The annual Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) was convened in Hainan on April 21,
- Chinese President took the opportunity to present China’s world view and
perspectives on various global issues that have a bearing on international
economic recovery, peace and stability. While China is facing serious allegations
regarding violation of human rights and international laws/ conventions, pursuing
expansionism and posing threat to multilateralism, Chinese President Xi Jinping
tried, in his address to the forum, to absolve China from these allegations and
project a positive image.
He put forth a very wide world view, seemingly advocating multilateralism and
mutual cooperation to overcome global challenges, eschew ‘cold war mentality’,
and shun ideological confrontation. The underlying thrust of Chinese President’s
address was to softly refute the existing mistrust and suspicion in Chinese intents
even as it endeavours to be a global power as well as also beef up China’s
image as an ardent supporter of shared peace and prosperity for humanity.
Commenting on Xi’s initiative, an Asian diplomat noted that China tends to “come
out with an excessively large framework that nobody objects to. The idea is that
even if countries don’t agree wholeheartedly, at least they can’t fully oppose it.
Then, bit by bit, they use the framework to chip away at the US.”
One of the most remarkable features of the President’s address was mooting the
idea of a new “Global Security Initiative” (GSI) on the lines of its Global
Development initiative. He called for shunning Cold War mentality, hegemonism,
and power politics as these could “endanger world peace” and “exacerbate
security challenges in the 21st century.” These remarks were intended for Biden
administration, and the international community, to accept China not only as an
emerging superpower but also as an equal in addressing global challenges.
Nevertheless creating a more benign and palatable Chinese vision would need to
be displayed on real ground for eliciting global trust and credibility. Xi’s assertion
on respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations and their right
to choose their own development paths and social systems belies Chinese track
record of assault on sovereignty, territorial integrity and unilateralism in both
South China Sea, Sino-Indian / Bhutan / Nepal borders. It has not paid any heed
to India’s repeated flagging of sovereignty issues in implementing China Pakistan
Economic Corridor in disputed areas bordering India and Pakistan. Xi’s talk about
taking the legitimate security concerns of all countries seriously and not pursuing
one’s own security at the cost of others fails the on-ground test. The South Asian
and Asia-Pacific nations have seen too much of expansionism and unilateralism
on the part of Beijing to believe the purported Chinese-Vision.
Similarly, the essence of many of the proposals in the GSI comes down to the
presumption that Asian affairs should be managed by Asian countries, which
conveniently gives China a dominating position because of its size and power,
and equally conveniently seeks to push the United States out of the Indo-Pacific.
Underneath the Chinese idea of GSI is the pursuit of an Asian hegemony. It is
designed to promote China’s interests and agenda of creating an edge in its
great power competition in Asia, especially with the United States.
Despite talking about rejecting the Cold War mentality, the GSI is a clear attempt
at promoting power politics in a manner beneficial to China. Many of the
proposals in the GSI are a thinly veiled effort to compete with the United States
and its partners and allies. China’s interference in Hong Kong in contravention of
its undertakings to the UK, its pressure on Taiwan and its assertiveness in the
South China Sea for maintaining its hegemony raise questions on Xi’s
commitment on his vision as expressed in Boao’s address.
The USA has sanctioned a raft of Chinese officials for human rights abuses in
Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and has blacklisted a number of Chinese technology
companies which are threat to its national security.
China’s purported faith in multilateralism is an effort to create a favourable milieu
for its so called “peaceful rise to power” by increasing its political outreach and
economic might through BRI, AIIB and BRICS in the hope of playing a bigger role
and increased stakes in reshaping international relations. The underlying agenda
is to challenge the U.S. global and Japanese regional leadership roles in
Calling on foreign leaders to “do more in jointly addressing climate change” and
to step up implementation of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, Xi held that
the world needs to focus on green development. But it is pertinent to note that
through its BRI, Beijing is promoting the construction of coal-fired power plants in
Asia and African continent, which add to global carbon footprints.
The BFA brings together leaders from government, business, and academia from
Asia and beyond to discuss economic issues important to the region. Although
the BFA itself was first initiated by the leaders of the Philippines, Australia, and
Japan, ever since its establishment in 2001, it has been carrying China’s footprint
more than anything. Modeled after the World Economic Forum in Davos, the BFA
has an expressed focus on the “Asian perspective.”
Despite the hypocrisy and power politics at the foundation of the GSI, it is likely
to garner significant support in some parts of the world, especially the Middle
East, Africa, and other regions that are far from China. Especially, the calls for a
win-win cooperation for boosting global economic recovery and development and
better coordinated response and measures to improve global public health
governance so as to form strong international synergy against pandemic are
alluring baits. Also, quite appealing is the call for staying committed to building an
open world economy, increase macro policy coordination, keep global industrial
and supply chains stable to promote balanced, coordinated and inclusive global
All this appears very soothing and optimistic vision for the world badly wounded
by the pandemic and subsequently recession and Ukraine war. But the real test
is how much of this “imagined tall order” conceived in the Chinese vision
articulated by Xi Jinping in the Boao’s annual summit actually plays out in reality.
The past has not been very reassuring.