Think Tank (1/2021)
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Virtual Workshops by China Programme
03 Feb 2021
Karyn Liow
Irene Chan
Yang Zi

China’s Domestic Transformations and their Impacts on Global Governance

By Xue Gong and Karyn Liow

The China Programme within the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies at RSIS held a virtual workshop titled “China’s Domestic Transformations and their Impacts on Global Governance” on 18 and 19 February 2021. China’s rise to establish itself as a major power in the 21st century has led to its increased involvement in various aspects of global governance. Coupled with domestic transformations and international structural changes, China’s proactive involvement in the international community and multilateral organisations has provided opportunities for China to set standards and promote itself as a responsible powerhouse, thereby enabling it to achieve its geo-economic and strategic geopolitical interests.

By examining overall trends, developments in specific sectors, and regional implications, the workshop sought to understand how China’s domestic transformations impacted its involvement in global governance. These transformations include China’s domestic politics, policies and preferences, vested geo-economic and strategic geopolitical interests, and past decades of social learning through its bilateral, regional, and multilateral interactions. With 13 subject matter experts from China, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, and the United Kingdom, the workshop incorporated diverse opinions pertaining to China’s domestic transformations and its heightened role in global governance.

Workshop participants re-analysed China’s role in global governance against the domestic context and other perspectives. Given that China’s involvement in diverse areas of global governance such as business and economics, environment and energy, and food and politics is conterminous to its domestic transformations, participants were able to achieve a clearer understanding of their interactions as well as China’s expanding role in global governance.

In conclusion, the workshop participants agreed that China, bolstered by its domestic transformations since 1978, is on the path to playing a greater role in global governance. Additional policy responses from China’s strategic partners and competitors are expected, although the effectiveness of these responses could vary based on the strength of China’s diplomatic relations with the respective countries. While China faces challenges in future domestic transformations, its expanding capabilities will nevertheless strengthen its desire to proactively contribute to global governance.

China’s Relations with Its Neighbouring Countries: Domestic Politics Perspectives

By Irene Chan

The China Programme hosted a two-day virtual workshop on China’s relations with its neighbouring countries on 9 and 10 February 2021. The central focus of this workshop was on the domestic political perspectives of each Southeast Asian country’s relations with China and how their relations have evolved over the past five to 10 years, especially vis-à-vis the United States. Seventeen researchers from East Asia presented their papers on this topic. Assoc Prof Li Mingjiang, Coordinator of China Programme, gave the opening and closing remarks for the workshop, which was attended by researchers from Singapore and in the region.

China is the largest trading partner and investor for many countries in Southeast Asia. Therefore, it is unsurprising that Southeast Asian countries take a serious view of their relations with China. However, as domestic politics and foreign policy are closely intertwined, what a country does internally could exert a strong influence on its foreign policy — even for small states. Driven by concerns of political survival and legitimacy, political elites in all the regional countries are influenced by domestic factors such as public opinions, electoral cycles, the need for domestic economic development, and business lobbying.

The presenters shared interesting and detailed domestic political insights on each of the 10 Southeast Asian countries’ relations with China. They also examined whether and how China’s increasing engagement with Southeast Asia is shaping both China’s and Southeast Asian countries’ domestic and foreign policies, as well as the strategic balance in the region.

Assessing the PLA Navy’s Reform Progress: 2015–2020

By Yang Zi

The China Programme conducted a workshop titled “Assessing the PLA Navy’s Reform Progress: 2015–2020” from 3 to 5 February 2021. The Chinese armed forces reforms, first initiated in 2015, has affected all People’s Liberation Army (PLA) services. This has included greater state commitment to reinvigorate and expand the PLA Navy’s (PLAN) capacity and capability, which would exert a strong influence on Indo-Pacific regional security in the years ahead. As such, the workshop sought to understand changes to PLAN by examining the overall trends, developments in specific branches, and regional implications and responses. With 10 subject matter experts from Singapore, the United States, and Japan, the workshop incorporated diverse opinions pertaining to PLAN.

The workshop discussed the steady expansion of PLAN’s capability and capacity amid ongoing reforms. The PLAN’s surface, submarine, and naval aviation branches have all enjoyed growth in recent years, although naval aviation faces additional inter-service and inter-departmental wrangling over resources. Despite its challenges, PLAN outclasses most of China’s neighbouring naval forces. While PLAN participates in numerous friendly exercises and international engagements, it is also involved in China’s maritime conflicts, such as the maritime gray zone activities in the South China Sea. The rise of China’s naval power has engendered policy responses from Japan, including the strengthening of Japanese maritime defences. However, advancement in naval power among Southeast Asian states continues to be constrained by a multitude of factors.

Nevertheless, bolstered by the reforms and state support, PLAN is on the path to becoming a force with global consequence. Additional policy responses from China’s maritime neighbours would be expected, with the effectiveness of the policies varying from country to country. In summary, the workshop participants agreed that while PLAN faces hurdles in future developments, its expanding capabilities will strengthen China’s assertive stance in conflicts near and abroad.

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