China seems to have planned to become the most influential country in any world organization, mustering the political support of countries whose numbers will increase by the day
As China brings out its own concepts of a new global order with muscular power politics, the so-called Westphalian order dissolves and will be filled by a tributary system that will start at the peripheries of the world vis-à-vis Beijing. Arguing on these lines, Brigadier Anand Tewari, a Mandarin-speaking China expert who did his doctorate on China's geopolitics from Savitribai Phule Pune University, predicts in his path-breaking book that Beijing will use its economic might to bring as many far-away countries under its influence as possible. This is going to be the Chinese strategy of geo-economic encirclement of the world and not merely India.
China, the author underlines, is a geopolitical behemoth. Having undergone a "Century of Humiliation" and repeatedly drilled it into people’s minds, it has reached a stage where it has tremendous capabilities to become the world’s leading power. In deciphering the geopolitical imperative for China in the 21st century, the book says the country has realized the importance of the industrial revolution. After all, Beijing has to feed 19 percent of the world’s population.
With its unquestioned economic and military might, China appears more determined to turn the South China Sea into a Chinese lake. A scenario may emerge, the author warns, when China may engage in a duel on a one-to-one basis and score a strategic victory. But China is unlikely to confront those directly who have a military backing from the US. From this perspective of the book, the Quad makes eminent sense.
China in Africa
China has succeeded in becoming an “econo-colonial master” of Africa today. Its share in infrastructural development ventures in Africa was 44.8 percent in 2012, compared to a meagre 4.7 percent of the US. It is not difficult to surmise “the long-lasting impression China is going to create in the minds of the African people as a powerful geopolitical player”.
China will engage countries farther from its core more through economic means compared to those closer to its core. In the long run, Beijing is going to have the greatest and deepest influence on the majority of African countries. But the author insists that the African countries will not allow the economic dependence on China to turn into economic slavery.
China also has a suitable geopolitical environment at present in South America as the US influence is waning. Beijing’s strategic overtures in that region have certainly alarmed Washington. China, with the third-largest shale oil reserves and the largest shale gas reserves, is determined to capture the global oil market leveraging its geopolitical position.
China, the author points out, is not as fragile a regime as the West would like it to be and neither is a West-motivated ‘Arab Spring’ kind of revolution possible. China is a well-organized system and its people believe in centrality of authority; this is the basic reason the Communist authority lives on in China while it has failed everywhere else.
China and freedom
Will freedom ever come to China? The book says that China has already marched ahead in private liberty like commerce and life choices like dress code and fashion. But political liberties and collective civil liberties remain curtailed. But it will be impractical to seek political liberties ahead of other civil liberties in China. The author’s surmise is that Beijing will regulate freedom also, moving to religious liberties, and perhaps graduate to political liberties within the ruling party to avoid chaos.
The Indian Ocean remains vital to China for its economic growth. There is uneasiness among the Chinese about India’s geo-strategically commanding position due to its imposing geographical location. This was evident in China objecting to the Indian Ocean being understood as India’s backyard. “This, in my argument, is going to prove as a leverage to India in balancing against its disadvantageous position on Tibet and the other border issues in the north.”
Thanks to globalization and business environment, China is trying to create a new international system based on hierarchical authority, the book says. China seems to have planned to become the most influential country in any world organization, mustering the political support of countries whose numbers will increase by the day. But because China wants to keep going up the economic ladder, it would prefer a peaceful rise. It may rattle but does not escalate strife with its foes on its border while making friends far away. China will only become dependent on the global market more and more.
The author forecasts that as China raises its economic stakes in South Asia, where the economic gains versus geostrategic risks are going to turn adversely, provided New Delhi not only makes China deeply invest in India but India too invests deeply in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar so that these countries think hard before acting as Beijing’s tributary states. At the same time, if economic powers start investing in India, Beijing will be forced to geopolitically compete with New Delhi and not Washington in a real sense as India will be provided a shield of protection for these investments.
Covid-19 did deal blows to China, giving an opportunity to the traditional world to consolidate its ranks which was appearing scattered. Also, the rest of the world is yet to identify with the emerging leader called China. Will China be accepted as the world’s leading power by the end of the 21st century?
This is an extraordinary informed and powerful book, written by someone who understands China really well. All those who profess an interest in the Middle Kingdom must read it.
Title: Chinese Geopolitics in the 21st Century: A Post-Pandemic Perspective; Author: Brigadier Anand Tewari (retd); Publisher: Pentagon Press; Pages: 306; Price: Rs 1,295
(The reviewer is a veteran journalist and commentator)