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Communist China's Expansionism

Demas is a professional author and freelancer. He published and edited two newspapers. He is a historian and graduate of the Univ. of NH.

Three Decades Ago And A Quick Modern Look

There are lands to the west of modern day China (PRC).  How far west will their interests drive them?

There are lands to the west of modern day China (PRC). How far west will their interests drive them?

Background For Communist China's Expansionism

In1987 Paul Kennedy was the Dilworth Professor of History at Yale University and author of the excellent book The Rise And Fall Of The Great Powers.

This is a portion of what he wrote about China at that time (from Page 447): "The competing claims of weapons modernization, the people's social requirements, and the need to channel all available resources into 'productive' nonmilitary enterprises is nowhere more pressing than in the People's Republic of China (PRC), which is simultaneously the poorest of the major Powers and probably the least well placed strategically. Yet if the PRC suffers from certain chronic hardships, its present leadership seems to be evolving a grand strategy altogether more coherent and forward looking than that which prevails in Moscow, Washington, or Tokyo, not to mention western Europe. And while the material constraints upon China are great, they are being ameliorated by an economic expansion which, if it can be kept up, promises to transorm the country within a few decade."

When Professor Kennedy concluded his book's 12 pages of PRC commentary, he quoted a contemporary article from The Economist: "For [China's] military men with the patience to see the [economic] reforms through, there is a payoff. If Mr. Deng's plans for the economy as a whole are allowed to run their course, and the value of China's output quadruples, as planned, between 1980 and 2000 (admittedly big ifs) then 10 to 15 years down the line the civilian economy should have picked up enough steam to haul the military sector along more rapidly. That is when China's army, its neighbors and the big powers will really have something to think about."

Professor Kennedy concluded his 1987 analysis with these words: "It is only a matter of time."

Bringing Us Up To Date

From the publication of those observations to the end of 2019, the economy of the PRC not only quadrupled from a GDP of $273 billion, but grew to an estimated GDP at the end of 2019 of $14.34 trillion, and $15 trillion by January 1, 2021, or 54.95 times their GDP at the end of 1987.

By contrast, the GDP of the USA at the end of 1987 was humming along at $4.855 trillion, and at the end of 2019 was still strong at $21.733 trillion, with the PRC still closing the gap rapidly. COVID-19 affected both countries, possibly more so in the USA.

Over the course of those years the PRC increased its military budget from less than $4 billion to considerably more than $178 billion by the end of 2020 which did not include major sales of military equipment, especially to Pakistan another nuclear armed neighbor hostile to India with whom the PRC has had its own confrontations.

The PRC teaches its youth and reminds its adults of aggression and atrocities from Japan in World War II. It fought against United Nations forces which were primarily United States military in the Korean War. The USA used Japan, Okinawa, and Guam as staging areas in support of those troops.That war ended only in a truce when U. S. President Eisenhower threatened to use nuclear weapons, if a truce would not be agreed to.

Historically China glories in its past. It's very name means The Middle Country or kingdom. It refers to a time when China had dominance throughout Asia...except for Japan.

Lookng at more recent events in Asia, the PRC and the Soviet Union aided North Vietnam in the Vietnam War with weapons and advisors, but the PRC has had confrontations with postwar, unified Vietnam even though both practice their own forms of communism.

Nearby Laos has had a long history of Chinese aggression dating back to the giant jars on its Plain of Jars. In Laos too, during the Vietnam War, the PRC and the Soviet Union sent advisors and material support to the communist Pathet Lao insurgency.

More recently, in its "good neighbor policy", the PRC has reached strategic agreements in Laos for major rail and road construction from China through Laos to the Lao border with Thailand which has its own major transportation routes southward.

In addition to Pakistan, the PRC has also cultivated close relations with the military in Myanmar (formerly Burma), and has done little to nothing in support of the world's condemnation of that country's military's persecution of its Rohingya people.

Similarly the PRC has persecuted its own ethnic muslim Uighur people out of apparent concerns that they might become domestic terrorists at some future time.

The PRC is presently the largest financial backer of their "New Silk Road" project to follow the historic Silk Road and link the PRC with western Europe, based on PRC President Xi Jinping's 2013 proposal to its neighbors of the “One Road, One Belt” initiative. China’s stated aim was to achieve $2.5 trillion in additional annual trade with the nations along the proposed routes by 2025.

Economic commentary prepared by the World Economic Forum and published by the "Financial Times" in late September 2015 summarized the project this way: "Currently, China is carrying the lion share of the investment. In return, Asia’s leading economy expects significant stimulus for its market and favourable ties with countries along the belt.The private sector will leverage the potential and increase investments proportional with the improvements in infrastructure and processes. If successful, the reboot of the ancient Silk Road will without doubt bring additional growth opportunities to business and nations, and provide also better access to no less than 66% of the world's middle class, which is expected to live in China by 2030."

Fortunately the Chinese view of their history may not actually yearn for the glories of the Mongol Empire which conquered areas north, south, east, and west of China from the Sea of Japan and southeast Asia, as far north as Finland, as far south as areas of India and the Iranian Plateau, and west to Poland and Hungary before its final demise in or about the year 1368.

Or, is it even conceivable that the PRC aspires to be greater than the Mongol Empire, in the same way that Hitler aspired to be far greater than the Roman Empire?

Scroll to Continue

As Professor Paul Kennedy wrote in 1987, "It is only a matter of time." Surely time will tell us all of the PRC's secrets one day.

Oceans are no longer the barriers they were in the days of the Mongol Empire, and today's PRC is investing heavily in the modernization of its naval forces.

Oceans are no longer the barriers they were in the days of the Mongol Empire, and today's PRC is investing heavily in the modernization of its naval forces.

© 2021 Demas W Jasper


CHRIS57 from Northern Germany on February 05, 2021:

With due respect, i don´t see China´s military spending to be much of a threat. Even adjusted to PPP relative spending is way lower than any percentage of any NATO member.

But as i said, Chinese culture is different to ours. Only if we impose our way of thinking to China, of course we would expect the darkest implications. But that is how we think. If we behave like predators, that does not mean others do.

With regard to my comparison to the jellyfish: I have no doubts being allowed into the country. Having said this, my personal experience with restrictions was of different nature. A little anecdote:

While i was working for a German company in one province, i was teaching at a university in another province. All went fine until the German company was bought by a Chinese investor. The Chinese investor treated everything happening in the other province to be competitive and had me cease my teaching job. By now i am retired an i resumed my teaching, but this anecdote reflects that China is not a monolitic block. There is fierce competition and power struggle between the provinces and between provinces and central government.

The delayed reaction to Covid19 in late Dec.2019, beginning of 2020 reflects the power play between Hubei province administration and Beijing. Sending troops to Wuhan was not only to enforce lockdown but to demonstrate who is in charge.

As always, i try to comment only, if i can personally relate to and evaluate events and situations.

Demas W Jasper (author) from Today's America and The World Beyond on February 04, 2021:

The question I posed is "What is the PRC's definition of their modern successful achievement?" Is it to outdo their ancient rule as the largest, continguous land empire? Simply feeding their people and keeping THEM subdued, may not explain why they choose to have such a large military, and build aircraft carriers of their own. I hope your response about jellyfish does not make you persona non grata for any desired future visits.

CHRIS57 from Northern Germany on February 04, 2021:

Interesting assessment on the Chinese development in recent decades.

I have frequently visited the PRC for more than 25 years. I have seen the economic development from ox-carts on the expressways (while being involved in the three gorges project in the 90ties) to green (electric car) licence plates in the cities of today.

China has come a long way since Deng Xaoping initiated reforms. Today much of the near coast population has caught up to living standards in the western world. More is still to come.

In my understanding the Chinese take on political power on the international stage is totally different from our (western) thinking. Let me explain: The only western predator left is the USA. The USA behaves like a wolf, who marks and controls his territory (what else are aircraft carrier groups good for?). The Chinese approach is more like a jelley fish. The jelley fish moves his body over the prey and slowly dissolves and assimilates everything of use.

When China is promoting international projects like the New Silk Road, this is to help prosper their own population. May be a vain statement and self explanatory, but the real fear of the Communist party is to not being able to satisfy the hunger for prosperity of their people.

The confucian philosophy is two way. Those down in the line of hierachy are expected to follow the rules. Those on top are expected to take care of their people. If this "contract" is broken, the real trouble starts and this is what Xi and his administration are afraid of.

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