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Crouching Dragon

Making sense of China’s huffing and puffing.

The Global Times, CCP’s mouthpiece, has unleashed a barrage of editorials on the altercation between Japan and China over the arrest of a Chinese captain, whose trawler collided with Japanese coastguard ships earlier this month near the disputed Senkaku islands.  The People’s Republic suspended high-level exchanges with Japan, after a Japanese court extended the detention of the Chinese captain.

Today, in yet another in a series of fiery editorials, The Global Times opines:

Now is the time to seriously examine Japan. It should be apparent by now that China will be forced to endure long-term conflicts with Japan, and emphasizing only friendly relations is not prudent. In addition, China needs to be certain of Japan’s soft spots for clearly targeted reactions.The pain has to be piercing. Japanese politicians need to understand the consequences – votes will be lost, and Japanese companies have to be aware of the loss of business involved. Japanese citizens will feel the burden due to the downturn in the economy. China’s domestic law, business regulations and consumers can all be maneuvered.

Provoking China comes with a heavy price tag. Finding Japan’s soft spot will help end its hostile policies against China during its rise. [The Global Times]

The Japanese will do well not to back down.  This is not China’s first altercation this past year with its neighbors.  It faced-off against South Korea and the U.S. in May over North Korea’s sinking of a South Korean warship. And its posture has grown increasingly confrontational towards Vietnam.  So much for “Peaceful Rise.”

But beyond all the huffing and puffing, and inebriated ranting is a CCP that is concerned about how it has played its cards, post-2009.  When U.S. president Barack Obama traveled to Beijing in May and seemingly “recognized” China’s position as the preeminent power in Asia, China (and much of the world) saw this as the actions of a fading superpower beating an honorable retreat.

However, even as Mr. Obama sought to engage with China on global issues, it became increasingly apparent that the Chinese didn’t share the same enthusiasm for such an arrangement, and instead were eager to challenge global efforts and the “U.S.-led order,” where it made sense.

In doing so, China overestimated its own relative power and potential in a post-economic-crisis world.  It expected the U.S. to yield to Chinese supremacy in the East- and South China Seas.  But rows between the U.S. and China, most noticeably in May, coupled with good counsel from some folks in the Obama Administration and ASEAN allies has resulted in a change in Washington’s stance to one that is more willing to contest Chinese power in its own back yard.

That the U.S. stood with Seoul on the sinking of the South Korean warship should come as no surprise.  But more encouragingly, discussions between the U.S. and Vietnam on civilian nuclear cooperation are a potential game-changer, and could bring the one country in the region perhaps most susceptible to Chinese bullying under U.S.’s “umbrella.”

The result of all of this is a country that harbors global aspirations, but is unable to project power, unchallenged,  in its own neighborhood.   The series of maneuvers that the U.S. orchestrated between July and September are the diplomatic equivalent of Hannibal at Trasimene.  And while it may not be  quite like Gaius Flaminius, China has realized that it has grossly miscalculated its reach, influence and relative power in the global order.

This should be painfully apparent to those aboard Beijing’s bandwagon. And a matter of encouragement to Asia’s democracies.

   

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