” and called for member-states to take “multiple measures to combat the ‘three forces’ of terrorism, separatism and extremism, and enhance de-extremization cooperation.” The one big regional security concern that he highlighted was the situation in Afghanistan with regard to which he wants the group to “play a constructive role.”

Another important component of Xi’s trip was cementing China’s role in Central Asia, given that he also traveled to Dushanbe for the CICA meeting. At the CICA meeting, Xi pitched the Chinese vision for Asia. He said Asian countries face common challenges including insufficient political mutual trust, imbalanced economic development, and outstanding security and governance issues. Addressing these requires joint approaches. He said: “We should discard zero-sum game and protectionism, enhance policy communication, improve political mutual trust and gradually expand strategic consensus.” To do so, China, he said, will continue to pursue a peaceful development, stick to stick to opening-up and all-win approaches, and uphold multilateralism and safeguard the international order.

Apart from the multilateral engagement, there were a number of bilateral meetings. The meetings with leaders of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan led to joint statements calling for further deepening their comprehensive strategic partnerships with China. In Tajikistan, the two leaders agreed to “commit their countries to developing all-weather friendship.” Xinhua reports that “China is willing to help Tajikistan upgrade agricultural modernization, actively participate in Tajikistan’s construction of free economic zones, and have more exchanges in culture, education and tourism.” Some key projects to be undertaken as part of BRI in Tajikistan involve sectors like energy, petrochemicals, hydro power and infrastructure construction. Xi also spoke about the issue of terrorism and the need to build a “China-Tajikistan community of security.” In this context, a new WSJ report (the report’s paywalled, but The Diplomat has a breakdown here.) this week claims that as part of Sino-Tajik cooperation, “Chinese border guards have replaced their Tajik counterparts along large swathes of the territory along the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border…There are parts of the country where the Chinese have taken over border control completely.”

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