Adding to concerns over China’s increasingly aggressive pursuit of its interests, which is evident in ongoing disputes with its neighbors, the so-called Hong Kong Umbrella Rebellion is the strongest repudiation of China’s communist rule since Tiananmen Square. As the Chinese government appears less and less compromising, this latest speed bump in its agenda provides some insight into China’s future. That said, when there is major news in China, a proper analysis must include the impact on neighboring countries.
Looking at India as the second largest representative of the world’s most populous block of countries, it is in direct competition for resources, global investment, and regional influence with China. This inherent competition, which is sure to intensify under the stress of the world’s two most populous nations’ ever-growing needs, translates into a multitude of potential flash points.
At the moment Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, appears to comprehend the hazards of allowing conflicts of interests between the two nations to fester until they explode into major confrontations. This is evident in the efforts of the two leaders to meet face-to-face and resolve the Chushul-Ladakh Border Dispute in late September.
In the long-term, however, serious conflicts of interest can erode the working relationship between China and India. Aside from China and India’s ever-growing appetites for natural resources, including basics like potable water and foodstuffs, China’s ties with India’s tradition rival Pakistan, as one major example, presents a potential point of contention. That is, of course, unless Modi can also build a strong working relationship with Pakistan.
Conversely, India’s strengthening relationship with the US and other Western countries in a time when American interests are colliding with the rising global power that is China, puts India in direct competition for China’s economic position and status as the region’s most influential country. Given Russia’s strengthening relationship with China at a time when the West is fighting with Russia over the Ukraine Crisis, India and China could eventually find themselves on opposite sides of a line being drawn to divide the world.
Adding stress to the Chinese-Indian relationship is the issue of democracy. Where India is a democracy with a fairly dysfunctional government seeking better governance to better serve the interests of the Indian Peoples, China seems increasingly hesitate to embrace the inevitable democratization process as the leadership caters to its interests. With that in mind, the Hong Kong Umbrella Revolution can be skirted by India in its dealings with China for some time, but events, such as those in Hong Kong, as well as the Arab Spring revolutions, create pressure to address the inherent conflict between communist and democratic countries.
At the moment, China seems to be courting India by providing economic incentives for cooperation, but a shift in the economic preferences of Western nations that favor India could eventually put China at a disadvantage. Only by China and India intertwining their economies can any shift in their shared power dynamic be negated. That said, greater freedom in India will always be a point of contention as the Chinese People crave greater personal autonomy from their government, thus China and India must reach a point of social equilibrium when it comes to affording citizens civil liberties.
That said, China’s heighten tensions with Japan hint at greater strife between China and India should the prevailing mentality of the Chinese leadership persist. Where China essentially bullied the far weaker, non-US ally Vietnam when China wanted to extract oil from the South China Sea in an area claimed by both nations, the Chinese-Japanese dispute over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands almost resulted in war. Thanks to the United State backing Japan’s claims, China was prevented from outright seizing the Islands.
Unlike India, Japan is both smaller and currently jockeying with Japan for the same position as the world’s second largest economy. If an Indian economic rise becomes a serious threat to China’s position, China and India could end up entangled in a devastating conflict. If the West responds in kind by backing its democratic ally, Communist China could eventually find itself facing off with the democracies of the world.
In the short-term, however, the most pressing threat from China’s confrontation with democracy stems from North Korea. Unfortunately, our knowledge of North Korea’s interworkings largely comes from speculation on what little information the outside world can gleam from inside the world’s most oppressive regime, but we do know Pyongyang is under lockdown, likely due to a serious security risk to the regime. Like the hobbled North Korean leader, the economy is hurting and the military is falling apart. For this terribly insecure and overly aggressive country, this means the leadership likely feels increasing pressure to act on its impulses to lash out against the world.
Factoring into this equation King Jon Un’s apparent mission to prove himself as a deserving ruler, his questionable understanding of North Korea’s position in the world, and his fear of a coup/invasion, which pushed the military to over train, North Korea would be on the verge of tearing itself apart or declaring war on the world. In fact, it may well already be in the middle of a coup.
Because nuclear North Korea is a serious threat, events like the Hong Kong protests could stoke fears among the North’s governing elite. As China uses tough language to warn the West to stay out of China’s business, North Korea may well see an aggressive China as a sign that China and Russia could welcome the North’s aid, which might include the use of nuclear weapons, in subduing the West and their Asian allies. Considering, just over a year ago, the world was afraid Israel might provoke a war against Iran in order to force the US to crush Iran’s nuclear program, the North may see the same opportunity in China.
With the Hong Kong protests escalating thanks to growing crowds and backlash from supposed Hong Kong citizens targeting the disruptive, yet peaceful, protesters, China’s response will have consequences today and in the future. Where President Xi Jinping sells himself as a strong leader, the wrong response can cost China and the rest of the world dearly. Although the foundation China builds with its neighbors today will determine if Asian powers will be capable of dealing with far more daunting conflicts in the future, China’s relationships with North Korea and Russia in this time of great strife presents China with the opportunity to prevent a potential global catastrophe or lead the world to ruin.
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