China sees new era of ‘shared destiny’ with US no longer in the driving seat


By Darius Shahtahmasebi

The release of China’s white
paper on defense demonstrates to the world an increasingly confident and more
assertive China, actively preparing for major shifts on a predominantly US-led
global chessboard. As well as the US, other crucial players on the world stage
also have their eyes on China’s military posture. One such country is India.
Cutting straight to the chase, the white paper’s most obvious and arguably most
relevant reference to India is a sentence that states the People’s Liberation
Army (PLA) will “take effective measures to create favourable conditions for
the peaceful resolution of the Donglang (Doklam) standoff.”

For those with difficulty
recalling, in August 2017 India and China engaged in a brief skirmish in
Doklam, on the Indo-Tibetan border. While seriously under reported by the
mainstream media, the two nations continue to maintain a tense border standoff,
with troops on both sides stationed just meters apart. However, it should be
noted that the skirmishes in 2017 were effectively ended when both parties
disengaged by mutual agreement.

The recently published white
paper also confirmed the deployment of a Type 15 tank, much lighter than tanks
deployed in China’s northern and western regions and purpose-built for mountain
warfare. As the paper also makes numerous references to the mobilization and
mobility of the PLA, such a low-weight Chinese tank may help in this regard.
Deployment of this tank on the Sino-Indian border is almost certainly something
New Delhi will become increasingly concerned at.

Barely a day after the Chinese
defense ministry released the white paper, Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh
said that India was watching carefully, after noting that a lot of resources
had shifted to China’s navy from other branches of the PLA. According to Singh,
this all fits in as part of China’s intention to “become a global power.” Singh
indicated that India would be required to respond within its own budget and the
constraints that it has.

At the end of last year, Indian
media reported that India was taking steps to counter China’s “strategic
footprint” in the Indian Ocean, approving the construction of 56 new warships
and six submarines for its navy over the next decade. India’s aim is to have
200 ships and 500 aircraft by the year 2050. According to the India Times, the
country’s Navy has designed more than 90 warships across 19 different classes.
As Singh recently said “we require long-term fiscal support to build a navy
that is the only way we can plan.”

That being said, China’s white
paper’s reception has the potential to be interpreted in many contradicting
ways, as the remaining references to India are not openly hostile or otherwise
critical. As I discussed last year, there have been many signs that, despite
the growing competition between New Delhi and Beijing, the two nations are
finding ways to work together and minimize tensions that are likely to arise,
whether they concern freedom of navigation, China’s closeness with Pakistan, or
the growing question of Afghanistan and who can best exploit the mineral-rich
war-torn nation.

Since then, there have been
further indications that India is purposely and conscientiously avoiding ways
in which it can outright provoke China, including and especially with regard to
the South China Sea. In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s official position
now seems to be that the Indo-Pacific is inclusive and not a “strategy or as a
club of limited numbers.” Given that India sits firmly on the side of US-allied
nations, it is clear that India does not seek to formally or officially exclude
China from this zone. At the end of the day, India is becoming increasingly
unlikely to be able to match China’s growing military prowess.

Given this context, it is
unlikely that China’s white paper on defense will irk India to an extent which
would not have been expected from India in the first place. Compared to, say,
the ever-increasing US-China dispute, the competition between India and China
appears to suggest a competition which can at least be contained for the
foreseeable future.

For example, just last month the
US Department of Defense quietly released its Indo-Pacific Strategy Report
(with the laughable subtitle: “Preparedness, Partnerships, and Promoting a
Networked Region.” With chapters entitled “The People’s Republic of China as a
Revisionist Power” and “Russia as a Revitalized Malign Actor”, Beijing’s white paper
on defense begins to look quite tame indeed. As the US document states, “the
core diagnosis of the National Defense Strategy is that DoD’s military
advantage vis-à-vis China and Russia is eroding and, if inadequately addressed,
it will undermine our ability to deter aggression and coercion.”

The report identifies China as
being more confident and assertive, and more willing to “accept friction” in
pursuit of its expanding foreign policy strategy. The US by its own admission
is unable to deal alone with the threat that a rising China presents. “The
challenges we face in the Indo-Pacific extend beyond what any single country
can address alone,” the report states. “The Department seeks to cooperate with
like-minded allies and partners to address common challenges.”

It is in this framework that
China’s white paper on defense likewise focuses heavily on the Asia-Pacific
region, hotly contested by the US and its allies as well. In 2015, President Xi
Jinping made a concise declaration that China does not intend to pursue
militarization of the features located in the South China Sea, such as those
seen at the Spratly Islands.

And yet, the white paper appears
to have flipped that on its head, as it clearly refers to China’s “right to
install to build infrastructure and deploy necessary defensive capabilities on
the islands and reefs in the South China Sea.” The US, China also argues, “is
strengthening its Asia-Pacific military alliances and reinforcing military
deployment and intervention.”

The white paper notably singles
out South Korea, Japan and Australia as fitting in this category of alliances.
What may be the most cause for concern throughout the entire white paper,
however, is the fact that China appears to be undeterred even in the face of
this growing military alliance. “Asia-Pacific countries are increasingly aware
that they are members of a community with shared destiny,” the white paper
states, perhaps the single-most important sentence of the entire white paper.

On the face of it, it is unclear
what Beijing is referring to. However, as far as some people and their sources
are concerned, at the very least China is hinting that the region shares the
destiny of what will become “the end of a US-led alliance system.”

While this all seems to be part
and parcel of the inevitable decline of the American empire and the
understandable rise of an ambitious competitor, I have suspicions of my own
that the US is unlikely to surrender its throne to China without a fight, and
an ever-looming showdown between these two nuclear powers is really what should
be concerning us in the long run.

Darius Shahtahmasebi is a New
Zealand-based legal and political analyst who focuses on US foreign policy in
the Middle East, Asia and Pacific region. He is fully qualified as a lawyer in
two international jurisdictions.

Source: RT News.

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