China’s work capacity and organizational skills are the envy of the world. The same can be said of their determination – in every sphere imaginable. While the rest of the international community is preoccupied with Covid-19 and the events in Belarus, Nagorno-Karabakh, Syria and elsewhere, China is looking for solutions to problems. Not so much domestic problems, but instead those linked with increasing its influence in the global arena.
And it’s undeniable that China is quite good at it. Let’s take a look.
A country can be powerful in foreign affairs only if its domestic processes are under control. In September, the Chinese Communist Party published quite unconventional guidelines for its members. The guidelines instruct members to “educate private entrepreneurs so they completely obey Xi’s socialist ideology”. According to the new guidelines, “the private sector requires politically sensitive persons that will unquestioningly obey and follow the party”.1
This reveals one harsh truth – the Chinese leader is saying loudly and clearly that either everyone supports the government and its policies, or… It’s somewhat clear what will happen to those who will decide to disobey. Chinese real estate tycoon and critic of Xi Jinping Ren Zhiqiang was sentenced to 18 years in prison for “corruption, bribery and embezzlement of public funds”. Ren once belonged to the Communist Party’s inner elite circle. Many believe that Xi and the Communist Party are using accusations of corruption to silence critics.2
This means that the Chinese government will use all of its levers of power to force not only public servants into submission, but also owners of private businesses and workers. Perhaps it’s only a coincidence, but as a rule in other countries there’s always a Chinese restaurant or something similar near critical infrastructure objects. Just look at what’s around our Ministry of Defense.
In China, even teachers and academic personnel are living in fear. In June, Chinese authorities detained law professor Xu Zhangrun who had criticized Xi Jinping for his response to the Covid-19 pandemic his attempts to tighten his grip on power.3 There are countless examples of the Chinese government dealing with people who express different opinions within China.
But you won’t become an important player just by suppressing those within your country. It’s necessary to alter the perception of foreigners as well. There are two ways to achieve this and both are as old as the hills. The first – teach your ideology to others. In this regard, China has spread its Confucius Institutes across the globe, and these can be found in Latvia as well. We have 15 different-level establishments linked with the these institutes – from the Confucius Institute at the University of Latvia to individual classes or programs in schools.
We can be sure that China cares for its institutes abroad by looking at the funding the Confucius Institute at the University of Latvia has received from the Chinese government. In 2016, the amount was 142,833 euros, while in 2019 it was 77,472 euros. And it’s highly unlikely that the 14 other establishments were left with no funding.
Globally there are around 548 Confucius Institutes (20 in Oceania, 59 in Africa, 126 in Asia, 159 in the Americas and 184 in Europe).4 I think its clear what kind of ideology is being taught in these institutes.
If the USSR forced the ideas of communism without hesitation and by using weapons, then China has decided to take the long path. By establishing the Confucius Institutes (and considering that the students are usually young, talented and curious individuals with no strict ideological boundaries), China has successfully created a fifth column whose true force and extent are yet unknown.
I will add that these institutes not only “brainwash” the young people in accordance with Chinese ideology but are also used as a platform for numerous intelligence activities. The Confucius Institutes have long been suspected of espionage – their activities are being investigated by the US and the UK, while Germany and Australia have begun paying increased attention to them.5
The second way – buy everyone or at least the most important ones, i.e. put them on the “money needle”. And I don’t mean vulgar bribes, but a more sophisticated approach. For instance, acquiring majority stakes6 or involving in the construction of different infrastructure.
According to negotiated contracts, China has invested at least 145 billion euros in Europe between 2010 and 2019, and many of the investors were companies or foundations either directly or indirectly run by the state that have acquired, for instance, the Port of Piraeus in Greece, the Swedish car manufacturer Volvo, the Italian Pirelli, the German manufacturer of industrial robots Kuka, the famous French tourism company Club Med, etc. The list grows bigger with each year and includes companies of all spheres. Currently, there are active discussions regarding the wish of the Chinese to purchase the Portuguese electric utilities company EDP.
One could think that it’s “just business” which doesn’t have any impact on the member states’ stance on political issues and their attitude towards what they consider democratic values. But the experience of the past years forces us to question this assumption. In 2017, Greece blocked the EU’s joint statement at the UN on criticizing Beijing over human rights violations, which was the first but not the last such instance.7
A sort of a “victory” for China in the international arena was the news published on 13 October 2020 that China and Russia along with several other nations have been elected to the UN Human Rights Council. Human rights organizations urged UN member states to vote against this, considering the numerous human rights violations committed by these countries.8 Whether the votes were based on actual belief that China and Russia respect human rights, or was there a different reason – we can only guess.
The modern world is ruled by those in possession of information, as well as those who spread and manipulate this information. A research was published on China’s “new world information order” that includes modernizing China’s domestic audio-visual media outlets, purchasing foreign media outlets or, in special cases, buying advertisement space in printed media “on an industrial level” (for instance, the article advertising the Silk Road in the newspaper Le Figaro took up three pages). Even Western politicians and journalists, when talking about certain topics, have begun adopting Beijing’s ideologically polished phrases.
We should also heed the warning of German Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas who said that if any nation hopes to strike profitable deals with the Chinese, it will later “be surprised to find itself dependent”.9
Also lying to themselves are those who think that Latvia is of no interest to China. That’s just naïve because the Chinese propaganda machine is already operating here in full force. What else can you make of articles that contain the line “this information is paid for by the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Latvia”? Articles without this statement also appear in local media outlets in which Chinese officials express their opinion, for instance, the article in NRA titled “NRA Interview with the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China in Latvia: Hardships Reveal True Friendship”.10
The reality is that Chinese propaganda is being circulated in the Latvian media space. And I doubt that this is happening free of charge.
Latvia is not the chosen one among the Baltic states – China’s approach is that you can never have too much of anything.
It’s one thing to spread propaganda, but it takes certain impudence to criticize the intelligence service of another nation for the conclusions it has made. This was recently done by China against Estonia.
At the start of the year, the Chinese Embassy requested that a report by an Estonian intelligence service be corrected. In the report, the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service noted the rapidly rising foreign activities by China aimed at forcing its worldview and norms onto others. “The concept of ‘peaceful development’ advocated by the previous Chinese president Hu Jintao is used less and less by current Chinese leaders, and instead, they are stressing more and more across the globe the message of China as a power that has come to stay, with others simply forced to adjust to this ‘new world order’,” can be read in the report.
The authors of the report also wrote: “The potential use of the Chinese foreign investments for political purposes and possible development of the technological dependence is a growing threat to the Estonian security.”
The Chinese Embassy responded with: “The Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service is requested, based on facts and truth, to correct its wrong expressions to remove the negative impact. They are advised to make useful and practical efforts to support the development of bilateral relations.”11
Thus, we can conclude that China is moving with determination and impudence towards its goal. But what exactly is this goal?
The answer is simple and was said by General Secretary of the UN Antonio Guterres on 22 September 2020 when he opened the annual debate of the General Assembly by warning of a new cold war between the US and China: “We are moving in a very dangerous direction. Our world cannot afford a future where the two largest economies split the globe. A technological and economic divide risks inevitably turning into a geo-strategic and military divide. We must avoid this at all costs.”12
He is right, but the reality is that the cold war has already begun. The ineffective international policies have resulted in China’s positions strengthening over time. Moreover, the arrogant and near-sighted policies of the USSR and Russia only helped China’s military potential to grow. Now, the former teacher has become a distant shadow of its students.
Nature abhors a vacuum, and when a position becomes vacant someone else occupies it. And it doesn’t matter how the position becomes vacant, but it would certainly be dumb for someone to give up their position with no reason. In 2017, China revealed that it is participating in counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan in cooperation with Kabul. This confirms the suspicions that China has increased its influence in a country where not so long ago the dominant force was the US/NATO military alliance. Analysts are already asking the question of what this will mean to the global balance of power, Afghanistan itself and stability in Central Asia and the Middle East.13
China is using all the tools available to it to patiently move towards its goal. This doesn’t mean that we should forget about Russia – in some ways Russia is less dangerous than China because it doesn’t have the amount of resources China does, but Russia is unpredictable which makes it even more dangerous. A single grenade can’t cause any significant harm but when it’s put in the hands of a monkey – anything can happen.
Then what do we do with China? The answer is simple – we should remember that there are no friends in diplomacy, only interests. To stand against such countries as China and Russia we must use their own methods against them, and all countries standing against them must be united and unyielding.