As the G20 Summit 2017—scheduled for this week in Hamburg, Germany—closes in, China is pitching for consensus on the implementation of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The focus will be on helping developing countries, especially the African nations, to boost sustainable economic growth, investment, and stability.
China’s policy of injecting investments and reaping disproportionate economic and strategic benefits out of them is strikingly reminiscent of mercantilism. The mercantilist policy approach it adopted has resulted in a steep rise in Beijing’s capacity to invest further and hold unprecedented foreign exchange reserves. The same policy can be credited for China becoming a global economic powerhouse that is launching strategic ambitions well beyond its immediate territory and shores.
China is intensifying its influence, both economically and politically, across Asia, which stretches to Africa and beyond. It would not be hyperbolic to argue that the ostensible reticence of the United States in adopting a more proactive role to counter Beijing’s mounting expansionist agenda is fast tilting the strategic scales in China’s favor.
Beijing is unbendingly providing shape to a cherished dream of reinstating its stature as the Middle Kingdom by multiple means. The most noteworthy among these is the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative that could well become the defining legacy of Xi Jinping’s rule. By unveiling an infrastructural blueprint which places China at the center of the world over land and sea links, Beijing’s Maritime Silk Route and Silk Road Economic Belt are expected to become the launch pad from which Xi Jinping’s China aims to reshape Asia-Pacific strategically, beginning with totalitarian geographical domination.
The strategic offensive unleashed in the South China Sea by Beijing’s land reclamation project is just the initial pointer of things to come. Even as most stakeholders and regional powers remain trenchantly contesting China’s artificial island construction and militarization of those features in international waters of the South China Sea, Beijing under Xi Jinping continues marching, relentlessly and unabashedly.
China has never been really known to have had allies or befriended big powers in quintessential terms. The exception was that decade of the 1950s, when it allied with the erstwhile USSR, which ended in a severe fallout that ultimately resulted in the bitter Sino-Soviet split in the following decade.
In the contemporary context, the complexities of Asia’s regional equations get amplified by Chinese domination in nearly every regional forum—be it the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and the proposed Asia-Pacific Free Trade Area spearheaded by China. The SCO, for that matter, is often been touted as a counterbalance security consortium to NATO.
All this is occurring at a time when Asian regional alignments are going through a critical and delicate phase. The security guarantor and provider for many nations, the US, under its current administration, has chosen to put “America First.” From a vantage point, the tone of the Trump administration’s Asia policy, at least in the first six months, seems increasingly reflective of an isolationist and distant outlook of US power and leadership role in global politics. The US’ announcement of formally withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership was an almost immediate exhibition of this approach.
What is more unfavorable for Asia is that China will surely make most of this gaping hole and attempt to seize this opportunity and inject its own vision and strategy for a Sino-centric Asia. In this reference, it is nearly obligatory for Asia’s two most prominent and responsible powers, India and Japan, to step forward and stabilize the dwindling balance of power within the region and beyond.
Speaking of the latter, the endeavor of the proposed Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) is commendable. It holds immense potential in which Delhi and Tokyo can establish a stronger footprint inside Africa, and take the lead in creating a free and open Indo-Pacific region linking the African continent with India and countries in South, South-East Asia, and Oceania via sea corridors.
Aimed largely to propel growth and investment in Africa, the AAGC is slated to build institutional, industrial, and transport infrastructure, which shall be a boon for better integration of Asian and African economies. Japan’s expertise in providing quality infrastructure will be a clincher in this case, in providing state-of-the-art technology, which will be well-matched by India’s long experience of working inside Africa. The classic interpretation of this retaliatory move by India and Japan is that both nations were feeling the pinch and loss of being outmaneuvered by China—and its strategic strides and intentions that are fast proving detrimental for a peaceful and stable Asia.
The prospect of any positive development in the Indo-Pacific and the Indian Ocean security arenas continues to remain bleak, owing to China’s constant attempts to alter the status quo. The theories of functional integration will be profoundly tested by the deepest disputes within Asia. Going by indicators, Xi Jinping’s strategic track remains fixated at re-establishing the Middle Kingdom and building an “affluent, strong…socialist modern country” by 2049, which is the 100th anniversary of the communist People’s Republic of China.
It is incumbent upon major players in Asia to collaborate more closely, or else there will be serious repercussions for Asia’s future, especially in the face of a China that is becoming more aggressive militarily.
Dr. Monika Chansoria is a Senior Visiting Fellow at The Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo. She is the author of five books, including her latest work, China, Japan and Senkaku Islands: Conflict in the East China Sea amid an American Shadow (© 2017). Follow her on Twitter @MonikaChansoria.