The Two Sessions; China in the Middle East; The Philippines Pick a Side; Korea & Japan New Best Friends?
News Brief (12 Mar 2023)
The Two Sessions
VERMILION: The Two Sessions (Lianghui, 两会) is China’s largest political gathering where the National People’s Congress “ratifies” legislation predetermined by the party. Xi was voted in for his third term as President and the Party Secretary of Shanghai, Li Qiang, was voted in as Premier.
China’s ‘two sessions’: PLA deputies push for wartime legislation - SCMP
VERMILION: This is not saying that war is going to happen, but it is an indicator that the Chinese Communist Party is preparing for a wartime scenario. There is a huge push in China to strengthen the understanding and study of international law. We can see this as a greater focus on the legal warfare aspect of the pre-kinetic “Three Warfares” strategy. All cause for concern.
Ye Dabin, another PLA deputy, said: “Taking our wartime needs into account, [we should] begin studying wartime legislation in a timely and systematic manner.”
Zhang Like, commander of the Shandong Provincial Military District, suggested that China should push for the “introduction of laws such as the mobilisation of reserve forces”.
Other deputies called for legislative changes related to the PLA’s overseas operations, which have expanded in recent years and include the establishment of a military base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, and naval escort missions in the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia.
Yuan Yubai, a former commander of the Southern Theatre Command, said Beijing should strengthen legal research and study international laws related to national defence to improve “the rationality and legitimacy” of the Chinese military’s overseas missions.
Chinese whole-process people’s democracy fully underscored at two sessions - Global Times
VERMILION: The Global Times is a Chinese propaganda paper geared towards English speakers. We’re drawing attention to this article because the Two Sessions is often referred to as an example of democracy in China. The Two Sessions have the veneer of democratic process, but this is far from the truth. All delegates to the National People’s Congress and the Chinese Political People’s Consultative Conference are handpicked by the Party and they “vote” according to what the Party tells them to do. The Two Sessions is not a democratic process by any means and this is why the photo of Xi’s 100% vote was banned in China.
The NPC and CPPCC are an important platform to showcase the whole-process people's democracy, reflecting how much top Chinese lawmakers and policy advisors care about people's livelihoods by making efforts to turn people's expectations into reality, some experts said.
The whole-process people's democracy is not just a narrowly-defined democracy with periodic voting rights, but a combination of electoral and consultative democracy including elections, consultations, decision-making and oversight, which covers economic, political, cultural, social and ecological sectors, they noted.
In the words of Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, "Whether a country is democratic or not depends on whether its people are truly the masters of the country. It depends on whether the people have the right to vote, and more importantly, the right to participate."
Good democracy must achieve good governance and promote the country's development, Zhang Shuhua, director of the institute of political sciences at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Thursday.
Deputies are an important bond for people's democracy to be practiced throughout the whole process. By performing their duties, deputies promptly report the most direct and realistic problems of the public to the CPC committees and governmental departments, and give positive guidance and explanation for the problems that are temporarily difficult to solve while putting forward proposals and suggestions, Zhang said.
China has increased the number of local legislative outreach offices to 32, and now covers all provinces, autonomous regions, and cities directly under the central government, according to a report on the work of the Standing Committee of the NPC delivered at the first session of the 14th NPC on Tuesday.
VERMILION: Be wary of those who cite this process as an example of democracy in China.
China in the Middle East
VERMILION: This is China’s first major diplomatic power brokerage in the region. Beijing is pursuing its global goals of displacing American hegemony, but the long-term commitment remains unclear. It is likely that Beijing’s interest in a more stable Middle East relates to their energy vulnerability.
China-Brokered Deal Between Iran, Saudi Arabia Marks a New Middle East - WSJ
China’s brokering of a detente between Iran and Saudi Arabia accelerates a geopolitical realignment in the Middle East, as rivalries that erupted during the Arab Spring fade and outside powers besides the U.S. vie for influence.
The restoration of diplomatic relations between Tehran and Riyadh, announced Friday in Beijing after years of enmity between the two capitals, reflects the new reality: With Washington increasingly preoccupied in Ukraine and Asia, the region is trying to move past its old divisions, resolving conflicts and easing tensions.
“China doesn’t have the capacity to play a bigger security role in the region,” said Sanam Vakil, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, a London think tank. But the deal to restore diplomatic ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia “foreshadows its potential to be an appealing alternative to Washington.”
China increasingly fears Washington’s goal is to isolate it, heightening Beijing’s longstanding concern about access to energy and driving it to take a more active role in the Middle East, analysts said.
In China, Iran has an outside power to help ease its economic woes and internal unrest, and the deal with Saudi Arabia adds another factor for its clerical rulers to consider as it weighs whether to build nuclear weapons.
Riyadh’s goal is to clear away as much as possible the threat from Iran, so its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, can focus on a plan to diversify the Saudi economy away from oil by attracting foreign investment and boosting domestic consumption.
“There is so much happening that they need a clear frontier, and they’ll go to whoever gives them that—the Americans, the Chinese, or a mix of both,” said Bader al-Saif, an expert on Persian Gulf and Arabian affairs at Kuwait University.
U.S. officials say the rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia is a positive development, one that could advance its own goal of preventing Iran from building nuclear weapons, and they have voiced little concern about China’s growing diplomatic intervention in the region.
Why Did China Help Saudi Arabia and Iran Resume Diplomatic Ties? - CSIS
On Friday, March 10, Saudi Arabia and Iran announced their agreement to reestablish diplomatic relations based on talks held in Beijing. China has portrayed itself as the broker of the agreement, and China’s senior diplomat congratulated the two countries on their “wisdom.”
Q1: Why did the two countries reestablish relations now?
A1: The agreement seems to have been moved forward during President Ebrahim Raisi’s visit to Beijing last month. For months, Saudi Arabia has put pressure on Iran through its reported support for Iran International, a foreign-based Persian-language broadcaster critical of the regime that is received in Iran. Since President Raisi took office in August 2021, he announced it was a priority to reduce tensions with regional neighbors. Saudi Arabia and Iran have had a wide variety of differences throughout the region, often fought through proxies. They span from Lebanon to Syria to Iraq to Yemen. Iran has supplied weapons to Houthi forces in Yemen that have threatened Saudi populations both on the border and in interior areas. Saudi Arabia has been increasingly interested in finding a way to end the conflict in Yemen, and this agreement is likely to move that forward.
Q2: What is the importance of China’s role, and what does this mean for China’s presence in the Gulf?
A2: Appearing to facilitate the negotiations adds to Chinese prestige. The not-so-subtle message that China is sending is that while the United States is the preponderant military power in the Gulf, China is a powerful and rising diplomatic presence. This adds to a perception of Chinese power and influence around the world, and it contributes to a narrative of a shrinking U.S. global presence.
Iraq had sought to play a role brokering Saudi-Iranian talks, and Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron of France actively sought to support rapprochement as well. China was well-placed economically to engage with both sides. China alone represents about 30 percent of Iran’s total international trade, so it is vital to Iran. China is Saudi Arabia’s largest oil export market, and Saudi Arabia is often China’s largest oil supplier. When President Xi Jinping visited Saudi Arabia in December, Iranians complained bitterly that he had tilted toward Saudi Arabia in his statements and actions. Given Iran’s international isolation, though, there wasn’t much Iran could do in protest.
Q3: What does this mean for the United States and its role in the Gulf?
A3: The United States could not have brokered this agreement because it does not have direct contact with Iran. Former Iraqi prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s departure from office in October 2022 removed the possibility that this would be consummated under Iraqi good offices, which had the quiet backing of the U.S. government. The Biden administration has spoken about the importance of regional security dialogues and is presumably supportive of this agreement, at least in general terms. But the fact that Saudi Arabia struck the agreement in a way that seems to have entirely excluded the United States sends a message that the Saudis are seeking to diversify their bets on security and not rely wholly on the United States. The U.S. government is of two minds on that; it wants the Saudis to take increasing responsibility for their own security, but it does not want Saudi Arabia freelancing and undermining U.S. security strategies.
Q4: What does this reveal about Saudi diplomacy?
A4: The Saudis seem to have structured these negotiations in a way that purposively left the United States far away from the agreement. Yet almost simultaneously, the Saudis leaked to the Wall Street Journal that they are open to negotiating diplomatic normalization with Israel and revealed some of the terms. The message from Saudi Arabia is that it will not be passive in regional diplomacy, and it will take its own measure of how to balance its interests. Saudi skepticism of Iran runs very deep, and Iranian hostility toward Saudi Arabia is similarly ingrained. Both countries expect that they will remain adversarial, but they believe that more direct channels of communication will serve their interests. Still, the Saudis feel enduring threats from Iran. Sustaining U.S. security guarantees against Iranian aggression, reportedly seeking U.S. agreement to some nuclear enrichment, and deepening security understandings with Israel, are part of a broader strategy against what Saudis see as an enduring Iranian threat.
The Philippines Pick a Side
China slams Manila again over closer US military ties, warns against ‘drawing wolves into the house’ - SCMP
VERMILION: Chinese officials tend to use very descriptive language when things go the wrong way, as in this specific situation with Beijing being unable to shape the foreign policy of a neighboring “small country” (Philippines). This is an example of why China so desperately wants to control Taiwan and the First Island Chain. Once China achieves geographic domination and can control the economic prosperity of countries in the Western Pacific, the CCP will be able to dictate the region’s foreign policy without much pushback.
Beijing has stepped up its criticism of the Philippines’ decision to seek closer US military ties, while accusing Washington of pulling the country against China and towards “geopolitical strife”.
The Philippines must stop veering into “the evil path of drawing wolves into the house”, the Chinese embassy in Manila said on Sunday, issuing a stern warning to the government of President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr in what was its second statement on the issue in three days.
Despite vows to strengthen ties during Marcos Jnr’s visit to Beijing in January, bilateral relations have been strained in recent weeks after Manila decided to lean towards the US to counter China’s maritime assertiveness, as tensions simmer over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
The latest embassy statement came after the US ambassador to Manila, MaryKay Carlson, said Marcos Jnr’s decision to open up four additional sites to US forces under the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) would help to develop the local economy.
Philippines says South China Sea concerns go beyond US-China rivalry - Philstar.com
VERMILION: In diplomatic talks regarding the South China Sea, China frames tensions between itself and the Philippines as a byproduct of US interference in the region. The Philippines rejected this framework and are doubling down on the assertion that the freefall in diplomatic relations is a result of China’s own handling of a bilateral relationship.
MANILA, Philippines — Manila said its protests over Beijing's aggressive activities in its portion of the South China Sea are not meant to pick sides in the rising United States-China tension.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo Jr. said the country's "concerns" over recent incidents in the West Philippine Sea have a "decidedly human element to them" that have to be acted on.
"Our concerns are mainly from the national standpoint and should not be viewed through the prism of the US-China rivalry,” Manalo said in a March 6 speech, a transcript of which was released Friday.
The Philippines’ evolving view on Taiwan: From passivity to active involvement - Brookings
The Philippines adopts a rigid and legalistic One-China policy regarding Taiwan’s diplomatic status as a self-ruled island. However, the new Marcos administration found it necessary to improve the Philippines’ security relations with the United States as it openly expressed the need to cooperate with Washington in a possible strategic exigency in Taiwan, its closest neighbor.
Manila is aware that if an armed conflict between Beijing and Taipei erupts and intensifies over the Taiwan Strait, there is little chance the country will escape the adverse consequences in terms of massive refugee flows, the rapid return of Filipino overseas workers based in Taiwan, and the actual spread of the conflict to the Luzon Straits and even northern Luzon. Romualdez, now Marcos’ ambassador to the United States, admitted that the Philippines would cooperate with the United States militarily to deter any escalation of tension between China and Taiwan — not only because of the treaty alliance but to help prevent a major conflict. Moreover, he added that the Philippines would let U.S. forces use its military bases in the event of a Taiwan conflict only “if it is important for us, for our security.”
Korea and Japan New Best Friends?
VERMILION: This shift in the Korea-Japan relationship is unprecedented. Korea and Japan have a history fraught with violence, but are willing to sideline these issues in the face of a potential existential threat from China and North Korea.
U.S. eyes trilateral deterrence talks with Japan and South Korea - Nikkei Asia
WASHINGTON/SEOUL -- As Japan and South Korea move toward rapprochement on historical grievances, American officials are considering the possibility of a new three-way format for talks with East Asian allies on the U.S. nuclear umbrella.
The proposal announced Monday by Seoul to compensate Korean laborers who worked for Japanese companies during World War II hints at a thaw in the diplomatic chill between the neighbors.
Washington sees this as an opportunity to pursue deeper security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific in the face of threats posed by China and North Korea.
The U.S. already holds bilateral discussions with both countries on extended deterrence -- its commitment to use its nuclear arsenal to protect allies. These talks could be expanded into a three-way format.
Details such as the agenda and specific participants have yet to be decided. South Korea and Japan are both treaty allies of the U.S., but they have no such relationship with each other, and their willingness to engage in in-depth discussions in such a setting is unclear.
S.Korea's Yoon to visit Japan for summit, first such trip in 12 years - Reuters
SEOUL, March 9 (Reuters) - South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and his wife will visit Japan from March 16-17 at Tokyo's invitation, his office said on Thursday, the first such visit in 12 years after Seoul announced a plan to end a protracted dispute over wartime forced labour.
South Korea said on Monday that its companies would compensate victims of forced labour under Japan's colonial rule from 1910-1945, seeking to end a dispute that has undercut U.S.-led efforts to present a unified front against China and North Korea.
Yoon will hold a summit meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Yoon's office said in a statement, calling it "an important milestone in the improvement and development of relations between South Korea and Japan."
Yoon's office said he hoped to expand various security, economy, and cultural fields, and revitalise exchanges between people in the two countries "in order to overcome the unfortunate history of the past and move forward into the future."
South Korea's defence ministry said on Tuesday it would work with Japan to enhance security cooperation, including trilateral relations with the United States.
The two countries also agreed this week to negotiate to end export curbs on key electronics components.
Opinion | China is pushing U.S. allies South Korea and Japan together - Washington Post
VERMILION: As a self-promoted “sponsor of peace,” China should be happier about two regional powers putting their differences aside.
South Korea and Japan have been estranged neighbors for decades, but now they’re moving to establish a new partnership — and not because the United States told them to. Both countries are rethinking their security posture because they realize the need to counter China’s increasingly aggressive regional expansion. America’s Asian allies are speaking clearly about the rising danger in the Pacific, and the United States should listen.
This week’s historic warming of ties between Seoul and Tokyo was almost completely overlooked in Washington, where pundits and politicians alike have chosen to focus on the latest kerfuffle with Beijing. China’s new foreign minister warned of “conflict and confrontation” unless Washington backs off of its competitive strategy. President Xi Jinping blamed China’s economic woes on the United States and its policy of “containment, encirclement and suppression.”
It’s fashionable these days in Washington to assign primary blame to the United States for the downturn in U.S.-China relations. Some claim America’s hawkish stance is the result of politicized groupthink in Washington.The Chinese government exploits this navel-gazing by claiming that Washington is the only reason that China’s international standing is at an all-time low. Chinese propaganda outlets even blamed the new South Korea-Japan thaw on the United States, accusing South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol of “serving as a pawn of the U.S.”