China’s Grand Strategy – I
by G B Reddy on 16 Sep 2017 2 Comments

Xi Jinping has, unambiguously, set the grand strategy course for China to traverse. Xi has shifted the goal posts of Hu Jintao’s “Comprehensive National Power (CNP) by 2030 vision to “Dominant Power” status by 2049 whilst perpetuating enduring single party Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rule.


China believes that threat of wars between major powers is low. Hybrid Wars, new forms of violence combining terrorism, technology and ideology, though more ubiquitous, are distinct prospects. China does not rule out sporadic-episodic conflict eruptions and escalation. At the same time, China is persisting with maritime disputes in the East China Sea with Japan and in the South China Sea with other ASEAN nations besides its long standing face-off in the Himalayas with India.


China is deliberately avoiding “Imperial Overstretch”, that has been responsible for the fall of many empires in the past. Non-intervention in internal affairs of other nations is its avowed policy. Where crisis escalation hurts its trade and economy, China plays an active moderator or mediator roles.


Since 1990s, China’s behavior was moderate based on “harmonious development,” in an effort to convince neighbors that what’s good for China is good for them. Xi Jinping appears to pursue peaceful development path. China, currently, may appear to be on the same side of an international issue than at odds with US in today’s geostrategic context and content. However, as China is growing stronger incrementally, it may flex its muscles in areas considered vital to its national security interests in short and midterm contexts like in its South China Sea postures.


Xi Jinping has endorsed former President Hu Jintao’s (both realists) view that, “the first two decades of the 21st century as a period of “strategic opportunity” for its growth and development. Xi Jinping wants to take advantage and prolong the window of opportunity to exploit internal, regional and international opportunities and challenges to its advantage.  


Xi is challenging the balance of power that existed since World War II. Xi wants “new type of great power relations,” in which the USA recognizes China’s core interests and respects it as an equal. Xi has personally offered three principles for a new Sino-American relationship, “no conflict or confrontation, mutual respect, and cooperation for mutual benefits”.


“No conflict or confrontation” means that both sides must “objectively and rationally see each other’s strategic intentions and properly handle their disagreements through dialogue and cooperation”. “Mutual respect” implies respect for the social system and the development path each side has chosen”. “Cooperation for mutual benefit” demands “rejection of the zero-sum mindset.” 


Where it hurts China’s national interests, China may apply strategy of ambiguity through the doctrine of “Creeping Incrementalism and Extended Coercion”, in a more assertive and aggressive manner.


Strategic Vision – Chinese Dream


From Hu’s vision of acquiring CNP by 2030, Xi Jinping has invoked the Chinese Dream of achieving the “Great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” on the basis of “Two Centenaries”; and “Four Comprehensives.”  The “Two Centenaries” are specific: by 2021, when the CCP celebrates its centenary, complete the building of a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious in all respects, with a strong military; and by 2049, when Peoples Republic of China (PRC) marks its centenary, to make China the world’s dominant power.  


The “four comprehensives” are the means to achieve Chinese Dream of rejuvenation: comprehensively build a moderately prosperous society; comprehensively deepen reforms; comprehensively govern the nation according to law; and strictly govern the Party. The call is for a more prosperous China through deeper reforms. Their cumulative implication is quite clear – super power status by 2049 surpassing the USA in all respects.


Core Strategic Interest/Objectives        


The clash of civilizations is China’s ‘Core Security Strategic interest.’ Many Chinese believe that the USA represents the core values of Western civilization and is in conflict with Eastern civilization which is represented by China. Any movement by the West to promote human rights and democracy represents a direct threat to the existing regime. China is clear on unfair border treaties imposed on them due to accidents of history by colonial power in bygone eras.  It would resolve them only when it suits. 


China has 10 “Enduring Strategic Priorities or Core Security Strategic objectives”. Paramount among them are: Perpetuating CCP rule and securing status as a great power; maintaining internal stability; achieving national unification i.e. Taiwan re-unification; and defending national sovereignty and territorial integrity - control over buffer states. The focus is overwhelmingly domestic in its orientation.


Regime Achievements


Under Mao’s rule, China was an enigma to outsiders, closed behind the “Bamboo Curtain”. Mao’s goal was threefold. First, he wanted to recentralize China by re-establishing Beijing as China’s capital and political center. Second, he wanted to end the massive inequality between the coastal region and the rest of China. Third, he wanted to expel the foreigners from China. In short, he wanted to recreate a united Han China based on ideology of communism. Mao saw foreign presence as elements undermining the stability of China. He preferred impoverished unity to chaos. For Mao, maintaining internal Han unity was paramount over growth and development and he succeeded in maintaining it through engineered Cultural Revolution and ruthless purges.


His successor, Deng Xiaoping, embarked on a new path between 1976 and 1978 – the Four Great Modernizations - creating a framework that encouraged the country’s rapid economic rise. The successes of those policies have transformed China. China experienced two significant achievements during Jiang Zemin’s period: entered the WTO in 2001 and secured rights to hold the Beijing Olympics; both historically significant events.


Hu Jintao’s strategy was growth first followed by political and social change as the second. Hu Jintao also realized the unified goal of building a prosperous country and a strong military. He applied the Scientific Outlook on Development in depth, persevered on the path of peaceful development, and pursued an independent foreign policy of peace and a national defense policy that is defensive in nature. Hu Jintao’s strategic choice to take the road of peaceful development is unique.


Hu Jintao improved relations with Taiwan on the re-election of the Nationalist Party in 2008.  China’s economy grew four-fold from its 2002 position. He created consensus to maintain the Party’s privileged place in society. The Beijing Olympics built up national esteem and importance. China dealt with the snowstorms of early 2008, threats of economic crisis in 2008, impact of the collapse of exports in 2009, the uprisings in Tibet and Xinjiang in 2008 and 2009 respectively, and the scandal around the fall of Bo Xilai and his wife in 2012.


Xi Jinping has shifted gears from defensive-reactive to offensive-proactive strategic mode. His policy prescriptions in all fields reflect his strategic leadership potential: “balancing-against-capabilities.” He has staked his claims to ‘global leadership role” through agile and smart diplomatic calisthenics with Chinese finesse. He has launched the “One Belt, One Road (OROB)” initiative, created the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the BRICS New Development Bank, and negotiated the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP, as opposed to the USA-sponsored Trans-Pacific Partnership - TPP). Russia depends on China to buy energy and commodity exports. Even the USA is economically tied to China. The Asia-Pacific emerged as the center of gravity (CoG) of the global economy and politics. 


Perpetuating CCP Rule


Perpetuating the CCP rule shapes the strategic outlook of Chinese leaders and drives many of their choices. In the past, the CCP relied on the ideology of communism to promote economic growth and development considering it to be vital for consolidating unity, integrity and security of China. Deng Xiaoping’s successful “Four Great Modernizations” initiative enabled rapid economic growth that gave the CCP legitimacy. The CCP has firmly managed Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, commonly known as Democracy Movement, and the 2014 Hong Kong’s “Occupy Central” civil disobedience movement.


Ipso facto, double-digit growth has developed distortions, with economic inequalities between the rich coastal region and the under developed interior, rich and the poor, rural and urban, dislocations, corruption, and environmental degradation emerging to the fore. Today, expectations of its citizens are soaring high correspondingly with the improvements of living standards or life styles. The emerging educated middle class has traveled the world, has seen multiple systems in action and is taking a greater interest in local and national political decisions. Modern forms of communication such as social media have given people the ability to rapidly share successes and grievances across the country, to identify and single out cases of political corruption and to actively keep the Party and leadership under scrutiny.


The CCP has realized that “economic restructuring and social transformation” produces a corresponding increase in “factors of uncertainty” in domestic stability. In particular, when China is caught in the vortex of re-adjusting its economy from reliance on exports and government-led investment to internal demand and consumption-led growth, which is an uphill challenge. Managing transition to a lower growth path of 5 percent GDP each year or even lower rate is, therefore, the most significant strategic challenge confronting Xi Jinping and the legitimacy of the CCP. The CCP is also conscious that protests can be difficult to control once begun and could easily turn against itself.


Thus, the current CCP leadership is reviving nationalist sentiment to manipulate public opinion to deflect domestic criticism. The signals emanating so far clearly indicate the CCP reasserting its commitment to ideological legitimacy invoking pride in Chinese nationalism and personality cult reinvocation. But, it is hard to predict its repercussions - in what forms such internal upheaval will surface and in what manner they will be managed! Circumspectively viewed on the basis of recent ideological developments, the CCP is unlikely to yield its pre-eminent position in short and midterm contexts by reasserting its authoritarian might, as evidenced in the past.


Made in China 2025


China’s State Council has unveiled a national plan dubbed “Made in China 2025”. It is the first 10-year action plan designed to transform China from a manufacturing giant into a world manufacturing power. Its main contents include: “One Two Three Five-Five Ten.”


“One” means a target: to gain manufacturing power status. “Two” means integrating information technology and industry to achieve the goal. “Three” means achieving the goal through a “three step” strategy, and each step will require about ten years. In the first step, by 2025, China will be ranked among the manufacturing powers; in the second step, by 2035 China’s manufacturing sector will reach a generally moderate level among the manufacturing powers; the third step will mean transforming China into a leading manufacturing power by 2049, which will be the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.


“Four” means four principles: market-oriented and government-guided; based on a long-term perspective; comprehensively pressing forward and making breakthroughs in key areas; independent development and win-win cooperation. The first “Five” means five guidelines: innovation-driven, giving priority to quality, green development, optimizing structure, and talent oriented. The second “Five” means five projects: establishing a manufacturing innovation center and more.


The “Ten” means 10 key sectors. They are new information technology, numerical control tools and robotics, aerospace equipment, ocean engineering equipment and high-tech ships, railway equipment, energy saving and new energy vehicles, power equipment, new materials, biological medicine and medical devices, and agricultural machinery. Thus, the plan is highly imaginatively conceived. China is bent upon introducing appropriate policies to deepen institutional reforms and strengthen financial support. The perception for economic growth and security is brilliantly visualized.


New Approach to Strategic Thinking - White Papers


China’s State Council published the 2015 White Paper after the 2013 White Paper titled “The Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces,” which is also an update on 2011 Paper. Conjointly, they reflect the views of the leadership that provides an insight into public posturing. It recognizes prospects of emergence of a multi-polar order. And, the prevailing trend is towards “reform in international systems…. Profound realignments have taken place in international relations.” China’s forecast is, “changing international balance of power.” While there are several elements of continuity, there are also important differences. The 2015 paper provides insight into the “New Security Situation” and all encompassing modernization of army.


Foreign Policy Postures


China is pursuing an independent foreign policy of peace, coercive defense policy and non intervention in internal policies of others. China overtly shuns hegemony or power politics and in military expansion. It’s shift is towards forging cooperative and common security, based on mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and cooperation, based on bilateral, multilateral, regional and international relations, to safeguard political, economic, military, social and information security in an all-round way, and endeavor to foster, together with other countries, an international security environment of peace, stability, equality, mutual trust, cooperation and win-win. For the Chinese, this is merely the restoration of the natural order of things as the world’s largest economy and the center of the universe.


China has only two allies - Pakistan and North Korea. Even with North Korea, its relations are deteriorating. Her neighbors, the 23 countries, view China’s ascendency with suspicion and distrust. China is extending its influence in CAR, Far East, Eurasia, Indian Ocean Region, Africa and Latin America. Since China’s core national interest is economic growth, it cares little about the type of regime with which it is engaged; it requires stability, not virtue as utopian ideologues conceive. Majority of African nations align with China in the UN.


China’s policy - Creeping Incrementalism through Extended Coercion – interwoven with strands of suspense, suspicion, surprise and coercion is quite propitious. The only consideration that might stall their onward march is regime continuity in China. If rule by the CCP elite is threatened internally, that push will be limited or modified. But for the present, the inference is straightforward - an “assertive” China in external affairs will be real.


But, the West sees China’s rise as a challenge to its hegemony. Many in the West thought that China would be integrated into the Western economic and political order, as Japan was, after World War II. And, Western-style democracy would replace the CCP. Instead, China under Xi and the CCP is stronger than ever before. Xi has made it clear to assert its way in the economic, political, and security order in its region and world.


USA and China are playing “politics of strange bedfellows.” Today, China lacks capability to manage, devise, or impose a political or security order in the Asia-Pacific. “Sharing the burden” is the USA preferred option. If the USA doesn’t provide security in the global commons through alliances and bases, there would be continued instability in the Asia-Pacific.


To sum up, the evolution of China’s “Grand Strategy” with shifts considered appropriate to match prevailing geostrategic environment at international, regional and local levels have been clearly defined to face the challenges and complexities of threats to national security interests, energy, economy, trade, finance, sea lines of communication (SLOCs); overseas Chinese nationals; information; military, non-traditional security concerns, such as terrorism, anti-piracy threats, natural disasters and emergency rescue; besides fulfilling international obligations. China recognizes it is inextricably interlinked with the international community.


The “Chinese Dream” – Rejuvenation of the Middle Kingdom defines specific goals to be achieved, (“Two Centenaries” and, “Four Comprehensives”) through 10 enduring strategic priorities as core security strategic objectives. Its stated positions on the external front are clear. Taiwan’s national reintegration and maintaining territorial sovereignty and maritime rights particularly in the South China Sea are non-negotiable. But, China would tread the ‘middle path between peace and crisis escalation’ in short and midterm contexts in a way best suited to its national interests.


Xi has defined the agenda of “New Political, Social and Economic Orders.” Social reforms are in the pipeline. But, the “New Political order” in making is a hybrid mix of evolutionary change with centralization of political power and nationalism, combining strong government through reforms and legal protection for things like private property and contracts through rule of law without adopting democracy. No compromise on perpetuation of single party CCP rule, thereby enabling China’s economic transformation from a manufacturing giant into a world manufacturing power by 2025 whilst shifting gears from export-led to internal-consumption-led economic growth through smart and agile use of soft power.


(To be continued…)

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