Report Outlines a Decade of Beijing's Coercive Diplomatic Tactics

Report Outlines a Decade of Beijing's Coercive Diplomatic Tactics
A Chinese paramilitary police officer gestures and speaks over his two-way radio whlie standing at the entrance gate of the Australian embassy in Beijing on July 9, 2020. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP via Getty Images)

For the last ten years, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has used bullying "grey zone" diplomatic tactics to manipulate foreign governments and companies into helping achieve the regime's core communist agenda.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute laid out the tactic in its new report, published on Sept. 1, titled "The Chinese Communist Party's coercive diplomacy." The report identifies a range of non-militarized threats and negative actions the CCP uses to force target countries to change its behaviour.
Like China's military grey zone tactics, coercive diplomacy straddles the line between outright aggression and normal diplomacy. It includes eight different measures, including economic trade sanctions, investment restrictions, tourism bans, and boycotts.

Non-economic measures incorporate arbitrary detention, the execution of expatriates from the target nation, restrictions on official travel, and state-issued threats.

That said, the report noted the CCP primarily uses state-issued threats, trade sanctions, and tourism bans.

"The CCP's approach is unique in that it rarely employs traditional methods of coercive diplomacy, which are regulated through the state's official capacity," the report noted, explaining that the tactics are often tied to a threat to the CCP's core interests.

"China's core national interests are closely centered on the CCP's own self-defined political security. Any conduct by foreign states or companies perceived to breach these core national interests is therefore treated as a direct threat to the legitimacy and survival of the CCP," the report noted.

Chinese People's Liberation Army cadets train in Beijing, China on July 22, 2020. (Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)
Chinese People's Liberation Army cadets train in Beijing, China on July 22, 2020. (Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)

Globally, the CCP has deployed coercive diplomatic tactics 100 times on 27 countries in the past ten years including European countries, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and East Asian countries; and 52 times on foreign companies—with a sharp increase since 2018.

Australia, ASPI noted, has born the brunt of many of the CCP's coercive tactics, copping 27 threats.

Australia has seen an escalation of these tactics in the past eight months after the government called for an inquiry into the origins of SARS-CoV-2 virus with both the CCP foreign affairs spokesperson, the Chinese embassy in Canberra, and the Chinese consulate in Sydney publishing threats and warnings to the Morrison government.

They also sent warning letters to Australian newspapers and placed economic sanctions on Australia's barley, beef, tourism, and higher education industries with the latest coercive push focusing on the Australian wine industry.

Thwarting the CCP Foreign Policy End Game

According to the ASPI, these coercive tactics only stopped when the targeted nation gave into Beijing on international issues.

Citing Norway as an example, the report noted the breakdown in relations with the CCP after Norway awarded a Nobel prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2010; the CCP first threatened and then followed through with, economic sanctions on Norwegian salmon.

After six years, diplomatic relations improved once Norway changed its policy and showed support for Beijing's goals by refusing to meet with the Dalai Lama in 2014, publicly supporting the "One Child" policy, and supporting China to be an observer in the Arctic Council in 2013.

That said, ASPI noted: "China is highly calculative and risk-averse in imposing these sanctions so as to avoid any damage to the Chinese economy."

A woman shops for powdered milk at a supermarket on September 28, 2008 in Chengdu of Sichuan Province, China. (China Photos/Getty Images)
A woman shops for powdered milk at a supermarket on September 28, 2008 in Chengdu of Sichuan Province, China. (China Photos/Getty Images)
University of Technology Sydney Professor James Laurenceson, from the Australia–China Relations Institute, agrees with this point, arguing on ABC Radio on Sept. 1 that the CCP does not want to hurt its economic bottom line.

"I think back to the wine incident in 2017 which lasted approximately three weeks, and after that, the flows of wine into China started proceeding again, and in fact, at the end of the year Australian wine exports to China hit a record high," Laurenceson said.

Currently, exports to China are at an all-time high, the Australian Financial Review reported on Aug. 4. Nearly half of Australia's goods, or 48.8 percent, are exported to China as the communist regime instigates an aggressive stimulation policy for its economy.

ASPI notes that Australia can overcome these tactics if they band together with like-minded nations creating a bloc that responds to coercive threats by pursuing coordinated actions that push back through international entities like the G7, G10, World Health Organisation, and the World Bank.

Further, they suggest Australia, the United States, Canada, the UK, and New Zealand establish an economic security pact.

"Using their collective intelligence arrangements, the Five Eyes countries could make authoritative joint attributions of any coercive measures levied against any of the five members and take collective economic and diplomatic measures in retaliation," ASPI argued.

Victoria Kelly-Clark is an Australian based reporter who focuses on national politics and the geopolitical environment in the Asia-pacific region, the Middle East and Central Asia.