Friday, January 11, 2013

New Year Question: Can the World Embrace China’s Aspiration for Military Rise?

Whenever the global community raises concerns with the rise of Chinese military power, the Chinese side refutes “There is nothing strange that we strengthen our military in accordance with our national power. Through this way, it is necessary to defend Chinese national interests that have expanded on a global scale.” However, the real threat for both Asia Pacific and Western nations is China’s intention. A typical case is China’s proposal to divide the Pacific Ocean into US and Chinese sphere of influence (“Division Rejected”Washington Times; August 17, 2007). Considering such behavior, it is nothing strange that the global community suspect that China is imposing its own national interests, while dismissing other nations’ will and global public interests.


A strong military power is not necessarily regarded as a threat by foreign countries. The most typical case is the relationship between Canada and the United States. Canada has a long border with the superpower to the south, and its population concentrates on the border area. Normally, this is very vulnerable to the threat of its neighbor, but hardly any Canadians regard America as a national security threat for them. That is because it is quite unlikely that the United States has an intention to invade Canada.

For historical consideration of military strength and threat recognition, the most suitable case is great power rivalries among Britain, America, and Germany from late 19th century to early 20th century when imperialism was at the peak of its own. The United States and Germany increased military strength in accordance with their national power, but it was Kaiser’s Germany that defied the hegemony of the British Empire. Therefore, Britain allied with friendlier United States to confront Germany.

Moreover, we must remember the viewpoint of providing global public goods. In order to maintain Pax Britannica, Britain adopted the two power standard so that it could gain military predominance over possible coalition of two great powers from Germany, France, and Russia. Thanks to such a security umbrella, small powers like Benelux and Scandinavians enjoyed peace. Likewise, Asia Pacific nations enjoy peace under Pax Americana today. When Chinese leaders argue for “military strength in accordance with national power”, it appears that they lack such “understanding of history”.

One thing we have to question regarding Chinese national security policy is their territorial claims in the East and the South China Seas. Few states and non-state actors support China’s claim in both areas. Even Russia, that moves closer to China for rivalry against the West and has a territorial dispute with Japan over South Kuril Islands, stays neutral in these cases. China’s attitude to push through its territorial claim is more aggressive than that of Imperial Japan that trumpeted the Great East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere. I would like to question China’s “understanding of history” on this issue.

What makes the global community feel increasingly uneasy about China’s external policy is its oppression against domestic ethnic minorities such as Tibetans and Uyghurs. Minority right activists appeals that an appeasement with China will lead a nation to lose its independence. Such voices are taken seriously because of synergies of aggressive territorial claims in the East and the South China Seas, and inhumane oppression against ethnic minorities in China.

It seems that Chinese government officials and opinion leaders believe that just a ritual incantation of “military strength in accordance with national power” to the global media can persuade worldwide public opinion. However, I hope them to recognize the fact that their claims are hardly accepted both in Asia and the West.