An Unsettled China Poses A Threat To Global Stability – By MEP Charles Tannock

China is not an unknown actor on the East and South Asia geopolitical scene. During the last 50 years least it has been playing a crucial part in the developments in the area that followed after the Second World War. Having the world’s largest population, it was inevitable that its strategic position would allow China to play a leading role in that part of the world.
However, even if China’s recent desire for territorial expansion has come to some as a surprise, others consider it just a repetition of past history. On 4th February, President Benigno Aquino III of the Philippines drew World War II parallels with the German invasion of Czechoslovakia and called on the international community to be more active in protecting the sovereignty of his country as the Philippines already appears to have lost effective control of one of the best-known places of contention, a reef called Scarborough Shoal, after Philippine forces withdrew during a standoff with China in 2012. The Philippine forces left as part of an American-mediated deal in which both sides were to pull back while the dispute was negotiated. Despite the perceived agreement, the Chinese forces remained and gained control and ASEAN is now supposed to be resolving the dispute.
In another incident, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan caused a stir in Davos, Switzerland, in January 2014, when going even further back in history in drawing comparisons to the First World War. He noted that Britain and Germany went to war in 1914 even though they had close economic ties, just like China and Japan retain such relations right now.
Japan has been engaging in tense standoffs with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyutai islands in the East China Sea where oil and gas may lie in the vicinity. Even South Korea, which has been quieter about Chinese claims, expressed alarm last year when Beijing announced that it had the right in its air defence zone policy to police the skies above a vast area of ocean, including areas claimed by Japan and South Korea.
China’s extremely fast paced economic growth has placed it on top of the ranking of the global industrial powers, second only to the USA. The political power that follows such a position have made it more assertive in reclaiming what its citizens and its politicians believe was deprived to them during colonial times, largely seen as a century of “national humiliation”.
In an attempt to regain what it perceives it is entitled to, China is expanding its assertiveness against almost every neighboring country. Taiwan, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Vietnam, Brunei, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Laos, India, Bhutan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan and Russia have all engaged in heated territorial disputes with China.
In all these cases China has chosen to address the disputes unilaterally and not on a multilateral level- a modern international legal concept it prefers to ignore as it perceives it as undermining its national sovereignty. On 4th February the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV announced that a three-ship Chinese navy squadron had concluded exercises in the Indian Ocean and sailed on to the western Pacific, showing off the growing long distance reach of the country’s maritime forces at a time of sharpening territorial disputes in regional waters.
In order to back up its claims and extend its influence, China has been systematically developing a world class navy that has truly global reach like the USA, including launching its first aircraft carrier. China has also to its credit sent ships to join anti-piracy patrols off the coast of Somalia and taken part in joint exercises in the Mediterranean Sea and elsewhere.
While focusing on its foreign policy and territorial claims, China has often neglected to attend its own domestic, economic and political problems that potentially could build up, creating problems in the not so distant future. Fundamental democratic rights and freedoms in China are almost nonexistent, with civil society and dissent disliked by the government, while the very few minorities’ rights are ignored in the name of national unity.
Tibetan struggles for autonomy has been vigorously opposed for years, with Chinese officials ignoring protest from local people with threats of jail or forcing them to flee from fear. The Uyghur’s and other Islamic minorities have not enjoyed a much better fate though some have sadly resorted to associating with jihadi terrorist groups.
Social media in China is also controlled, with officials allowing only limited debate on official Party policy on topics as diverse as food safety issues, healthcare, corruption and environmental pollution. Attempts made by civil society organizations to address these have met strong official opposition.
The People’s Republic of China naturally fully exploits its fast rising influence on the international diplomatic scene but western and Asian democracies must also realize that if this goes totally unchallenged, it might potentially pose risks not only to the stability of the region, but also to global security. As China regains its historical place of superpower-status, it has to learn from the mistakes of the past by exhibiting more commitment towards a peaceful dialogue with all neighboring countries and also with itself and its own people that represent such a vibrant and deep creative culture. In following this direction, multilateral negotiations are fundamental in resolving the interconnected disputes with the neighboring countries. The European Union and its Member States have much to offer in this dialogue with their wisdom and experience in resolving international disputes and assisting countries everywhere towards a more democratic transition.

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