Long game with Beijing

Source: TOI, Indian Express

Relevance: Understanding China’s future assertive foreign policy

Synopsis: China believes its own rise and the decline of the US are inevitable. India must pay attention


In his speech for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC), on July 1, 2021, Xi Jinping means said that “the Chinese people have stood up and the era of suffering bullying has gone, never to return.”

A possible interpretation by Chinese international policy experts and a future strategy that India can evolve to deal with China.

US provocation

The current adversarial environment between US & China is due to US policy changes only. US-China relationship has always revolved around two ideas:

  • The idea that the US will respect and not de-stabilise China’s internal order and
  • The idea that the Chinese will not intentionally weaken the US-led international order.

The current situation is due to the fact that the US is seeking a regime change. China is not to be blamed in any way, and is simply responding to American provocation.

Chinese experts advice to Washington is to return to the earlier implicit consensus.

China’s policy change

China’s shift to a more assertive foreign policy is due to the ill-intention of the US towards China.

  • The new challenge for Beijing is how to be seen to be championing the cause of multipolarity while actually striving for a duopoly with the US or a multipolar order with US-Chinese relations at its core.
  • There is no contradiction between China seeking global co-hegemony and, at the same time, continuing to be a “developing country”, as a demonstration of its geo-political alignment.
  • Inclusive multilateralism is what China is aiming at with several forums in South Asia.
Difference b/w Chinese and American multilateralism

As stated earlier, Chinese experts believe that China follows a model of inclusive multilateralism while American alliance-building activities constitute exclusive multilateralism.

  • China’s coalitions are open and non-threatening but the American ones are “issue-based coalitions in opposition to China.
  • America exports its value system (democracy) as part of its foreign policy, while China does not. (The argument is unconvincing when President Xi has, on more than one occasion, referred to the Chinese model as an alternative for developing countries who wish to be independent.)

Main message, by Chinese experts, to the Americans is to give up on pressuring China to change its political system as this will be futile, and to return to accommodating the Chinese Communist Party as a legitimate global player. The Chinese message to the rest is to bend to China’s inevitable hegemony.

Problems before China
  • Debt problem: China’s total debt has grown from 140% of GDP in 2008 to nearly 290% of GDP now. To break out of this cycle while ensuring high growth China needs better technology, and indeed it is investing heavily in high-tech industries
  • Surveillance state: The formidable digital-era surveillance state Xi is setting up internally has led to widespread suspicion of China’s own high-tech exports – look at the escalating bans on Huawei products worldwide.
  • Structural limitations: China’s rapidly ageing population, its stark inequalities and neglect of its rural population are some structural limitations that China must wake up to.
  • Power struggle: There’s also the question of what happens when Xi, who’s 68 currently and has abolished term limits to his time in office, ages or dies – an intense power struggle within the CCP is all but inevitable.
Concerns for India

From India’s perspective, three points might deserve attention.

  • First, the statement that there is a paradigm shift in post-Covid Chinese foreign policy.
  • Second, that Beijing views America’s so-called “issue-based coalitions” (presumably the Quad) as the most serious external threat to its political security and the biggest obstacle to national rejuvenation.
  • Finally, that China is still offering accommodation if Washington just respects Beijing’s internal order and acknowledges China’s regional dominance.
Way forward

New Delhi will face intense pressure from Beijing, which will wax and wane over the medium term. To ride this out New Delhi must take a leaf out of Beijing’s book and learn to play the long game. This could include intermittent wars, both on the LAC and the LoC. Indian foreign policy, and its military, will be tested as never before.

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