This introductory essay historicizes the evolution of China’s geopolitical strategy from the Maoist era (1949–1976) to the present. It examines the Chinese strategic thinking in four spatial settings: Eurasia, maritime Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent and the wider Indo-Pacific region. The Chinese strategic concerns are comparable across these regions, but the ability to pursue security interests is contingent on many circumstantial factors. This study refers to some snapshots of the ongoing regional disputes to discuss the continuities and breakpoints in China’s strategic outreach in a multipolar world.
This study draws on the scholarly literature and policy papers to examine the interrelated forces that shape China’s rise to regional dominance: how Beijing has co-opted a series of global and regional crises for its rise to domination; how China, the USA and neighbouring countries have adjusted and adapted to a new changing international order; and how major powers in littoral and maritime Asia respond to an increasingly assertive Chinese state.
This study documents the combination of smart, soft and sharp power that China has deployed, since the global financial crisis of 2008, to enforce its dominance against the USA across the Pacific Rim and Eurasia. It argues that General Secretary of the Chinese Communist PartyXi Jinping initially launched the Belt and Road Initiative to respond to former US President Barak Obama’s policy of rebalancing Asia, and he has expanded these expansionary projects to counter US President Donald Trump’s “America First” doctrine, thereby asserting Chinese influence abroad and tightening control against discontented populations at home.
Many Western policy analysts are wondering whether a rising China will be a “status quo” state or a revisionist state that attempts to challenge the existing world order. The lack of clarification from Beijing has prompted Washington to shift from a longstanding strategy of diplomatic engagement to that of geostrategic containment to balance against China.
The strategic goals of China in the early 21st century pertain to security reassurance, access to energy resources and national image building. Since the global financial crisis of 2008, China has become immensely confident of its own socio-economic accomplishments and scornful of what it perceives as an American conspiracy to undermine its rise to power. Following in the footsteps of the USA in the post-Second World War era, Japan in the 1980s and Taiwan in the 1990s, Beijing has used international commercial activities and business contracts to achieve specific political, strategic and diplomatic objectives.
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