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China: On the Rise But Feeling Boxed In

It's been a month since United States (US) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote that Asia is now the focus of her country's diplomatic, economic and strategic foreign policy, meaning both stability and instability for the region, depending largely on how Sino-US relations develop as the two countries learn to share the same geopolitical theater.

In China, it still all sounds a lot like an encirclement conspiracy, something which Zheng Yongnian, director of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, touched on in this blog post [zh] from last week, which contains an excerpt from his latest book [zh], “The Road to Great Power: China and the Reshaping of World Order,” (通往大国之路:中国与世界秩序的重塑) due out later this month:

中国的地缘政治非常特殊。中国周边有21个国家(与中国陆地相邻的国家有15个,同中国隔海相望的国家有6个)。从上往下,有朝鲜、日本,接下来是东南亚国家,再下来是印度、缅甸。中国是世界上唯一被核武器包围的国家。中国有安全感吗?如果墨西哥、加拿大要发展核武器,美国拼了老命也不会让它们发展。

China is in an extremely special geopolitical situation, surrounded by 21 countries (15 by land, 6 by sea). From top to bottom these are North Korea, Japan, followed by Southeast Asian countries, then India and Myanmar. China is the only country on earth surrounded by nuclear weapons. Should China feel safe? If Mexico or Canada decided to develop nuclear weapons, the United States would do everything in its power to stop them.
Maritime claims in the South China Sea. Image available on Wikipedia

Maritime claims in the South China Sea. Image available on Wikipedia

中国没有国际空间,拿海权来说,中国有海权吗?没有。往东,走不出去,有美、日、澳大利亚、新西兰等国挡着,往印度洋,有印度。印度的唯一假想敌是中国。现在唯一剩下的是南海,但美国等国都对南海感兴趣,如果那里被堵住,中国一点出海口都没有。中国连航空母舰都没有,怎么去投送兵力?怎么去履行国际责任?更不用说国际领导权。

China also lacks any international space. Does China have any power at sea? No, it doesn't. Eastward, there's nowhere to for China go, blocked as it is by the USA, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and other countries. Toward the Indian Ocean, there's India. India's only perceived enemy is China. All that remains, then, is the South China Sea, in which the USA and other countries have interest. Blocking China there leaves it without a single point of access to the sea. China doesn't even own any aircraft carriers, so how is it supposed China would deploy forces? And, how then is China meant to fulfill its international obligations, not to mention assume any sort of international leadership role?

Also, Sara K. added an important point to my previous post, writing that:

If China really wants to prevent the perpetuation of the “China Threat Theory”, they should stop pointing so many missiles at Taiwan – and if the PLA had access to Taiwan, it would be much easier for them to attack Japan. If you point weapons at people, you are going to look like a threat.

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