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January 20 2022 4:52 PM ˚
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The emerging new global order — China

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(Photo: Shutterstock)
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In this article I tackle China’s objectives, calculations, and way of operations as it asserts itself as a mega power and corrects what it sees as a historical aberration of the past 150 years.اضافة اعلان

A look at a map of the Pacific Ocean and East Asia may help understand China’s rise to the status of mega power. The maritime sphere surrounding China’s eastern and southern borders is under China’s direct control. No power, not even the US, can now challenge China’s supremacy in this area.

Another sphere of influence extends to China’s key neighbors: Japan and Korea to the north, and Vietnam to the south. This is now the crux of the strategic, yet distant and still cool, face-off between the US and China.

China’s most important current strategic objective is to deny the US, and certainly Japan, the ability to challenge its supremacy in this maritime region, which includes Taiwan as well as the islands contested by both Japan and China. But the core of the matter here is not any territory, it is influence.

The US has been building major capabilities exactly at the edge of this area. Actually, two thirds of all American forces stationed in Japan are at its maritime border with China. For China, this area has always been its civilizational realm. Two words merit attention here: “always” and “civilizational”. China has been absent from that region since Western powers — initially Britain, then the US ­— established a presence in the area in the mid-19th century. And for a period, in the first half of the 20th century, it was Japan that held sway in the region, including by invading China itself. But these 150 years are a historical aberration for, before that, for at least 2,000 years, the whole of East Asia was completely under China’s influence.

Influence here transcended political homage from the region’s rulers to China’s emperor. It meant that social norms, religious or philosophical foundations, commercial underpinnings, such as customs and precedents, and key cultural features, including language, all had their ultimate references in China.

Returning to the state of affairs that existed before the West’s appearance in East Asia 150 years ago is the central idea behind China’s rise as a mega power. It is the desire — or aspiration ­­— that the Chinese Communist Party, supported by large swathes of the population, instils in the society.

This is why the question of China projecting its power over its neighbors is not a matter of if but of when. This “when” is a function of two variables. The first is how resistant East Asian nations will be to this Chinese expansionism. The offer is clear. In return for their acceptance, China presents them with major investments, a largely subsidized pan-regional infrastructure, often developmental support, and of course access to its colossal market.

This is a historical evolution. In the centuries prior to the nineteenth, China expected acquiescence to its supremacy on the back of its unrivalled size, and in its view, cultural superiority. Now, China’s offer is quite transactional. It is also a restraint offer. China is orchestrating and executing its expansion in East Asia, in the current phase, so that it stops short of antagonizing India to the level of mobilization, and short of resuscitating in Japan its old militant spirit.

But it is the second variable that is crucial to this first phase of the emerging new global order. That is, America’s response to China’s expansion in East Asia and the Pacific.

It is highly likely that America seeks to delay — rather than deny — China’s securing that region for itself. America realizes that for it, East Asia is the most important theatre in the strategic confrontation with China. For China, however, East Asia (excluding Japan) is its backyard, that old domain China’s idea of itself is inextricably linked to.

America will deploy major resources to make China’s expansion into its region slow, gradual, and crucially costly and fraught. Ultimately, however, America will yield it to China — for, denying it will mean war.

Simultaneously, however, America will erect strong barriers against any further Chinese expansion beyond East Asia. The nuclear submarines that are at the heart of the new AUKUS arrangement between US, UK, and Australia are but a clear example of such barriers. America is already putting its foot down, along a third Chinese sphere of influence, from Japan to Indonesia’s maritime borders. This way, America is tactically acquiescing to China’s rise to the status of mega power with a clear, historically backed sphere of influence in East Asia (excluding Japan), but strategically denying China the potential of asserting itself as an equal, as a superpower of growing multiple global presences.

This is an arrangement that China will likely accept — in the first phase of the emerging new global order.

This means that the next few years will witness pushes and pulls between America and China in East Asia, a game intended not to mark territories, but to expend the other’s energies and resources, a new Cold War largely focused on one specific, though vast, region. And it is the region with the most promising economic growth and social mobility in the world.

Two more variables arise. The first would be how China will operate in East Asia. China understands that almost all East Asian countries are apprehensive about its return. Some are clearly deepening their links with the US, and so joining its efforts to exact major costs on China as it re-enters the region.

China’s ability to balance what it considers its historical right and the grand idea of its rise, with the transactional approach it has been using in the past decade, will be the most important dynamic to observe here.

However, the second variable is perhaps more important for, its implications affect the nature of the emerging order. That is, what will Japan and India do? These two powerful countries stand at the north and south of East Asia. And in the same way that China remembers the centuries before its humiliation in the mid-19th century, Japan and India remember their centuries-long acute competition with China before the mid-19th century, not to mention their wars with it in the twentieth. This is why the calculations of Japan and India are different from those of the US.

The writer is an Egyptian author, commentator, TV presenter and documentary producer who specializes in regional politics and political economy affairs.


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