Will China clock a peaceful rise?
Long speeches are not always statusquoists or meant to put the audience to sleep. Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro holds some impressive records—four and a half hours in the UN and a whopping 7 hours and 10 minutes in the party congress in 1986. Perhaps inspired by such glorious traditions of revolutionary leaders, Chinese President Xi Jinping made a valiant attempt to challenge Castro’s record when he spoke in a monotone for 203 minutes, comprising 32,000 characters during the 19th Party Congress in Beijing that Asia and the world listened to carefully and at times worriedly.
Though a connectivity project, the BRI revealed Beijing’s attempt to reorder the world according to its interests. The showpiece—the $63-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which will go through Gwadar in Pakistan to Kashgar in China—has deepened India’s insecurities about its real intent.
No one has any doubt about China’s rapid rise as a world power after being in the twilight for more than 200 years. President Xi mentioned the humiliation at the hands of foreign powers that the country had to go through during the Opium War and the painful struggle during the colonial rule. China is now a $13-trillion economy with an army of two million servicemen in uniform. The country should harbour little fear about being subjugated by a foreign power; on the contrary, other countries—in the neighbourhood and beyond—fear its economic and military rise. Whether its rise will be peaceful or violent is an issue that has been debated so many times in the past. American foreign policy experts have compared the growth of China with that of pre-war Germany and how its fast economic growth resulted in wars and deaths in the European continent. Since then, engaging with China for its “peaceful rise” has become a buzzword in western policy circles. India was also encouraged to forge closer trade ties with its northern neighbour so that the possibility of conflict could be reduced. The policy worked rather well till the Chinese government under President Xi unveiled its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Though a connectivity project, the BRI revealed Beijing’s attempt to reorder the world according to its interests. The showpiece—the $63-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which will go through Gwadar in Pakistan to Kashgar in China—has deepened India’s insecurities about its real intent. Though the Chinese have offered to re-route the CPEC through Jammu to convince India to join the corridor, New Delhi’s apprehensions have prompted it to stay away. It has experienced serious contestation with China in the South Asian region that includes Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and the Maldives, where India has traditionally enjoyed sway. It has flagged its opposition to the manner in which China was funding infrastructure projects, which had the potential of leading the recipient countries into a debt trap. The example of Sri Lanka which took $8 billion on commercial terms and found itself in a spot to repay it and was compelled to give up the Hambantota Port on a 99-year lease. A similar fate awaits other countries that have taken hefty loans from China. India’s stand on refusing to join BRI is getting vindicated. In rapid succession, two countries have cancelled the projects that were initially awarded to Chinese companies. Their misgivings stem from the so-called Chinese model offered to execute these large infrastructural projects. If these projects do not really create jobs in the country where they are coming up, then they are bound to cause domestic resentment. This is what is reported from Pakistan where the projects are slated to be executed by the Chinese or in Hambantota, where the local people fear ouster from their ancestral houses to accommodate the Chinese.
President Xi’s address in Beijing that will craft China’s march into history had not anticipated opposition from locals in various countries to its grand BRI, which is part of its Constitution now. What needs to be seen is whether China would handle these obstructions peacefully or use its military power, which it has not used since the botched-up war with Vietnam in 1979. The newly revived Quad comprising India, Australia, Japan, and US would be watching how China manages these contradictions closely.