For centuries China has been an enigma for the world, a remote region enclosed by a wall and inhabited by a distinct set of people. It history, culture, religion is a matter on which little, if any, knowledge was available. Now, the growing might of the country has set into motion a spate of academic and intellectual exercises to decipher the idea behind the world’s biggest candidate for becoming a super power. “The Chinese have always viewed themselves as culturally superior to other peoples” writes Mosher, an expert on China. Further, Mosher feels that the Chinese possess a self-identity dependent upon the concept of “Hegemony”, which reflects a notion that the premier goal of foreign policy should be to establish absolute dominance over one’s region and, by slow extension, the world.
One answer to the burning question of China’s new found posture of belligerence can probably be derived from its feeling that it’s time to dominate the world has arrived. Many Chinese leaders and thinkers hold the firm belief that this is their historical destiny; a belief based on the millenniums old domination that China had over what was the known world in those times. China, once again, wants to organise the world with itself as the centre and surrounded by kowtowing tributary states.
China’s uncontrolled march towards world dominance can be compared with the German Blitzkrieg into Europe during the 1930s which led to the Second World War. However, the comparison ends there since Europe is a landscape and East Asia a seascape. The contested areas of the globe in the last century lay on dry land in Europe; now the demographic and economic axis of the Earth has shifted measurably to the opposite end of Eurasia where the spaces are overwhelmingly maritime. Modern geopolitics indicate towards a naval century which will witness sea and air battle formations. That probably answers why China, in spite of having secure land borders, is engaged in an undeniable naval expansion. Ownership of the islands, seabed resources and navigation rights in South China Sea which was a localised issue till yesterday has now come on the international agenda. The ASEAN has been compelled to become more united on this issue and the US is turning its attention, diplomatically and militarily, to the Pacific. China’s threats have already deterred explorations on the continental shelf. India is one of the sufferers on this count.
Analysts fear that China’s growing hunger and thirst for resources may soon engulf the whole world. Today, there is not enough space for China’s 1.6 billion souls to live. What China needs more than anything else is land and it so happens that right next door, in Siberia, there is land aplenty; sparsely populated and richer in resources than tens of South China Sea’s. Do we then assume that China would be looking to grab Siberia in the near term? It certainly is an irresistible temptation and not beyond the realms of reality. All that is needed is a civil war in Russia and China could position itself as a client faction to enter the fray. The end result could well be a diminished Russia and an enlarged China with Siberia as the prize stake. Siberia is the last great untapped stretch of wilderness and natural resources remaining; it would provide room for China to grow, accomodate its vast population and set the stage for it to become the world’s true superpower. Now co-relate this with latest reports of Chinese Corporations buying large tracts of land in the Russian hemisphere – it needs no Einstein to guess why.
Leaving aside Chinese maneuvers to undermine India in forums like the NSG, China now acts as though POK and the Northern Areas are an integral part of Pakistan with only Indian controlled J&K being a ‘disputed’. It has its own axe to grind. Planned Chinese investment for infrastructure and hydro-electric projects in the region is estimated to be of $10 billion with growing suspicions that the tunnels being built are actually meant for nuclear weapon and missile silos. All of this when Pakistan is tearing itself apart under the weight of internal contradictions, combined with stupidity of its military in cultivating radical Islamist groups to “bleed” India and force the Americans out of Afghanistan. In effect, China has already succeeded in the colonization of this neighbourhood right under Pakistan’s nose.
China also looks at India as its foremost competitor and it has set a long term agenda to counter the Indian challenge. While China has chosen the path of hegemony and supporting of dictatorships like Myanmar, Libya, Egypt and Iraq, India has firmly chosen the righteous path albeit to its disadvantage in the complex field of international diplomacy. India, however, has a clear advantage as its recent Look East policies show that it can forge enhanced security ties not only with US, but also with other key Asian powers.
As both Asian giants continue their ascent in the global hierarchy, uneasiness exists. Despite the loftily worded agreements that both countries sign year after year distrust is actually growing. True, economic cooperation and bilateral socio-cultural exchanges are at an all time high and China is India’s largest trading partner; yet, this cooperation has done little to assuage concerns about each other’s intentions. There is a feeling that China’s provocations are driven by its military, probably against the advice of its diplomats. If wiser heads among Beijing’s civilian leadership can reassert control, they will re-adopt Deng Xiaoping’s maxim about keeping a low profile. If so, China will tone down its rhetoric and offer larger economic benefits to its neighbors. However that may not happen soon. Ultimately, it is economics that will decide the winner as both giants search for ways and means to feed their growing millions and ward off the problems of poverty and growing unrest.