NIAS-Global Politics Brief

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NIAS-Global Politics Brief
China’s Economic Strategy: Global Strike vs. Globalization

  Amit Gupta

The United States cannot pursue the same policy it adopted vis-à-vis the former Soviet Union in the Cold War towards containing China.

At a time that the United States is starting to address China’s global and regional expansion, policymakers have to keep two factors in mind in crafting a successful strategy to contain China.  First, unlike the United States, China, in the short to medium term is not developing a military capability that will give it global strike.  Instead, it seeks to develop (and some would argue it already has) a capability to fight a high-technology war in local conditions which would be the South and East China Seas.  Secondly, the Chinese have developed an economic strategy based on globalization that is reaping Beijing considerable rewards around the world.  Understanding this economic strategy and then building a comparable global economic strategy to counter it, would bear the West greater dividends in the long run as these countries, particularly the United States, seek to counter Chinse moves around the world.  

Not a Repeat of the Cold War
The mistake strategic analysts make is to suggest that the United States can pursue the same policy it adopted vis-à-vis the former Soviet Union in the Cold War towards containing China.  Thus, a strategy of containing Communism through strategic and conventional deterrence was combined in the later years of the confrontation with a policy to work to rollback communist gains in places as varied as Nicaragua and Afghanistan.  

For several reasons this strategy has less utility against China.  First, the Chinese are not seeking to expand their influence through territorial acquisitions or even the military support of friendly nation states.  As things stand, the Chinese are strategically invested in only two countries—Pakistan and North Korea—both of whom border China.  Beijing does not seek to make long term military-strategic commitments to other states and even in the case of Pakistan and North Korea it has been careful in circumscribing the help it has extended.  It has not been the supplier of endless financial resources to Islamabad even though it did pass on nuclear weapons technology to it.  With North Korea, it did not pass on nuclear weapons technology and continues to be aggravated by Pyongyang’s international behaviour.   Secondly, the Chinese remain cautious about extending their involvement in another country to the point that they become unending entanglements. Those who see Beijing as taking over from the US in Afghanistan do not understand the limits of China’s aspirations in that country. China’s principal interest is to prevent a terrorist blowback from Afghanistan into China’s Uighur territories Xinjiang.
What we need to remember that the Cold War was also an economic competition between the two countries as well as a battle of ideas about whose societal model was more attractive to the rest of the world?  While the Pentagon focuses on the military competition, the Chinese have been playing to the economic and ideological aspects rather well. The Chinese have, therefore, built a network of global economic arrangements that a growing number of nations find attractive and Beijing has sought to bring out, none to subtly, the weaknesses of western democracies in general and American democracy in particular.  One should, therefore, view the competition not solely from the lens of military forces but, instead, as a challenge between global strike vs. globalization.

China’s Response
China’s response to the United States has been based on a shrewd understanding of the international military-strategic context as well as recognizing how globalization has changed the international system.  Recognizing that that they are a long way from matching the United States’ military capability, the Chinese have prepared for “a high-technology war in local conditions.” In such a war the Chinese would use their new arsenal of missiles and other smart weaponry to significantly raise the costs of an American attempt to defend Taiwan or intervene in the East or South China Seas.  The Chinese policy of Anti-Access/Area Denial has made the US think in terms of basing in the second island chain since the first island chain is vulnerable to the weapons that the Chinese have developed.  This withdrawal led the Trump Administration, in a Nuclear Posture Review, to call for the development of low-yield nuclear weapons, stealth submarines, dedicated combat aircraft to launch against Chinese high value targets, a new long-range standoff cruise missile, and a long-range bomber named the B-21 Spirit.


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