China – World’s New Darling

China is world’s darling for the time being and for next few decades. Its pre planned growth is paying well. From economy to external affairs, from poverty eradication to people control, from cultural expression to communication network, the dragon nation is speeding up well. One cannot expect it to be the unchallenged superpower forever from now. But as of now China is succeeding in its plans.

Vikram Sood writes in The Deccan Chronicle on 25 August 2010

For decades China pretended to be modest and Deng Xiaoping’s successors followed him as they couched their ambitions in soft idioms. The “sons of heaven”, as the Chinese traditionally consider themselves, also consider those on their periphery as rebellious barbarians who had to be tamed or conquered. So the discourse was: “Tao guang yang hui” — variously translated, but which essentially means “hide brightness, nourish obscurity”. The exhortation was to keep a low profile when in an adverse situation and wait for a suitable opportunity to reverse fortunes. The other advice was “yield on small issues with the long term in mind”. All this has begun to change as China’s influence began to rise and the United States was perceived to be in decline. The US policy predicaments in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran and Western economic crises in contrast to China’s steady growth is probably the reason for this change in attitude. There is an exuberance and global self-confidence accompanied by a global outreach that was not visible earlier.

It is useful to go back to January 20, 2009 — the day Barack Obama was sworn in as US President. This was also the day that the Chinese released their White Paper on National Defence (2008). Perhaps a coincidence, perhaps not. The White Paper covers issues like Taiwan, Tibet, the defence budget, diplomatic outreach and gives some details about how China would use its nuclear force. It is important to refer to some portions of the paper which underline the new philosophy. The preface mentions that historic changes were taking place between contemporary China and the rest of the world, and the Chinese had become an important part of the international system. China, it said, “could not develop in isolation from the rest of the world, nor can the world enjoy prosperity and stability without China.” The intention was to portray China as a participatory nation with huge responsibilities and its own indispensability in the new global order.

China’s international behaviour has been a mix of defiance — such as at the Copenhagen climate summit, when it sent junior functionaries to discussions with heads of state, or its dealings on the Iran nuclear issue or the nuclear deal with Pakistan. China has been assertive with India on Arunachal Pradesh by blocking the ADB loan, has been provocative by issuing “plain paper” visas to Indians born in Jammu and Kashmir and routinely shrill about the Dalai Lama, while increased border violations have been noticed in Arunachal Pradesh — which Chinese commentators call “Southern Tibet”. Chinese activities in our neighbourhood, its plans to dam the Brahmaputra and extend the Tibet rail link into Nepal are other aspects of continuing Chinese assertiveness. The Chinese PLA had recently transported combat readiness material to PLA and Air Force units in Tibet by rail for the first time. This would further enhance the military transportation capacity, apart from the construction of more airports in Tibet.

While some American experts like Prof. David Shambaugh describe this Chinese attitude as a sign of defensive nationalism — assertive in form but reactive in essence, the fact is that since about the middle of 2009 the Chinese have talking more and more about their “core interests”. As D.S. Rajan, director of the Centre for China Studies, Chennai, points out, Chinese leader Dai Bingguo said in July 2009 that “the PRC’s first core interest is maintaining its fundamental system and state security, the second is state sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the third is the continued stable development of the economy and society”. Translated into specifics, it means protection of its interests in Tibet, Taiwan, Xinjiang, the South China Sea and its strategic resources and sea trade routes.

China’s assertiveness about the South China Sea, its umbrage at US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s July 2010 remarks in Hanoi on creating an international mechanism to resolve this issue, has been particularly visible in the past few weeks. Dai Bingguo conveyed to Ms Clinton in May 2010 that China regarded its claims to the South China Sea as a core national interest. The Chinese have closely watched the growing US-Vietnamese ties, which includes an American offer of a civil nuclear deal to Vietnam on lines similar to the India deal. A triangular acrimony between the US, China and Vietnam has been growing for some time.

The Chinese carried out a live ammunition PLA Navy exercise in the South China Sea on July 26, followed by another exercise on August 3 along the Yellow Sea coast — the other area of contention. The Chinese conducted exercises there in April and June this year, and were now asserting that China opposed any foreign ships entering the sea or adjacent waters; they even vehemently opposed joint US-South Korean exercises there.

The message in these demarches to the US was in keeping with protecting China’s core interests in the adjacent seas and telling the US that the western Pacific was China’s sphere of interest and influence. It suggested a division of zones of influence between the Eastern and Western Pacific. The US and China have their own geostrategic rivalries to settle, and the Chinese may have assessed that their moment has come.

Yet China remains concerned with its intricate trade and financial links with the US, and also with the security of its trade and supply routes that transit the Malacca Straits. It has endeavoured to develop extensive land routes through Central Asia, but these are inadequate. It is a matter of time before China will make its presence more visible in the Indian Ocean. It has port facilities in Hambantota and Gwadar, and a presence in the Arabian Sea as it battles Somali pirates. China has expanded its contacts with Iran, more in competition with Russia than the US, it seeks mineral wealth in Afghanistan, its relations with Pakistan need no elucidation and it has developed strong ties with Burma. Thus while we may agonise over challenges across our land frontiers, we would be ignoring the new challenge in the Indian Ocean unless we plan countermeasures now.

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Ethnic Clash in China

chinaEven the strong China cannot escape from the ethnic violence. The recent bloodbath in Xinjiang province between the Han Chinese and Muslim Uighurs signal the worst days.

The Times of India editorial says (8 July 2009)

In some ways, China’s reaction to the worst ethnic violence to erupt between the Han Chinese and the Muslim Uighurs in the troubled Xinjiang province in a decade stayed true to the copybook for repressive regimes. Authorities blamed western agencies for inciting and organising the riots while clamping down on the dissemination of information. The state media has been saturated with the official version of events, while online services like Twitter have been blocked. Access to mobile phones and the internet has been cut off, ostensibly to prevent the riots from spreading.

The spark that ignited decades of accumulated ethnic tension into a full-blown riot seemed to have come from the recent deaths of two Uighur men during a dispute between factory workers in Guangdong. Although there have been scattered reports of unrest in Xinjiang before, more information is leaking out this time. That may be due not only to the advent of new media, but also to a change in strategy by Beijing itself. Rather than banning foreign media and journalists from the region entirely, Beijing invited some foreign journalists to Urumqi, to see first-hand where the riots happened. But there are divergent stories of whether the initial protests were peaceful. The official story suggests that the Uighur protesters violently attacked innocent passers-by. But footage circulating on the internet even before the state media acknowledged there was a problem seems to show a peaceful protest.

We may never know who really started the violence, or what the truth of the matter is. The official story, however, suggests that the violence is the handiwork of Uighur separatists with Islamist leanings. If that is the case, Xinjiang could be developing into China’s Kashmir. That would have interesting strategic implications, as Beijing has so far given New Delhi little sympathy on Kashmir. It has also refused to join Washington in pressuring Islamabad to turn decisively against international jihadists based in its tribal territories, leaving an escape hatch that Islamabad adroitly exploits.

Since public opinion in Pakistan tends to be anti-American and pro-Chinese, pressure from Beijing could be very effective in persuading Islamabad to commit the bulk of its forces to fighting the Taliban instead of squaring off against India. That’s what both Washington and New Delhi should be telling Beijing now. China should no longer be in denial about what its skewed South Asia policy is doing to its own interests.

Act on Indirect Chinese Threats

Z1pn9iz9China remains as the indirect enemy for India’s growth. By aiding Pakistan and other neighbhours against India the red nation plays its danger card safely without revealing to the external world. Now India should safely steer clear the evil designs of Chinese and ensure its supremacy in the world stage soon. Expecting Chinese to help India in the global arena will be foolish.

G. Parathasarthy writes in The Times of India (29 June 2009)

Dwelling on the prospects for Sino-Indian relations just after his meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at Yekaterinburg, on the sidelines of
the BRIC summit of emerging world economies, Chinese president Hu Jintao said: “Both sides should make steady progress in pushing for dialogue and cooperation.” The two Asian neighbours have cooperated closely in international forums on crucial economic issues like global economic recovery and the restructuring of international financial institutions. India and China have made common cause on vital issues of climate change, indicating that while they share a common interest with the developed world in arresting global warming, they would not succumb to pressures that would limit their common quest for economic development.

Sino-Indian cooperation on such issues has, however, been overshadowed by some disturbing policies adopted by China in recent days. Quite evidently bolstered by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s comments that US-China relations are the most important bilateral relationship in the 21st century and by a realisation that the US needs its cooperation to revive its crisis-ridden economy, China has become more assertive in recent days in flexing its muscles across the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions. It has overridden the concerns of its neighbours on its territorial claims in the South China Seas by extending its maritime boundaries with Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines unilaterally.

This has been combined with a continuing barrage against India, not only denigrating India’s economic development and its approach to neighbours like Pakistan, but also issuing not too thinly veiled warnings about its territorial claims to Arunachal Pradesh, which it refers to as “Southern Tibet”.

The policy of denigrating India picked up steam after the 26/11 terrorist carnage in Mumbai. Government-controlled media organisations in mainland China and Hong Kong launched an anti-India barrage claiming that “the Indian government’s eagerness to declare the attacks were carried out by foreign forces was an attempt to cover up internal contradictions”. The official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, the People’s Daily, proclaimed on December 2 that the attack was “a major blow to India’s big power ambitions”. More recently on June 19, it claimed that the “mindset” of people in India towards China is one of “awe, vexation, envy and jealousy”.

What has raised concerns in New Delhi is that, as China now displays its military might openly and calls on the commander of the US Pacific Fleet to recognise the Indian Ocean as a Chinese sphere of influence to be managed by Chinese nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers (a suggestion the Americans rejected), we are also witnessing growing aggressiveness in Chinese claims to the entire territory of Arunachal Pradesh. This is a far cry from China’s position in 2005, when it implicitly agreed that in resolving the border issue, the status of populated areas on both sides of the line of control would remain unchanged. Just after the Mumbai attack, a publication in a Chinese government-linked think tank noted, even before Pakistan claimed that India was manifesting aggressive intentions, that “China can support Pakistan in the event of a war”. Post-Mumbai, China has blocked attempts in the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on Maulana Masood Azhar, head of the Jaish-e-Mohammed.

Matters came to a head when China formally blocked the passage of a $2.9 billion assistance programme for India, from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), merely because it contained provisions for aid to developmental projects in “Southern Tibet”. New Delhi reacted strongly and China stood isolated when every other ADB member including Pakistan rejected its objections and endorsed the assistance package for India. The Americans appear to have signalled that they do not favour Chinese aggressiveness in putting forward claims to Arunachal Pradesh. And Pakistan realised that backing the Chinese line could result in the end of international developmental assistance for projects in PoK. What now appears clear is that while the US and its European partners would seek Chinese participation and support in dealing with international issues, they will not endorse manifestations of Chinese aggressiveness.

India has complemented its diplomatic success on Arunachal Pradesh in the ADB by deciding to bolster its defence preparedness in the state, with the decision to enhance military deployment with two additional mountain divisions and supporting artillery. New Delhi has also boosted its air power with the induction of frontline SU 30 aircraft into the north-east.

But both our service officers and defence scientists would be well-advised to remember that mature nations do not speak strongly or publicly about military deployments on disputed borders. Statements and leaks to the press about troop and air power deployments in Arunachal, or about development of China-specific Agni 3 and Agni 5 missiles, are uncalled for and appear to forget the old adage that actions speak louder than words. There are areas where we can and should cooperate with China on the global stage. At the same time, proactive diplomacy can deal with the strategic challenges that China poses in our Indian Ocean neighbourhood.

Brand China Peters Out

China has consistently strived to stamp its brand every corner of the world. Today brand China is truly universal. With the ruthless one party political system controlling the vast land without any noise, Chinese skills are global folklore today. Its economy is the second largest next to failing America. Military superiority is well-known. In the foreign policy matters, Chinese qualify highest marks. The just concluded Beijing Olympics demonstrated the sport prowess of China. Not only it walked away with the highest gold medal grabber’s honour but also organized it to everyone’s fascination. China also battled against the very powerful Tibet lobby and others in the run up to Olympics 2008. Successfully it thwarted all attempts to scuttle it.

 

In this euphoric moment of China’s growth it is also dumped for its duplicity in manufacturing consumer products and global positioning as the emerging superpower. One may dismiss it as nothing new against any emerging power. England was accused of colonial highhandedness, Americans for foxy diplomacy, French for explicit display of armed strength, Russia for false political revolution, Dutch for navigational acumen and Portuguese for spice trade. Most of these powers succumbed to the local and external propagandas and got defeated in their mission. America and Russia engaged in two sided battle for nearly half a century. Soon after the collapse of Soviet Union, America is ruling the word with the status of single superpower.

 

The super power project of China has started in the mid nineties. With the exit of elderly communist leaders and emergence of pragmatic ones like Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao this mission got widened. Today it looks totally feasible in the next five to ten years. China as one of the longest surviving civilizations was in the global command once upon a time. When time passed it become stagnated without any reforms. The onset of communism complicated the strong traditional systems. Cultural Revolution tried to untangle the knot with some success.

 

In the urge to make China shine as the super power, it leaders adopted a short cut. Chinese food, movies, consumer durables and other name spreading products are present every corner of the world. Naturally it created a forward push for China’s super power status. But quality is missing in these products. Universally there is a sense of suspicion against the Chinese products.

 

Contamination of baby foods, milk products and chochalates with toxic melamine in China is solidifying the global suspicion. Most of the consumer giants have outsourced their manufacturing to Chinese companies. To make quick bucks and deliver on time, quality is compromised severely.  Toys, electronic goods, food products, household items and all other China manufactured products are teething with serious quality problems.

 

The popular fear about any Chinese product is its inferiority. Yet the mad rush towards Chinese goods is due to its rock bottom prices. The Third World countries are the biggest victim to Chinese inferior products. For the developed world, Chinese are little careful to upgrade the quality. This was evident from a conference bag distributed by the University of British Columbia in Canada. Looking at its quality one attendee praised the quality product of Canada. When he saw the Made in China tag at the bottom of the bag he was shocked. To his query, the organizer said “We gave the material and they stiched according to our guidelines”. Only the work was done in China. Lower labour costs and ambitious government are conquering the global markets. But any compromise on the quality of manufactured products or unethical methods in the pursuit of super power ambitions will ruin China in the long run. Lessons from the Western world should remind the fall of short cuts.