Fri, Apr 22, 2005 - Page 8 News List

China's play for regional dominance

By Sushil Seth

China is in a foul mood because the world is not heeding its destiny -- at least some of the recalcitrant nations. It regards itself as a superpower. Even if it is not yet there, China has a sense of entitlement because of its rapid economic growth and past glory. But when it faces some resistance to fulfilling its destiny, its ruling oligarchy tends to throw a fit. The trouble is that it is starting to happen too often and can get out of hand. Presently, Japan is at the receiving end.

Taiwan, though, is constantly under threat, with Chinese missiles -- their numbers increasing all the time -- targeted at it. With the recently enacted "Anti-Secession" Law, China believes it now has the legal authority to go after Taiwan if and when it decides that any activities might look like Taipei is going in the direction of formal independence.

The idea was that this will, sooner rather than later, create a political crisis to threaten President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) administration. The oligarchs in China are very keen to bring down Chen, who they regard as the devil incarnate. They are still trying bypass Chen and his government by courting the opposition and building up a seemingly parallel center of power. But Chen is still very much in control as the popularly-elected president. If anything he reinforced his credentials with a million-strong protest against China's Anti-Secession Law. Beijing, though, is not letting it go.

China is also disappointed at another level. They were hoping that the US would remain stuck with Iraq and global terrorism, enabling China to do its own thing -- like terrorizing Taiwan. Though the US is still pretty much preoccupied with the Middle East, it is slowly broadening its strategic horizons to take note of China. Washington, for instance, worked energetically to dissuade the EU from lifting its arms embargo on China. It has, therefore, thwarted Beijing -- for the time being at least -- from playing Brussels against Washington.

As Jia Qingguo of Peking University's School of International Studies has said, "America changed after 9/11 from a focus on China in a negative light and onto terrorism, so the Chinese government had a few years' breathing space ? But now we see the US devoting increasing attention to China."

This is indeed quite disappointing from their viewpoint.

Beijing feels hurt and angry that the US is standing in the way of it annexing Taiwan. It had hoped that the "strategic partnership" between the two countries to contain the Soviet Union would also rub off onto Taiwan, with the US facilitating its annexation. The collapse of the Soviet Union put an end to that.

And when China sought to test the waters in 1996 during Bill Clinton's presidency by threatening to invade Taiwan, Washington dispatched two aircraft carriers to deter Beijing. And now, despite the Iraq quagmire, the US is still standing in the way.

Taiwan, in a way, has become the litmus test of China's nationalist credentials. With its ideology almost defunct, nationalism is all China's communist oligarchy is left with to legitimize its rule of the country.

And now Japan is feeling the heat, with an all-pervasive anti-Japanese upsurge overtaking China. Beijing wants Japan to live under the shadow of its past wartime crimes, leaving the field open for China to dominate the region. Tokyo is refusing to follow China's script. Worse still, it is pushing its candidacy for a permanent UN Security Council seat in the event of its expansion.

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