Dan Banik and Xu Qinduo discuss how Chinese leaders and citizens view their country’s role as a global leader, what explains Beijing’s enormous faith in the United Nations, and how the West ought to offer constructive criticism of Chinese policies and decisions.
Xu Qinduo is a political analyst, news columnist and an adjunct professor at Renmin University’s School of Journalism and Communication. He is also a senior fellow at the Pangoal Foundation and host of the talk show “Dialogue Weekend” at China Global Television Network, CGTN. He was previously posted as China Radio International’s chief correspondent in Washington, DC.
Banik There is a considerable debate on China's rise in the West. Since the onset of the pandemic, one of the things that people have been noticing in the West is that China has become more assertive. We hear about the "wolf warrior diplomats" and China that used to be perhaps a bit shy and modest is now becoming more assertive. This is leading to questions about what does China really want? What kind of a leadership role does China want to play in the world? I often find that there is an absence of Chinese voices in this conversation. Given your background as a correspondent for Chinese media in the Washington, you teach at the Graham university, and you are a well-known commentator. Let me begin by asking what does China want in terms of this global leadership? What is the vision and the ambition for the Chinese leadership in your view?
Xu Thank you Dan for this question. This is a big question. It takes a lot of time to explain in detail but let me share my understanding. Even for the Chinese people, we are not sure what kind of role we are going to play. People are saying that China is going to play a leadership role. Some Chinese are going to say whether it is a trap, because they are not ready and they do not know how to lead other nations or countries. At the same time people say there is a growing confidence on the Chinese side, in particular the young people. We call it the generation Z (young people born after 1995 to 2010). Because when they were born China was already quite rich, so they have no sense of what poverty is in general. Then, if you understand Chinese culture in dealing with the Chinese people in nation-to-nation relationship or people-to-people contact. I think the Chinese people, as part of the East Asian culture, stress very much about mutual respect. It is not that you cannot talk about the Chinese problems or that you cannot criticize the Chinese or China. You can criticize and talk about their issues. It really is all about in what way you talk about the issues. I can share a story with you. When I was in DC as a correspondent, I was invited to a gathering in the evening by a Jewish friend. I was the only Chinese there. They invited a professor from Paris to give them a lecture on how to lobby China, the next superpower. That is more than 10 years ago, remember? I was new there and the lecturer was very familiar with China and the Middle East, and he could name all the Chinese experts on the Middle East. So, after the lecture he asked about my understanding since I would know more about China, because I am Chinese. What impressed me was that he advised people when talking about human rights for example, because China has always been criticised on human rights record. Probably you do not want to criticize upfront, you want to show them that it is like a book. When we encounter such a situation, we do it this way. And then all the Chinese people (they are smart) immediately understand that you disagree with them. Then they ask to let them take a look at your way of doing things
Banik So this has to do with the kind of language and culture that we have. In many parts of the West, we are very direct. But I know that in many cultures in Africa, Asia and elsewhere one must disseminate, convey, and articulate in a different way in order to be heard. So that kind of direct approach will not do. We will return to this later. I still want to ask you, given the kind of economic growth and development that China has experienced in the past two decades, the rapid growth and increasing welfare, the enormous investments and we will talk about the Belt and Road later on. All of this is in many ways creating a situation where China is reluctantly accepting an increasing global role. Maybe it is on purpose, but maybe some of it is being pushed on it because of the economy and of its enormous exposure and experience, the fact that Chinese companies are all over there world. There are expectations being generated that China should take a leading role.
Xu I agree with you. I tend to agree with you because, for example the Myanmar military coup. Because of the Asian culture the Chinese government refused to even call it military coup. They call it a government or a cabinet reshuffle. Of course, China has been criticized for doing that. People say that is a military coup, that is not a cabinet reshuffle. But that is partly because, out of respect for the military, the Chinese were not sure what was really going on and what was the next step on how to approach that issue. Later on, people say that China could play a leadership role in dealing with that kind of crisis. Partly because China is a big country in this region and has the largest population and economy. Also, China invests a lot in Myanmar, and you do have some influence with the generals. And China had a good relationship with San Suu Kyi’s government and her people. Frankly speaking, the Chinese side enjoyed the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi. Because in her leadership you could see the rule of law and transparency. If you do business investment, you need transparency and clear guidelines on how to do and how not to do.
Banik More predictability.
Xu Yes. Certainty, stability. So, investment and businesspeople like that. That is the situation, China was expected to play a big role, but China was not sure what they can do or how to solve such a problem. And also, because Myanmar is part of the Southeast Asian regional group (ASEAN - The Association of Southeast Asian Nations). It is expected to be solved in the first place by ICN as a regional group over there. So, you see leadership being played by Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand. And China, interestingly, conveying the message that we are fully behind you, and we are fully agreeing with your principle of non-interference with the internal affairs, but at the same time we want to be play a bridge to help solve this problem in Myanmar.
Banik Another good example here would be North Korea, the same kind of stuff. Because the West expects China to react or take the leading role, because China has good relations. And I suppose there is disappointment when China does not make these very bold claims or takes a very clear-cut position. My understanding is that some of this, and I may be wrong, is because of, as you were mentioning earlier, this insistence on non-interference. And I believe Chinese leaders are very careful not to be seen to be preaching or interfering. At least that is my experience when I study Chinese projects in the Belt and Road aid and investments in Africa. It is extremely important that one is not condescending or patronizing. People should solve things on their own. But the paradox of this is, given that China has so much influence, it will (if not already) find itself in a position where it has to take a stance. And you can think about Afghanistan now where China will end up having to make many bold decisions, because of the current situation.
Xu You are right. When we say, using examples of Myanmar or North Korea to say the Chinese side is not ready to take this leadership role because of the desire to avoid being seen as interfering with internal affairs or being condescending as you said. Partly because of the Chinese history as semi-colonized. So Chinese, as a nation, we are very sensitive to being lectured. When you are in a weak position as a developing country, you are very sensitive to criticism. So, when China approaches other developing countries, like countries in Africa, it is like self-conscious. You approach countries with respect, in equal manner and speak nicely instead of being seen as condescending. So, if you look at the Chinese stance on the issue of Afghanistan, you can describe their approach as proactive from the meeting with a senior Taliban official in July until the occupation of Kabul by Taliban. And then, this active engagement with Taliban and the advocacy by the Chinese side that we need to engage with the Taliban government to encourage them to be an inclusive government and to protect rights of women and minorities. And to make sure that Afghanistan will not be used as a hot bath for terrorists or to launch attacks against other countries including the US, China, Western countries, and regional countries. Because that is a common interest of everyone. I would say including that of Taliban. And China was among the first countries donate materials to Afghanistan. We see that the US recently also made a promise. Because people know there is a humanitarian crisis. Whether you like it or not, whether you like this Taliban leadership or not. There are Afghan people, and they are basically starving. One third of the population are not sure where is their next meal coming from.
Banik I find it quite fascination when I see some of the statements by foreign minister Wang Yi and others in terms of Chinas global leadership role. The tendency, correct me if I am wrong, is often about downplaying this and saying that rather than leadership we should be talking about responsibility. That it should not be about unilateral action. This is something I notice when I look at some of the media reports in the last two years since the onset of the pandemic. It seems that the Chinese leadership is sometimes critical of unilateralism, that the US pursues, and has been promoting traditional multilateralism and the role of the UN by saying that we should be talking about responsibility. What do think explains this faith that Beijing has in the UN’s institutions?
Xu Well, this probably has a lot to do with the concept of multilateralism. We know that before Biden’s government, the Trump administration was famous for playing unilateralism, basically America first. And then when Biden's government came people had this expectation that the US will change and come back to the multilateralism approach to deal with international issues. But then, from the Chinese point of view, people see that the Biden administration is practicing multilateralism but as a block. For example, he first rebuilt alliances with European nations against China and Russia. It is not multilateralism centred on the UN, the most important international organization. China is trying to say that the UN is the place to practice multilateralism and we should respect the role of the UN instead of the US style multilateralism where it still serves the US interests. It also tends to divide the world or even serving to launch a new Cold War against China and some countries along with China. That is mostly criticism from the Chinese side by stressing the role of the UN and the so-called authentic multilateralism.
Banik My impression was also that during the Trump administration the US was pulling out of all these multilateral institutions, it was undermining the WHO. And so, there was this widespread feeling that China was one of the strongest backers and supporters of traditional multilateralism as it was simultaneously building its own institutions. Creating institutions with other BRICS countries, development banks and regional forums. But what is interesting for me, having also lived in the US, I know that a lot of people including many of my American colleagues do not necessarily see the UN as being a very influential organization. There are lots of challenges with the UN, lots of criticisms about how ineffective it can be. About the lack of funding, member states not really paying their dues. There is a lot of criticism about the kind of reforms the UN needs. In some parts of the world, it seems a bit odd to insist that the UN, which many consider to be quite ineffective, is supported so strongly by China. Sometimes it feels a bit odd because some countries, even Norway, there is a huge support of the UN system. So, if the Secretary-General says something about climate change all the Norwegian political parties are talking about it. But in many other major power centres the UN and the role of the Secretary-General is not seen to be that important.
Xu I understand that. In the US press you rarely see any report coverage of the UN Secretary-General or any officials from the UN. But I think here, when China stresses the importance of the UN, China is basically criticizing the practice by the US. Under the name of multilateralism, the US is actually starting a new Cold War, building alliance against China, dividing the world into different camps. China is basically saying that if you have an issue with us, we should settle our issues. For example, if you say there is a trade issue and we should start talking to each other to fix that problem, like the tariffs. It is probably time to remove those tariffs and we should sit down face to face and talk to each other to settle down that kind of problem. But if you are trying to replay this Cold War against China, fundamentally, when you come to the Chinese-US relationship, the real question is whether Washington is ready to accept rising China with a different culture, a different value system and a different political system? China could be as powerful as the US in terms of the economy and the military in ten years maybe. So, is that acceptable?
Banik So, do you think the West and the US will approve or would like China to grow if China changes? You have written a couple of pieces on why the US and the West are always obsessed with changing China (Why the US and the West are always obsessed with changing China). Do you think it is the lack of interest in the West to accept China as it is? That China has to change its political system, change its approach before China is welcomed into some sort of a Western club. Is that your take?
Xu My answer would be no. Even if China becomes a Western style democracy or a democratic country the US will probably still refuse to accept China. Simply because this is the part of the real politics which is about interest. Let’s borrow Obamas words, it is about who will write the rule of international order. And when Washington stresses rule-based international order that is in the interest of Washington ant the West in general. But we also have to admit the reality with the rising of the rest, in particular China, India, Brazil, and Russia too. They want to have a bigger say or a stronger presence in the multinational international system. Institutions for example. That is why India is so keen on UN reforms. They want to become a Security Council member. That is why both China and India want to increase their presence and their voting power inside IMF (International Monetary Fund) or the World Bank. And that is probably why you are seeing China and India debuting the New Development Bank and AIIB (Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank). So, if Washington is somehow slow to those requests, which are legitimate, then I think there is reluctance to share power. Because you see the new kid in the block, the newcomers that are growing fast. Like I used to enjoy this kind of exclusive power and now I have to share it with China, India, Russia. They are probably not happy. And then, it reaches a tipping point, when we have to solve that issue. And then you see China launching its own BRI, launching its AIIB, the New Development Bank. Then people say that China is trying to build the system around itself. China is sabotaging this international system. China is not following the international rules. I think it is a bit unfair to say that.
Banik From my perspective, I sometimes wonder if it is really about the fact that we do not really communicate with each other properly. Some of it is the lack of expertise on China in Western capitals. Academics should be listened to more, the sinologists, those who can actually read Mandarin and who can translate into English. I am aware that not a lot is translated to English, lots of Chinese policy documents that we are not aware of because we do not speak the language. Some of the messages may be lost in translation, or there is no translation. And sometimes I believe the confusion can come because we are talking about very different things. Or the way in which Beijing talks about certain concepts becomes a bit difficult for us to understand. Let me give you an example. There is this term called ecological civilisation, or when China talks about shared future for mankind. There is a lot of talk about harmony and lack of interference. Lack of interference is perhaps easy for us to understand. But some of the other concepts are a bit difficult to decipher. We are trying to understand what the motive is really. And when one has these questions, you begin to wonder. Is there and ulterior motive? What are your thoughts there?
Xu Let me share my example with the listeners. The Chinese culture stresses much about harmony. Basically, as individuals we work together, we try to avoid disputes, try to avoid problems, or bad blood between us. A Chinese scholar once said that the Chinese culture is described as a duet, you need corporation. That is why China stresses so much about corporation and harmony. The Western culture, in particular the US is based on individualism, so everybody fights for their own freedoms and rights. You do see a lot of confrontation. The word would be dual. You have to fight for your rights and your freedom. That is probably why people speak upfront about their demands, their requirements and what they want to do, very direct. For the Chinese side it is about being indirect and stressing very much about win-win corporation and harmony. That is what it means, to maintain a friendly relationship among the individuals as well as among nations. You mentioned ecological civilization. I think it is just a big word. I think first put forward by president Xi Jingping. What he meant is that we need to be serious about protecting the environment, reducing pollution. I think that in 2012 or 2013 one of the top 3 priorities or concerns of the Chinese people was pollution. So, the government feels that there is a heavy burden to reduce the pollution in the soil, in the air, in the water as soon as possible. Xi Jingping came to power in late 2012 and put forward this concept of ecological civilization. I think it means that we have to protect the environment, the forests, the mountains, clean water. Because that is the ultimate goal of development. People need to enjoy clean air, clean water, clean environment wherever they are. He stressed very much about changing the approach. Priorities should be given to the environmental protection rather than rapid development.
Banik Given that you are a journalist, and you have this experience of being posted in a western capital and also one the most well-known commentators on CGTN and other media. I would like to ask you the following question. How should one come up with so-called constructive suggestions to something that China does? I am asking because some of the so-called criticism, none of us like criticism, so it depends on how the criticism is conveyed I suppose. But anything we do, anything that China, the US, the West, Africa, or Asia does. There will always be disagreement. We can't always be in agreement. Even though we want harmony, global development is intrinsically complex and there may be trade-offs and different pathways. So, if some country is to come up with a comment that is perceived to be criticism, then obviously China will not like it. My question is, given your media experience, how should we address disagreements that the West or other countries may have with China on certain issues?
Xu If you look back over the past forty plus years until the late years of Trump administration, we can all agree that there were a lot of differences which exist even today. Between China and the European countries, between China and the US for example. Both sides handled them very well. Every year the US published a human rights report of every country but themselves, but that is alright. There is criticism of China, and every time China will respond to that. It is like a routine work, you criticize me, and I will say “No, you do not understand, this is wrong”. But that is it. Nothing substantial will happen. For example, no sanctions and no cutting off the supply of semiconductors, no blacklisting your high-tech companies. No such thing happened in the past. So yes, that is fine. We can all accept criticism to a certain level because we know that it is a part of life. It really is about how you respond to that kind of criticism. With that being said, if you are truly concerned with a particular human rights issue or a particular issue with China, if you want to solve that without creating a fuzz, you probably want to talk to the Chinese side behind the door, without the limelight, without the media. In a very serious manner. This means a lot to us, and we have a lot of concern about that. We want to say that we have a stake in this, can you give us an explanation, can we do something to help change that. Usually, my experience is that there is good corporation on both sides. If you look at the China-Germany relationship for example. There are differences between the two countries, but their relationship in general has been stable, despite these big differences. Today, people play up about the value of differences. Yes, there are difference obviously, but the thing is if you see the differences only and lack the gap defining your relationship and then you see a bigger and bigger problem. But if you somehow limit and try to deal with your differences, and at the same time stress very much about engagement and corporation, and that is the way in the past. So, both sides get along pretty well with each other, despite the problems.
Banik I do see a point about the problematic aspects of megaphone diplomacy. Criticizing very loudly and in all media and creating a scene. That could be counterproductive sometimes and I do see a point about backroom negotiations, sort of behind-the-scenes negotiations without doing this in international media. But, from our side (if I were to say from our side, I am in Norway at the moment) I would suggest, and I am sure that you are aware, that there are all kinds of pressures. We have media, civil society organizations, academia, various interest groups that are all pressurizing government agencies to react to potential violations etc. If I was a minister, a president, a prime minister, to keep my base happy and to make sure people feel I am doing my job properly, I would have to respond to some of these pressures that are being generated within my country. And therefore, I may end up saying something that is not going to be taken well but that is important for me to say. There are all these pressures, I am sure you see that also from the Chinese perspective.
Xu Yes, right. Let me put it this way. I do not think criticism itself is a problem. The Chinese side certainly understands that. In Western democracy there is pressure from your constituency. And then, a minister will speak publicly against China on this and that. But that is fine. In general, the Chinese may not be that happy but that is it. Neither side will take any substantial action against each other. But if you look at it today, in particular the China-US relationship, you will see it is more than criticism. From the Chinese point of view, we see a lot of US reactions to the Chinese side on Hong Kong, on Taiwan or Xinjiang etc. People call it attacks on the Chinese. Is that a normal criticism as we understand it? Basically, that is the difference. Because if you look at the Chinese, apart from Chinese policy, they are reluctant to criticise other countries. In the past, you would probably never see the Chinese media or journalists to cover the negative side of the US society. As we know, there are a lot of problems with the US society - homelessness, racism, etc. But in China, the Chinese say that is the US issue, that is none of our business. US is a strong country; they will probably find one way or another to deal with the issues. It is not up to us, not our duty to criticize the US side. But still, I would say that it is alright to criticize the US, they can take that. And of course, the US also criticizes China, and we can take that. But now it is more than criticism, it is about the policy change. For example, if you are following the high-end mobile phones, the iPhone 13 will be the most popular one. Not only because Apple produces good popular iPhones but also because of the absence of Huawei. Huawei as a company producing high-end phones to compete with Apple, that part of the business is gone because of the US sanctions. This is more than criticism. If you look at the US’s entity list, there are exclusively all high-end or high-tech Chinese companies.
Banik Do you think this is a purposive move by the US to strengthen its American companies?
Xu Yes. For example, 5G technology. The US said they cannot use Huawei technologies for national security reasons, because that is a Chinese technology, and it is not safe. In the worst-case scenario, we could be put in a vulnerable situation. I understand that as an individual. The US has a reason not to use Huawei technology and that is fine. But what about pressuring other countries not to use Huawei either, that is unfair.
Banik So that is what is considered to be an attack? Mobilizing other countries against China?
Xu Against China. Basically, to kill Huawei. To paralyze this Chinese high-tech company because it is too competitive. And one way to kill them is to remove the supply, disrupting the supply chain of semiconductors to Huawei. So, the high-end mobile phone is gone and Huawei 5G is being limited, in particular in the Western world. So, they are probably mostly using and accepting Huawei equipment and technologies in the developing countries. They are very competitive, advanced technologies. This kind of practice by Washington reminds the Chinese side that this is an unfair world. This is not about the criticism; it is not about following international rules or justice. It is about power politics and national interest. But at the same time, you are talking about lofty ideals of human rights, freedom, democracy. Do you think the Chinese side will accept your preaching? No. We say that is fake.
Banik The last three years I have noticed how the Chinese media and Chinese policy makers are pushing back like never before. And we began this conversation about wolf warrior diplomats etc. What is your take on that from the Chinese perspective? Are you pleased with this more aggressive assertive approach that Chinese official spokesmen take in the media? Chinese diplomats on Twitter are pushing back much more strongly than they did before. Is this strategy working out for you?
Xu As an individual I would argue for the traditional diplomacy. I would argue for a low-profile response to the US pressure, to the unfair treatment from Washington. To the problems and the criticism from some of the western capitals. Because I think that it does not help to raise your voice in an argument. Also, it really takes time for people to see that China is not a does not want to be a bully. And China does not want to be a country described as being aggressive or expensive. China does not want to be a hegemony and that is the nature of the Chinese culture and policy. But somehow it simply takes time for people outside China to understand that. That being said I also understand that a lot of the Chinese people would say to stop lecturing us on human rights, on freedoms and culture in our country because we are a successful country and we have been very successful in the past forty plus years. Some would say it is rising nationalism from the Chinese side. You see people on Twitter arguing against the Western criticism and strongly defending their nation. Many of them are individual Chinese, some of them actually living in Western capitals, simply saying this is unfair. You present my country in a very distorted way. People have this desire to crack this impression. Even with this strong rhetoric of the so-called warrior diplomacy. But if you look at the Chinese real policy, for example the policy in the South China Sea on Taiwan, it does not change. Even the policy towards Washington does not change. The Chinese side desires to maintain an engagement with Washington. I think you can agree with me. Many people would agree that it is Washington that changed this relationship. Remember which country started this trade war imposing tariffs on the Chinese products and services and which country cut off the supplies of technology components, including semiconductors to Chinese companies. And which country imposed sanctions on Chinese officials. And which country basically closed the Chinese consulate in Houston. It was Trump administration.
Banik If you were to be a little fair, at least from the American perspective, the response would be that it is finally time for us to wake up and see that we have not been benefiting from trade. That it has been one-sided. That China has got all these advantages. Now it is America first and we have to look out for our interest and therefore we are doing this. That is the standard response and that is how President Trump justified some of his policies.
Xu That is probably the case, some people argue for that. But even some of the Americans would say that when they waited for the change of the administration. One of the expectations was that the Biden administration would change some of the practice of Trump. But the Biden government will still work for the US interest for example on trade. Probably different approaches, because tariffs do not only hurt the Chinese side but also the US consumer. It does not help any side, so why should we have these tariffs on? But it is still on eight or nine months into Biden’s presidency. People say they understand that. Globalization for example, you do not hear much mention of the word globalization. Words like free trade or globalization have become poison in Washington. Partially because during this process of globalization the manufacturing jobs were outsourced to developing countries including China. Because multinational companies, in particular the US ones, would source their production services from wherever you have the cheapest labour. That is understandable, that is capitalism. But unfortunately, during the process, the countries should blame themselves. Blame their politicians, blame their ruling class. For example, the loss of manufacturing jobs, and the US tried to bring back those jobs, but I do not think they are successful. And then they point a finger at China. It is all China's fault. Because China is so competitive. Because there is a 2025. Because of Chinese subsidies. Because China forcing our companies to give them technology. I would say that when people criticize China saying that China developed because they stole technology. It forced our company to transfer technology. To be fair, if the Chinese companies invested money in Norway or any other country, in particular developing countries, usually they would ask what they can get. Not only in taxes or revenue. But also asking to teach their workers and companies to help them to grow and to share some of their technologies. Chinese companies are being asked to do that exactly, that is natural. I understand that. But even if that is the case, it is reached in a contract. Nobody forces the US company to share technology with the Chinese side. Developing countries, what do you have, do you have a market? Resources? And when you are negotiating a contract with a businessman from Washington, what do you say? You bring technology, you bring money. I have the land, I have the policy, I have the market. So, we can share the benefits. But when it comes to leadership, they also want to develop themselves. Not only having this market but they also want to develop their own industry. How is it not natural? If you are not happy with a contract you can always leave. Nobody will force you to transfer or to share technology.
Banik Yet, it has to be said that some of the Western fears about China taking over territory in Sri Lanka and forcing African governments, it turns out that kind of media hype has often been incorrect. I see your point about the contracts. I suppose the trouble with much of these contracts is the lack of transparency. In our countries, we want everything to be clear-cut, openly available and accessible. One sees tensions in some part of the world because local citizens want more information. They want to know what the terms of the contract were. What are we supposed to give to China? How are we supposed to benefit? How long is the contract? What kind of subsidies have we given? To give you an example of a railway project in Kenya. Kenyan citizens have not been able to access that information. Obviously, China can say it is the Kenyan government that should be doing it, which is correct. And Kenyan government has not made clear what were the original terms. Some of these problems arise because people do not really know how the deal was done and the contents of the deal.
Xu You raise a good point. Partly because on the Chinese side, we criticize ourselves for not being good at PR or communicating with people in a particular country or region. You know the Chinese culture. Chinese culture values when an individual works hard but talks very little. But this is not working internationally. So, the Chinese state-owned enterprises or the Chinese private sector need to pick up that practice and get used to that. Whatever you plan to do, you share the information with the rest of your audience, your company, the local people. I agree with you that the Chinese side should improve on that. Secondly, that kind of practice is changing, partly because in the past it was the case. The Chinese government would require the Chinese companies to follow the local law, the local rules and regulations when investing in a foreign country. They stress this very much because they are afraid of the Chinese companies violating local rules, laws, and customs. For example, creating unnecessary conflicts or trouble for themselves and also for China. I think that is changing. I can give an example. A lot of people talk about whether China will help the BRI countries to improve in the sense of reducing carbon dioxide emission and to shift the reliance on coal-fired power plants to clean energy. I can share a recent shared publication by the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Ecology and the Environment. It is called Green Development Guidelines for Overseas Investment and Cooperation. (Unofficial English translation available here https://green-bri.org/unofficial-translation-notice-by-the-ministry-of-commerce-and-the-ministry-of-ecology-and-environment-on-issuing-the-green-development-guidelines-for-overseas-investment-and-cooperation/)
Banik I have had the pleasure of reading that and I have been impressed with some of the new higher level criteria that those guidelines have provided.
Xu I want to point out that they are shifting from observing the local laws and regulations to international standards.
Banik Exactly. I find that to be very impressive. That it is no longer the local customs and regulations which are very weak in some countries. So, let's adhere to the international norms which I think is a big step forward for many of these Chinese companies.
Xu I totally agree with you. The reasons behind that are partly because of the international criticism of China that they are not doing enough, and they are still building polluting coal-fired power plants, which is not enough to fight climate change. In the way China listens to those criticisms, they know they have to do something, because this is also their responsibility. This is something they can and should do. I want to stress this intension of the philosophy of the Chinese side. China is not a bad actor. Like that China wants to pollute the world or set a trap to trap other developing countries. No, this is not the case. Often the case is that they are not doing enough in some of the practices. Or they are not fully aware of the best practice. In some cases, they even know the best practice, but they are not capable of doing that. In a lot of aspects, China is still a developing country. Despite the size of its economy or, in some sectors, the high technologies they have. In particular on the softer side China remains very much underdeveloped. So, it is learning from the international and the western practice. I think that is why criticism is perfectly okay as long as there are not attacks. Always substantial follow-up actions against the Chinese side.
Banik Three days ago, a good friend of mine in Beijing said that we are now thinking about calling China an "advanced developing country". It is not just the world’s biggest developing country but an advanced developing country. This is a part of the Chinese identity abroad, especially in Africa. Saying they are still a developing country, so do not expect too much. And I think it is a very clever strategy. But I do think you are right that China is addressing some of the criticism. And the guidelines you mention is a great start. China is not going to finance any more coal-fired power plants on the African continent and the BRI projects are moving more and more towards Europe. I also see, in terms of Chinese aid and investments, that a few years ago China established CIDCA (China International Development Agency)and there is now much more transparency than before. So, I see on the Chinese side that certain new measures are addressing these criticisms or the inadequacies that have been pointed out. This is a very positive move. I want to end our conversation by talking a bit more about the BRI and the future of BRI as you see it. You have mentioned that this assertiveness that China has now is based on the success of the Chinese model of development. So, you have economic growth and welfare which means China can be more confident when talking to others. One thing that I have been noticing in the past few months is that some of the Western attempts that have been launched, initiatives like Build Back Better (https://www.whitehouse.gov/build-back-better/) that was launched by the G7 in June. Then, a few days ago, the EU has launched the Global Gateway Initiative (https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/ov/SPEECH_21_4701). What I find quite puzzling is that it is very unclear what are these initiatives really going to do, there is very little detail. Firstly, I find it surprising that major powers would launch these initiatives without much detail. But secondly, it turns out in many of the reports that these initiatives have been launched with the goal of countering China's influence that has been achieved through the BRI. How are you seeing these global initiatives in Beijing? Do you see this just as another attempt to combat China's rise or do you think there will be a potential to collaborate with the EU and the US and other powers in terms of Build Back Better and the Global Gateway?
Xu Let me put it this way. I think the Chinese side will not criticize moves like this. Because the Chinese side will say that there is indeed a huge shortage of funding for infrastructure in the developing world. So, more investments are needed and welcomed, either from Washington or from Brussels or any part of the rich world. The Chinese side would welcome that competition because that is a healthy competition. Because we are all helping the developing countries by building roads, ports, airports, hospitals, schools. Why not, if that is the case. We welcome that kind of competition. We would love to see more investment from European countries or the US in Africa and Asia. More investment is always good. It is a sharp contrast with more nuclear-powered submarines in Australia or more military presence in the Asia-Pacific region. Because with development, with more investment and trade, the Chinese side believes there would be more opportunities for jobs for young people and more revenues for the regional countries. That way you are building a market for your products and services. That is a win-win at the end of the day. Every part of the world will benefit from that kind of initiative. European countries should have probably done that many decades ago. In that sense, probably less immigration problem for European countries in Africa and the Middle East. That is from the Chinese point of view. By investing in infrastructure or manufacturing you can help a country to develop, to grow, and to get rid of poverty. And to bring more peace and stability.
Banik It is always great fun to chat with you. Thank you so much for coming on my show today.
Xu My pleasure. Thank you for having me.