One of China’s founding fathers, Sun Yat-sen, predicted that the era of China’s prominence would not be one of Yellow Peril (as the country was popularly described in the West) but of Yellow Favour. The Chinese era would not be one in which China threatens the world, but enriches it. The China Dream, as Liu Mingfu, then a colonel in the People’s Liberation Army, noted in his 2010 book of the same name, had three distinct phases: catching up with America, competing with America, and becoming the world’s leading nation. In many ways, China is now in the second phase of this process of global domination, and the world is worried. On May 14, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, in the presence of 29 foreign leaders in Beijing, unveiled a “project for the century’’, One Belt, One Road (OBOR), which hopes to make Beijing the centre of the global economy through a series of infrastructure projects. India boycotted it over political concerns on China’s projects in PoK. The audacity of this $1 trillion project, now involving 60-plus countries, is mind-boggling and reflects the vaulting global ambition of China to become a superpower. It makes me wonder about our long-term strategic plan for a place in the world. Is having a seat on the UN Security Council our only ambition?
The timing for China seems perfect. America under Donald Trump is distracted by a surge of protectionist sentiment, and engagement with the world is not top of the agenda for Brexit-affected Europe. The Chinese plan involves both economic hegemony as well as military supremacy and follows three decades of serious internal reform. Its global mission is quite clear—secure resources to fuel China’s rise, which it did through its “resources for infrastructure” model, build OBOR to consolidate its sway over countries already in its economic orbit, and protect its assets overseas with an international role for its military. Between 1996 and 2005, China’s overseas investments rose from $3 billion to $100 billion. Its share of global trade recorded a similarly spectacular increase. In 2001, when China entered the World Trade Organization, it accounted for less than 5 per cent of global exports. Today, it is the world’s largest exporter, with a 14 per cent share. It is the largest or second largest trading partner for more than 100 countries and has emerged as the biggest source of foreign investment for nations ranging from Venezuela and Angola to Nepal and Sri Lanka. In addition, China’s state-owned enterprises are building infrastructure all over the world—from railways in Africa to mines in Latin America, dams in Myanmar, and ports across the Indian Ocean. China is also building a blue-water navy to protect its overseas interests. Last year, it opened its first naval base in Africa. More are on the way.
China’s new ambitions will fundamentally change the nature of its relations with the rest of the world. For the past three decades, reports india today’s Beijing-based Associate Editor Ananth Krishnan, China’s diplomacy has followed Deng Xiaoping’s cautious maxim, “tao guang yang hui”, which means “hide your brightness and seek obscurity”. The new phrase of choice in Beijing, he says, is “fen fa you wei”, which means to forge ahead, underlining Beijing’s desire “to proactively shape” its external environment. The implications for India are enormous, especially given the increasing closeness between China and Pakistan. Should India bide its time like China did and take up a non-confrontational approach till it becomes a much stronger nation or should it aggressively counter China in whichever spheres it feels threatened and build a counter-narrative? I, for one, am a strong votary of India becoming the best version of itself before it tries to be better than China. Or as the Chinese would say, dig the well before you are thirsty.