China makes territorial claims in almost all countries surrounding its large territory – Vietnam, Japan, Philippines, South Korea, Malaysia, India, and now Bhutan. In 2016, even Singapore seriously criticised China for interfering in ASEAN´s internal affairs. China has been belligerent in encroaching on more and more territory and has had deals with countries like Pakistan, which has voluntarily given access to some of its territory in exchange for military hardware. For a long time, the US has been accusing China of militarising the South China Sea.
“So far we have only seen a growing anxiety among China´s neighbours, and the so-called peaceful rise of China is turning out to be a falsification.”
Last year, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in the Hague, in a crystal clear judgement, ruled that China had no historical right over the South China Sea. Instead, Beijing was in for a rebuke for violating the Philippines’ right to sovereignty. But nothing has altered the course of events since the judgement was passed last year. In the case of North Korea, the Trump administration has tried in the last few weeks to persuade China to rein in Kim Jong Un´s provocations and ambition of carrying out nuclear tests. It is possible that America might seriously consider penalising the Chinese companies that are violating UN sanctions on North Korea, and thereby helping it in achieving its goal of attaining nuclear weapons. An arms deal with Taiwan would be another measure taken by US to counter aggressive Chinese behaviour in the region.
The rise of China has primarily been seen as one of the positive developments of the twenty-first century. However, now with the latest developments, the question is if China is clandestinely trying to topple the United States as the leading power of the world. Several historians like Niall Ferguson have already written that the descent of the West will be superseded by the ascent of the East. In other words, China´s clout is growing both in economic and military fields.
So far we have only seen a growing anxiety among China´s neighbours, and the so-called peaceful rise of China is turning out to be a falsification. It is turning out to be a delusion that China will assume the global leadership, as the European leaders momentarily believed when the US withdrew from the Paris climate deal. China is not going to take the global leadership on climate change and show acumen for international diplomacy when it is embroiled in a territorial conflict with almost all of its neighbours. Bhutan is now the latest in the row. The left-leaning newspapers of the West have been utterly naïve in assuming that a one-party dictatorship in China will show leadership to the democracies of the world. A country that jails dissidents, tortures it Nobel prize winner, threatens anyone who demands a small reform in democracy, cannot be expected to be a global leader. China is now facing a barrage of international criticism for jailing the country´s only Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, who died a few weeks ago. Liu Xiaobo was the first Nobel Peace Prize winner to die in jail since 1938, a clear indication that the future of human rights in China is bleak and no improvement has occurred despite international pressure.
Several opinion polls conducted in Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and India indicate that people at large are increasingly getting sceptical of China´s belligerent policy of undermining the interests of many of its neighbours. For the past month, Chinese and Indian troops are caught up in a dispute that China now has with Bhutan. Bhutan has asked for Indian assistance because the Chinese were building a base and a road, in an area claimed by Bhutan. Since Bhutan is a very small country, it relies on India for its support in defence and security issues. China wants Indian troops to withdraw unilaterally and India demands the same – that the Chinese withdraw from a region that has a tremendous strategic importance, not only for Bhutan but for India as well.
This area of contention which is claimed by Bhutan is called Doklam, and now it is turning out to be the most serious crisis between the two nuclear powers India and China. The Chinese insist on continuing their road construction and India wants them to halt that road construction and to start a peace process. This is just one more conflict among many other skirmishes involving China and many of its neighbours.
The United States, Japan, Australia and India, which are all democracies, are increasing their co-operation, but the trouble is the lack of support from the European Union. Many EU countries have made lucrative deals with China, giving it unhindered access to their markets. The European Union, too, needs to ask a pertinent question: if the rule of democracy and abolition of the death penalty are an absolute condition to be fulfilled for joining the EU, then why are there double standards applied to China?
Why is China allowed to get away with giving more death penalties to dissidents than any other country in the world? When China usurped Tibet, we kept silent, when it threatened Taiwan, when it threatened Japan, Hongkong, and now Bhutan, we keep on remaining silent. Is there any doubt left that China is supporting rogue states like North Korea and Pakistan, only to give massive problems to the West while embarking on its mission of superseding the United States?
The European Union and UK can do much more to insist that the universal values like human rights and democracy, which are good for their citizens, are also good for people in Asia.