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China In Eurasia Briefing: Xi Eyes Security And Superpower Status


Visitors stand in front of a giant screen displaying Chinese President Xi Jinping next to a flag of the Communist Party of China at the Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution in Beijing.

Welcome back to the China In Eurasia briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter tracking China's resurgent influence from Eastern Europe to Central Asia. To subscribe, click here.

I'm RFE/RL correspondent Reid Standish and here's what I'm following right now.

Xi Jinping used his opening remarks at China's weeklong Communist Party congress to outline a vision of how to lead the country toward superpower status as he defended his decade in power and said that tough policy lines would be needed to enshrine China's rise amid growing global threats.

Finding Perspective: The Chinese leader is poised to claim his third term by the end of the week, but the process is only a formality at this point.

With Xi's hold on power cemented at home, he used his lengthy October 16 report to China's ruling elite to warn that risk-filled times are coming to the country and the world and called on Communist Party members to adopt a fighting spirit to domestic challenges and continue to seize opportunities unveiled by changes on the global stage.

While light on specifics, the vision set forth by Xi points towards even more hard-line policies from Beijing as it grapples with economic headwinds at home, an intensifying rivalry with the United States, and fierce technological competition abroad.

When Xi came to power a decade ago, China had just overtaken Japan to become the world's second-largest economy, but it now potentially faces its second-lowest growth rate in 46 years, with the International Monetary Fund recently cutting its forecast for China's growth to 3.2 percent this year.

In another sign of weakened growth, Beijing also abruptly delayed the publication of its third-quarter GDP data, a day before it was set to be released.

Xi will also need to focus on changing the country's economic model and patching vulnerabilities in its financial system, which achieved record growth as a result of China's unfettered debt-fuelled expansion over the past decade.

Why It Matters: There's no going back for Xi. Having already changed the fundamental rules of Chinese politics, expect the same to hold true for foreign policy.

However, unlike when Xi first took power, China is now in a much more confrontational position with the West.

In its recently released national security strategy, the Biden administration labeled China as the most consequential geopolitical challenge to the United States despite Moscow's war with Ukraine.

The European Union, which has generally not been as hawkish toward Beijing as Washington, said that its relationship with China had fundamentally changed, with Josep Borrell saying that growing competition with the country had outstripped other aspects of bilateral relations.

China now finds itself more insular than before and the recipe for continued frayed ties with the West is ever-present.

During his speech, Xi outlined an aggressive foreign policy and railed against future "external attempts to suppress and contain" China, with added attention to the Indo-Pacific region.

But Beijing also risks pushing too hard, too quickly and sparking even tougher Western pushback -- something that Kevin Rudd, president of the Asia Society and former Australian prime minister, believes Xi is wary of, especially in regards to Taiwan.

"[Xi] doesn't want an accidental conflict with the Americans in the 2020s," Rudd wrote in a recent article. "Under present conditions, the risk that China might lose is still too great. He hopes to change that by the 2030s."

Read More

● For a deeper look at the opaque and high-stakes world of China's elite politics, read this article by Chinese writer Deng Yuwen in Foreign Policy.

● Among many interesting tidbits in a Politico interview with former U.S. National Security Council official Fiona Hill, I found this comment about Beijing and Moscow particularly interesting: "Once we get past the party Congress in China, we should watch how the Chinese-Russian relationship plays out. China would be instrumental in signaling to Putin how far he can go in terms of pursuing his endgame."

Expert Corner: The View From Taiwan

Readers asked: "Xi Jinping has likely secured his third term and seems to have his sights firmly on Taiwan. How does this new era look from Taipei and is a Chinese invasion of Taiwan a given at this point?"

To find out more, I asked William Yang, Deutsche Welle's Taiwan-based East Asia correspondent:

"People in Taiwan are closely following the messages as well as military activities adopted by China, especially since U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit in August. Since the threat from China is nothing new to Taiwanese people, most of them have developed a coping mechanism in which they don't let provocative gestures or predictive media reports affect their daily lives too much, while they remain alert and up-to-date about the latest signals coming from Beijing. With that being said, there is certainly a slight increase of the sense of urgency since August."

Do you have a question about China's growing footprint in Eurasia? Send it to me at StandishR@rferl.org or reply directly to this e-mail and I'll get it answered by leading experts and policymakers.

Three More Stories From Eurasia

1. The New Central Asia

The fallout from the Ukraine war continues to have ripple effects across Central Asia, leading to shifting dynamics for how the region deals with external players, particularly China and Russia.

What It Means: China received a win at the United Nations earlier this month, in part thanks to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan voting differently than how they had in the past when it came to Xinjiang.

In a close contest at the UN's top human rights body in Geneva, a vote to hold a debate on alleged rights abuses by Beijing against Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other minorities in China's western Xinjiang region lost out.

Seventeen countries voted in favor, 19 were against, and 11 abstained in the vote. The diplomatic victory for Beijing was in part because Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which had traditionally abstained when it came to voting on Xinjiang, voted against the motion, supporting China's position. (Ukraine also abstained, but later said it wished to switch its position to vote in favor of holding a debate.)

In other signs of shifts under way, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Central Asia on October 13 amid Moscow's diminishing influence in the region.

As my colleague Chris Rickleton wrote in a recent article, deep problems within the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Moscow-led security bloc, are brewing and Russia has few tools to fix the situation. (Chris and my colleague Steve Gutterman also explored this and more in a recent podcast episode.)

While Russia is too large and powerful to not be influential in Central Asia, it's clear that its reputation is suffering due to the war in Ukraine and China is picking up some of the pieces, with some tangible results already visible.

2. Chinese Police Go Global

Beijing has opened dozens of what it calls "110 Overseas Police Service Centers" around the world, some of which are being used to intimidate and blackmail suspects into returning home to China in order to face charges in breach of global extradition laws, according to a new report from the watchdog group Safeguard Defenders.

What You Need To Know: The report claims Chinese regional police forces have set up at least 54 offices on five continents, stretching from Uzbekistan to Hungary to Canada. The centers get their name from the police emergency telephone number in China, 110.

The Chinese government claims that the overseas police service centers are set up to help Chinese diaspora and tourists with everyday problems, but Safeguard Defenders says in its investigation that the stations are part of an expanding and complex surveillance and monitoring network that allows the Chinese Communist Party to reach far beyond its borders.

"These operations eschew official bilateral police and judicial cooperation and violate the international rule of law and may violate the territorial integrity of third countries involved in setting up a parallel policing mechanism using illegal methods," the report says.

3. Watching Tajikistan's Debt

Tajikistan's substantial foreign debt -- the vast majority of which is owed to China -- was under fire during a recent UN panel, my colleagues at RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported.

The Details: The questions over Dushanbe's external debt came from members of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, who raised their growing concerns about the financial commitments to a visiting delegation of Tajik officials.

Tajikistan's foreign debt currently sits at $3.3 billion -- 60 percent of which (roughly $1.98 billion) is owed to the state-run Export-Import Bank of China.

The Central Asian country's foreign debt has more than doubled in the past decade. Despite concerns over this -- and the fact that Tajikistan's debt exceeds 40 percent of its GDP -- the officials questioned at the United Nations insist that they have the situation under control and will be able to meet their repayment schedules.

Across The Supercontinent

Prep Work: Pavel Fischer, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Czech Senate, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that the European Union needs to draw lessons from Russia's invasion of Ukraine for a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan and have a sanctions plan already in place.

Racial Recognition: The Chinese company Dahua, the world's second-largest security-camera manufacturer, is marketing AI-powered cameras on its own website that can detect "race," "skin color," and even so-called "Xinjiang" or "Tibet" facial features. Read the full report from IPVM.

Covid-Zero Goes Abroad: According to an investigation by Australia's ABC, the Pakistani Army has been enforcing China's strict COVID-19 restrictions at a Belt and Road Initiative-funded power plant in Pakistan, which is operated by a Chinese company.

Welcome To Dushanbe: Tajikistan is hosting an international counterterrorism conference that will feature representatives from the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), China, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Qatar, and other states, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.

One Thing To Watch

Preparations for a possible Biden-Xi meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Indonesia began months ago, but with the meeting getting closer, there are some reports that Beijing is backpedaling on having a face to face with Biden.

Politico reported recently that Beijing won't engage with U.S. officials trying to draft an agenda for the meeting, which could prevent it from taking place. The White House denied the report, but China has signaled its frustrations of late over enhanced U.S. pressure and could look to back out.

A meeting between the two leaders at the G20 -- which takes place on November 15-16 -- could go a long way to calming tensions between the United States and China, which have descended to a new low point.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you might have.

Until next time,

Reid Standish

If you enjoyed this briefing and don't want to miss the next edition, subscribe here. It will be sent to your in-box on the first and third Wednesdays of each month.

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    Reid Standish

    Reid Standish is an RFE/RL correspondent in Prague and author of the China In Eurasia briefing. He focuses on Chinese foreign policy in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and has reported extensively about China's Belt and Road Initiative and Beijing’s internment camps in Xinjiang. Prior to joining RFE/RL, Reid was an editor at Foreign Policy magazine and its Moscow correspondent. He has also written for The Atlantic and The Washington Post.

About The Newsletter

In recent years, it has become impossible to tell the biggest stories shaping Eurasia without considering China’s resurgent influence in local business, politics, security, and culture.

Subscribe to this biweekly dispatch in which correspondent Reid Standish builds on the local reporting from RFE/RL’s journalists across Eurasia to give you unique insights into Beijing’s ambitions and challenges.

To subscribe, click here.

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