- Posted July 4, 2014 by
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China Enforcing New Geo-Strategic Balance: Asia for Asians
Two important factors need to be kept in view to understand why China issued this map now. First, it was the reaction to the Chinese map given in March, 2014 by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping. Merkel presented to Xi a 1735 map of China made by prolific French cartographer Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville and printed by a German publishing house. The map showed, according to its original Latin caption, the “China Proper” — that is, the Chinese heartland mostly populated by ethnic Han people, without Tibet, Xinjiang, Mongolia, or Manchuria. The islands of Taiwan and Hainan — the latter clearly part of modern China, the former very much disputed — were shown with a different colour border. And second, China had been looking for an opportunity to show to the world that the present China includes all the areas claimed by it. The visit of Vice President of India provided that opportunity.
However there is larger context also of this vertical map. China, for the last several years, had been trying to assert claims in the periphery areas. Chinese aggressive nationalism and irredentism has become a potent feature of China’s foreign policy and aggrandisement. The perception that China has to rectify humiliation of the past centuries is taking the central place in the formulation of foreign and security policies of China. Echoing this perception, President Xi was quoted in the Chinese media on the same day that China should bear in mind the Chinese history as “a victim of foreign aggression” and exhorted Chinese to strengthen its frontier defences on land and sea. The vertical map is designed to assert Chinese claims over the areas in its periphery. The Chinese are moving in this direction in accordance with their “three warfare concepts” :Propaganda war, Media war and Legal war.
Since 2012, Chinese with a view to achieve their objectives escalated efforts to propagate, use media and find out and if need be fabricate evidence of its claims. In January- February 2012, China established a steering sub-committee for guiding, coordinating and supervising, educating, propagating awareness of national map and controlling entire national map market with coordination of 13 Ministries which included National Agency for Geographic Information and Map Production, Committee for Propaganda and Instruction of the Communist Party of China, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Industry, Ministry of Public Security etc. The main objective of this committee is to instruct and guide the task of reprinting and republishing national maps and organising propaganda. At the end of 2012, China began to issue biometric maps in the passports showing Indian Arunachal Pradesh and parts of J&K as also South China’s 9-dashed line as the Chinese areas. This generated a strong reaction from the neighbouring countries. This was aimed at publicising its claims.
Simultaneously, Chinese began to use tourists and media persons to project that disputed areas in the South China Sea belonged to it. In April 2012, China approved a development project to support tourism and fishing in the South China Sea. The Chinese southernmost province Hainan declared that it would develop tourism in the Paracel island chain. In April, 2013 it was reported that China had sent a cruise ship with thousands of tourists to the South China Sea that was escorted by navel and other vessels to assert its claims. In the bordering areas of India, media people were encouraged to visit and they were briefed by the PLA men about the areas that belonged to them but at present are under India. The Global Times — a Chinese newspaper sponsored by Chinese Authorities — include such articles.
To establish legal claims, China has assigned scholars to find out historical evidences to prove that the areas in the periphery belong to China. The Chinese scholars are using selectively history to prove that disputed areas belong to China. While China rejects treaties made by colonial powers, it selectively uses them to deny areas on the basis of those treaties. While it rejects 1914 treaty over the border between India and Tibet, it asserts that since the Treaty of Paris of 1896 had not given Scarborough Shoal to the Philippines, the latter does not belong to Philippines.
In addition to the above concepts, China has adopted more aggressive policy. It has started occupying areas in its periphery. While Aksai Chin area, which was temporarily given to China in 1963, is now shown as its area. Arunachal Pradesh and areas in J&K are being encroached regularly. Three new trends are noticed in the Chinese intrusions. First, in recent times the frequency of intrusions has increased; second now more troops are coming into the Indian side than earlier years; and third the duration of stay of Chinese troops in the Indian territory has increased. Helicopters are now regularly intruding into our territory. In the South China Sea, Chinese over the years have acquired a number of features. In 1974, China fought with South Vietnam, when it was under military pressure and occupied islands in Paracel. In 1988, it had clashes with Vietnam in Spratly islands and occupied Johnson Reef and in this clash about 80 Vietnamese soldiers died. After this, China began to look for suitable opportunities to occupy features without clashes. In 1995, it occupied Mischief Reef. And in 2012, it stealthily occupied Scarborough Shoal. The Chinese are now covering the entire area in their military exercises and its patrolling has adopted a new trend to include all areas in the 9 dashed lines. It has also strengthened the naval ports in the South China Sea. In Senkaku Islands, China has established Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) has been established and China is sending frequently its maritime boats and jets in Japan’s area. Thus in all these regions; China is following the policy of occupation of areas. This called the “salami slicing” strategy by taking small steps to acquire areas.
The above Chinese activities paint a serious dimension to the security of countries in the neighbourhood of China. For India it has assumed a dangerous dimension. While China is constructing a road and planning to have a railway line to connect China to Pakistani port in the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea too is seen as essential base for China to enhance its presence in the Indian Ocean. In 1984, Chinese plan to have its control over the Indian Ocean for commercial and strategic reasons had come to notice. China is following that plan meticulously. It has already established its influence in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar. A string of pearls has been created whether we see it or not.
The moot question is what should be our response. China with the passage of time is acquiring new weapons, strengthening its forces and showcasing its abilities to use force to assert its claims. Some experts often point out that its neighbouring countries are not as strong as China; hence they should not oppose China. This means that neighbouring should be prepared to forego their claims over their legitimate claims. The answer to this is to be found in the policy of the neighbouring countries towards China. The neighbouring countries are not that weak that they cannot defend their sovereignty. This is particularly true for India and Japan. China is also not likely to go in for a war with these countries if they show their resolve. They should do away with their cautious approach as China is taking advantage of this attitude. The lack of strong reaction to its salami slicing strategy from International Community and the concerned countries is encouraging China to continue with its policy of occupying areas claimed by it. Trade with China is in Chinese favour. China cannot afford to use that as weapon but the neighbouring countries and the International Community can do it. The geo-strategic balance of power in the region is being smashed by China. This is going to hurt every country. Hence, this should be reversed by maintaining status quo. There should be severe penalty imposed on China for such acts. The International Community should also assist the neighbouring countries to build their capabilities to defend themselves. Philippine President Benigno Aquino’s comments in connection with the territorial row in which he compared China to Nazi Germany deserve attention. Aquino called the world leaders not to appease China over its claims in the South China Sea in the same way nations tried to appease Hitler before the World War II. International Community has to take into account this lesson from history and do away with the policy of appeasement. All countries should point out that the core China is what was reflected in the map given by Merkel. The rest of the area including Tibet and Taiwan should be declared as independent by them. A firm response to Chinese intrusions is needed both by neighbouring countries and the International Community. In the end it may be emphasised that it is up to the concerned neighbouring country to stand up to Chinese intrusions. India needs to re-visit its policy towards Tibet and Taiwan.
Last week’s celebrations in Beijing, marking the 60th anniversary of the Panchsheel proclamations, from Delhi’s perspective, might have looked like a ritual that had to be performed. For China, though, the occasion was about mobilising regional political support, including from India, for a new security framework that President Xi Jinping has been promoting with some vigour.
As it rises to become a great power, China is determined to reconstitute Asian geopolitics, which had been dominated by the United States since the end of World War II. Central to Xi’s argument is the proposition that the US security role in Asia is a manifestation of outmoded Cold War thinking. He is suggesting that American alliances must be replaced by a new regional security order.
Xi has affirmed that “in the final analysis, it is for the people of Asia to run the affairs of Asia, solve the problems of Asia and uphold the security of Asia. The people of Asia have the capability and wisdom to achieve peace and stability in the region through enhanced cooperation.” Heady stuff indeed. This kind of rhetoric has not been heard in Asia for decades.
The Panchsheel is at the very heart of Xi’s conception of a new security order for Asia. The five principles were outlined by Zhou Enlai in separate joint statements with Jawaharlal Nehru and Burma’s U Nu in 1954. These principles — respect for territorial integrity and national sovereignty, non-aggression, non-interference in internal affairs, cooperation for mutual benefit and peaceful coexistence — were later expanded at the Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955. The first summit of the non-aligned nations in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, in 1961 endorsed these principles.
Last week in Beijing, Xi argued that “it is no coincidence that the five principles of peaceful coexistence were born in Asia, because they embody the Asian tradition of loving peace”. Xi went on to add that, thanks to the contributions made by China, India and Myanmar, “these principles are accepted in other parts of Asia and the world”. For some, Xi’s attempt to recalibrate Panchsheel for its contemporary foreign policy needs might seem empty rhetoric at worst or political romanticism at best. A more careful look, however, would suggest China is dead serious.
The idea of “Asia for Asians” is of old provenance and has a record of repeated failures. Way back in 1940, imperial Japan called for a “bloc of Asian nations led by the Japanese and free of Western Powers”. If Tokyo’s call found some political resonance among those Asians yoked to the European empires, Japan’s own colonial ambitions exposed the limitations of the slogan “Asia for Asians”. In fact, nationalist China, British India and the US pooled their resources to defeat Japanese imperialism.
In the immediate post-war period, the idea of “Asia for Asians” gathered much momentum after Nehru convened the Asian Relations Conference in early 1947. Yet the impact of the Cold War and new nationalisms in Asia undermined the hopes for Asian unity. As it normalised relations with the US in the 1970s, Beijing toned down its campaign against the American military presence in Asia. It believed American alliances in Asia would counter “Soviet hegemonism” and prevent the revival of “Japanese militarism”.
China now appears confident that an America in decline has opened the door for the construction of a new security order in Asia. Xi’s vigorous pursuit of “Asia for Asians”, however, has run into some political resistance. China’s expanding military clout and its assertiveness in territorial disputes are driving some of its neighbours into a tighter embrace with the US. Although Xi has repeatedly sought to give reassurance that China’s rise is peaceful and Beijing will never exercise hegemony, few Asians are willing to take it at face value.
In a controversial move this week, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided to re-interpret Japan’s peace constitution. After being a passive partner in the military alliance with the US all these decades, Tokyo is seeking a more active military role in shaping its security environment. Communist Vietnam, which fought a bitter war against the US in the 1960s and 1970s, has rapidly expanded its security cooperation with Washington. The Philippines, which threw American military forces out of the country in the early 1990s, is restoring the American presence and deepening defence ties with Japan.
If Beijing is trying to undermine American alliances in Asia, its neighbours are trying to strengthen them. How does India respond to this unfolding contestation in Asia? On the face of it, a non-aligned India should oppose all alliances and support collective security proposals seemingly in tune with Delhi’s “idealist” tradition. Yet, India’s foreign policy record speaks otherwise.
After its conflict with China in 1962, India turned first to the US and then the Soviet Union to balance Beijing. Despite its embrace of Moscow, Delhi rejected the proposals for collective security that emanated from Russia’s Leonid Brezhnev (1969) and Mikhail Gorbachev (1986). Put simply, non-aligned India was not averse to playing balance of power politics when compelled by external circumstances.
As an increasingly powerful China seeks to reorder Asia, Delhi must firmly locate China’s Panchsheel campaign in a clinical assessment of Asia’s rapidly evolving geopolitics and its consequences for Indian security. China is doing what rising powers, including the US, have done before — frame one’s national interests in universal terms, push other major powers out of one’s immediate vicinity and replace the old regional order with a new one. Beijing is undoubtedly following a well-trodden path in international politics. But Delhi appears a long way from developing an appropriate strategy to cope with Asia’s new power play.