DIPLOMACY

China and the Future for “Asia’s Mediterranean”

Kotani Tetsuo, senior fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, analyzes the 2049 ambitions of Xi Jinping and the Communist Party of China (CPC).

 

The Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era bearing the name of General Secretary Xi Jinping of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) was incorporated into the CPC constitution at the 19th Congress of the Party. In addition, at the CPC Congress Xi declared his intention to modernize socialism by 2035 and turn China into a modern socialist country by 2049, the centennial of the People’s Republic of China, which was founded in 1949. Moreover, at the CPC Congress Xi emphasized the realization of the Chinese dream known as the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people and held up a long-term plan to transform his country into a strong nation rivaling the United States in a broad range of fields by 2049, including the economy, military and culture. Xi expressed his intention to build an order based on China’s values, which differs from a world order focused on freedom and democracy led by the United States, and offer another choice to the world. The question is whether this new world order that China aims to materialize can be such an alternative.

In a report on activities that he made to the CPC Congress, Xi positioned the achievement of the great rejuvenation as an historic mission for the CPC. China experienced a century of humiliation known as semi-colonization after the Opium War. In his report on the activities, Xi stirred up nationalism, stating that the CPC had become the central pillar for the Chinese people’s struggle in 1921 when China was experiencing a dark age, that the Chinese people are now moving close to a great rejuvenation, and that they have greater self-confidence and abilities than ever before. At the same time, Xi emphasized the absoluteness of CPC leadership. Xi then referred to the relationships between China and Taiwan based on the One-China Principle and the 1992 Consensus, in addition to the complete grasp of supervisory authority over Hong Kong and Macao. Xi stated that Taiwan is an indispensable factor for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people. This statement was a clear form of pressure on the Taiwanese administration led by Tsai Ing-wen, who is looking for a new model without accepting the 1992 Consensus. The remark can also be taken as an expression of Xi’s strong resolve to absorb Taiwan and unify China.

In the activities report, Xi explained China’s diplomatic policies as no hegemony forever, no expansion and the performance of its roles as a responsible global power. Xi cited the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) as the products of the all-out promotion of China’s distinctive global power diplomacy and the establishment of new international relations based on fairness, justice and nonintervention. He praised his own country, saying that China advocated building a community for mankind bound by common fate, increased its international influence, and made new contributions to peace and prosperity in the world. However, Xi also stressed that China would not abandon its national interest, citing the proactive advancement of construction on the islands in the South China Sea as an example of the results achieved by the country’s leadership under his command, disregarding the strong concerns expressed by the global community. This assertion clearly reflects the self-righteousness of China in aiming to build a new world order.

Regarding the national defense, Xi declared his intention to improve quality and efficiency. He stated that China would modernize its military by 2035 and work to raise its level to the top of the world by 2049. Back in the 1980s, the Chinese leadership under Deng Xiaoping set the ambiguous military targets of securing the command of an area down to the second island chain by 2020 and securing the command of the Western Pacific by 2050. However, the current leadership under Xi Jinping set 2035 as a more realistic target, clearly expressing a sense of rivalry with the United States. China has worked to improve its capacity to prevent US military interventions since the Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1996. The possibility that a military clash will occur between China and the surrounding countries and the United States will rise as the country continues to increase its military power under the new target.

The Recapture of “Lost Territories”

Captain James Fanell, who served as an intelligence officer in the US Pacific Fleet for many years, considers that the recapture of Taiwan, the South China Sea and the East China Sea, which China views as its lost territories, by 2049 is indispensable to the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people, and that China is willing to use military force to achieve that objective. However, China will not only pit itself against the United States, but will also invite strong criticism from throughout the global community if and when it uses armed force. Fanell insists that China is using its experiences through the Beijing Olympics as a model regarding this point. The global community criticized China sharply for the Tiananmen Square Incident in 1989 to the point of imposing economic sanctions on the country. However, President George W. Bush of the United States and other global leaders attended the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics held about 20 years after, and praised China’s development there. After all, the global community forgets past events with the passage of time. China must recapture all territories in the 2030s, even if doing so requires the use of force in order to ensure that the leaders of the world will celebrate the centennial of the People’s Republic of China and the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people in 2049. The world will forget the fact of the use of force by 2049, if China does in fact exercise such force. The establishment of 2035 as the new military target on the latest occasion may suggest that Fanell’s analysis is correct.

In 1940, Nicholas Spykman, an authority on geopolitics, defined the waters surrounded by the Asian continent, Australia, the Pacific and the Indian Ocean as the “Asiatic Mediterranean.” Spykman predicted that China would achieve economic growth and eventually transform Asia’s Mediterranean into the Chinese Caribbean with its military power, in the same way as the United States turned the Caribbean, which was the American Mediterranean, into its inland sea and established control of the western hemisphere. The policy displayed by the Xi Jinping leadership at the latest CPC Congress may indicate that China is aiming to control the East China Sea, the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, just as Spykman predicted.

Xi is assumed to have solidified his power base through the CPC Congress. There is a possibility that his government will continue beyond 2022 because no successor was named explicitly at the Congress. China is believed to attach importance to improving relations with Japan, the United States and ASEAN member countries in the name of global power diplomacy and aims to increase its influence in the global community through the advancement of the BRI for some time to come. However, China will build up its military power and continue to acquire the capacity to control Asia’s Mediterranean while maintaining this position. We should not forget that China had established long-term strategies with a hard look at the target year of 2049.

To counter the BRI of China, the Japanese government hammered out the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy. Based on the Strategy, the government is aiming to promote the connectivity of Asia and Africa and bring peace and stability to Asia and the Pacific, which connects the two continents, through the establishment of high quality infrastructure. Japan announced this plan at the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), discussed the Indo-Pacific Strategy with Southeast Asian countries, Australia and India and subsequently asked for their cooperation. President Donald Trump of the United States also demonstrated his position of attaching importance to the Indian and Pacific Oceans during his visit to Vietnam in November 2017. However, Trump’s trade policies strongly reflect his “America First” stance. The direction of these policies is not necessarily in agreement with the Japanese strategy. Nevertheless, the United States is seeking to step up its cooperation with Japan, Australia and India under the banners of the rule of law and the freedom of navigation. In that sense, the United States is facing in the same direction as Japan.

Together with the United States, Japan must strengthen its cooperation with other countries in Asia and the Pacific based on its Indo-Pacific Strategy and win the long-term competition against China, which is aiming to build a self-righteous world order. Japan must take such actions to ensure that Asia’s Mediterranean will remain a peaceful sea governed by the law of nations, instead of Chinese rules, in 2049.

 

KOTANI Tetsuo is a senior fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs.

 

 

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