The US is not the only global power rebalancing. China, the object of much discussion in relation to the US pivot, not least whether the ‘rebalancing’ of the Asia Pacific, is in fact, a latter day attempt by Washington at Chinese containment, has also been actively balancing the rest of the globe in its favour.
China has long used the term ‘rebalancing’ largely referring to (although not exclusively) economic reforms. There lies the significance and global reach of China’s own rebalancing act as China’s economic and commercial interests square away Beijing’s influence in strategically important corners of Africa, Asia and the Pacific.
Chinese moves in the region to secure sea lanes, oil blocks, potential mineral beds and maritime territories through proxies bring to mind a quasi-pincer movement which indirectly contains not only regional powers but has the potential to isolate and diminish the regional influence of traditional United States allies such as Australia, New Zealand and strategic partnerships with evolving friends such as Indonesia and Singapore from the US pivot. The Chinese approach is multi-pronged with diplomatic, economic and increasingly maritime fronts which may prove to divide and contain the Asia Pacific despite US late efforts towards rebalancing China’s balance of power in the region.
In the 21st century, China’s global engagement has primarily been concerned with securing economic power and influence sans ideological overtones. Beijing’s approach is defined by the so-called ‘peaceful rise and peaceful development’ thesis as laid out in China’s 2005 White Paper in which foreign policy is driven by economic interests and the ‘pressure valve’ concept. Arguably, Beijing has achieved few actual foreign policy gains as a consequence but the language has considerable currency with the domestic polity. It also increasingly feeds into the politically manipulated ‘Chinese Dream’ notion where political reform was cleverly replaced with a progressively aspirational nationalism.
Tensions in the South China Sea over the Spratley Islands, for example, are founded on energy security concerns and the imperative to safeguard critical sea lines of communication (SLOC). Linked to this are military reforms and the expansive 2013 Defence White Paper which stated that its military is ‘commensurate with China’s international standing and [to]meet the needs of its security and development interests,’ and outlines the role the People’s Liberation Army will take in shaping a favourable security environment. Other sources of tension include along the Sino-Indian border (‘Line of Actual Control’ (LAC)), and the ‘nine-dashed line’ in the South China Sea which extends Chinese maritime claims well within the EEZ’s of Brunei and Malaysia.
The exceptions are, of course, rooted in historical claims, the promulgation of nationalism, and labelled Beijing’s ‘core interests’: Taiwan and Tibet, and the Senkaku/Daioyu Islands dispute with Japan in the East China Sea. Beyond the region, China’s continual investment in Africa’s oil sector reflects a minimalist interest in good governance (hence the appeal of the Chinese deal) as long as domestic politics within African states do not interfere with China’s economic objectives. China is also securing new ports along the ‘String of Pearls’, a geopolitical term referring to a network of Chinese military and commercial facilities and relationships along its SLOC from the Chinese Mainland to Port Sudan. The securing of bases in Gwadar, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Sri Lanka and through Southeast Asia has enabled China to expanding its influence and reach into the Indian Ocean.
China’s ‘rebalancing’ of the globe to shore up and increase its economic sphere of influence is significant for two reasons. First, it has both direct and indirect consequences of enclosing key regional players – namely the US and Australia – in a relationship that is both symbiotic and competitive and where Beijing and Chinese companies benefit from the peace dividend achieved by largely Western stabilisation efforts. READ MORE