What is the impact of the United States’ pressure on China to back away from what is seen here as territorialism? Will China relinguish its claim on Taiwan? Hong Kong? It’s growing influence on southeastern Asia?
Understanding China’s politics
Bill Bishop’s Sinocism blog has recently featured a book by China expert Richard McGregor’s new book Xi Jinping: The Backlash.
McGregor is a senior fellow at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. Before that he was a journalist with the Financial Times. Bishop notes that McGregor’s 2010 book The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers is still required reading for understanding the Communist Party and his 2017 book Asia's Reckoning: China, Japan, and the Fate of U.S. Power in the Pacific Century is also excellent.
Understanding China’s “territorialism”
Bishop offered an exerpt from Xi Jinping: The Backlash. We are sharing two paragraphs from that excerpt. Here McGregor comments on China’s commitment to its territorial claims.
There is no foreseeable scenario under which Beijing will back away, either rhetorically or in practice, from its territorial claims in Taiwan and in the South and East China Seas. As Xi Jinping told the then US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis in June 2018, China will not give up ‘even an inch’ of its territory, which includes expansive maritime claims and a large land area disputed with India. Within the Chinese system, any leader who stepped back from these claims would be committing political suicide. The internal sensitivity of the territorial issue helps explain the bellicose way that Beijing handles the disputes outside of its borders. China constantly schools its Asian neighbours on its red lines in territorial disputes, all while rapidly building up its military capability and regional diplomatic sway to entrench them. With the possible exception of Vietnam, smaller countries have taken to either submitting or swerving in the face of Beijing’s pressure.
Yet it is far from game over, if history is any guide. Total capitulation in international relations is rare. Behind the scenes in Beijing, there has always been recognition that it was dangerous for China to bully its way to regional domination. ‘The history of contemporary relations does not provide any precedent of a large country successfully bringing to its knees another country,’ wrote Wang Jisi, formerly of Peking University, and for many years an informal government adviser. Wang pointed to America’s experience in Vietnam and more recently Afghanistan, where its vastly superior firepower couldn’t drag it out of a military and then political quagmire. Wang was writing in 2014. Such strategic humility is rare in Beijing these days, either because the Chinese themselves have become cockier or because the country’s diplomats fear being caught out of step with the temper of Xi’s times. But the point stands nonetheless. Beijing cannot bully its way to superpower status without engendering a strong pushback from other countries, which is exactly what is happening.
Read the entire exerpt here. Listen to a podcast featuring Richard McGregor here. Xi Jinping: The Backlash is a mini-book about the pushback to Xi at home and abroad. The book is published in Australia but is available on Apple, Google, Kobo and Amazon Kindle (tap here).