President Xi Jinping appears to have taken full control of the PLA, especially following the recent anti-corruption drive, bringing down heavy weight power centres in the armed forces. As chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), he made emphatically dear to modernize a military that can “fight wars and win wars”.
It is, therefore, a little disconcerting when an editorial in the official PLA newspaper, the Liberation Army Daily (LAD) recently said China can only achieve it foreign policy aims through a military force capable of winning wars rather than through diplomacy. The editorial was published shortly before the 120th anniversary of a naval defeat to Japan (1895). It added “if soldiers with guns on the battlefield cannot get things back, do not expect diplomats to get it back at the negotiating table” (Bloomberg News July 29, 2014).
The editorial clearly pointed to Japan and threatened military action to acquire the Diaoyu (Senkaku) islands and Ryukyus chain of islands. China claims these as their sovereign territory lost to unequal treaties. Some western scholars do not rule out a China-Japan war.
The threat could also be extended to other claimants of Spratly islands, though Beijing in fairly confident that threats, pressure and dialogue would ultimately suffice.
The Chinese military is still considering a “short and decisive” strike and establish its control before the world and UN can react. They have taken the cue from UK’s Falkland war. But a China-Japan war is unlikely to remain limited and the entire Japanese nation will turn against China. The US will have to get involved.
In case of a war, the economy of the region can be seriously damaged. China and ASEAN have a bilateral trade of around $ 450 billion. China-Japan trade stands around $ 330 billion. The other big bilateral is that with the US which has crossed $500 billion. The cost will not only be enormous for these involved by even for those outside players like India. Given the indicators, a war hysteria at the moment may be avoided.
The Chinese have developed a theory “winning a war without fighting a war”. A strategy called the “Three warfare strategy”, mainly handled by the PLA, works as follows:
(i) Psychological warfare- displaying military and political power against weaker opponents and forcing them to succumb. (India suffered from inferiority complex)
(ii) Media warfare- using not only national media but also influencing foreign writers and media.
(iii) Legal warfare- manipulating international laws and protocols, and presenting mostly (absurd) claims including using ancient claims and unequal treaties.
Concerned countries including India especially must examine this strategy carefully and not fall in this mind control trap. “Three War fares” can be a very effective weapon.
US Secretary of State John Kerry declared last November (2013) that the era of Monroe Doctrine was over. The message from White House ‘holding areas or arc of influence era’ was over with globalization. Latin American countries could not be controlled ideologically and politically from Washington. To China and many international observers this position meant the US had conceded to China. In Beijing’s perception China was the new owner of the Monroe Doctrine.
China has been probing Latin America from at least 2004. Now top Chinese leaders make it a point to visit the Latin American countries regularly and provide and build relationships to which Washington does not object.
Energy and natural resources imports being a major imperative for China it has forayed into Africa, having setup an African fund and investing in selected countries of the continent. More than 60 per cent of its oil imports come from Africa. Mineral extraction is another area and a third is agriculture. The head of China’s environment impact assessment office suggested (July 28, Beijing) import of food-grains to save the scarce water resources of the country.
The recent US-Africa meeting in Washington (August 05) showed the first signs of the US seriously considering China’s African penetration, and re-entering Africa in a more decisive way.
Returning to Asia briefly, it was the US which encouraged China to dominate Asia. During his trip to China in 1997, President Bill Clinton suggested China’s ombudsmanship over South Asia. President Barack Obama offered China the G-2 (the two Great Powers) status to China.
China demands great power status, yet claims it is a developing country. With great power status come great responsibilities. Responsibility is something which China wants to avoid. Disturbed situations in different parts to the globe are seen as opportunities to further its interests. Its arms sales to disturbed regions or even aid are not conditioned in any way, though Beijing claims its actions are “responsible”.
At the same time, however, China requires US cooperation or at least neutrality to active great power status.
In a keynote speech at the China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue this year in Beijing (July 09, 2014 Xinhua), Xi Jinping said China and the US should properly handle frictions and contradiction in their bilateral relations, so as to forge a “new model of major-country relationship”.
Xi reiterated that China was “striving for its dream of realizing great national rejuvenation, which requires a peaceful and stable international environment more than ever before”. He also emphasized that both sides should respect each others sovereignty, territorial integrity, and chosen model of development. Each word here has specific meaning for China and linked to its core interests.
Geoff Wade linked to the Australian National University wrote (Nov 26, 2013) about a Chinese film titled “silent contest” which suggest the US was trying to destroy China through following five avenues (i) undermining China politically, (ii) engaging in cultural infiltration (iii) warfare in terms of ideas (iv) training fifth Colum agents (v) fostering of opposition forces in China.
Although the film was withdrawn from websites gradually, this reflects more of genuine fear that the US aims to demolish the Communist Party of China, erode ideology, dismember the country (Tibet, Xinjiang), and prevent its national integration (recovering claimed territories).
Following the June, 1989 students uprising, Deng Xiaoping told a visiting African head of state, that the uprising was part of USA’s operation “peaceful evolution” (Deng Xiaoping. Complete works). This psychological operation, which incessantly bombarded the Soviet Union with the superiority of capitalism, especially social and political freedom in a democracy was largely responsible for destroying the Communist Party of Soviet Union (CPSU).
In the past months China has been tightening a variety of freedoms especially those of media and journalists. The communist party periodical, Qiushi declared the concept of “universal values” as the Chinese people’s most dangerous enemy. China’s acute concern is also reflected by an article by renowned Chinese commentator, Dai Xu stating that the only type of war that could destroy China is the ideological war in cyberspace.
On the other hand, as the US global power begins to decline China’s power increases. Some power has to fill in the space left by the US. Putin’s Russia has failed to do so. Yet in terms of real power the US remains well ahead of China. For example, China cannot call up a single ally, not even Pakistan, to come to its aide openly to counter the US. Whereas, several countries are waiting for Washington’s lead to counter China.
China is also in a region where there are other powers that are growing and can establish alliances. Japan, the Philippines, Australia, and India are among those. Vietnam is small in size but is not a pushover.
India is one power which is demonstrating more foreign policy spark under the new government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Dominated by BJP, the government is more nationalistic, but currently focused on development. By inviting the head of this Tibetan government in exits, Lobsang Sangye, Modi drew a clear line on the Tibetan issue.
This article was also carried by the South Asia Analysis Group on August 13, 2014.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.