When the US was fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, China leveraged the vacuum to consolidate its economic prowess and military capabilities.
The centenary celebrations of the Communist Party of China (CPC) have become a matter of debate across the world, reflecting on the role of CPC in China’s rise as a global power. However, there is also an overwhelming perception about CPC’s role in the aggressive turn in China’s behaviour, and how the CPC under Xi Jinping’s control is leading to China becoming brazenly disdainful of a rules-based global order. The centenary is being seen as not only a celebration of past glories, but also a reflection of China’s goals for 2049, which will mark the 100 years of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). As the CPC amplifies its role in China’s growth story, there is also a recurring story of the threat that China’s intransigent behaviour poses to the international system. China has been using varying platforms to call out the end of America’s global leadership, and questions the intentions of any country going closer to the United States, as kowtowing to the West. In this context, it is imperative for the American political class and the strategic community to take the lead in calling China’s bluff and assume a more unified role in regulating China’s role in the international system.
The Trump presidency led a well-intended harsher stance on China but lacked a coherent direction that required not only building trust with allies and partners, but also building a robust bipartisan attitude inside the US as far as tackling China is concerned. Therefore, how to handle a more emboldened China, celebrating 100 years of the CPC and showcasing its global rise will remain a task cut out not only for the Biden administration, but is a challenge that will require a whole-of-nation effort from the United States, in concert with other like-minded countries. As the CPC celebrates its role in China’s modern history, it is naïve to expect any remorse for its callous handling of the Covid-19 pandemic that has caused worldwide misery. Indeed, one should be expecting a China hell bent on scuttling any global inquiry into the origins and outbreak of the pandemic.
At a time when the United States was waging battles in Afghanistan and Iraq, China leveraged the vacuum to consolidate its economic prowess and military capabilities, and spread its influence broader and deeper in international affairs. It was too late, too little, by the time the United States sought to reorient its strategic focus to the Indo-Pacific. In the current scheme of things, the United States will need to build internal and external perceptions about the destabilising role of CPC in China’s attitude towards global and regional governance. China’s show of force over the Taiwan Straits, the South and East China Seas and at the India-China border have sent signals about its blatant disregard for sovereignty and broader rule of law. For the US government as well as America’s strategic community, the biggest challenge to US global pre-eminence and the liberal international order it has spearheaded comes from an expansionist China threatening the political, economic, security and strategic landscape. Therefore, the centenary celebrations of the CPC are nothing but a wake-up call for the United States, to pull its concerned agencies together, and make a concerted effort, with like-minded countries, to steer China into global norms and rules.
President Biden’s official trip to Europe for a series of meetings including the G7 and NATO summits, meetings with EU leaders and finally with President Vladimir Putin had the China challenge as an overriding priority. Although divergences remain as to how exactly to deal with China, where to play hardball and where to take a conciliatory stance, it was apparent that a broad convergence is emerging on the need to call out the negative repercussions of China’s behaviour. Now it is high time for President Biden to reach out to America’s allies and partners in Asia, to build a broader opinion against China’s unilateral activities in the Indo-Pacific region, and its disregard of other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
In the management of global commons ranging from the high seas, the outer space to the cyberspace, the United States needs to take the lead in terms of building a concert of democracies against a China-led order. In marking 100 years of the CPC, the party’s role is being glorified and the glaring follies in its history is being pushed under the carpet. China’s internal growth and its rise as a global power is being linked to the survival of the CPC and Xi Jinping’s leadership. However, to the United States and many other countries around the world, the CPC’s role in giving birth to an aggressive China is being watched with concern and scepticism. As such, China despite its unmistakable growth story faces overwhelming negative perceptions from around the world. The threats being perceived from China to the United States at 100 years of CPC, are way more convoluted and complex than the one faced from the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Therefore, in what ways the United States, in the near future, will tackle the China challenge, by building consensus at home and abroad, will remain a defining feature of US foreign policy.
China over the years has changed its philosophy propounded by its erstwhile leaders emphasising on “hiding strength” to “reflecting strength and projecting power” has to be understood by the rest of the world in general and India in particular. China’s concept of peaceful rise sounds highly intimidating. China strongly believes in the use of force. Its economic might is being used as a tool by China to promote its military interests. Though there seems to be inherent cracks appearing within CPC, it will certainly not divert its attention from China becoming a leading power in the world. The hundred years of history suggest that the CPC has come up in a very systematic and coherent fashion with well articulated objectives.
Both the United States and India together should make a modest attempt in understanding China’s intentions, its fundamental goals and overall behavioural patterns so that they both can evolve a good strategy to deal with in the foreseeable future. The onus will remain on India because of its geographical proximity with China to come up with a robust strategy and whether India can afford to call China’s bluff.
Arvind Kumar is Professor at School of International Studies (SIS) and Chairs the Centre for Canadian, United States and Latin American Studies at SIS, JNU. Monish Tourangbam teaches Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal.