The South China Sea Crisis has steadily escalated to the point Beijing’s efforts to militarize the artificial islands in the Paracel and a Spratly archipelago with the deployment of anti-ballistic missiles has become undeniable. Although Beijing is working with the US to help devise sanctions to punish North Korea for its latest nuclear bomb test, a confrontation between China and the US looms. If Beijing and its neighbors continue to battle for control of disputed territory, instead of cooperating to address their national interests, the best possible outcome is a Cold War-era standoff.
China may have the military might to discourage and repel a US-led assault in the South China Sea, but it likely does not have the ability to defeat the US military on a global scale. Even if the US did not have the support of its numerous allies, which armed conflicts tend to revitalize military ties, Beijing could not hope to sustain any major military campaign without the support of the Chinese People. Because the costs of war tend to provoke mass unrest, particularly when a war is a preemptive war of choice, Beijing certainly cannot sustain a massive war effort while facing a massive uprising.
The 2016 US Presidential Election will lead to a shift in foreign policy, but Beijing cannot expect the new President to be pro-Beijing. As the presumed nominees, Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will likely be the successor to President Barack Obama; both are uncompromising individuals who will rigidly pursue their policy agendas. In other words, Beijing cannot expect to intimidate the next US President. Where Donald Trump tends to be more confrontational, Hillary Clinton tends be more cunning in her retaliation; therefore, the possibility of an armed conflict rises with Trump while a cold war is certain if the situation continues along this path.
As cold wars are wars of attrition, China faces a prolonged scenario where its diplomatic ties and floundering, foreign-fueled economy would be permanently damaged. Already facing civil unrest, the loss of jobs and financial strain a cold war creates would certainly spark upheaval. In the case of a total war, the hardships on the Chinese People would be even greater. As such, Beijing would be wise to seek alternative means to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea. That said, the greater threat of civil unrest may not even come from within China’s borders.
Reminiscent of events surrounding incidents like the Kent State massacre, the Bharatiya Janata party-controlled government of India has charged students at the Jawaharlal Nehru University with sedition for using supposed “anti-national slogans.” It also targeted lower-caste students for criticizing Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which adds to growing civil unrest over the abuse of lower-caste Indians. Ironically, it appears the Modi government hopes to bolster its “Make in India” campaign by cracking down on dissent, yet it is these very efforts that tend to discourage investment in India over concerns of escalating civil unrest and instability.
Where Beijing may not recognize the hazards of such crackdowns, the United States, which is a democratic nation that has faced an extensive history of racial violence throughout the Civil Rights Movement, can recognize a burgeoning race war. China’s border will not be enough to keep fleeing Indians at bay. Not only are India and China neighbors, they also have the two largest populations on the planet. Beijing may be attempting to legally assert its control over the resources of the region, but India’s problems are China’s problems and India is about to have some major problems.
Should massive civil unrest be sparked by racial tensions, political suppression, or economic pressure, it could easily destabilize India. At any rate, there will always be those who flee areas plagued by violence, civil unrest, and economic stagnation. This means Indians will increasingly seek sanctuary in China en mass, which will aggravate Chinese citizens and push them to revolt against their ineffective leadership. When it comes to such large populations, a little bit of civil unrest can spark a domino effect that results in massive civil unrest and instability. In order to avert such a disaster, Beijing would be wise to turn abandon its provocative policies in favor of more constructive efforts.
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