with interactive maps
- CMC members exchange visits with Latin America and BRI countries. From February to June 2017, members of the CMC hosted military and defense delegations from 34 countries. Ten out of these 34 delegations came from Latin American countries, a region where Beijing is trying to expand its influence, especially through BRI-affiliated projects. While Latin America is not located along the original Belt or Road, the initiative has already moved beyond these two routes, allowing countries around the world to get involved and access BRI funding. Other delegations hosted in Beijing came mostly from countries along the Belt and Road in South East Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Chinese officials also traveled abroad for meetings in countries along the Belt and Road, plus in a small number of African nations.
- European nations warm up to improving military-to-military relations with China. High-ranking military and defense officials from Switzerland, Italy, the UK, France, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Belarus visited Beijing to meet with CMC members between February and July. CMC members, on their part, visited Spain, Finland, Belarus and Hungary.
- China uses military equipment donations to advance own agenda. While the Chinese government’s military equipment donations between February and July were generally small, the 9 receiving countries are all of strategic interest to Beijing. Beijing, for instance, donated USD 1 million in equipment to Serbia, a country where it is trying to increase its influence and achieve buy-in for BRI projects. In Liberia, Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire, Beijing is using military equipment donations to support the fight against piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, an issue of concern due to China’s growing economic involvement in the region and, therefore, growing exposure to pirate attacks. Besides, the largest military aid receiver in this period, the Philippines, received weapons worth $7.3 million to support Manila’s battle against ISIS-linked insurgents, yet another issue which is of deep concern to Beijing.
Port calls and joint exercises
- PLAN goes on tour. China’s counter-piracy task forces often call on ports in strategically important countries on their way back from deployment. In January and February, the 24th task force went on a tour of four Gulf states – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE and Kuwait – in what was the first such visit since 2011 and a clear sign of Beijing’s interest in becoming more involved in the Middle East. The 25th task force visited Madagascar, Australia, New Zealand and Vanuatu before heading back to China. 2017 also marks the year of the PLA’s longest ever deployment overseas. On April 23, the 68th anniversary of the establishment of the PLAN, a three-ship fleet left Shanghai on a six-month friendship tour of over 20 countries around the world that has so far taken them to 14 countries along the Maritime Silk Road, from the Philippines to Saudi Arabia.
- PLA participates in over 20 joint exercises, with a strong counter-terrorism focus. Besides one major multilateral exercise – Aman-17, held in Pakistan in February – most of the PLA’s joint exercises during this time period were bilateral and on a rather small scale. The few exceptions are the most interesting due to their strong counter-terrorism and border protection focus. Chinese troops, for instance, held two large-scale counter-terrorism exercises with Nepal (April 16-25) and with Belarus (July 11-20), and they also conducted a similar, albeit smaller exercise with Kyrgyzstan in Xinjiang on June 27. The first half of 2017 also saw the first ever joint China-Russia drill in the Baltic Sea, as part of the annual Joint Sea 2017 exercise.
Leadership in Regional Security Frameworks
- China guides the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to focus on Chinese priorities. China has been pushing hard for the signing of an SCO anti-extremism treaty, which would build on a 2001 convention on the fight against the Chinese-defined “three evils”. Beijing came closer to this goal on June 28 at the 5th meeting of SCO border administration authority leaders, where member states pledged to strengthen border security cooperation to fight these “three evils”. At the 14th SCO defense ministers meeting, held in Astana on June 7, Chinese representatives also got the fight against terrorism, extremism and separatism – China’s “three evils” – included in the final joint communique, as one of the SCO’s main priorities at the moment.
- SCO continues to expand. During the 17th SCO summit held in Astana, Kazakhstan, in June, India and Pakistan became full members of the organization, after years of Chinese reticence to admit India into the group. This is a remarkable change of position on the part of Beijing and probably reflects China’s wish to overcome India’s reluctance to become involved in the Belt and Road Initiative. Furthermore, Beijing has also indicated that it supports Iran’s bid to become a member and that it is ready to discuss Turkey’s membership in the SCO. While Turkey’s highly strategic location makes it key for the development of the Belt and Road Initiative, admitting the NATO-member would represent a clear jab at existing transatlantic security frameworks, making this a risky move for Beijing.
- Beijing hosts the 7th meeting of BRICS senior representatives on security issues. On July 27-28, senior security officials from BRICS countries – mostly at the minister or national security advisor level – met in Beijing. Discussions focused on global governance, counter-terrorism, internet security and other global and regional hot issues, according to official Chinese media.
- 2nd CICA non-governmental forum reflects Beijing’s priorities. The 2nd edition of this forum, held in Beijing in late June one year after the first one, focused on China’s foreign and security priorities, especially Belt and Road construction and “sustainable security” in Asia with special emphasis on counter-terrorism cooperation and cyberspace security.
Conflict Prevention and Resolution
- China takes on a more important role as mediator in the Syrian crisis. China has not abandoned its longstanding position on the Syrian crisis that the only way to solve the conflict is through a UN-led political settlement. As such, Chinese officials continue to participate in the latest rounds of international dialogues, both the UN-sponsored Geneva peace talks and the Russia-backed Astana talks. However, Beijing is now also getting more involved in a bilateral manner: over the last six months, China’s special envoy to the Syrian crisis, Xie Xiaoyan, has met with both the Syrian government and the opposition to try and broker a solution to the crisis.
- Beijing pushes for “peace and reconciliation” in Afghanistan. Chinese officials participated in both the six-party talks on Afghanistan held in Moscow in February, and in the international “Kabul Process” conference, held in Kabul in June. Using its good relations with both Kabul and Islamabad, Beijing also works towards the improvement of relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan. On June 25, Kabul and Islamabad accepted China’s proposal of establishing a trilateral crisis prevention and management mechanism with China’s mediation and participation. Beijing expects that this will help improve stability in the region and contain the threat of terrorism that China fears will spread to its territory via Xinjiang if Afghanistan and Pakistan fail to deal with it.
- China offers to mediate in the Israel-Palestine issue. In July, during Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ visit to Beijing, Xi Jinping offered to host a “tripartite dialogue mechanism” with Israel and Palestine and outlined his “four-point plan” to end the conflict. This proposal envisions a two-state solution along the 1967 borders, strong security cooperation between Israel and Palestine, and the promotion of peace through development. China’s ambassador to the UN has since been trying to secure international support for this plan.
- Beijing’s offers to mediate in other conflicts rejected. Closer to home, Beijing has offered to help mediate in the Myanmar-Bangladesh conflict over the flight of Rohingyas into Bangladesh, as well as in the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir. Both offers have reportedly been rejected. In July, Beijing also offered to mediate in the border dispute between Djibouti and Eritrea. Kuang Weilin, the Chinese Ambassador to the African Union, even suggested that China would consider sending peacekeeping troops to the border between the two East African countries.
Law Enforcement Cooperation
- Beijing’s efforts to expand bilateral extradition agreements have mixed success. In March, the UAE extradited a Chinese fugitive wanted for contract fraud, in what was the first extradition since the two nations signed an extradition treaty in 2004. On June 27, the National People’s Congress ratified two new extradition treaties with Argentina and Ethiopia. And in February, Spain – which signed an extradition treaty with China in 2005 – agreed to extradite over 200 Chinese and Taiwanese alleged scammers back to China. The Australian Parliament, however, has temporarily shelved plans to ratify an extradition treaty with China due to concerns over Beijing’s inadequate protection of detainees’ human rights.
- Australia and Canada sign cyber pacts with China. In April and June 2017, Australia and Canada, respectively, signed two separate cyber security pacts with Beijing. In both cases, these pacts include pledges by the parties involved not to conduct or support actions with the aim to steal intellectual property or trade secrets from each other. They, however, do not make direct reference to political espionage or hacking for intelligence gathering purposes.