Dark Thundering Clouds on Horizons

China’s Bid to Redefine World Order Part - II

Continued from “Rise of an Unstoppable Hegemon”

One worrisome characteristic of present-day China is the brusque tone it adopts in dealing with ITS neighbors. I quoted in the last essay that when Prime Minister Modi raised with President Xi Jinping the need to maintain peace and tranquility on the borders, Jinping tersely replied that “there may be some incidents as the area is not clearly demarcated”, which, plainly, means incursions will merrily continue. Is this an indication of the aggressive designs of China has against whosoever stands in the way of their claim of undisputed hegemony?

Roots of Chinese Aggression

For decades, beginning with Deng Xiaoping, China’s geo-strategic orientation was hide your capabilities and bide your time. Deng’s dictum has never been explicitly revoked, but China’s actions especially, since last year clearly indicate that this approach has been jettisoned by the present Chinese leadership. Hawks within the Chinese military establishment have increasingly touted the need for much greater assertiveness, bordering on open bellicosity. For example, Liu Yazhou, a political commissar at the People’s Liberation Army National Defense University, lately advocated a policy that sounded like a precursor to open hostility. He said in a magazine interview: “An army that fails to achieve victory is nothing. Those borders where our army has won victories are more peaceful and stable, but those where we were too timid have more disputes.”

Xi Jinping has himself made a point of publicly celebrating weapons development and encouraging military preparedness. On his very first trip outside of Beijing after taking office in November 2012, Xi visited troops in the Guangzhou Military Region, reportedly telling them, “Being able to fight and win wars is the soul of a strong army.” During a lecture last fall in Moscow, Shi Yinhong, a prominent Chinese historian of diplomacy, summarized the change of direction under Xi, highlighting the new leader’s frequent use of the theme of “the great resurgence of the Chinese nation”.

Isn’t this in sharp contrast to the once-favored phrase peaceful development? Most pointedly, Deng is hardly talked of, and if referred to, it is in a low key.

New Phase

China’s goal of regional supremacy is understandable in the background of its formidable economic and military power. According to China watchers, it might only be the beginning of a long and dangerous period of destabilization in which China seeks to assert itself more and more strongly in both regional and international affairs. John Mearsheimer, the University of Chicago international relations expert had predicted as early as 2001 in his book on offensive neo-realism The Tragedy of Great Power Politics that Chinese rise to power won’t be peaceful at all. In a recent debate with Yan Xuetong, a well-known Chinese international-relations scholar, Mearsheimer maintained that China has its own counterpart of the 1823 American Monroe Doctrine. Just as the Americans didn’t want the European powers to interfere with States in North or South America; China today wants the Asia-pacific region as its exclusive zone of influence.

After a decade or two, Americans will be reconciled to the ineluctable reality of the Chinese supremacy. Right now, they aren’t prepared for that. But that doesn’t mean the United States will welcome that readily. According to Mearsheimer, China is making a big mistake in the timing of its recent push, taking on America prematurely, rather than waiting another decade or two, when China’s relative strength would possible be much greater and the American resistance worn down.

However, the Chinese leadership doesn’t appear to relent. Their outlook is rooted in the surge of confidence, bordering on triumphalism, in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, which delivered a body blow to most Western economies but left China almost unscathed. Possibly, American failure to prevent Russia from annexing Crimea, may have contributed to a feeling in Beijing that American energies abroad are flagging.

The explosion of social media in China has amplified the voice of populist hard-liners who constantly demand that their country must stand tall and not shrink from using force. This seems to have instilled fear in the leadership of looking weak. Asked if it were possible for a Chinese leader to speak publicly of compromise with China’s neighbors, Wu Jianmin, a retired academic, told the Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun, “He would be a ‘traitor.’ ”

For all practical purposes, China’s top leadership remains, to a large degree, a black box, and no one can say with certainty why the country is suddenly asserting itself so vigorously in East Asia.

Although China will soon boast to be the world’s largest economy, a number of indicators also suggest that the country may have already entered a period of maximum potential relative to the rest of the world. Even in China, few economists believe that the country can sustain anything like the growth rates of the past few decades, and many fear that it may have entered into what is known as the middle-income trap, in which once-supercharged developing economies find it difficult to continue rising up the industrial value chain, where innovation and advanced services replace low-end manufacturing.

Stridently Assertive

Lately, eight Chinese ships entered the territorial waters of the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands on a single day, while 40 Chinese military planes flew nearby. Earlier, and more than 4,000 kilometers away, the Indian military discovered that Chinese soldiers had camped 19 kilometers within Indian-controlled territory. Of late four Chinese navy ships conducted exercises around the James Shoal, rocks that are claimed by Malaysia and China. The rocks lie 80 kilometers off the Malaysian coast, and 1,800 kilometers from the Chinese mainland.

Aren’t these incidents part of a wider political design? In territorial disputes, Chinese forces are growing more assertive and using any excuse to change the status quo to their advantage.

Understandably, all this has sparked renewed debate over what is going on behind the high walls of Zhongnanhai, the leadership compound in Beijing. According to some China observers, Xi Jinping, the new Communist Party supremo, is consolidating power the same way Deng Xiaoping did in 1979, when the Peoples Liberation Army was ordered to invade Vietnam. Conflict abroad is a handy way to clamp discipline and allow the new leader to promote his own loyal generals.

As a matter of fact, China’s assertiveness predates Mr. Xi’s elevation. The policy shift became apparent as early as 2009, when officials first referred to the South China Sea as a “core interest.” Beijing began to revive dormant disputes with several of its neighbors at the same time. Gone, indeed, are the days of “hide our capabilities and bide our time”. The time has come to proclaim their capabilities and openly show them, appears the new policy dictate. Thus the Chinese territorial ambitions now stand threateningly clear.

Chinese leader Mao Zedong not only built a strong country but also outlined a global goal: “We must conquer the globe where we will create a powerful state,” he had envisioned. Today, China has breath-taking territorial claims against neighbors far and near.

Continued to “Stridently Aggressive Designs”  


More by :  H.N. Bali

Top | Analysis

Views: 3469      Comments: 7

Comment What strikes me as a syndrome common to all giants of countries is that territorially they behave as if dwarfed in the scale of their compulsive need for tiny adjacent territories. You would think Russia or China, two prime examples, would rest content with the vast surface area of the globe they occupy. It is a malaise comparable to that of the miser, who covets his pennies. But why point the finger, when we ourselves compulsively search for bargains, mostly quite petty. What is at stake is the possibility of gaining more that is compulsive, re-interpreted as a right, overriding all sense of proportion, indeed distorting it, so that the tiny assumes the scale of the mighty.

05-Dec-2014 19:39 PM

Comment No nation has successed in subordinating other nation in history. There were several nation who proclaimed their superiority and were made to eat dust. Hope china will learn that and behave itself. Else I am sorry to say that it would be China's turn next to eat dust.

Narendranath Prasad
05-Dec-2014 04:11 AM


04-Dec-2014 22:51 PM

Comment China’s growing assertiveness against its neighbours reminds me of an ad campaign that the American Express Bank used to run in the ‘90s to market its credit cards, “if you have got it, flaunt it”. The Chinese leadership seems to have taken this catchphrase to the heart and is simply flaunting what they have! And, “why not?”, they might argue. Another interesting aspect about the Chinese style is their capacity to make sudden departures from immediate past. Chairman Mao was worshiped when he was alive (and in power) but when Deng Xiaoping came on the scene, this changed. Deng was referred to as the “elder statesman” and all credit went to him for unshackling the Chinese economy. Today, not much is heard of Deng’s contributions and the present leadership is busy preparing to take on the world. Even the US is not making much noise now about lack of freedom or awful human rights records in China. The Chinese are convinced that their economic strength is enough to put everyone in its place but how long can the rest of the world afford to remain indifferent to such arrogance?

03-Dec-2014 07:56 AM

Comment Julia,

Your comment is amusing.

Did you notice fate of Tibetans and Uighurs before concluding what good it will be if Chinese take over a nation state...

Dinesh Kumar Bohre
01-Dec-2014 22:13 PM

Comment Sir,

I hope average Indian, the average government official (means all govt officials) and media get awaken witht the information on this article.

As long as Indians be alert, I m sure China can not harm.

And if we be under illusion and not be alert as we were in the time of Nehru, why China, even smaller states can cause harm.

Also, history shows that the powerful states which dominated smaller ones beyond a level, have often ended in a very awkward defeat in the end.

Dinesh Kumar Bohre
01-Dec-2014 04:01 AM

Comment Dear Mr Bali,

What if they do take over the world, will it not be good for all? Hard working people, with single mindedness, I think is what the world needs now and in any case, it would be good to see the East shining over the earth.



Julia Dutta
01-Dec-2014 02:36 AM

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