Wednesday 1 December 2021
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China Not Going To Dominate World

Xi Jinping is smarting from all silken, diplomatically couched strictures from their former investor, the United States


Gautam Mukherjee
Commentator on political and economic affairs

The recently concluded virtual summit between President of the United States Joe Biden and permanent President of China Xi Jinping suggests a Mexican standoff. But, this is deceptive. In effect, China has been warned off — this far but no further. Will there be war, even a limited one? China needs to ask itself what consequences it is willing to suffer if it provokes one. Not the least of which will be a precipitous blow to Xi Jinping’s hold on the CCP.

America has not backed down, and seems willing to take its chances in a confrontation should it come. And neither has its South Asian and Asia-Pacific allies right in Beijing’s theatre of operation, if not influence. China has given them every reason to stand fast.

China must be feeling hemmed in. The bluff has been called on its much-publicised military machine, standing armed forces, economic prowess. None of this has the US quaking in its boots. It is not impressed. The US president reads his intelligence briefs daily, first thing in the morning, before discussions with his Defence Secretary and National Security Adviser, whenever necessary. He knows the inside story.

In fact, China’s military posturing has not even panicked Taiwan into countermeasures for all the scores of mainland intrusions into its airspace. The antiquated rantings of the Global Times suggest China does not live in the real world.

Taiwan has called for US and Japanese help, certainly, and both have responded positively. American troops are stationed in Taiwan and are ostensibly training the Taiwan military. There is also a sizeable American military presence in Japan and Guam. The QUAD and QUAD Plus regularly patrol the South China Sea and the Taiwan Straits and China finds itself unable to do anything about it.

Mainland China’s stance of continuing to insist that Taiwan is part of it, after a status quo that has been in place for over seventy years, is not working on the ground. Its One China Policy is regularly mocked. Taiwan is quietly being let into more and more international fora, sometimes as a full member, other times as an observer. High-powered American delegations have been visiting Taiwan with greater frequency despite Chinese protests. 

China’s One China Policy is under threat not just in Taiwan, but simmering on the back burner in Tibet, Xinkiang and Inner Mongolia. All these occupied provinces are restive and not happy at being forcibly occupied by Mao Zedong. Since then, China has not managed to seize any more territory, but Xi Jinping lusts to take over where Mao left off.

Perhaps he does not realise that the world is a very different place in 2021. It is not wearied and broken by two world wars as it was in 1949 when Mao seized the mainland. Nor is it menaced by an Iron Curtain.

China today should remember its own role in bringing down the Soviet bloc in collusion with the US. Alliances can put a kind of pressure that makes it difficult to determine whom to fight.

But today, even tiny Hong Kong has only been suppressed into uneasy compliance, while there is an exodus of its more capable and wealthy residents to Britain and other places, away from Beijing’s direct influence. If the time comes when China begins to break up, as before in its colonial past, Hong Kong, even tiny Macao, are sure to pull away.

Biden spoke of China leaving self-governing Taiwan alone at the virtual summit, and Xi issued one of his trade mark threats about playing with fire.

 Xi also tried to benefit from a dubious report issued by McKinsey & Co. claiming China had overtaken the US economically. Its release was timed for just before the summit. Forget supremacy, even equality is elusive for Xi Jinping’s China.

Where does the US-China relationship go from here? Biden will keep the economic pressure on. More and more Chinese supply lines are and will be relocated elsewhere. He will continue the policy of frequently referring to China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Hong Kong, and against the Chinese people themselves. Dissidents and critics regularly disappear. Chinese companies in the US will continue to be sanctioned. Tenders that involve national security will exclude the Chinese.

Biden says he can cooperate with China on Climate change- another way of pushing China to do the bidding of the West.

 President Biden will continue to demand that China does not interfere with international sea lanes, particularly in the South and the East China Sea. That it winds down its aggressive rhetoric against Australia, the menacing of Japan in the East China Sea, sometimes via North Korea.

And to climb down from the actual military build-up along the borders with India. That the border build-ups have been ineffective since 2020, are being watched closely by other smaller countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. Most African countries have already asked China to leave. South America does not seem to be interested either — after the Venezuela mess.

Xi Jinping is smarting from all these silken, diplomatically couched strictures from former mentor, ally and big investor America. Biden himself was a good old boy who got along as a ‘friend’ with Xi when both were vice-presidents. But now, Xi wants to be Mao, to change the equation with the US, with China as the dominant power, But Joe Biden is now president and cannot allow that. The story has turned clearly adversarial, like Henry II and Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

India, meanwhile, is moving onto the great power stage. The world acknowledges it will become the third-largest economy after the US and China by 2030, up from its present fifth place. It is stronger in alliance with the US than ever before via the QUAD. It has formed another QUAD with Israel, UAE and Bahrain. It is an unprecedented Jewish, Hindu, ‘Good Muslim’ QUAD. UAE wants to invest in Kashmir. The new GoAir direct flight from Srinagar to Sharjah is a big hit despite having to fly longer for being denied overflight rights by Pakistan.

This alliance with the Good Muslims is drawing in and Oman on the sidelines. Pakistan meanwhile is having difficulty getting anyone at all to recognise the Taliban ‘government’ in Afghanistan- not even Qatar and China!

The earlier QUAD with the US, Australia, India and Japan is attracting plus interest from Britain, already a member of AUKUS along with the US and Australia, and to a certain extent, France. Both Britain and France want to share more military technology with and sell equipment to, India. Germany too is not going to be as cosy with China after the departure of Angela Merkel. But just how much frost enters that relationship is not as yet clear. A multipolar opposition to Chinese ambition is forming rapidly with the US as the nucleus. 

From being a most favoured trading partner of the US and Europe, post-Covid China is being seen as the predatory villain by most countries around the world. Its one-sided and debt-trapping overseas investments are unravelling, as the debtor countries are changing out. Grabbing the United Nations is not providing much succour to China either. Certainly, the global lending agencies, controlled mainly by the US, are not happy with the Chinese books.

Even the CPEC with Pakistan is stalled with fund shortages and mutual acrimony. China is no longer perceived to be the country that will inevitably, take the pole position globally. Instead, riven with gargantuan debt, a slow economy, complicated future prospects, it has been forced towards internal consolidation and marked repression.

The Middle Kingdom was once a very insular place that regarded all others as barbarians. Today, Han China is under threat, as its projects fail and in the name of better wealth distribution, a back to Communist basics movement, the CCP chokes its own engines of growth. There is significant unemployment, scarcities, stoppages and internal grumblings that threaten to blow up.

China’s fairly recent alliance with Russia too is coming apart. Even as India is likely to reiterate its military cooperation with Russia during the Putin visit next month, America is beginning to realise pushing Russia into Chinese arms is not good strategy. India can and will be a wonderful go-between.

Without an economically vulnerable Russia that is realising China now has little to offer, and a resurgent India eager to strengthen traditional ties, the answer is evident. India has bought five suites of the state-of-the-art S-400 from Russia. It is working on further advances on the missiles jointly. The new versions of the Kalashnikov are under aatmanirbhar production. There are many other collaborations with Russia for all three services, given that even in 2021, 50% of our armaments are still Russian and Soviet in origin.  The Indian armed forces are comfortable with this. 

On the other side, our purchases and collaborations with both Israel and the US have also grown exponentially, helicopters, howitzers, drones,  missiles -the armed Predator drones being the latest to be put on order. India is also buying and collaborating on military equipment with another US ally, South Korea.

 China is on its own. America is not. India is surrounded with allies. This of Thrones will not go the Xi Jinping way.

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