From Taiwan to the belt and road, China’s ‘grand plan’ is to push the US out of Asia
- Patrick Mendis and Joey Wang say the US should not take China’s talk of a ‘peaceful rise’ at face value, but must work with allies to move China towards international norms, rather than contain it
The communique reveals a subtler “grand plan” of China. The Taiwan issue is simply one step in Beijing’s larger strategic goal of pushing the United States and its influence out of the Indo-Pacific region.
China’s primary objective of defending territorial integrity begins with Taiwan. For China, Taiwan is not merely a runaway province, it is a focal point in the first island chain that would allow China to project power out to the Western Pacific and the second island chain. This is generally referred to as Anti Access/Area Denial.
The key enabler to project its power has been China’s explosive economic growth. As it cools down, however, major programmes such as the belt and road strategy will be critical to any future projection of power. The stated purpose of the initiative is to promote regional economic cooperation and promote peace and development. However, there are other hidden motivations.
First, China wants to decrease the dependence on its domestic infrastructure investment and begin moving overseas to address the overcapacity within China. The key instrument of this investment transfer comes with the Chinese system of state capitalism.
Second, China wants to internationalise the use of its currency through the belt and road. Making the renminbi a global currency had been one of highest economic priorities of Beijing’s Grand Plan.
Third, China seeks to secure its energy resources through new pipelines in Central Asia, Russia and South and Southeast Asia’s deepwater ports. The Beijing leadership has been concerned about the “Malacca dilemma”, a term coined by former president Hu Jintao, who voiced fears that “certain major powers” might control the Malacca Strait and who said China needed to adopt “new strategies to mitigate the perceived vulnerability”.
Thus, belt and road projects – such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the Kyaukpyu pipeline in Myanmar that runs to Yunnan province, and the ongoing discussions for the proposed Kra Canal in Thailand – are of vital interest to China because they would provide alternative routes for energy resources from the Middle East that bypass the Malacca Strait.
In addition, the US and its allies should apply a unified front in pressuring China and engaging Beijing to respect global norms in areas such as trade, intellectual property and cybersecurity.
In all, China should measure its ideological priorities against its costs. If and when China and Taiwan unite, it will be based upon a mutual amity and belief that it is in the interest of all Chinese people to do so – not through coercion and aggression. Beijing cannot bend history to its will.
Professor Patrick Mendis is the author of Peaceful War. Joey Wang is a defence analyst. Both are alumnus of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University