China in South Asia: the case of the United States

Relations with China International relations Asia-Pacific South Asia

A previous Future Directions International paper, the first in this series, began with a much abbreviated introduction to China’s rise. It examined in short detail China’s economic progression to become the world’s second-largest economy by illustrating the sheer volume of cement it used between 2011 and 2013 and, to underscore the point, compared the amount with that of the United States over the whole of the last century. That illustration makes two points; first, that China’s growth may only be compared to the current situation of the leading economic and military power and, second, that China itself compares itself in relation to the United States. In other words, the United States provides the benchmark that China feels it must exceed in every metric.

That is no coincidence. The United States is the polar opposite of China in almost every political and social endeavour. Where the United States has an open, liberal democracy, China is an authoritarian, one-party state; where the justice and social organisations of the United States swear fealty to the country’s Constitution rather than to a current administration or even to Congress, the equivalent government bodies are completely beholden to the Chinese Communist Party. Importantly, where the military of the United States also remains loyal to the Constitution, China does not have a military force in that sense at all: the military in China is an extension of the Chinese Communist Party.

Concurrent with China’s economic growth has been a parallel growth in nationalism, which has been, to a large extent, encouraged by the Communist Party. The Communist Party, which credits itself for the country’s economic, military and political progress and is at pains to ensure that that message permeates Chinese society in its entirety, thus ties itself to that progress. It does so for a simple reason: it has an implicit agreement with the Chinese people that runs along the lines of, “We will ensure your economic progress; in return, do not question our right to govern.” If the Communist Party is to remain in power, therefore, it must ensure China’s ongoing economic rise.

In the current international system that is, to a large extent, dominated by the tenets of globalisation; economic progress is almost inextricably intertwined with understated military might and political influence. While the concept has prevailed for centuries, it is more pronounced at this time, which has a flow-on effect on the international system. This paper will examine a part of that effect: China’s relationship with the United States in South Asia.

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