China speeds up charm offensive in Africa, Latin America & Middle East

The Chinese Communist Party National Congress in October 2022 offered an intriguing hint that Beijing’s management of its foreign affairs was undergoing a change of direction….reports Asian Lite News

Worsening Sino-US relations and the tightening of access to American and European markets for Chinese companies have prompted China’s leaders to reconfigure their approach to foreign affairs and look elsewhere for sources of economic growth.

As a result, Beijing has speeded up its diplomatic charm offensive in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, Yu Jie, Senior Research Fellow on China, Asia-Pacific Programme, Chatham House, wrote in a recent article.

The Chinese Communist Party National Congress in October 2022 offered an intriguing hint that Beijing’s management of its foreign affairs was undergoing a change of direction.

In his major speech, President Xi Jinping abandoned any mention of a ‘new type of great power relations’, a concept he had used repeatedly in his past two congressional updates when referring to his preferred approach to relations with the American-led West. The omission shows that Beijing has decided its fraught relationship with developed nations is here to stay, with little prospect of improvement, Yu said.

Xi has stressed that China should further develop its ties with the Global South through the Global Development Initiative, the Global Security Initiative together with the most recent addition, the Global Civilization Initiative.

The three complementary ‘Gs’ combine in the Community of Common Destiny which Xi is proffering as an alternative to the West’s rules-based international order. The aim is to reshape the global governance agenda in multilateral forums and to project Beijing’s influence on to the developing world. Yet, large parts of the globe are still trying to work out what China’s latest moves entail, Yu said.

The international community was taken by surprise when Beijing managed to broker peaceful relations between long-term diplomatic rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia. But while China has traditionally focused on economic engagement in the Middle East, more recently it has shown a greater willingness to engage in regional conflict mediation.

When leaders of the BRICS nations gathered for group photos at the end of their summit in Johannesburg last week, it offered a glimpse of the contours of the new world order Beijing is trying to shape, CNN reported.

Standing at the front and center was Xi Jinping, China’s powerful leader, surrounded by a stage of leaders from emerging markets and developing countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The summit was the largest the BRICS have ever held, with more than 60 countries attending alongside member nations Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Flanking the current BRICS leaders were counterparts from Argentina, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates — who had just been invited to join the club, CNN reported.

The development is a big win for Xi, who has long pushed to expand the bloc and its clout despite reservations from other members such as India and Brazil, CNN reported.

The expansion, the first since South Africa was added in 2010, is set to more than double the group’s membership and significantly extend its global reach — especially in the Middle East.

“This makes China the clear winner,” said Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute at the University of London. “Getting six new members is a significant move in its preferred direction of travel.”

For Beijing, as well as Moscow, the expansion is part of its drive to forge the loose economic grouping into a geopolitical counterweight to the West — and Western institutions such as the G7, CNN reported.

As shown by the BRICS expansion and the long waiting list to join, Xi’s offer of an alternative world order is finding receptive ears in the Global South, where many countries feel themselves marginalized in an international system they see as dominated by the US and its wealthy allies, CNN reported.

The enlarged bloc will also include three of the world’s largest oil exporters: Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Iran.

The former two are traditionally close allies of America, but have recently fostered closer ties with China which has stepped up its presence in the region amid a perceived power vacuum left by the US, CNN reported.

China’s reach is quietly growing behind minerals critical to a wide range of products that will shape the future, S&P Global Ratings said in a report.

Facing more restrictive foreign investment policies in developed markets, Chinese firms are pursuing such key minerals as lithium and cobalt in other locations.

S&P Global believes China will continue to build its influence over these minerals and the industries that rely on them as it works with governments keen on foreign investments across the developing world.

Although many countries are increasingly aware of these minerals’ importance, Chinese firms have been the most active in these pursuits. Emerging markets across Africa and Latin America are their next stops. While these ventures may bring benefits, they may also raise investment and execution risks for related sectors as more firms enter these new markets, the report said.

With the country’s dominant position in rare earth minerals firmly in place, Chinese firms are chasing the next critical mineral: lithium. Lithium is a key raw material needed for a wide range of industries crucial to the future, including mobile phones, EVs, renewable power and supercomputing, the report said.

The United Nations has called lithium-ion batteries the “critical pillar in a fossil fuel-free economy.” The US Energy Department has also identified lithium as a material “essential to the economic or national security of the United States.”

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