By M.R. Josse
KATHMANDU: Is China now the world’s second super power, after the United States? While intellects of far superior geopolitical acumen or acuity than mine will no doubt provide authoritative answers to that tantalizing query soon enough, I have for sometime now been struck that, almost without anyone noticing it, China is currently increasingly being so addressed.
Not too long ago, while China was commonly referred to merely as a ‘rising’ great power, or ‘potential’ super power or ‘Asia-Pacific powerhouse’ and so on, I myself noted that AFP in a dispatch on a recent ASEAN foreign ministers’ conclave in the Laotian capital categorically described China as a ‘super power’.
SECOND SUPER POWER?
More lately, in a report on the just concluded G-20 summit in Hangzhou, China was described by a Western correspondent of Aljazeera as the ‘other super power.’
The AP reporting from Hangzhou believed “China hopes to use its status as this year’s G-20 leadership to increase its influence in regional economic management”- against the backcloth that China, the second biggest economy after the United States, is widely projected to be the first by 2020.
No less instructive is that several Western countries have already agreed to back the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which began its operations in January with 57 founding members and $ 100 billion in committed capital, which it plans to invest in projects across the region.
At this juncture it may be moot to recall that China’s coming out party was considered the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which as Henry Kissinger noted in ‘On China”, seemed to proclaim: “We have arrived. We are a fact of life, no longer to be ignored or trifled with but prepared to contribute our civilization to the world.”
Even before the 2008 Olympic Games that so dazzled the world and where China stunned by emerging at the very top of the medals tally, there had been low-decibel soundings on the need for a ‘G-2’ consultative mechanism between the US and China, a suggestion – or trial balloon – promptly shot down by Beijing itself.
At that time, I vividly recalled China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s 1980 injunction on how China should conduct or shape its foreign policy in the foreseeable future. In the main, he expressed the hope that Chinese leaders would do so by first observing the world, dealing calmly with foreign affairs, maintaining a low profile and never claiming leadership.
As noted American academic and Sinologist, Robert Lawrence Kuhn, explained in ‘Beijing Review’ (February 5, 2015): “In fact, Deng wanted China to focus on building its own economy so that, in addition to enhancing the standard of living of the Chinese people, China would never again be bullied by foreign powers and would finally take its rightful place among the great nations of the world.”
Naturally, Deng’s wise counsel has been modified with the passage of time because of the sea changes in the international strategic environment since 1980. There can be little doubt, I believe, that because of adhering to such a sagacious and visionary policy – providing to China the opportunity to concentrate unfettered attention to economic reforms and her ‘four modernizations’ programme which form the very foundation of her spectacular rise – that China has so brilliantly seized the attention and imagination of the world today.
And, no doubt, it laid the firm basis for the world to presently increasingly refer to her as the second super power!
Whatever terminology or adjective one chooses to use when referring to contemporary China, Xi’s imaginative, strategic and forward-looking initiatives have certainly provided the impetus for China’s forward and upward trajectory into the ranks of the world’s major powers.
As Kuhn recalled, Xi had called upon China to “participate and lead, make China’s voice heard, and inject more Chinese elements into international rules”, even while he argued that Xi was reshaping the diplomatic landscape and new global thinking of “active engagement.”
While agreeing with Kuhn’s assessment that the ‘One Belt and One Road’ initiatives (the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road) are Xi’s new plan for multinational development and exemplify his strategic thinking, I would add that they are precisely of the genus and scope that would project China into super power status.
Much the same conclusion wafts across one’s mind after reading a Reuters report from Hangzhou that discloses that following American President Barak Obama’s exhortation to China – at a one-on-one meeting with Xi – ‘to uphold its legal obligations in the disputed waters of the South China Sea’ while stressing the ‘US commitments to its regional allies’, one is then informed that ‘Xi said China would continue to safeguard its sovereignty and maritime rights in the South China Sea’.
Even in Mao’s heyday, China demonstrated that she would not easily be bullied where her core interests were concerned. In fact, Kissinger reminds that from China’s costly participation in the Korean War, sans promised Soviet support, the lesson that Mao learnt was that “the defense of China must basically be the task of the Chinese”, with its corollary: “If your country’s existence is at stake, you do not haggle over the price.”
Considering that China has, after Xi’s advent, dubbed her South China Sea claims a core national interest, and that today’s China is far mightier than the China of Mao, or even Deng, it would be extremely rash, in my view, to challenge her on this vital front, not least because Beijing has consistently stated it is prepared to negotiate directly with the parties concerned in disputes concerning islands and so forth in the South China Sea.
Though China has not claimed super power status herself, in plain terms, that is her present condition. In the meantime, it may be salutary to recall that, unlike many present or past major Pacific powers, China has not waged war or invasions in the Asia-Pacific threate!