China has not shown itself to be expansive in its five thousand year history. Despite this, China cannot be classified as a pacifist country. On the contrary: The People’s Republic is in a territorial conflict with 17 nations.
For a long time, in foreign and security policy circles, the mere lesson was that the People’s Republic of China could not become a belligerent, imperialist actor today because it had never shown itself to be expansive in the course of its five thousand year history.
A look at the 19th and 20th centuries alone shows, as a kind of support for this thesis, rather and on the contrary, how much China groaned under the burden of the colonial age: British, French and Germans, who wrested land from the emperor, officially on lease, to be able to exploit and use it for the local economy. The Japanese conquest of Manchuria brought unspeakable suffering to the Chinese women, which still has an impact today.
Now save articles for later in “Pocket”.
In this sense, China’s ruler Xi Jinping speaks of a “century of humiliation” that China had to endure. It suits him that the return of Hong Kong by Great Britain is still remembered by many living today as the event that ended colonial rule.
But is the People’s Republic really a pacifist country today because of this past, which could not do to others what happened to itself?
Unfortunately no, the opposite is the case. Under Xi Jinping, the country has expanded its fleet. Today, only the United States of America surpasses the Navy and other armed forces of the People’s Liberation Army in power and strength. The third and most modern Chinese aircraft carrier was just recently launched. With this fleet, Beijing wants to change the political shape of the Pacific. With the USA and Japan, the two powers that guarantee free trade in this ocean, the People’s Republic has therefore been on a confrontational course for some time.
But not only in the western Pacific, where Beijing is at odds with Taiwan, the Philippines, Japan and Korea, Chinese imperialism is also on the rise elsewhere in the region. China, which has 14 neighbors, is currently in direct contact with 17 nations over territory and borders. There was already a skirmish with India in 2020. Both countries share a national border in the Himalayas, which is so important because melting high mountain glaciers will secure the drinking water supply of tomorrow. In the nations with well over a billion inhabitants each, this drinking water is a question of survival.
Alexander Görlach is a Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York. The PhD linguist and theologian teaches democratic theory in Germany, Austria and Spain as an honorary professor at Leuphana University. In the 2017-18 academic year, he was at National Taiwan University and City University Hong Kong to conduct research on China’s rise. He is currently researching new technologies at the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute and how they are used in democracies and abused in dictatorships.
The conflicts that the People’s Republic has unleashed in the recent past can be divided into land and sea conflicts. In addition to India, the countries of Nepal, Bhutan, Laos, Mongolia, Myanmar and Tibet belong to this category; at sea there is a risk of war with Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, South and North Korea, Brunei and Singapore.
China’s militarization of the ocean poses a threat to those bordering the western Pacific. Chinese mercenaries occupied a number of the Spratley Islands belonging to the Philippines in the spring of last year. Beijing has also built artificial islands in the area and militarized them. Of course, natural resources also play a role for China. The Senkaku Islands, which belong to Japan, were marked as Japanese on Chinese maps until oil and gas deposits were discovered there. Beijing immediately called the status of the islands “disputed”. The dispute with Indonesia is also about natural resources.
Malaysia last year complained about maneuvers by the Chinese Navy, which had invaded Malayan territory. China has passed a so-called “Sea Security Law” in which Beijing unilaterally ascribes to itself the right to shoot down any ship, military or commercial, while it is in “its” sea, the Western Pacific.
The most recent push by the non-expansionary People’s Republic is the unilateral declaration that the Taiwan Strait is now Chinese and no longer international waters. The Americans are currently still guaranteeing that the Taiwan Strait will remain international. France and Germany have sent warships through the Strait in the past to underscore the free world’s understanding of international waters.
On land, Beijing now claims, with reference to Chinese mythology, that parts of Laos are Chinese. Roughly speaking, this is also the line that China has been following since the invasion of Tibet in 1950.
On the border with Mongolia, conflicts break out between the Mongols and the Han Chinese. Xi Jinping’s ethno-nationalist course ascribes superiority to the Han over other ethnic groups, including the Mongols. In this sense, the people of Xinjiang, ethnic Uyghurs, are also being disenfranchised, imprisoned and their cultural monuments destroyed.
China today is very much expansionist, colonialist and imperialist. Add to that a toxic mix of racial superiority and masculinity, both of which are Xi Jinping’s ideological inventions.
Not all of these conflicts will be resolved militarily. Right now, those around Taiwan and those with India have the greatest likelihood of getting out of hand. In its actions, China is relying on military deterrence, anticipatory obedience and the greed of the industrialized nations to retain access to the Chinese market.
Beijing is also hoping to expand its sphere of influence through deals with the small Pacific island states and to be able to put pressure on Australia and New Zealand, which are also partners of the USA, Japan and Taiwan.
The old certainty that China is not an expansionist power can be considered outdated and obsolete in light of this finding. The question now arises as to which new certainty should replace this traditional one.
How China’s aggressive foreign policy in the Pacific is leading to a global war