China’s rising global power and its implications on Sino-Tibetan affairs
By Sonam T Frasi
This analytical paper is written to coincide with the gathering of the second special general meeting of the Tibetan Diaspora towards the end of September 2012.
The Kashag of the Central Tibetan Administration and the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile has convened this important gathering to mobilise, energise and find new solutions to overcome the very urgent and desperate current situation in occupied Tibet, particularly the stream of selfless act of self-immolations carried out by Tibetans inside and outside of Tibet. The general consensus of the motivation and reasons behind the drastic acts of these Tibetans were for the return of His Holiness The Dalai Lama to Tibet and to achieve freedom for Tibetans from the rule of communist China.
This piece that I am about to communicate is an independent analysis of the present day China, China and the world, the world and China, the Tibetan issue and the opportunities as well as the realities that Tibetan movement faces. I am writing this piece not as an academician or as a specialist on either China or Tibet but as a lay person, who has watched, worked and continues to study the Sino-Tibetan relationship or no relationship with keen interest.
Therefore, it is fitting to quote a stanza from an ancient master Shanti Deva who said:
“Here I shall say nothing that has not been said before,
And in the art of prosody I have no skill.
I therefore have no thought that this might be of benefit to others;
I wrote it only to habituate my mind.”
I am sure that there is nothing in this piece that the reader has not read or heard already. But I hope this piece will serve as a small aide-memoires of the current position of China and the current international scenario that are necessary to be considered in making our deliberation to find solutions for Tibet and Tibetans inside Tibet.
It is particularly important this time because the deliberations of the delegates will not formally be commented, protected or blessed by His Holiness The Dalai Lama as the political head of Tibetan people. In other words, we do not have the safety cover of His Holiness The Dalai Lama, which we have always relied upon as a fall back and a guarantor. We are not so lucky now.
It is absolutely essential and vitally important that we consider the wider context under which China is now operating in the world and how other countries including superpowers are behaving, positioning and formulating not only their foreign policies, but also their economic and domestic policies towards China and its impact and consequences on Tibetan issues now and for years to come.
Within a period of thirty years, a periodic span of three generations of Chinese leadership (Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao), China has been transformed from a crippling communist regime to a super power next to the United States.
At the beginning of 2012, The Economist almost as a matter-of-fact reported that China will have a larger economy than America in purchasing power parity in less than five years from now (2016)
The economist also methodically chronicled and published the following statistics:
* China’s net foreign assets surpassed the United States in 2003 (China’s net foreign assets of $2 trillion today versus US net foreign debt of $2.5 trillion);
* Chinese exports surpassed the US in 2007;
* Chinese fixed capital investment took the lead in 2009;
* Chinese manufacturing output surpassed US in 2010;
* Chinese energy consumption also surpassed US in 2010;
* Chinese patent applications granted exceeded the United States applications for the first time in 2010.
* Based on reasonable projections of relative real growth rates China will have the larger GDP as measured by market exchange rates within the next seven years (2018)
China’s stated global aim and core interests:
Beijing’s stated core objectives, loosely and by no means exhaustive, consists of (a) the preservation of communist party and it’s rule in China, (b) unification of Taiwan with mainland China, (c) continuation of rule of Tibet, (d) unhindered access to world’s mineral resources and (e) non acceptance of what China calls imposition or importation of western values such as human rights and democracy in Chinese society.
The world and China
What has become evident is that, during these last three decades, China’s attitude towards the rest of the world has significantly changed since the early days of Deng Xiaoping’s modernisation program or vision of Chinese economy for alleviating the Chinese society from poverty in the aftermath of Mao’s cultural revolution and isolation of China from the rest of the world.
During the past decade, buoyed by China economic success, the country’s regime has manifested in a very assertive entity, threatening those countries with punitive economic repercussion who criticises its human right records, democracy, and issues relating to Tibet and Xinjiang.
This assertive Chinese policy on global development and dominance is imposed on other countries through a mixture of force and diplomacy. It has rattled and confronted the reality, the challenges that other governments especially western governments, parliamentarians, political thinkers and ordinary members of the society alike, may have envisaged on such a turn around. But none are not only unprepared for the consequences but at the speed of its arrival.
It seems the reality of Deng Xiaoping’s famous tactical policy for China of “biding time and hiding one’s talents or strength” has arrived suddenly within a very short period of three decades, with shock waves for the future of world order politically, economically, and the emergence of the concept of human rights, democracy and rule of law in Asia. My assumption here is that once China has actually obtained national wealth and superpower status, it will increasingly act unilaterally without adherence to international norms.
As a consequence is visible from the changing US policy and perhaps many regional countries too are likely to take active measures to hedge against a more unilateral China in the future so that they are not caught unprepared.
American President George W Bush senior rightly saw and politely stated that China is a competitor, but the US and western world accepted China as a “friendly partner” overshadowed by the stream of cheap imports from China that was to glut the insatiable wants of the western consumer society.
Transfer of western manufacturing know-how and technical expertise to China in the search for high profits for the corporations has made the economic benefits more lucrative to political expediency in the past three decades.
The Rise of China and its Impact on the Regional and Global Order
The real question throughout the world today is what does this rise and rise of China means for the regional and global order. What are its real impacts on both regional and global peace, prosperity, security and stability for the immediate decades ahead? How does this economically powerful China affect it treatment of Tibetans, Uyghurs, Mongolians and other minorities in China?
The current rise of economic power of China has been compared to the possible down fall of Western economic power primarily due to the global financial crisis, which started around 2006 that resulted in a long and still continuing economic recession in Europe and USA. The present economic crisis in Europe is so acute that it is not only affecting the economic recovery of US, but it still has the full potential to unleash a second round of Global Financial Crisis.
For the Western world this unprecedented rise of China is a very uncomfortable force to be reckoned with. According to Kevin Rudd, the former Prime Minister and current Foreign Secretary of Australia, “this will be the first time ever a non western power will dominate the global economic power since the rise of Spanish Empire in 1492 and that this will be the first time ever a non-democratic country will be the world’s largest economy for nearly 300 years”.
When we look at the impact of the rise of China in terms of global peace and security, we must look at it in a much wider worldwide and historical context than the relatives of G2 (US and China) metrics of the 21st century. The global implications of China rising to the top of the global economic position are simply jaw dropping to consider.
It is, therefore, a subject worthy of the most serious reflection and analysis, not just in Beijing and Washington, but across Asia, across Europe and across the world.
Asia Pacific and USA Foreign Policy change:
The inexorable rise of China has forced US to look eastward withdrawing from their war engagements from Iraq and Afghanistan and Europe First policy engagement with North Atlantic Alliance, which has been the back bone of US foreign policy for the past 60 years.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pronounced the Obama administration’s new approach to Asia Pacific in her November 2011 “America’s Pacific Century” speech where she declared that “the future of politics will be decided in Asia, not Afghanistan or Iraq, and the United States will be right at the center of the action”. And she further went on to say that “as we move forward to set the stage for engagement in the Asia-Pacific over the next 60 years, we are focused on the steps we have to take at home to secure and sustain our leadership abroad”.
In a very fluid world of changing politics dominated by giants powers, we need to look back and recollect with deep interest how President Obama’s administration has written a new chapter in American foreign policy, saying that United States will move away from South West Asia to focus on the rising power of china.
Clearly, America is broadening its strategic reach and relations in the pacific region both with individual countries as well as with Asian institutions such as ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) and EAS (East Asia Summit) to engage and to maintain a balance of power to counter the growing power and assertive influence of China. China’s growing global power, influence and its assertive territorial claims in South China Sea has made ASEAN countries nervous of the intentions of China. The Asia Pivot policy of Obama Administration has embraced the US by Vietnam and other member countries as a fallback security against their giant neighbour.
It is important to point out that for the first time ever in the ASEAN Regional Forum’s 45 year history, since its inception, there was no agreed communiqué in their 2012 Annual meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, because South-east Asian countries have failed to reach an agreement on how to deal with China’s assertive sovereignty claims on disputed territory in the South China Sea. The Philippines and Vietnamese wanted ASEAN Regional Forum to have a unified policy on South China Sea dispute and to resist Beijing’s insistence that the disputes should be handled on a bilateral level only. Perhaps, American Asia Pivot Foreign Policy may have given these smaller countries some confidence and may have increased their resistance level with China and it seems such countries are reciprocating favourably to the US declared role in Asia Pacific. Rival countries have made claims over territory in the South China Sea for centuries but the recent upsurge in tension has sparked concern that the area is becoming a flashpoint with global consequences.
US had clearly concluded that it not only has vital interests in this Asia Pacific Region in the century ahead, but also that this region will progressively represent the centre of gravity of global economic and strategic power.
US and most of its allies believes that this strategic positioning has kept and will keep the region in peace, thereby enabling open economies to develop, trade and commerce to flourish, and democracies to emerge.
This is where core American and Chinese strategic concepts clash against each other, because the Chinese view that US alliance structures in Asia and Pacific are relics of a cold war past that should be disbanded and that the retention of these alliances is designed to constrain China; and in doing so, continue to frustrate the reunification of Taiwan with the motherland.
It is not a coincidence that the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should make the first-ever and a landmark historical visit to Burma in December 2011, reversing a fifty year US Policy of engagement with Burma so soon after Obama Administrations Asia Pivot Policy announcement. US is well aware that such high level visit by the administration will not only give high hopes and expectations for the democratic movement in Burma, but that this will also provide the possibility for the Burmese authorities to rebalance its one sided and suffocating relationship with China, which has been resented by ordinary Burmese people.
Secretary of State Clinton’s meeting with Ms Aung Sun Suu Kyi, a Nobel Laureate, human rights icon and champaign of democracy in Burma, has paved the way for greater normalisation of relations between Burma with US and Europe.
Burma has become a client state of China for the past many decades. China has invested heavily in Burma both for its natural resources and for securing and carrying out the so called Maoist encirclement strategic position in surrounding India – which has given home to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan community and enabling and facilitating the exile Tibetans to preserve their language, customs and the unique cultural heritage of Tibet – from the east, Sri Lanka from the south, Pakistan from the west and occupied Tibet and Nepal from the north.
The continued mistrust between Japan and China are self evident in the past, but the clash between Chinese fighting boats with coastguard off Japan at the end of 2011 and allowing anti-Japanese protests and demonstration to take place in major cities in China by the Chinese Communist Party is a reminder of another flash point with global consequences.
Japan is one of the most important partners of USA in Asia, and China has consistently complained at USA and Japan’s military alliance. In reference to the annual USA and Japan military drill, which took place in Gotemba at the foothill of Mount Fuji on 21st August 2012, China Daily quotes a defence commentator as saying that the drill “is increasing tension in the region and has shown Washington’s true colours, despite its so-called neutral stance over the issue of disputed islands in the East China Sea”.
Again if we look back to the early days of Obama presidency, one could argue that the preparation for the Asia Pivot and American Pacific Century thinking was already underway soon after the end of 2008. It was evident because the Japanese Prime Minister was the first Oval Office visitor from abroad in early 2009 and Secretary Clinton’s first overseas trip was to Tokyo and not to London or Europe.
In line with US new policy of engagement in Asia, United State has secured a far reaching agreement with Australia to expand its military presence in the country and facility for joint exercises, training, and access to bases and eventual postings of up to 2500 American troops in northern Australia. Naturally, China is very unhappy with this US positioning.
Australia being a member of the club of G-20 and East Asia Summit Forum is also interested in shaping the future of Asia and Pacific region. Australia has huge commercial interests with mainland China with its mineral resources.
European Union and China
The European Union is the biggest and most important trading partner of China. The EU pursues a friendly strategic partnership with China and welcomes Chinese nods and winks when it hints that they may prop up the Euro. Chinese are openly lobbying Chinese government’s interests in Brussels and in the capitals of the European countries, yet at the same time Chinese leaders are telling off and pointing fingers at the European leaders for their lack of leadership for not “putting their houses in order”. Perhaps, it is really a sign of change in time of European fortune that we witness remarkable and extraordinary acts of dependency and vulnerability to see European States publicly seeking China’s financial support to intervene in Euro-bond markets.
Europe welcomes Chinese investments and China has taken advantage in investing and taking over well known brands and buying up ownership in strategic key industries requiring cash injection for the corporation’s survival.
In less prosperous European economies they have invested by either taking over the control or have taken stakes in key industries such as Ocean terminal at Piraeus port in Greece and wind-power farm in Romania. In other key industries they have taken stakes such as in the makers of polysilicon for solar panels in Norway, 40% stake in Norwegian Statoil, Addax Petroleum of Switzerland, a stake in the Fortis bank of Belgium, stake in the Barclays bank in UK etc.
China has two major demands from the EU. Firstly, China would like EU to lift the arms embargo imposed on it after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Secondly, it would like EU to grant them the status of a full market economy, which would shield it from anti-dumping measures.
EU member states remains divided and unable to agree on both issues because of the very sensitive political nature of the arms embargo and the inherent nature of the protection required for home grown industries to safeguard employment from cheap imports.
This has inevitably allowed China to manipulate the internal divisions of the member states and play one member state against others thorough the so called bilateral talks and discussions a format China has very successfully followed in South East Asia.
China and Africa, Latin America
Although China’s global influence, be it through force of assertiveness, through natural course or through bullying and blackmailing tactics, is felt almost throughout the entire world. In the above short and very superficial analysis, I have concentrated mainly on China and its relationships with the United States of America, Europe, Asia and Pacific.
Dominance of Chinese influence in the entire continent of Africa is without any dispute. China’s economic controls and political influence in the whole of Latin American world, former USSR republics are also undisputed. China is promoting their state interests in these countries through a combination of aid programs, particularly in Africa where China is now using aid programs to explore open markets for oil, minerals and other resources. In return for the access to natural resources, China lends cheap money, builds roads, railways, airports, bridges, hospitals, sport stadiums, schools and official buildings.
Although, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not mention Beijing by name but was directed at China when she said “be wary of donors who are more interested in extracting your resources than in building your capacity. Some funding might help fill short-term budget gaps, but we’ve seen time and again that these quick fixes won’t produce self-sustaining results.” at the global summit on development and aid held in South Korea.
For many of the developing nations China has become an essential partner particularly for those repressive and rogue regime states in African continent, Middle East and Latin American oil reach states.
An Overview on China
Whilst China’s economic power is growing and unstoppable, yet this is a country not at ease with itself and there is a huge number of areas which could derail their progress from becoming the world’s number one superpower.
The particular areas to look out for are both internal and external forces, but the explosion of an internal force is more likely and will have more devastating and chaotic outcome if that were to happen. The internal pressure for reform in China is like a boiling kettle and the Chinese government’s own admitted cost of maintaining the internal security in 2010 was US Dollars 93 billion. Experts believe that this amount is $1 billion more than the government’s publicly admitted national defense budget, and surely, such spending on internal security is a devastating blow for the image of a stable China, which it would like to portray and an undoubted evidence of a State at odds with its own people.
A leading UK think-tank on international affairs, Chatham House, states that there were 9 million petitions to the central government in 2009 and estimates that there are as many as 180,000 mass incidents each year. Most of the disputes have arisen because of infringement and summary acquisition of land rights, unsettled pension payments, conflict of political and lack of participation in decision making process in civil society frustrated by the non transparent and control imposed by one party system.
The second major area of internal conflict pressure point is the existence of massive inequalities in income between cities and countryside; development and income gap between coastal and inland regions; between eastern and western regions, as most of the development and wealth is concentrated in coastal regions. The scale of inequality is illustrated by World Bank’s statistics which states that China has 150 million people living in abject poverty, 24 million people malnourished, but China has 35 Dollar billionaires and over 100 Dollar millionaires.
The third pressure point is the massive problem of corruption and nepotism in Chinese society which is enhancing the marginalisation of ethic minorities, non communist party members, religious affiliated groups and other vulnerable members of the society.
The fourth pressure point is both an internal as well as an international issue which relate to Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia on one hand and Taiwan on the other. China’s continued inability to address and resolve the real and unprecedented grievances of the people of Tibet and Xinjiang has continued to dogged the Chinese government by a series of public disorders, unrest, protests and international condemnation of the Chinese government for its hard line policies and handling of these issues, which continues to taint it’s authority and legitimacy of rule in these ethnic regions, especially in occupied Tibet.
Sino-Tibetan Relations: The Way Forward
The objectives of Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People proposed by the Tibetan side, which provides the basis for a realistic and sustainable political solution to the issue of Tibet, is sill achievable through a strategy of campaign and continued engagement and negotiation with China even in the face of the latter’s intransigence. All we need is a political will from Beijing to resolve the question of Tibet. The last round of talks between the two side was held in January 2010.
A progressively wealthy and powerful China should have the confidence to settle the Tibetan issue during the life time of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, who is revered and enjoys the full confidence of all Tibetans both living inside and outside of Tibet. China should not fear the sincere overtures of His Holiness in helping China to settle the question of Tibet for the mutual benefit of Tibetan and Chinese peoples.
His Holiness has often talked about and recognised the need and benefits of a wealthy, powerful and industrious China to help bring economic development to Tibet. It is important for the Chinese leaders to realise and appreciate His Holiness’s genuine views and hopes for the benefit of both Chinese and Tibetan communities.
China must also be wise and confident enough to accept that it is in the best interest of China to settle the Tibetan issue as quickly as possible. The unsettled Tibet problem is one of the worst burdens that China has and this is holding back China in the eyes of international community. An amicable political settlement of the issue of Tibet with the return of His Holiness to Tibet will undoubtedly earn China international recognition for its political maturity and moral authority necessary to be a world super power.
Since the election of Kalon Tripa Dr. Lobsang Sangay, the unannounced official Chinese position had been that of a non engagement policy with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration.
Of course, this is much regretted from Tibetan side and I hope the new Chinese leadership, which will be selected in mid October, will reverse the existing hard line policy of non engagement with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Central Tibetan Administration. The new Chinese leadership has the opportunity to seize the moment to restore freedom in Tibet by putting an immediate end to the draconian control imposed in Tibetan areas. This will give breathing space for normal existence to begin, whereby the trauma of hopelessness will cease and may help to end the cycle of tragic self-immolations in Tibet.
As I am giving my finishing and final thoughts to this piece, the number of Tibetans who have set themselves on fire reached 51, of which 41 died. But unfortunately, there is no sign of abatement in this drastic form of non-violent protest against the continued Chinese rule in occupied Tibet and the denial of the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to his homeland.
The political movement of self-immolation, which started from inside Tibet, is a testament of desperation and unhappiness endured by Tibetans in Tibet.
We really need to collectively engage in the forthcoming Second Special General Meeting to come up with strategies and programmes, which will enable us to achieve an amicable resolution of the political future of Tibet based on the forward-looking and foresighted principles, philosophies and guidance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Sonam T Frasi is a former Member of Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile
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