Why China Worries About India

International security policy

Sven Bernhard Gareis

Prof. Dr. Sven Bernhard Gareis has been German Deputy Dean at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch-Partenkirchen since 2011. Since 2007 he has been teaching international politics at the Institute for Political Science at the Westphalian Wilhelms University in Münster with a focus on international organizations, German and European security policy and Chinese politics. He designed this issue and coordinated its creation. Contact: [email protected]

China and the rest of the world are inextricably linked. After more than three decades of rapid economic growth, the question increasingly arises as to what role the People's Republic will play in the global power structure of the 21st century.

China has become a global player in recent years. In addition to its economic strength, it also lays claim to a greater role in the international system in terms of foreign policy. Skyline of Shanghai 2014 (& copy imago / McPhoto / Uwe Gernhöfer)

Hardly any other global political appearance arouses as many hopes and fears as that of the People's Republic of China. Within three decades, China has risen from a desperately poor, crisis-ridden developing country to one of the leading global economic powers. In 2014, with a gross domestic product of around 10.4 trillion US dollars, the People's Republic was the second largest economy behind the USA and ahead of Japan and - thanks to its foreign trade volume of more than four trillion US dollars - a decisive engine of the world economy. For years, China has been a demand for cutting-edge technology around the world, buying into numerous industries and business areas and opening up sales markets for its own, increasingly high-quality products. Countries like Germany in particular benefit greatly from the close economic cooperation with China, which in 2014 reached a volume of more than 140 billion euros. Not only with the establishment of a "New Development Bank" announced in summer 2014 together with the other BRICS countries Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa, but also within the framework of the G20, China is increasing its weight in the international financial architecture.

At the same time, Beijing is pursuing its energy and raw materials interests ever more emphatically and is securing growing influence both in Asia and in numerous countries in Africa and Latin America through generous development aid and investments. China is the largest emitter of toxic and greenhouse gases and is struggling - as the images from large Chinese cities continuously show - with enormous environmental problems as a result of its long ruthless growth. With increasing concern, many states are also looking at the People's Republic's military spending, which has been rising for years (around 132 billion US dollars in 2014) and the simmering disputes between China and Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines over archipelagos in the East and South China Sea - the The effects of possible confrontations in this region, which is so important for the global economy, would also be clearly felt in Europe.

Without a doubt, China and the rest of the world are closely and indissolubly intertwined, for better or for worse. The question is no longer whether, but how China's path into the circle of leading powers that shape world politics largely according to their interests and ideas will take place: in confrontation with the established great powers of the existing international system, as feared above all by the USA , or as a reliable partner in a "harmonious world order" propagated by China, which should be characterized by mutual respect for different cultures, cooperation and mutual benefit.

China's goals and interests

When examining the foreign policy of a state, it is always advisable to first take a look at its fundamental goals and interests, which in the case of China are closely linked to the question of the country's internal development. The era of internal reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping from 1979 onwards went hand in hand with the opening of the isolated People's Republic to the outside world: Without foreign investments, know-how and access to international markets, the modernizations Deng strived for would not have been possible. However, after the devastating turmoil of the Mao period, these were urgently needed to maintain the political order supported by the Chinese Communist Party as well as the territorial integrity of China. This performance is required of the present and future leaders of the People's Republic as well.

To hold the Middle Kingdom together forms the core of that traditional "Mandate of Heaven", through which political rule in China has always been legitimized, and the principle to which the modern leaders of the People's Republic remain committed. Against this background, it is not surprising that Dai Bingguo, the incumbent State Councilor and foreign policy pioneer under the former party leader Hu Jintao, formulated China's core interests as follows: first, the continued existence of the political system and the preservation of national security; second, national sovereignty and territorial integrity; third, the stable development of China's economy and society.

The central point of reference in the strategic thinking of the People's Republic is China itself - nonetheless, this definition of interests also refers to external conditional factors: In order to be able to further promote its internal development, China needs a stable and benevolent environment in the long term. This applies first of all to its regional surroundings, where China is constantly trying to allay its neighbors' concerns about an overly dominant appearance by taking advantage of economic cooperation. As a result of its rapidly advancing economic integration with practically all regions of the world, China has also developed interests that are increasingly global in scope. For its growth, which is largely driven by industrial production and the export of the goods manufactured there, access to all forms of resources and energy play just as crucial a role as secure trade routes. Avoiding dangerous conflicts and alliances against the People's Republic is therefore at the forefront of China's foreign policy agenda.

Above all, however, it is also about China's place in the world. According to his self-image, China is the millennia-old "Middle Kingdom" (zhongguo), which suffered a dramatic decline, a "century of shame", from the Opium Wars of the 1830s to the Second World War. With the founding of the People's Republic in 1949, a "New China" entered the stage of world politics. After the development successes of the last decades, it wants to be respected as a player in the top league of the international system and at eye level with the other great powers - a claim that the People's Republic is demanding more and more self-confidently.

Domestic political constraints

Despite all its apparent successes, China continues to face a number of domestic political challenges, which also have a major impact on its foreign policy actions. The Far Eastern state holds second place among the largest economies in the world - but this success has to be shared by almost 1.4 billion people. In 2014, China ranks 91st out of 187 countries on the UN Human Development Index (HDI), placing it only in the global midfield in terms of quality of life and the socio-economic situation of its population. In addition, Chinese society is divided in many ways. It was possible to overcome the bitterest poverty and hunger, but at the same time serious gaps in prosperity arose between urban and rural populations or between the rich coastal provinces and the poor regions inland and in western China. The growing cities with their job opportunities in the construction sector and industry not only attracted around 200 million former farmers as migrant workers in often extremely precarious jobs, but also created growing social discontent. Together with the anger at corrupt cadres and authorities as well as ruthless employers, this discharges again and again in tens of thousands of uprisings and unrest every year.

Source text

Social protests - a challenge for politics

[…] Every year there are around 100,000 mass protests in China. The most common cause is disputes over land use rights. Land leasing has become one of the most important sources of income for local governments. They have the power to seize land from farmers in the name of the "public interest" and to determine the level of compensation themselves. City dwellers are also no longer afraid of conflicts in order to defend their interests against state interference. They protested against planned chemical plants or waste incineration plants that are to be built next to their newly acquired condominiums. Thanks to social media, China's new middle class is able to organize demonstrations with tens of thousands of participants in a short space of time.

The second leading cause of protests is labor disputes. In the southern provinces in particular, the better-educated second generation of migrant workers succeed time and again in putting factory bosses under pressure through strikes. Specially designated representatives negotiate bypassing the state unions about better working conditions. Local governments want to restore social stability at all costs: sometimes they try to mediate protests, sometimes they use the police against striking workers.

Since the nineties, thanks to the higher level of education and increased private property, a new, unprecedented legal awareness has developed in Chinese society. More and more citizens are demanding protection and defense rights against state interference. These protests usually pursue specific interests and not abstract political goals. But they put the political leadership under pressure, they are an expression of dissatisfaction, and they challenge the legitimacy of the Communist Party, which is now only built on promises of prosperity. Should China's economy seriously falter, the social protests threaten to spiral out of control.

Zhu Yi is a research associate at MERICS (Mercator Institute for China Studies).

Zhu Yi, "Problem areas of a giant empire - social protests", in: Internationale Politik 1, January / February 2015, p. 115 f.



The rapid economic growth in the past decades has also been accompanied by massive overexploitation of the environment, the consequences of which are increasingly affecting people's living conditions. In addition, the Chinese leadership is confronted with demographic challenges such as an aging society as a result of the one-child policy and the resulting problems such as inadequate pension provision. In the autonomous regions of Xinjiang and Tibet, disadvantaged minorities are increasingly demanding that their interests be taken into account.

The development of a society of modest but fairly fairly distributed prosperity, which has been promised since the 16th party congress in 2002, remains a challenging undertaking. The implementation of this promise requires permanent growth of at least seven percent per year as well as a structural change towards more environmentally friendly forms of economy and production. It is also clear to the current generation of leaders around head of state and party leader Xi Jinping that China cannot meet these challenges alone, but only through continued and close ties with the world.

With regard to China's position in the world, the experiences of the decline from high civilization to semi-colony in the 19th and 20th centuries remain very present in the collective memory of the People's Republic. For more than a century, China was exposed to invasions and land seizures by external powers without being able to counter them effectively. On the contrary, according to the Chinese interpretation, internal contradictions, in particular the struggle against the declining Manchurian Qing dynasty, ensured that internal weakness that made China the plaything of external forces. In China's long historical experience, a stable internal order and external political weight are closely related: if there is chaos inside, attacks from outside are not far away, and conversely, internal strength guarantees the best protection from the outside world.

The external strength just demonstrated by Xi Jinping thus also serves to consolidate the reputation of the political leadership internally - above all under the auspices of nationalism that has been growing in China for years. This was and is encouraged and cultivated by the various generations of leaders in order to create a new social bracket for Chinese society after the fall of communist ideology, but it often also proves to be a double-edged sword: Where (mainly for economic reasons) If pragmatic suppleness were required, for example in the territorial disputes with Japan over the Diaoyu / Senkaku Islands as well as with the neighbors in the South China Sea around the Paracel and Spratley Islands, consideration for nationalist upsurges in the country often leads to political behaviors that - for example the air identification zone in the East China Sea proclaimed in 2013 - is perceived by international partners as robust at best, but often enough also as aggressive. The Chinese leadership appears again and again to be driven by the nationalist spirits that it has called upon itself and that restrict its own room for maneuver.