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Global China June 20, 2024

Global China Newsletter – Sharp words, sharper tools: Beijing hones its approach to the Global South

By Dexter Tiff Roberts

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The statement released by G7 leaders after their summit last week garnered ample attention for its strong language on China’s unfair economic practices and ongoing support for Russia’s war on Ukraine, and triggered a predictably sharp Chinese response. The back-and-forth is another reminder of China’s worsened relations with developed democracies over the past few years.

Beijing is by no means abandoning those relationships – Premier Li Qiang’s visit to Australia and New Zealand this week, not to mention President Xi’s trip to Europe last month, underscore a drive to mend damaged ties. But the incident is another piece of evidence confirming that Beijing’s positions on global and economic issues receive a more welcoming reception in the developing world, where China’s economic and political ties are growing by the day.

China’s strategic shift toward greater focus on the so-called Global South is unmistakable. One need only look at where China is spending diplomatic attention and propaganda dollars.

As colleagues at the Digital Forensics Research Lab explore in a new report on China’s messaging in Africa, China is increasingly promoting pro-Russian narratives about Ukraine in sub-Saharan Africa using its media platforms, commentators, social media, and broadcasting infrastructure. The effort aims to portray China as a force for peace while the United States prolongs the war, in line with Beijing’s drive to enhance its reputation relative to Washington across the developing world.

Source: (Murtala Zhang; CGTN Hausa) Screenshot of a cartoon shared by a China Radio International (CRI) illustrator, depicting the US arms industry as profiting from the war in Ukraine. Also, a screenshot of the Facebook post of the article that written for CRI defending China’s amplification of the biolabs in Ukraine disinformation translated from Hausa.

This effort to shape perceptions of China’s responsible global role in contrast to the United States is now routinely reflected in the content of high-level diplomatic engagements with developing countries.

In his speech just last week at the BRICS Dialogue with Developing Countries in Russia, Foreign Minister Wang Yi not only underscored China’s leadership of the Global South as the “largest developing country” but also called for the convening of “a true international peace conference” on the Ukraine war that involves Russia – after Beijing pulled out all the stops to try to scuttle the Swiss-organized conference earlier this month – and threw in some choice words on US efforts to “maintain its unipolar hegemony” for good measure.

As I and the Global China Hub team discovered on a trip to Brazil, Colombia, and Honduras earlier this month, China is also ramping up diplomatic, economic, and technological engagement across Latin America, and pairing those efforts with a push to shape understanding of China across the region. Our editor-in-chief Tiff Roberts dives into that and much more in this issue of Global China – take it away, Tiff!

-David O. Shullman, Senior Director, Atlantic Council Global China Hub

China Spotlight

Latin American officials flood Beijing revealing China’s global priorities

Want to know one key region of the Global South China is now focusing on? Take a look at who visited Beijing in early June. Before the first week of the month was even over, Brazil’s Vice President Geraldo Alckmin, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Yván Gil, and special envoy of Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel and Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla had all passed through China’s capital (the Brazilian vice president met with Xi Jinping and secured $4.49 billion in credit concessions. Brazil has been a key market for China too, as evidenced by an eighteen-fold surge in Chinese EV sales by value).

Latin America, with its rich resources, is a key target as China expands its global economic and political reach, and that’s a concern for the US. Testifying before the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission hearing “Key Economic Strategies for Leveling the U.S.-China Playing Field: Trade, Investment, and Technology,” Pepe Zhang of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center called for a development-focused economic partnership with LAC that would make the Western Hemisphere more competitive, resilient, and better integrated with the US.

Economics used to bolster authoritarian power in Global South training

China’s commerce ministry isn’t just fretting about EU tariffs (see below). It has also spearheaded an effort to train officials in countries across the Global South. And perhaps not surprisingly, the instruction is about more than trade and economics: “This effort is integral to the PRC’s drive to transform a global order currently predicated on the centrality of democracy and individual rights to one more “values-agnostic” and thus suited to China’s rise under authoritarian CCP rule,” writes the Global China Hub’s Niva Yau in a June 12 report called “A Global South with Chinese Characteristics” (watch the launch event here). The 795 training descriptions reviewed by Yau show “how the PRC marries economics and politics in its trainings, revealing that Chinese economic achievements are used to support authoritarian ideals.”

The report certainly got the PRC’s attention. The Chinese Embassy responded, saying the report is “full of Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice,” with the Foreign Ministry adding that “China has always respected the peoples of all countries in independently choosing their development paths and social systems,” which is very reassuring.

A new, coordinated transatlantic response to China emerges on trade?

In a widely expected move, the European Union announced new tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles on June 12, up as much 38.1% on top of existing taxes of 10% before, affecting companies including BYD, SAIC, and NIO. Also to no surprise was the heated response from Beijing: the move by the EU “undermines the legitimate rights and interests of China’s EV industry,” and is “blatant protectionism,” Ministry of Commerce spokesperson He Yadong said in a press briefing. On June 17, Beijing officially launched an anti-dumping probe on imported pork and its by-products from the EU in response.

With the EU action coming just over a month after US President Joe Biden imposed tariffs on EVs of 100%, is a new, more coordinated transatlantic response to the Chinese trade juggernaut emerging? On June 3rd, in an ACFrontPage conversation with United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai, she did not mince words on how the US and the EU should adapt the transatlantic trade relationship to reflect the realities of China’s economic system, saying “Capitalism with Chinese characteristics… I haven’t heard that term used in many, many years. At this point, I think it’s less diplomatic than just sort of ahistorical. The China that we’re dealing with now, the PRC, is not a democracy. It’s not a capitalist, market-based economy.

In an Econographics article exploring a similar theme entitled “Biden’s electric vehicle tariff strategy needs a united front,” the GeoEconomics Center’s Sophia Busch and Josh Lipsky write, “tariffs, working in isolation, can’t fully achieve all the objectives—no matter how high they go. It’s only when tariffs are relatively aligned across countries… that the trajectory could change.”

And it’s not just EVs that pose a threat to global industries. Without tariffs, the EU faces a flood of Chinese imports of the “new three” clean tech exports—lithium-ion batteries, solar panels, and, of course, electric cars (along with the action against EVs, the White House also raised tariffs simultaneously on lithium-ion batteries and solar cells to 25%.) “Imports of the new-three cleantech export categories have skyrocketed in recent years. Over the course of 2023, China’s exports to the EU totaled $23.3 billion for lithium-ion batteries, $19.1 billion in solar panels, and $14.5 billion for electric vehicles,” the Global Energy Center’s Joseph Webster wrote in a piece for EnergySource.


  • Beginning on June 17, Atlantic Council President and CEO Fred Kempe and former President of Latvia Egils Levits have co-led the Atlantic Council’s annual delegation trip to Taiwan, hosted by the Taiwanese government. Joined by former Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs Tomáš Petříček, they will meet with Taiwan government leaders, including President Lai, think tanks, and business representatives to discuss security and economic issues facing Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific.
  • The Global China Hub hosted a public conversation on allied solutions to de-risking tech supply chains from Chinese investment to spur collective action between the United States and government and private sector partners in Europe and the Indo-Pacific. The event was a continuation of the Hub’s work on tech competition and China’s drive to dominate emerging technologies and relevant supply chains.
  • China’s trade with Russia has risen substantially since the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, significantly bolstering Moscow’s war aims, according to new research by the Global Energy Center’s Joseph Webster.
  • Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Europe was in part intended to divide it as the EU increasingly hardens its stance on China. The Global China Hub’s Zoltán Fehér explores the degree to which Xi was successful in these efforts in a New Atlanticist piece.

Global China Hub

The Global China Hub researches and devises allied solutions to the global challenges posed by China’s rise, leveraging and amplifying the Atlantic Council’s work on China across its 16 programs and centers.