Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Chinese Chequers


Vice Admiral (retd) Barry Barathan
Distinguished Fellow, VIF


“ Shi lang, the latest addition to the PLA Navy has triggered speculation, concern, and some anxiety about what next by China as America the lone super power and the supposed to be guardian of the Free World seems to crawl into a fetal position into an embryo of self inflicted economic woes. History teaches those who want to learn and hence it may be worth our while to seek to look at China first and then its Navy next”

Historical Realities

China is an ancient civilization with a history of an occupation by Japan and, also subjugation by the English. China is also fairly insular despite various dynastic divisions and sectarian influences. Its memory is long and never fleeting. Sun Tzu’s has been the guiding light of the Chinese leadership.

“Be extremely subtle to the point of being formless. Be extremely mysterious to the point of being soundless. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate” -Sun Tzu

English Penetration of China

The first opium war of 1839 saw the subjugation of China in being forced to award concessions to Great Britain. Hong Kong was ceded, with ports of Shanghai and Ghuangzou opened up to trade. The second Opium war in 1858 also resulted in Chinese defeat. More ports were opened up along with rights for foreigners to travel into interior China. To date the Chinese remember this with a quiet but intense outrage.

Japanese Occupation

The rape of Nanking, Japanese occupation of China in early 20th century during the Second World War, was perhaps the darkest period in East Asian history. The Chinese claim to have lost around 25 million people in this conflict. It is replete with stories of unimaginable atrocities by the occupying Japanese military. China is still quietly licking its wounds.

Communist China –Emerging Definiteness

October 1949 is the watershed for the Chinese with the advent of Communism. Whatever happened or did not happen, an emerging definiteness became the start point of Chinese rise in the 20th century. In six decades the Middle kingdom has arrived on the International arena. Its leadership is consistent with a constancy of purpose. Mostly phlegmatic in style, the Chinese polity has osmotic ally optimized its position in the World’s stage. The World may not like its posturing or its new wealth but can no longer discount its positioning! Therein remains the denouement of the red dragon.

The Middle Kingdom Response

When the communists took power, the official name for China has been “ZHONGHNA RENMIN GONGHEGUO” (Middle Glorious People’s Republican Country or in English; the People’s Republic of China). It believes itself and in its destiny with a resolve never to allow history to repeat the aberration of occupation in its land that was after all between “Heaven and Earth”

The World did not take any serious notice; The West flush with success in World War II was pre occupied with the Soviet and Warsaw pact. Post collapse of the Soviet Union, the war on terrorism kept it on its toes. The East on an economic high, though conscious of China, was confident that the West would guard its backwaters. It also believed that a backward China would not pose any immediate threat. The South led by India and Nehru felt that Panchsheel was the answer to Asia. The sixties changed all that with the PRC carving out an independent path for itself away from the Soviet style of communism and economic strategy. The brief Indo-China 1962 conflict changed the statics of South Asia. India and Russia on one side with China Pakistan aligned against them. The admittance of China in the UN Security Council, its military nuclear stature, growing global economic clout and de-recognition of Taiwan were all part of a well directed, and orchestrated Chinese strategy. China for now, seems well suited to its oligarchic leadership style of combining, osmosis of patient effort and optimizing opportunity across the span of International Relationships. Its maritime strategy is embedded within this approach. It believes its sovereign security lies in the Oceans of the World.

Even a cursory analysis of the Middle kingdom’s performance today highlights continuity and constancy in:

A National Commitment to Stability

Its commitment to internal stability even by use of force, wherever and whenever necessary, is remarkable. China’s leadership places the highest priority on stability post the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution of the 1970’s. It internally uses an iron hand with an iron gauntlet.

Sustained Strategy

China has framed its macro objectives in the context of five-year plans, with clearly defined targets and policy initiatives designed to achieve targets with a high degree of accountability. It is unique, that Communist China follows liberal economic policies with flexibility. The recently enacted 12th Five-Year Plan that has shifted from the highly successful producer model of the past 30 years to a flourishing consumer society is an illustrious example.

Aligned Policies

Despite vastness of geography and immensity, all its policies are aligned with its strategy of sustaining itself in the long term

Liberal Economics

In six decades, it has displayed a strong economic dynamism with sound regulation and market reforms. Willingness to learn from within and outside is a key characteristic of its regimes openness to change.

Domestic Thrift

A domestic saving rate in excess of 50% has shielded China from external shocks. It has swelled the foreign-exchange reserves that has served China well and aided economic development. The Country now stands ready to absorb some of that surplus saving to focus on internal demand.

Domestic Servicing and Consumption

Robust plans are afoot to increase both service and consumption percentages of China with a salutary impact on its overall GDP. Rural to urban migration is also on the increase with a positive impact on accelerated infrastructural growth.

Education

China is well on its way to a, knowledge- and industry based economy. English, mathematics, sciences, computer learning and history are part of Chinese schools and colleges. Literacy rates are growing rapidly. Chinese universities now graduate more than 1.5 million engineers and scientists annually. The country regularly sends its PLA officer in the guise of students to America, the West, Europe and Russia. Interestingly, more PLA officers know Hindi than what India realizes.

Foreign Direct Investment

PRC attracts FDI. In 2010 the foreign direct investment in China was estimated to be around 106 billion US dollars and rising. In stark comparison India’s FDI is about 4.5 billion dollars. This Huge FDI is the catalyst to its accelerated growth.

Innovation and Cloning

China innovates and clones unmindful of IPR violations. China is fourth and rising in terms of international patent applications. Its research-and-development share of GDP is projected to be 2.5 % by 2015, twice of what was in 2002. It is focusing on innovation-based “strategic emerging industries” – energy conservation, new-generation information technology, biotechnology, high-end equipment manufacturing, renewable energy, alternative materials, and autos running on alternative fuels. Its consciousness resource management strategy is equally sound as evident in its R&D investment.

An Evolving Military Strategy

“China is a riddle, wrapped in an enigma and encircled, (as the Internet gurus inform us) by The Great Firewall of China” Joel Bowman

This is integral in China’s mind set and its continuum of comprehensive National Power. It encompasses a maritime vision in both the short and long term. The Chinese understanding of short, being around 30/40 years and long about 100 years. Embedded in this is a resolve never to be occupied as happened twice in their long history. Its increasing Global reach is complimentary to this idea.

It is subtly adopting a strategy of influence and hold through, arms transfer, military assistance, and aid in direct defiance of American Global interests. It knows that its trade surplus with the latter provides it a position of strength and power to play then game and guard its interests.

A grand master in International relationships the red dragon skillfully uses its ancient cultural instinct, its potent economic strength, it’s rising military potential, nuclear weapons capability to let the World know that the China can no longer be taken lightly less alone ignored.

(Next article in series on China’s maritime strategy)

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