China needs to earn respect

China is a global superpower today. It is the second largest economy in the world and its most populous. At its current rate of GDP growth, it should overtake the U.S. in absolute GDP size somewhere between 2025 and 2030. Its per capita income is increasing but is unlikely to match the world’s wealthiest nations even by 2025, given its population size and huge social challenges.

I think China is underestimating its power – both its hard and soft power. Its military spending is now one-third that of the U.S. annually, and is being increased every year in a big way. For comparison purposes, India spends roughly one-fourth of what China spends on its military. China is probably the best in Cyber warfare capabilities in the world today.

While the spending on its “hard” military and infrastructure requirements places China in good stead, it is apparent that China is plagued by an inferiority complex, which is conveyed through its state-controlled media. China’s spending on its cities’ infrastructure clearly places it on the top of the world. No other nation is investing so much on its urban planning and transportation. Even the U.S. does not spend as much and has rather creaky infrastructure when it comes to some of its highways and bridges which are some six decades old.

When it comes to its “soft” power, China’s messaging goes in the wrong direction often. As a global superpower, it cannot be seen to support terrorists or terrorism as a state policy, which is what it is doing by supporting Pakistan, its only true ally in Asia. But then, it needs to understand that the world sees China as a very important anchor to world peace, prosperity and stability, complementing the U.S. and the Russian Federation. It needs to realize that it cannot be beholden to one single philosophy however important it is to its national priorities. China’s South China Sea pre-occupation is a case in point.

China needs to revisit its standing in the world scene in a composed manner instead of giving into jingoist push by its military. While military power is a critical component of a global super power’s position, it cannot be the only angle to its global acceptance. People and countries could easily get disenchanted with China’s super-aggressive push to support terrorists in Pakistan (against India’s interests and against the wishes of the four other UN Security Council Members), and insist on its historical ownership of the entire South China Sea (the word China appears in this name of the sea like India appears in the Indian Ocean name).

What is more important? World stability and peace, or China’s insistence that it owns a sea which ends more than 3,000 miles from its shores? There is a need on the part of China to think deeply and exhibit statesmanship. This is not about losing face.

Given that world in general continues to be in awe of China’s economic rise, its rising military power, its ability to hold the U.S. to account on many global issues such as trade, its global commercial power, the enterprising capability and work ethics of its vast manpower, its infrastructure strengths, its ability to invest huge sums of money in countries around the world, its capacity to export and import, etc., etc., China should realize its global importance and power. It is becoming more important to the world than any other nation on earth. It should realize this sooner than later. It should also realize that showing military might in today’s world in a belligerent manner is not going to stop other countries from exercising their rights. China should not lead the world to a third world war.

This is probably the second or third time I am writing about this topic. Let us realize one thing – though the world is afraid of China, when it comes to crunch time, most countries will reach out to the U.S. to counter China. That shows how critical the U.S. still remains as support mechanism even for countries in South East Asia. Of course, we all know that Taiwan, South Korea and Japan are heavily protected by the U.S.

So, in a nutshell, China should demonstrate statesmanship and display its commitment to world peace in unmistakeable terms. That is the only way to earn respect amongst the comity of nations. It should also recognize that most countries in Asia side with the U.S., and that situation has not changed in more than six decades after the second world war. That says something very strong.

China should understand that it is going to be the biggest superpower in the world for the rest of the 21st Century – starting from 2025 or so. It should work towards achieving that position without war and with all-round respect, and then consolidate the same. Its thinking and actions should reflect that goal and its sustenance going forward.

The world is yet to see evidence of such planning and intentions on the part of China.

The sooner this happens, the better for the world.


Vijay Srinivasan

27th November 2016


One thought on “China needs to earn respect

  1. Igs

    When one gets into the superpower league the country also becomes a bully – power corrupts

    USA the then USSR andColonial UK were all bullies on many occasions at least China has not attacked Neighbours in the recent past

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