China's Policy on the Global South --- China's World View and the Configuration of the US-China Confrontation

Shin Kawashima


This paper is intended to discuss China's perception of and policy toward the Ukraine war, examining their relevance with the recently frequently cited Global South. 1 With the emergence of two conflicting outlooks on world order, developed countries and China are increasingly focused on whether they could gain support from the Global South. For developing countries, choosing either the United States or China is anything but desirable. Most developing countries, eager to obtain as favorable conditions as possible from every benefactor, do not like a zero-sum choice --- to choose either of the "camps" to support.

On the other hand, the non-G7 countries of the G20 and the BRICS are gaining influence globally and regionally. For example, Turkish President Erdogan's efforts at mediation between Ukraine and Russia are an example.

China plans to win the support of emerging and developing countries and to represent them in confronting developed countries. During the July 2022 campaign for learning Xi Jinping's diplomatic thoughts, Xi stated, "The Chinese people firmly support the majority of developing countries in their just struggle to safeguard their sovereignty, security and development interests; we are committed to stabilizing the international order, enhancing the representation and voice of the majority of developing countries in international affairs, and promoting the democratization of international relations and the rule of law." 2 To this end, China emphasizes such frameworks as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the BRICS Plus One, the AIIB, and a BRICS Investment Bank. Is China aware that developing countries will refuse the dichotomy between supporting China and supporting the United States? If so, how is it influencing developing countries?

1. China and Russia vs. Developed Countries?

As the Ukraine war drags on, there are many discussions based on the premise of "autocratic states (China and Russia) vs. the democratic camp." However, such a configuration of confrontation is the least acceptable to China; what China envisages is "developing and emerging countries (led by China) vs. developed countries (led by the United States). This is not an idea formed through the Ukraine war but is rather the default policy of the Xi Jinping administration.

The Xi Jinping administration seems to have formulated the guiding principles of its foreign policy at the Central Foreign Affairs Commission meeting in 2014. According to the guiding principles, China will build win-win relationships with other countries based on economic ties with them and will develop the relationships into partnerships (夥伴関係). A chain of such partnerships will lead to the formation of friendship zones and eventually to a community of common destiny for humanity. The guiding principles specify the year by which to achieve those goals as 2049. Such a stance by China does not accept democratic peace but pursues economic peace. It assumes a rivalry with the US-centered order through a long-term confrontation with the United States. This position of China looks upon developed countries as an obsolete system, criticizes that the order led by developed countries cannot solve the current range of problems, and opposes the US-centered security network and the values of freedom and democracy that the United States and other developed countries uphold. It accepts only the United Nations and international law (as far as compatible with China's understanding). 3 China is creating its self-image, present and future, of acting as a representative of developing and emerging countries and confronting developed countries. The China-Russia relationship is one of China's most important partnerships; yet Russia is no more than an emerging power. Therefore, the world that China envisions is not necessarily one of "autocratic states (China and Russia) versus the democratic camp."

Undoubtedly, for China anticipating a long-term conflict with the United States, Russia is an important "emerging power." In this sense, China and Russia may outwardly appear monolithic. On February 4, 2022, Russian President Putin visited China to attend the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics, and a joint statement was issued at the China-Russia summit meeting. The statement reads, "China understands and supports the Russian proposal to build a legally binding long-term security guarantee for Europe." As mentioned above, since China is critical of the US-centered security network, it opposes NATO's eastward expansion. China and Russia are alike in this respect, and this joint statement seems to express support for Russia's security policy vis-a-vis Europe and its policy toward Ukraine. 4 Also, at a press conference during the National People's Congress in March 2022, Foreign Minister Wang Yi referred to China-Russian relations, saying, "No matter how adverse the international situation becomes, China and Russia will maintain their strategic determination and push forward with the comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership in the new era." 5

However, at the February 25 Russia-China summit teleconference, President Xi Jinping allegedly said, "China decides its position based on the right and wrong of the Ukrainian question itself." A Chinese-side report notes that Xi made a statement that can be understood to indicate that he did not fully agree with President Putin's assertion. 6 Meanwhile, on February 28, the Russian Embassy in Beijing posted on its website a report of that China-Russia summit meeting. According to it, President Xi said, "We respect the actions taken by the Russian leadership in the current critical situation." 7 Different from the Chinese-side report, it reads as if President Xi supported Russia's invasion of Ukraine. In a sense, these represent a "discrepancy" between the two countries.

On March 2, 2022, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution demanding that Russia end its military operations in Ukraine. As many as 141 countries voted in favor of it, five opposed, and 35 abstained. 8 China abstained, it did not oppose. Again on March 24, China abstained from voting on another UN General Assembly resolution. These actions by China may be understood as its attempt to show domestically and internationally that China would not take the same action as Russia. At the April 7 UN Human Rights Council meeting, China joined Kazakhstan and other countries in opposing a proposal to suspend Russia's membership in the Council. China appears to have decided its position by observing the moves of other countries. On July 28, Chinese and Russian Foreign Ministers Wang Yi and Lavrov met at the SCO Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Tashkent, but they did not discuss the Ukraine issue. At the G20 Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Indonesia that month, Wang Yi stated that Russia and Ukraine are friends of China. 9 His speech emphasizing the importance of multilateralism was delivered in the context that the only world order is the UN-centered order and that confrontation between opposing camps should be avoided. That China does not side exclusively with Russia is his message.

Thus, while developed countries view the Ukraine war and their own relations with China in the light of "autocratic states (China and Russia) vs. the democratic camp," China's perception is one of "emerging countries and developing countries represented by China vs. developed countries." For China, Russia is one of the emerging countries and, at the same time, a key partnership country. However, in China's broad perspective, Russia, or China and Russia, does not occupy the center stage. Since the early 1980s, China has pursued the principle of independent and autonomous diplomacy --- with no ally. Russia is not an ally of China.

2. China's Self-Images, Present and Future: The US-China "Competition" as the Main Motif and the Taiwan Issue

What do China's present and future self-images look like? Xi Jinping's three-and-a-half-hour long speech at the 19th CPC Congress in 2017 depicts them. In the speech Xi sets up long-term goals, including challenging the United States from then onward and realizing the "Dream of the Great Revival of the Chinese Nation" in 2049 --- the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

We must note that Xi Jinping does not envisage a "Cold War-like" all-out conflict with the United States. Although China opposes the US security network and Western values, it does not intend for an all-out confrontation with the United States and the West. That is why China declares that it will emphasize the United Nations and promote a new type of international relations to realize the UN Charter and the "One Belt, One Road" initiative as an embodiment of that new type of international relations. 10 China's emphasis on the United Nations or on international law --- as far as it is compatible with China's understanding --- means that China leaves room for reconciliation with the United States and with other advanced countries. China's world outlook is that it will engage in long-term competition with the United States on the economic, military, and other fronts and that it will eventually win this competition by 2049. Winning the competition with the United States is tantamount to China's "dream will come true," also regarding the Taiwan issue. Xi's logic is that since it is no one other than the "Chinese nation" that realizes this dream, the Taiwanese people must share this dream as a part of the Chinese nation. It is interesting to note that the United States entertains an analogous vision toward China: continues "competition"; yet cooperates in some specific areas; ultimately wins the competition, while avoiding a head-on collision. To this end, the United States and China will attempt to create an advantageous environment for them while avoiding a head-on collision over the Ukraine war or the Taiwan issue.

The main motif of China's foreign policy is its relationship with the United States. Therefore, China links even the Ukraine war to its relationship with the United States, given a long-term "competition" with the latter. On March 18, 2022, a US-China telephone summit took place. Xi Jinping confirmed that the US-China relationship is significant and that the two countries should properly manage, through dialogue, their bilateral relationship presupposing competition. Reportedly, President Biden reiterated that US policy on Taiwan has not changed. 11 According to a record publicized by the Chinese side, President Biden stated that the United States had no intention to overthrow the current Chinese regime. 12

Currently, the US-China "competition" is centered on military security, advanced technology, democracy, and other values, besides regional issues such as the Taiwan question --- climate change and some regional issues are considered potential cooperation issues. The least acceptable approach for China is to discuss the Taiwan issue in connection with the Ukraine war and to consider, in relation to the unification of Taiwan, China as Russia in the Ukraine war.

China argues that its Taiwan policy has, in a sense, been consistent and has even intensified and that the Ukraine war has nothing to do with it. In January 2019, Xi Jinping spoke of "unification of Taiwan by force," but since then, he has not directly mentioned armed unification. For the Chinese government, the unification of Taiwan is a unanimously approved national policy. At present, however, it focuses on accumulating, in the face of Taiwanese society, an overwhelming military strength sufficient for a military invasion, while, through hybrid warfare using cyber attacks and fake news attacks, attempting to make the Taiwanese people think that unification with China is unavoidable. There is some mention of this policy in the Taiwan Ministry of National Defense's National Defense Report 2021. 13

It is evident from a statement made by Taiwan's Defense Minister that China possesses the military capability to unify Taiwan. 14 China is engaged daily in cyber-attacks and fake news attacks against Taiwanese society, increasing pressure on Taiwanese politicians and businesses. The Chinese government recognized the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Tsai Ing-wen administration as the "Taiwan independence faction." In November 2021, it additionally recognized Premier Su Tseng-chang, President of the Legislative Yuan You Si-kun, and Foreign Minister Joseph Wu as "stubborn Taiwan independence elements." The Far Eastern Group, which is closely associated with Su Tseng-chang, was fined by the Chinese government for multiple violations at their factories in China. The Taiwanese conglomerate was informed by the Chinese authorities that if they want to make money in China, they must follow China's Taiwan policy.

The Ukraine war has not drastically changed China's Taiwan policy. If China had deliberated on a "Taiwan invasion," the Ukraine war might have served China as an opportunity to modify the plan into a more meticulous and cautious one or to delay its execution to spend more time on its preparation and to make it flawless. The impact of the Ukraine war on Taiwanese society is not negligible. Nonetheless, the number of the Taiwanese citizens who believe there will be a "Taiwan contingency" is lower than that of the Japanese who so anticipate. In the wake of the outbreak of the Ukraine war, the percentage of Taiwanese poll respondents who expect that the United States will send troops to defend Taiwan in the event of a Taiwan contingency dropped 30 points to 27% compared to 10 years ago. 15 President Biden's gaffe in Japan in May seems related to this. 16

The fact that China described the DPP and Tsai Ing-wen as pro-independence and denigrated many Taiwanese politicians as "stubborn Taiwan independence elements" affected the way other countries treat Taiwan. Any move to approach the Tsai administration became the target of China's criticism. China abides by the one-China principle, whereas other countries have their own one-China policy. The Chinese government overlooks, for instance, exchanges between legislatures involving Taiwan --- exchanges between the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan and the Kuomintang of Taiwan are a typical example. US House Speaker Pelosi's visit to Taiwan is another such example. China does not like Pelosi, known as a "human rights activist," to approach the Tsai administration. Yet, it should be noted that China's "discontent" is directed at the Tsai administration, not the United States.

Speaker Pelosi's trip to Taiwan was made out of her concern about Taiwan's democratization, human rights, and technology. She met with Taiwan's female President Tsai Ing-wen and the chairman of TSMC and visited the National Human Rights Museum, supposedly in recognition of the Tsai administration's transitional justice efforts to rectify injustices during the February 28 incident and the White Terror period. In this sense, Pelosi's visit to Taiwan did not aim to advance US-Taiwan military-security cooperation.

However, a backlash from the Chinese side emerged as a combination of the routine demonstration of military strength and intensified hybrid warfare. Chinese military aircraft and naval vessels crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait. China fired missiles over Taipei to the east; paralyzed the Taiwanese government websites; hacked bulletin boards at convenience stores and spread a lot of fake news. Thus, China amplified its routine harassment. The cross-strait relations, once damaged, will be hard to rebuild. China will incessantly exert harsher pressure than before on Taiwan, condemning provocations from the United States. China has unleashed eight sanctions against the United States, but these sanctions will not endure but will be adjusted accordingly in the future.

In any case, China has succeeded in drawing world attention away from Ukraine to the US-China confrontation through its military exercises around Taiwan. China will take action to gradually restore the pre-Ukraine war situation.

3. China Influencing the Global South

As mentioned above, China envisages a global power configuration of "developing and emerging countries represented by China vs. developed countries represented by the United States." Consequently, China is concerned about the trends in developing and emerging countries. This is why, when many developing countries endorsed the US-sponsored UN General Assembly resolution on Ukraine, China could not join the "opposition" side, which constituted the absolute minority.

Amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, China engaged in mask and vaccine diplomacy. It is now proactive in providing overseas assistance as the US-China confrontation intensifies and the energy and food situation worsens --- a situation which is due to the advent of the Ukraine war.

From March to April 2022, Foreign Minister Wang Yi sojourned in Anhui Province to host the third Foreign Ministers' Meeting among the Neighboring Countries of Afghanistan and another foreign ministerial conference. He also held a series of meetings in Anhui with the foreign ministers of the Philippines, Thailand, Myanmar, and Indonesia. 17 All of these countries voted in favor of the March 2 UN resolution condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, i.e., they sided with the United States. In May, Wang Yi staged an online meeting with the foreign minister of Cambodia, a country that voted in favor of the UN resolution while Vietnam and Laos abstained. Some media outlets reported that Wang Yi said as follows at that time: "Now that the impact of the Russia-Ukraine crisis continues to spill over, NATO's ambition to draw more Asian countries into its camp is becoming more and more obvious. Regarding the current Russia-Ukraine conflict, the majority of Asian countries still uphold the foreign policy of independence and autonomy and do not follow the United States as European countries, which were forced to choose sides under pressure from the United States. In addition to being geographically distant from the United States, many Asian countries, including China, have been intermediary forces for peace and development in the international community, especially China, which has a population of more than 1.4 billion." 18

Wang Yi is quoted as having said that the "moment of Asia" has come; that Asian countries should be "independent and autonomous." Since this was reported only by some media outlets, it is hard to confirm its authenticity. But if this is true, it was intended as a caution to Cambodia, which sided with the United States on a series of UN resolutions. The official announcement of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs explicitly claimed that Cambodia should be conscious that it is a member of "Asia" and should not follow the United States.

According to Japanese and foreign media coverage at the end of May, Wang Yi visited Pacific countries; he attempted to conclude comprehensive trade and security agreements with ten Pacific nations but failed. The purpose of Wang Yi's visit was to participate in the Second China-Pacific Island Countries Foreign Ministers' Meeting. Then, China released "China's Position Paper on Mutual Respect and Common Development with Pacific Island Countries," which contained many cooperation proposals. 19 Although China failed to agree on any joint document with the ten countries, it agreed with them on many bilateral cooperation projects. For instance, China announced the launch of six new cooperation platforms: an emergency supplies reserve, a climate change cooperation center, a poverty reduction, and development cooperation center, an agricultural cooperation demonstration center, a disaster prevention and mitigation cooperation center, and a Juncao technology demonstration center. 20 During his visit to the Solomon Islands, Wang Yi explained the controversial China-Solomon Islands security pact, underscoring that the purpose of the security agreement is cooperation between sovereign states, aiming to help the Solomon Islands to improve public order and the security of the living environment. 21 China is rather cautious in seeking cooperation in the Pacific region, where the Taiwan recognition issue features prominently and where there is competition with the United States, Australia, and Japan.

In early June, Wang Yi visited Nursultan, Kazakhstan, to attend the China+Central Asia (C+C5) Foreign Ministers' Meeting. Four joint documents were released then, including one on digital security. Wang Yi stated that the six countries reached a common understanding on mutual respect for each other's "core interests." 22 Central Asian countries are unlikely to approach the United States or other developed countries and are the parties with whom China can build worry-free relationships. This is probably why China reached a consensus with them using the sensitive phrase "core interests."

In late June, a tele-summit of the BRICS leaders took place, where President Xi Jinping strongly criticized developed countries: "Some countries are trying to expand military alliances for absolute security, ignoring the interests of other countries and trying to be self-reliant." He stressed the difference between the BRICS and developed countries: "The BRICS is never a closed club or a xenophobic small circle." Xi also extolled the BRICS countries as "a big family that helps each other and good partners for win-win cooperation." Furthermore, he mentioned support for developing countries and the concept of the Xiamen Innovation Base. 23

In early July, Wang Yi gave a speech at the ASEAN Secretariat. He said: "Asia is becoming a fine example of global governance... The world's attention is turning to the Asian region. Global governance has ushered in the ‘moment of Asia,' and the international community needs to listen attentively to the ‘voice of Asia.'" He called on ASEAN members and other regional countries to adhere to the vision of "peace, development, independence, and inclusiveness." One may notice that what Wang Yi told Cambodia in May is repeated here. The word "independence" implies that China dislikes Asian countries to follow the United States and the West; that China will explore the meaning of Asia and chart the path that it should take.

In July and August of this year, China gradually began to promote external economic cooperation. At the SCO Foreign Ministers' Meeting at the end of July, China criticized developed countries, proposed cooperation in the areas of energy, supply chains, and sustainable development, and declared that it would propel the "One Belt, One Road" initiative both in terms of quantity and quality. At the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting in August, China opposed the ASEAN group being used as chess pieces by global powers. On that occasion, Wang Yi met with the foreign ministers of Turkey, Greece, and Bangladesh and made a series of proposals on specific aid and cooperation for each of them, besides aid for Cambodia.

China is conducting diplomacy targeting "developing and emerging countries" through various frameworks, such as the G20, the BRICS, the SCO, the ASEAN plus China, China plus five Central Asian countries, and China plus 10 Pacific Island countries. It opposes the formation of an "anti-China camp" by the United States and developed countries while at the same time attempting to restrain developing and emerging countries and regions from approaching the US side. Needless to say, China prepares rewards for those countries in the form of a variety of cooperation projects. China's approach to individual regions is not uniform but differs according to their relationship with the United States and the West. Bilateral relations between China and individual countries are also emphasized. China provides each country with aid and cooperation commensurate with the country's importance to Chinese interests. It is attempting to realize the configuration of the confrontation it envisages ---"developing and emerging countries (led by China) vs. developed countries (led by the United States)." Although such a thing is hard to become a reality, it is intelligible as the direction of diplomacy that China pursues.


In the introductory remarks of this paper, the present author posed the question, "Is China aware that developing countries will refuse the dichotomy between supporting China and supporting the United States? If so, how is it influencing developing countries?"

The answer to this question may be as follows: Whether or not it is aware that developing and emerging countries resist dichotomous thinking, China is working on those countries to prevent a situation in which they support the United States by thinking dichotomously, or to encourage them at least to show understanding toward China. This is related to the way China is working on those countries. China takes an approach considering the characteristics of the target regions and provides necessary aid and cooperation to meet the needs of each of the developing and emerging countries in the regions while using its economic strength to keep the United States and developed countries in check. China is considerate of the needs of the Pacific countries; it forcefully pushes Southeast Asian countries for autonomy; it builds with the Central Asian countries a consensus related to core interests. Such flexible regional approaches characterize China's current foreign policy. On the other hand, China's bilateral relations are becoming more tailored to the needs of each of its many counterpart countries. It is noticeable that China's diplomatic influence in the world is increasing in depth and breadth.

However, it remains to be seen what fruit China's efforts in this direction will bear. Neither developed countries nor China has so far failed to win the full support of emerging and developing countries. That said, there is little prospect for emerging and developing countries becoming the third pole. China's vision of the world will not be easy to realize.

(Professor, the University of Tokyo)

(Translation by Tsutomu Inuzuka)

current topics