Interview: China Balances Assertiveness and Diplomacy

The original of an interview published in the Maharashtra Times, Pune in Marathi on 31 July 2016.

1. Why is China so aggressive in the South China Sea case? Are there any chances of war between China and other parts of the world?

A: China has a strong sense of having suffered from Western and Japanese colonialism and of being wronged. The so-called ‘century of humiliation’ is something that every Chinese man, woman and child is familiar with and hence, they have a great attachment to territory as a sign of their historical greatness. Right now, Chinese leaders seem their country as being militarily more powerful than their neighbours and so think they can also claim the territory they want in the South China Sea. But this is not simply a case of China versus its ASEAN neighbours. China is in the main trying to keep the United States from exercising power and influence in China’s neighbourhood. Chances of all-out war are low. China is smart enough not to damage its chances of growth and prosperity by going to war.

2. China has tense relations with almost all ASEAN countries. But, their Maritime silk route vision includes Southeast Asia also. Both these things stand in contrast. How will they manage?

A: China also has very deep economic ties with all ASEAN countries. In fact, many of these countries are extremely dependant on China economically, including Vietnam. So the Chinese are able to both push these countries on territorial questions as well as develop economic ties further through such initiatives as the Maritime Silk Road.

3. What would be the role of the US in this scenario?

A: The US will essentially try to keep the peace and prevent the Chinese from getting too aggressive militarily with its neighbours. To an extent it will succeed because the Chinese themselves do not want war. But the problem is that the Chinese think the US is trying to remain No.1 in Asia – which is true to a large extent – and that this is necessarily an anti-China activity – which might not be true in the way China thinks.

4. India’s interest is growing in this region. So what will be India’s role in this context?

A: Just growing interest is not enough. India must back its interests with actions. India must be able to deepen its economic engagement in Southeast Asia. At the same time, India must increase the number of official visits to these countries – it cannot only be the Prime Minister or President travelling all the time – India must have more scholars and military officials on delegations to this region. Indian officials and scholars and analysts must devote greater time to studying the languages, history, politics and economies of these regions. Currently, such expertise on ASEAN in India is extremely limited as to be completely useless for strategic purposes.

5. For some years, Japan has been trying to create a front against China, including ASEAN countries. Will they succeed? How will China react?

A: Japan will not succeed for the reasons outlined with respect to Southeast Asia above. In any case, China also has deep economic relations with Japan.

6. Why did China oppose India at the NSG?

A: This is just realpolitik in action. China does not want India to increasingly start looking like it is China’s equal in international politics. India isn’t yet but China also will try to do everything to make sure the world’s politics is dominated by only two powers for now – the US and China and not a third power. China also feels that the US is using India against China and this is another reason for the opposition to India.

The interview conducted by Madhuban Pingle via email can be seen in Marathi below:


Published by Jabin T. Jacob

China analysis from an Indian perspective

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