Historically, China has felt aggrieved at being denied its rightful place in the world order. Today, a more resilient rising China sees the United States as the main adversary. China, through its concerted military modernization and steady economic growth, believes its stature in the world order is such that it could challenge the hegemony of the United States and become a global player. She is riveted by the desire to challenge Western ideas and replace them with concepts and philosophies embellished with Chinese characteristics. This manifests in its expansionist policies, bellicose trade wars, military clashes in the SCS, and conflicts along the western borders with India, etc. China cites 100 years of humiliation to legitimize its bellicose actions, as it sees its global national power grow. The Chinese leadership propagates the idea of the Middle Empire, in which all other peripheral nations are vassals. The idea is pushed too far by the Chinese. We will see later how the earthy Chinese actions unfolded in the region with its ramifications in neighboring countries., writes Henry St. George.
The existing world order, brought up by the Western democracies with great efforts, both in terms of human and economic resources, will not let China change the systems, without fierce resistance. The United States has raised the bar against Chinese unilateralism by countering it with the Indo-Pacific strategy and insisting on the need for a rules-based world order. The United States and Western democracies are lining up to push back against Chinese unilateralism. The evolution of QUAD in its current form is an example. South and Southeast Asia, which has been hit hard by Chinese expansionist designs, is also realigning and integrating to deter China. India, because of its geostrategic location, is becoming a pivot par excellence to counter China. The Western world’s concerted effort to secure China’s responsibility for the pandemic by reviving the theory of laboratory leaks from Wuhan, rallying like-minded democracies against China, and countering the BIS with initiatives to “rebuild a a better world ”is likely to pay off in the long run by containing China’s influence.
Chinese earthy behavior
China’s vaccine diplomacy in South Asia. Nepal is one of the South Asian countries with a high COVID 19 burden. The government of Nepal depends on the benevolence of neighbors to the north and south for its vaccination efforts. While India, in accordance with its “neighborhood first policy”, is at the forefront of vaccine diplomacy, China, for its part, uses coercive measures. China, in order to preserve its image as a virus spreader, is actively seeking small countries to adopt its vaccine. It is part of their soft diplomacy to improve their image as a munificent state. However, due to the lack of transparency in sharing trial and efficacy data, small countries are skeptical about Chinese vaccines. This is also based on their past experiences with poor or low quality medical equipment like PPE, test kits supplied to poorer countries. The Chinese diktat in Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan to forcibly accept Sinovax / Sinopharm, is a glaring example of Chinese desperation in the face of vaccine diplomacy to change the world’s perception. The Chinese Ambassador to Nepal is believed to have coercively handed over doses of 0.8 MnSinovax to Nepal. Sri Lanka, meanwhile, has categorically said it prefers the Indian or Russian vaccine to the Chinese vaccine. Recently, China’s selective favoritism in the distribution of vaccine doses and their pricing has come under serious criticism from SAARC countries.
Expansionist China in Bhutan and Nepal. China has been a staunch follower of Mao. Although not recorded, Mao’s theory offers control of five fingers emanating from the roof of the world, namely Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh. China, in accordance with this very strategy, initiates unilateral transgressions in India, Bhutan and Nepal.
Chinese territorial aggression against India and the appropriate Indian response will be dealt with later. Nepal, while claiming to be on cordial and friendly terms with China, but Chinese territorial encroachment in the Humla district and other border areas along the Sino-Nepal border, paints an entirely different picture. Likewise, the militarization of the Doklam plateau, the construction of roads in the interior of Bhutan in the western and middle sectors, the installation of dual-use villages on Bhutanese territory are testimony to the updating of the strategy of Mao cutting salami. While India could be seen as a challenger to China’s hegemony, however, smaller nations like Nepal and Bhutan must be treated with a different standard by China. It is not good for a budding superpower to stoop down to intimidate smaller benign nations and surreptitiously carry out territorial aggression.
Coup in Burma. Debates about China’s complicity in the Myanmar coup are in the public domain, but the implicit implication needs to be corroborated. The military junta most likely won China’s tacit approval before overriding burgeoning democracy in Myanmar. China has enormous economic and strategic challenges in Myanmar. China’s BRI in Myanmar, economic investments to the tune of USD 40 billion, the supply of natural gas to Kunming and the implicit support for armed ethnic groups have made China the leading player in Myanmar. However, China’s apparent support for the military junta and the repeated veto of sanctions against Tatmadaw in the UNSC have drawn criticism from democratic forces in Myanmar and liberal democracies around the world. Violent protests, arson attacks on Chinese assets, and widespread condemnation of Chinese interference in Myanmar have belatedly gained momentum among Myanmar citizens.
Unraveling of relations with India. Chinese aggressive behavior in eastern Ladakh, leading to a prolonged standoff and the Galwan clash does not need to be amplified. The Indian government strongly opposed and unequivocally denounced Chinese expansionist designs. India has now got rid of its foreign policy and its armed wing, the Indian army has given a dignified response to Chinese intransigence. The Indian army’s exceptional strategic maneuver in southern PagongTso forced the Chinese to back down and come to the negotiating table. GoI, has now clarified that, there cannot be business as usual with China until its borders are quiet. Resetting bilateral relations depends on the peaceful settlement of border disputes. India must turn this adversity into an opportunity by aligning like-minded countries, especially in South and Southeast Asia, to form a formidable alliance against China.
Lessons learned in the context of South and Southeast Asia
The rise of China on the Asian continent is far from benign as claimed by its leadership. China has embarked on a transcendental shift from Mao’s stated policy of “hide your abilities and bide your time” to Xi Jinping’s more aggressive “Chinese dream” policy which involves “a great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” . The great rejuvenation is reflected in the subjugation of the world by means of economic, military, coercive diplomacy, etc. Some of the key lessons are explained as follows: –
- The Chinese ascension is not benign; China will use a comprehensive national power to achieve its goals of challenging the world order and eventually overthrowing it.
- Chinese checkbook diplomacy is malicious. He seeks to subjugate weaker nations by luring them into the vicious debt trap. Countries have lost their sovereignty because of this form of economic blackmail.
- Projecting Chinese soft power, through vaccine diplomacy, Chinese study centers must spread an alternative narrative to counter the growing chorus among Western countries to investigate the origin of the Corona virus and spread the ideology centered on China.
- BRI projects aim on the one hand to unload excess Chinese capacity in neighboring states and, on the other hand, to trap gullible nations in the grip of financial interdependence.
- Chinese malignant ambitions, especially in South and Southeast Asia, can only be challenged by building closely related groupings / alliances.
- China’s uncontrolled monopoly in supply chain management, rare earth metals and semiconductors needs to be addressed as a matter of priority.
Tackling the Chinese giant
Operationalization of the Indo-Pacific strategy. As it is said, “Bully understands only the language of power”, likewise Chinese can only be deterred by a strong response in all areas, be it military, economic, human resources, supported by a strong army or forging alliances. The operationalization of the Indo-Pacific strategy is an important facet to this end. An important manifestation of the Indo-Pacific strategy is the rise of QUAD. The Indo-Pacific strategy should focus on the key dividends namely maritime security, so as to impose unacceptable costs on Chinese maritime trade in IOR, by taking up China’s initiative in the development of a management resilient supply chain, niche and critical technology and ensuring an open, free and inclusive Indo-Pacific. Peaceful.
Economic integration. South and Southeast Asia has untapped potential in terms of human and natural resources that can be tapped, should mutually beneficial economic interdependencies develop among member countries.
UNSC. The reform of the UNSC is the epitome of the changed world order. Structural changes in the growing number of permanent members or its diversification are essential for equitable representation. The candidacy of India, Japan and some of the important African and South American nations should be seriously considered for the UNSC.
Counter the BRI. The US proposal to “rebuild a better world” presented by President Joe Biden at the G7 meeting could be the way forward to effectively counter the BRI.
With the continued rise of China, the challenges in South and South Asia will intensify. Its manifestations are seen in the East China Sea, the South China Sea, the IOR and along the northern borders with India, Nepal and Bhutan. Chinese aggression in South / Southeast Asia can only be countered with strong alliances. The Indo-Pacific strategy must be given the necessary impetus to make it a deterrent against belligerent Chinese behavior. Like-minded nations will need to unite in their concerted efforts to counter the Chinese giant, lest it relentlessly pursue its expansionist designs.