‘Multipolarity’ strategy riddled with contradictions

Chinese President Xi Jinping is challenging the U.S.-led international order by bringing developing countries into his camp under the banner of “world multipolarity.” This method is no more than the “unilateralism” that China criticizes.

In a speech in Indonesia on July 11, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said many countries in the region were under pressure to take sides and they should avoid being used as “chess pieces” by global powers, referring to the struggle with the United States for influence over the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Over the past two weeks, Wang has held back-to-back meetings with the leaders or foreign ministers of seven of ASEAN’s 10 member countries.

This might be because China feels a heightening sense of urgency as the United States, rather than changing its diplomatic stance of emphasizing the Indo-Pacific region even after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has continued to strengthen its ties with ASEAN members and other countries in the region. Wang’s remarks seem to be an attempt to warn ASEAN against edging closer toward the United States.

It is China that is playing power games. Xi’s “multipolarity” is probably aimed at drawing emerging and developing countries into China’s camp and reducing the influence of the United States.

China is rocking the rules-based international order, using its economic and military power as a backdrop for its offensive. But the current situation starkly contradicts the diplomatic principles it has advocated, such as respect for sovereignty and emphasis on the United Nations.

If China continues to defend Russia by turning a blind eye to its aggression in Ukraine — a clear violation of international law and infringement of sovereignty — its claim that Beijing represents the developing world will become less and less persuasive.

Sri Lanka, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, has been plunged into chaos after its president fled abroad amid a growing antigovernment movement. The direct causes are high prices due to fiscal collapse and regime corruption. But it is also true that China has increased its influence over Sri Lanka through massive loans.

China’s acquisition of the right to use an insolvent port is seen as a typical example of a “debt trap” in which a developing country receives excessive loans and the creditor nation gains its economic and security benefits. This case could be an indication that China’s assistance does not lead to stability in the target countries.

The Pacific Islands Forum, which comprises Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific island nations, stressed the importance of unity among its member countries at a summit that ended on July 14.

It can be said that this is a sign of wariness against China’s move to build a military base, using the island nations as a foothold, in a region where the United States has a strong influence.

In a world led by China, international law and rules would not be respected, and there is a strong fear that smaller countries would be more disadvantaged. From this perspective, the United States, Japan and European countries must work to strengthen their relations with developing nations.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 15, 2022)