Today’s international system of states is characterized by the strategic competition between US and China, which are consider to be the most significant powers in terms of hard and soft power. Western analysts try to interpret the Chinese presence which threatens the status quo of the East Asia-Pacific region. This paper is a brief introduction to the Chinese worldview as it’s important to comprehend the Chinese high strategy.
It is a fact that the majority of the western analyses based on the theory of political realism consider the behavior of the People’s Republic of China (China) at a global level as actions of a predetermined plan by the elite of the Communist Party for the take-over of the global hegemony (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013). However, in order to properly interpret the Chinese policy and its pursuits, the complex situation within the country should be scrutinized. Indeed, the various state organizations like ministries, agencies, services compete for influence growth on the shaping of the country’s foreign policy, since they often have conflicting interests (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013). It is also a certainty that within the country a confrontation between state policies and enterprise objectives is escalating, a case that makes promotion of policies of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CPC’s) leadership difficult (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013). Consequently, the scholars’ view of China as an undivided international actor with a plan of peaceful rise, as claimed by the CPC’s leadership, is problematic, because each Chinese activity abroad may not be at all connected to the official governmental policy (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013).
Already since the beginning of the 20th century the non-European countries were forced by Western Powers to westernize their societies. In the Chinese case its obligatory opening to the West took place painfully after its defeat by Great Britain in the Opium War (1839-1842) (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013). The radically opposed social organization of China, which embodied in a cultural planet the lifestyle of Chinese people that was compatible with the principles of Confucianism, had to yield to the totally strange Western model for the sake of its modernization. The Chinese culture, as well as other cultures of the Far East, reached maturity too early, but it was trapped in a very strict framework that offered cohesion. Simultaneously, this had a result to pause its development as well as any modernity (Braudel 2007). In the scheme of culture, the center of the world was the Chinese state while all the rest were considered to be barbaric, since their people did not engage in the Chinese education (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013). The zhongguo “Middle Kingdom” that is referred to China is not related to a specific geographical place between other kingdoms but to the area that China occupies between Sky (Heaven) and Earth and is indicative of the perception of the Chinese about their country (Allison 2017). An attribute of the Chinese worldview, apart from Confucianism, is both the ancestral and the monarch’s worship that rooted in the time of the empire (Braudel 2007). Confucianism was not strictly a religion but a social and political expression of the country’s superior social caste that survives, with many changes, until today and promotes the maintenance of order and social hierarchy as a lifestyle (Braudel 2007). It is crystal clear that it contributed enormously to the shaping of the Chinese traditional culture that in the current time of globalization fascinates increasingly extensive masses of people, even of Western countries (Nye Jr. 2011). The dissemination of the Chinese culture is achieved also by the students, both the Chinese in the universities of mostly Western countries and the westerns in the Chinese higher education institutes, who are estimated to reach 500,000 in 2020 (Nye Jr. 2011). The trend of the circulation of the Chinese language and culture worldwide is promoted aside the Chinese leadership by funding both China Radio International and the television network Xinhua which broadcast also in English 24/7, as well as the Confucian institutes that are founded in various states (Nye Jr. 2011). Of course, the development of the Chinese soft power is critical but still is significant lower than the respective of the USA and EU (Nye Jr. 2011).
The perspective of Chinese people about the dominance of their country compared to others was also augmented by China’s geographical position which is ideal. Indeed, the country was protected by the sea, the deserts and the mountain ranges of Central Asia at least until the arrival of the Western Powers. The country’s strategic position contributed to the duration of Chinese empire, namely almost 21 centuries (Braudel 2007). The first contact with Westerns was humiliating and ended with the destruction of the Summer Palaces and the downfall of the Chinese emperor Sien Feng (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013). Several decades later, the conflict between China and Japan, a power that was westernized to a large extent, lead to a new destruction. Since then, the country was living humiliated by the Western Powers. During the 1930’s, the communists pursued another way to modernize the state (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013). They basically destroyed the traditional Chinese lifestyle by importing western values and doctrine. The foundations of the contemporary Chinese miracle of the country’s emergence as a global power that can influence World Order in which totally engages, in contrast to its historical past, were established (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013). Modern China was founded by the CPC in 1949 when officially declared the end of the century of humiliation (Braudel 2007). To a great extent the current Chinese leadership is comprised of descendants of the first communists who came to power then (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013). Ultimately the Chinese leadership is a kind of political aristocracy whose primary concern is to stay in power. For this reason Chinese authorities are particularly suspicious towards the western criticism regarding the monopoly of power by the Party and the simultaneous violation of human rights . However, despite the Party’s predominance within the country, its foreign policy is not ideologically charged but is characterized by pragmatism due to the negative impact of the Cultural Revolution both on the society and the Party (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013).
Another equally important factor for understanding the China’s foreign policy is the awareness of the means in which historical reminiscences define the way in which the country apprehends the rest of the world today. The Opium Wars, the embarrassment by Japan in the War of 1895-1896 as well as the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 constitute traumatic experiences for the Chinese people that influence their current worldview (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013). The Western involvement in China led to the mid 19th-mid 20th century of Chinese humiliation. This vision of the past resulted to China’s goal to retrieve its lost honor and pride. Its high strategy does not seek to inflation, on terms of territorial expansion, but to acquire the vanished esteem (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013). It does not consider itself as a rising power, as it is considered within the USA, but on the contrary, as a power that returned to the forefront of international affairs after its displacement by the West. Nationalism is an up-and-coming ideology within the country. Nonetheless, it is not absolutely based on the bitter historical recollection that the Chinese people have from the involvement of the Western Powers within their country, but on the contrary, it stems from the CPC as an alternative authority origin in the case that the economy starts to slow down, as it is actually noticed in recent years (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013).
In conclusion, the position of China as a significant power in global affairs, the only one which can seriously challenge the American hegemony, is not seriously doubted by any scholar, in contrast to its potentials. The logic of reasoning this differentiation is traced in the complicated and vulnerable situation within its territory (corruption and social inequality that leads to a dramatic rise of social conflicts) but also in features of the Chinese economy (dependency on exportations’ increase, dominant position of the state in economy, energy dependency, environmental destruction) (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013). Its painful westernization meant the conversion of the multinational empire to an undivided national state. An essential outcome of this change is the installation of nationalism in the Chinese worldview as well as the formulation of broadly Western ideas. However, the latter causes problems both within the country, with the issue being focused on the cohesion of the Chinese society, and abroad with tensions between China and its neighbors (Petropoulos Chouliaras 2013).
 The most recent example derives from the riots which took place in Hong Kong
 The case of Taiwan is distinctive because the island considers, by the elite of the Chinese Communist Party, to be part of the mainland China. For this reason further independence of Taiwan is Casus Belli for China.
 The halt of the growth, which characterized the Chinese economy for the last four decades, is significant today due to the Covid-19 outbreak which started from Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei province.
Who would bell the China cat?
If the G-7 and NATO china-bashing statements are any guide, the world is in for another long interregnum of the Cold War (since demise of the Soviet Union). The G-7 leaders called upon China to “respect human rights in its Xinjiang region” and “allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy” and “refrain from any unilateral action that could destabilize the East and South China Seas”, besides maintaining “peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits”.
China’s tit-for-tat response
The Chinese mission to the European Union called upon the NATO not to exaggerate the “China threat theory”
Amid the pandemic, still raging, the world is weary of resuscitating Cold War era entente. Even the G-7 members, Canada and the UK appear to be lukewarm in supporting the US wish to plunge the world into another Cold War. Even the American mothers themselves are in no mood to welcome more coffins in future wars. Importance of the G-7 has been whittled down by G-20.
Presumptions about the China’s cataclysmic rise are unfounded. Still, China is nowhere the US gross National Product. China’s military budget is still the second largest after the US. It is still less than a third of Washington’s budget to be increased by 6.8 per cent in 2021.
India claims to be a natural ally of the G-7 in terms of democratic “values”. But the US based Freedom House has rated India “partly free because of its dismal record in persecution of minorities. Weakened by electoral setbacks in West Bengal, the Modi government has given a free hand to religious extremists. For instance, two bigots, Suraj Pal Amu and Narsinghanand Saraswati have been making blasphemous statements against Islam at press conferences and public gatherings.
India’s main problem
Modi government’s mismanagement resulted in shortage of vaccine and retroviral drugs. The healthcare system collapsed under the mounting burden of fatalities.
Media and research institutions are skeptical of the accuracy of the death toll reported by Indian government.
The New York Times dated June 13, 2021 reported (Tracking Corona virus in India: Latest Map and case Count) “The official COVID-19 figures in India grossly under-estimate the true scale of the pandemic in the country”. The Frontline dated June 4, 2021 reported “What is clear in all these desperate attempts is the reality that the official numbers have utterly lost their credibility in the face of the biggest human disaster in independent India (V. Sridhar, India’s gigantic death toll due to COVID-19 is thrice the official numbers”, The frontline, June 4, 2021). It adds “More than 6.5 lakh Indians, not the 2.25 lakh reported officially are estimated to have died so far and at best a million more are expected to die by September 2021. The Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that actual Indian casualties may be 0.654 million (6.54 lakh), not the official count of 0.221 million (2.21 lakh as on May 6 when the report was released. That is a whopping three times the official numbers, an indicator of the extent of under-reporting”.
Epidemiologist Dr. Feigl-ding told India Today TV on April, 16, 2021 that “actual number of COVID-19 cases in India can be five or six times higher than the tally right now” (“Actual COVID-19 cases in India may be 5 to 10 times higher, says epidemiologist. India Today TV April 16, 2021).
India’s animosity against China is actuated by expediency. There is no chance of a full-blown war between China and India as the two countries have agreed not to use firepower in border skirmishes, if any. Modi himself told the All-party conference that not an inch of Indian territory has been ceded to China. In May this year, the Army Chief General M M. Naravane noted in an interview: “There has been no transgression of any kind and the process of talks is continuing.”
It is not China but the Quad that is disturbing unrest in China’s waters.
History tells the USA can sacrifice interests of its allies at the altar of self interest. India sank billions of dollars in developing the Chabahar Port. But, India had to abandon it as the US has imposed sanctions on Iran.
Xinjiang? A Minority Haven Or Hell
While the G7 meets under the shadow of Covid 19 and the leaders of the most prosperous nations on earth are focused on rebuilding their economies, a bloodless pogrom is being inflicted on a group of people on the other side of the world.
In this new era, killing people is wasteful and could bring the economic wrath of the rest of the world. No, it is better to brainwash them, to re-educate them, to destroy their culture, to force them to mold themselves into the alien beings who have invaded their land in the name of progress, and who take the best new jobs that sprout with economic development. Any protest at these injustices are treated severely.
Amnesty International has published a new 160-page report this week on Xinjiang detailing the horrors being perpetrated on Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Amnesty has simultaneously announced a campaign on their behalf.
Persecution, mass imprisonment in what can best be described as concentration camps, intensive interrogation and torture are actions that come under the definition of ‘crimes against humanity’. More than 50 people who spent time in these camps contributed first-hand accounts that form the substance of the report. It is not easy reading for these people have themselves suffered maltreatment even torture in many instances.
The UN has claimed that 1.5 million Muslims (Uighurs, Kazakhs, Uzbeks and Tajiks) are in these internment camps and China’s claims of re-education camps made to sound as benign as college campuses are patently false.
People report being interviewed in police stations and then transferred to the camps. Their interrogation was frequently conducted on ‘tiger chairs’: The interviewee is strapped to a metal chair with leg irons and hands cuffed in such a manner that the seating position soon becomes exceedingly painful. Some victims were hooded; some left that way for 24 hours or more, and thus were forced to relieve themselves, even defecate, where they sat. Beatings and sleep deprivation were also common.
Activities were closely monitored and they were mostly forbidden to speak to other internees including cell mates. Trivial errors such as responding to guards or other officials in their native language instead of Mandarin Chinese resulted in punishment.
Amnesty’s sources reported the routine was relentless. Wake up at 5am. Make bed — it had to be perfect. A flag-raising and oath-taking ceremony before breakfast at 7 am. Then to the classroom. Back to the canteen for lunch. More classes after. Then dinner. Then more classes before bed. At night two people had to be on duty for two hours monitoring the others leaving people exhausted. You never see sunlight while you are there, they said. That was because they were never taken outside as is done in most prisons.
The re-education requires them to disavow Islam, stop using their native language, give up cultural practices, and become Mandarin-speaking ‘Chinese’.
Such are the freedoms in Xi Jinping’s China. If China’s other leaders prior to Mr. Xi effected moderate policies in concert with advisers, it is no longer the case. Mr. Xi works with a small group of like minds. He has also removed the two-term or eight-year limit on being president. President for life as some leaders like to call themselves, then why not Mr. Xi. His anti-democratic values make him eminently qualified.
An enlightened leader might have used the colorful culture of these minorities to attract tourists and show them the diversity of China. Not Mr. Xi, who would rather have everyone march in lockstep to a colorless utopia reminiscent of the grey clothing and closed-collar jackets of the Maoist era.
Looking back on India-China ties, one year past the Galwan incident
Two nuclear-armed neighbouring countries with a billion-plus people each, geographically positioned alongside a 3,488-km undemarcated border in the high Himalayas. This is the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. Differences in perception of alignment of this border for both sides have contributed to a seemingly unending dispute.
Chinese unilateral attempt to change status quo in 2020
One year back, on 15 June 2020, a clash between Indian and Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley of eastern Ladakh turned bloody, resulting in the death of 20 soldiers in the former side and four in the latter side. It was an unfortunate culmination of a stand-off going on since early May that year, triggered by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops encountering Indian troops who were patrolling on their traditional limits.
It was followed by amassing of troops in large number by China on its side and some of them crossed the line over without any provocation, thereby blocking and threatening India’s routine military activities on its side of the traditionally accepted border. It was a unilateral attempt by the Chinese Communist Party-run government in Beijing to forcefully alter the status quo on the ground.
The LAC as an idea
Over the years, the LAC has witnessed one major war resulting from a Chinese surprise attack on India in 1962 and periodic skirmishes along the various friction points of the border, as seen in the years 1967, 1975, 1986-87, 2013, 2017, and the most recent 2020 Galwan Valley incident, the last being the worst in five decades. Post-Galwan, the optics appeared too high on both sides.
The LAC as an idea emerged with the annexation of Buddhist Tibet by Chinese communist forces in the early 1950s, bringing China to India’s border for the first time in history. This idea just emerged and was taking shape through the Jawaharlal Nehru-Zhou Enlai letters of correspondence that followed.
In 1962, while the world was engrossed upon the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Chinese inflicted a huge military and psychological debacle on unprepared and outnumbered Indian soldiers in a month-long war along this border.
Even to this date, there is still no mutually agreeable cartographic depiction of the LAC. It varies on perceptions.
What could’ve led to 2020 stand-off?
One of the reasons that led to the current new low in India-China ties, other than differing perceptions, is the improvement in Indian infrastructure capabilities along the rough mountainous terrains of the Himalayan borders and its resolve to be on par with China in this front. This has been a cause of concern in Chinese strategic calculations for its Tibetan border.
The carving up of the Indian union territory of Ladakh with majority Buddhists from the erstwhile Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019 has indeed added to Beijing’s concerns over the area.
For the past few years, India has been upfront in scaling up its border infrastructure throughout the vast stretch of LAC, including in eastern Ladakh, where the 2020 stand-off took place. There is a serious trust deficit between India and China today, if not an evolving security dilemma.
Several rounds of talks were held at the military and the diplomatic levels after the Galwan incident, the working-level mechanisms got renewed and new action plans were being formed before the process of disengagement finally began.
The foreign ministers of both countries even met in Moscow on the side-lines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meet in September, which was followed by a BRICS summit where Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping came face-to-face in November, although virtually.
By February 2021, the process of disengagement of troops gained momentum on the ground around the Pangong lake area. So far, eleven rounds of talks were held at the military level on the ground at the border. But, the disengagement is yet to be fully completed in the friction points of Hot Springs and the Depsang Plains.
Diplomacy is gone with the wind
All the bilateral border agreements and protocols for confidence-building that were signed between the both countries in the years 1993, 1996, 2005, 2012 and 2013 were rendered futile by the Chinese PLA’s act of belligerence in Galwan.
The spirit of two informal Narendra Modi-Xi Jinping summits to build trust after the 2017 Doklam standoff, one in Wuhan, China (2018) and the other in Mamallapuram, India (2019) was completely gone with the wind. This is further exacerbated by the Chinese practice of ‘wolf-warrior diplomacy’, which is clearly undiplomatic in nature.
India’s diversification of fronts
Coming to the maritime domain, India has upped the ante by the joint naval exercises (Exercise Malabar 2020) with all the Quad partners in November, last year. Thereby, New Delhi has opened a new front away from the Himalayan frontiers into the broader picture of India-China strategic rivalry. Australia joined the exercise, after 13 years, with India, Japan, and the United States, a move indicative of militarisation or securitisation of the Quad partnership.
Recently, India has been consolidating its position over the union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, lying southeast to the mainland, and close to the strategic Strait of Malacca, through which a major proportion of China’s crude oil imports pass through before venturing out to the ports of South China Sea.
Economic ties, yearning to decouple
Last year, India’s external affairs minister S. Jaishankar remarked that border tensions cannot continue along with co-operation with China in other areas. In this regard, the Narendra Modi government has been taking moves to counter China in the economic front by banning a large number of Chinese apps, citing security reasons, thereby costing the Chinese companies a billion-size profitable market. The Indian government has also refused to allow Chinese tech companies Huawei and ZTE to participate in India’s rollout of the 5G technology.
Moreover, India, Australia and Japan have collectively launched a Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI) in 2020 aimed at diversifying supply chain risks away from one or a few countries, apparently aimed at reducing their dependence on China. In terms of trade, India is still struggling to decouple with China, a key source of relatively cheap products for Indian exporters, particularly the pandemic-related pharmaceutical and related supplies in the current times.
But, the Indian government’s recent domestic policies such as “Self-Reliant India” (Atmanirbhar Bharat) have contributed to a decline in India’s trade deficit vis-à-vis China to a five-year low in 2020, falling to around $46 billion from around $57 billion in 2019.
The broader picture
The border dispute remains at the core of a range of issues that define the overall India-China bilateral relations. Other issues include trade and economics, Beijing’s close ties with Islamabad, the succession of Dalai Lama who has taken asylum in India since 1959 and the issue of Tibetan refugees living in India, educational ties, and the strategic rivalry in India’s neighbourhood, i.e., South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region, among others.
Chinese belligerence has led India to find its place easily in the evolving ‘new Cold War’
The more China turns aggressive at its border with India, the more it will bring India close to the United States and the West. Despite India’s traditional posture of indifference to allying itself exclusively with a power bloc, in the recently concluded G7 summit, India referred to the grouping of liberal democracies as a ‘natural ally’.
India has been raising the need for a free, open and rules-based Indo-Pacific in as many multilateral forums as possible, a concept which China considers as a containment strategy of the United States. Possibly, India might also join the G7’s newly announced infrastructure project for developing countries in an appropriate time, as it is initiated as a counterweight to China’s multi trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative.
There was a time in the past when the former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru sought to lead Asia by cooperating with China. Considering today’s changed geopolitical realities and power dynamics, nowhere in anyone’s wildest dreams such an idea would work out. Prime Minister Modi’s muscular foreign policy imperatives are aligning well with the Joe Biden-led Western response to the looming common threat arising from Beijing.
Today, encountering Xi Jinping’s grand strategy of Chinese domination of the world (by abandoning its yesteryear policy of ‘peaceful rise’) is a collective endeavour of peace-loving democracies around the world, to which Asia is particularly looking forward. Most notably, it comes amid an inescapable web of global economic inter-connectedness, even among rival powers.
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