Editor’s Note: As East Asia’s largest economy, China encounters economic competition from regional powers such as Japan and India. It also faces US hegemonic aggression. These pressures lead to profound questions. How can China balance them to continue its rise? Is Japan or India a bigger threat in the region to China’s rise? The Global Times solicited opinions from two experts about this topic during an online forum held by Tsinghua University on Thursday.
Yan Xuetong, distinguished professor of Tsinghua University and a foreign member of Russian Academy of Sciences
In the process of its rise, China needs to put greater emphasis on neighboring countries as they present more challenges than support. The center of the world is shifting to East Asia, creating strategic significance in the region.
The combined GDP of the three East Asian countries – China, Japan, and South Korea – exceeds that of the European Union, and is very close to that of the US. The combined GDP of these three countries and the whole Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is now larger than that of the US.
East Asia will continue to hold and amass most of the world’s wealth for the foreseeable future. It will also become one of the world’s most competitive areas. It is imperative for China to gain support in this region.
In this respect, China’s diplomatic strategy currently holds three guiding principles: engaging the great power (the US) as a key; prioritizing neighboring countries including India, Japan and Russia; and regarding developing nations as a base agenda. However, China has treated the relations with neighbors as second to that with the US in recent years.
Today’s global configuration is shifting from unipolarity into a bipolarity rather than a multipolarity. In this process, structural contradictions between China and the US are inevitable, and our neighboring countries will be forced to take sides between the new rising power and the world’s established power.
Their choices so far are aligned with specific spheres. They typically tend to favor the US with matters of politics and security, and with China on economics.
This is a strategy adopted by many countries who side with the US on politics and security – in part because China’s non-alignment principle and does not provide security protection for other countries as the US does.
In addition, if China wishes to achieve its national reunification with Taiwan in a peaceful way, this requires China to build a stronger military power than the US; which is not currently in sight.
China also has not been involved in a war since 1978, and has far less combat experience compared to the US, which has both rich experience and more sophisticated equipment.
Gao Cheng, research fellow at the National Institute of International Strategy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
When a rising power confronts powerful external hegemonic forces and challenges from regional competitors, the rising power must take precaution that the latter two don’t join in a coalition against it.
What strategy should the rising power adopt in this scenario? China finds itself with such a conundrum with the US aggression and competition from Japan and India.
Against this backdrop, how the rising power allocates and applies its strategic resources will play a pivotal role in whether it can effectively deter and induce aligned aggressors.
The rising power needs to concentrate its finite resources on its core region. If superfluous resources are consumed outside the region, the rising power will encounter considerable peril—especially when the rising power hasn’t achieved a dominant position within its primary region.
China, as a rising power, should try to avoid triggering a joint offensive position between the US, Japan and India.
When faced with Washington, Tokyo, and New Delhi, Beijing’s best bet is combining its efforts of deterrence and incentives toward neighboring countries. I think it may seek a breakthrough in its diplomacy with Japan in this regard. India is harder to cope with because it is a stronger regional competitor.
The “strength gap” between China and Japan is widening, just as the threat Japan poses to China is waning. In contrast, India, an emerging power like China, believes its comprehensive strengths are approaching China’s step by step. Thus, its perception of China as a threat is different from Japan’s. Therefore, India’s motivation to contain China is stronger than Japan’s.
In this regard, China should invest its chief strategic resources in East Asia, and also expand them strategically in South Asia. Seeking support from regional small and medium powers, and managing surrounding core areas well can help China’s rise.
This will help China realize an effective strategic position over the US, Japan and India.
When checking and balancing a rising power, is there a divergence over the goals between a hegemonic player and regional actors?
There must be a difference. The hegemonic leader usually pursues strategic goals of maintaining dominance in a unipolar structure. It typically plays a zero-sum game with the rising power. Although the vast Pacific Ocean is big enough to accommodate both China and the US, it hardly contains two dominant powers. Other competitive powers, including US allies in the region generally set more flexible goals.
When competitive regional powers hope to dominate the regional order – this is what India intends to achieve, and what Japan wanted to fulfill— their goal of counterbalancing the rising power is the same as that of the hegemon.
In this scenario, the local powers will swing between Washington and Beijing for advantages with “wait and see” stances. Within the powerful vortexes of a bipolar world, these regional states will hedge their bets.
The principal challenge that China faces in its rise comes from its game with the US. This challenge is further intensified by regional competitors – which the US did not arguably have in its ascent to global dominance.
Therefore, China needs to pay more attention to its surrounding regions. For example, the Belt and Road Initiative should also involve more Southeast Asia.
From the perspective of China’s internal affairs, China’s reunification is a prerequisite for China’s rise. There is an alliance agreement between the US and Taiwan. Taiwan is US’ most important card. Once reunification is achieved, this will mean a virtual showdown of match between China and the US. The result could be either a complete rise of China or a complete halt to its rise.
In the course of China’s rise, many have said it is conducting “wolf-warrior diplomacy.” The tag is not accurate, as China has only responded more positively and directly to some countries, including the US and its allies. China’s foreign strategy toward neighboring countries and African countries has been relatively soft and flexible – and which cannot be summed up with a simplistic saying of “wolf-warrior.”
(In association with Global Times)