China is a challenging regime. It does not shy away from engaging its resources to pull others further into autocracy as control suits its diplomacy network. Resilience in foreign policy includes deepening ties with other states, allowing them to flourish, and building links to promote greater political alignment.
San Francisco meeting
The recent APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) talks which took place in San Francisco have been overshadowed by the summit between President Biden and President Xi. Significantly, Xi’s agenda has been focused on treating China’s economic woes in a vacuum while Biden seeks to renew engagements with countries after years of sliding away from multilateral resolutions under President Trump.
Biden’s invitation to the Indonesian President to the White House is strategic, both as the pivot to Asia strategy and interestingly amplified President Joko Widodo’s network. Both Presidents discussed APEC’s focus – the supply chain resilience. But, more importantly, President Widodo’s emotional highlight on Gaza demonstrated his network as an elected leader of the most populous Muslim nation and the new multilateral approach liberal democracies like the United States can undertake.
I am beginning to see that the United States foreign policy under the Biden administration consists of talking with China without the over-optimism in the past. US diplomats are not cynical towards Beijing, but the reality is that China wishes to replace the Atlantic Charter, which reflects a US-led security umbrella. It is pragmatic to engage with China, while also deepening ties with other Asia-Pacific nations.
The main aim is to allow these free and open states to be within a network and to strengthen them so that they also develop their resilient networks and become less enticed to China’s patronage. Not every nation is a liberal democracy but, in working with somewhat free and open states, the US can ensure they do not slide towards greater authoritarianism under Chinese patronage. This gives hope to their citizens and motivation to develop their own liberal and democratic institutions.
The need for resilience
I sense further urgency to progress resilience as the current diplomatic strategy while studying the Biden-Xi Summit at APEC 2023. The diplomats and campaigners too often treat foreign policy towards China as a vacuum, as solely an affair of national security or campaign sympathy. The diplomats represent the State of their national country: “State” is all the balanced institutions of statehood, including parliaments, courts of justice, and embassies of that nation. The “campaigners” with regard to China policy are Hong Kong pro-democratic camps and the overseas Chinese democracy movement. The distinction between Hong Kong and overseas Chinese democrats is in no way associated with independence, but on the basis that they have different campaign rationales.
Firstly, the State legislators may be fuelled with discomforting nationalist rhetoric not too dissimilar from the ethno-nationalistic chauvinism of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Meanwhile, diplomats engage in vague talks which show indecision about the goals of their State. The former is surely undesirable as they equate to conspiracy theories at best, and at worst nationalism is what our forefathers sacrificed their lives for two world wars to reject. Debatably, the Chinese people in China may not embark on democratic institutions that are a carbon copy of Western liberal democratic beliefs, but I am certain that they do not view the Chinese Communist Party as the ideal governance fulfilling their aspirations for a way of life.
Clinging to student activism
Among campaigners, there exists an overzealous clinging to student activism. There may come a day when summits return to the practice of releasing some political prisoners as gestures of goodwill, but the US administration will see it as part of fulfilling the promises to exiles. As yet, it is unmotivated to promote social change for the Chinese citizens. In other words, current activism campaigns still foresee no pathway to end the impunity of the current authoritarian government in China. I do not blame the pro-democracy activists. They have endured the most unjust imprisonment.
So the focus of the APEC agenda on strengthening ties with other countries indicates a way forward. It builds resilience among those opposing Chinese expansionism. To summarise, having a focus on resilience can consolidate across party lines. It provides a pathway to both the State diplomats and the pro-democracy campaigners.
New trade networks
As mentioned, nations have a lack of strategy and campaigners are forced into a vicious cycle of activism. Forming a single nation-led network would not be sufficiently resilient in today’s multilateral world. There is the well-oiled Atlantic Charter to provide a security umbrella. The key is pushing forward with multiple resilient networks to strengthen nations as well as prevent nations from falling further into autocracy. China’s foreign policy will always link up with more like-minded autocratic states. We must therefore build new trade networks to strengthen ourselves and enable our new partners to develop networks for us. Working alongside this should be a new legal framework with a focus on adjudication to provide hope for justice. This chain becomes groups of resilient networks giving fair hope to citizens who wish the ability to push their campaigns for change and justice.
Further articles from this author will include more about the UK policy towards China, and also about international legal safeguards against modern slavery.