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China: Challenges in 2015 and Beyond – By Dr. Sridhar Krishnaswami

C3S Paper Fortnight Column F001/15

The shameful and cowardly gunning down of school kids in Pakistan in December 2014 sends a powerful message not just to Pakistan but also to the region of South Asia and beyond and especially to those countries that are seemingly in a concerted fight against terrorism. It is a signal to major powers like India, China and the United States to weigh in the consequences of aligning with those nations that are consistently either global sponsors of terror or using the threat of terror for economic gain by way of extracting economic assistance.

And China will have to take this terror threat rather seriously for officials there have been pointing to the restlessness in some of the provinces. Cozying up to its client state of Pakistan for scoring points against India is one thing; but Beijing will have to look at the larger scenario and potential—the prospect of hardcore terrorists wanting to fan the flames of restlessness in parts of China in the name of “brotherhood” or “jihad”. Worse some of these terrorists and group may be looking for parking spaces for their worn out ideologies and vicious propaganda.

  Fortunately for the region and the world, in spite of all their political posturing, the major powers have been united in their determination to strike at the focal points of terror in various parts of the world but one of the challenges of 2015 is in the ability of countries like China and the United States to distance themselves from countries that try to make a distinction between forms of terror. For instance in all their boast of taking on terrorism, leaders within Pakistan have had this disgusting habit of openly encouraging terrorist attacks against India.

A country like India will be watching with keen interest on the Chinese forays in South Asia as in the last ten years major inroads have been made not only in the countries surrounding India in South Asia but also in the expanded Indian Ocean region. China has been especially interested in developing close ties with countries like Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Nepal even as the political opposition in those countries have started questioning the motives and sinister interests of that East Asia giant.

Leaving the United States aside for this essay, China’s foreign policy test vis-à-vis India has just started and Beijing has found to surprise that dealing with the new political dispensation has been quite different that what it has been accustomed to in the last decade or more. China is seeing an India that is determined to place high priority in the improvement of ties but not taking anything lying down. In his meetings with leaders from China the new Indian Prime Minister seems to have made this point very clearly.

China’s challenge is primarily in its own neighbourhood in East Asia and the South China Seas where it is finding to its chagrin that even small countries are prepared to stand up and strike up unholy alliances if necessary to protect their national interests and economic resources. The confrontation in the South China Seas between nations of South East Asia and East Asia has seen some of the small countries refusing to be bullied by China and standing up to the might of the East Asian giant either individually or buying “insurance” from bigger powers like the United States.

Beijing will have to be very careful in how it goes about with Tokyo for the simple reason that the last thing Japan or East Asian needs is the outright resurgence of right wing nationalism and the implications it brings along with it. Challenging Japan in a territorial dispute has already resulted in a momentum for a change in the nature and scope of the Self Defence Forces and constant sabre rattling will bring about the political right pushing the government into pursuing hawkish policies that might even veer around the nuclear question.

Finally perhaps the biggest challenge to China in 2015 and beyond is North Korea under the mercurial and bizarre leadership of Kim Jong-un.  Already indications are that Beijing has distanced itself enough to send the message to Pyongyang; but the damage has already been done. The fashion in which North Korea is going about threatening Japan and the United States with military action is not comical by any stretch of imagination. It only steps up pressure within Japan and the United States to call Kim’s bluff which in turn could be quite de-stabilising in East Asia.

China has its hands full in its domestic political front if the protests in Hong Kong are anything to go by. Continuing to muzzle freedom of speech and expression may not be worthwhile for the reason that globalization and revolutions in information technology have struck deep roots the world over with only one or two countries standing outside the mainstream. The economic progress of China has been stunning in the last decade or more; but the notion that it can surpass the United States will be a distant dream unless the Communist Party gives an opportunity for its citizens the freedom to think leading them to innovate and compete in a globalised market environment.

 (Sridhar Krishnaswami has been a senior journalist with The Hindu in Chennai, Singapore and Washington and currently Heads the Departments of Journalism and Mass Communications and International Relations at SRM University, Chennai and can be reached at sridhar54k@gmail.com . Views expressed here are personal.)

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