Author : Vikram Sood

Originally Published 2015-08-07 10:17:11 Published on Aug 07, 2015
Is China emerging as an obvious challenger to US globally 

In May, China released an English version of its white paper on defence policy that indicated an expanded role for its navy in the context of growing tensions in the South China Sea. Quite obviously, the English version was released to let the document have a wide and easy readership.

The Chinese were telling how they wish to defend their still-under-construction artificial islands in the disputed Spratly Islands. Coincidentally, an English translation of former People's Liberation Army (PLA) colonel Liu Mingfu's book, The China Dream, appeared in US bookstores. Written in 2010, it is about China's ambition to be the world's leading nation. Xi Jinping, soon after taking over as party general secretary in 2012, had spoken of a strong military.

However, to be a world leader, China will first have to be supreme in Asia, which has 10 of the world's largest countries, half the world's population and accounts for 30% of global exports. To be supreme in Asia, it will have to deal with Japan and India. Even if there were no conflict, the centre of the world will shift from the Atlantic to the Pacific - or as some of us want to call it, the Indo-Pacific. China, more than any other country today, can afford to continue strengthening its military machine, with its concentration in maritime modernisation.

It can take on US military actions in its periphery, and possibly also maintain internal unity. By 2049, 100 years after the communist takeover, China hopes to be able to become a strong economic power backed by a strong military power that is able to withstand any opposition.

It is becoming apparent that China is giving up its low profile and emerging as the obvious challenger to US globally, but beginning with the Western Pacific. China's assertiveness lately in Asia - from the Sea of Japan, through the South China Sea up to the Gwadar port in Pakistan and Kyaukpyu in Myanmar - is also infrastructure for shortening distances from Africa as well as the maritime manifestation of the Chinese challenge to American supremacy.

China has begun to strengthen its presence in the Arab world and Iran, sensing a US withdrawal. Following the US policy towards India and Pakistan, China, too, seeks to have a dehyphenated relationship with both these countries, even as this de-hyphenation is less obvious in India.

The Chinese plans about their Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Route indicate both their fear of being encircled and desire to be able to challenge the US. There is a great deal of stress on overland routes through to Europe. There are now freight train connections between eastern China and Madrid (10,000 km) and Hamburg carrying Chinese exports. China has established Afghanistan's fibre optic cable network, with a similar deal with Tajikistan. Russia and China jointly built major terrestrial telecommunication links across the Eurasian continent.

Ultimately, the challenge will be to the US dollar and China has ambitions to make its currency one of the reserve currencies at the IMF. Obviously, this would be viewed with concern in Washington. By the end of 2013, the renminbi (RMB) was the secondmost-used currency in trade and oil transactions overtaking the euro.

The RMB could be in the IMF's special drawing rights basket. Maybe the Americans are already working towards a multiple currency world.

Some of the analyses coming out of Washington downplay China's achievements, even the sustainability of its economic progress and political stability. David Shambaugh of George Washington University, for example, describes China as a 'partial power', saying that it may have global presence but not yet global influence.

Chinese scholars have commented that US policy toward China continues to be marked by an all-inclusive containment policy that utilises more resources to tackle Chinese capabilities economically, politically and militarily. According to this argument, Americans fear that continued Chinese prosperity would make it more assertive in international affairs. Further, that if China-US relations were to slide towards confrontation, there would be no peace in Asia-Pacific and East Asia.

Ultimately, Chinese analysts assess that a bipolar world, rather than a multipolar or unipolar one, would emerge, with US and China as the two poles. There would be widening gaps between the US and China with other countries in this bipolar world.

China's assertiveness in the South China Sea challenges US security interests in the Western Pacific. But for both India and China, the region from Aden to Malacca, and the littoral from East Africa and Australia, is economically and geo-strategically vital. While China is gaining access to Eurasia and West Asia, India remains landlocked out of West and Central Asia by Pakistan and China.

These and other issues will surely be discussed when Xi Jinping meets Barack Obama next month. It is quite evident that ahead of this - and of the US presidential polls next year - China is seriously positioning itself to deal with the new incumbent from a position of strength and equality. Unipolar days may be over, and we may be looking at what China calls a multipolar world. But what Beijing actually wants is a world with only two geostrategic poles.

Courtesy: The Economic Times

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Vikram Sood

Vikram Sood

Vikram Sood is Advisor at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Sood is the former head of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) — India’s foreign intelligence agency. ...

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Holger Rogner

Holger Rogner

Holger Rogner International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

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