2020 hasn’t been a good year for China. At least not from its global image perspective. China has been the centre of attention due to the Coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan since December 2019. It has been on the backfoot in other areas like technology where almost all large economies have banned or are in the process of banning Huawei due to concerns related to China’s cyber espionage. In addition to this, China has moved ahead and aggressively restarted its territorial quarrels with no less than 20 countries in its neighbourhood.
Recently, the Russian Embassy in Beijing had put out a post on Weibo (Chinese alternative for Twitter) celebrating the 160th anniversary of the founding of Vladivostok. The city is the administrative centre of the Far Eastern Federal District and Primorsky Krai in Russia. It became a part of Russia in 1860 when Russia annexed Primorsky Krai and the island of Sakhalin. This was after the Qing rulers lost the Opium War with Britain and had to cede the territory to Russia after signing the Treaty of Beijing. Back then the area was called Haishenwai. Even today any maps printed in China have to mention its Chinese name along with Vladivostok.
Throwing caution to the wind
The post put out by the Russian Embassy was not welcomed by the nationalist elements in China including media professionals and diplomats. The pattern is very clear, Chinese nationalism is now hand in hand with calls for expansionism. China dreams of getting back territories that are now lawfully part of numerous sovereign countries in the region.
It is this nationalist fever that is prompting China to throw caution to the wind and unilaterally restart troubles in the entire region. The Galwan Valley attack on Indian soldiers is just one of the many times Chinese troops have tried to grab territory from other nations. Contrary to our belief that a pandemic is a time for humanity to come together as a race, China sees it as an opportunity to expand its territory.
A news item in South China Post reported how ‘Beijing is trying to calm rising nationalist sentiment after a growing chorus of voices called for China to take advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic by invading Taiwan.’ What is more baffling than calls of war are suggestions that the COVID-19 crisis should be used as an opportunity to attack smaller countries while they are busy deploying resources for controlling the pandemic. The irony of it all is that the outbreak became a pandemic only because of China’s reluctance in sharing vital information about the virus.
Twenty thorns and counting
China’s misguided nationalism paired with its expansionist overtures are becoming a serious threat to regional and even global peace. The country and its political class don’t even think before commenting on the affairs of Russia, which has been a strong Chinese ally for years now. In view of China’s increasing dominance in the disputed areas of the South China Sea, the US has sent aircraft carriers USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz to exercise in the area.
China sees various territorial disputes as the thorns strewn on its road to becoming the leading global superpower. To put things into context, we have put together the complete list of territorial quarrels that China has with countries in its neighbourhood. Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Brunei, Taiwan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, India, Bhutan, Russia, Nepal, and Mongolia are the countries with which China has active territorial disputes. The list is only as complete as China’s next territorial claim related to some new country.
Chinazi isn’t just a catchphrase
Much like its vibrant manufacturing sector, China’s territorial disputes too come in a wide range of options. From reefs to atolls to islands to lakes to provinces to entire countries, these claims go way beyond its borders and territorial waters. Citing historical reasons China claims the Korean peninsula almost in its entirety. It has laid claims to various islands in the South China Sea and has even proceeded to build artificial islands for military use.
In a world where anti-China sentiment is on the rise, and India is ramping up efforts to Boycott Chinese goods, China seems to be living in a parallel reality of sorts. It somehow believes that its military and economic misadventures may not have any consequences. Very much like Nazi Germany during the Second World War, China and its authoritarianists fail to the see the world slowly but steadily putting together a strong front against its hegemony.