China: On the Rise But Feeling Boxed In

It's been a month since United States (US) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote that Asia is now the focus of her country's diplomatic, economic and strategic foreign policy, meaning both stability and instability for the region, depending largely on how Sino-US relations develop as the two countries learn to share the same geopolitical theater.

In China, it still all sounds a lot like an encirclement conspiracy, something which Zheng Yongnian, director of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, touched on in this blog post [zh] from last week, which contains an excerpt from his latest book [zh], “The Road to Great Power: China and the Reshaping of World Order,” (通往大国之路:中国与世界秩序的重塑) due out later this month:


China is in an extremely special geopolitical situation, surrounded by 21 countries (15 by land, 6 by sea). From top to bottom these are North Korea, Japan, followed by Southeast Asian countries, then India and Myanmar. China is the only country on earth surrounded by nuclear weapons. Should China feel safe? If Mexico or Canada decided to develop nuclear weapons, the United States would do everything in its power to stop them.
Maritime claims in the South China Sea. Image available on Wikipedia

Maritime claims in the South China Sea. Image available on Wikipedia


China also lacks any international space. Does China have any power at sea? No, it doesn't. Eastward, there's nowhere to for China go, blocked as it is by the USA, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and other countries. Toward the Indian Ocean, there's India. India's only perceived enemy is China. All that remains, then, is the South China Sea, in which the USA and other countries have interest. Blocking China there leaves it without a single point of access to the sea. China doesn't even own any aircraft carriers, so how is it supposed China would deploy forces? And, how then is China meant to fulfill its international obligations, not to mention assume any sort of international leadership role?

Also, Sara K. added an important point to my previous post, writing that:

If China really wants to prevent the perpetuation of the “China Threat Theory”, they should stop pointing so many missiles at Taiwan – and if the PLA had access to Taiwan, it would be much easier for them to attack Japan. If you point weapons at people, you are going to look like a threat.

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