The China’s so called “peaceful rise” and a new engagement in geopolitics

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A recent debate, in India today, over the Chinese rise between two eminent personalities – John Mearsheimer and Kishore Mahbubani, surfaced. A realist scholar, John Mearsheimer, had predicted 15 years before that the Chinese rise won’t be peaceful. Chinese aggression post-COVID-19, from the south China sea to south Asia has exposed Chinese ”peaceful rise”.

Dr. Shashi Tharoor recently claims in one of the articles at “Project Syndicate” that Chinese belligerence clearly marks a shift in the longstanding status quo at the border, it augurs the end of China’s self-proclaimed “peaceful rise”.  However, Kishore Mahbubani still hopes in rising Asian value which would be led by China. But a serious question comes on the table for discussion again and again – How did China manage to reach a point from where it is challenging western hegemony in general and the US in particular in just two decades?

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Kishore Mahbubani answers this question in one of the seminars during the book launch (Has the west lost it?). He gives two reasons – First, the west was engaged in the middle east post 9/11 attack, and China accelerated their rise. Second, the 9/11 event distracted the USA and went deeper and deeper and entangled in it. During these days China had penetrated the capitalist system. China’s entry into WTO led to working-class challenges which forced Trump entry into the USA.

Apart from Kishore Mahbubani’s argument, It is also true that China learned a lesson from the ‘century of humiliation. The west gave the ‘liberal world order but China has utilized it best. E.g. China’s trade in goods jumped from $516.4 billion in 2001 to $4.1 trillion in 2017. Ignorance of India and the west in checking China is also one of the prominent reasons for the Chinese rise. The west and India both gave international acceptability to China against Taiwan and Tibet respectively.

Role of the US in China’s rise

Recently, Vijay Gokhale writes in an article “A Chill in US-India relation in which he has systematically explained how US presidents over the years have helped in China’s rise from Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton. In 1972, U.S. President Richard Nixon gave China international acceptability in the hope that China would cohabit in a world under US hegemony.

After him, in 1978, President Jimmy Carter terminated diplomatic relations with Taiwan in order to normalize relations with China on the line of Japan and South Korea. Subsequently, in 1989, President George H.W. Bush washed away the theatre of Tiananmen in 1989 for the sake of geopolitical gain. In the early 90s, president Bill Clinton proceeded to bring the country into the World Trade Organization (WTO) at the expense of American business.

Shri Gokhale claimed that China has spoken those words cleverly that the Americans wanted to hear to hide their real purpose of challenging U.S. hegemony – Anti-Soviet rhetoric was spoken by China during the Cold War to appease the US and Market principles were applauded by China especially after globalization. But their real intention could be understood by the Mao Zedong advice to the Indian ambassador, R.K. Nehru, – “I once said to the former Indian ambassador to China, the younger R.K. Nehru, that our main enemy is the United States. You are not our enemy.”

All the US presidents were expecting that the Chinese would work under US hegemony like others. At the beginning of the 21st century, the 9/11 attack happened in the US. Samuel P. Huntington raised the debate with the help of ‘Clash of civilization’. Post end of the cold war was deemed as the end of history but it was also claimed that the ‘end of one history is the beginning of new history. While the focus of the US was shifted from ‘containment of communist’ to ‘Islamic fundamentalist containment’. In this period communist bloc revived itself by wearing a Chinese mask.

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Former NSA under the Trump administration, John Bolton, has come up with a new book “The Room Where It Happened”. He is perhaps talking about the ‘Oval office’ in the book cover, working space for the US president. Shekhar Gupta decoded Bolton’s words: First, Bolton claimed that Trump sought help (Buy soybean to influence US farmers) from China to win the US election 2020. Second, During the G20, in a personal meet, Trump blamed ‘Democrats’ for anti-China notions in the US before Xi Jinping.

Third, Trump asked China to use its economic might to influence campaigns in the US presidential election 2020. Fourth, Trump said Xi should go ahead with building camps for Uighur Muslims, according to John Bolton. If the words of John Bolton are right then it will be juvenile to count Trump on the Indian side against China. All American administrations have played role in China’s rise in the utopian hope that it will become a ‘responsible stakeholder’ under Pax Americana.

The new way of Chinese engagement

China uses conventional geopolitical ways with modification to achieve the “Chinese Dream” of Xi Jinping. The US president Eisenhower introduced the concept of sister-city to promote people-people cooperation. “China Daily” article hints that China uses this concept to achieve BRI. Currently, talk for ‘sister city is going with Bangladesh. China uses “Sharp power” to manipulate diplomatic policies by influencing the home country. For example, China-funded NGOs in Arunachal Pradesh to protest against hydro-power projects.

It is also alleged that China also influences the media of the home country. In fact, China uses the media for “Psychological warfare”. “The print” reports, China buys good press across the world to “tell China’s story better” to the world. China has modified “Economic interdependence” to capture the global supply chain. It leads to a favorable debate for China in its home countries.

China’s “Hide your capacity and bide your time” is no more myth. This pattern is tracked back from history. China is searching for the best time to attack which should give positive results. China-Pakistan relationship is defined as “Higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, stronger than steel, dearer than eyesight, sweeter than honey”. But, China had never come to rescue Pakistan in any war against India.

In 1962, China attacked India because China knew that there would be no international interference since major world power, US and USSR, was engaged in the Cuban Missile crisis. The above two events show that the Chinese wait for the good time strike. Similarly, the COVID-19 pandemic has given the opportunity to China for power shows and bullying in the south China sea as well as the South Asian region. The Abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir gave an excuse to the Chinese to appease Pakistan by showing common interests against India.

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China has very few friends in its neighbor – Russia, Pakistan, and budding friend Nepal. Russia and Nepal are logical because of ideological convergence, communism. But Pakistan? Pakistan and China both are antithetical to each other – One is a believer and another is an atheist. This is merely a temporary alliance against India even at the cost of interests similar to past US-Pakistan relations:

First, the Chinese systematically trafficked Pakistani girls to meet the sex ratio. Second, China has exploited tons of gold from the mines of Balochistan. Third, the Mandarin language is preferred in the ‘Job Fair’ at Lahore similar to Britishers. Fourth, Islamabad is still not learning lessons about the ‘Chinese Debt trap’ from Sri Lanka. It shows that China never hesitates in aligning with any country on an ideological basis. I may not be wrong if I say that the Chinese are realists in the true sense.

Creation of Parallel universe

Post-world war 1, Woodrow Wilson tried to construct a new world order through fourteen Points Speech (1918). The humiliation of Germany through the “Treaty of Versailles” at the end of the cold war forced them to fail the new world order. However, post-world war 2, errors were corrected and liberal world order was proposed in the leadership of the US. Factions between communism and liberalism took place. Communism led by USSR tried to put forward the parallel system before the US.

Marshall Plan was proposed by the US to reconstruct Europe again and get soft power. NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), an intergovernmental military alliance, was put forward to contain China. In response, the USSR proposed a collective defense treaty, the Warsaw pact, parallel to the NATO camp. It oscillated to and fro till the disintegration of the USSR.

This time communism is being led by China to counter the US hegemony. China is building a parallel universe. To some extent, so far, China has been successful in building a parallel narrative. First, against the WTO (World Trade Organization) and with the help of WTO, China is trying to build global infrastructure through ‘The Belt and Road Initiative. Chinese being a revivalist power is trying to re-discover their silk route.

Second, the Liberal world has created the world bank and the IMF (International monetary fund). The US has misused these institutions to extract geopolitical benefits from the world. The ‘Washington Consensus’ has spoken the language of the US without bothering about the socio-economic conditions of a country. In Chinese leadership development of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and New Development Bank or BRICS Bank is nothing but a challenge to the world bank and the IMF which provides a ‘democratic voting system’ unlike the IMF or the world bank.

Third, even in the technological world, China has tried to put parallel global positioning system, BeiDou. It is nothing but a challenge to the US’s global positioning system, GPS system. Russia’s GLONASS network mostly serves high-latitude regions and China’s BeiDou navigation system mainly focuses on providing networks for the low-latitude areas. The combination of GLONASS and BeiDou would give birth to the world navigation system for both lower and higher latitudes.

Fourth, in the direction of the digital payment system, to challenge the US’s “Google pay”, China has put forward WeChat Pay and Alipay. Fifth, for the 5th generation mobile network, it is challenging Ericsson of Sweden and Nokia of Finland by putting forward Huawei 5G network. In the competition of the 5G network, it seems in the first row because of the very cheaper rate. Sixth, the Dancing of WTO on Chinese music during the COVID-19 pandemic shows that it has also penetrated the western institution.

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What next?

Some events show that the sands of geopolitics are shifting from west to east as Kishore Mahbubani explains in “Has the West Lost it?”. Apart from the westerly winds blown by all presidents of the US and the parallel institution created by China, it has substantially financed and trapped many countries in debt cycle not only in South Asia but in east Asia as well as Africa. WHO has played directly from Beijing’s playbook in the context of COVID-19 and mislead the world.

Taiwan is kept out of WHO under Chinese pressure. UNHRC, already reeking of prejudice, is silent over Xinjiang or the Wuhan lock-down but loses sleep over J&K. Apart from these developments, China has surpassed the US economy in PPP terms in 2014 and stood at first place in the ranking. However, it would not be the piece of cake for China to reverse the world order.

The US engaging with like-minded partners through Quad grouping – The US, Australia, Japan, and India. The US is appeasing both India as well as Pakistan to extract benefits. US releases report to claim terrorist activities in Pakistan. It also helps in putting Pakistan in FATF ‘Grey List’. Parallelly, it has put India in Commission on the US International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is concerned list extract benefits against China. Indo-US nuclear deal 2007 is part and parcel of containing China in the east because India is the only reliable partner in south Asia which could help in containing China.

In 2019, the Blue dot network policy in the leadership of the US along with Japan and Australia is trying to make smaller countries cautious against Chinese investment. The US called for the expansion of G7 by including India, South Korea, Australia, and Russia but excluding China. The US is also shifting its military from Europe to the Indo-pacific region. Thus, the game of changing world order is not as easy as analysts write and speak.


  1. Project Syndicate | India’s China Strategy Is Changing
  2. New York Times | China’s Man in Washington, Named Trump
  3. Amazon | Has the West Lost It? By Kishore Mahbubani
  4. The Hindu | A chill in U.S.-China relations
  5. Live Mint | The China-Pakistan love affair in troubled waters
  6. International Monetary Fund (IMF) | Why Is China Growing So Fast?
  7. Foreign Policy | Bullied by Beijing, America’s Closest Allies Regret Saying ‘Yes’ to China
  8. The Print | China is buying good press across the world, one paid journalist at a time
  9. The Economic Times | China successfully launches last satellite for its BeiDou Navigation Satellite System
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