Raja Mandala: The expansion of Sinosphere

China has tapped into anti-American sentiments in Asia to develop alternatives to US-led institutions in the region.

Written by C. Raja Mohan | Published:October 25, 2016 12:57 am
China,  Philippines, china Philippines, Sinosphere, Rodrigo Duterte, South China Sea, South China Sea dispute, South China Sea Philippines, china Speaking during an official visit to China, Duterte pronounced that “it is time to say good bye to America”. (Source: AP)

It is not often that nations undertake big foreign policy shifts. US President Richard Nixon’s outreach to China in 1971 after a quarter century of American effort to isolate the People’s Republic is one celebrated instance. In 1972, the then president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, threw out Russian military advisers from his country and soon after became a leading partner for America in the Middle East.

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has now done something similar. Last week he announced the “separation” of his country from the United States. Speaking during an official visit to China, Duterte pronounced that “it is time to say good bye to America”, Manila’s military ally for nearly seven decades. He said that America had “lost now”. “Both in military, not maybe social, but economics also. America has lost,” he said.

Duterte underlined his personal Chinese racial lineage, recalled historic ties between China and the Philippines and pleaded for a commercial alliance between the two nations. “I have realigned myself in your ideological flow,” he said. Duterte also promised to reach out to Russia. “There are three of us against the world — China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way,” Duterte added. That he chose to do it in front of very appreciative interlocutors in Beijing makes Duterte’s pivot to China that much more significant. It is surprising, coming as it does after a period of escalating maritime tensions with Beijing in the South China Sea. Duterte’s attempt to placate Beijing is also shocking since an international tribunal in July ruled entirely in favour of Manila.

Why does Duterte kowtow to a China that is threatening the territorial integrity of the Philippines and abandon its alliance with its most likely protector, the United States? Thereby hangs a tale — of power shifts and their consequences. Many have pointed to the political populism of Duterte, an abusive personal style and a running argument with the United States over his ruthless war against drugs as the proximate cause for the outburst in Beijing. Others insist that Duterte can’t sustain his anti-Americanism given the deep interconnections between the Philippines and the United States. They point to Duterte’s attempt to “clarify” some of his statements in China after his return from Beijing. Some hope that during his visit to Japan this week, the president of the Philippines will make some much needed amends.

All these factors, important as they are, do not mask the larger trend in Asia — the region’s adaptation to the structural changes in the Asian balance of power, the essence of which is the rise of China and the perceived decline of the United States. Strategic communities in Asia and America have long debated the nature of this power shift. But few have been prepared for its expression in such a definitive manner by the Philippines president. In the US, as well as in Asia, there has been persistent underestimation of China’s political will and material capacity to press for a rejigging of the regional order. Beijing, especially under President Xi Jinping, has made no secret of its claim to primacy in Asia and for what it sees as its rightful role in the management of the global order.

Consider, for example, its successful pressure on most Asian countries to not criticise Beijing’s refusal to accept the international verdict in the South China Sea. It has successfully divided the Association of South East Asian Nations, ASEAN — the foremost regional organisation in Asia. China’s boldest move, however, has been its active probing of the cleavages in America’s regional alliances. Growing economic integration with its Asian neighbours, including those quite close to the United States, has given considerable leverage to Beijing. Few in the region are willing to forgo the presumed economic benefits of a partnership with China and question its political assertiveness.
Beijing has also stepped up its effort to revive that old resonating slogan of “Asia for Asians”. While few in Asian chancelleries might be willing to bite, China’s campaign does tap into the enduring anti-American resentments in Asia. The idea of “Asia for Asians” has also helped China to develop alternatives to the traditional US-led regional institutions in Asia. China also reminds its neighbours of an important geographic reality — that Uncle Sam is far away and can’t really protect them against Beijing. America might still be the biggest military power in the world, but China’s growing armed strength has begun to constrain the US’ forward presence in Asia.

Even as China tempts America’s Asian allies with the benefits of neutralism, it is teasing the United States with the prospects for a G-2. Instead of trying to limit Chinese power in the region, Beijing is asking Washington to accept a Sino-centric order in Asia. Those who don’t wish to fold into the Sinosphere will need much strength and determination to survive Beijing’s extraordinary power play. Meanwhile, India could learn a trick or two from China on how to divide your opponents, pacify the periphery, do deals with rival powers, turn adversaries into neutrals, and neutrals into friends and friends into allies.

The writer is director, Carnegie India, Delhi and consulting editor on foreign affairs for ‘The Indian Express’.

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    Prashant
    Oct 25, 2016 at 8:02 am
    Hahaha,,,china can never be a super power,,,bcs whatever China produces in terms of Military technology,,,,,is a copied nd old version of either US or Russia,,,(though India cant even copy properly),,,,,,,China is atleast 30 yrs behind USA in terms of D,,,,,,,
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      Prashant
      Oct 25, 2016 at 8:08 am
      Some of the leftist authors unnecessarily tries to Glorify China's Fake power,,,,nd even compares it with,US/UK/Russia/Germans,,,,,,,What Germans produce in terms of Automobile technology,,,, Chinese will never be..........,,What USA invents in field of Spaceand Rocket,,,,Chinese will never ever........What Russians do in field of Missiles,,,,It will take China 40 yrs..........,,,,China just Copy others invented technologies with help of their ""Piracy Brigade"
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        Prashant
        Oct 25, 2016 at 4:08 pm
        Bhai it's not China vs India,,,bt It's China vs Western power nd their technology
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          Raj
          Oct 25, 2016 at 5:27 am
          Sinosphere is a myth. No major free country sees the Chinese a moral force. Economics is the only indicator the Chinese have succeeded in. Indians should stop buying this myth of a Chinese sphere of influence. Even Singapore has openly allowed Americans basing rights - now look at this - a Chinese majority country that aligns itself with America, encourages India and backs Asean in South China Sea. What influence? What sphere?lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;No one in the world wants to emulate China outside economics. They have nothing that they can export as soft power! Even confuscius is not a Chinese icon - because this is the same party that obliterated such ideas during the cultural revolution. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Don't buy into this myth, this is precisely what they've learned from Sun Tzu's Art of War - project myth, hide weaknesses in a fog. Appear bigger and meaner than you actually are.
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            Vihari Naidu
            Oct 25, 2016 at 6:19 am
            Duterte alluded to his Chinese lineage and that hints the shift of Philippines in favour of China. It would be a disaster to Philippines if Duterte compromises it's territorial sovereignty in favour of China or else China would be taking away all the marine resources of Philippines right in front of their own eyes....lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;ASEAN is in paralytic shock thanks to the presence of some underdeveloped countries which are too poor and tow the line of Beijing for Economic aid....lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;If at all there is Sinosphere, it is restricted to stan alone as no country will surrender it's self-respect to another country except due to poverty.....
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              PG
              Oct 25, 2016 at 4:51 pm
              "It is surprising, coming as it does after a period of escalating maritime tensions with Beijing in the South China Sea. Duterte’s attempt to placate Beijing is also shocking since an international tribunal in July ruled entirely in favour of Manila."lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;That's exactly why Duterte is moving to appease China, to cool their temper.
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                rajani kant
                Oct 25, 2016 at 1:57 pm
                One important thing that one should observe is, that China is fast emerging not only as an Asian economic military power but also ertively attempting to replace the US by its economic policy of glutting the world markets, especially in third world countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America with its cheap low quality goods and has managed to build a good BoP in its favour with almost all countries that has its trade. Even developed countries like the US, the UK , France, etc. have also not remained untouched by its flooding of such goods and materials. Moreover, China has been able to woo Asian and African countries by lending them cheap long term loans for infrastructural development and setting up of technology based industries to utilise their resources as raw materials for its own vested interest thereby bringing neo-imperialism like situation, as these countries have to sing the Chinese ping pong song in any futuristic diplomatic row that would crop up with any other country that China feels as its rival. Take the case of the Philippines, the present govt dancing to the tune of China. Our neighbours, Nepal.,Bangladesh, Myanmar, Srilanka, and even Afghanisthan getting attracted to the Chinese bait not at all realising that once China emerges as the most powerful super-power, it would not hesitate to dictate terms which suits its interests. Already, we have seen the newsreel of South China Sea issue. The OBOR and the CPEC and the MTSR projects are trend-setter in this direction. Also, China's open support to stan as an' all weather friend', a country whose policy of 'use of terrorism' as a diplomatic tool is a well set example. Today, if India is facing the cross border terrorism or the proxy war, it is not because of stan but it is because of China's policy of restraining Indian economic progress as it perceives India as its Asian challenger. Further, China is the real sponsor of terrorism in the world as it is directly responsible in creating two monsters in the form of North Korea and stan.
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                  rkannan
                  Oct 25, 2016 at 5:53 am
                  The only country that can potentially challenge China, in the long run, is India. However, Indians are obssessed with a failed state called stan which is today nothing but a satellite of China. China understands that India is the long term competetor and is doing everything possible to contain India - be it the support for terrorists or the blocking of India's NSG membership or hacking of Indian web sites or the various restrictions on Indian exports to China. The tragedy is India is encouraging Chinese by allowing a trade balance that has 85 % Chinese exports to India against15% Indian exports to China resulting in an annual $50 Bn trade deficit. The Chinese government sends a big part of this money to stan and the India specific security arrangement called CPEC is also financed by this deficit. India should step up and restrict Chinese imports as a means to both improve Indian economy and to restrict the fund flow to terrorists. Successive Indian governments have kow towed to the Chinese and the present one appears no different.
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