- NATIONAL INTEREST - Fev 13, 2021 -
Beijing fired off a warning shot with the “nine-dashed line” when it made clear that it was not an opening bargaining position but a delineation of what China claims as national territory.
Beijing has clearly failed to achieve at least one of its major, long-term foreign policy goals.
Chinese leaders have known for decades that the ideal circumstance for a “rising” China is for other powerful nations such as the United States to acquiesce rather than resist.
Consequently, a major component of recent Chinese diplomacy has been reassurance: trying to persuade foreigners that China is in no way a threat to them. Former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping famously advised his successors that for the foreseeable future China should keep a low profile, avoid seeking international leadership, and resist overreacting to adverse events. Deng’s immediate successor Jiang Zemin instituted the mantra “China will never seek hegemony.” Starting in 2003, senior Chinese officials used the term “China’s peaceful rise” until it fell out of favor for various reasons.
For China to grow relatively stronger without alarming the prevailing superpower into counter-action was a historically difficult challenge. In an oft-quoted commentary on international relations, the Greek historian Thucydides wrote of the Peloponnesian War, “what made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta.” This suggests that a shift in the relative strength of two states is sufficient by itself to make them war-prone adversaries. To put it another way, an increase in a state’s capabilities to do harm, even in the absence of an apparent intent to do harm, is enough to make the state an enemy in the eyes of a neighbor.
Despite this challenge, Chinese leaders basically had what they wanted up until the second decade of this century. China was on a path of expanding both its regional and global influence. The People’s Republic of China was as secure and prosperous as any country in history. No state threatened to invade China. Beijing’s only significant external security concerns involved self-defined irredentist issues. The Chinese government handled these by constantly reiterating China’s claims and by building up its military and paramilitary forces at a rate that local rivals could not match. The Chinese economy had been growing at an average of over 8 percent annually since the 1980s. China was becoming the region’s most important trade and investment partner, with seemingly unlimited growth potential.