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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Why China isn't fit to lead Asia

October 5, 2010

Brahma Chellaney
The Globe and Mail (Canada)
October 4, 2010

Japan may have created the impression that it
buckled under China’s pressure by releasing a
Chinese fishing boat captain involved in a
collision near islands that both countries claim.
But the Japanese action has helped move the
spotlight back to China, whose rapidly
accumulating power has emboldened it to
aggressively assert territorial and maritime
claims against neighbours stretching from Japan to India.

Having earlier preached the gospel of its
"peaceful rise," China is no longer shy about
showcasing its military capabilities. While
Chinese leaders may gloat over Tokyo’s
back-pedalling, the episode – far from shifting
the Asian balance of power in Beijing’s favour –
has only shown that China is at the centre of Asia’s political divides.

China’s new stridency in its disputes with its
neighbours has helped highlight Asia’s central
challenge to come to terms with existing
boundaries by getting rid of the baggage of
history that weighs down all important interstate
relationships. Even as Asia is becoming more
interdependent economically, it’s getting more divided politically.

China has been involved in the largest number of
military conflicts in Asia since 1950, the year
both the Korean War and the annexation of Tibet
began. According to a recent Pentagon report,
“China’s leaders have claimed military
pre-emption as a strategically defensive act. For
example, China refers to its intervention in the
Korean War (1950-1953) as the ‘war to resist the
United States and aid Korea.’ Similarly,
authoritative texts refer to border conflicts
against India (1962), the Soviet Union (1969) and
Vietnam (1979) as ‘self-defence counterattacks.’
” All these cases of pre-emption occurred when
China was weak, poor and internally torn. So,
today, China’s growing power naturally raises legitimate concerns.

Several developments this year alone underline
Beijing’s more muscular foreign policy -- from
its inclusion of the South China Sea in its
“core” national interests, an action that makes
its claims to the disputed Spratly Islands
non-negotiable, to its reference to the Yellow
Sea as an exclusive Chinese military zone where
Washington and Seoul, respecting the new Chinese
power, should discontinue joint naval exercises.

China also has become more insistent in pressing
its territorial claims to the Japanese-controlled
Senkaku Islands, with Chinese warships making
more frequent forays into Japanese waters, and to
India’s northeastern Arunachal Pradesh state,
with Indian defence officials reporting a sharp
spurt in Chinese incursions across the disputed
Himalayan frontier and in aggressive patrolling.
Beijing also has started questioning New Delhi’s
sovereignty over the state of Jammu and Kashmir,
one-fifth of which it occupies.

Against that background, China’s increasingly
assertive territorial and maritime claims
threaten Asian peace and stability. In fact, the
largest piece of real estate China covets is not
in the South or East China Seas but in India:
Arunachal Pradesh is almost three times larger than Taiwan.

Respect for boundaries is a prerequisite to peace
and stability on any continent. Europe has built
its peace on that principle, with a number of
European states learning to live with borders
they don’t like. But the Chinese Communist Party
still harps on old grievances to reinforce its
claim to legitimacy and monopolize power – that
only it can fully restore China’s “dignity” after
a century of humiliation at the hands of foreign powers.

And through its refusal to accept the territorial
status quo, Beijing highlights the futility of
political negotiations. Whether it’s Arunachal
Pradesh or Taiwan or the Senkaku Islands or even
the Spratlys, China is dangling the threat of
force to assert its claims. In doing so, it’s
helping to reinforce the spectre of a threatening
China. By picking territorial fights with its
neighbours, Beijing is also threatening Asia’s
economic renaissance. More important, China is
showing that it isn’t a credible candidate to lead Asia.

It’s important for other Asian states and the
U.S. -- a "resident power" in Asia, in the words
of Defence Secretary Robert Gates – to convey a
clear message to Beijing: After six long decades,
China’s redrawing of frontiers must end.

Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic
studies at the Centre for Policy Research in New
Delhi, is the author of Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan.
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