Aptly named as Zhōngguó (中国) or The Middle Kingdom, China’s imperial past has never truly been forgotten. From the Great Wall to The Forbidden City, remnants of the country’s bellicose heritage permeate Chinese culture in a multitude of ways, but no more so than in Beijing’s economically and territorially aggrandizing foreign policy.
As fervent claimants to the islands of the South China Sea, the Chinese army’s top brass have recently been authorised to deploy troops to the hotly-contested archipelagos, the majority of which are, in fact, geographically closer to the Philippines than to mainland China.
…very little will stop Hu Jintao’s ambitions…
Annexing the Vietnamese Paracel Islands in 1974, China’s entire claim to sovereignty contravenes international law, yet attempts to dissuade Asia’s most aggressive superpower in this month’s Asean regional forum have fallen by the wayside. Ironically, China’s main claim to control over the potentially oil-rich islands comes from their alleged inclusion as part of the nation’s empire over two millennia ago.
The prospect of large hydrocarbon deposits, however, are the most likely reason behind China’s vehement desire for sovereignty, a desire which Vietnam argues only arose in the middle of the 20th century. Although, as recent history has shown, very little will stop Hu Jintao’s ambitions and if one subscribes to the String of Pearls theory, the islands of the South China Sea will be one of the most valuable targets for China in years to come.
…Asia on the rise and the West starting to decline…
The theory describes how China, as a new global superpower, has steadily forged diplomatic relationships, constructed ports, airbases and increased Chinese military prowess from the South-China Sea, through the Strait of Malacca, across the Indian Ocean and into the Persian Gulf. Such actions have been criticised as expansionist and overly hegemonic in relation to the rights and sovereignty of other, smaller Asian nations, yet little has really been done to counter the neo-imperialism with which Beijing operates.
Only the United States’ increased military presence within East Asia has managed to turn the head of Chinese officials, but even then, Washington would be highly averse to any real confrontation with the PLA’s 3million man armed forces – the largest armed forces in the world. Only time will tell as to how far the new Chinese Empire will stretch before cracks begin to show, but with Asia on the rise and the West starting to decline, it is evident that a more concerted stance against imperialism needs to be taken, lest we are to see the global balance of power tip massively in one direction.