Why Is China’s Recent International Posturing Self-Defeating?

By Amodani Gariba

Credit: Lam Yik Fei

Before Den Xiaoping, China pretty much kept to itself, with the exception of the country’s involvement in the Korean War of 1950 and China’s bitter rivalry with Taiwan beginning in 1949. During the Cultural Revolution, led by Mao Zedong, the country was under lock and key, similar to North Korea today. Much of that changed with the death of Mao, rise of Deng Xiaoping, and the defeat of ‘Gang of Four’, led by Mao’s last wife – Jiang Qing.

After 1979 China opened up to the world through its ‘Go Out’ policy. Investors from Japan and the West trooped in, in search of new economic opportunities and markets. With scholarship from the State, many Chinese students studied in various Western universities. The idea was to have these Chinese students return home to foster development of the country with the technical expertise they have required. The strategy proved somewhat successful, even though some of the students never bothered to return.

The economic boom that followed the ‘Go Out’ policy was perhaps the most important factor that led to the world’s biggest Economic miracle, yet to be rivalled. In less than half a century, China pulled itself from the bootstraps holding it back, to lift over half a billion people from poverty. A remarkable feat that China’s foes and admirers alike have well acknowledged. 

Current Changes To China’s Global Position

However, China’s recent international posturing indicates a departure from the norm. Compared to Pre-1979 China, this departure is not a sharp reversal of the prevailing status quo. China has not instituted a law to undo its ‘Go Out’ policy. Neither is Beijing seeking to disengage in International Affairs. Instead, quite the opposite is happening.

Recently, China has been engaged in a series of events that seem to challenge its long held principle of non-interference. We are now seeing a more assertive and aggressive China. The unintended consequences of China’s actions in and around its home region could reach a tipping point with Beijing suddenly closing down its borders.

China is violating a very important bilateral treaty – Sino-British Joint Declaration. The treaty gives Hong Kong, a former British colony, autonomy from China, which ends in 2047. However, 28 years down the line, China’s New National Security Law effectively revokes Hong Kong. To many, this came with no surprise, giving the recent massive political turmoil in Hong Kong and China’s reputation as a rogue nation.

How Is China Handling Its Own Affairs?

However, note that Hong Kong is the Wall Street of Asia and is a very important international financial hub. China’s new law could scare investors away from Hong-Kong. This promises to reduce Hong Kong, which is a bubbling financial nerve centre, to a pale shadow of itself. 

China is marginalizing Uighur Muslims in its Xinjiang province, with reports of extreme human rights abuse. This has caused strong international condemnation across the globe, but China is not budging an inch. Beijing is suppressing a diplomatic denunciation from Muslim countries by granting a risky concession to Saudi Arabia–a rogue monarch nation. China is helping Riyadh build a nuclear facility. Even though Saudi says it aims to diversify its energy sources with the nuclear facility, I sense a knee jerk response to the fear that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. China making Saudi Arabia’s nuclear ambition possible, tremendously adds to the insecurity and volatility of the Middle East. In case of any direct standoff between Riyadh and Tehran, which becomes very likely with both countries going nuclear, China stands to suffer badly, since it is about to conclude a $400 billion dollar petroleum deal with Tehran. However, if this happens, China cannot exempt itself from blame.

There are signs that China is reviving a decades-old border dispute with India. China’s armed forces engaged Indian troops in an escalation at the Galwan valley in the Himalayan region. When news of the death of some Indian soldiers leaked, massive anti-China protests rocked India. Another consequence is India’s boycott of Chinese goods. India is shelving its intention of allowing for Huawei’s inclusion in the country’s 5G roll out. 

Beijing is also engaged in a nasty economic and diplomatic tit-for-tat with Washington, with both countries closing each other’s consulate in Chengdu and Houston respectively.

China is overstretching itself and biting excessively more than it could swallow at a time. It has to pull the brakes now or risk self-imposed international isolation.

What do you think of China’s global positioning now?

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