The larger geo-political landscape has witnessed significant changes with the rise of China dividing the world into two spheres — countries siding with China’s domestic order through alliances and partnerships, or countries reacting to its aggression by joining international security mechanisms to control its hegemonic tendencies. In recent times China has forced countries, especially in the Indo-Pacific region and South Asia to rethink their security interests because of its aggressive and encroaching behaviour. In the Himalayan region China has had a rocky relationship with India and Tibet (Chinese autonomous region) since late 1950s preceding to the Sino-Indian War in 1962 and 1967. With these events China in the Himalayan region has always had a presence of a sleeping dragon, lest it awake. Across the Taiwan strait, China has been at crossroads since Taiwan broke away from China in 1945. China has vehemently opposed the ‘two China’ system by not recognising Taiwan’s sovereignty because it believes it has a historical claim over this extended territory and wants to reinforce its dominance by expansion. Since 2019 China has been stealthily manoeuvring both these contentious geopolitical regions in order to reach its goal of displacing America as a global powerhouse and pursue the Chinese government global goal of building “a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious” till 2049, set under the ODI’s Global China 2049 initiative. By looking at the ways it has manifested itself across the Himalayan, Taiwan and Indo-Pacific, we can figure our the trends of China’s foreign policy and understand how it sees the world.
In the first part, China’s historical claim of the South China Sea under the nine-dash line theory saw territorial disputes occurring with ASEAN countries (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) as well as Taiwan. There was a major pushback from major powers such as the US for the South China Sea has major trade routes in the world with abundant natural resources and fishing areas on which China was illegally establishing its authority.
In the second part and most recently, China’s contemptuous response after the U.S House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan trip dictated that China would never let Taiwan go from its nationalist agenda. China’s political and strategic behavior lies on the fact whether the US will deter China from trying to take Taiwan by force leading to global woes and chaos. One can be certain any aggressive decision on Taiwan by China will lead to a destabilized global security architecture affecting every country.
In the third part specifically, in examining the Himalayan region, Beijing’s revisionist ambitions have been continuously belligerent in erasing Tibet’s territorial integrity, national sovereignty, regional influence and cultural identity. With the ‘One China’ policy, the Chinese position in Tibet remains confrontational to this day. China’s constant standoffs with India along the LAC border also translates to a more volatile Himalayan region as China desperately tries to assert dominance fearing America’s global dominance.
In the fourth part China also hasn’t been cordial to its immediate East Asian neighbors. It’s maritime and land issues with Japan over the Senkaku Islands and Ryukyu Islands have been ongoing along with a conflict over the Socotra Rock (Ieodo) in the East China Sea with South Korea.
China’s overreaching ambitions of territorial claims and disbanding of internationally signed peace treaties puts it under a lens of scrutiny and distrust by the world. China says its intention is to only reclaim back of what was once theirs as the territorial area of such countries is ‘illegal’. These conflicts are only expected to rise with increasing geopolitical conflicts with Russia’s war with Ukraine and might lead to China taking an even more aggressive stance. Therefore, a study of China’s approach to foreign policy is important to predict the future of international politics as existing relations are put to a test in the Taiwan and Himalayan region. With China’s ‘wolf-warrior diplomacy’ China’s claim on these regions has been whitewashed and only spoken under terms of China’s national interests in the media. Due to these reasons, the world sees China as a black box.
2022: China’s largest ever military military excise in the air and seas around Taiwan, including the firing of ballistic missiles after Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, visit to the island.
2021: Chinese warplanes made 159 incursions into Taiwan’s air defence zone which is the second-highest month on record as Beijing continues to pile military pressure on the democratic island.
2020: According to Taiwan’s defense minister, the PLA has engaged in 49 military aircraft sorties across the Taiwan Strait median line in 2020, the highest number since 1990. In response, Taiwan conducted its own exercise, deploying its F-16 fighter jets. The United States has stepped up its diplomatic and military support to Taiwan. The U.S. has also agreed to a major arms package for Taiwan worth almost $2 billion. The total package may increase to as much as $5 billion to boost Taiwan’s capacity to defend itself from China.
2018-2019: China Holds Long-Range Air Combat Drill Near Taiwan with Su-35 Fighters Over Bashi Channel for the first time.
Himalayan Strait and India:
2022: The India-China Tawang crisis came as a consequence of military face off at the Yangtse valley in Arunachal Paresh. The entire state itself, and within it, Tawang, are areas of serious contestation between India and China.
2021: Another face-off at Naku La in north Sikkim, an Indian state sandwiched between Bhutan and Nepal, east of the Ladakh area left troops injured on both sides. This was followed by the deadly Galwan Valley clash.
2020: Ladakh’s Galwan Valley in the Pangong Tso area witnessed a violent clash between the Armies of India and China. The clash, in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed, was one of the worst in 45 years, and led to a military standoff with China and at least 11 rounds of military talks for the disengagement process.
2019: Chinese third White paper on Tibet in the Xi Jinping era had the themes of all that Taiwan’s political autonomy and religious freedom for the people of the region have been supported by malicious forces like the Dalai Lama and some elements in the West, who have sought to disrupt Tibet’s progress. The latest White Paper adds emphasis on the importance of maintaining a tight hold on the region, ensuring Chinese control over the selection of the next Dalai Lama, and emphasizing border management and development. By 2019, according to China Daily, the Lhasa railway had been extended for the Lhasa-Nyingchi section marking improvement in the transportation infrastructure from China to Tibet. Among the biggest achievements was the construction of a highway through what is the world’s deepest canyon on the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) river. All of this suggested increased China’s presence in Taiwan to manipulate its region for its own foreign policy ambitions.
Author: Taru Ahluwalia