This  is essentially a throw back on my article which examined the Question 
Is China  A Superpower?

  China is India’s Number One Enemy.

George Fernandez, India’s Defence Minister

1.      In 2002 the topic of my dissertation during the Higher Command Course was ‘China’s Growing Clout in International Affairs with Particular Reference to its Political, Economic and Military Roles in the Post-Cold War Years. I stumbled upon it a few days back and took time to read it again. Reading it gave me a sense of déjà vu in many ways. Many things have not changed and what the world saw two decades back is only being played out.  While the entire world is waiting for Superpower China to emerge out of itself, there are features which have not changed at all. In this context I have re-produced extracts from the dissertation and put them in current context. After all, as someone said – those who ignore history will be confined to its ashes.

Has China Arrived?
2.                  Externally two issues will condition China’s international relations. In the initial stage, the focus will be on China being able to manage its affairs with the world to support its change. Thereafter the focus will perforce shift to China managing world affairs because of successful change or the other way around in case of failure.

3.                  Comment.  China has succeeded. However, the question is will China be able to get to the point of managing world affairs? As and when it does, will it take the responsibility of managing world affairs?  

The Chinese Way of Life

4.                  There was an old man in China. One day a Westerner found him furiously digging on top of a cold mountain. Curiously, he asked the old man –“ why are you digging the mountain old father”? The old man replied – “I am cutting the mountain so that the sun can enter my hut and keep my family warm”. He indicated his hut; which was deep in the valley. The westerner was amazed and again asked the old man –“ old father surely you can not cut such a huge mountain down”. The old man replied – “I know that the sun will not enter my hut in my lifetime. It might not do so in my sons or even my grandson’s lifetime. But we will continue to cut the mountain and one day the sun will enter my hut and my great grand children will be warm”. This story is symbolic of the agelessness of the Chinese way of life and spirit. China takes a long-term view of things. Its distant goals are inscrutable.

5.                  China is ruled by the unwritten canons of cultural solidarity that has been a feature of its society since times immemorial. The web of power that holds China together is the system of collectivity that is manifested in its traditional social institutions – the family, lineage, clan, caste or class[1]. Confucian ethos stresses on value of authority, hierarchy, the subordination of individual rights and interests, the importance of consensus, the avoidance of confrontation and in general the supremacy of the state over the society and the society over the individual[2]. Group or collective consciousness is central to China and this fundamental fact needs to be understood.

6.                  Comment.  This has not changed one single bit.

The Chinese Philosophy

7.                  The Chinese philosophy is largely guided by two factors. Firstly, the theory of the Middle Kingdom where the Chinese emperor was the son of heaven and was ordained to expand the Chinese civilisation to the surrounding territories. This historical view forces Chinese to consider themselves superior to other civilisations. Secondly, China’s ruthless exploitation by one imperialistic power or the other including USA, Russia, Britain and Japan in the period 1839–1949 earned it the sobriquet of the Sick Man of the East. The Chinese will never wish to go back to that humiliating period. The contrasting experience of its sense of cultural superiority as against humiliation has guided Chinese leaders in charting a lonely path, no matter how difficult it is. It aims to reacquire leadership over entire Asia if not over the rest of the world[3]. Independence of thought and action is a keynote of Chinese dealings with the world specially the Western one.

8.                  Comment.  Very clearly, the Chinese are striving to assert their cultural superiority and simply erase their century of humiliation. Their thinking and actions are “China first and last. The rest be damned”.

Path to Superpower Status

9.                  In 1984, Deng Xiaoping said “ we hope that for at least twenty years there will not be a war, and hope even more for no war in the next seventy years. Then we can have the time calmly to carry out our socialist four modernization’s … if we truly have twenty years, thirty years without war, no war in fifty years, then this war has the possibility of being avoided[4]. This statement in essence contains the sum total of China’s aspirations and strategy for the forthcoming half-century. It is now proved that, by avoiding war for the past twenty years China has been able to successfully implement programs of change. If this success is extrapolated the following important issues emerge: –

(a)               China intends to avoid war and carry on with its modernisation for the next fifty years. In this period, it will concentrate on improving economic, political and military strengths.

(b)               China looked at a clear period of thirty-fifty years of no war. At the end of this time it intended to be fully prepared to defend itself, match adversaries and emerge as a power to contend with. It has already achieved a major part of this goal in the fifteen years, which have since passed.

(c)               China aspires to superpower status at the end of seventy years i.e. 2050 or thereabouts. After all war can only be totally avoided if one has superpower capabilities.

10.        Comment. The Chinese have followed a strict path of war avoidance as a route to superpower status. However, this is undergoing a subtle shift. While they are not embarking on conventional campaigns, they are definitely using the tenets of  Unrestricted Warfare through Multiple Domains to conduct their business. Xi Jinping seems to have advanced thr timelines for superpower status which is reflected in the greatest military build up seen since WW2.

Chinese Characteristics
11.              Human Rights Violations. In 1994, Richard Nixon said “Today Chinas economic power makes lectures about human rights imprudent. Within a decade it will make them irrelevant and within two decades it will make them laughable[5]”. However, it is a fact that people are packed off to subhuman detention/reeducation centers. China has executed more people in an eight-month period than the rest of the world in three years [6].China was ruled for years with no defined legal system. The rule of law as defined in the West has little meaning in China. Human rights issue in China has something to do with Confucian ethos, submergence of the individual in the cosmos of the state and lack of legal systems,[7]. The problem is that China sees Western concern, as meddling in internal matters and the West does not understand this fully. In the event conflict on this issue will remain.

12.              Corruption. Transparency International rated 54 countries for corruption in 1996. China which ranked 50th is considered to be among the worst[8]. The PLA, CCP and the bureaucracy all conspire to protect their share of the corruption pie. In 1998 Jiang Zemin launched a major effort to reduce corruption in the PLA. PLA businesses include arms manufacturing, smuggling of CDs and prostitution. The success of such effort is suspect since in the absence of a rule of law, free press and other constitutional safeguards corruption is expected to fester. Rampant corruption in the long run might lead China into the abyss.

13.             Comment.  No change in Chinese characteristics since the past two decades. We should never wish this away.

The Chinese Backyard – Not So Ethnic

14.              Ethnic Han purity in China is about 93%.[9]However, instability arises because minorities stand guard over its insecure backyard comprising Mongolia, Xinjiang and Tibet. In language religion culture or appearance natives of Tibet, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Shanghai and large parts of Kansu, Yunnan and Heuliankang do not resemble Han Chinese. Geography has cast a division on China. It has two autonomous regions i.e. Tibet with Buddhist and Xinjiang with Muslim majorities. In addition there is the question of a divided Mongolia. Uighur riots in Xinjiang have woken up authorities to the problems of Jihad overflow in this area. There are reportedly 1000 Chinese Muslims who are part of Al Qaeda. A live fear is that this area will face secessionist movements[10]. Tibet will remain a burning problem until such time Dalai Lama is in India. The economic angle is that these regions are China’s most underdeveloped but with most potential. As a result entry into China’s Backyard has high potential for success. China is aware of this and has commenced integrating them into the mainstream by economic development and large-scale demographic inversion.

15.             Comment.  If the Chinese crackdown in Xinjiang and their tirades against Dalai Lama are any indication, they are still worried about their backyard.

South China Sea

16.              South China Sea has large reserves of untapped minerals and oil, which are crucial to slake Chinas thirst for energy. It also happens to be the hub of 25% of the worlds shipping including routing for energy imports for most of its rivals like Japan, Taiwan and Koreas. It provides a base for access/control over Pacific Ocean, which is important to keep USA at bay and support its claim over Taiwan. Until such time it cannot ward off USA from this area it cannot entertain super power dreams. The Paracel and Spratly groups of islands have been considered critical for control over South China Sea. China has laid sovereignty claim to the entire sea including these islands. It wishes to acquire an exclusive economic zone based on this claim. This amounts to claiming areas up to the shores of countries like Brunei, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam. Obviously, conflict has arisen with ASEAN countries, Japan and USA over South China Sea.

17.             Comment.  The problem has been only compounded in the recent past and is only likely to inflame further. South China Sea will be an international flash  point well into the future.  

Greater China–One China-One Country Two Systems

18.              Greater China. In early 1990s, Chinese made up 1% of the population of Philippines but were responsible for 35% of internal/domestic sale. In Indonesia, they comprised of 2-3% population but owned roughly 70% of private domestic capital. In Thailand, Chinese population is approx. 10% but own nine out of the top business groups. Outside Japan and Korea, the Asian economy is essentially a Chinese economy[11]. Overseas Chinese are much more able to do business in China than others due to the phenomenon of bamboo network are. As a result, China sees itself as the Core State of a Chinese civilisation. It expects Chinese communities in these nations to subject themselves to the Chinese State. It has sought to project itself as a worldwide representative of Chinese people whereever they may be. This is the concept of greater China and is the first step to establish a base for future super power status.

19.              One Country Two Systems Return of Hong Kong and Macao to China has meant that a pure market economy coexists with the larger socialist economy of Mainland China. The theory of One Country Two Systems takes root from this fact. The Chinese want to apply this formula and cite this successful example to integrate Taiwan into the mainland.

20.             One China. In 1949 when Mao Zedong pushed KMT out of the mainland, Chiang Kai Shek proclaimed it as the legitimate China. Taiwan has since remained a separate entity despite all attempts at reunification by Chinese who consider this division as artificial and unacceptable. Beijing demands that Taiwan accept the principle of one-country two systems as a basis for negotiation with the eventual aim of One China[12]. Taiwan rejects this claim and demands that Beijing deal with it on an equal basis. Taiwan is economically and militarily strong enough to keep Beijing at bay with USA’s support. PRC is aware that war with Taiwan could be politically and economically devastating. A fundamental and core objective of China is Taiwan’s integration. When that happens China will be well on its way to super power status.

21.              It is well known that till such time Taiwan remains out of Chinas grasp its expansion program will make no headway. It is for this reason that Taiwan is under USA’s security umbrella. This has not inhibited China to spread its influence in a manner such that Taiwan will fall into its lap without a war at an appropriate time. Till recently Taiwan’s policy was THREE NOS; no contact, no negotiation and no compromise with the mainland. This has changed since many in Taiwan believe that blood is thicker than water. China has embarked upon a policy of entrapment of Taiwan in an economic and cultural web to further its aim of integration of Taiwan. Trade between the two reached 14.4 billion in 1993. 20000 Taiwanese businesses had invested up to 30 billion dollars in the mainland[13]. After all, it was Sun Tzu who said ‘ the acme of skill is to win with out a fight’.

22.              Comment.  The Chinese are clear about their Greater China and One China concepts. Their effort is to do away with the One China Two systems concept.Their attempt to do so is meeting stiff resistance in Hong Kong.   

The Chinese Dilemma

23.              China is a mass of contradictions. For every plus there is minus. Emerging China poses many dilemmas to the world. The issue is best stated by Samuel R Berger, US National Security Advisor in 1977 when he said – the direction China takes in the years ahead will be one of the most decisive factors that will determine whether the next century is one of conflict or cooperation[14].  If Chinese economic development continues for another decade as seems possible and if China maintains its unity during the succession period as also seems probable, East Asian countries and the World will have to respond to the increasingly assertive role in international affairs of this biggest player of human history. The emergence of China as a great power that is stable, open and non aggressive which works for a secure international order is in the worlds interests. One of the most critical challenges is to ensure that China makes the right choice and that is what many are working towards and many in India are hoping for.

24.              On the other hand, we know that China has woken up. The world including India is preparing for the eventuality that China fulfills Napoleons prophecy. The Chinese dilemma will therefore continue well into the century. In any case, Deng Xiaoping and the world man on the mountain will be happy. The sun is set to enter their children’s hut and warm their cockles in heaven.

Final Comment

As events have unfolded, late George Fernandez was right. China has undoubtedly emerged as India’s No1 adversary. The challenge posed by China to India’s growth is huge. It has come in many forms – Strategic Encirclement through the String of Pearls, Collusive Support to Pakistan, Violation of Sovereignty through CPEC, Creating huge Trade Imbalances, Constant needling on the LAC and many more. They have also been able to rope in some self-centered Indians who are playing Chinese tunes in Delhi these days and at times I feel the Government is being played a Chinese rope trick. We need to look back to see that the Chinese actions are not just a figment of imagination which started recently. All Chinese actions are only a culmination of a plan which is already more than three decades old and is constantly under revision. Is it time India put together its own plan?    


[1] China Today by SN Chopra – pp1.
[2]The Clash of Civilisations and Remaking of the New World Order by Samuel P Huntington – pp225.
[3] This theory is elucidated in a number of articles only two are quoted – China and the 21st Century by Scott M. Leeb, Institute For National Strategic Studies and China and the World: A View From Beijing by Swaran Singh.
[4] Op Cit- pp 61.
[5] The Clash of Civilisations and Remaking of the New World Order by Samuel P Huntington -pp195.
[6] BBC program on China – 29 Sep 2001.
[7] China in International Society Since 1949 by Yonjin  Zhang -pp185.
[8] What If China Does Not Democratize by Edward Friedman and Barret L McCormick pp 318 & 263.
[9] Ibid.
[10] China and International Relations In the New Milleneum by Hal Gardner.
[11] The Clash of Civilisations and Remaking of the New World Order by Samuel P Huntington -pp169.
[12] Annual Report on the Military Power of the People’s Republic of China.
[13] The Clash of Civilisations and Remaking of the New World Order by Samuel P Huntington pp 172.
[14] Power and The Purse by Jean-Marc Blanchard, Edward D Mansfield and Norrin M Ripsman – pp155.

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