Currently, there is a build-up of anti-China sentiment among sections of world opinion and this could have grave implications for international peace unless skillfully defused. This opinion trend, which is being amply aired by some Western media organizations, is particularly pronounced among the political Right of the West and some of their counterparts of the global South.
The immediate backdrop to these disquieting developments is the recent coming into being of Western-dominated groupings, such as the Quad and AUKUS, that have a marked security and defense orientation. The decision by the US and the UK, for example, to support Australia in the development of nuclear-powered submarines, which is a cornerstone of the AUKUS pact, contributed in great measure to spike tensions between the dominant powers of the West and China.
This decision is strongly backed by elements of the political Right in the US and the UK who see in it an effective counter-thrust to China’s perceived high military presence in the Asia-Pacific region. The dominant opinion among these sections is that the military threat seen as being posed to Western interests in the region should be strongly countered by effective military counter-measures, such as the arming of Western ally Australia. It may be tacitly understood that the US and the UK would go to Australia’s defense in the event of the latter facing a military threat from China. In the process, the ANZUS treaty, brought into existence some decades back featuring the US, Australia and New Zealand is being overshadowed.
However, what is bound to compound China’s security worries is the Quad grouping, bringing together the US, Australia, India and Japan, which, although having all the appearances of an economic cooperation bloc, is really aimed at blunting the Chinese military and economic presence in the Asia-Pacific. For example, on their meeting in Washington on September 24, in an in-person summit, the Quad leaders said in a joint statement, among other things, that they are for, ‘promoting the free, open, rules-based order, rooted in international law and undaunted by coercion….We stand for the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic values and territorial integrity of states. ‘
It ought to be plain to see that it is China that is targeted through such pronouncements. Besides being an anti-democratic, totalitarian communist state, China is seen as working towards some of its territorial and economic ambitions in the South and East China Seas in particular. It is seen as having taken the extreme measure of building artificial islands in these areas, parts of which are strongly contested by some neighbouring states.
The general perception is that China is moving towards annexing Taiwan, which is important for it from both the strategic and economic viewpoints. However, this makes Taiwan a potential arena of confrontation between the West and China. Decisive moves by China to seize control of Taiwan would confront any US administration with the grim challenge of making good the US boast of being a champion of the ‘free world ‘.
China, for its part, has been doing its own sabre-rattling over the months to escalate the Cold War between it and the West. For instance, Chinese President Xi Jinping said on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party: ‘We have never bullied, oppressed or subjugated the people of any other country and we never will. By the same token, we will never allow any foreign force to bully, oppress or subjugate us. Anyone who would attempt to do so will find themselves on a collision course with a great wall of steel by over 1.4 billion Chinese people. ‘
Right now, China is showing a marked preference for economic instruments to further its national power. Thus far, military intervention has not been an option for it in this quest. For example, the Belt and Road initiative is essentially all about China utilizing economic means to bolster its power. And in so far as the means used is economic none can fault China.
But China is unlikely to look on passively if its interests are dangerously undermined in Taiwan or Hong Kong. China has been accused by Taiwan, for instance, of having violated its airspace several times in recent times. China would be using its military muscle to quell rebellions in the mentioned territories that show signs of growing out of control and such developments could have serious implications for world peace. This is because the Western powers would consider it to be in their interests to intervene in Taiwan and Hong Kong, which are at the heart of the coveted Asia-Pacific.
Accordingly, the stakes are high for all concerned in the current stand-off between the West and China. Excessively aggressive moves by any one of these parties could prove catastrophic for the world because all the major powers involved are nuclear-armed and they all seem to be protecting their interests with immense jealousy. Once the nuclear button is pressed in a state, there would likely be a series of nuclear blasts in chain reaction form among the relevant powers.
At first blush it may seem that China could quite easily take on the West. But it would need to constantly look over its shoulder at India, which is on a steady course of arming itself formidably and that too by using indigenous resources. For instance, preparations are underway by India to showcase its nuclear-capable Agni-5 missile with a strike range that ought to have China worried. This ICBM ought to tilt the global power balance in the Quad’s favour.
However, the experience of the world, post-World War Two, is that maximum restraint will be exercised by the nuclear powers in the face of even the gravest international tensions and provocations. That is, the nuclear capability has been used as a deterrent thus far and it is difficult to see it being put to active use in even a regional war.
Considering the unthinkable consequences it could have for the world it is difficult to see any of the nuclear powers pressing the nuclear button with even a rush of blood to the head. But the need is great to cool tempers by shelving pro-war rhetoric by all quarters concerned. A meeting of minds could do everyone immense good.