Ever since the People’s Republic of China started opening up to the rest of the world, geopolitical analysts and foreign policy ‘experts’ across the democratic world have been grossly overestimating Beijing’s foreign policy. The West, which allowed China to become the giant bully that it is, also remained obsessed with all the hype that was built around Chinese diplomacy of foreign policy.
But as the world realises that it has let a bogeyman take shape by falling for China’s ‘peaceful rise’, the deep fault-lines in Beijing’s foreign policy are also getting exposed. Now, as the world notices how Chinese diplomats and foreign policymakers weaponize border disputes, use salami-slicing tactics, issue threats at the drop of a hat and detain foreign citizens as a part of ‘hostage diplomacy’, the halo built around Beijing’s foreign policy is getting dismantled.
Chinese foreign policy has found enemies and has also converted its pre-existing partners into competitors, adversaries or even enemies. All of China’s foreign relations woes are centred on the four characteristics that dominate its foreign policy- expansionism, undue interference, hostage diplomacy and debt-trap diplomacy.
Expansionism and salami-slicing tactics:
While the entire world got rid of the tendency to expand its boundaries like medieval empires, China hasn’t given up expansionism even in the 21st century. The Dragon shares border disputes with all of its neighbours that often end up creating tensions and leaving China isolated.
Take for instance China’s relations in the Himalayas. For several decades after the 1962 Sino-India war, there was more or less of a bilateral effort between India and China to bring some kind of normalcy in relations. New Delhi even kept ignoring some apparent border provocations from China.
At a time, when Beijing had started facing a global backlash over the COVID-19 outbreak, it would have made sense for China to take India in confidence. But what did China do? It raked up the border disputes along the Line of Actual Control, the de facto Sino-India border, in Eastern Ladakh. China and India shared hostilities pushing India towards its democratic allies like the US, Japan and Australia.
But India is not the only country which has had a fall-out with China over the latter’s salami-slicing tactics. In the South China Sea, Beijing has antagonised its biggest trading partner- the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Today, China is fighting pointless battles with Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. And again, it is the Chinese expansionism which is causing discord in Sino-ASEAN relations.
Even countries like the Philippines which had once declared a ‘pivot’ towards China are now backing the US and other such democratic powers to take on China in the disputed waterways of the South China Sea.
On its Western front, China is again antagonising some of its newfound partners- the Central Asian Republics. Recently, China claimed half of Tajikistan’s territory, drawing flak from Dushanbe despite the latter’s debt dependency on Beijing.
On its Eastern front also, China is fighting territorial battles with Japan (East China Sea) and South Korea (Yellow Sea). China has been claiming sovereignty over Japan’s Senkaku Islands Chain that has led to Tokyo taking countermeasures by incentivising its companies in shifting manufacturing out of China. Moreover, Japan has been giving up its pacifist doctrine with the emerging Chinese threat.
As for South Korea, Beijing has always been a threat given its EEZ dispute in the Yellow Sea and Beijing’s support for Seoul’s arch-foe, North Korea.
The endless border disputes and extra-territorial claims have seen China find new enemies like India and Vietnam, and also turn partners like Russia and the Philippines into enemies.
Undue Interference and Debt-trap diplomacy:
China will issue threats if you question it about human rights violations in Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Hong Kong or Xinjiang. However, Beijing itself wants to deeply interfere in political systems of democratic countries like India, France, Australia and the United States. This is the rise of China’s deeply intrusive wolf-warrior diplomacy.
But what has Beijing achieved with its confrontational diplomatic methods? Today, the US is banishing Beijing, Australia is looking to reduce economic dependency on China and India is hitting back at the Dragon with a lot of vigour. As for the European Union, it might have been a slow mover but is now picking up pace. Democratic countries like Sweden, the Netherlands, France, Estonia, Slovakia and now, to some extent even Germany, are speaking up against it.
Again, China is rather harsh on its not-so-democratic friends also. Countries like Pakistan and Nepal that have tried to befriend China have also realised how Chinese partnership can be nasty, even as the Dragon tries turning their citizens into virtual slaves. Chinese Embassy has intruded deep into Nepal, often dictating the Himalayan country’s foreign policy. Similarly, in Pakistan, China wants to exercise deep influence in parts of the Islamic country such as Balochistan for its own interests.
This aggressive brand of Chinese diplomacy is severing its relations in every part of the world. Apart from Europe, Indo-Pacific and the Americas, even Africa has stood up to Chinese anti-black racism and “debt trap” diplomacy. Today, Africa is confronting China and demanding the extortionist nation to pause debt obligations if it wants the support of the African Continent. But then it was again China’s unnecessary belligerence that created an enemy out of thin air.
As another facet of its Middle Kingdom syndrome, Beijing has started detaining citizens of other countries to achieve foreign policy goals and settle scores with enemies. Whether it is the Canadian nationals- Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Michael Spavor, a businessman or Australian journalists; Beijing has no qualms about making hostages out of foreign citizens visiting the People’s Republic of China.
Recently, an Indian legislator also accused China of abducting five Indian citizens from the North-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, amidst the ongoing military standoff between India and China.
It is, of course, unfathomable that a civilised country can abduct/ illegally detain the citizens of another country and use them as hostages. But then it is an active part of the Chinese foreign policy, something that has led countries like Canada and Australia to detest Beijing and distance themselves from the Communist-Authoritarian State.
As such, the myth of China’s grand foreign policy has been busted. China’s foreign policy is a monumental failure that is only isolating Beijing throughout the world. Not one country from any part of the world wants to support Beijing. And it is the confrontational Chinese foreign policy to blame.