In this article, Vinny Davis, Research Assistant at CPPR, looks at Sino presence in the Asia Pacific Region and what it means for the United States of America
The rise of China to its present international stature is phenomenal. China was able to achieve an impressive GDP growth based on its economic reforms and greater integration into the global trading and financial system since the 1970’s. This has made it the only country to possess a robust industrial and manufacturing sector with the capability to surpass U.S in the long run. Speculations are rife in academic and strategic circuits on whether China is seeking hegemony or a “peaceful rise”.
With the Obama administration steering its focus to the Asia pivot, explicit indications of an increased diplomatic, economic and military resource re-allocation to the Asia-Pacific is already noticeable. This diplomatic resolve has a profound significance, as the Asian giant China is flexing its muscles, becoming the largest economy in Asia and the second largest globally. The U.S foreign policy decisions have always had strong reverberations all over. The implication of this strategy in the Sino-American relations is yet to be seen.
“Peaceful rise”- A Deliberate move
The rise of China does create apprehensions across the globe, especially to USA. However, it would be inappropriate to characterize its rise only as that of an attempt seeking hegemony or predominance in world affairs. Chinese foreign policy is unlikely to tread the path for domination in world affairs, as they are aware of the futility of such strategy when comprehending the global power equations. There were growing concerns over the rise of China, its militaristic interventions in the South China sea and its assertiveness in the region. This propelled US to undertake such a strategy for the purpose of safeguarding its interests in the region (from freedom in air and maritime navigation, to securing the fears of its trusted allies).
In 2003 Zheng Bijian (an intellectual in the Chinese communist party) brought forth the idea of China’s peaceful rise, to international pre-eminence as a responsible, peaceful, and non-threatening global power. This new strategic path of China’s peaceful rise is through independently building socialism with Chinese characteristics, and by participation than detaching from economic globalization. China’s only choice is to strive for rise, more importantly – to strive for a peaceful rise.1 Thus they envisioned a new model of industrialization, by abstaining from idealogical conflicts and from seeking hegemony hitherto the traditional powers, besides constructing a harmonious socialist society. Conversely, the Chinese rhetoric of peaceful rise co-exists with its militarized territorial and maritime disputes in its neighbourhood.
The strategic outlook of China was moulded over time from the revolutionist stance of Mao to the gradually transformative and reformative policies of opening up itself during the times of Deng. The term ‘peaceful rise’ was later replaced by the phrase ‘peaceful development’ on the grounds that ‘rise’ sounded too provocative. It was a way of synthesizing the linkage between peace and development that was implicit in Deng’s original formulation of reform and opening up and also a way of reassuring the neighbours. 2
Are the Chinese Proactive or Assertive??
The initiatives of China such as the new maritime Silk road to seal its position as a key player in the region and globally is important. In its initiation of the maritime Silk route, China attempts to have infrastructural and financial connectivity across Asia, Africa and Europe in continental and maritime domains. It could also serve as means for trans-continental cultural exchanges and furthermore as an effective tool for fostering people-to-people ties. This is well in recognition of its position as the second largest economy of the world, besides being the largest trading partner to over 100 countries across the world. It is also symbolic of the rigour with which China is concocting its soft power strategies.
However, the maritime expansion of China in the Asia-Pacific and its assertive nature is a cause worry among the East Asian states. China has ongoing disputes with Vietnam over control of the Paracel Islands and with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam over the Spratly Islands, located in the South China Sea. China maintains that it has sovereignty over almost all of the South China Sea, a claim disputed not only by its neighbors but by the United States as well. Farther to the north in the East China Sea, China harbours animosity with Japan over the Senkaku Islands/ Diaoyu Islands. The Chinese are pressing hard for building a blue-water navy, which would allow them to project power around the world and control its main sea lines of communication. The U.S is apparently wary of this predicament as it will affect its interests in the Asia-Pacific. Countries like India, Japan, and Russia, as well as smaller powers like Singapore, South Korea, and Vietnam, are also equally uneasy about China’s ascendancy and its increasing military capabilities.
“Peace and development’, not war and revolution”- these words by Deng were highly instrumental in reorienting the Chinese foreign and security policy. It still stands as a testimony to the fact that China will not undertake any futile endeavours to disrupt the international order in its ambition to become a potential power globally. China wants to salvage its position as a regional hegemon, but not at the cost of maligning its reputation for its “peaceful rise”. It desires to secure leverage in the region as how U.S and Europe established its primacy in the Caribbeans and Meditteranean.
The Chinese President Xi Jinping even outlined the need for a regional security framework in Asia to counter the meddlesome nature of U.S. This would mean strengthening cooperation on non-traditional security issues and this further reiterates the conviction of the Chinese diplomacy to respond to U.S presence in the region. Consequently, the Chinese skepticism about the U.S strategy in its Trans-Pacific partnership in the region, is not altogether inappropriate. The exclusion of China from TPP is indeed dubious. U.S is also not a party to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership of which China is a member. This ironically leads to a precarious scenario wherein the countries in the region are forced to bandwagon with either U.S or China. Thus a trust deficit materializes in the long run affecting the prospective stakeholders in the region. Bilateral exchanges in the realm of energy-security between U.S and China (world’s largest investors in clean energy globally) is a promising sign. An effective accomplishment of the consensus achieved towards the Global Climate negotiations in Paris 2015 and the Bilateral Investment Treaty (2013) could serve as means to instill confidence in the Sino-U.S relations.
However an increased military presence of U.S, amidst the tensions between China and East Asian nations in the South China sea can become a bone of contention. If U.S envisages a stable and economically peaceful region in the Asia-Pacific it must employ constructive strategies to engage China, not contain it.
1Zheng Bijian, “A New Path for China’s Peaceful Rise and the Future of Asia,” November 3, 2003, http://history.boaoforum.org/English/E2003nh/dhwj/t20031103_184101.btk.
2 Buzan, Barry. “The Logic and Contradictions of ‘Peaceful Rise/ Development’ as China’s Grand Strategy”. Chinese Journal of International Politics (2014): 1-40.
Yue, Jianyong. “Peaceful Rise of China: Myth or Reality?”. International Politics 45 ( 2008): (439–456).