(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE ‘WASHINGTON OUTSIDER.ORG AND THE BLOG SITE OF MATTHEW GEIGER>CHINA DEBATE)
China is a rising global power that strives to overtake the United States as the world’s hegemonic superpower. The post World War II era was defined by a bipolar world order dominated by the US and the Soviet Union that transformed into a monopolar order dominated by the US following the Cold War. Since then, it has steadily morphed into a multipolar world order where regional powers enjoy growing influence on the global stage. In accordance, relative US influence has declined while China’s growing wealth and military might has allowed it to expand its relative influence. There is great debate as to whether or not China can sustain its rise, especially since China relies heavily on trade and the ruling Communist Party faces growing civil discontent, but China’s role as a regional power is more interesting.
At first glance, it would appear China dominates or will dominate, Asia like the US dominates the world stage with Japan serving as a weaker regional revival, especially when it comes to economics. China is, however, rivaled by India and Pakistan in the West as well as US-supported Japan and South Korea in the East. In the Middle East, which faces massive instability due to widespread terrorism, government crackdowns, and a democratization of the population, Saudi Arabia, and Iran dominate the bipolar order of the region. In Asia, there is no clear division. Where Saudi Arabia and the US are enemies of Iran, China is a partner with all of its rivals. Consequently, the power dynamic of Asia is more like that of the US and Russia before the Ukraine Crisis, which reveals a great deal about the potential outcome of China’s potential power grab.
The Ukraine Crisis was the direct result of Russia attempting to steal the sovereign territory of Crimea from Ukraine. It started as an attempt to reestablish and solidify Russia’s political influence over Ukraine following the Euromaidan Protests and the subsequent embrace of a pro-Western government. When the US was compelled to confront Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was enjoying renewed global influence as seen at the Sochi Winter Olympics, decided to stand his ground and intimidate Western powers with numerous aggressive overtures. In doing so, he was also trying to reestablish Russia’s sphere of influence and global influence. The result was soured Russian-Western relations, Western sanctions against Russia, a failed Russian-sponsored insurgency in Eastern Ukraine, and Russian entanglement in the Syrian Civil War.
In other words, Russia’s attempts to reestablish itself as a global power and competitive US rival came at a cost to Russia. Today, Russia receives a great deal more media attention while its actions have placed it at the forefront of several major geopolitical issues, but these things have come at great cost to Russia, many of which will become more apparent in the years to come. Exerting influence always comes at a cost. With that in mind, Russia cannot actually shape the geopolitical it has entangled itself in. Russia has created liabilities and forced global powers to pay attention to it, but Russia has not gained any greater influence over other nations when it comes to Russian interests. If anything, Russia has inspired anti-Russian sentiments that will hurt Russia’s ability to achieve its goals on a regional and global scale.
China faces the same risk on the regional and global stage as Russia. In fact, the South China Sea Crisis and the East China Sea Crisis suggest further attempts by China to exert and expand its influence will actually undermine China’s global and regional influence. China’s border conflict with India over Bhutan also demonstrates how China’s attempts to unilaterally exert its influence over its neighbors places China at risk of a crippling war. In other words, China can exert its influence at a cost, but it cannot use economic and military hostilities to expand its influence. With its “One Belt, One Road Initiative,” China is, of course, trying to expand its influence through good will, but conflicts of interests that China shares with its neighbors and rivals create flash points that necessitate some form of conflict. Consequently, China is likely to undermine its growing influence by exerting it as China is confronted with the realities of balancing is a global power with its interests.