Why should Asian nations be cautious about China?

NS Venkataraman

NS Venkataraman

By NS Venkataraman

CHENNAI, India, 25 October 2016

There is no doubt that China is rapidly emerging as a superpower, with its economy now the second largest in the world. With its size, land area, and huge natural wealth, and aided by rapid economic and industrial growth and military strength, the ten-trillion-dollar economy of China is forging ahead.

In spite of some problems in rebalancing growth and reducing the nation’s fiscal deficit, China’s third-quarter GDP growth during the current year is around 6.7%, which only indicates that Chinese economy promises to improve with several policy initiatives of Chinese government. Obviously, Chinese government is growing in confidence.

Suspicious relationship between China and several neighbours

In normal circumstances, the growing economy of China should create lots of opportunities for neighbouring countries and smaller nations in Asia by promoting trade openings and collaboration opportunities. However, confidence would develop in them only if the Chinese government would reassure its neighbours that it has no territorial ambitions and that it would respect the sovereignty and rights of the neighbouring countries. Unfortunately, this has not happened.

Rather, China has territorial problems with several Asian neighbours which has created tension in the region. China has created suspicions and a sense of unease about its intentions amongst a number of Asian countries such as India, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan, causing apprehensions as to whether strong China would be a source of threat for them.

Territorial greed of China not in doubt

There is serious conflict between China and the Philippines with regard to the South China Sea. In July 2016, an arbitral tribunal constituted under Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ruled against China’s maritime claims. However, China refused to acknowledge the tribunal and abide by its ruling.

There is the Senkaku Islands dispute between Japan and China. China, unmindful of protests from Japan, has unilaterally set up the “East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone”, which includes the Senkaku Islands. China announced that it would require all aircraft entering the zone to file a flight plan and submit radio frequency and other information.

There is a dispute between China and Vietnam due to China’s build-up on seven reclaimed islands in the Spratlys archipelago. Vietnam’s military strategists fear that the building of runways, radars, and other military installations on those holdings have left Vietnam’s southern and island defences increasingly vulnerable.

China has serious border disputes with India. China is not only occupying Indian territory but it is also claiming Arunachal Pradesh, an Indian province, as part of China.

China’s move to construct a massive dam on the Brahmaputra river, that would create a big water problem for northeast India and Bangladesh, is a serious issue waiting to develop.

In all the above cases of disputes involving China and its Asian neighbours, the root cause is China’s territorial ambitions and its greed to bring more territory under China’s control.

China’s aggression in Tibet

China’s forced occupation of Tibet has disturbed the conscience of the world, but China remains unrepentant. China’s act of forcibly entering Tibet is nothing but aggression of the worst kind, and many people think that it represents the expansionist mindset of the Chinese government. China’s occupation of Tibet is a case of triumph of evil over good.

In spite of worldwide criticism and disapproval of its occupation of Tibet, China is defying world opinion with all the force at its command to suppress any demand from Tibetans and friends of Tibet around the world to gain freedom for Tibet.

Aware of the fact that the world has not reconciled itself to China’s occupation of Tibet, China vigorously opposes any move anywhere to recognize the struggle of the Tibetans for freedom. It applies enormous pressure on other countries to prevent them from even expressing support for the Tibetan cause. The facts that Sri Lanka, a Buddhist country, denied visa to the Dalai Lama, and President Obama chose to receive the Dalai Lama through the back door, fearing protest from China, only show the extent of determination of China to defend its aggression in Tibet.

Will Pakistan be a victim of China’s greed for territory?

To placate China, Pakistan gifted away a portion of disputed Kashmir Territory (what India calls Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) to China.

Many people seem to think that China’s dominating relationship with Pakistan will create more problems for Pakistan in the long run, as China appears to be bent upon browbeating its Asian neighbours.

A 46-billion-dollar Chinese investment in Pakistan’s economic corridor really represents Chinese strategic and economic interests, solely focussed on what would benefit China. Most of the money is expected to be spent on the economic corridor itself, which includes roads, railway lines, and other infrastructure, including a road that will link Kashgar to Gwadar and provide an easy link for China to Pakistan.

The Chinese are too savvy to invest in such massive project, without counting the geo-political and geo-strategic returns that China would get.

With China actively involved in building up a massive economic corridor with Pakistan, with the Pakistan economy remaining so weak, and with considerable political unrest prevailing in Pakistan, it is bound to find sooner or later that it is almost entirely dependent on China in a variety of ways.

So far, there is no indication that Pakistan is aware of such an eventuality, as it is pledging itself for the economic corridor with Chinese support, without duly reviewing China’s tactics in dealing with its neighbours, which is solely oriented to expand the territories of China. Pakistan appears to be taking a calculated risk.

China needs to be contained

With territorial ambition of China becoming increasingly clear, and China’s developing confidence that it will be a superpower in the world, its Asian neighbours have a lot to fear from China in the coming years. They need to exercise caution in working out their relationship with China.

About the author

NS Venkataraman is a chemical engineer as well as a social activist in Chennai, India. He is the founder trustee of Nandini Voice For The Deprived, a Chennai-based not-for-profit organisation serving the cause of the deprived and down-trodden and working for probity in public life.

More articles by NS Venkataraman on Tibet Sun.

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