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learning how to be a great power

  • Author:naky
  • Source:www.diecastingpartsupplier.com
  • Release on :2015-11-26
When a US warship steamed through the South China Sea the other day China protested and her neighbours applauded. Washington said it was upholding freedom of navigation in the face of Chinese land reclamation projects that are turning disputed rocks into artificial islands. Beijing warned against provocation from an outsider with no claims of its own in the region. The rest of us were reminded of the dismal determinism of Thucydides’s account of the Peloponnesian war.

Just before the guided missile destroyer USS Lassen set its course, I joined the serried senior ranks of the People’s Liberation Army at China’s annual international security conference in Beijing. I have never seen so many starred epaulettes.
The Xiangshan Forum, hosted by the Chinese Association for Military Science, is another sign of the changing times. Not so long ago the PLA was, in the minds of westerners, an ineffably secret, some would have said sinister, organisation. The Xiangshan meeting, a competitor of sorts to Singapore’s long-running Shangri La Dialogue, speaks to a military establishment that now wants to be heard on the international stage.

This is not as easy as it sounds, especially since pretty much everyone else in the neighbourhood would have preferred things to have remained as they were. China is discovering that, like its neighbours, it too must adjust to China’s rise. I caught a small glimpse of this in the Xiangshan discussions. The PLA was founded as a land force to defend Chinese territory against external aggression. Now the generals are slashing troop numbers as they look to build expeditionary reach with naval and air power. This is what rising powers do. Yet I have the impression they are puzzling about how to make the transition.

What marks out President Xi Jinping from his predecessors is his determination at once to concentrate his personal authority at home — the old collective leadership has been dismantled — and project power abroad. The land reclamation works in the South China Sea are one manifestation of the latter aim; to my mind, the One Belt, One Road strategy to build Chinese influence across Eurasia is a still more ambitious one.

Yet it is equally natural that Beijing’s ambitions jar with the US. America’s presence in East Asia has been the guarantor of regional peace. What is more, the US is an East Asian power by invitation. China’s neighbouring states have been asking for a bigger not a smaller US presence. Vietnam is cross because Washington will not sell it sufficiently sophisticated weaponry. Think about it. The big criticism from most regional powers of President Barack Obama’s pivot to Asia is that it has been too timid.

East Asia will not stay the same for the simple reason that China’s rise has remade the landscape. America cannot hold on to a primacy that has already been lost. But nor can China claim its own hegemony. A new order must accommodate both. Any effort from either side to prove otherwise would tell us only that, like Sparta and Athens, they are doomed to collide.