In the mid-1990’s a “China Threat Theory” gained currency as a reaction to China’s huge progress in the economic, military and manufacturing sectors. In fact, its overall accumulation of its ‘Comprehensive National Power’ became a cause of concern, particularly in the Asian Region. As China acquired greater political, economic and military power, China wanted to assure and probably, assuage the neighbouring countries that its rise will not be a threat to peace and security in the region.
China’s success in achieving economic growth as a result of post-Mao reforms had given rise to speculation that China would rise as a great power in the twenty-first century.
When Deng Xiaoping took the helm after Mao’s death, he realized the China was weak after rounds of political turmoil’s and deficient’s in essential resources, therefore he advocated the philosophy of “Hide One’s Capabilities and Bide One’s Time”. While, in respect of the disputed territories, the principle applied was of “Putting Aside the Dispute and Cooperating in Development”. This pragmatic and practical method did benefit China greatly and at least ensure the stable and peaceful environment indispensable for Deng’s reform and opening up policy. However, the evasion of dispute settlement just postponed the outburst or even aggravated it in many cases. In various circles it was felt that this policy could result in China’s loss of actual control over some territories in long term which it considered essential for claiming of sovereignty.
As the Chinese economic development reached a new high, the new crop of paramount leaders, in particular Xi Jinping, felt it was time to wipe out the centuries of humiliation imposed by foreign powers. This stance has made them prone to taking hawkish stances over territory so as not only to appeal to the populism, nationalism and chauvinism which are beneficial to supplement their reign, but also to use the frenzy to distract Chinese people from paying more attention to more urgent internal reforms on sensitive issues such as political system and human rights from time to time. From this point, Chinese diplomacy on territory dispute is just the extension of domestic policies.
China’s success in achieving economic growth as a result of post-Mao reforms had given rise to speculation that China would rise as a great power in the twenty-first century. Since the mid-1990’s western media had begun to report on China as a “coming power, an economic center of gravity in Asia, a military mover and shaker, and a peer of any of the Western powers that nibbled at China’s fringes and brought emperors low.”
…As a rising power China would tend to use force rather than consultation in disputes with other nations.
China’s move towards becoming the center of the world’s post-Cold War security calculation has raised, once again, the age old question in diplomacy – how can the international community manage the ambitions of a rising power? From a realists point of view, some scholars have argued that the rising economic and military power of China, would, by its own accord, make China a threat to Asian and global security. The mere emergence of an economically and militarily stronger China would upset the balance of power in Asia and spark realignments by China’s neighbours. As a rising power China would tend to use force rather than consultation in disputes with other nations.
The term proved controversial because the word ‘rise’ did fuel perceptions that China is a threat to the established order. China had realised a negative wave building up and immediately initiated steps to redeem its historically regarded image as a less aggressive empire. So since 2004 a more benign term China’s, that is ‘peaceful development’ has been used by the Chinese leadership. Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, together, re-christened China’s ‘rise’ to ‘peaceful rise’ and further diluted it to ‘peaceful development’ in a conscious effort to ‘photoshop’ its ‘soft-power’ image and dispel any lingering apprehensions of it being a threat to its neighbours in particular.
“Peaceful rise” is used primarily to reassure the nations of Asia that the rise of the in military and economic prominence will not pose a threat to peace and stability, and that other nations will benefit from China’s rising power and influence.
The idea emphasizes the importance of soft power and is based, in part, on the premise that good relations with its neighbours will enhance rather than diminish the Comprehensive National Power of the China. Part of this idea dictates that the China will avoid ‘neomercantilism’ and ‘protectionism’.
…a new kind of “tribute system” is emerging wherein patronage and protection is apportioned to countries in return for their recognition and acceptance of China’s core interests, sensitivities and superiority – a classic benevolent hegemonic system!!
In diplomacy, the idea calls for less assertiveness in border disputes such as those concerning the Spratly Islands, Senkaku Islands, and South Tibet. There is a joke regarding China’s principles over territory disputes – “when poor we shall put aside the dispute and cooperate in development; when rich we shall insist the territories belong to China since the ancient time. Then they are sacred and inviolable.” In fact China has simmering territorial disputes with most of the 14 neighbours which even includes those it has signed the much touted Boundary Agreements.
Analysts suggest that a new kind of “tribute system” is emerging wherein patronage and protection is apportioned to countries in return for their recognition and acceptance of China’s core interests, sensitivities and superiority – a classic benevolent hegemonic system!! China has built a capability for deterrence and coercion and with the past precedent of resorting to punitive forays to ‘teach a lesson’, the use of military might will remain a ‘threat in being’ even while, on the face of it, the tactic will be to command respect and ‘obeisance through patronage and predominant power’.
China has not been able to wish away the “China Threat Theory”. It has focused on economic diplomacy to reassure the smaller countries around it and augment its political clout in the Asia-Pacific region, Central Asia and even Europe. The Belt Road Initiative (BRI) is a recent example in this line of diplomacy. It is using its economic muscle to convince the global community that its benign rise is a win-win scenario on the business and trade fronts.
So what has the Chinese bombastic stance in Doklam proved? It has disproved all that China has been shrilly trumpeting as to what “peaceful rise” is all about. It has thus emphatically proved that a Rising China is a threat to its neighbours.
…India is in for a turbulent and patchy relationship with China in the near-term at least. National solidarity is essential for India to stand up to the challenge.
The sinister strategic lessons that emerge are that:-
- It has stated in unambiguous terms that China will use force in its boundary disputes and dispense with any form of consultations.
- China will pursue its irredentist ambitions to take by force all territories it has its evil dragon eye on.
- China will entice and lure India’s neighbours to bandwagon with China and if it sees any reluctance it will bully/coerce these tiny nations into submission.
- It will continue to exert diplomatic pressure on Bhutan and is likely to raise the issue of the Eastern Tri-junction of Bhutan-Tibet-India in the Tawang sector next summer.
- It is also instigating Nepal to raise a dispute with regard to the Western Tri-junction of Nepal-Tibet-India in the Kalapani-Lipulekh Pass area where, in fact, none exists.
- It will raise the South Tibet issue to the level of a “core interest” and compel countries to endorse it.
- With a slowdown in its economy thereby diluting China’s geo-economic strategy of globally isolating Taiwan, it is more likely that China will increase the presence of PLAN in the Taiwan Straits to continue its policy of isolating the island nation.
- It will ratchet up the South China Sea matter and even interfere with freedom of navigation of merchant ships. It will also impose an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the region. Recently, talks between Chinese and Vietnamese Foreign Ministers broke off in a huff, inter alia, on this issue.
- It will up the ante in East China Sea and implement the ADIZ over the area to challenge Japan on the Senkaku claims.
- It will pressurise the Central Asian Nations into allowing selective entry of nations to negotiate trade and infrastructure deals with them.
- It will keep India out of Afghanistan and attempt to hinder its ongoing infrastructure projects including those connected to Chabahar Port.
- It could force India into a war that will put back India’s economy by ten years. Thus eliminating it as a challenger in the region.
Considering the foregoing, India is in for a turbulent and patchy relationship with China in the near-term at least. National solidarity is essential for India to stand up to the challenge. Strategic naivety and immaturity emanating from short-sighted parochial political compulsions are uncalled for and need to be vociferously condemned through strong public discourse. National security is too important to be given mere casual fragmented attention.
 Bajwa, Lt Gen JS, “Modernisation of the Chinese PLA: From Massed Militia to Force Projection”, Lancer Publishers, New Delhi, 2002, p 292.
 Ibid, p 292-93.
 Bajwa, Lt Gen JS, Editor, “China: Threat or Challenge?” Lancer Publishers, New Delhi, 2017, p ix.
 Op. cit. Bajwa, “Modernisation of the Chinese PLA……”, p 294.