By Dr Subhash Kapila
Perceptionaly, United States mythification of China as a potential Superpower seems to have lasted as long as China confined itself to use of ‘Soft Power’ strategies to gain influence in Asia Pacific. The switch to ‘Hard Power’ under President Xi Jinping from 2012 signalled the end of America’s ‘China Dream’.
United States ‘China Dream’ focussed on co-opting China as a responsible stakeholder in Asia Pacific stability and this American dream pushed the United States at times to trample over the strategic sensitivities of Japan and India, the two Asian Powers on which in 2016 the United States relies heavily to emerge as strategic counterweights to China. Regrettably, like all dreams which stand divorced from reality, the ‘China Dream’ of the United States seems to have faded away as China under its current President started baring its fangs arising from its massive and threatening military build-up.
In the run-up to 2016, many in the American strategic community in their writings started drawing parallels and compared China’s not so benign military rise to rise of Nazi Germany under Hitler in the mid-1930s onwards and which emboldened Nazi Germany to challenge the existing international order leading to the Second World War.
Like Nazi Germany then, China today under President Xi Jinping in the pursuance of his grandiose “Chinese Dream” has ridden roughshod over with aggressive military brinkmanship over its neighbours stretching from the High Himalayas to the Seas of East Asia. The South China Sea conflict-escalation by China is a notable and glaring example of China’s footprints to come in the coming decades.
Reminiscent of Nazi Germany again, China had let it be known that it would not submit to any adverse rulings against China by The Hague International Arbitration Tribunal on the South China Sea dispute petition filed by the Philippines. Finally, when the Tribunal’s award negating China’s sovereignty over the South China Sea was announced, China defiantly refused to submit to the findings.
The Hague Tribunal Award against China in effect reflected that China was in illegal occupation of the Paracels and Spratly Islands in the South China Sea and also the artificial islands created on various reefs for use by the Chinese military as bases for enforcing its illegal sovereignty on this crucial maritime expanse.
The United States seems to have painfully and albeit grudgingly veering away from mystifying China as a potential Superpower and coming to grips with the reality that China’s strategic military adventurism in the Asia Pacific in recent years was in effect directed at United States exit from the region.
That the strategic denouement between China and the United States was complete was brazenly reflected by China not rolling out the red carpet on US President’s arrival in China for theG-20 Summit last week-end. President Obama had to use his plane’s step-ladder to disembark as the Chinese had not provided the appropriate facilities.
While China’s semi-official media organ The Global Times gloated that the G-20 Summit was a great success as the Russian and American Presidents had attended it was a poor veneer. Since the event stood scheduled much before The Hague Tribunal’s ruling, it was the sheer diplomatic niceties ( in which China does not believe) which forced international leaders to attend.
China’s image at the G-20Summit stood dented by the adverse rulings on the South China Sea rulings and China’s consequent defiance of international conventions and respect for international institutions. While the South China Sea dispute did not forcefully emerge at the Summit chiefly due to the timidity of a divided ASEAN, that did not lessen the adverse dent on China’s global image as a responsible stakeholder in regional peace and security
Against such a backdrop the pertinent question that arises is to whether China will be bothered with the United States ceasing to mythifying China as a potential Superpower. The answer is both yes and no.
The United States mythification of China as a Superpower was an era in which United States ‘China Hedging’ strategies were at their peak leading the United States to be permissive in viewing China’s blatant transgression all over the region. It was also the era in which the United States to spite Russia would enlist China in virtually every global discussion as the preferred partner. It was also the era in which the United States benignly neglected Japan and India.
The above trends bloated China’s strategic ego and further leading it to claim strategic equivalence with the United States. With the United States now likely to view China in realistic perspectives and more as a nation that would eventually need containment to rein in would certainly deflate the American myth on China and reducing China’s space for military-muscle diplomacy.
The growing strategic proximity of the United States with India and laying unprecedented stress on building up India’s power and power projection capabilities is indicative of the US shift in its China policies. The fact that this US shift and the enlarging US-India Strategic Partnership is anathema to China was brazenly reflected at the G-20 Summit in China. President Obama was rebuffed at the airport in not being provided the appropriate protocol facilities and reception. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the photo line-up of G-20 leaders was moved by China to the extreme corner of the row. These are not slip-ups but calculated subs in the Chinese way of doing things.
The second question asked above was whether China would be bothered by an American shift in its China perspectives? The short answer is that China would not be bothered at all flush as it is with the consciousness of its unbridled military power and China’s unbridled use of that military power in aggressive military brinkmanship as visible more noticeably in the South China Sea conflict escalation and further secure in the belief that the United States and other major powers have so far fallen short of deceive actions against China.
China never had the potential nor would it ever be a Superpower as argued by me in my Book: ’China-India Military Confrontation: 21st Century Perspectives” in a whole Chapter devoted to this aspect. There are too many external and internal impediments that China itself has created and which would prevent China reaching to that eminence.
Concluding, notwithstanding the foregoing, what the United States and countries like India and Japan have to decide is whether they would like to repeat British PM Chamberlain’s submitting to Hitler’s dictates at Munich or like the other British redoubtable PM Winston Churchill face the looming China Threat head-on?