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The old cold war between the US and the Soviet Union, or the NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries, had some clear lines of division. China gradually moved from the anti-US camp to the anti-Soviet comp and in the course maximised its benefits, proving self-interest and not ideology was the essence.


It fell from grace with the US and the west following the bloody crackdown on student demonstrators in June, 1989 at the Tiananmen Square. Ignoring western sanctions, India continued with normal relations with China. It was the Nehruvian policy of third world solidarity from one angle.


Or that India was not in a position to antagonize China. The 1962 defeat in the border war with China had eroded India’s confidence. The only task Indian strategist were concerns with was how to avoid another border war with China, and resolve the China-India border issue.


During the cold war India tried to maintain its traditional non-aligned position, although it had to fight two wars with Pakistan, one in 1965 and the other in 1971. In 1971, the US supported Pakistan, but China was cautious enough to decline US National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger’s plea to move the People Liberation Army (PLA) on Indian borders. Mao Zedong was particularly apprehensive that if China mobilized its troops to the India border Japan may take the opportunity to seize some maritime territories claimed by China. This was the first time when non-aligned India was forced to enter into a quasi-military agreement with the Soviet union under the Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty to counter US pressure.


Otherwise, India generally walked the middle line. American strategists, however, still believe that India was in the Soviet camp. India’s socialistic philosophy still rankles the US state department, the White House, the Pentagon and the CIA. India’s political philosophy may change to creative capitalism under the new NDA government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.


There is, however, a fundamental difference between the old cold war and the new one evolving. There is no Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), though China nuclear arsenal especially its delivery system is becoming more sophisticated and accurate and can hit US targets. In the old cold war there were two definite camps. In the new cold war adversaries and competitors are interdependent, with other powers either oscillating between the two camps or maintaining strategic ambivalence. In the last cold war the two adversaries had European minds, where as in the new cold war there in an oriental mind of 5000 years of warfare of a very different kind of psychological intrigues. Ideological differences between the two remain, but are not pronounced.


To be sure this generation is not going to suffer nuclear Armageddon. For some, however, a new entrant will be a “succubus” syndrome of old ideologies of capitalism and socialism giving way to a new dictatorship.


It was correctly predicted that the 21st century would belong to the Asia Pacific Region (APR). This was in terms of economic development led by the region from which all contributors would benefit. Following Senior Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s policy of “reform and opening up” and redefining classical socialism for China as “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, it was the market that dictated China under strong control of the communist party.


Since then China’s development was spectacular, with double digit growth for almost two decades. It is immaterial at what cost, human and environmental, this was achieved. The fact is that China is about to overtake, according some forecasts, the economy of the US in gross terms. Of course in per capita terms China is way down the scale.


For decades, China was content to have US military presence in the Asia Pacific region or western pacific. The US not only acted as a buffer to Soviet/Russian attempt to make a major presence in the region. Equally, if not more, it was Japan that China was concerned about. It believed the US presence would compel Tokyo to remain within its post-war peaceful constitution dictated basically by the US. Beijing was still haunted by the two defeats it suffered at the hands of the Japanese.


Peace and stability in the region was maintained for four decades till China became economically and militarily strong enough to cast aside Deng Xiaoping’s advice “hide your strength, bide your time” and demonstrate its power to the world, especially to the neighbours.


China’s behaviour became more assertive after 2008 over its territorial claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea. It has certain “core” issues over which changes in leadership have no real effect. Only tactics and intensity can adjust according to the prevailing regional and global ambience. Among them territorial claim is one.


China has successfully sold the idea to many foreigners that it has never colonized any country and will never do so. One has to go back in history to have a look at the reasons. Admiral Zeng He, the greatest sailor of China had intentions to colonize parts of Africa. But his expeditions were cancelled because the Emperor needed the money to build against Japan. At the same time Tibet and Xinjiang were never Chinese territory, and they were grabbed through military power. China had fought Japan (1894-95) to take over Korea but lost. Manchukuo was aggrandized by China.


It appears modern China has learnt from the collapse of ancient and modern colonial powers. If a power stretches out too far its support to its colonies weaken, and major upheavals forces it to withdraw. It happened with the Roman Empire as it did with Britain- it used to be said the ‘sun never sets on the British Empire’. What China did was to incrementally take over weak neighboring areas like Tibet, Xinjiang and others. Although it has “resolved” boundary issues with Russia and contiguous Central Asian states, it still holds that a lot of its territory was lost to “unequal treaties” when China was weak, and still remain unrecovered. Most of its claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea are absurd and hence, force is very much an option.


The first signs from a section in China demanding China should control own Asian territory was noticed between 2002 and 2004. An idea put forth by a Chinese scholar was China should naturally dominate the region between a vertical “west line” in the Middle East and vertical “East Line” in the Asia Pacific region. Countries within the two lines are expected to be China’s satellites or tributaries. Naturally, the theory expects China claimed territories return to Chinese territory. The Indian Ocean is included within these two lines, suggesting Beijing’s dominant position in matters to relating to the ocean.


A map, known as “The New Chinese Map” issued in 1938 by the Ministry of Interior for Elementary Schools, brought to focus by Geoff Wade gives more insight into Chinese claims. It may be kept in mind that the Chinese Communist Party and KMT (based in Taiwan) are one in agreement on territorial claims. The 1938 map was also called the “map of shame” by the Republican Government, shows areas “torn away from China” by imperialist, European and Japan, explains Wade, who is a visiting fellow at the college of Asia and Pacific, Australian National University.


The lost territories include the Russian Far East, the Ryukyus, Taiwan, the South China Sea, Korea (both north and South), Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, the Malay Peninsula and Singapore, Myanmar, Nepal, parts of Pakistan and India and most of Central Asia. These claims have never been discarded by the Chinese government but only not emphasized till now. They can be brought up at anytime of China’s choosing Mind boggling yes, but not superficial.


Chinese President Xi Jinping has made it clear that China wants to resolve territorial issues peacefully, but if compelled, is not afraid of using force.


Wade also exposed last year a new Chinese book entitled “China is not Afraid –New Threats to National Security and our Strategic Response”. Wade felt that the book was a part of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) strategy to boost the morale of domestic constituencies, both military and civilian.


In this context, it may be noticed that China has moved from “hide and bide” to “show and tell”. Reports in the Chinese official media detailing advancement in armament production like that DF-21D aircraft carrier killer missile, J-20 stealth aircraft, multiple warhead ballistic missiles which can hit three US cities and others, apart from promoting confidence and pride among domestic constituencies, are also meant for South China Sea neighbours that reliance on the US to stand up to China would be futile.


The Chinese leaders are opening more to their public the nation’s territorial claims. The vertical map on the Spratly Island claims was for this very purpose. The danger in raising nationalism on territorial issues could create immense pressure on the leadership to act.


This article was also carried by the South Asia Analysis Group on August 13, 2014.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.