NO FRIENDS FOR BEI­JING

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics -

China has be­come a global power with ex­ten­sive out­reach to all con­ti­nents. But it has never been so iso­lated.

Bei­jing, per­haps blind­sided by its mil­i­tary buildup and a per­ceived de­cline in U.S. mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties, has re­vived fear and loathing among sev­eral of its 14 neigh­bors.

China is en­gaged in tense and fre­quently armed clashes with coun­tries such as Ja­pan, In­dia, Viet­nam, and the Philip­pines as a re­sult of Bei­jing’s un­yield­ing ter­ri­to­rial claims dis­puted by its neigh­bors — claims that had been dor­mant for decades.

In ad­di­tion, la­tent and po­ten­tial clashes could in­volve other na­tions that have ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes with China — such as Malaysia, South Korea, Bhutan, In­done­sia, and Brunei.

Of course, China claims all of Tai­wan as its own, and the com­mu­nist main­land and demo­cratic is­land gov­ern­ments tech­ni­cally still con­duct busi­ness as ad­ver­saries.

Even North Korea has dis­putes with China over the bor­der re­gion of Baekdu Moun­tain; and South Korea has chal­lenged Bei­jing over the Gando [Jian­dao] re­gion that cov­ers China’s Yan­bian Korean Au­ton­o­mous District.

China has bor­der agree­ments with Rus­sia, Mon­go­lia, Kaza­khstan, Kyr­gyzs­tan, Ta­jik­istan, and Myan­mar. But na­tion­al­is­tic calls for re­gain­ing “lost Chi­nese ter­ri­to­ries” in those coun­tries have flared in­creas­ingly in on­line me­dia.

China’s strat­egy to end its isolation ap­pears to blame its re­gional trou­bles on Ja­pan and its pre-1945 colo­nial and war­time atroc­i­ties, which Bei­jing pre­sents as moral jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for get­ting nasty with Tokyo.

But Ja­pan-bash­ing is not help­ing China be­cause most of the ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes have less to do with Ja­pan’s pre1945 his­tory than with China’s post­war geopo­lit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tions. Few are buy­ing China’s ar­gu­ment that to­day’s free and demo­cratic Ja­pan is en­deav­or­ing to re­vive its pre-1945 mil­i­tarism and ex­pan­sion­ism. China, not Ja­pan, is widely viewed as a desta­bi­liz­ing source in the re­gion. So far, the strat­egy has back­fired. It has strength­ened con­ser­va­tive forces in Ja­pan led by Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe, whose tough stance in re­buff­ing China’s pro­pa­ganda on­slaught has made him one of the most pop­u­lar politi­cians in post­war Ja­pan. It has forced Wash­ing­ton to of­fi­cially vow to de­fend the Ja­pan-ad­min­is­tered Senkaku is­lands should China launch an at­tack.

And it has driven Ja­pan and In­dia, the two old­est and largest Asian democ­ra­cies, much closer as al­lies in a bid to fend off China’s ag­gres­sive ter­ri­to­rial de­mands.

More omi­nous for Bei­jing is the as­cen­dance of Hindu na­tion­al­ist Naren­dra Modi, who is openly hos­tile to China and is set to be­come In­dia’s next prime min­is­ter.

Other re­gional play­ers also are align­ing them­selves against China, such as the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions, the Philip­pines, Viet­nam and Myan­mar, which has been slip­ping away quickly from China’s in­flu­ence in re­cent years.

China’s rem­edy for the cur­rent em­bar­rass­ment is to drag Rus­sia into the fray to demon­strate some de­gree of brother­hood against Ja­pan.

But Rus­sia, os­tra­cized in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity due to its gam­bit in Ukraine, has re­fused to play along with China in toto be­cause it wants to be­friend some of China’s ad­ver­saries, in­clud­ing Viet­nam, In­dia, and likely Ja­pan.

While sell­ing a great deal of arms to In­dia and Viet­nam for their de­fense buildup against China, Moscow has re­fused to take China’s side in the Senkaku dis­pute. Rus­sia re­jected China’s re­quest and pub­lic an­nounce­ment to hold up­com­ing Sino-Rus­sian naval ex­er­cise next to the Senkaku Is­lands.

Steeped in one of its famed 36 an­cient mil­i­tary strate­gies that dic­tates “Be­friend those at a dis­tance, at­tack those nearby,” China may have found it­self the vic­tim of its own an­cient wiles.

Miles Yu’s col­umn ap­pears Fridays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com and @Yu_Miles.

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