Posted on August 18th, 2019


China is seen as a rising military power with global ambitions. As China continues its economic and military ascendance, it seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and, ultimately global preeminence in the long-term said, analysts.

China with a navy second only to that of the US is an emerging superpower they said. China is investing in a broad range of military programs and weapons, modernizing its nuclear forces and conducting increasingly complex operations in domains such as cyberspace, space, and electronic warfare operations, in preparation.

China’s first concern is, of course, the South China Sea. China is developing a wide array of capabilities, which could be used to prevent countries from operating in areas near China’s periphery, including the maritime and air domains that are open to use by all countries, said observers.  In 2017 Chinese submarines called at a Malaysian port, showing that Chinese subs could operate in the southern extreme of the South China Sea.

But the real fear is Chinese expansion beyond the South China Sea, into the adjoining sea, the Indian Ocean. The most important occurrence in the Indian Ocean Region at present is the rise of China as a major power, said analysts in 2017. There is a very real fear that China is now planning to gain control of the Bay of Bengal.

China’s Navy came into the Indian Ocean around 2009, mainly to counter the piracy in the horn of Africa, which affected the world’s merchant marine fleet. That is now ending but the China navy is still present in the Indian Ocean, critics complained in 2017.  China has one of the world’s largest fleets of nuclear and conventionally powered submarines and in recent years China has sent them deep into the Pacific and Indian oceans.

The Chinese Navy has sent at least eight submarine missions since 2013 in the Indian Ocean Region, reaching up to Colombo and Karachi. Each of the missions lasted around a month. Backed by a regular ship, the deployments included nuclear as well as non-nuclear submarines. There was an alternating trend of sending a conventional submarine and a nuclear sub to follow it, reported the media.

Twelve Chinese naval units were operating in the Indian Ocean Region in 2017. These included Luyang class III destroyers, as well as Chongmingdao, the Chinese Navy’s submarine support for a submarine that was later docked in Karachi for replacement. In October 2018, a Chinese submarine was in the Indian Ocean Region for a month.”There are six to eight Chinese ships in the Indian Ocean Region at a time. This includes an anti-piracy escort force of three ships in the Gulf of Aden, analysts said in December 2018.”

India and China are rivals for power in the Bay of Bengal. China appears to be ahead. There is a simmering border dispute, between China and India, now extending to Kashmir as well, which China has refused to settle, knowing it held all the aces. But India’s newest ballistic missiles, Agni IV (successfully tested in 2014,) and Agni V, (successfully launched in 2015), has changed the equation. All major cities of China are now within the Indian missile range.  Agni VI is also on the way.

However, the main fight in the Bay of Bengal is between China and the USA, two countries that are nowhere near the Indian Ocean.  This is a fight for global power, though reasons given are about trade, the freedom of the seas and whatnot. The general idea at present is that the USA will win and chase China away because the USA is the superior military power. But experts warn that the US will be the world’s foremost economic and military power, only for a short time more. China will then take the lead.

But things are worse than that. Every advanced weapon in the U.S. arsenal, from Tomahawk missiles to the F-35 fighter jet to Aegis-equipped destroyers and cruisers and everything in between, is absolutely reliant on components made using rare-earth elements. These rare-earth elements are almost exclusively made in China. Alternative supplies of rare-earth ore abound, but China has a dominant position in the processed rare-earth products that the defense industry needs, said experts. Some highly processed rare-earth products, such as permanent magnets,     are made only in Japan and China.  But Japan’s rare-earth production is deeply enmeshed with China, and it cannot act as a substitute for China.

Therefore, if the United States gets into a conflict with China, China can determine the outcome of the conflict by controlling the supply of rare earths.  In fact, China has already threatened to cut off U.S. supplies of rare earths  (https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/06/11/how-china-could-shut-down-americas-defenses-rare-earth)

The USA is clearly spoiling for a fight with China. At the APEC summit meeting of 2018,   held in Papua New Guinea, there was an unusually sharp exchange of words between   China and the USA. There were speeches by Chinese President Xi Jinping and US Vice President Mike Pence, which appeared to represent competing bids for regional leadership, reported the media.

Pence warned smaller countries not to be seduced by China’s Belt-and-Road infrastructure programme. The loans come with strings attached and build up “staggering debt”, Pence charged, mocking the initiative as a “constricting belt” and a “one-way road”. He urged nations instead to stick with the United States, which doesn’t “drown our partners in a sea of debt” or “coerce, corrupt or compromise your independence”

Then Chinese President Xi Jinping took the stage. A cold war, hot war or trade war will produce no winners,” he told the crowd to hearty applause. Nobody should stop people in developing countries from pursuing a better life,” he added, before insisting that his signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a transnational trade and infrastructure network, was not a trap as some people have labeled it.”

Neither Xi Jinping nor Pence listened to the other’s speech, both of which were delivered from a conference room on a cruise ship moored in Port Moresby harbour. The tension between the two nations was also evident at the photocall for the 21 APEC member nations. XI Jinping was there, standing right next to the host,  the President of Papua New Guinea but Pence was noticeably absent from the shot. Xi Jinping has been the star of the show, reported the media, he was front and center at official photos.

Analysts have commented on the difference between the USA style and the Chinese style when it came to international relations. China’s method of controlling South Asia, and the rest of the world, is very different from that of the US, they said. While China offers carrots USA offers only sticks, said TIME.

While the US is concentrating on hard power in places such as Middle East  China is exploring soft power options in South Asia. China concentrates on economic diplomacy.  China is slowly but steadily expanding its economic presence in South and South-East Asia, through economic diplomacy, said analysts. In summary, China is using a steady progression of small, incremental steps in the “gray zone” between peaceful relations and overt hostilities to secure its aims, while remaining below the threshold of armed conflict. (Continued)

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