China is the world’s most populous country, and its second largest economy with a GDP of USD 11.2T in 2016. Its GDP per capita stands at a little more than USD 8,000. This is a huge accomplishment in less than 25 years. The size of China’s economy dwarfs that of India by a ratio of 5:1 and is more than twice the size of the Japanese economy. It has only the U.S. to surpass (the size of the U.S. economy in 2016 was USD 18.6T). China is a U.N. Security Council member and wields significant influence in world affairs by throwing its political, economic and military muscle all together.
However, most people forget that China is a totalitarian regime, with its Communist party ruling the nation for the past nearly seven decades with an iron hand, with very little tolerance for dissent. The major difference is the adoption of free market philosophy by the Communist party in 1979 when the then Chairman Deng Xiao Ping opened up the Chinese economy to outsiders and global investments. But, one can never forget the fact that the regime is authoritarian and flexes its muscles against its own citizens and other countries who are seen to be going against its interests.
Since there is no democracy in China, generally outsiders (and citizens) have to toe the party line and government mandates in their operations in China. People who don’t are punished. After all what can you expect from a dictatorship which is not accountable to the people of the country?
All this could be fine for the trading nations of the world and for countries who are afraid of the growing might of China. However, what is not fine is the militant aggression demonstrated by China on its way to the apex of the world. And, now there is just one country which could test China’s limits and arrest its aggression. That is, of course, the U.S. No other country can hamper China’s intentions as badly as the U.S.
China claims all of South China Sea as its own, and is soon planning to extend its Air Defense Identification Zone to West Pacific Ocean. There is one simple strategy that China is adopting – that its Navy should be able to access and control seas which are thousands of miles away from its own shores. So, it is developing a Blue Ocean Navy capable of operating far away from its shores, like the U.S. Even Russia, the U.K., and France have their limits, but apparently China does not have any limits – financial or otherwise. It is seeking to claim world hegemony like what the U.K. did in its heydays, and what the U.S. has been doing via its global military might posturing over the past several decades.
China wishes to challenge the U.S. in every sphere. It is very clear that China does not play by international rules. It has consistently ignored mandates and rulings from global multilateral institutions (not unlike the U.S.). It has ignored the ruling of the World Court on the territorial sovereignty of the Philippines. It will continue to do so, as China feels it cannot be challenged. The ASEAN nations will toe China’s line, as these countries are dependent on China for trade. Chinese economy is far too big for any country to ignore. So China cleverly uses its economy as a big carrot for making countries follow its diktat.
There are a few countries who won’t do that as a matter of philosophy, apart from the U.S. India is a good example of a nation which would stand on its own, irrespective of what China does or does not do. China, for example, has not allowed India its much desired access to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, but that has not held India back from doing nuclear commerce with several countries such as Australia. China needles India along the Line of Control at the border between the two countries, but so far India has stood its ground. Of course, it is easy to see that the U.S. and India are large countries with significant power on the world stage. India also adopts a multi-pronged alliance strategy by working with the U.S., Japan, and Australia on military related matters such as joint naval exercises.
The Chinese Navy is conducting joint naval exercises with Russia in Baltic Sea this week, and alarm bells are ringing (rightfully) in many Western capitals. Baltic Sea is very, very far from China, and yet China has chosen to send some of its most advanced ships for this exercise. The U.S. must be worried. Europe is a very different theatre, with many countries closely packed together and several of these countries have borders with Russia. And, Russia has a Baltic sea port in Kaliningrad.
The unfortunate thing is that China is not a transparent nation with democratic ideals and an open society and media. Many things are unknown and not discussed in civil society. This is the most worrying factor for other nations, who have to depend on what the Chinese leaders publicly say and do, and then carry out their own assessments and preparations.
So, China is a danger to world stability and peace, unless it becomes less aggressive and less petty in dealing with smaller Asian nations. A country, irrespective of its size or population, cannot aspire to become a global leader who is respected around the world, while trying to steal what is rightfully others’ property and livelihood. China needs to learn this fact, and learn it very quickly. It needs to develop “soft” power like what the U.S. also has (apart from its hard military power), and that would take China a much longer time than just 25 years. China also would not be able to match India on “soft” power – India has much more respect on the world stage and is considered mostly a friend if not a big trading nation.
23rd July 2017