Back in the 1970s, Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping had started the process of opening up China’s economy to the world. It was seen as a watershed moment for the world’s relations with China. Seeing this as a sign of China joining the ‘mainstream’ and maybe even moving away from its authoritarian past, businesses from around the world rushed to China. Over the next few decades, China grew on all fronts while discarding things like democratic reforms and human rights.
As companies started seeing the merits of operating in a country with a large and cheap workforce, they also tried to conveniently ignore the fact that China’s development was coming at the cost of negligible labour rights and increasing suppression of free speech. China had literally used Western money to fund its authoritarianism.
The dragon bares its teeth
In 2001, when China joined the WTO, the world again had renewed hope that China would mend its ways. But, 19 years and three large disease outbreaks later, the world has realised that China was never the one to fall in line. The literal Dragon has grown and it is now not afraid to bare its teeth and is even more inclined to breathe fire.
Even in the middle of a global pandemic which has its roots in a Chinese city, China has been on the offensive. In Britain, it has threatened to withdraw from a nuclear power plant project if the country continues to reduce Huawei’s role in its 5G networks. China’s ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, stated that “abandoning Huawei could undermine plans for Chinese companies to build nuclear power plants and the HS2 high-speed rail network.”
In the past few months, China has had a run in with every other country in the developed world. Back home, it is rehashing its old territorial disputes with its immediate neighbours like India and maritime disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons with countries like The Philippines, Cambodia, Australia and Japan. These could be construed as a rising trend of Chinese aggression in every sphere imaginable, with absolutely no regard for what the consequences could be. Even though many of these disputes only involve very small pieces of territory, the underlying message here is to make everyone acknowledge that China is the regional and perhaps even the global heavyweight.
How IPAC packs a punch
Things have come to a head globally with the launch of The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), which defines itself as an international cross-party group of legislators working towards reform on how democratic countries approach China. IPAC currently counts legislators from Australia, Canada, European Union, Germany, Japan, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, UK, and USA among its members. What makes this alliance even more relevant is that many members have gone beyond traditional party lines to come together and help create a proactive and strategic approach on issues related to China.
IPAC defines itself as a group that is open to all legislators from around the world, who agree to its founding statement that aims for a free, open, and rules-based international order that supports human dignity. High powered groups like IPAC are the need of the hour to reign in the rising influence of China in ways that are not in alignment with global democratic values. Such groups can work beyond political and national borders to give a coordinated response to China on safeguarding international rules-based order, upholding human rights, promoting trade fairness, strengthening security, and protecting national integrity.
Considering its unabashedness in flexing its military and economic muscle, taking on China would not be easy for many countries. Alliances like IPAC can be a much more effective platform for countries like India to tackle China on various levels. Also, the fact that its team members bring together a wealth of international expertise, will only help smaller countries or underdeveloped economies keep Chinese influence at bay.