By Nathan Heinrich and Jon Formella.
China and its ruling CCP have grand ambitions for the rejuvenation of China and a return to the tianxia system with China as an envisioned benign leader of Asia. Viewing the stark realities of IR through the lens of realism accurately predicts that these visions of grand rejuvenation found domestically in China will be vigorously opposed by its neighbors and African who seek to maintain national independence despite Beijing's attempted seductions through the charm offensive and win-win diplomacy. Though Beijing seeks to present itself as a benign leader of a “united south” of developing nations, its great power autism and fixture on reenacting a glorious past hinders China's ability to recognize that these supposedly magnanimous measures are interpreted by many in Asia, Africa, and Xinjiang as hawkishness which further makes construction of an Asia and developing world happily subordinated to PRC hegemony difficult.
A major difficulty in the construction of an Asia happily subordinated to the PRC is the "Never Forget National Humiliation" and "Manifest Destiny" mentality espoused by the Chinese government. Because of China's vision for itself as a
chosen nation which was once great and destined to be rejuvenated once more (Wang 237), it is difficult for Chinese foreign policy to effectively engage in truly balanced international partnerships. Wang Zheng suggests that
the CCP is no longer the vanguard of the...working class and therefore must create a new identity....through the legitimizing effects of historical memory... as the
firmest and most thoroughgoing patriot which
...cannot afford to tolerate any perceived insults to China's sovereignty and greatness.(Wang 136). The revanchist attitude of CCP nationalism has succeeded in arousing Sinophobia in neighboring countries and greatly endangered stability. Shin Yinhong warns
...that mutual hatred and antagonistic sentiments could aggravate Sinophobia...and lead to a vicious cycle that is potentially dangerous for China(Wang 218). Similar to the legendary
Goujian story that all schoolchildren learn in primary school(Wang 231), the CCP leaders through historical memory envision China's rise as a reenactment of a glorious past at rightful place as head of the tianxia system. Despite the outward win-win rhetoric towards its neighbors and "third world brothers," beneath it all the CCP desires to vindictively reassert itself as the rightful leader of its Asian neighborhood.
The African experience of Chinese win-win diplomacy as observed by Howard French aptly illustrates how nations will resist Chinese hegemony as predicted by IR realism as China seeks to take advantage of resources and growing materials in Africa while the African nations seek to maintain independence yet develop economically. Africans like senior economist Kwadwo Tutu realize that China is attempting to play a self-help game.
'Countries are not philanthropists,' he said. 'They are in business for themselves, and like many businesspeople, they will like to cheat you if you don't enforce your own rules and regulations...That's the game of life we're in.' Tutu poured scorn on Chinese sloganeering toward Africa, especially about the phrase 'win-win,' and on China's insistence that it was not a wealthy country, but rather a peer member of the Third World. 'We know that this discourse doesn't have a bit of truth to it...China is not a developing country; only a fool would believe that. That is why I get angry when they stand up in the climate talks and try to make that argument. It's so self-serving.'(French 189-190). Evidently people like Tutu are not so easily seduced by China's attempts at tianxia-style subordination as the leader of a "unified south."" Furthermore, French notes that
Right from the start...there was trouble between the new Chinese owners and their Zambian employees. In 2011 Human Rights Watch, reported: 'Almost immediately after production began [at Chambishi] in 2003, the Chinese companies faced complaints about labor abuses, particularly low pay, poor safety conditions, and union busting. While some of the anti-Chinese vitriol seemed to reflect racism fueled by cultural differences, the Chinese companies were-and, as this report shows, remain-the biggest violator of workers' rights among Zambian copper industry employers.'(French 62). Evidence of the Chinese "chosenness" and "Manifest Destiny" can even be seen among the common Chinese immigrants to Africa. French remarks,
Most of the Chinese I met in Africa had expressed a sure and easy self-righteousness about their country's place in the world. 'We want to make a great leap,' [one Chinese immigrant] said. 'We are in a big hurry, you are right. But it is win-win. Double happiness.' The characters for those two words had been stamped on all the red lanterns hung for the wedding banquet. 'Win-win,' he repeated. 'Don't forget that...'(French 232). The self-help mentality of China thinly veiled through "win-win" rhetoric can be seen in the form of labor abuse, corruption, tied aid and what some would call neo-imperialist arrogance are all obstacles to China's rise to leadership of a happy "unified south" in Asia and Africa.
Tensions between China and other nations resulting from current assertive maritime strategy have origins in the CCP's energy supply paranoia.
The explosive growth sparked by Deng's reforms placed ever greater demands on the country's energy resources...By 1994, China was once again a net importer of oil.(Paulson 69). Furthermore, the realist self-survival thirst for oil stemming from economic incentives and domestic demand supplanted Deng's "Bide Our Time and Hide Our Light" policies with more aggressive maritime actions with flashpoints seen in places like the South China Sea, Malacca Straits, and the Spratly Islands. Indeed, the PRC's outward international opening-up has resulted in strategic realignment on security issues:
...according to an official military strategy...Beijing is placing a top priority on building up its naval clout. 'The traditional mentality that land outweighs sea must be abandoned, and great importance has to be attached to managing the seas and oceans and protecting maritime rights and interests,' the Chinese document said. To safeguard the country's sovereignty and key shipping lanes, China needs to be 'building itself into a maritime power,' it said.(Dan De Luce). This tilt to maritime Asia combined with the strengthening of the PLA Navy and its resulting policies of assertiveness have led Asian nations to find means to counter China's hegemony and leadership. PRC intellectuals proclaim a similar approach to international relations for China under an Asian Monroe Doctrine:
This scholar...was researching how the United States succeeded in implementing the Monroe Doctrine...he hoped China could adopt a similar approach in twenty-first-century Asia...China now wants to establish an analogous leading position in Asia. It, too, needs to exercise authority over neighboring states at some point in the future to become a global power.(Lynch 178). While this might seem to imply China's intent to facilitate a benign transition from Pax America to Pax Sinica in the region, hawks within China intent on policies of assertiveness have undoubtedly alarmed its neighbors such as from the perspective of national security:
During a tense discussion of the South China Sea disputes, the foreign minister coldly reminded his ASEAN counterparts that 'China is a big country, and other countries are small countries, and that's a fact.'(Lynch 156). Countries such as Japan have gradually become targets of hawkish policy advocates within the PRC regime in this new era. After the provocative visit of Abe to the Yasakuni shrine, hawks within China declare that:
Abe visited the shrine for the dead militarists, reversed the case of Japan's history of evil aggression, and found a way to revive militarism...The danger of war is looming! Japan is pushing its military...Japan is the source of the current war crisis.(Ji Zhiye et al 33). This rhetoric from China's hawkish elites greatly alarms China's neighbors who turn to outside balancers such as the US and its Trans-Pacific Partnership which offer alternatives to PRC hegemony:
The TPP also has a geopolitical edge...it is the centerpiece of a US ‘pivot' to Asia that otherwise has been more rhetorical than real...America's continued leadership in Asia is a function not only of military might but of its ability to shape trans-Pacific institutions in ways that produce prosperity and peace. TPP will reinforce the U.S.-Japan alliance and tie new partners like Vietnam into association with America and its regional allies.(Daniel Twining). As with East Asia, China's perceived assertiveness and hegemony have resulted in other Asian countries on its other borders to find offshore balancers:
The Burmese junta decided that China's overweening role was too much to put up with, preferring political reform and an opening to the West to the risk of becoming a Chinese satrapy.(Small 180). Internationally, China seeks to court its neighbors, yet its assertiveness leads to offshore balancers coming to the aid of countries like Burma. The PRC's ability to secure magnanimous hegemony in Asia will hinge on its ability to sincerely overcome hawkish tendencies with the CCP that lead Asian countries to balance with contenders such as the US which offers its own set of institutional alternatives to kowtowing to China's economic and political dynamism.
Uighur separatism is both a domestic and international factor which threatens China's western hegemonic expansion into Xinjiang and the Greater Middle East through China's "One Belt, One Road" initiative underscores its desired pivot westward and squash Uighur separatism:
...politically, it [One Belt, One Road] is intended to bind Asian countries into a dense web of economic networks, with China at their center...(Guy de Jonquieres). However, the culturally oppressed
Uighur militants, by now well networked across the jihadi world during their years in North Waziristan, have been appearing as far afield as Iraq and Syria fighting with the so-called Islamic State. And unlike Beijing's carefully calibrated escalations in East Asia, the threats emerging in its west have caught it looking seriously unprepared(Small 179), despite China's ambitions to bring its volatile border regions under its hegemony.
Ultimately, China's innate fixation on reenactments of historical glory, imbalanced engagement in Africa, hawkish neighborhood policy, and cultural repression of the Uighurs are factors which undermine Beijing's credibility as a benign leader causing countries to resist any Chinese hegemonic advances furiously.