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China’s Regional Influence

An Emerging Superpower

The rapidly developing Chinese industrial machine is increasingly influencing the Asian-Pacific region, forcing smaller surrounding nations to take notice.

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As an emerging superpower, China, which plays a tremendous role in Asia and the Eastern Pacific region, has been working to change its image. Over the last few decades, improved relations with neighboring countries have created an abundance of wealth for smaller nations and fostered increased dependence on the growing Chinese economy.

Australia

China and Australia have maintained close ties and reached bilateral agreements in trade and energy. China remains Australia’s third-largest trading partner and is the second-largest export market. Since the two economies are extremely compatible, both countries achieved a 30% growth in trade since 2006. In fact, relations are so strong that international energy are encouraging Australia to influence China to reorganize their energy systems and infrastructure.

During a lecture tour in Australia, Professor Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute at Columbia University commented in The Canberra Times that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd should be involved in helping China become more “environmentally friendly.”

“China is an economic powerhouse right now and the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide,” he said. “…And one of the key roles that I think Prime Minister Rudd can play, especially given his expertise in China as well, is to help broker an understanding with China...that brings China on board in a responsible way.”

India

India and China are mutually developing into two of the most powerful rising world players, rivaling the United States and other Western nations. Yet both nations have impoverished populations.

Friendlier Ties Between China and Taiwan?

Despite a long and tumultuous history, China and Taiwan are making progress toward repairing a relationship that once destabilized the Asiatic region. Recent political advancements, which benefit both nations, also play to China’s desire to obtain a starring role on the world stage as a modern superpower.

While China has expressed sentiments of “One China for Asia”—meaning a reconstitution with breakaway peoples—Taiwan struggles for independence and has previously depended on international support to maintain their sovereignty. Involvement by the United States has only served to raise the stakes in an already tense situation with China, but now Taiwan seems to be on the brink of revitalizing its relationship with its much larger neighbor through tourism and trade. Perhaps political reconciliation is in sight.

Conflict Throughout the Decades

In 1949, the Chinese communist movement drove the Nationalist Party off China’s mainland, where the Nationalists, or Kuomintang (KMT), regrouped to the island of Formosa and governed what eventually became Taiwan.

The communist movement—the People’s Republic of China (PRC)—saw this as a great victory that ensured economic flexibility and agricultural prosperity for Chinese citizens. Uniting under a banner of modernizing the nation, this new communist power bloc sought to remove any traces of the previous political party.

As a result, over two million native Chinese who supported the KMT fled to Taiwan, mixing with natives of the island, and reestablished their party. The tiny island, only 14,000 sq. miles would later grow to a major industrial and economic power supporting over 22 million people.

The KMT established a governmental system that loosely resembled the U.S. They began to view themselves as an independent nation able to govern itself, free from Chinese influence, and capable of creating a powerful economic and industrial engine.

After the PRC drove the Kuomintang from the mainland, it refused to recognize the island’s independence, insisting that it was a breakaway province. This disagreement built resentment between the peoples—a contention that grew even more when U.S. military aid arrived during North Korea’s invasion of South Korea in 1950. American military presence on Taiwan alarmed Beijing. Determined to defend Taiwan’s fledgling democracy, the U.S. supported the island with military installments, which were withdrawn only after Taiwan’s expulsion from the United Nations in 1971.

International Tensions

Since then, the United States has provided support for Taiwan and as a result, China has actively worked to build a military deterrent from this perceived threat, purchasing weapons and developing a strong military.

Beijing claims that the U.S., by selling and distributing weapons to Taipei, is in violation of the Sino-U.S. communiqué of August 17, which states, “...there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China.” Therefore, dealing with Taiwan is a Chinese domestic issue and any outside interference by the United States is disrupting internal affairs and potentially destabilizing the region. Conversely, the U.S. cites the Taiwan Relations Act, which states they have the ability “to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character,” not recognizing the island as a breakaway nation from China but as an autonomous nation.

In March 2008, the tensions worsened when a shipment of nose cone fuses for intercontinental ballistic missiles appeared in a shipping warehouse in Taiwan. The package was supposed to contain helicopter batteries, but instead were components of strategic nuclear “Minutemen” missiles. (Michael Wynne, the U.S. Secretary of the Air Force, discovered the crates and immediately released a statement claiming there were no nuclear or fissile materials in the shipment.)

International interference and an ongoing struggle for independence only serve as a setback to potential reconciliation. While both parties are determined to achieve their goals, a ridged adherence to past grudges ensures friendly relationships cannot be achieved. It takes someone to offer a solution benefitting both parties before there can be cohesion in the region once again.

Taiwan’s Future

Born on the Chinese mainland, Taiwan’s newly elected President Ma Ying-jeou, who graduated from Harvard Law School, was once mayor of Taipei. With a culturally diverse background, many believe he is best able to reunite the breakaway island and the mainland. Since becoming president, Mr. Ma has been reinvigorating the travel and tourism industries to promote Taiwanese and Chinese relations, hoping that regional prosperity will ease tensions among the nations and encourage peaceful but separate development.

However, the long record of man’s history has proven that despite his best intentions, he is unable to successfully address long-term problems between nations. While situations are temporarily improved, man has never been able to bring the lasting solutions they promise. To find out more regarding why and how these solutions will come, read our booklet How World Peace Will Come!

India still maintains the highest illiteracy rate in the world, making mobilization of their huge workforce difficult.

Similarly, China faces a manpower problem since less than one-fifth of its workforce is employed in manufacturing—the necessary field to sustain a growing economy. More than 50% of the nation’s laborers are peasants, sustained only by farming, and who live just barely above the poverty line.

Both Indian and Chinese markets complement each other, allowing them to quickly develop as favorable trade partners without significant effort. China is expanding in areas of manufacturing and management, while India is exploding in precision manufacturing and software design—enabling investors to capitalize on quality design and cheap manufacturing in close proximity. In 1990, trade between the two nations totaled $260 million. By 2003, this was up to nearly $7.6 billion!

In addition, bilateral talks have continued regarding security and trade since 2000. Both nations have discussed the benefits of cooperative development in these two sectors. Due to their complimentary markets, both nations enjoy rapid growth without having to provide economic stimulus to encourage trade with one another but allow natural development. This has been their largest indicator of future growth.

According to a study by the Federation of Indian Micro and Small and Medium Enterprises, individual economic growth rates for each nation are around 32% annually, but trading between these two has almost doubled to 50%. This has led many international economists to project that India and China will eclipse the European market by mid-century.

Japan

With the 2008 Olympics approaching, China has been reaching out to surrounding nations with bilateral agreements and peace talks.

Recently, China’s President Hu Jintao visited Japan to express his readiness to work with the Japanese, presenting a five-point proposal aimed at strengthening ties between the nations. Since then, they have agreed to increase national development. However, no binding plans are in place.

With a long adversarial history of competition and aggression, relations have been tense between Japan and China, particularly in the wake of the atrocities committed by Japan during World War II. China claims Japan never apologized for committing horrendous war crimes against civilian Chinese. This claim was confirmed in the minds of the Chinese when former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi attended several ceremonies in Japan honoring fallen Japanese soldiers of the Second World War, including several class-A war criminals at the Yasukuni-jina Shrine.

However, in late June 2008, China agreed to let one of Japan’s warships dock at a port in Zhanjiang, in the Guangdong province—the first time a Japanese warship docked in a Chinese port since WWII. This symbolic event was hailed as a monumental step forward in Sino-Japanese relations.

Despite such a well-intentioned maneuver, the Japanese have expressed concern over the last two decades about Chinese military build-up. This alarm became heightened in 2007 when China increased its military budget by 10%. Tokyo has called on Beijing for a formal declaration for the increase.

Ultimately, Japan’s overtone toward China is non-aggressive, though Japan continues to look to the United States to bring international pressure on the Chinese military.

Philippines

Despite land disputes in the Nansha Islands over security in the South Sea, relations between these countries have been favorable. The last dispute, in 1985, was shelved by Filipino and Chinese leaders in favor of pursuing options of “peace and security” while recognizing UN international law in governing maritime disputes.

In the last 20 years, the Philippines has invested considerable resources in China’s booming economy. In early 2002, Philippine contracted investment reached $325 million. By the end of that year, this increased to $3.18 billion. This compares to China’s Filipino contractual investment of $180 million.

With heavy investments in the Chinese economy, the Philippines is also dependent on the Chinese agricultural market for support. In 2000, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture agreed to loan the Philippines $100 million in aid for food. Later in 2003, a large Chinese agricultural project planted across the Philippines massive quantities of fine Chinese hybrid rice to support the growing Filipino population.

Thailand

In 1975, China was the first country on the UN Security Council to establish friendly ties with Thailand. Since then, China and Thailand have enjoyed favorable relations.

Thailand has welcomed Chinese influence in their country through competitive trade and an active role in the Asia Cooperation Dialogue, which seeks to align Asiatic sub-regions under one voice. Thailand also supports the “One China for Asia” movement, which seeks to realign breakaway provinces under Chinese control.

In early July 2008, the prime minister of Thailand, Mr. Samak Sundaravej, visited Beijing to discuss trade and to expand strategic cooperation with President Hu Jintao. Both governments expressed their continued desire to serve as a model for other Asiatic nations.

Vietnam

Economic development has overshadowed a bloody past between the communist governments of China and Vietnam. Chinese military action against the Vietnamese throughout the 1970s and 80s only recently subsided with several normalization acts in 1993. These paved the way for better relations, including settling boundary claims and ancient territorial disputes.

With this groundwork in place, China has been able to become the premier trading partner with Vietnam. Promoting diverse activities within the tourism industry and shared learning programs among academies, both have started transferring interns and students across borders to collaborate on ideas relating to national identity, governmental parties and socialist development. Vietnam exports $3 billion in goods to China, while importing over $7 billion in produced goods. Due to bilateral trade agreements, Vietnam’s trade volume is up 42% over the previous year. Even in the wake of the worldwide food crisis, this trading is not expected to slow. In conjunction with its strong trade ties to China, Vietnam hopes to raise total trade volume to $15 billion, over the existing $10 billion, by 2010.

The economic incentives for cooperation between China and the Eastern Pacific countries are undeniable. While in many cases there were bloody historical conflicts between China and its neighbors, they are finding economic gain by eliminating old grudges. This in turn has helped the Chinese in achieving goals of improving their image and becoming a much greater player on the world stage.


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