The old cold war between the US and the Soviet Union, or the NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries, had some clear lines of division. China gradually moved from the anti-US camp to the anti-Soviet comp and in the course maximised its benefits, proving self-interest and not ideology was the essence.
It fell from grace with the US and the west following the bloody crack down on student demonstrators in June, 1989 at the Tienanmen Square. Ignoring western sanctions, India continued with normal relations with China. It was the Nehrurian policy of third world solidarity from one angle.
Or that, India was not in a position to antagonize China. The 1962 defeat in the border war with China had eroded India’s confidence. The only task Indian strategist were concerns with was how to avoid another border war with China, and resolve the China-India border issue.
During the cold war India tried to maintain its traditional non-aligned position, although it had to fight two wars with Pakistan, one in 1965 and the other in 1971. In 1971, the US supported Pakistan, but China was cautious enough to decline US National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger’s plea to move the People Liberation Army (PLA) on Indian borders. Mao Zedong was particularly apprehensive that if China mobilized its troops to the India border Japan may take the opportunity to seize some maritime territories claimed by China. This was the first time when non-aligned India was forced enter into a quasi military agreement with the Soviet union under the Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty to counter US pressure.
Otherwise, India generally walked the middle line. American strategists, however, still believe that India was in the Soviet camp. India’s socialistic philosophy still rankle the US state department, the White House, the Pentagon and the CIA. India’s political philosophy may change to creative capitalism under the new NDA government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
There is, however, a fundamental difference between the old cold war and the new one evolving. There is no Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), though China nuclear arsenal especially its delivery system is becoming more sophisticated and accurate and can hit US targets. In the old cold war there were two definite camps. In the new cold war adversaries and competitors are interdependent, with other powers either oscillating between the two camps or maintaining strategic ambivalence. In the last cold war the two adversaries had European minds, where as in the new cold war there in an oriental mind of 5000 years of warfare of a very different kind of psychological intrigues. Ideological differences between the two remain, but not pronounced.
To be sure this generation is not going to suffer nuclear Armageddon. For some, however, a new entrant will be a “succubus” syndrome of old ideologies of capitalism and socialism giving way to a new dictatorship.
It was correctly predicted that the 21st century would belong to the Asia Pacific Region (APR). This was in terms of economic development led by the region from which all contributors would benefit. Following Senior Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s policy of “reform and opening up” and redefining classical socialism for China as “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, it was the market that dictated China under strong control of the communist party.
Since then China’s development was spectacular, with double digit growth for almost two decades. It is immaterial at what cost, human and environmental, this was achieved. The fact is that China is about to overtake, according some forecasts, the economy of the US in gross terms. Of course in per capita terms China is way down the scale. For decades, China was content to have US military presence in the Asia Pacific region or western pacific. The US not only acted as a buffer to Soviet/Russian attempt to make a major presence in the region. Equally, if not more, it was Japan that China was concerned about. It believed the US presence would compel Tokyo to remain within its post-war peaceful constitution dictated basically by the US. Beijing was still haunted by the two defeats it suffered at the hands of the Japanese.
Peace and stability in the region was maintained for four decades till China became economically and militarily strong enough to cast aside Deng Xiaoping’s advice “hide your strength, bide your time” and demonstrate its power to the world, especially to the neighbours.
China’s behaviour became more assertive after 2008 over its territorial claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea. It has certain “core” issues over which changes in leadership have no real effect. Only tactics and intensity can adjust according to the prevailing regional and global ambience. Among them territorial claim is one.
China has successfully sold the idea to many foreigners that it has never colonized any country and will never do so. One has to go back in history to have a look at the reasons. Admiral Zeng He, the greatest sailor of China had intentions to colonize parts of Africa. But his expeditions were cancelled because the Emperor needed the money to build against Japan. At the same time Tibet and Xinjiang were never Chinese territory, and they were grabbed through military power. China had fought Japan (1894-95) to take over Korea but lost. Manchukuo was aggrandized by China.
It appears modern China has learnt from the collapse of ancient and modern colonial powers. If a power stretches out too far its support to its colonies weaken, and major upheavals forces it to withdraw. It happened with the Roman Empire as it did with Britain- it used to be said the ‘sun never sets on the British Empire’. What China did was to incrementally take over weak neighboring areas like Tibet, Xinjiang and others. Although it has “resolved” boundary issues with Russia and contiguous Central Asian states, it still holds that a lot of its territory was lost to “unequal treaties” when China was weak, and still remain unrecovered. Most of its claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea are absurd and hence, force is very much an option.
The first signs from a section in China demanding China should control own Asian territory was noticed between 2002 and 2004. An idea put forth by a Chinese scholar was China should naturally dominate the region between a vertical “west line” in the Middle East and vertical “East Line” in the Asia Pacific region. Countries within the two lines are expected to be China’s satellites or tributaries. Naturally, the theory expects China claimed territories return to Chinese territory. The Indian Ocean is included within these two lines, suggesting Beijing’s dominant position in matters to relating to the ocean. A map, known as “The New Chinese Map” issued in 1938 by the Ministry of Interior for Elementary Schools, brought to focus by Geoff Wade gives more insight into Chinese claims. It may be kept in mind that the Chinese Communist Party and KMT (based in Taiwan) are one in agreement on territorial claims. The 1938 map was also called the “map of shame” by the Republican Government, shows areas “torn away from China” by imperialist, European and Japan, explains Wade, who is a visiting fellow at the college of Asia and Pacific, Australian National University.
The lost territories include the Russian Far East, the Ryukyus, Taiwan, the South China Sea, Korea (both north and South), Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, the Malay Peninsula and Singapore, Myanmar, Nepal, parts of Pakistan and India and most of Central Asia. These claims have never been discarded by the Chinese government but only not emphasized till now. They can be brought up at anytime of China’s choosing Mind boggling yes, but not superficial. Chinese President Xi Jinping has made it clear that China wants to resolve territorial issues peacefully, but if compelled, is not afraid of using force.
Wade also exposed last year a new Chinese book entitled “China is not Afraid –New Threats to National Security and our Strategic Response”. Wade felt that the book was a part of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) strategy to boost the morale of domestic constituencies, both military and civilian.
In this context, it may be noticed that China has moved from “hide and bide” to “show and tell”. Reports in the Chinese official media detailing advancement in armament production like that DF-21D aircraft carrier killer missile, J-20 stealth aircraft, multiple warhead ballistic missiles which can hit three US cities and others, apart from promoting confidence and pride among domestic constituencies, are also meant for South China Sea neighbours that reliance on the US to stand up to China would be futile.
The Chinese leaders are opening more to their public the nation’s territorial claims. The vertical map on the Spratly Island claims was for this very purpose. The danger in raising nationalism on territorial issues could create immense pressure on the leadership to act.
By 2010 China felt that it was strong enough to establish its own “Monroe Doctrine”. But it wanted in a manner, US blessings. A senior Chinese official indicated off the table to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Washington accept the South China Sea as China’s “core interest” that is, South China Sea was Chinese sovereign territory, and China would accept USA’s domination elsewhere. Clinton declined the proposal. The US replied with its position that it was in America’s national interest to have the sea lanes of South China Sea open and free for navigation.
At another official podium at the Shangri-la dialogue at Singapore this April, (2014) China’s Defencse Minister Gen. Chang Wanguan retorted to US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that China would make “no compromise, no trading” in the fight for China’s “territorial sovereignty”. It was a slap in your face statement on China’s position.
President Xi Jinping raised the China dominated unipolar Asia flag when addressing the fourth summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in Shanghai on May 21, 2014. He announced an Asia Security concept which in a nutshell can be summarized as “Asian security by Asians for Asia”. There is no place for outside powers-a pointed message to the US to leave Asian matters to Asians to settle. The declaration of the Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over lapping parts of Japanese and South Korean ADIZ, and employing the one billion dollar oil rig to drill in Vietnam claimed waters in the South China Sea, were replies to US pivot in Asia. Beijing dared and tested Washington in the Asia pacific region.
China perceives that President Barack Obama is entering the lame duck period of his presidency. The US is also seem to be in withdrawal mood-Afghanistan and Iraq, undecided in Syria and Ukraine, moving towards compromise with Iran over Tehran’s nuclear enrichment. America is losing points.
That obviously brings to question the strength and determination of USA’s enhanced security agreement with Japan and support to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to change the constitution on military doctrine. Yet, the non-committal US position in the case of Senkaku or Diaoyu Island in Japanese control but claimed by China has put to question on America’s response to a Chinese military initiative to take over the Senkakus.
The other issue is that of Taiwan.
The Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) passed by the US Congress in 1978 enjoins upon the US President to come to Taiwan’s aid if attacked by China. Even then, it is not very clear how the US President of the time will make the determination to come to Taiwan’s assistance militarily.
The US has a military agreement with the Philippines, strong relations with Malaysia, and considering upping the relationship with Vietnam. Singapore is also a military support base. And Australia is a treaty partners. With its ‘pivot’ or ‘rebalancing’ in Asia which will see 60 percent of American deployment in the region by 2020 and a base in Darwin, on paper it would see an array of countries, if South Korea is also included, ranged with the US to stand up to an aggressive or threatening China. Many international observers are of the view that China’s aggressiveness has pushed these counties to the US camp.
Most of these countries bullied by China on territorial issues especially now with China claiming 90 per cent of the South China Sea as its territory, would be natural US allies. But the US track record on clear commitment does not inspire confidence among them.
Despite military and security agreements between than, it is difficult to say how strongly Australia would support the US in a China-US military stand off. Australia seemed to have become too dependent on China for its export of minerals, especially iron ore. Chinese propaganda and upbraiding of Australia by the Chinese official media has made Canberra somewhat shaky. If presented by a fait accompli, however, Australia would find it difficult to close its doors to Washington.
Japan, however, is a different question altogether. USA has been both Japan’s quarter-master and protector. Under USA’s umbrella Tokyo advanced economically and technologically. If allowed to work freely, it can leap frog in the front lines of the worlds military, including nuclear, in a very short time. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s tinkering with constitution to give his country more military teeth is opposed by a significant number of Japanese. But the USA supports Abe’s adventure. Militarily, China has a psychological disadvantage vis-à-vis Japan; and this comes out periodically. China has never won a war with the Japanese. They would do everything to keep Japan’s military stunted. And they want to get back the Senkakus and Ryukyus island chains which they claim.
A PLA inspired article last year lists the six inevitable wars in a chronological order as follows: (i) To unify Taiwan (2020-2025) (ii) Recover various islands of the South China Sea (2025-2030) (iii) To recover Southern Tibet-India’s Arunanchal Pradesh (2035-2040) (iv) To recover Diaoyutai/Senkaku and Ryukyus (2045-2050) (v) Unify outer Mongolia (2045-2050) (vi) Recover territory seized by Russia (2055-2060).
This is not a stated official policy. Developed by military experts, these are inputs for consideration by policy elites and cannot be dismissed out of hand. There has been no official denial either.
The chronology is interesting. Unification of Taiwan is becoming increasingly achievable given the Taiwanese KMT government leanings and weakening of the pro-independence DPP. Among China’s military think tanks, development of Anti Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) weapons systems by China may deter US interference/involvement for the short period required for PLA and the navy and air-force to take control of Taiwan and make it an irreversible act. It will be great achievement of Xi Jinping’s (retires in 2022) promised celebration of 100 years of the Communist Party in 2019. In that case Xi will surpass Mao Zedong who defeated imperialism and colonialism. Such a success, defeating biggest imperialist the USA can be springboard for Xi to jump over the age restriction for the party chief. A natural corollary would be to exercise sovereign control of the Spratly and Parcel Islands.
The next step would be to wrest Arunanchal Pradesh from India (2035-2040). This time scale pushed the resolution of the India-China border question by another 20 to 40 years if not more. The PLA does not expect India to sit with folded arms.
The time frame for ‘recovery” of territories from Japan, integrate Mongolia, and tear away Russia’s Siberia are admittedly more difficult targets. What is moot here is that China’s ambitions are known, and more territorial demands will be unveiled as it gets stronger. All concerned are also watching China’s irredentism very closely.
The chronology of the wars can change depending upon circumstances, but studies and projections by Chinese military experts create great mistrust with its neighbours. A situation has come when no neighbour trusts China.
After the $ 40 billion gas import deal with Russia this year, Chinese experts are trying to project a new alliance has been arrived at with Russia to support each other strategically. Russian president Vladimir Putin is no fall guy, and the Chinese leaders know it. At the moment the tactical moves are based on the Crimean crisis.
Putin and the Russian political, diplomatic and military elite certainly do not want to promote an Asia Pacific region and the concerned Sea/oceanic commons dictated by Chinese sovereignty. It is in Moscow’s interest to reorder relations with Japan, and even Japan may reciprocate if the arrangements suit its own security interests. Russia’s relations with Vietnam and some other ASEAN are stable. Military sales here are growing.
The challenge to President Putin in this region is the US. How will Washington deal simultaneously with China and Russia, and how will it guide Japan in its relations with Russia. A balance is not easy to find.
President Xi Jinping appears to have taken full control of the PLA, especially following the recent anti-corruption drive, bringing down heavy weight power centers in the armed forces. As chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), he made emphatically dear to modernize a military that can “fight wars and win wars”.
It is, therefore, a little disconcerting when an editorial in the official PLA newspaper, the Liberation Army Daily (LAD) recently said China can only achieve it foreign policy aims through a military force capable of winning wars rather than through diplomacy. The editorial was published shortly before the 120th anniversary of a naval defeat to Japan (1895). It added “if soldiers with guns on the battlefield cannot get things back, do not expect diplomats to get it back at the negotiating table” (Bloomberg News July 29, 2014).
The editorial clearly pointed to Japan and threatened military action to acquire the Diaoyu (Senkaku) islands and Ryukyus chain of islands. China claims these as their sovereign territory lost to unequal treaties. Some western scholars do not rule out a China-Japan war.
The threat could also be extended to other claimants of Spratly islands, though Beijing in fairly confident that threats, pressure and dialogue would ultimately suffice.
The Chinese military is still considering a “short and decisive” strike and establish its control before the world and UN can react. They have taken the cue from UK’s Falkland war. But a China-Japan war is unlikely to remain limited and the entire Japanese nation will turn against China. The US will have to get involved.
In case of a war, the economy of the region can be seriously damaged. China and ASEAN have a bilateral trade of around $ 450 billion. China-Japan trade stands around $ 330 billion. The other big bilateral is that with the US which has crossed $500 billion. The cost will not only be enormous for these involved by even for those outside players like India. Given the indicators, a war hysteria at the moment may be avoided.
The Chinese have developed a theory “winning a war without fighting a war”. A strategy called the “Three warfare strategy”, mainly handled by the PLA, works as follows:
(i) Psychological warfare- displaying military and political power against weaker opponents and forcing them to succumb. (India suffered from inferiority complex) (ii) Media warfare- using not only national media but also influencing foreign writers and media. (iii) Legal warfare- manipulating international laws and protocols, and presenting mostly (absurd) claims including using ancient claims and unequal treaties.
Concerned countries including India especially must examine this strategy carefully and not fall in this mind control trap. “Three War fares” can be a very effective weapon.
US Secretary of State John Kerry declared last November (2013) that the era of Monroe Doctrine was over. The message from White House ‘holding areas or arc of influence era’ was over with globalization. Latin American countries could not be controlled ideologically and politically from Washington. To China and many international observers this position meant the US had conceded to China. In Beijing’s perception China was the new owner of the Monroe Doctrine.
China has been probing Latin America from at least 2004. Now top Chinese leaders make it a point to visit the Latin American countries regularly and provide and build relationships to which Washington does not object. Energy and natural resources imports being a major imperative for China it has forayed into Africa, having setup an African fund and investing in selected countries of the continent. More than 60 per cent of its oil imports come from Africa. Mineral extraction is another area and a third is agriculture. The head of China’s environment impact assessment office suggested (July 28, Beijing) import of food-grains to save the scarce water resources of the country. The recent US-Africa meeting in Washington (August 05) showed the first signs of the US seriously considering China’s African penetration, and reentering Africa in a more decisive way.
Returning to Asia briefly, it was the US which encouraged China to dominate Asia. During his trip to China in 1997, President Bill Clinton suggested China’s ombudsmanship over South Asia. President Barack Obama offered China the G-2 (the two Great Powers) status to China.
China demands great power status, yet claims it is a developing country. With great power status come great responsibilities. Responsibility is something which China wants to avoid. Disturbed situations in different parts to the globe are seen as opportunities to further its interests. Its arms sales to disturbed regions or even aid are not conditioned in any way, though Beijing claims its actions are “responsible”.
At the same time, however, China requires US cooperation or at least neutrality to active great power status. In a keynote speech at the China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue this year in Beijing (July 09, 2014 Xinhua), Xi Jinping said China and the US should properly handle frictions and contradiction in their bilateral relations, so as to forge a “new model of major-country relationship”.
Xi reiterated that China was “striving for its dream of realizing great national rejuvenation, which requires a peaceful and stable international environment more than ever before”. He also emphasized that both sides should respect each others sovereignty, territorial integrity, and chosen model of development. Each word here has specific meaning for China and linked to its core interests.
Geoff Wade linked to the Australian National University wrote (Nov 26, 2013) about a Chinese film titled “silent contest” which suggest the US was trying to destroy China through following five avenues (i) undermining China politically, (ii) engaging in cultural infiltration (iii) warfare in terms of ideas (iv) training fifth Colum agents (v) fostering of opposition forces in China.
Although the film was withdrawn from websites gradually, this reflects more of genuine fear that the US aims to demolish the Communist Party of China, erode ideology, dismember the country (Tibet, Xinjiang), and prevent its national integration (recovering claimed territories).
Following the June, 1989 students uprising, Deng Xiaoping told a visiting African head of state, that the uprising was part of USA’s operation “peaceful evolution” (Deng Xiaoping. Complete works). This psychological operation, which incessantly bombarded the Soviet Union with the superiority of capitalism, especially social and political freedom in a democracy, and was largely responsible for destroying the Communist Party of Soviet Union (CPSU).
In the past months China has been tightening a variety of freedoms especially those of media and journalists. The communist party periodical, Qiushi declared the concept of “universal values” as the Chinese people’s most dangerous enemy. China’s acute concern is also reflected by an article by renowned Chinese commentator, Dai Xu stating that the only type of war that could destroy China is the ideological war in cyberspace.
On the other hand, as the US global power begins to decline China’s power increases. Some power has to fill in the space left by the US. Putin’s Russia has failed to do so. Yet in terms of real power the US remains well ahead of China. For example, China cannot call up a single ally, not even Pakistan, to come to its aide openly to counter the US. Whereas, several countries are waiting for Washington’s lead to counter China.
China is also in a region where there are other powers that are growing and can establish alliances. Japan, the Philippines, Australia, and India are among those. Vietnam is small in size but is not a pushover.
India is one power which is demonstrating more foreign policy spark under the new government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Dominated by BJP, the government is more nationalistic, but currently focused on development. By inviting the head of this Tibetan government in exits, Lobsang Sangye, Modi drew a clear line on the Tibetan issue.
One of the successful maneuvers China undertook (from the late 1970s and 1980s) for a seat at the global high table was the “polar” international structure. In the 1980s China projected a tripolar power balance with the USA and the Soviet Union as the strong poles and China as the third pole weak but growing. This was the theory necessesiatated the two powers to strengthen China to maintain global stability.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Beijing projected a bipolar world theory comprising the USA and China. Interestingly, China’s weakness to the USA was couched. They also projected periodically economic poles like the European Union, Japan and India. The main drive, however, was the G-2 (US, China) power formulation. Intrinsic in it was the proposal that the globe be divided between the US and China, allowing the US to take the larger share. This arrangement was rejected by the US, though Washington has wide ranging relations with Beijing which follows a sine wave structure – ups and downs.
As an Asian power, however, China never proposed a multi polar Asia. Chinese diplomats avoid discussing this concept. From all indications it is clear China is pursuing the structure of a uni-polar Asia, China being that pole. This is the Son of Heaven concept in all seriousness, and is not a fairy tale.
China has been apprehensive for some years now, especially following the India-US nuclear deal that a US-India alliance was developing to counter China. Although there is no truth to this allegation and the Chinese know that, Beijing kept up the propaganda to keep India under pressure.
China’s real concern about an Indian-US partnership is India’s access to American cutting edge technology, both civilian and military, and a cooperation that could dominate the Indian Ocean.
The UPA government under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh demonstrated a kind of weakness where China was concerned. The new NDA government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while giving greater emphasis on “development” in India-China relations, has drawn some clear lines of Indian interests including peaceful resolution of South China Sea issues and freedom of navigation of the South China.
At the same time, Mr. Modi disappointed China by putting India-US diplomatic problems aside, accepting President Barack Obama’s invitation to visit Washington in September, and restarting defence acquisition along with technology transfer talks. The message to China is just as Beijing can conduct relation with the US independent of other relations, India can and will prosecute relations with US independent of China’s views.
China’s response to India is not yet clear. President Xi is scheduled to visit India in autumn and will receive a red carpet welcome.
China, however, has several plans that could enmesh India. The various ‘silk routes’ of trade and culture being talked by them involves India as major station. The BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar) land route is another important thrust by China to enter the Indian Ocean through a short route. It is expected China will invite India to join the various regional groupings China is initiating, and persuade India to support a new monetary mechanism in Asia with China to counter the Brenton woods institutions.
From the Asia pacific region, through Africa to Latin America, US and China will hedge each other. But the most incendiary areas are the East China Sea and the South China Sea. Much will depend on the character of President Xi Jinping. His handling of internal situations suggest that he is going back to the Maoist era of one-man party center and not the collegium leadership system introduced by Deng Xiaoping. Application of a one man hardline policy on contentious territorial claims may lead to that one spark that can set a prairie on fire.
(The writerMr. Bhaskar Roy is a New Delhi based strategic analyst. He can be reached at e-mail email@example.com)