While the media is currently consumed with North Korea, the Russian/Trump fiasco, and ISIS, a new silent issue is arising in the Far East. With all these pressing issues coupled with the new approach to foreign policy by the Trump Administration , China appears to have a window of opportunity to further solidify its burgeoning strategic control of the South China Sea.
This fall the Chinese Politburo will decide if President Xi will serve another term as the president. As the world’s attention is fixated at more pressing issues, China will continue with its pragmatic policy of incremental encroachment. Rather than pouncing all at once, only China could in Tzuian patience bide its time to eventually wrest total control of the area. The Chinese agenda is progressed one step at a time rather than impetuously at once. Now as the US and Russia attempt to clear up their issues and the regional Asian nations fraught in the North Korean quandary, China will begin to finalize its control of the region.
By now, all the pundits and outlets have explained the importance of the sea from control of the vital Malacca Straits, oil and gas reserves under the sea, maritime fishing, strategic positioning, and securing a large chunk of the worlds shipping lanes. The world of today is not what it was a decade ago. The western world is divided in their aspirations for themselves. Britain is freeing itself from what it has perceived as the EU’s yoke on its self-determination. The EU is still reeling from the divisions arising as well as the economic malaise it’s going through and the refugee crisis. Russia is still trying to determine its position in Eastern Europe, Ukraine, and the Trump administration. The US is not only caught up in the North Korean debacle but in the battle against ISIS in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Iran, another potential surge in Afghanistan, as well as mired in its own controversy regarding Trump, Russia and the elections. With so many diversions, the Chinese tentacles have been growing around the world but what it covets most is the sea in its backyard. Wresting control of the sea will not only give it a long desired symbolic victory but allow China to finally secure hegemony in the region and be able to control its destiny in the area.
Chinese history provides some insight to its motivations. The Chinese are implementing a doctrine similar to the Monroe Doctrine carried out in the 19th century by the US. The Chinese Monroe Doctrine was borne out of this fear to secure its borders due to regional and historical dynamics. Between the Century of Humiliation, a superpower neighbor who went from ally to antagonist and seeing the stable bipolar global system end with a sole global hegemon that has essentially surrounded China all along its eastern coast can lend some understanding behind its fears. For China, to redeem the dishonor it endured at the hand of the Western Powers more than a century ago and ensure it is able to determine her own future trajectory, it needs to not only win back Taiwan but control most of the South China Sea. The situation is akin to Russia or China being the dominant power in the Gulf of Mexico, something the US will not be too please with.
Unlike the North Koreans or ISIS, China will not create attention in a gaudy or loud manner by sending its forces en masse to win control of the sea but rather to continue its incremental control through building artificial islands, sending bases on uninhabited atolls, exercising its economic leverage on the regional nations not to pursue activities within their economic exclusive zones, etc. China is fully cognizant that an all-out escalation will only be detrimental to its long term goals due to sanctions and other punitive actions the world can take against it.
The US has only a few options to help curb this slowly but expanding Chinese appetite to secure its claim to the sea:
Develop ASEAN into the Pacific NATO – Such a transformation will allow the US to secure a new military alliance in the region to help contain China but also such a move will bring with it large escalation in tensions as well as sparking a regional conflict.
South China Sea Summit – A diplomatic approach is to bring all regional participants in the conflict to air their grievances and reach a peace accord that will amenable to all parties. Yet, the possibility of such a deal is highly unlikely.
Recognition of Chinese Regional Hegemony – While the US is still the unrivalled military superpower in the world, the Chinese ascent to challenge the status quo is not too far behind at least from a regional aspect. China wants to be respected as equals at the end of the day, US acceptance of such a status can help bring China to more amenable discussions rather than its current approach.
US-Russian Alliance – Despite all the fallout from the 2016 presidential elections, such a military alliance or cooperation has long term significance for Russia, whose territories east of the Ural Mountains appear to be at risk to growing Chinese influence. A stagnating Russian population coupled with a sparsely populated region that is rich in natural resources China is coveting sets up a long-term recipe of disaster for Russia. As China strengthens, its “claims” to the area can become more than just murmurs.
China will continue to fly under the radar and exercise its incremental policy as the world wrestles with more pressing issues. Thanks to thousands of years of Chinese civilization, it has learned to fine tune the ability to influence and win control in the a subtle manner. The Trump Administration should not allow day to day firefighting transform the administration to become myopic but rather retain some aspects of foresight into long-term sustainment of American interests globally.
The 3rd Trans-Himalaya Forum UN for Ecological Civilization and Environmental Protection
Despite the world is passing through a very tense and hostile geopolitical environment, yet, in a significant diplomatic development, Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani is set to attend the 3rd Trans-Himalaya Forum for International Cooperation in Nyingchi, Tibet, from October 4-5, 2023. This visit comes at the special invitation of China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, underlining the mutual commitment of nations in fostering regional cooperation.
Historical Background and Importance:
Tibet is also known the roof top of the world, it is one of the oldest civilization, and may be the most important part of the world, especially for this entire region. It is the source of water for whole region, most of the rivers originates from it. It biodiversity is crucial for the entire region. The Trans-Himalaya Forum, initiated in 2018, stands as a testament to the collaborative spirit among regional countries. It aims to deepen practical cooperation on vital issues such as geographical connectivity, environmental protection, ecological preservation, and cultural exchanges. The last in-person meeting, held in 2019, facilitated invaluable discussions that paved the way for shared understanding and strategic collaborations.
China views the Trans-Himalaya Forum as a platform that embodies the spirit of mutual respect and cooperation. The forum aligns with China’s commitment to ecological civilization and environmental protection, central tenets of its development agenda. China values it friends and Pakistan is closet of its neighbor, friend and stakeholder in the region. By inviting esteemed diplomats like Foreign Minister Jilani, China underscores its commitment to fostering international partnerships and building a sustainable future together. China is committed to work with the rest of world in all domains and especially with its close friends and allies. Chinese initiatives like Global Security, Global Developments, and Community of shared futures are in line with the same spirit. China believes in multilateralism, and openness, while oppose hegemonic approach and protectionism.
Importance of the Forum:
This year’s theme, “Ecological Civilization and Environmental Protection,” reflects the urgency of addressing environmental challenges collectively. The Forum serves as a crucial avenue for nations to exchange ideas, best practices, and innovative solutions. It not only enhances regional cooperation but also fosters a deeper understanding of the diverse cultures that make up the Trans-Himalayan region. Currently the world is facing severe challenges on clash of civilization and environmental fronts. China being a responsible nation is well aware of such challenges and its consequences, that is why, it is struggling to prevent any major disaster. It has been putting all efforts to resolve the common issues and problems faced by humankind. It is open to all nations in a positive manner to collaborate to resolve the serious concerns. This forum will be a right stem in the right direction.
The Forum is anticipated to yield fruitful outcomes. Bilateral meetings, including those with the Deputy Prime Minister of Mongolia, the Foreign Minister of China, and the Interim Foreign Minister of Afghanistan, are expected to foster stronger ties and collaborative initiatives. Additionally, the collective discussions are likely to result in joint projects, resource sharing, and policy frameworks aimed at environmental conservation and sustainable development.
The Way Forward:
Looking ahead, the Trans-Himalaya Forum will continue to play a pivotal role in shaping the future of the region. By embracing the Chinese perspective, nations can harness the collective wisdom of diverse cultures and work towards a harmonious and prosperous Trans-Himalayan region. As nations engage in collaborative efforts, this forum exemplifies the power of unity and shared goals, paving the way for a greener, more sustainable future for all. The beneficiaries will be all stakeholders in the region and will also contribute to global peace, development and harmony.
Pakistan is always playing positive role in geopolitics and will be important member of the global community in resolving immediate concerns. As a matter of policy, Pakistan has been contributing toward resolving issues and overcoming challenges. Pakistan is always a partner in any positive developments leading toward security, peace and developments. The UN always appreciated its role in UN peace keeping mission.
Reading the Rise of China
Unlike in the past, when the geopolitical discourse worldwide was going through a massive geopolitical metamorphosis in the first half of the 20th century, as the fall of empires were accompanied by the rise of democracy, republics, socialist and communist dictatorship. Meanwhile, it resulted in the rise of the US and USSR as two superpowers at the end of the second world war, and such a geopolitical metamorphosis situation is evident with China’s rise, whose rise under Xi Jinping’s leadership has countered the US and its global order and supremacy. Since its independence, China has come a long way from being a poverty-ridden, low-income group nation to now the second-largest economy in the world.
To address its economic crisis after the demise of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping’s 1979 “reform and opening up” pushed China to emphasize the four-modernization areas to develop itself as a prosperous country. As the reform emphasized the modernization of agriculture, industry, emphasis on science and technology and securing national defense, it also resulted in China being viewed as a strategic threat to the West in the later years. Furthermore, it resulted in the beginning of a debate over whether the rise of China is peaceful or not? China, since the 1990s, has adopted, basically, what we called the “charm offensive” and employed it to win over its neighboring and regional states, where China uses persuasion opposite to threat as a mode. It was done along with diplomacy, trade, investment, engage in cooperative regionalism, strengthening cultural relationships, offering aid, and acted as a responsible nation in resolving regional and global disputes.
The concept of peaceful rise or “hepingjueqi” was first used by Zheng Bijian in 2003 and was adopted by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in December 2003 as a Chinese expression to reflect country’s growth and its status as a global power from a less threatening perspective. Growing concern over the concept resulted in the adoption of peaceful development; as a result, in 2005, a white paper on China’s Peaceful Development Road was issued; it sees peaceful development for the country’s modernization as inevitable one because it will promote global peace and development. As the paper seeks a mutual benefit and common development, thus building a harmonious world altogether, which was later reiterated in the 2011 White Paper “China Peaceful Development”. With repetition of the word peace and common development, the basic content of the peaceful rise was kept while its outer look was refined as the term ‘rise’ gave way to ‘road’, which will ensure accessibility to ‘development’ and not domination. It remains the base to project China’s rise to the world since the arrival of President Xi Jinping in 2012, which transformed China’s rise to be assertive and aggressive. However, Xi’s economic infrastructure (the BRI and Made in China 2025) and financial institutions developed (AIIB and National Development Bank) carried out since 2013 to sustain the Chinese economy and economic growth raises one relevant question, i.e., ‘will China face the ‘Soviet’s fate and how so far it avoided an economic collapse’? Explanation of such question will lay a base to understand the need for Xi’s vision for China and the Chinese Dream and its development so far impacted the world order established since the collapse of the USSR.
Today, China’s aggressive behavior worldwide isn’t only supported by its strong and vibrant export-led economic growth and Xi’s leadership; it also highlights the need to discuss diminutively how China’s rigor to learn from the Soviet’s mistakes continued to help China to expand its strategic hegemony. China took a cue from the USSR’s shortcomings and the mistakes it committed during the Cold War range from economic to military aspects to protect itself from committing the same mistakes. However, whether it was Soviet’s the Glasnost or Perestroika, which opened the country to the western lifestyle and freedom of thought and expression, weakened the Soviet’s central authority as Chinese leaders considered through ethnonationalism and political unrest in the country. Unlike the Soviets, China enjoys a large homogenous society and further addresses its periphery which includes Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang, which are under CCP’s tight control to counter any Colour Revolution. Further, since the 1979 Vietnam War, as China argues, it has never engaged in any proxy warfare and instead invested its resources to couple its economies with other economies. Although, today, it created uneasiness for other countries to contain China’s rise and geopolitical ambition.
Meanwhile, as China hid its geopolitical ambition, it further transformed itself into a global manufacturing hub. As Soviet mistakes continued to reflect in the CCP research work to avoid the Glasnost moment, Watch the Periphery and further embraced Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics. President Xi Jinping, in his speech to party officials in 2013, reiterated apart from maintaining ideological control and upholding the Marxist-Leninist principle, ’a great power fall when central authority losses power and respect which will only help China to avoid Soviet Union’s mistakes. In such regard, to control the flow of information and restrain free speech, the party maintained control over the digital and non-digital platforms and didn’t allow Facebook, Google Services, The New York Times, Twitter, Washington Post, and others to work which established what called the ‘Great Firewall of China’. Such surveillance of the Chinese internet put Chinese people under steady surveillance as China uses the Deep Pocket Inspection, which allows Chinese intelligence agencies to keep an eye on Chinese people and censor information and Chinese lives establishing China as Digital Authoritarian who exports its model to other countries which become a serious issue today.
Under such circumstances and growing issue of human right issue in Xinjiang and the CCP is working towards suppressing democracy in Hong Kong and changing the demography of Tibet. Further, the intent to unify Taiwan with China, coupled with slowing of the Chinese economy due to its Zero-Covid policy, questions CCP rule and asks when will China and the CCP collapse? To contradict such scrutiny, China argues West always view China at the cusp of crisis and will experience a hard landing ending CCP rule and COVID as China’s Chernobyl moment. In recent times whenever China faces or encountered any challenges like unfounded rumor of a coup in China and Xi Jinping’s sudden departure from the Shanghai Cooperation Summit (SCO) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, 15-16 September 2022 or the ongoing property crisis like the Evergrande, China argues pushes the West to create wild prophecies concerning the fate of the CCP and China.
However, Zhang Weiwei, Director of the China Institute of Fudan University, argues most of the predictions made by the West failed as they failed to predict the fall of the Soviets or the rise of China, and the rise of Trumpism and the 2008 financial crisis. He states West’s predictions reflect ideological biasedness towards no-western countries, like how they will be westernized and use their historical experience to analyse China’s future ignoring civilizational differences as they will end up concluding the wrong prediction. However, as China is facing economic and policy challenges with growing discontent among Chinese elites, Xi’s absence and other development following the SCO summit allowed the global Falun Gong movement – China banned it in 1999 – to spread anti-CCP and Xi’s discontent further. However, the possibility of a coup in China has been addressed by the party, and Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption movement with military coup remains implausible or considered the wishful thinking of the West; as such rumour reflects world is still unaware of China’s inner workings as Global Times argues none are even remotely right.
As Global Times argues, unlike how the West view China, under Xi Jinping and CCP leadership, China was able to achieve a faster economic growth rate and handled the Covid-19 pandemic well compared with the West who only exaggerate China’s problem and downplayed its growth and development reflecting having a wrong prediction of China. It further states China’s collapse perspective reflects in Francis Fukuyama, who, in 2012, argued that ‘China’s top-down political system will only blow up due to the pressure from a growing middle class who’re empowered by wealth and social network’. Meanwhile, Zhang Yiwu, Professor at the Peking University, states in China today, there are more than 1 billion people who are exposed to the internet, which still didn’t impact the CCP’s rule and authority; rather, Chinese used the medium to express their opinion on problems and warn the government to fix the problem and issues. Further, unlike other western scholars, Martin Jacquesargues with China continues to rise, support for its political system will increase, highlighting Chinese system worked which will strengthen in coming years as other countries will adopt it, which alarmed the West as it could lead to the ‘Sinification of the world’. To rebut the West’s China collapse theory, Chinese scholar like Yang Sheng argues instead of prophesizing China and CCP falls; the West should conduct poll using Pew and Ipsos, credible and authoritative institute. He states staying in the house and base your research on second-hand source data instead will only lead you away from the fact and fail to achieve a definite conclusion.
US- Japan- South Korea Military Cooperation Pushes More Rigid Bipolar Security Arrangement in Northeast Asia
The Russian-North Korean negotiations this month have provoked a lot of hype, particularly in the West. It is assumed by the West that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s trip might indicate a profound change in Moscow’s overall approach to the security problems on the Korean Peninsula. Allegedly, a new so-called “Moscow-Beijing-Pyongyang axis” that harbors unquestionable hostile intentions toward the West is rapidly emerging in Northeast Asia. It is suggested that Moscow is now ready to directly assist North Korea with its nuclear and, especially, with its ballistic programs. Pyongyang, in its turn, might send large-scale military hardware supplies to Russia to serve the “special military operation” that Moscow has been conducting in Ukraine since February of 2022.
These allegations have to be addressed in a proper context. Speaking of various axes in Northeast Asia, one should not forget about the growing level of military cooperation between Washington, Tokyo and Seoul. Both Japan and the South Korea have dramatically increased their defense spending as well as the scale of their trilateral interaction. In the end of 2022, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced an unprecedentedly ambitious five-year rearmament plan that should turn Japan into the nation with the third highest defense budget in the world after the US and China.
The changing posture of the South Korea is arguably even more significant. After all, Japan has always been a disciplined US geopolitical partner at least since signing the 1960 US-Japan security treaty. South Korea for a long time has consistently resisted pressure from the US to join Washington and Tokyo in a trilateral alliance or to drop its friendly ties with Beijing and Moscow. President Yoon Suk-yeol, who came to power in 2022, apparently has a different take on the South Korea’s security prospects. The traditional distancing from the US-Japan strategic partnership is no longer in place. The new leadership makes steps to bring Seoul closer to Quad and AUKUS. It even entertained the idea of South Korea obtaining indigenous nuclear weapons. On top of that, for at least last two years, both Japan and South Korea have been meticulously integrated into the new global strategy of the North Atlantic Alliance.
A devil’s advocate would argue that both Tokyo and Seoul have every reason to be concerned about security challenges mounting in Northeast Asia. Still, even giving both nations the benefit of the doubt, it is impossible to deny that the security and political “axis” in this region of the world is being built by the West rather than by the East. And, as Newton’s Third Law tells us, for every action, there is always an equal and opposite reaction. When one body acts on another, it experiences an equal and opposite reaction from the other body. Now, the question is not if a nuclear war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, North Korean Defense Minister General Kang Sun-nam stated in August, but who starts it and when.
Let’s be clear: Pyongyang is much more sensitive about its sovereignty and independence than both Tokyo and even Seoul. This means that North Korea will never become an obedient proxy in Russia’s or China’s capable hands. However, the growing US-Japanese-South Korean military cooperation inevitably leads to stronger China-Russia-North Korea ties. This, in turn, means that we are moving toward a more rigid bipolar security arrangement in Northeast Asia. Unfortunately, for the time being, all the dreams for a common security system in the region have to be put on hold.
Will this change affect Russia’s and China’s approaches to the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula? Neither Moscow nor Beijing is interested in a nuclear arms race there. Russia and China have little to gain and a lot to lose if the existing fragile consensus in the United Nations Security Council on North Korean nuclear program were to collapse. On the other hand, the new great powers confrontation can do nothing but erode the trust, which is indispensable for maintaining this consensus. There is still time to reverse these dangerous trends toward bipolarity in the region. Instead of lamenting about the actions of the other side, major actors should engage in inclusive consultations on how to defuse the situation.
Twenty years ago, the so called six-party talks on nuclear program were launched in Beijing. Over six years this multilateral format had its ups and downs, successes and failures. In April of 2009 this mechanism finally hit the wall. Though it is hardly possible to get back to where the region was 20 years ago, the spirit of the six-party talks remains the best hope for security solutions in the region of Northeast Asia.
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