China revisitedChina aggressively wants a place in the new world order and Nepal should learn to benefit from its rise
The global distribution of power is witnessing fast geo-political, geo-economic and geo-strategic changes. Traditional powers such as USA, Japan, France and UK are weakening while China is emerging and expanding as the new power centre. Therefore, world order can have different meaning from different perspectives. From the perspective of power it means the control and distribution of strength, resources and authority among global political actors where countries seek to influence and lead security cooperation, international relations and global trade.
Similarly, market force too has become a major determinant of power. In the coming decades, it is said that China will surpass USA in terms of economic and military power parity. As an economic powerhouse of this century, China will ultimately shape strategic and political power in the world. According to Juan Pablo Cardenal and Heriberto Araujo, not only the officials and politicians but also ordinary workers working in different development projects funded by China across the world are determined to make China the most powerful country in the world.
According to a 2017 World Investment Report, China is the highest global prospective investor, with its GDP representing 15 percent of the world economy (2017) while it contributes 30 percent to the global economic growth. Western strategists and analysts are worried that China, a ‘non-western’, ‘non-English’ and ‘non-democratic’ country is becoming the world’s greater super power. They conclude that whatever changes are occurring in the current world order, it is due to rise of China (and few other southern countries). Indicators of this claim are the Silk Road Economic Belt (land-based) and oceanic Maritime Silk Road, collectively known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI is an investment framework for integrated trade and economic development which covers more than 54 countries.
If we look at the Chinese investment on global issues, it is not only assertive in shaping the global market, investment, trade, security issue like fighting terrorism but China is also becoming more visible and influential in UN Security Council and other UN forums. In addition it is also creating new alternative structures such as Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Furthermore, China is prioritising regional security, which focuses on geo-politics of Asia-Pacific, Africa and Latin America.
More recently, China is strategically working in South Asia and expanding investments in major infrastructure development works, defense cooperation and trade in Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan. For example, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Bangladesh on Oct 2016 and signed 27 agreements. Examples of large Chinese projects in South Asia are Sino-Pak Economic Corridor, Hambantota port in Sri Lanka and Norochcholai Thermal Plant in Maldives to name few. Similarly, China is becoming more prominent in Nepal as well. India’s inhumane blockade in 2015-16 provided opportunities to expand cooperation between the two countries and therefore Nepal and China signed 10 memorandum of understanding (MoU), including the transit and transportation treaty.
Though China and India are collaborating in many issues in the region, the historical tension between them on Arunachal Pradesh is perennial as China views Arnunachal Pradesh as a part of Tibet but it went to India only because of McMahon Line drawn in 1911. Furthermore, China is closely watching the activities of Dalai Lama, whose visit to Arunachal Pradesh on 4th April 2017 was vehemently protested. China also opposed the US supported Indian interest to be a member of Nuclear Suppliers Group. China built China-Pakistan Economic Corridor through
disputed Kashmir, and constructed Gwadar port in Pakistan & Container terminal in Colombo, engaged in peace talk between Afghan Taliban and the Afghan government, all against Indian interests. However, despite these differences, China is also trying to improve relations through different means. India’s membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and Modi’s recent visit to Wuhan for an “informal meeting” are testaments to this.
China has used multiple strategies to shape global order by engaging in oil industries, mines and minerals, dams, trade, private business, developing infrastructures around the world. Such initiatives became powerful instruments for international expansion. If we look at the 13th Five Year Plan (2016-2020) of China, it is evident that it aims to turn economic strengths into strategic expansion. In this context, new cooperation platforms like Shanghai Cooperation Organization, BRI, BRICS, Asian Infrastructure Development Bank are becoming powerful means. Aim of all these initiatives seems weakening the hegemony of conventional power.
To reshape the global order, China is increasingly investing in military as well. According to sources, in 2006 China invested US$35 in defence. The figures stood at US$141 billion in 2015 and US$215 billion in 2016. Therefore, in a span of almost a decade (2007 to 2016), China increased its military spending by 118 percent. Further, it also aims to become a major maritime power by focusing on special Indian Ocean Strategy which prioritises the sea and expansion of naval bases as well as maritime routes. In 2021 the Chinese Communist Party is set to celebrate 100 years of its founding while in 2049 China will mark a century of People’s Republic of China. Hence, by 2021, China’s goal is ‘to complete the building of a moderately prosperous society in all aspects’ and by 2049 ‘to have built a modern socialist country that is strong, prosperous, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious’, what Xi Jinping calls “Dream for China’s future”.
As a developing country that just emerged from a protracted period of political transition and an armed conflict, Nepal’s capacity to utilise its geo-strategic location-specific-opportunities and maximise comparative advantages from the prosperous neighbour China is still
weak. Furthermore, it would be unrealistic to expect unconditional support from China. However, change in the political landscape of Nepal with the recent election and a government that enjoys a two-third majority, there is tremendous opportunities for Nepal to engage meaningfully with China. Therefore, the ongoing state visit of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli should be able to maximise and materialise the economic cooperation that will provide basis for political stability, durable peace and collective prosperity for Nepali people.
Uprety is the executive director at Nepal Centre for Contemporary Research (NCCR)