The challenges to China’s national rejuvenation – part three: the lure and threat of Central Asia

International security Relations with China World politics Central Asia China Indo-Pacific Region

As the first part of this paper showed, China’s planned 'dual-circulation economy', its strategy to reduce its overwhelming economic dependence on exports to fickle Western markets by increasing domestic consumption, is at heightened risk of failure due to its falling birth rates. That strategy is also predicated on the manufacture of high-value goods, such as semiconductors. By manufacturing semiconductors in large volumes, China could become the global hegemon in that field, thereby allowing it to influence those countries that have a greater dependence on semiconductors, i.e., the richer developed countries in North America, Western Europe and Asia. That endeavour is also at heightened risk of failure. Beijing’s challenges are compounded by its hubris, mercenary approach to commerce and overall aggressive behaviour, which is evident around the world. The Western countries on which China is dependent for its exports are now hardening their individual stances against it. They have not only issued statements that reject China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, for instance, but now join the US in conducting “freedom of navigation” operations within that body of water by sailing their warships through it, as the second part of this paper showed.

China’s relationships with Japan, South Korea and the Philippines have deteriorated, just as they have with India and Australia. Beijing recognises that those countries could combine with the US to curb its ability to use the South China Sea, or provide basing and logistical support to the US, or both. That situation would prevent China from importing its sea-borne energy requirements and exporting its manufactured goods to its remaining markets, thereby curbing its ability to wage war. China would be hard-pressed to secure the East and South China Seas, let alone the wider Indo-Pacific region, forcing its navy to play a defensive role within those seas. Beijing, therefore, needs to be able to access its energy sources from Turkmenistan and Iran via overland routes that run through Central Asia, and to export its manufactured goods along them. Beijing needs to securitise those routes, however, requiring it to extend its influence over Central Asia. That objective could face some severe challenges.

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