“Hide your strength and bide your time.”
China in 2008
“No force can shake the status of our great motherland, No force can stop the advance of the Chinese people and the Chinese nation.”
China in 2019
The above statements clearly indicate the change in the tone and the tenor of China, in just eleven years. So, is the world going to wait for another ten years to discover how is China (mis)treating the world in general, and its neighbors in particular?
This should be the biggest question in the minds of strategists, across the globe. Through this article I would try to find out , how we can address this major challenge facing humanity.
THE FOUNDATION OF AN EMPIRE
Historically it has been seen that any country which has flourished, has had two essential components:
- Outward-Looking and Inclusive Attitude
- Innovation and Education
If for any reason, any of the above components went missing from the future designs of the empire, that empire not only collapsed but plunged into darkness.
The outward-looking attitude could be divided into three components, the militaristic activity, economic activity, or a combination of these two. Roman Empire, the Portuguese Empire, Abbasid Caliphate, Maurya Dynasty, Umayyad Caliphate, Yuan Dynasty, Qing Dynasty, Spanish Empire, Mongol Empire, and the British Empire, are some of the largest empires this world has ever seen, and they had these components embedded in their DNA.
INNOVATION AND EDUCATION
The cultural, political, scientific, and intellectual outburst in Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries depict perhaps the most profoundly significant period in human development. The Renaissance was followed by some of the biggest empires, the world had ever seen. On the other hand, the declining Islamic Empires had no scientific base. Their education system was based on religious teachings and lacked the futuristic world view. There was another very innovative country which was about to show similar weaknesses in its systems – ‘The Middle Kingdom’.
Ming Dynasty – Courtesy: ancient.eu
CHINA – A TURNING POINT
The Ming Dynasty was in power in China from 1368 to 1644. The Emperor was an autocratic ruler who had absolute power over all aspects of life in his Empire. At that time, Chinese technology was Superior to the rest of the world. The inventions included the magnetic compass, paper, wheelbarrow, suspension bridges, gunpowder, movable type, and the mechanical clock. During the decline of the Ming Dynasty, the Chinese withdrew from sea travel and overseas trade. They became more inward-looking. The hubris had blinded the Chinese mind and innovation had come to a standstill. At the same time, the Renaissance was blooming in the Western Europe. They were discovering and conquering other nations. World history could have been different if the Chinese had continued to be a great seafaring and outward-looking nation.
THE CHINESE ACHILLES HEEL
The present-day Chinese dispensation has a lot of similarities to the Ming Dynasty, it is autocratic, and controls the populace with the iron fist. The signs of vainglory have started emerging, which was the beginning of the end of glorious Ming Dynasty.
The aggressive and economically strong China has started threatening the free world, with its sharp power approach. It may be overconfident about its abilities, however, it is not that invincible. There are existing and emerging weaknesses in the Chinese armor. The world is so angry with Chinese indifference that it is ready to exploit the following weaknesses to safeguard their interests:
- The Indian Ocean
THE CHINESE ECONOMIC MINOTAUR
The extraordinary advancements in the Chinese power and influence are attributable to its economic progression in the last forty years. China has failed to be a responsible and dependable partner in every field, due to this reason corporates have already started moving their businesses out of China. The process is expected to accelerate post-COVID.
China’s economy is heavily dependent upon exports. Exports are 20% of the Chinese GDP. If determined countries shave off exports by 50%, Chinese economy would go into recession. The present Chinese estimates indicate that 22 million jobs would be lost in 2020, in addition to huge pay cuts. The unemployment rate which is likely to hit 10% may get further pushed up, leading to large scale unrest amongst Chinese populace.
The economy has a direct relationship with innovation and education. Learning from the West China has continuously improved it education system and institutions. Today 5 of the Chinese universities are in top 100 universities in the world. Yearly, 5,00,000 students enroll in Chinese universities. Foreign governments could make it difficult for students to go to Chinese universities, as well as, disallow 6,67,000 Chinese students to study in the Western and Australian universities. The short-term losses may have an impact, but this would force China to look inward and restrict its scientific evolution.
China’s $4-7 trillion pet project, One Belt One Road(OBOR), could be made a death knell by hostile forces. It is estimated that as much as 80% investment in Pakistan, 50% in Myanmar and 30% in central Asia would never be recovered. China is ready to take those losses in exchange for strategic landmasses and ports. Once completed, the projects could be exploited with the help of the Taliban, Turkistan Islamic Movement(TIP) and Balochistan Liberation Army(BLA) in Central Asia and Pakistan.
OBOR has following maritime developments as part of its String of Pearls: Hambantota in Sri Lanka; Gwadar in Pakistan; Chittagong in Bangladesh; Kyaukhori in Myanmar; Kra Isthmus in Thailand; Port Victoria in the Seychelles; Mombasa in Kenya; and Djibouti. Once again Gwadar Port may see opposition from BLA militias, Kyaukhori from Rohingyasand Djibouti from al Shabaab. China would have no means to defend these bases, since they would be spread out thin and wide.
China has the largest number of neighbors in the world. The neighbors being Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, Indian territory of POJ&K, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Myanmar, Mongolia, Nepal, North Korea, Russia, Tajikistan and Vietnam. There are also maritime neighbors like Brunei, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan. China has not even a single neighbor who attached high trust value to their relationship with China. Let us consider China’s areas of trouble in these countries, and how they would be exploited.
China abhors the idea of Americans leaving Afghanistan. China is likely to set up a military base in Northern Afghanistan, since a remote region in northeastern Afghanistan is connected to the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang. Taliban and Turkistan Islamic Party could be used to bleed China in this region. Afghanistan could also be turned against China if the latter is painted as an exploiter of Afghani natural resources.
The populace of the Himalayan Kingdom could be easily made aware of China’s nefarious designs of land grab, through social media, and public outreach. This would turn the popular mood against China and Chinese government.
India has a lot of buttons to irritate and control China. Actions in Tibet; Xinjiang; Taiwan; and Vietnam, blockade in The South China Sea; and Indian Ocean Region(IOR) are more than sufficient to keep China on the toes. India can also render China’s CPEC(OBOR) project, which passes through the Indian Territory of Pakistan Occupied J&K, useless, if the hostilities breakout. In the India-China relationship, China has a lot more to lose than India, and China is aware of that reality.
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan
Because of China’s policy of torture and cultural genocide targeting the Uighur Turk minorities, the Kazakh people highly resent China. Demonstrations against China are a common sight in big cities like Nur-Sultan, Shymkent and Almaty. This bitterness can be exploited to disrupt the Chinese energy dependence on Kazakhstan, as and when required.
Kyrgyzstan’s populace is aware of China’s territory grab in their country. Clashes between locals and Chinese mining workers are a regular feature. Exploitative Chinese debt, illegal Chinese workers and Kyrgyz-Chinese marriages are some of the explosive issues which can be exploited by the opposing forces.
Tajikistan owes China $2.8 billion in debt (35.6% of GDP). It has ceded mining rights and 0.7% of it’s land to China. Growing trade imbalance and exploitation of economy by 350 Chinese companies are testing the patience of the local populace. These sentiments could be turned into a major uprising against China, in times to come.
Land grabbing, exploiting local businesses, hostage-taking, torture, and murders are some of the ways, Chinese companies are conducting their businesses in Laos. Locals have a huge resentment towards Chinese companies and their projects, which can be exploited at the right time.
The populace of Myanmar are always suspicious that China fans the flames of conflict in Naypyitaw, Northern Myanmar. China supplies these separatist groups with Chinese-made weapons and private financial support. The Myanmar populace is very aggressively opposing these Chinese designs.
Mongolians are always fearful that China will eventually take over their territory. In addition to political or military takeover, they feel China will overwhelm the country with its economic activities.
Anger has been erupting in Nepal against Chinese company Huawei, which has been involvement in the hacking of around 200 Nepali websites and stealing personal data. Nepal is also rife with China’s land grab stories – 6 hectares in the Bhagdare river, 4 hectares in Karnali district, 6 hectares in Sanjen river, 10 hectares in Sindhupalchowk district, and 9 hectares in Sankhuwasabha. Following areas have been merged wholly into Tibet – Jambhu Khola of Rasuwa, areas around Kamukhola, Arun river and Sumjung river. These explosive details could create trouble for Chinese activities and China-controlled Nepali regime, as and when exposed by the opposing forces.
North Korea, which was once a most trusted ally, has become a liability for China. The relation is at its rock bottom. The United States, S Korea, and Japan would exploit this situation to their advantage, whether Kim Jong-un is alive or not. They would be waiting for this amphisbaena to bite back.
Chinese and Russian bonhomie could bring trouble for China from within. Russia has encroached up Chinese territory of Nerchinsk in 1689 and Siberia in 1860. The 1904 Russo-Japanese war had claim over 20,000 Chinese civilian lives. The Soviets also invaded Manchuria and committed war crimes like Japan. The spread of this information on social media would have the right effect at the right time.
Reminding Vietnamese populace of Chinese hegemony in the South China Sea and sinking of fishing vessels is more than enough to stir up passions.
Maritime neighbors like Brunei, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, and South Korea have huge territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea and the East China Sea.
For years, Beijing has worked to isolate Taiwan by keeping it out of international institutions, while poaching and leaving Taiwan with only 15 nondescript states who recognize the country’s status. Today the world is busy fighting the pandemic, but the Chinese are drumming up hysteria on social media to strike Taiwan and take control.
The Chinese experts, however, are aware that the world’s sentiment is against them and any misstep may boomerang. The Taiwanese piece is a very important part of China containment puzzle. The world has to take note of this, that if Taiwan falls in the Chinese hands, numerous Chinese forces, which are tied up in the South China Sea, would be free to spread their nefarious activities in the other regions of the world, where they do not go today.
The South and the East China Sea – Courtesy: Encyclopedia Britannica
THE INDIAN OCEAN
The Indian Ocean is the most important global trade routes of the world. Over 80 percent of global seaborne trade passes through it. While China increasingly getting assertive in the region, world powers cannot afford to turn a blind eye to this emerging threat. In fact, the Indian Ocean could be the core of the undoing of China.
Securing maritime energy shipments is a critical priority for China. Over 80 percent of Chinese maritime oil imports by sea pass through the Strait of Malacca. Therefore, this strategic waterway represents a potential risk to China, should it be unable to protect its shipping interests in the narrow strait. This is the exact reason China is pursuing OBOR in such a big way, at the expense of gullible nations. OBOR provides China a costly but alternative route to the Middle East, Central Asia, and Europe.
Chinese ‘String of Pearls’ policy has to be effectively and forcefully countered. Countries may adopt a strategy similar to China’s South China Sea strategy, that is to overwhelm the Chinese warships with swarms of fishing boats, trawlers and UCVs. Seasoned pirates can always harass Chinese merchant ships in the Strait of Hormuz and Malacca Strait.
Chinese String of Pearls – Courtesy: The Diplomat
WHERE DO WE STAND TODAY
China pursues a policy called ‘da da, tan tan’ – ‘fight fight, talk talk’. A strategy deeply embedded in the Chinese character. For China, it is very simple, if someone offers you to talk, you talk, but it doesn’t mean that you stop fighting. If the very fragmented and divided world doesn’t understand this aspect of China, then it cannot go beyond their antics.
Countering Chinese economy; increasing the cost of OBOR; high unemployment rate; discouraging Chinese students and scientists in the western institutions; using the discontent amongst the neighbors; securing Taiwan, and challenging China in the South China Sea; and the Indian Ocean is the only way forward. In addition to this, the Hong Kong issue should be kept alive to needle China.
Time has come to get out of World War II mentality, go beyond the ‘Quad’(US, India, Japan and Australia) and build an alliance on the lines of NATO. This force would utilize all resources at its disposal to make China look inwards and deny latest in innovation; and education. China is in a similar situation what Ming Dynasty once was. So with the right moves by the world powers, rest of the damage it would inflict on itself, being noninclusive in nature.
Time has come to return the favor to China in their own language – ‘Bù shuōhua, zhī chāojiá’ that is ‘No talking, only fighting’.