This is the second of a two part series on the nature of the challenge posed by China under the Chinese Communist Party and how to respond to it. To read the first part, please click here.
The Explainer ‘Is China a threat?’, published on 16th March, outlined the extent to which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) should be considered a threat to the security, prosperity, values, and control of data in free and open countries.1Charles Parton, ‘Is China a threat?’, Council on Geostrategy, 15/03/2023, http://bit.ly/3lkqQqi (checked: 20/03/2023). This Primer, following the Explainer, looks at how such countries might blunt that threat, while still working with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in areas of trade and investment, as well as climate change, global health, and those spheres of science and technology unaffected by the erosion of the distinction between civil and military uses.
The phrase ‘10 Be Clears’ (十个明确) is one borrowed from the CCP’s lexicon. Previously numbering eight injunctions, they grew to ten in the resolution on the history of the CCP adopted at the Sixth Plenum in November 2021. They sum up the essence of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.2‘Full Text: Resolution of the CPC Central Committee on the Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the Party over the Past Century’, 16/11/2021, Xinhua, http://bit.ly/40gfx1i (checked: 20/03/2023). For this Primer, the appropriation of the phrase as a framework for foreign countries in their dealings with the CCP is a matter of numerical and exhortatory convenience – as well as an act of lèse majesté.
What follows are ten suggestions for dealings with the CCP. Except in a few cases, they do not include specific measures. Those are for governments to work out in the light of the particular issues they face.
The ‘10 Be Clears’
1. Be clear about the CCP: mind the gap between rhetoric and reality
The systems, approaches, and values of the CCP are different from those of free and open countries. This is true in politics, business and industrial policy, human rights, and other fields. These differences are deliberately obscured by the CCP. It is essential to ‘mind the gap’ between rhetoric and reality. The CCP pays lip service to international law, rules and convention, but only when it suits them – the Sino-British Joint Declaration, an international treaty lodged at the United Nations, is a most salient example.
2. Be clear on the importance of consistency in dealings with the CCP: the need for a strategy
Most governments’ ‘China strategies’ are like the philosophical tree falling in the forest: if it makes a sound, no one hears it. Even within governments many officials are unaware of a strategy, even if one exists. To be useful a strategy must be known to all officials, not just to those with security clearances. It must also be familiar to parliaments, academia, think tanks, business, civil society – and even to the CCP (apart from a few classified elements). In the absence of strategy, the CCP, a master of divide and rule, will use doubt to sow confusion in a country’s dealings with the PRC. A strategy must be also kept up to date and its proper implementation would benefit from a high-level government body or steering committee with authority over all ministries on CCP-related policy.3Alexi Drew, John Gerson, Charles Parton and Benedict Wilkinson, ‘Rising to the China challenge’, King’s College London, 07/01/2020, https://bit.ly/3hgtUiz (checked: 20/03/2023).
3. Be clear that countries have a right to protect the four pillars of national security, economic interests, values and data
The PRC does; so should other nations. Those four pillars need to be spelt out as non-negotiable. This means researching and avoiding wherever possible, or to the degree possible, supply chain dependencies which bear on the four pillars, particularly on critical national infrastructure. It does not mean being hostile to the PRC. Rather it is about identifying areas for non-contentious cooperation as broadly as possible. In the words of Robert Frost, the American poet, ‘Good fences make good neighbours.’ But until countries spell out those fences clearly, it is little surprise if the CCP tries to trample on territory where it is not welcome.
4. Be clear on the boundaries for working together on science and technology
In the face of the new science and technology revolution, boundaries for scientific cooperation require special consideration. Governments need to be clear in which fields ‘buying and hiring their nationals’ brains’ is acceptable (buying is the taking over companies, particularly startups, to obtain their intellectual property and technology; hiring is the commissioning of academics to carry out research, often into areas which might benefit the Chinese military or repressive apparatus). Two obvious and dangerous examples where free and open countries have been slow to draw lines are 5G telecommunications (Huawei and ZTE) and cellular (‘Internet of Things’) modules.4Charles Parton, ‘Cellular IoT modules – Supply Chain Security’, OODA Loop, 25/01/2023, https://bit.ly/3y0EVvF (checked: 20/03/2023). Domination of the new sciences and industries is a major plank of CCP policy, pursued by means both fair and foul. Governments need to set up a centralised and efficient committee (the United Kingdom’s (UK) Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies might be a model) to lay down in which areas science and technology cooperation is ruled out and where Chinese organisations are not suitable partners, given their affiliation to military, security or repressive bodies.
5. Be clear about being measured in diction
It is unwise to provoke needlessly. The PRC is indeed a threat, and documents such as the UK’s Integrated Review should set that out clearly. So should think tanks. But ministers should be more circumspect in public pronouncements. For example, Liz Truss, when she was prime minister, proclaimed that the UK would sell arms to Taiwan. What was the gain? If the UK has weapons to sell, which the Taiwanese want, it should go ahead, but without shouting about it. The CCP will know and will object; ministers will have an opportunity quietly to point out that the UK believes that supporting the aspirations of 24 million people to determine how they live is basic to British values. Conversely, there are times when it is necessary to speak out loudly: for example, infringements of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong, the committing of crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, or abuse of the law of the sea.
6. Be clear on the importance of unity
This is important at many different levels. The first is within government itself. In the UK, the experience over Huawei’s participation in the future of 5G telecoms, with divisions between ‘security’ and ‘economic’ ministries, is a salutary, but hardly solitary, example. The second level is between lower administrative levels, provinces, lander, or in the UK case the four constituent countries. A well-worn CCP tactic is to work with local governments with the aim of getting round scrutiny from capitals. Central governments need to help their local governments to understand CCP intentions and activities in their jurisdictions. The UK, the EU, ‘Five Eyes’ countries, and a broader range of free and open nations must also strive to move in lockstep on CCP-related policy.
7. Be clear that reciprocity matters
Literal reciprocity is not possible. Free and open countries do not operate with the same systems and values as the CCP. But they should not be embarrassed in applying countermeasures in ways which do not prejudice their values. The CCP keeps non-Chinese companies out of its telecoms systems, something which other countries should point out when accused of discriminating against Chinese companies.5Buried in the Zhonglun’s legal explanation are sentences of interest to those who want to go after them. It is worth bearing in mind that it is often the case that even where the PRC says one thing, in practice it does not allow it to happen. See: Yang Zhou, ‘Regulation of Telecommunications Sector in China: Overview’, Zhong Lun Law Firm and Practical Law China, 16/08/2017, http://bit.ly/3n4cCKz (checked: 20/03/2023) and Adam Pasick, ‘It’s official – China is blacklisting Apple, Cisco, and other US tech companies’, Quartz, 25/02/2015, http://bit.ly/3FuJoLr (checked: 20/03/2023). Reciprocity requires imagination. For example, when the CCP holds up visas for media correspondents, the answer is to halt visas for China Global Television Network and Xinhua (far more in number). Complaints by the Chinese ambassador to the respective ministry of foreign affairs should be met with assurances that the matter will be looked into, as well as with a question about the delayed visas for their own media. Chinese officials are not deaf to juxtaposition. Confucius Institutes should not be banned, but subject to similar parameters as the British Council, the Goethe Institute and, as in the PRC, subject to local law, separate from universities, and with transparent finances and contracts.
8. Be clear that abuse, threats and ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy are standard CCP operating procedures
Europeans tend to shrink from confrontation in international relations. The CCP is fully aware of this and exploits it as part of its diplomacy and negotiating style (the reverse of this coin is that those who do not offend their CCP interlocutors are awarded the accolade of being ‘good friends’ of the PRC. Many senior politicians suffer from the delusion that they have good personal relations with their Chinese opposite numbers. But senior Chinese officials do not have foreign friends). Most threats are empty or exaggerated: countries in the ‘diplomatic doghouse’ do not suffer a dip in total exports and Chinese investment is not a charity, but targeted in line with Chinese interests.6For a full discussion of this, which looks at the six aspects of exports, investment, financial and other services, tourism, students, and climate change cooperation, see: Charles Parton, ‘Empty threats? Policymaking amidst Chinese pressure’, Council on Geostrategy, 06/07/2021, http://bit.ly/3kouEqg (checked: 14/03/2023).
9. Be clear that there will be costs
Whether the ‘D word’ stands for the decoupling, diversification or de-risking of trade and investment, globalisation 2.0 is coming in some form and to some degree. It will leave free and open countries – as well as the PRC – poorer. But the alternative is to acquiesce to the CCP’s vision of the future and, in the long term, to erode the four pillars of free and open countries’ way of life: national security, long term economic prosperity, values and data. Such acquiescence would make countries poorer. There is a price to pay for preserving their way of life and values.
10. Be clear on the need for better propaganda
Free and open countries need to be better at publicising their successes and contributions. The CCP has manipulated the World Health Organisation (WHO) and convinced the world of its leading role in helping other countries manage Covid-19. Yet the PRC’s financial contribution to the WHO (0.2% in 2019, now risen to 1.43% in 2021) is miniscule compared to that of Germany, the United States (US) and the UK, and indeed of Bill Gates.7‘Financial flow’, World Health Organisation, No date, http://bit.ly/3TrkaU2 (checked: 20/03/2023). The CCP has attempted to use the ‘16+1’ grouping of central and eastern European countries8Originally 16 countries plus the PRC, this grouping grew to 17+1, but has now fallen to 14+1 with the withdrawal of the Baltic states, following the CCP’s attacks upon Lithuania. Perhaps the solution to a changing name is to keep the original number 16, conjoined with the number of countries which have left. So currently ‘16 minus 2’. to persuade many that Chinese investment in the region is sizable and beneficial. Yet the sums of money are miniscule compared to European Union (EU) funding, and such investment benefits the PRC as much as the countries themselves. The CCP puts massive resources into its propaganda work: perhaps free and open nations need to set up their own ‘central propaganda departments’. At the least, they should improve their public diplomacy.
Clarity, but also confidence, correction and continuity
The CCP likes to portray the PRC as a ‘natural partner’ of the Non-Aligned Movement.9‘Wang Yi: China stands with developing countries while upholding non-aligned movement’, CGTN, 12/11/2021, http://bit.ly/3yLBtFH (checked: 20/03/2023). The reality is that it has replaced the Soviet Union as one pole of alignment. While it eschews formal alliances and vilifies blocs, the CCP is pushing the international reach of organisations and concepts which it has established or leads: BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the Belt and Road Initiative, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, the Global Security Initiative and the Global Development Initiative, to name a few. The aim is to align the non-aligned.
As the first Explainer showed, Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the CCP, sees Chinese modernisation as a model for other countries. In the words of top CCP officials, there is now an ideological battle. If the system and values of the UK, the US, EU nations and other free countries are superior, even in their current manifestations, this is not automatically apparent to African, Asian or Latin American countries. Yet Britain, the US and EU countries are still beacons of hope and aspiration – immigrants do not flock to the PRC.
However such countries need to ensure that the beacon of hope and aspiration shines brightly. Being clear about the CCP is vital, but so is confidence in European or American systems and in countries’ ability to uphold the four pillars of national security, economic prosperity, values and control of data. Contrary to CCP propaganda, the rise of the PRC is not ‘inevitable and irresistible’, but fragile. Free and open countries need also to correct the defects of their systems, to keep their politics free of subversion. The CCP and its United Front strategy is quick to spot and exploit those who put their own or their political party’s interests above those of the country and the future.
Effective government is essential in facing the challenge which the CCP poses. That is difficult without greater continuity. Changing leaders and ministers through elections is a strength of democracy. However, in the UK in particular, an unceasing game of musical chairs in the cabinet and among junior ministers means that no one is in a post sufficiently long to devise, let alone implement, longer term thinking.
Finally, as ever, ‘it comes down to cost’. No one envies governments having to balance the priorities of health, environment, military threat, energy security and more. Yet insufficient resources are devoted to one of the biggest challenges to meeting the threat from the CCP.
About the author
Charles Parton OBE is an Associate Fellow in Indo-Pacific Geopolitics at the Council on Geostrategy. He spent 22 years of his 37-year diplomatic career working in or on China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. In his final posting he was seconded to the European Union’s Delegation in Beijing, where, as First Counsellor until late 2016, he focussed on Chinese politics and internal developments, and advised the European Union and its Member States on how China’s politics might affect their interests. In 2017, he was chosen as the Foreign Affairs Select Committee’s Special Adviser on China. He is currently a fellow at Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS).
This publication should not be considered in any way to constitute advice. It is for knowledge and educational purposes only. The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council on Geostrategy or the views of its Advisory Council.
No. GPP04 | ISBN: 978-1-914441-37-0
- 1Charles Parton, ‘Is China a threat?’, Council on Geostrategy, 15/03/2023, http://bit.ly/3lkqQqi (checked: 20/03/2023).
- 2‘Full Text: Resolution of the CPC Central Committee on the Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the Party over the Past Century’, 16/11/2021, Xinhua, http://bit.ly/40gfx1i (checked: 20/03/2023).
- 3Alexi Drew, John Gerson, Charles Parton and Benedict Wilkinson, ‘Rising to the China challenge’, King’s College London, 07/01/2020, https://bit.ly/3hgtUiz (checked: 20/03/2023).
- 4Charles Parton, ‘Cellular IoT modules – Supply Chain Security’, OODA Loop, 25/01/2023, https://bit.ly/3y0EVvF (checked: 20/03/2023).
- 5Buried in the Zhonglun’s legal explanation are sentences of interest to those who want to go after them. It is worth bearing in mind that it is often the case that even where the PRC says one thing, in practice it does not allow it to happen. See: Yang Zhou, ‘Regulation of Telecommunications Sector in China: Overview’, Zhong Lun Law Firm and Practical Law China, 16/08/2017, http://bit.ly/3n4cCKz (checked: 20/03/2023) and Adam Pasick, ‘It’s official – China is blacklisting Apple, Cisco, and other US tech companies’, Quartz, 25/02/2015, http://bit.ly/3FuJoLr (checked: 20/03/2023).
- 6For a full discussion of this, which looks at the six aspects of exports, investment, financial and other services, tourism, students, and climate change cooperation, see: Charles Parton, ‘Empty threats? Policymaking amidst Chinese pressure’, Council on Geostrategy, 06/07/2021, http://bit.ly/3kouEqg (checked: 14/03/2023).
- 7‘Financial flow’, World Health Organisation, No date, http://bit.ly/3TrkaU2 (checked: 20/03/2023).
- 8Originally 16 countries plus the PRC, this grouping grew to 17+1, but has now fallen to 14+1 with the withdrawal of the Baltic states, following the CCP’s attacks upon Lithuania. Perhaps the solution to a changing name is to keep the original number 16, conjoined with the number of countries which have left. So currently ‘16 minus 2’.
- 9‘Wang Yi: China stands with developing countries while upholding non-aligned movement’, CGTN, 12/11/2021, http://bit.ly/3yLBtFH (checked: 20/03/2023).