Recently, “The Atlantic Council of United States,” an American think-tank whose members in the past were selected to serve critical roles in the US government and have played vital roles in the US Government, published an “extraordinary” strategy paper. The think-tank did not reveal the author’s name (an ex-US Government authority figure). It stated that the strategy paper deserves full attention of the United States’ elected leaders and that of its democratic partners and allies. The report's main objective was to communicate a comprehensive, integrated strategy to make sure that in the next three decades, the United States should be able to modify China’s objective and behaviour.
The proposed strategy’s desired outcome is to make China operate within the US-led liberal world order and prevent the rise of any rival world order led by China. The strategy’s central focus is to create fissures within the Chinese Communist Party and try to diminish President Xi Jinping’s standing within the party. As one reads through the strategy paper, it really does not seem very “extraordinary.” The strategy reminds one of the Western “divide and rule” tactics. The plan does not seem to acknowledge past failures of the United States in such efforts at multiple levels.
Suppose this strategy, or a modified one, will be the cornerstone of the Biden Administration in dealing with China, which it will take to its allies. In that case, someone has to tell the United States trying to directly target President Xi Jinping, or his potential successor that this will not work. Such efforts show the hypocrisy and are not in alignment with the values of the 21st Century. Suppose any other country could create a strategy to undermine America’s leadership and create divisions within its political class. In that case, we all know how America will react, especially after the US Congress led Trump’s impeachment in alleged 2015 US election interference.
Combating the Chinese Tools
Then what can be done about Communist China that is increasingly becoming aggressive and arrogant?
First, the world has to recognise that while talking about China, we need to refer to it as a great country, a proud people, with rich ancient culture, history that was denied its rightful voice in global affairs for a long time. Second, after centuries and many sacrifices, China has arrived at a respectable stature uncomfortable for Western powers to digest. Unfortunately for the world, including its neighbours like India and Japan, Communism happened to be the tool that China used to organise itself and later co-opted Capitalism, helped by the United States, to arrive at the world stage with momentum. Now the “dark energy” of Communism is nudging China to co-opt technology to control its people at an unimaginable level and wage hostile intellectual property takeovers. At this point, China has access to almost all tools sufficient enough to claim a superpower status. This state of affairs drives world leaders in a huddle to stop the inevitable diminishing of the current US-led world order.
China’s history and a deep-rooted desire to regain excellent international standing commanded centuries ago stopped it from becoming an outright pariah, as the Axis Powers of the 1940s. Communist China wishes to be connected with the world so that there is someone to clap in its royal court and cultivate its relationship with weaker nations on its terms.
Had China been a democratic country, probably the West would still have found ways to undermine its emergence as a Superpower. One can see signs of this in West's dealing with India today. Despite Prime Minister Modi's articulated objective of pursuing equity for all Indians, foreign powers try to undermine his leadership by labeling his administration as authoritative and trampling on minority rights. Do what they may, China and India will face challenges from Western powers whenever they try to claim leadership in the current world order because Western powers do not want to give up their standing.
Suppose Western powers’ bias to try to suppress rising powers like China and India and accompanying propaganda games are to be eliminated for clarity of analysis. In that case, one can focus on only those elements of China’s behavior that cause severe issues for its neighbors.
Public Mandate for Chinese Aggression
Respect for the territorial integrity of its neighbours has never been an attribute of Communist China. There is widespread support among the ordinary citizens of China for the territorial claims of the Chinese Government. Such claims help the Chinese Communist Party to consolidate support for its regime and continued perpetuation and rationalisation of Communism for domestic consumption. Besides, claims to neighboring territories provide an overt tool to the Chinese Communist Party to create an international diplomatic environment that can be dialed in any direction, up or down, to create instability and suit its needs at a time of its choosing. This tool has proven extremely valuable for China in its international diplomacy and tactics. With recent economic prosperity and an ability to generously fund its military, the territorial claim tool has become even more manageable and less risky to wield.
For India to have meaningful peace and stability at its borders, it must recognise that China will never settle its territorial disputes with it. It will be a permanent feature of China’s diplomacy with India—as long as the Communist regime stays in power. History has proven that China tends to pull out an olive branch intermittently. Whenever it does not like India’s actions, it tends to take out the tool of territorial claim to aggravate it. Unlike the United States, India’s principles and internal capacity will not force a regime change in China. India’s only option is to find a tool equal or more potent than the territorial claim tool of China so that it is not always on the defensive. India should also find a credible capability to unilaterally dial-up or dial-down bilateral tensions at its own will and time. How to achieve this is a topic best left to India’s National Security apparatus.
As India matures into a developed nation, there should be no illusion that Communist China, as long as it exists in its current form, will give up its negative tendencies against India. It is a hope that someday Chinese citizens will realise that Communism has served its purpose and the times demand a new governance system not only for the sake of China but also for its neighbours and the world. But if Chinese citizens believe in Communism and want to continue it, why should the world try to destabilise China? India should not align completely with Western nations to bring down China. An assertive China will benefit India and its neighborhood even in a rival role. Many in India want China to regain its past glory and wish well for it. Simultaneously, India should be prepared to stand up to China whenever China brings in instability on its borders or neighborhood.
(The writer is a PhD and president, International Center for Cultural Studies, USA)