Updated: Mar 31, 2021
Report by Giulia D'Aquila
For our ninth webinar (and second webinar of the year!), we had the pleasure of hosting Lorenzo Lamperti, head of the International News section for the Italian journal Affaritaliani. In this webinar, moderated by European Guanxi co-founder and head of strategic communications Alessia Paolillo, we had the chance to learn more about China and the international equilibrium in East Asia.
Lorenzo pointed out how, although we most often concentrate on US or EU-China relations, we too easily neglect the relations between China and East Asian countries, which are becoming the centre of international politics. China, Vietnam, and Taiwan, for example, were among the very few countries whose economy was resilient enough to allow their GDP to keep increasing even during the global pandemic. Other East Asian ‘middle powers’ who are worth paying attention to are Japan and India.
Beijing is currently facing an aligning movement of countries such as India, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines, states who perceive China as aggressive, especially after the promulgation of the new Coast Guard Law. This law authorises Chinese coastguards to use weapons against foreign ships in disputed waters of the South China Sea. Indeed, although the naval fleet is not historically one of its main assets, China has been working on strengthening it over the last years. Since 2015, moreover, Japan, India, and the US have started naval tests, and were eventually joined by Australia; however, this project came to an end with the beginning of Trump’s ‘America First’ policy, after which the US presence in Asia decreased significantly.
According to a declaration from the Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, with the new Biden administration, Washington’s interest in Asia is likely to recover. Despite this, Lamperti pointed out that it is unlikely that the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between Australia, India, Japan, and the US (QUAD) will become the equivalent of an ‘Asian NATO’. The Asian middle powers, according to Lamperti, are most interested in being reassured during the Biden administration. Since the Obama administration, Asia has changed as it had to learn how to be independent and not rely on the unpredictable politics of the US.
Furthermore, South-East Asia is the area which is most dependent on China. Therefore, Lamperti pointed out that if Biden wants to rebuild a dialogue with that region, he should not expect countries to ‘take sides’ and ally with the US against China, because East-Asian economies are too intertwined with the Chinese one. He brought forth the example of Indonesia, where in 2020, China’s direct investment rate increased by 20%, against Japan’s, which decreased by 40%.
Therefore, powers in South-East Asia are not interested in a direct confrontation against China and building an ‘anti-Chinese front’ as Trump had suggested; instead, they would be more interested in strategic competition.
Lamperti fielded several questions from attendees: among the topics brought up, he talked about the Chinese position towards the recent political disorders in Myanmar, the Philippines’ relations with the US and China, the significance of the QUAD in China-US relations, as well as the political implications of the Belt and Road initiative.
If you are eager to witness the entire Webinar, you can watch it on our YouTube channel.