Enter the Dragon
The Chinese Takeover of the United Nations
The supreme art of war, says the Chinese general Sun Tzu, is to subdue the enemy without fighting. The Chinese tradition of strategizing goes well beyond the popularly known annals of Confucianism. It lays the foundation of pride that the Chinese have in their history and the place they assume for themselves. The last two centuries, beginning with the Opium Wars in 1839- when Lin Zexu, a provincial administrator of the Qing dynasty set mounds of British supplied opium on fire- have demonstrably shattered this pride. The two opium wars, de facto colonization, the fall of the Qing Dynasty and its replacement with a nationalist republic, followed by Mao’s long march and subsequently takeover in the backdrop of the Second World War, pushed one of the most prosperous civilizations in the world, to one of its poorest.
“The Xi thought, as it is known is a departure from the ideas of Mr. Deng. For one, Mr. Xi clearly does not believe in collective leadership within the country and also wants the country to possess a much larger global role.”
That has changed since the ascension of Deng Xiaoping and a reform process that saw a deliberate international low profile coupled with rapid economic growth. Today, China is the world's second largest economy and possess a rapidly modernizing military. The world is in awe of the Chinese method of growth. Naturally, like any rising power, China too seeks to expand its international stature. Since the communist party conference in 2016 gave way to Xi Jingping’s unrivalled authority, this demand for a larger international role has only grown as the President is now free of most domestic pressures to his policies. He now finds a mention in the Constitution, something no living Chinese leader since Mao has been able to achieve- Deng Xiaoping finds a mention as well but that was accorded to him after his death. The Xi thought, as it is known is a departure from the ideas of Mr. Deng. For one, Mr. Xi clearly does not believe in collective leadership within the country and also wants the country to possess a much larger global role.
Part of this stems from a larger change in geopolitics, the Chinese economy today is even bigger than the United States (PPP terms). In addition, the Chinese polity is not riddled with the sort of checks that often seem to slow down decision making in democracies like the United States.
While a democratic system is obviously more desirable, the US has, perhaps since the democrats lost the House during the early years of Obama’s presidency, been riddled with political conflict that has seized up long term decision making of the kind seen under Bush (43) of Clinton. What President Obama was able to make up for through imaginative use of executive power, President Trump, for reasons known and unknown, not shown any such tact.
Infact, one could argue that his touted renunciation of American responsibility, even when not followed with action, has rattled allies forcing them to make concessions to China that they wouldn’t have in the past. We have seen Philippines and South Korea move increasingly closer to the Chinese position on several key issues. China also finds itself in leadership position on issues of global trade and climate change since American withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership- a Free trade agreement between 12 Pacific Rim nations- and the Paris agreement on climate change. On the security front, China now faces the prospect of tackling a more reluctant United States in the pacific, having to only deal with India, Japan and Australia- strong naval powers but far weaker than the United States- as the US seems increasingly unlikely to intervene unless it sees direct interest at stake.
This is also evident from the manner in which the North Korea situation is being handled. The entire thrust of the US response has not been focused on finding a solution to the problem- as is clear from the heavy war rhetoric by the entire administration- but on ensuring that a nuclear North Korea cannot reach United States. If the US were seriously attempting to find a solution to the problem, it would not risk the lives of millions in South Korea and Japan who would be the inevitable victims of a war between US and DPRK.
All this has allowed China to prop up its global prowess. In the past 3 years, it has created the New Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as direct counters to the Washington Consensus institutions IMF and World Bank. It has also acquired a military base in Djibouti and is aggressively pursuing the One Belt One Road initiative. Towards its neighbors, China has become more aggressive than ever before, the String of Pearls is running in full steam to counter India, while border skirmishes such as the one in Doklam in 2017 have increased. A new base is slated to be funded by the Chinese in Afghanistan (though this remains to be fully confirmed), while the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, a major irritant to India because it passes through Indian claimed and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, is also progressing unabated. In East Asia, it challenged American naval power by building artificial islands in the South China Sea and also ignored an international tribunal ruling on the South China Sea dispute.
“In the midst of all this, China seems to have made a massive move in gaining ground in the United Nations. In 2015, it promised a US$1 billion package for the UN Peace and Development Fund.”
In the midst of all this, China seems to have made a massive move in gaining ground in the United Nations. In 2015, it promised a US$1 billion package for the UN Peace and Development Fund. It also pledged a further US$100 million and 8000 police forces for Africa through the UN. The UN considers policing to be an extremely important function in its peacekeeping operations. Last year, as the registration of these forces was completed, it went on a massive PR drive with state media talking about the contributions and the medals received by its forces.
While the number of troops provided by China continue to be proportionally smaller than India and Pakistan, two of the biggest troop contributors, there is no doubt that the Chinese intend to gain ground in this domain. This raises concerns for other countries for several reasons. One is that while the troops are usually following orders from the United Nations while they are on such missions, their attitudes are often shaped by the country of origin. Clearly, it remains to be seen if troops raised in a regime without the strongest reputation for human rights would follow the best practices while abroad. It was recently reported that Chinese troops, part of the UN Peacekeeping forces abandoned posts while aid workers were raped in South Sudan.
In addition, in a global environment that is increasingly multilateral, American adventures such as the Iraq Afghanistan invasion are unlikely to happen again. In this scenario, to ensure peace and security in war torn regions UN peacekeepers would have to be relied on increasingly for ensuring stability and delivery of humanitarian aid. This gives significant advantages, and places massive responsibilities on countries that contributes troops to the UN. On this basis, we can expect an increasing Chinese clout in the organization.
The Way Ahead
Clearly, China’s spectacular economic rise will have to be accompanied by a proportional increase in its stature. Logic would dictate that the best way to regulate the China’s conduct in international affairs is for other powers, primarily the United States but with significant cooperation from India, Japan, Australia, and Brazil among others, to enforce the rules based international order more stringently than in the past. Unless this is accomplished, the world must brace for waxing Chinese hegemony, as American supremacy wanes.
Views expressed are personal.
About the Author
Prashant Khurana is a student of Law at the Faculty of Law, Delhi University. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in History from Hansraj College, Delhi University. Prashant is an accomplished debater, and an active participant and organiser of Model United Nations Conferences and was recently invited as a Chairperson at the University of Kent, United Kingdom for their MUN conference. He has appeared as a guest panellist on Headlines Today (presently, India Today) News Channel and has also interviewed personalities such as Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyar, Dr. Sambit Patra, the Ambassador of Canada to India, among others.