- Bhanavi Bahl
US CHINA DISPUTE: A WANING INFLUENCE IN THE WESTERN PACIFIC?
Foreign policy analyst Robert B Kaplan fervently approaches a new way to understand the Asia Pacific region. His primary area of focus is the South China Seas. Kaplan theorises that the South China Seas have established themselves as an element of great importance in the realm of international politics, making the maritime and trade conflict revolving around this region perplexing. His study on the region is founded on the principle that the geographic positioning of a state is an important determinant of its foreign policy. It is embodied in his various works. Specifically, Kaplan emphasises on the transcending importance of the South China Seas as China claims it and exercises ‘indisputable sovereignty’ in his work titled Asia’s Cauldron. The author refers to China’s attempts as ‘Finlandising’ the region and establishing their economic and naval prowess to tackle other states in the region. China has been continuously pursuing in doing this to the Philippines and slowly Malaysia. Although if Vietnam, Taiwan and Singapore succumb, this would speak volumes of America’s trajectory as a great power which served as the protector of the unipolar world, and China’s claim over the entire region could bring a nearing end to America’s role as a guard of the global commons.
In conjunction with Washington’s clouted ambit in the international realm, its preceding stances under Trump often came to be understood as a deterrent in its back. Retracting from treaties like the TPP and JCPOA has allowed China to be more assertive and establish a stronger hold in this region, that goes beyond its ‘nine-dash line’. The TPP aimed to increase American footing in South Asia. The member states of the agreement are Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, with whom the US has multiple bilateral trade deals and has carried out joint military exercises to ensure it doesn’t lose its ground in South Asia. Although this popular claim is contended by Kaplan, for he argues that even after America’s history with Vietnam during the war, it will not surrender, as both, Vietnam and America share a common interest, which is to prevent China from dominating the region. The question of the Western Pacific now focuses on whether or not the US will be willing to accept a modest role in a region associated with stability and prosperity with America’s preponderant role. Whilst China’s continual rise in this region would mean an abating American influence, it would furthermore challenge their power, causing more instability to brew. More so, in the era of declining American air and naval hegemony, it further fuels China’s agenda, while the surrounding nations attempt to expand their naval presence. Thus, if history has taught us anything, it is that states are driven more by the desire to satiate their hunger for power and security, as is in the case where Robert Kaplan quotes a Singaporean citizen he met. He says, “At the end of the day, it is all about military force and naval presence— it is not about passionate and well-meaning talk”.
On a world level, China is a prime dependent for most countries as it accounts for twenty-eight per cent of the manufacturing units in the world, while the US falls ten points behind. Making China the powerhouse for manufacturing, in keeping with the trade war. America’s inward position has also strengthened China’s dominion in the world. China has successfully acquired numerous countries as its allies with the Belt and Road Initiative in Central Asia, Africa, certain European countries, Latin America and the Middle East. Other than this, China has also taken up Pakistan under its wing apart from taking up few South Asian countries economically. China put forth the CPEC to Pakistan as they both seem to share a common enemy, situated between the two countries. In face of this, the US has also succeeded in garnering support and formed alliances, with Britain, Japan, Australia, Philippines, Canada, Germany and India especially considering the border skirmishes that have been going on for decades.
China’s undeclared strategy is one which embodies the Middle Kingdom phenomenon, attempting to get the states in the South China region to the bandwagon. Although when put to practice, the manifestation of this strategy is not an easy task for China. Firstly, it needs a decade or so to consolidate its military and economic prowess in the region. Given the fact that America continues to be the single strongest power militarily, even though it has begun to stagger on the economic front, nonetheless, it continues to be China’s prime export market. Secondly, as it continues to uphold its bamboo curtain and curtail and violate civil and human rights of minority groups like the Uighurs, accompanied with facing backlash in the international sphere for this and more, the Covid-19 pandemic.
On this account, one might wonder what would follow after the collapse of this system. Considering the current position of the world, we would be living in a ‘post-pandemic state', where the political climate of the world will be guided by the pandemic. The first consequence would be the world retreating into its own countries; self-sufficiency and domestic production will be given the utmost importance. The movement of people would be put to a halt. Furthermore, the US’s nonchalance in being the leader of the order and underwriting a new one seems evident. Earlier on, it could be said that China would take the US’s position as the leader, although the likelihood of this happening seems bleak for solely two reasons- firstly, China’s main agenda right now is reopening its economy without causing a surge in cases. Secondly, the world seems to be on the verge of boycotting China, especially after the pandemic or ‘Wuhan virus’ due to its origins in China. Thus, it is safe to say, that it is not a smooth sailing journey for China in the South China Seas while it makes its way to establish itself as not only great power in the region but the world as well.
Cover Image: Kaila V. Peters