As soon as China cross to the double-digit economic growth rate in the early 2000s, the Western Countries amplified their decade-old belief of Chinese threat theory. It was evident the western world was feeling insecure over China’s rise. The theory argued that China’s rise was a threat to global peace and security. China provided a rebuttal with its “China’s peaceful rise” policy. The policy enacted under Hu Jintao moved to assure global economies that the country’s rise had no ulterior motives other than empowering its people and enhancing peaceful global cohesion and trade. Almost two decades after both the Chinese threat theory and Chine’s peaceful rise policy came into the public limelight, we can deliberate on who was right and who cheated the other.
Up until the 1980s, China was not in the league of the United States or Western European countries in any aspect save for their population advantage. Militarily, the western countries continued to dominate. The same observation existed in global geopolitics where western countries locked China out of major global politics. China started to initiate proactive socioeconomic policies largely credited for the country’s rise in the 1980s. Accepting its inferior status then, China approached western countries carefully, allowing countries like the United Kingdom to continue their occupation in Hong Kong, Portugal in Macau, and the United States continued influence in Taiwan.
As China’s rise continued in the 1980s and 1990s, it gained the boldness to face the western countries with their interests. First was the negotiation with the British to relinquish Hong Kong in 1997, the exit of Portugal from Macau, and the boldness to call out the US’s continued protectionism of Taiwan. Initially, Hong Kong was a getaway for capital from Western Countries to China, just as Taiwan has been a transition point for technology from the US to China. It is thus not coincidental that China has been lenient to Hong Kong and Taiwan. They had been strategic locations for its rise, but that is fast declining with Shanghai now serving as a financial hub, and Beijing taking over the role Taiwan has been playing. That is not to mean they do not need Taiwan and Hong Kong in one piece, it only implies that at worst, they would not remain without a tech and financial hub.
China’s peaceful policy has been true, at least since it was enacted by Hu Jintao until recently. It was seen as a retreat strategy, and it has worked for them. China has not been confrontational with any nation since. Even when America engages in a provocative military exercise in Taiwan waters or the South China Sea, China practices restraint. In the United Nations Security Council resolutions, China has never vetoed any resolution since 1999 despite evidence that it had reasons to do so. The country has only joined Russia is vetoing US resolutions, usually supported by their other two western allies (France and UK). While avoiding political confrontations with Western Powers, the country has focused on economic development within and outside the country.
With increasing Chinese presence in Africa, more military bases will definitely come.
Of over $500 billion outstanding external debt in Africa, China bears almost $100 billion. That is a massive figure for a country that started to provide loans to Africa at the start of this century, years after Western Countries had been financing African countries through the World Bank and IMF. The Western Countries have labeled China’s loans as ‘debt trap diplomacy,’ accusing the country of using debt to demand both recognition and at extreme control of strategic resources. With that strategy, China has been able to gain massive influence across developing nations in Asia and Africa, a new frontier for rising powers.
Increasing debts are giving China leverage for political influence. It is also implementing the massive Belt and Road Initiative, with the objective of connecting large parts of Eurasia, Middle East, North, and Sub Sharan Africa. It is one of Xi Jinping’s biggest projects likely to provide China with access to global markets for its expanding manufacturing sector. China set its first military base in Africa in Djibouti in 2017. With increasing Chinese presence in Africa, more military bases will definitely come. This exhibits a country that is consolidating both political, economic, and military power to dethrone existing global powers.
Evidence of China flexing muscles for the global power is available, starting even with the current pandemic. The US’s global power and influence are not questionable, but China has contemptuously treated President Trump’s tantrums with confidence that would hardly be observed in the 1990s, or even 2000s during Jintao’s peaceful policy rise. China’s bold move to deal with protesters in Hong Kong, its solid position that it will not entertain any separatist’s activities in Taiwan, and even leaving the use of the military in the island nation as a possibility illustrates a country ready to stand against the US, Taiwan’s biggest ally. Across the South China Sea, China has been running offensive against their weak neighbours, including recently sinking a fishing Boat neat Vietnam, and swarmed an oil rig operated by Malaysia. Over seven countries, including China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, and the Philippines lay claim a share of the China-South Sea. China is now controlling the sea and pushing US Military off the sea. It is such bold and evidently provocative moves that illustrate China’s intentions.
Despite falling behind in technology and economic issues, it still holds some competitive advantage that even the western world cannot entirely afford to lose.
What remains to stamp its global authorities are few things where it has flexed muscles, only to retreat. In the technology front, China is still trailing the US and Western powers, the same to the financial front. In 2017, the US accused Chinese multinational ZTE of violating America’s sanctions on Iran and North Korea. President Trump ordered for the immediate reprimand of those involved. Flexing its independence to deal with partners or countries it wants, ZTE failed to act, and the US responded by banning US technology firms from supplying the firm with technology products. As a result, ZTE was unable to continue production, shut down some factories, and took the intervention of President Jingpin to negotiate with Trump to lift the sanctions. That together with Huawei’s temporary ban from US technology products like Android OS humbled China and exposed one of its weakest fronts.
That is not to mention Chinese technology firms rely on thousands of scientists from the Western world. Economically, China’s exports to the US are approaching $600 billion, and it is this money that has been fuelling the Chinese economy. Losing that market is not something China is ready to entertain at a period when it still needs to continue growing. Some foreign policy experts think China’s lack of clear succession formula serves as a weakness. On my part, the transition is likely to be peaceful and no cause for concern as long as China’s global interests are concerned.
Looking at the leaps China has made, it would be accurate to argue that China is no longer concerned with an international rebuke on its actions. Despite falling behind in technology and economic issues, it still holds some competitive advantage that even the western world cannot entirely afford to lose. That serves to further embolden their push for global dominance.
Going forward, Beijing will reign on Hong Kong to silence cries for independence, it will intensify diplomatic pressure on Taiwan for reunification under their proposed one country two systems, and will take every inch of the South China Sea it wants without fearing US retaliation of any form. We are possibly living in the last decade when China will play second fiddle on global issues.
The views expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nairobi Cool and Gram Media.