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China

Vietnam hedges its bets on the BRI

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Students walk along a road building site in Hanoi, Vietnam, 17 May 2011 (Photo: Reuters/Nguyen Huy Kham).

Authors: Viet Dung Trinh, University of Queensland and Huy Hai Do, Hanoi University

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), launched in 2013 by Chinese President Xi Jinping, is considered an ambitious long-term strategy to promote the expansion of Chinese influence by providing countries in the region with aid and infrastructure investment. But in contrast with some Southeast Asian states which have largely embraced the BRI with open arms, Vietnam has adopted a hedging approach.

Hedging is characterised by three contradicting yet complementary features — avoiding opposition against and dependence on a rising power, engaging in both deference and defiance with a threatening power, and diversifying relations with other major powers.

Vietnam’s strategy towards China’s BRI displays all three of these features of hedging. While Vietnam’s endorsement of the BRI shows its desire to avoid confrontation with China, Hanoi is cognisant of the risk of economic dependence on Beijing and the opacity of BRI projects. Vietnam has proactively constrained its engagement in this initiative.

The only BRI project implemented in Vietnam has been Chinese investment in the Cat Linh–Ha Dong tramline, which encountered condemnation due to its ballooning cost and stagnating progress. The project was signed in 2008 and was due to be completed in 2016. But it was not completed until the end of 2021 and the cost of the project suddenly rose from US$552.86 million to nearly US$11 billion in 2018.

Vietnam has also started distancing itself from China out of fear of falling into a Chinese ‘debt trap’ and because of intensifying tensions in the South China Sea. For example, Hanoi denied Chinese funding for the Van Don–Mong Cai highway due to national security concerns. The highway connects Van Don, which was set to be a specialised economic zone in 2018 with Mong Cai, a city near the border with China.

Similarly, the cancellation of the North–South railway, which would have connected Vietnam’s two largest cities, and the Hanoi–Lao Cai highway, which would have run from the capital to a province near China, were both due to fear that Chinese capital provision would be interrupted. And Vietnam has opted out of Huawei involvement in developing 5G telecommunications infrastructure due to concerns about threats from Chinese intelligence agencies, and has instead endeavoured to develop its own 5G model.

In its hedging approach to the BRI, Hanoi has also diversified its relations with other powerful states. Sovereignty disputes with China in the South China Sea have fostered a closer relationship between Hanoi and Tokyo, which was highlighted in 2014 by the two sides’ efforts to upgrade their relationship to an extensive strategic partnership, grounded on shared goals of peace and prosperity. Vietnam has welcomed Japan’s Partnership for Quality Infrastructure Investment more warmly than the BRI and has received substantial infrastructure investment from Tokyo.

Vietnam has even enhanced its relations with its previous foe, the United States, to restrict China’s attempts at broadening its influence in the region. Vietnam and the United States have boosted their bilateral economic ties and improved defence cooperation. Vietnam has also supported the United States’ Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy by welcoming US contribution to regional peace and stability. During the Trump administration, two US aircraft carriers visited Vietnam.

Vietnam’s hedging strategy towards the BRI could provide valuable lessons for other ASEAN states when dealing with a rising and more ambitious China. Vietnam has partially succeeded in fostering cooperation with other major powers instead of depending on an unreliable neighbour. Less developed countries like Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar which have actively engaged in the BRI should consider adopting such a strategy in order to avoid falling into a Chinese ‘debt trap’ or becoming ‘chess pieces’ in China’s geopolitical game.

Restricting economic dependence on China could also help to forge closer bonds among ASEAN members. China has weaponised its economic power to break ASEAN’s unity and ability to form consensus. This is exemplified by the increasing aid and investment that China provided to Cambodia after Phnom Penh blocked ASEAN’s joint statement on tensions in the South China Sea. Cambodia seems to be accepting political dependence on Beijing in return for economic development. During the time that it has undermined ASEAN consensus on the South China Sea problem, Cambodia has…

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Proposed Regulations in China Seek to Regulate After-School Tutoring Services

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China’s Ministry of Education introduced new draft regulations to manage off-campus training in the after-school tutoring industry, following a crackdown in mid-2021. The regulations focus on prohibiting for-profit classes for core curriculum subjects in Grades 1-9, with fines up to RMB 100,000 for unlicensed services.


China’s Ministry of Education recently unveiled

On February 8, 2024, China’s Ministry of Education released the Regulations on the Management of Off-Campus Training (Draft for Solicitation of Comments) (hereinafter, the “draft regulations”). This new set of regulations for the after-school tutoring industry marks a substantial national-level effort to overhaul the sector. It follows a broader reform of the private tutoring industry initiated in mid-2021.

In this article, we delve into the specifics of the new draft regulations, shedding light on their potential implications within the broader context of China’s dynamic education sector.

Fast forward to July 2021, the Chinese government implemented a far-reaching crackdown on the private tutoring industry, effectively prohibiting tutors from conducting for-profit classes in core curriculum subjects. Dubbed the “shuangjian” or “double reduction” policy, its primary objective was to alleviate financial strains on families and reduce academic burdens on students by curbing excessive homework and after-school tutoring.

Notably, the regulations primarily targeted compulsory education (Grades 1-9), making it illegal to offer curriculum-based classes for profit. Conversely, non-academic extracurricular activities like art and sports remained largely unaffected, while high schools (Grades 10-12) experienced minimal disruption across academic and non-academic domains.

Building upon these reforms, in September 2023, China’s Education Ministry announced that unlicensed tutoring services in the country could face fines of up to RMB 100,000 (US$13,715.54). The announcement represents an example of the government’s broader strategy to reshape China’s education landscape.

For the first time, a clear definition of after-school tutoring is provided in high-level legislation. The term “off-campus training” as mentioned in the draft regulations is delineated as “organized or systematic educational training activities conducted outside the school education system, targeting primary and secondary school students as well as preschool children aged 3 to 6 with the main purpose of improving academic performance or cultivating their interests and talents”.

This article is republished from China Briefing. Read the rest of the original article.

China Briefing is written and produced by Dezan Shira & Associates. The practice assists foreign investors into China and has done since 1992 through offices in Beijing, Tianjin, Dalian, Qingdao, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong. Please contact the firm for assistance in China at china@dezshira.com.

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China arrests more than 1,000 Tibetans protesting Chinese dam project

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Police on Friday arrested more than 1,000 Tibetans, including monks from at least two local monasteries, in southwestern China’s Sichuan province after they protested the construction of a dam expected to destroy six monasteries and force the relocation of two villages, two sources from inside Tibet told Radio Free Asia.

The arrested individuals – both monks and local residents – are being held in various places throughout Dege county in Kardze Tibetan Prefecture because the police do not have a single place to detain them, said the sources who requested anonymity for safety reasons.

Those arrested have been forced to bring their own bedding and tsampa – a staple food for Tibetans that can be used to sustain themselves for long periods of time, the sources said.

“That police are asking Tibetans to bring their own tsampa and bedding is a sign that they will not be released anytime soon,” one of the sources said.

On Thursday, Feb. 22, Chinese authorities deployed specially trained armed police in Kardze’s Upper Wonto village region to arrest more than 100 Tibetan monks from Wonto and Yena monasteries along with local residents, many of whom were beaten and injured, and later admitted to Dege County Hospital for medical treatment, sources said.

Citizen videos from Thursday, shared exclusively with RFA, show Chinese officials in black uniforms forcibly restraining monks, who can be heard crying out to stop the dam construction. 

Following news of the mass arrests, many Tibetans from Upper Wonto village who work in other parts of the country returned to their hometown and visited the detention centers to call for the release of the arrested Tibetans, sources said. They, too, were arrested. 

The Dege County Hospital did not immediately return RFA’s requests for comment.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington hasn’t commented on the arrests other than in a statement issued Thursday that said the country respects the rule of law.

“China protects the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese nationals in accordance with the law,” the statement said.

Massive dam project

The arrests followed days of protests and appeals by local Tibetans since Feb. 14 for China to stop the construction of the Gangtuo hydropower station.

RFA reported on Feb. 15 that at least 300 Tibetans gathered outside Dege County Town Hall to protest the building of the Gangtuo dam, which is part of a massive 13-tier hydropower complex on the Drichu River with a total planned capacity 13,920 megawatts. 

The dam project is on the Drichu River, called Jinsha in Chinese, which is located on the upper reaches of the Yangtze, one of China’s most important waterways. 

Local Tibetans have been particularly distraught that the construction of the hydropower station will result in the forced resettlement of two villages – Upper Wonto and Shipa villages – and six key monasteries in the area  – Yena, Wonto, and Khardho in Wangbuding township in Dege county, and Rabten, Gonsar and Tashi in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, sources told RFA.

Sources on Friday also confirmed that some of the arrested monks with poor health conditions were allowed to return to their monasteries. 

However, the monasteries – which include Wonto Monastery, known for its ancient murals dating back to the 13th century – remained desolate on the eve of Chotrul Duchen, or the Day of Miracles, which is commemorated on the 15th day of the first month of the Tibetan New Year, or Losar, and marks the celebration of a series of miracles performed by the Buddha.

“In the past, monks of Wonto Monastery would traditionally preside over large prayer gatherings and carry out all the religious activities,” said one of the sources. “This time, the monasteries are quiet and empty. … It’s very sad to see such monasteries of historical importance being prepared for destruction. The situation is the same at Yena Monastery.” 

Protests elsewhere

Tibetans in exile have been holding mass demonstrations in various parts of the world, including in Dharamsala, India, home to the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. 

In the past week, Tibetans have demonstrated before the Chinese embassies, including those in New York and Switzerland, with more such protests and solidarity campaigns planned in Canada and other countries. 

“The events in Derge are an example of Beijing’s destructive policies in Tibet,” said Kai Müller, managing director of the International Campaign for Tibet, in a statement on Friday. “The Chinese regime tramples on the rights of Tibetans and ruthlessly and irretrievably destroys valuable Tibetan cultural assets.”

“Beijing’s development and infrastructure projects are not only a threat to Tibetans, but also to regional security, especially when it comes to water supplies to affected Asian countries,” he added.

Human Rights Watch told RFA that it is monitoring the development but that information from inside Tibet is extremely rare given China’s tight surveillance and restrictions imposed on information flow. 

“People who send information out and videos like this face imprisonment and torture,” said Maya Wang, the group’s interim China director. 

“Even calling families in the diaspora are reasons for imprisonment,” she said. “What we do see now are actually … typical scenes of repression in Tibet, but we don’t often get to see [what] repression looks like in Tibet anymore.”

Additional reporting by Pelbar, Yeshi Dawa, Tashi Wangchuk, Palden Gyal and Sonam Lhamo for RFA Tibetan. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

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Canberra ties the knot with Washington

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Canberra ties the knot with Washington

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Australia has shifted its strategy towards favoring the United States over China due to increasing fear of Chinese power and the competitive Indo-Pacific environment.

The ‘riding two horses’ strategy adopted by Canberra over the past 25 years has shifted in favor of the US alliance to counter China’s growing power. Previous prime ministers sought to balance relations between China and the US, with Kevin Rudd aiming for ‘true friendship’ with China while also promising military intervention if needed. Tony Abbott’s approach was driven by ‘fear and greed’, and John Howard acknowledged the benefits of a relationship with both countries.

However, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has expressed a desire to strengthen the US alliance and cooperate with China while also engaging in Australia’s national interest. This shift is evident in actions such as sending a warship through the Taiwan Strait and introducing legislation to facilitate the AUKUS security partnership.

The Indo-Pacific environment has become more competitive, leading Australia to prioritize fear over greed in its alignment. As China’s GDP continues to rise and may overtake the US by 2030, Canberra’s strategy is likely to continue favoring alignment with Washington due to the lack of a viable alternative for addressing its fear of China’s power.

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