According to the renowned structural realist, John J Mearsheimer, the Chinese economic and military rise in the 21st century would not be peaceful; the US would employ all means, fair or foul, to contain and impede China from challenging the long-lasting American hegemony in the world. The competition between both the countries has awakened a dormant cold war atmosphere in certain regions. The imminent cold war would create both opportunities and challenges for developing countries.
From Capitol Hill to the Pentagon, all American decision-making quarters are heavily engaged in crafting strategies on how to encircle, counteract and impede China, thus slowing down the Chinese economic boom and military rise. Though the Chinese rise is relatively peaceful, the powerful communist state is still fully prepared to promptly respond to any aggressive American posturing against Chinese national interests, across the world.
In the restive South China Sea, China is having legitimate disputes with other South-East Asian countries over the Spratly Islands, the Paracel Islands, the Pratas Islands ,the Maccles field 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, China is also building military, naval and air bases on some of these highly disputed isles. A number of artificial islands have also been constructed for Chinese military objectives.
The US considers such strategic moves from China a grave threat to the security of its regional allies and also to its dwindling regional dominance. 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, lethally armed its regional allies and deliberately violated the Chinese Exclusive Economic Zones time and again. Both the countries have also hurled threats against each other in the restless region.
To weaken the Chinese position, the US has been vociferously and blatantly supporting the nationalists in Hong Kong and Taiwan for their independence from mainland China. 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 ominous bellicosity were to continue unhindered, there could be a limited confrontation between China and the US, with the potential of escalating into a dangerous war in the disputed waters of the region.
In South Asia, it seems that China has outsmarted the US through its ongoing peaceful 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 of the littoral countries of the region. Moreover, the Chinese Silk Road, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and China’s growing presence in Afghanistan have become real bugbears for the American’s long-lasting military and economic dominance of South Asia.
Being an ardent realist, the US will not easily permit China to challenge its hegemony in South Asia. In this context, the US has calibrated some long term counter-China policies, to encircle and weaken the ever-rising influence of China in the region. The US has tried to counteract the Chinese influence in South Asia 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.
China is the only trustworthy power to have emerged as an alternative to the Middle Eastern countries, after the US’s dismal failure to fix some of their regional security issues. The US policy of regime change, its failure to root out Daesh and remove the beleaguered Bashar al-Assad and the Iran nuclear deal have compelled some of the oil-rich Arab monarchies to look towards China for their economic and military objectives. Through its astute diplomacy, China has grabbed the opportunity by both hands and created a win-win situation: it is not only importing substantial energy resources from the Middle East, but it is also exporting economic products and arms to some Arab countries.
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. It would create an ever-increasing arms race and embolden the lethally-armed Arab states to brutally crush any pro-democracy movements.
The US’s all-out support to the mujahideen against the erstwhile Soviet Union, its invasion of Afghanistan, strategic nuclear partnership with India, the recent historic nuclear deal with Iran and Nato’s expansion into Eastern Europe are designed to attain a major geostrategic objective in the new great game being played in the energy-rich Central Asia. The US is apprehensive that if China continues capitalising on the potential energy resources of the Central Asian Regions (CARs), it would outmanoeuvre the US economically in the world. 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.
Unlike the previous cold war, this time it is also likely that the US, its Western allies and Indian would use Africa. It is the first time in the world’s history that a non-European power has outsmarted European countries in the African continent, through its burgeoning economic cooperation with African countries. Presently, thousands of Chinese companies are working in different sectors in Africa. It is unbearable for the West, particularly for the US, to allow China to dominate African enormous natural resources, potential markets and defence field. Arguably, terrorism and militancy in the continent would be further fuelled by the West to create escalating issues for Chinese companies in Africa.
It is a bit surprising that Chinese companies and products have gained a strong position in the European and American markets. Some of these highly-industrialised 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 all sorts of Chinese products, so as to protect their national 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 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.
The writer is the editor of The Asia Watch.