Date: October 2, 2020
By: Gary Anderson
For centuries, the Chinese traditionally looked at neighboring states as tributaries at worst or clients at best, but there has generally been a mixture of conciliation and coercion in the relationships. Pre-Xi, China seemed to be on regional charm offensive; but all of that has changed recently. There is not much diplomacy involved in China’s regional actions of late. China claims that its crackdown in Hong Kong and its bullying of Taiwan are internal political disputes, but its aggressive actions in the South China Sea are clear violations of international norms and law of the sea.
Vietnam and the Philippines as well as Taiwan have issues with China’s illegal claims to sovereignty over islets in the South China Sea. Japan and China have a dispute over the Senkaku Islands. Taken as a group, it is easy to write these issues off as normal border disputes along with the longstanding China-India border disagreements. However, some of China’s recent actions are hard to explain other than as regional bullying.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte went out of his way to try building a closer relationship with Beijing at the cost of his relationship with the United States only to be rudely rebuffed. Likewise, Australian attempts to develop closer ties with China have were met with threats and bluster. These were golden opportunities that most rising powers would have leapt at. Mr. Xi is inexplicably playing off a different sheet of music. His “my way or the highway” approach to regional actors is a clear message to them that he wants the United States out of the Indo-Pacific theater and that he intends to use all elements of national power — to include military and economic coercion — to enforce his will. [FULL STORY]