Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Beijing’s aggressive regional policies and its implications

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : AUKUS

Mains level : Paper 2- Implications of China's aggressive policies for geopolitics

Context

One of the many consequences of China’s assertive posture in Asia has been the emergence of geopolitical coalitions to limit the prospects for Beijing’s regional dominance.

Two new coalitions forcing China rethink

  • Quad and AUKUS: Two new coalitions that have got a lot of political attention are the Quadrilateral framework involving Australia, India, Japan and the US, and the AUKUS, which brings together Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
  • Until recently, China was quite contemptuous of the new political formations.
  • It had compared the Quad to “seafoam” that is here now but gone in a second.
  • China’s dismissive attitude has now yielded place to denunciation.

US’s policy forcing China to rethink

  • Two big factors are behind China’s rethinking.
  • Consensus in the US on Challenging China: One was the surprising emergence of American domestic political consensus on challenging China.
  • Beijing believed that Donald Trump was an exception to the longstanding US policy of deeper economic integration with China and sustained political engagement. But Biden has simply reinforced Trump’s strategy.
  • US making alliances critical element of China policy: Trump thought that alliances are a burden on US taxpayers.
  •  Biden, in contrast, has made alliances a critical element of his China strategy.
  • The idea was to create “situations of strength” vis-a-vis China by rebuilding US alliances and developing new coalitions.
  • In Asia, the Biden administration moved quickly to strengthen the traditional security ties with its allies in northeast Asia — Japan and South Korea.
  • Elevating the Quad to leaders-level: It also elevated the Quad to the leaders-level within weeks after Biden took charge and had a physical summit in Washington six months later.
  • AUKUS: It also announced the AUKUS.
  • Biden travelled to Europe in June this year to revitalise the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
  • Summit with Russia: Biden also decided on an early summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin that took place in Geneva at the end of his European tour.
  • Rebalancing relations: Biden’s team believed that the greatest strength of the US was its wide network of allies and partners.
  • And that mobilising them was the key to rebalancing relations with China.

How China is making alliances and partnerships?

  • While China’s economic reach is now global and deep, political and military alliances have not been part of Beijing’s tradition.
  • Relations with Russia at peak: Beijing’s ties with Moscow have never been as close as they are.
  • Relations with N. Korea and Pakistan: China also has strong alliance-like relations with North Korea and Pakistan.
  • But there can be little comparison though between the kind of strengths that American allies bring to the table with those of China’s partners.

Is Asian geopolitical structure turning in China’s favour?

  • Beijing was betting on the proposition that the Asian geopolitical structure was turning, irretrievably, in China’s favour.
  • This is based on a number of propositions.
  • Location of the US: America, located far from Asia, will have trouble overcoming the tyranny of geography in a conflict with China.
  • The economic and military power of China: China’s hard power — both economic and military — relative to the US is growing rapidly and shifting the local balance of power in its favour.
  • Location of China: The proximity of China and Asian regional integration have made Beijing the most important economic partner for the whole region.
  • Beijing believed that few Asian nations would want to spoil their commercial relations with China and align with Washington.
  • Power imbalance: The vast imbalance in military power between Beijing and its neighbours it presumed would dissuade most Asian states from considering armed confrontations with China
  • Breaking up coalition: China counted on the fact that it is easier to break up coalitions than build them.

Implications of China’s aggressive policies

  • Making the US unfriendly prematurely: Chinese policies have driven the US towards an unanticipated internal consensus on containing Beijing.
  • Making a friendly America into an enemy prematurely could go down as one of Xi Jinping’s egregious strategic errors.
  • Driving regional countries towards the US: China’s aggressive regional policies are driving many countries like Australia, India, Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam, towards the US.
  • Neighbouring countries pursuing stronger national military capacities: While the military balance of power in Asia has certainly turned in China’s favour, it has not cowed down its neighbours.
  • Many are pursuing stronger national military capabilities to limit some of the threats from China.
  • Stoked nationalism: China, which never stops to emphasise its own nationalism, appears to have underestimated the depth of similar sentiment in other Asian states.
  • Today, it is driving many of China’s neighbours into the US camp.
  • It is America and not China that today talks about the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Asian nations.

Consider the question “One of the many consequences of China’s assertive posture in Asia has been the emergence of geopolitical coalitions to limit Beijing’s regional dominance. Critically analyse.”

Conclusion

It has been quite fashionable in the West as well as in the East, to proclaim that China’s hegemony is inevitable, American decline is terminal, and Asian coalitions are unsustainable. Those conclusions are premature at best. For Xi Jinping has squandered many of China’s natural geopolitical advantages.

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