By: Vaibhav Borude, Research Analyst, GSDN
The rise of China as the world’s factory, aided by globalisation and the active assistance of the United States, had the result that China emerged as the second-largest economy in the world. The path-breaking visit of U.S. President Nixon paved the way for the economic development of China. The superpower rivalry in the Cold War naturally brought the USA and China closer to one another. China used this time to develop its strength. The famous Chinese strategist Sun Tzu’s advice was to “appear weak when you are strong, and appear strong when you are weak.” The Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping based his strategy of “hide your strength, bide your time” on Sun Tzu’s advice to maintain a low profile on the geopolitical world stage. However, the present Chinese president, Xi Jinping, believes that now that China has arrived on the world stage, it must assume the global leadership baton from the US. This rise of China as a geopolitical leader is creating a ripple effect all over the world.
Current China’s profile:
The real GDP of China was $14.27 trillion in 2020. The real GDP of the USA was $20 trillion in 2020. The gap between both countries is closing, and experts believe that China will soon overtake the USA as the world’s biggest economy. China has already overtaken the USA as the world’s biggest economy in PPP terms. The rise of China’s economic profile means that it has more resources to spend on its defence budget and on research and development of new emerging technology. It also has resources for developing capabilities to deter an adversary from taking any coercive steps against China.
China is changing the rules of the world order.
The current world order is a liberal world order, developed by the USA after World War 2, largely based on the Washington Consensus. China is aiming to disrupt this world order and end the Pax Americana. China is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, so any decision can’t be made without its consent. So many countries are dependent on China that any coercive decision is not taken against them. For example, India’s plan to designate Masood Azar as a global terrorist was many times derailed by China due to its support for Pakistan. China has also started to delegitimize international institutions through its actions.
The peculiar case of South China Sea can be seen here. The South China Sea is an important strategic location. One-third of the world’s maritime shipping passes through it, carrying over $3 trillion in trade every year. There are claims of huge oil and natural gas deposits beneath it. Due to its strategic importance, China now wants to transform this world sea into a Chinese lake. China started calming the entire South China Sea on its own based on the 9-dash line. Aggravated by this behaviour, the Philippines filed a suit against China in the Hague Tribunal. The tribunal rejected China’s claims and ruled in favour of the Philippines. Reacting to the decision, the Chinese government rejected this tribunal ruling. The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, said in the ruling that the territorial sovereignty and maritime rights of China would not be affected.”
Use of economic might to create new friends and world dominance.
China is using its offensive charm and power to bring new countries into its sphere of influence. China launched the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to connect Europe and Asia. BRI would help China increase its trade all over the region, thus making them dependent on it. BRI has not only an economic angle but also a strategic angle. The BRI route criss crosses the lands of central China to reach Europe. The route passes through central Asia, Iran, and Turkey, thus ideally fulfilling all the requirement of Mackinder’s view of world dominance. According to Mackinder, one who controls Central Asia controls the world island, and one who controls the world island controls the world. BRI serves as a dual-use facility, as it can increase its trade and also control the region. China is using debt trap diplomacy to increase its economic stakes in the region by providing loans to these projects, and if countries fail to pay them back, it forces them to hand over the infrastructure to China. China has used this method in Sri Lanka’s Hamanbota port. There is also fear of China using the same tactics in Pakistan and Myanmar.
BRI also has a maritime component that includes sea routes connecting China’s coastal regions with the South East Asia, South Asia, the South Pacific, the Middle East, Eastern Africa, and all the way to Europe. With the maritime component of BRI, China can leverage it to increase its naval footprint all over the world’s oceans in lieu of protecting its economic interests. China has built a port in Djibouti and is planning a secret naval facility in the Cocoa Islands of Myanmar. Hidden beneath the maritime component of BRI is the String of Pearls theory, which would encircle the Indian subcontinent from the sea route, thus forcing India into a defensive position. It would also reduce the influence of India in the Indian Ocean, thus affecting India’s position as a net security provider in the Indian Ocean.
China is shifting the balance of power in West Asia away from the United States
West Asia is a significant region in the world. As a source of oil and natural gas, it powers the world economy. West Asia has suffered the worst due to the Gulf wars, the Shia-Sunni conflict, the Saudi Arabia-Iran issue, and the Israel-Palestine issue. The USA has always tried to dominate this region and has favoured Saudi Arabia and Israel against Iran. China has now stepped up its engagement and started taking an active role in resolving the conflict in West Asia. The recent China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia shows the “changing global order.” The USA has always had the upper hand in this region, but renewed Chinese engagement is reducing the hegemonic power of the USA in this region. China has also signed a 25-year cooperation agreement with Iran, despite US sanctions against Iran due to its nuclear programme. All this points towards the change from a USA-led world order to a multipolar world order with China as a major competitor for the USA‘s hegemonic status.
China’s Role in the Ukraine War.
The Ukraine-Russia war is the most defining moment of present times. The failure of Russia to checkmate Ukraine and, with the support of western Europe and the USA, Ukraine’s renewed efforts are forcing Putin’s military advances to slow down. The longer the war continues, the weaker Russia will emerge. A weak Russia would make it more dependent on China thus, helping China. It can also be seen as China using the USA’s policy of “beggar thy enemy”.
China’s rise as a geopolitical leader is against India’s interests.
The rise of China as a dominant power in the world order would go against the Indian interests. Firstly, the India-China border dispute is still lingering. India wants to end the dispute as soon as possible, whereas China wants to keep the issue at a standstill. China wants to increase the power differential with India, so when the power differential is at its maximum level, China can use its dominant power to force India to accept the terms and conditions as China says. Secondly, China and Pakistan have an all-weather friendship, and both view India as an adversary. In the event of future conflict, a two-front war with India cannot be ruled out. Thirdly, the USA sees India as a natural partner to balance China. As only India can challenge China on the Asian continent. Hence, the USA has started engagement with India from all sides. USA has re-energised the Quad. USA terms India a net security provider in the Indian Ocean. But in case any conflict emerges, India alone will have to bear the brunt, as India is the only Quad member that shares a land border with China.
As power is a zero-sum game, the rise of China as a geopolitical leader will reduce the power of the USA equally. The changing world order points towards the rise of a multipolar world order. In these changing times, the geopolitical world order appears to be in flux, but China would leave no stone unturned to replace the USA as the world power.