China Threatens Left, Right, North and South
Let me start this episode by crossing a bit of pop-culture with high geostrategy!
At the turn of the century (and millennium), there was a film called “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” which, for the first time, introduced mass American audiences to what might pass for mainland Chinese culture beyond Chinese restaurants that dotted the American landscape. . Chinese in that its entire cast was of Chinese descent, and the film itself was in Mandarin with English subtitles only. Still, it became Hollywood’s biggest hit in history for any foreign-language film. The Americans just honed it.
It was around the same time that China entered the World Trade Organization, in a final act of integration into the global economy. What is the correlation you might ask? For its entry into the WTO, China had modified more than 2,000 national laws and a whopping 2,00,000 local laws or regulations to make itself eligible for membership! It was a national act of self-effacement, akin to hiding one’s dragon fire, or squatting like a tiger before heading out for the kill.
Cut to 2022. On Friday July 29, in a phone call that lasted over two hours, Chinese President XI Jinping threatened US President Joe Biden with consequences if a US Congressional delegation led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi traveled to Taiwan, a territory claimed by China. . “Those who play with fire, perish by it,” Xi reportedly told Biden. This was in the wake of a strident comment from China’s defense and foreign relations ministries warning of action in case Pelosi’s plane was heading for Taiwan.
Experts close to the CCP have suggested that the Pelosi flight may be escorted by PLA air force fighters as a sign of aggression, even as the PLA rocket force is on the ground. could conduct live-fire exercises. We don’t yet know if the United States has finally blinked, bowing to a new red line drawn by the Red Regime in Beijing, but the Pelosi delegation’s itinerary released by his office on Sunday failed to mention Taiwan as the one of its ports of call, focusing on South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia as countries to visit.
One thing is clear, China is breathing down the neck of the United States. And this is backed up by numbers. In 2001, when China entered the WTO, it was the eighth largest economy in the world, with a GDP of just $1 trillion compared to over $10 trillion for the United States. Today, in real terms, the two nations are almost equal, while in purchasing power parity, China’s GDP is 30 trillion against 25 trillion for the United States according to the IMF. It is not Xi who is threatening. As Americans have always told the world, it’s the economy, silly.
In 2000, when China joined the WTO, the Clinton administration touted it as the ultimate victory for free trade, with American companies salivating at a fifth of the world’s market size in China’s population. China overthrew him. In the most direct gunfight against China, then-US President Donald Trump in his 2019 UNGA speech listed how the dragon had manipulated the WTO regime to his advantage. I’ll just quote him: “America had lost 4.2 million manufacturing jobs, closed more than 60,000 factories, ran a trade deficit of $15 trillion – the equivalent of today’s GDP of China – all because the Chinese played with the world order. End of quote.
No wonder then that the dragon spits fire and the tiger no longer crouched. From Ladakh to the Senkaku Islands, from the South China Sea to the bullying of even tiny Bhutan in the Himalayas, China is not afraid to be the Gali Ka Gunda backed by its financial muscle. The brazenness has reached such proportions that China does not hesitate to appropriate even soft cultural symbols like national dresses and foods. Earlier this year, South Koreans were shocked when, during the inauguration of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, a woman was shown parading in Korean national dress. A ruling party lawmaker and the country’s culture minister went public with their displeasure, but did not make it an official diplomatic spat.
Last week, China threatened Korea if it went ahead with the purchase of a US anti-missile shield – the Theater High Altitude Area Defense – known by its acronym THAAD. In May, China conducted a first-ever joint air patrol with Russia – an alliance called DragonBear – breaching the Air Identification Zones over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea. This happened when the leaders of Japan, Australia, India and the United States were hosting the QUAD Summit in Tokyo. And three times in the past eight months, China’s PLA Air Force has carried out major intrusions into Taiwanese airspace, using more than 100 armed fighter jets. It is likely that Taiwan will be forcefully integrated into mainland China over the next two years as the world watches helplessly.
China is then clearly the number one global problem in the geostrategic and geoeconomic space.
How then to deal with it? There is unlikely to be a short-term solution to this problem. India showed the world how to engage with the bully. Even as our defense forces stared the dragon in the eye in Ladakh, the Modi government calibrated an aggressive economic equivalent of guerrilla warfare against Chinese business interests. Last week, the United States Congress passed the so-called CHIPS Act which aims to boost the domestic semiconductor industry with $250 billion in government support to make it compete with Chinese manufacturers. The two Conservative candidates in the race for the post of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom promise to be tough on China. Since the appearance of COVID-19 born in Wuhan, the strategic and economic contours of the world have visibly changed. QUAD, AUKUS, IPEF took on a more concrete form. Germany, which is not an actor in the Indian Ocean or the Pacific, has a strategy note on the Indo-Pacific. France also gets involved. NATO, for the first time, broadened its threat perception to make China its main target, with Russia only a sidekick, despite the war in Ukraine. Clearly, the world must come together to remove Chinese choke points, both physical as in the South China Sea, and economic, as in the case of manufacturing supply chains.
Since I started with one movie, let me end with two. In 2015, there was a Chinese propaganda film called Wolf Warrior, which showed the struggles of the protagonist, a Chinese special forces commando called Leng Feng, and his fight against a drug cartel in China. A sequel to the film in 2017 showed Feng going up against an American villain named Big Daddy while saving his compatriots from a civil war in an African country, this time as a mercenary who had been kicked out of the Chinese military, causing him to suffer. punished for transgressions beyond. rules with isolation and subsequent release. After both films, the aggressive, one-sided, and coercive brand of Chinese diplomacy came to be referred to as wolf-warrior diplomacy. The solution was there in the movies. Isolation and ex-communication. Let China deal with this.