Not Just Another Country
China has a land mass of approximately 5,200 km from East to West and 5,500 km from North to South. It shares it’s land border with 14 countries which is next only to Russia, a part from this it also faces two countries South Korea and Japan across the Yellow Sea in the East. There are a number of other lucrative figures associated with China like it’s size, population, natural resources, mountain ranges and coastline but leave that for academicians. The real heft of China comes from it’s rich history and culture it’s more than 4,000 year old civilization. Recorded history tells us it was ruled by several dynasties from Xia, Qin, Han to the last dynasty of Qing in early 20th century. During these dynasties China undergone break-ups and reconsolidation a number of times. Inspite of multiple external influences China largely remained an introvert and homogeneous society. Republic of China emerged in 1912 culminating centuries of dynastic rules however, the period proved extremely volatile. Then came the crush, with second Sino Japanese war in 1937. The present Japan 2.0 is diametrically opposite of its own vintage self. The vintage Japan deeply rumpled China during occupation with complete loot and barbarism. The Chinese finally overthrew them from mainland(less island of Taiwan) in 1949 and with that emerged People’s Republic of China in mainland while present day Taiwan remained as Republic of China. People’s Republic of China, a complete communist setup organised the nation together to fight back imperialism and as an answer to Capitalist invaders. It was the communist party which drew lessons from past and embraced the reforms in late 1980s. It was one of the latest entrant to WTO in 2001 and rest is history. So there’s some serious legacy behind present day China, it’s communist setup, unitary polity and confrontation with Taiwan.
Smitten by the China’s Rise
China credits itself for inventing paper, printing, gun powder and compass. It undertook concerted reforms in 1978 under it’s only female Chairwoman Song Qingling, many conventional wisdoms were shown the window. It was flabbergasting for a poor nation where millions going hungry, aspiring to modernise itself. No one really gave a chance of success to this communist nation which as such was an anathema to Capitalist West. China simply bet on itself and it’s one in a million gamble paid off. The oppressive policies, restrictive freedom, strangulating human rights which China adopted while attempting to gain glory was a sure recipe for disaster. It could have simply backfired, broken up the country, could have caused the civil war, might have shown end of the roads to very same leaders who were pushing this agenda; in simple words China could have imploded from within. It was so risky that world knew it’s not worth emulating. China is an all by itself rags to riches story. It betted a complete collapse to gain one shot for achieving astounding success. It harvested ambitions beyond means. That’s China for you, they simply say we have toiled for where we are so shut-up and mind yourself. It largely explains why People’s Republic of China behave the way they do. As the reforms gained momentum the development started showing up. Let’s understand the human psychology rich or poor everyone wants to succeed in life. That’s what Chinese Communist Party(CCP) sold it’s people, the dream of a better future. But what was remarkable was the success which CCP achieved in doing so. Couple it with it’s P5 and Nuclear Power status it will reflect almost surreal achievements.
A Problem Child
China’s rise has been as much a fairy-tail as it has been unorthodox. It defied conventions and wisdoms focussed on the targets while sacrificing upon issues which rest of the humanity considers sacred. It achieved a mechanical success devoid of heart and soul. The nascent China continued to grow and on growing became a problem child for the world. The leadership of People’s Republic of China from Chairman Mao to President Xi Jinping, all had one common constant and that was ‘success above all’. China sustained it’s best behaviour when it was still developing, when it needed rest of the world for wealth, technology and military might. The posture was for others, within CCP they wanted un-distracted mission like focus while they still remained behind their goals. The aim was not to get into confrontation till they were strong enough to do so and that time wasn’t far either. As China rose to become world’s prominent economy and military power it changed tracks completely by design. Chinese were now devising newer ways to hedge their new found wealth and gain world influence. It shed complete inhibitions and cloak of morality while dealing with countries. Indeed, China literally meant business for them – everything was fair for achieving it’s goals, decency be dammed!
China adopted an incredible three pronged strategy, A strategy fully endorsed by its central commission and ‘God of all things’ – President Xi Jinping. First was for minor countries out of it’s military influence – overinvest with liberal capital. Second was for countries which were within its sphere of military influence – exploit them with overwhelming threat of military might. And thirdly, for countries which had capacity to question, just unleash wolf warrior diplomacy. Wherein, Chinese diplomats were given free pass to almost abuse the host government policies in the language they want. Aim was to deliberately rake up a confrontation and then show them place by restrictive trade measure in the garb of “Actions Taken Under National Interest” a colloquial term used for getting WTO’s waivers from punitive actions for departing from trade agreements. The splurging on huge capital was identified as the biggest catalyst to Chinese Dreams. So here was China – investing, bribing and even threatening whatever could work to gain a foothold and then complete influence across the globe in a La Imperial avatar. China devised an East India Company equivalent for itself in the form of Belt and Road Initiative(BRI). In the cover of infrastructure development, it made investments in countries which simply could not afford to return. The trap was extremely well disguised and deals were further sweetened up for mostly corrupt leaders in powers for these Banana Republics. For these nations China become an immortal demi-God which would bring prosperity to their country as Christmas gift from Santa Clause. Reality was very different though when Chinese packages unfolded nothing was a grant, it was loan on a returnable basis whose interest was much higher, there were hidden clauses of non-disclosure, default of payment would automatically attract the pledged asset being put under Chinese control. And default they had to, they never had means for servicing Chinese loans. But then it was trap it has to be camouflaged for people to willingly step over and get tripped. Countries after countries defaulted, the situation of Pakistan and Sri Lanka have come to a state where they never have been in worst of their times. No surprises for guessing the common thread – it’s the undesired Chinese Investments. China nurtures it’s prey the way it wants and it will drive out last pound of their flesh come what may. It seems like a blood craving vulture and vampire. The countries within China’s military influence, barring a few exceptions, been threatened, violated and put under notice for disputed borders, maritime claims and even control of island assets. China pulled out all stops to pick a conflict with just about everyone and all at a same time. It’s No delusion, though completely unbelievable but that is how China has evolved creating huge turbulence all across.
The disruptive rise of China created a deep anxiety for the general norms of international conduct. China would just not follow the rules, even at the height of cold war or post demise of Soviet Union none of the world powers behaved so abrasively and brazened it out without even an attempt to cover their intentions. This was a complete new ball game world was just not prepared for. There was never an intention to obstruct China’s rise, entire World has enough space to grow. Nations felt they will have time to groom China how to behave while seated on the high table. Norms of international conduct are well practiced, tried and tested. Conduct of nations are dictated by the ‘depth of mutual respect and their place in world order’. World knew how to deal with a rash Hugo Chavez or a sophisticated Margaret Thatcher. But they didn’t know how to handle an erratic Chavez with a fortune of Japan and military might of France. It was indeed a serious headache where only best guess approach could stand some chance.
Not So Fast!
Dealing with China is No easy proposition. Had it not been for China’s recent tantrums where it felt it could raise the stakes and follow expansionist policies – not a soul was really concerned either. World was largely OK to let China do technology theft, copyright infringement, follow secretive economy and suppressive human rights regime. Never-mind that China made most of it, but it’s like a typical attention seeker teen who would go to any extent to just draw attention and feel important about self. China really is an abnormal problem and begs an equally extraordinary solution. It strongly needs a lesson in behavioural science. It seeks huge attention, wants to be given a celebrity status, wish to lecture everyone about everything and worst of all has an extremely fragile ego. Talking about solutions there are three, so simplest one first, No need to get worked up about China, dealing has to be on a case on case basis. The workable policy towards China is ‘No Carrot & All Sticks’. Secondly, China understands a pure commercial language, like a fresh graduate from a Business school, compassion and humility are useless words for it. Thus maintain an all transactional link with it, don’t even think of sanctions or breaking trade dealings, it will be plain foolishness. China till date has used the World to grow, it’s time for rest of the World to get their dividends back. And thirdly, poke it when necessary and exactly where it feels. But just poke it, it doesn’t deserve more attention than that. Continue doing heavy trade and dish out all insults in the same breath when required. Let them realise they are not the only ones born smart. When China tries showing military heft, confront it disproportionately, it will buckle down. For all its big mouth it doesn’t have matching spine, unlike Western militaries which are combat hardened; China knows and fears that. In a very well researched book Tao of Soldiering: The Chinese Paradigm by an Indian author Nihar Kuanr, it has been aptly highlighted that – “Success or failure of HR policies depends as much on several tangible factors, as on various intangible aspects”. The intangibles of Chinese military was laid bare when handful of Indian troops confronted a celebrated military power during Galwan clashes, Chinese troops bled and ran for cover. But a question here begs to be answered – is that all for responding to China? Definitely NOT, China has it’s time under the Sun, it twisted and tweaked every means to gain a Dollar. China is now some distance away from reaching it’s ‘liberty vs prosperity’ equilibrium, it will grow till then. But when it reaches there, the contradictions will start blowing out. The very freedom which China denied it’s poor population by selling ‘dreams of prosperity’, will come haunting. The same prosperous people will now ‘dream for freedom’! That will be unstoppable moment and world just needs to wait till then. If China itself chooses military confrontation for it’s skewed desires as wished by Chairman Xi, it will only hasten that moment. In any which way China will have to face it’s ‘Moment of Truth’ and that’s not far away! Till then, as they say, let there be Business as Usual!
(This article has featured in a National Magazine)