According to renowned structural realist, John J. Mearsheimer, the Chinese economic and military rise in the 21st century won’t be peaceful; the United States would employ all means to thwart China from challenging American hegemony in the world. The competition between the both powers has resuscitated the Cold War atmosphere. The major flashpoints in this cutthroat competition include the Far East Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The US has already established military bases in these regions and the mighty communist state, too, is engaged in increasing its economic engagement and military presence here. The unfolding competition has ignited a Cold War between the two world powers the intensity of which is likely to increase in the years to come. This brewing new Cold War has brought marvellous opportunities as well as mounting challenges for the developing countries.
From Capitol Hill to the Pentagon, American decision-making quarters are engaged in drawing up strategies to encircle and counteract China geo-strategically and geo-economically, thus impeding the Chinese economic expansion and weakening its military prowess. Though its rise is relatively peaceful — and not designed to challenge the dwindling US dominance in the world — China is ready to promptly respond to any aggressive American posturing that may be jeopardizing to Chinese interests across the globe.
The US policymakers are staunch followers of Morgenthau’s underlying principles of realism. Since the end of the World War II, these fundamental ideas of realism have been the bedrock of America’s expansionist foreign policy. These principles include, inter alia, maximizing national interests, fostering national security, maintaining the balance of power with adversaries and capitalizing all means to maintain and make the hegemony unchallengeable. It is likely that the US would employ the principles of realism to make china-containment policies.
Far East Asia
In the restive South China Sea, there are territorial disputes and maritime claims between China and other Southeast Asian nations — Brunei, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam — over the Spratly Islands, Paracel Islands, Pratas Islands, Macclesfield Bank and the Scarborough Shoal. There are precious minerals, natural gas and oil deposits on and under the seafloor of these islands. For its national security and commercial interests, China is also building military, naval and air bases on some of the isles in the Sea. A number of artificial islands have also been constructed by China for military purposes. The risk of conflict in South China Sea is significant due to the competing territorial and jurisdictional claims, particularly over rights to exploit the region’s extensive reserves of oil and gas.
The US, on the other hand, sees such strategic moves by China as a severe threat to its role as a linchpin of regional and global stability. There are two possibilities that would threaten US’s interests and could potentially prompt the US to use force against China in the South China Sea.
The first contingency is a clash stemming from US military operations within China’s EEZ that could provoke an armed Chinese response. The second contingency involves conflict between China and the Philippines over natural gas deposits. The US may jump into a China-Philippines conflict because of its 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the latter.
To counter China’s growing presence in the region, the US has adopted ‘strategic hedging’; it has recalibrated its ‘pivot’ towards the Asia-Pacific region; armed its regional allies and deliberately violated the Chinese EEZ.
To weaken the Chinese position, the US has also been vociferously supporting the nationalists in Hong Kong and Taiwan for their independence from the Chinese mainland. The US policy in response to the Chinese military and naval measures in the South China Sea is that of calculated confrontation rather than cooperation. If such widening distrust and bellicosity continue, there could be a limited confrontation between both countries that could turn into a dangerous war in the disputed waters of the region.
In South Asia, China has, apparently, outsmarted the US through its regional connectivity initiatives. The Chinese ‘String of Pearls’ strategy, stretching from the South China Sea to South Asia, has made China the main trade and defence partner of some littoral states of the region. This strategy is composed of networks of Chinese military and commercial facilities and relationships along its sea lines of communication (SLOCs), which extend from the Chinese mainland to Port Sudan. The sea lines run through several major maritime chokepoints such as the Bab el-Mandeb, the Strait of Malacca, the Strait of Hormuz and the Lombok Strait, as well as other strategic maritime centres in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Somalia.
Moreover, the Chinese Silk Road, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and China’s growing presence in Afghanistan have become real bugbears for America’s long-lasting military and economic dominance of South Asia.
Being an ardent realist, the US will not easily allow China to challenge its hegemony in the region. In this context, the US has calibrated some long-term counter-China policies to encircle — and weaken the influence of — China in the region. The US has tried to counteract the Chinese influence through its invasions of Afghanistan (in 2001) and Iraq (in 2003), its nuclear partnership with India and the recent nuclear deal with Iran. Since China has a heavy presence in the sea ports of Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, the response from the Chinese government to any future threat to its economic and military objectives would be prompt and harsh.
The Middle East
China has also emerged as the only trustworthy power to the Middle Eastern countries, after the US’s dismal failure at fixing security issues of the region. The US policy of regime change, its failure to root out Daesh and oust Bashar al-Assad and the Iran Nuclear Deal have compelled some Arab states to look toward China for their economic and military objectives. Through its astute diplomacy, China has grabbed the opportunity by creating a win-win situation: it is not only importing substantial energy resources from the Middle East, but is also exporting economic products and arms to some Arab countries. It signals that Washington’s decades-long period of unchallenged pre-eminence in the Middle East is drawing to a close.
Beijing had, reportedly, offered arms to the former Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi. To the disadvantage of America, China has also begun deploying its military more frequently in the region. For example, in May 2015, China announced to hold naval exercises with Russia in the Mediterranean. Chinese fighter jets have also refuelled in Iran; the first foreign military units permitted on Iranian soil since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Chinese warships have made port calls in both Iran and the UAE. China has also built a naval facility in Djibouti — its first overseas base for its maritime purposes.
To obstruct the growing Chinese engagement with the Middle East, the US is secretly supporting terrorist and militant groups, rebels and proxies in Iraq, Syria and Libya, in order to make the region insecure and unstable so that China cannot expand its economic and defence ties. Such marked divergences in the US counter-strategy against China do not bode well for the militancy-hit region.
China’s strategic relationship with Central Asia has grown expansively over the past decade, symbolized by both the 1996 founding of the “Shanghai Five,” which in June 2001 became the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and with the signing of the China-Russia Friendship Treaty in July 2001. The events of September 11, 2001, and the US-led war against terrorism in Afghanistan and beyond have dramatically underscored the strategic value of Central Asia to the West and have presented new challenges and opportunities to China’s security, political and economic interests.
Since China is geo-strategically connected with Central Asia, it will remain an integral and increasingly influential player in the region. China is immersed in building gas, oil pipelines and transport connectivity with most of the Central Asian states for meeting its energy needs. For its economic interests, China is also inclined to establish direct rail link between Ukraine and China, cutting across Georgia, Azerbaijan, the Caspian Sea and Kazakhstan.
The resource-rich Central Asia is a potential place of competing interests of the US and China. Both the powers are competitive with one another for influence in the region. While the US is focused on maintaining and supporting its military forces in neighbouring states, China has its sights on procuring natural resources for its fast-growing economy and preventing the expansion of fundamentalist Islam inside its borders.
The US is apprehensive that if China continues capitalising on the potential energy resources of the region, it would outmanoeuvre the US economically in the world. The US’s all-out support to the mujahideen against the erstwhile Soviet Union, its invasion of Afghanistan and the conclusion of the Bilateral Security Agreement with Afghanistan, strategic nuclear partnership with India, the recent historic nuclear deal with Iran and Nato’s expansion into Eastern Europe are designed to contain China in the new great game being played in the energy-rich Central Asia. To challenge China in Central Asia, the US has been lending a hand to Indo-Iranian efforts to connect the Chabahar port to Afghanistan and Central Asia.
It is the first time in the world’s history that a non-European power has challenged and outsmarted European countries on the African continent through its burgeoning economic cooperation with African countries. Presently, thousands of Chinese companies are working in different sectors in Africa. Recently, China has made great strides in African peace and security areas as well. It would provide $100 million in military assistance to the African Union in the next five years to support the establishment of an African standby force and to boost its capacity for crisis response.
It is unbearable for the West, particularly for the US, to allow China to dominate Africa’s enormous natural resources and potential defence markets. Arguably, terrorism and militancy in the continent would be further fuelled by the West to create escalating issues for Chinese companies in Africa.
It’s a bit surprising that Chinese companies and products have gained a strong position in the European and American markets. Some of these highly-industrialized countries are concerned about the rapid expansion and penetration of Chinese enterprises, which have ominously threatened all local industries. Predictably, the West would very soon embark upon imposing obstructive tariffs on Chinese products, so as to protect their indigenous enterprises. Therefore, China will react in the same way, which would result in unfriendly relations and create mutual distrust and acrimony.
There is no doubt that China is engaged in a visibly peaceful economic boom and military rise, but it is imperative for the Chinese government to grasp the underhand objectives of the US and its Western partners. After taking into consideration the disruptive designs of the West against China, the Chinese leadership should prepare itself both economically and militarily, so that it can be potent enough to respond to the US equally and on all fronts, thus ensuring its own socio-economic prosperity.