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As Chinese influence grows, some unsettled but cheques are keeping many shut

China’s ambitious Belt and Road project, unveiled in 2013, too has had the effect of giving rise to concerns over Beijing’s intentions to entrap countries into a debt trap

By the looks of it, Beijing’s actions over the recent years seem to be pushing many countries away. It has coerced smaller neighbours over the South China Sea maritime dispute, pushed ahead with its ambitious multi-billion dollar Belt and Road Initiative despite concerns of some that it could push some countries into deep debt and its stance of support to Pakistan, seen as a sponsor of terrorism.

This week, China seemed isolated standing in Pakistan’s corner after almost all other members of the UN Security Council backed India's stand that the Kashmir dispute is bilateral and needs to be tackled by the two neighbours. That China was the only one standing with Pakistan on the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force’s gray list for funding terrorist organisations was also telling.

In another example, earlier this month, Chinese ships entered the North Natuna Sea — bordering the South China Sea — to challenge Indonesia’s right to fish and exploit the natural resources in its exclusive economic zone. According to news reports, at one point of time, as many as 50 ships were in Indonesian waters in what could possibly be moves by China to extend its maritime claims in the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest waterways with overlapping territorial claims among countries of the region. Jakarta, on its part, lodged a strong diplomatic protest and the Chinese ships sailed away.

A third instance is the Australia-China relationship where tensions have surfaced in recent years amid allegations that Beijing committed cyber-attacks and attempted to interfere in Canberra's domestic affairs.

China’s ambitious Belt and Road project, unveiled in 2013, too has had the effect of giving rise to concerns over Beijing’s intentions to entrap countries into a debt trap. This is despite the fact it managed to get a G7 country--Italy--to join the initiative last year. News reports suggest a number of countries in Africa are getting uncomfortable about the commercial viability of projects under the BRI.

Notwithstanding erosion of goodwill among many of its neighbours and others, what does seem to have come to China’s rescue is the fact that it’s the second most influential country in the world.

And it is evident from the number of countries that have diplomatic relations with Taiwan currently. There are about 20 countries that recognize Taiwan as a separate country at present, a drop from about 30 in 2018.

Another case in point is that days after a group of 22 nations signed a letter addressed to the president of the UN Human Rights Council and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights calling on China to end its massive detention program in Xinjiang last year, a group of 37 countries submitted a similar letter in defense of China’s policies.

In the first letter, the signatories expressed concern about “credible reports of arbitrary detention" in Xinjiang and “widespread surveillance and restrictions" particularly targeting Uyghurs and other minorities, news reports said. The second letter equated the opposition of the signatories to “politicizing human rights" and reiterated China’s defence of what Beijing calls “vocation education and training centres."

“China is today the world’s second largest economy. Its coffers can offer ‘help’ or ‘aid’ or cheap loans with no questions asked. There are countries that see the advantage of having a powerful country like China on their side. That is the reality of China today," said a person familiar with the developments. “So though it may lose goodwill, it will have some countries in its corner — through cheque-book diplomacy or may be through bullying," the person said.


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