Like China in a china shop

A costly show of brightness

The line-up of columnists at Yahoo! India have a special on 2010 Year in Review. In my view, the most important geopolitical development of the year was the shattering of the myth of China’s “peaceful rise”. Here’s my piece:

Factional power struggles within the Politburo, bureaucratic turf fights among various arms of the PLA, overconfidence arising from the geo-economic cards it holds, provocation by the United States or grand incompetence — whatever the reason might be, China set aside Deng Xiaoping’s uncharacteristically straightforward advice to “hide your brightness, bide your time”. In doing so, it shattered the myth of a “peaceful rise” that its own spin-meisters had created and the world’s wishful had consumed. It also put paid to fanciful notions, promoted by nostalgic Cold War-era strategists, that the United States and China could form a “G-2” super-duopoly and, between them, sort out the many problems of global governance. China’s rapid change of foreign policy gears surprised its Asian neighbours both for its content as for its speed. The countries of East Asia are now engaged in a dramatic quest for stability that will come from a new balance of power.

India is an intrinsic part of this dynamic. There are signs that the UPA government, in its second term, is more committed to adding India’s weight to the Asian balance than it was in its first. It is drawing closer to Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia and the United States, strengthening their diplomatic hands in their engagements with China. Executed carefully, such a strategy is just what New Delhi needs to check China’s moves in the Indian Ocean. As I wrote in a Pax Indica column “the seas east of Singapore hold the key to the lands west of the Indus.”

Beijing is aware that stronger India-US partnership in East Asia is not in China’s interests. It is unclear, though, whether China’s leaders realise that they can avoid such an outcome by stepping back from the numerous Indian red lines it crossed in 2010. Comrade Deng perhaps didn’t say this, but “it’s better to have a swinging neighbor to the south, than a committed one.” [Yahoo India!]

One thought on “Like China in a china shop”

  1. Broadly agree, but is there evidence of “bureaucratic turf fights among various arms of the PLA”? I’d be interested in looking at this in more detail.

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