Chinese-Pakistani joint military exercise
"Greater China," which consists of China, Hong Kong , Macao and Taiwan, is becoming an increasingly integrated and powerful political unit. Hong Kong became part of China in July 1997; Macao in 1999. Taiwan is one of the biggest investors in China and most Chinese view Taiwan as an island province of China. In the year 2000 the gross domestic product of Greater China reached $9.8 trillion, exceeding $9.7 trillion GDP of the the United States the same year.

There are virtually no fences along China’s 20,000-kilometer-long border.China has solved border disputes with Russia, Mongolia, Vietnam and Myanmar but has work to do to settle its disputes with India.

These days, China is viewed in a more positive light by its Asian neighbors than it was in the past. It doesn’t seem so threatening or radical as it was under Mao and its economic might is viewed as an engine for the entire region. China has gone out of its way to settle old disputes and improve infrastructure with the countries it borders.

Wen Liao, chairwoman of the Longford Advisors, wrote in 2009: “The calculus behind China’s emerging national security strategy is simple. Without peace and prosperity around China’s long borders, there can be no peace and prosperity, and unity at home. China’s intervention in Sri Lanka, and its visibly mounting displeasure with the North Korean and Burmese regimes suggest this calculus has quietly become central to the government’s thinking.”

Many see the future of Asia as being shaped by the region’s big three---China, India and Japan---who are roughly equal in terms of economic and military strength. Each country is opportunistic and suspicions and lacks the ability to dominate the other two, thus creating a kind of system of checks and balances and preventing one country from totally dominating the region.

While the United States has been preoccupied with terrorism, Iraq and the Middle East---neglecting Asia---China has stepped up its presence in Asia, filling the vacuum.

China does not have a powerful navy and relies in the United States Navy to keep important shipping lanes, vital for its trade, around Asia open.

Good Websites and Sources: China and Southeast Asia, 2006 Library of Congress Report PDF file ; Comparative Connections ; Wikipedia article on the Spratly Islands Wikipedia ; Global Security on the Spratly Islands and South China Sea ; Wikipedia article on the South China Sea Wikipedia ; South China Sea Virtual Library South China Sea Virtual Library


Growing Resentment Towards China as the Bully of Asia

As China’s power and influence grows, resentment toward China and the Chinese also grows. During violent demonstration in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in the spring of 2010, after protesters torched the president’s office and other government buildings they then turned their attention to a Chinese-owned shopping mall, lootting, smashing and then burning it down. Local Kyrgyz industries have suffered as a result of cheap imports from China.

All across Asia, China is being seen as threat, thanks to its own efforts. Nothing underscores that better than the escalating diplomatic conflict between China and Japan over the detention of the Chinese fishing captain, Zhan Qixiong, by the Japanese authorities, who say the captain rammed two Japanese vessels around the Senkaku or Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. The islands are administered by Japan but claimed by both Japan and China.

China has called its claims on disputed maritime regions a “a core” issue of national sovereignty on par with Tibet, Taiwan and Xinjiang. The Chinese claim that islands in these regions claimed by other countries were stolen from China when China was weak and occupied by foreigners.

In a April 2010 survey of 30,000 people worldwide, 41 percent of respondents said they had a positive view of China and 38 percent said they had a negative view. In a similar poll in 2005, 49 percent of respondents said they had a positive view of China and 34 percent said they had a negative view.

Chinese officials and diplomats are increasingly being accused or arrogance towards non-Chinese as China’s stature as a world power grows. A senior diplomat from a developing country told Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria in 2010, “Chinese officials used to meet with us with a great sense of solidarity and warmth. Now they read us a list of demands.” Diplomats in Beijing complain that setting up meetings with senior officials is getting to be next to impossible. One told Zakaria, “People I used to see routinely now refuse to give me an appointment.”

Rajan Menon, a professor of political science at City College of New York, wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “India, Vietnam, Japan and Indonesia, the very countries that, no matter what they say to the contrary, are watching China's ascent with a mix of admiration and unease. By virtue of geography, these nations are also well positioned to join the United States in an encircling strategy. We're hardly at that point---China has plenty of carrots and sticks, and its neighbors are too smart to line up mechanically with the United States---but there are signs of nervousness.” [Source: Rajan Menon, Los Angeles Times, November 12, 2010]

“India and the United States, estranged for much of the Cold War, now talk of a "strategic" partnership. U.S. arms will soon start flowing to India. President Obama this week endorsed India's longtime quest for a seat on the U.N. Security Council. Over the last several years, India and Japan, which have had little to do with each other on matters of national security, have engaged in a security dialogue and, together with the United States, joint naval exercises. Washington has not merely mended its fences with Vietnam; it is systematically deepening ties with Hanoi. A shared concern about China is one reason for this. The ban on American arms sales to Indonesia (another country in which suspicions toward China run deep) has been lifted.” [Ibid]

China as a Military Threat in Asia

Many nations in Asia have traditionally been wary of China. In the past 50 years China has fought against Russia, India, Vietnam and South Korea. It has fired artillery shells at Taiwan, armed insurgents in Cambodia, Malaysia and Vietnam, and most likely supplied money to Communist rebels in Indonesia. In the old days, China was known foremost in the region for pushing Communism abroad, aggressively staking claims on the Spratly Islands and claiming to represent Chinese populations in other countries.

"In the U.S.'s judgement, China's military does not pose a threat, but that's not the view of China's neighbors," a U.S. Defense department official told the Washington Post. He cited military exercises near Taiwan, Chinese stubbornness over negotiation in Hong Kong and gunboat diplomacy with Vietnam over the Spartly Islands.

To address these fears, China signed an series of peaceful cooperation accords in 1994 in Moscow, Jakarta, Hanoi, Seoul and New Delhi.The trend has continued with Chinese leaders regularly visiting countries in Asia, welcoming leaders from these countries, attending regional meetings and signing a number of agreements.

But many are still worried about Beijing’s ambitions. China is taking measures to boost its control of maritime resources in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. It has enacted legislation to tighten control over islands within its territorial waters and is using those islands to extend its reach further out to sea and moving warships into these waters to show it is serious. Maritime resources are seen as key to maintaining growth and development. China is currently engaged in disputes over the Spartly Islands in the South China Sea with several countries and over islands in the east China Sea with Japan.

The United States is concerned that China might use its increased military clout to pressure its neighbors to move against Taiwan.

China as an Economic Threat in Asia

China has become a manufacturing threat to many Asian countries, not only in low tech areas but also in high tech fields and in industries like automobile manufacturing. China has taken away foreign investment from the other Asian countries and takes business away with its unlimited supply of cheap labor. China-bashing books fill bookstore shelves in Asia.

China has been able to undercut is neighbors in key export markets. Many of the sectors that China’s is doing well in---light industry, electronics, chip making---are sectors that other Asian countries had hoped to do well in but aren’t doing as well in as they hoped because of China. In the 1990s, China’s exports to the United States tripled while those of Japan fell by half and those of the four tigers’south Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore’shrank by a third.

Thailand and Malaysia took 10 years building the expensive, production base and infrastructure for a precision metalworks that could sell components to Swiss watchmakers. The Chinese took over the business in only a year.

More and more China is seen as a positive force as well as a negative one. It is proving to be a large buyer of goods produced by Asian countries and a source of foreign investment. China ran a trade deficit with Asia in 2003. It imported steel from South Korea and Japan used in construction and car making, imported basic commodities from Malaysia and Indonesia such as palm oil and oil and imported chips from Taiwan used to make products for export such as laptop computers and calculators. Chinese tourist are popping up all over Asia.

China is replacing the United States as the economic engine in Asia. It buys up huge amounts of raw materials, goods and parts and pour in large amounts of foreign investment. into its Asian neighbors. In 2002, China proposed setting up an Asian free-trade zone.

According to United Nations Development Program report issued in 2006: “China’s stunning economic growth, in so many was an inspiration to its Asian-Pacific neighbors isn’t delivering reciprocal benefits to its regional trading partners and in some cases is causing difficulties for them.” The report find that Asians least-developed countries are experiencing a “severe trade imbalance” with China. Cambodia for example imported $452 million worth of goods from China in 2004 but exported just $30 million. Bangladesh imported $1.9 billion worth of goods from China but exported just $57 million the same year.

Disputes in Asia Involving China Increase U.S. Influence

Rising frictions between China and its neighbors in 2010 over disputes about islands amd maritime territory in the South China Sea and the East China Sea have given the United States an opportunity to strengthen its position in east Asia that has been diminished in recent years by China’s rise, the U.S. Being bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and China’s efforts to draw it neighbors into its orbit. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, September 22, 2010]

Washington has thrown itself into the middle of heated territorial disputes between China and Southeast Asian nations despite stern Chinese warnings that it mind its own business. The United States is carrying out naval exercises with South Korea in order to help Seoul rebuff threats from North Korea. The tense standoff between Japan and China over a Chinese fishing trawler captured by Japanese ships in disputed waters is pushing Japan back under the American security umbrella. [Ibid]

The U.S. has been smart, Carlyle A. Thayer, a professor at the Australian Defense Force Academy who studies security issues in Asia, told the New York Times. It has done well by coming to the assistance of countries in the region. At an ASEAN meeting in September 2010 the U.S. said it would support other Southeast Asian countries said free navigation in the area was a U.S. “national interest” and called for a “code of conduct” be established for “legitimate claims in the South China Sea.” [Ibid]

Some Chinese military leaders and analysts see an American effort to contain China. Feng Zhaokui, a Japan scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said in an article on Tuesday in The Global Times, a populist newspaper, that the United States was trying to nurture a coalition against China. In August 2010, Rear Adm. Yang Yi wrote an editorial for The PLA Daily, published by the Chinese Army, in which he said that on one hand, Washington wants China to play a role in regional security issues. On the other hand, he continued, it is engaging in an increasingly tight encirclement of China and is constantly challenging China’s core interests. [Ibid]

Asian countries suspicious of Chinese intentions see Washington as a natural ally. In Japan, insecurity about China’s presence has served as a wake-up call on the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance, said Fumiaki Kubo, a professor of public policy at the University of Tokyo. [Ibid]

Central Asia and China

Central Asia is known to Chinese as Serinda. China has been very generous to the former Soviet states there, giving Kazakhstan a $10 billion loan when it was strapped for cash during the global recession in 2008 and 2009 and providing money for infrastructure protects in Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan.

China and the former Soviet countries Central Asia have agreed to forge stronger economic ties and combat terrorism together. Border disputes that date back to Soviet era have largely been ironed out.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is a regional security group for Central Asia that includes Russia, China and the Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan but not Turkmenistan. Dominated by Russia and China, the group was formed to fight terrorism and “protect regional security and stability.” Beijing is the group’s main backer

In April, 1996, China, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakstan and Russia signed a treaty aimed at maintaining peace in the region. The agreement stipulates that the "military forces of the five countries will not attack each other, will not conduct military exercises aimed at each other, plus inform each of scope of military exercises and keep friendly ties."

There is also a lot of resentment toward China in Central Asia. During violent demonstration in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in the spring of 2010, after protesters torched the president’s office and other government buildings they then turned their attention to a Chinese-owned shopping mall, lootting, smashing and then burning it down. Local Kyrgyz industries have suffered as a result of cheap imports from China.

Most Central Asian states are also said to have reservations regarding Russia's policy, due to the large number of ethnic Russians living in this “near abroad” area and their “cautious neutrality” also shows the growing influence of China in this traditional sphere of influence of the Russians.

Military, Counter-terrorism Exercises Involving the Central Asia Nations and China

In September 2003, Russia, China and the countries of Central Asia agreed to set up anti-terror bases in Uzbekistan and agreed to use the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a vehicle to fight terrorism and Islamic extremism and boost trade in the region. Troops from these countries held a series of military drills in the Xinjiang and Kazakhstan deserts. A military exercise in the Urals in August 2007, featured 6,000 troops from China, Russia and four countries of Central Asia.

In May 2011 security forces from China and two Central Asian neighbors---Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan---practiced hunting down violent separatists in a counterterrorism drill along a border area where ethnic Muslim rebels have staged attacks against Beijing's rule. The one-day exercise took place along Kyrgyzstan’s and Tajikistan’s borders with the western Chinese region of Xinjiang. [Source: AP, May 7, 2011]

The exercise was held near in Kashi, or Kashgar, an area of forbidding mountains and inviting oases that is the heartland of Uighur culture, and involved helicopters and hooded police with semiautomatic weapons rapelling down cliffs. The scenario called on the three countries to coordinate a manhunt for anti-China separatists who had set up a training camp on the Chinese side of the border, the China News Service said. Flushed out, the rebels hijacked a tourist bus that television footage showed black-suited tactical units storming, shattering the windows to get inside. Hardly far-fetched, the drill contained situations Chinese security forces have previously encountered in trying to quash the sporadically violent, decades-long rebellion by largely Muslim Uighurs seeking independence for Xinjiang, or what they call East Turkestan. [Ibid]

"This shows off China's professional counterterrorism combat forces," the Ministry of Public Security said in a statement posted on its website about the exercise. Those "'East Turkestan' terror forces ... have never stopped threatening us, have ceaselessly plotted violent terrorist attacks, have formed terrorist cells inside the country and are waiting for the opportunity to launch terror attacks." [Ibid]

The drill was the second in five years conducted in Xinjiang under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a grouping that is comprised of four Central Asian neighbors as well as Russia and China. Many member states have large Uighur populations. This past week, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan prevented at least five known Uighur activists from leaving to attend a gathering of Uighur exiles in Washington---in what rights groups said was a bow to Beijing's pressure. Officials told two of the activists in Kyrgyzstan that their trip would "harm Sino-Kyrgyz relations," the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress said. [Ibid]

According to a document revealed by Wikileaks: “The US confronted China on information it tried to pressure Kyrgyzstan to pull the plug on a US base, possibly due to a dispute over Guantanamo detainees.”. A US diplomat quoted Kyrgyz officials saying that China had offered $US3 billion dollars to close Manas air base, a key US conduit for the war in Afghanistan. US Ambassador Tatiana Gfoeller said she asked her Chinese counterpart, Zhang Yannian, about the allegations and that he became so flustered he briefly lost his ability to converse in Russian.”

South Asia and China

See India, Pakistan and China

China provided Sri Lanka with key funding---including free use of six fighters---that help it finally defeat the Tamil Tigers in 2009 after decades of war. In return China was permission to build a $1 billion container port and base in Hambantita, Sri Lanka to use to reload ships and as a docking and refueling station for its navy. The port is part of China’s “string of pearls” strategy in which China is building a series of bases on strategic shipping lines between east Asia and the Middle East that also includes bases and ports in Gwadar in Pakistan, Chittagong in Bangladesh and Sittwe in Myanmar.

Falun Gong Radio in Indonesia

Andrew Higgins wrote the Washington Post, “In a letter of protest, the Chinese Embassy asserted that Falun Gong headquarters in the United States ordered followers in Indonesia to Batam, an Indonesian island near Singapore, as a broadcasting base to “fulfill their plots” in Southeast Asia. The movement, it said, has a “growing tendency toward violence and terrorism.” Falun Gong has no record of terrorism and denied taking instructions or money from overseas. [Source: Andrew Higgins, Washington Post, August 5 2011]

Gatot Machali, the director of the station accused of being the broadcasting base, said he and two other Indonesians founded the station on their own initiative and with their own cash. It operates from a hilltop villa purchased by one of the founders, a businessman. Revenue from advertising is thin, but the station still employs seven full-time staff members.

A civil engineer who also runs a small construction company, Machali said he’s put about $11,000 of his money into the venture, Erabaru Radio, an unlicensed station that mixes pop music, news and fervent hostility to China’s ruling Communist Party. He is also the head of the Indonesian branch of Falun Gong, which had its application for formal registration rejected but hasn’t been banned. Machali said he never had much interest in China until he stumbled across a Falun Gong meeting in 2001. An immediate convert, he started doing breathing exercises, gave up booze, dumped his mistresses and stopped paying bribes. He also embraced the movement’s loathing for Chinese leaders, whom he now calls “evil thugs.”

Erabaru, or New Era, Radio broadcasts largely in Chinese, which is incomprehensible to most Indonesians, including Machali, but is understood by Batam’s community of ethnic Chinese and residents of nearby Singapore. Much of its daily programming avoids politics, but its news reports sometimes feature reports on Chinese repression of Falun Gong activists and others. It has also broadcast the group’s “Nine Commentaries,” a lengthy denunciation of the Chinese Communist Party.”If we just broadcast Falun Gong stuff all the time, it gets boring,” said Raymond Tan, one of the founders.

When the station first applied for a license in 2007, it got a preliminary thumbs-up from the Batam arm of the Indonesia Broadcasting Commission. But after Chinese diplomats protested, officials in Jakarta rejected the application. Agnes Widiyanti, director of broadcasting at the Communications Ministry, said Erabaru Radio lost out to other stations because it broadcasts largely in Chinese, in violation of Indonesian law. Erabaru paid no heed and kept on broadcasting. Fed up with the defiance, authorities raided its studios last year. Erabaru shut down for six days and then started up again.

Chinese Pressure on Falun Gong in Indonesia

In 2007, shortly after Indonesian followers of Falun Gong set up their radio station, Beijing’s embassy in Jakarta sent a stern letter to Indonesia’s government. Denouncing what it called an “evil cult” and a “tool for overseas anti-China forces,” the embassy urged Indonesia to pay “close attention to the matter” and “take measures” to halt the radio broadcasts so as to avoid upsetting relations with Beijing. [Source: Andrew Higgins, Washington Post, August 5 2011]

Machali got a leaked copy of the letter and laughed off China’s demand. “It was ridiculous,” he recalled. In 2011 he went on trial for illegal broadcasting, the climax of a long campaign by Indonesian authorities to shut down Erabaru Radio, The tiny station---still on the air despite a police raid on its studios, years of legal battles and the confiscation of transmitting equipment---stands at the center of some very big questions: How will a rising, authoritarian China use its clout, and how will other nations, particularly democracies including Indonesia, respond?

At a sentencing hearing in July 2011 in Batam, the prosecutor asked a panel of three judges to offer Machali a deal: He pays a modest fine of $5,800, gets a year’s probation and stays out of jail---so long as he abides by the law and stops what authorities view as unlawful broadcasting. Media advocacy groups in Indonesia and abroad accuse Jakarta of bowing to Chinese pressure. Indonesian officials deny this. “We have not been influenced in any way,” said . Widiyanti, the broadcast chief.

When China first demanded that Erabaru be shut down, however, Indonesia’s Home Affairs Ministry and other government departments held an urgent meeting to review and apparently endorse Chinese concerns, according to an official document presented in court last year during a separate legal action. The document, prepared by lawyers for the Home Affairs Ministry’s national unity and politics directorate, noted that Machali’s radio station “may disturb---make less harmonious---relations between Indonesia and China.” As a result, the directorate’s lawyers reported, authorities “have not given a broadcast license to Falun Gong in Batam or in any other area.”

Tempo, Indonesia’s leading newsmagazine, and newspapers have protested China’s role, as has a vice president of the European Parliament. That official, Edward McMillan-Scott, wrote to the Indonesian president that he was “deeply troubled” that China, a country “with such a poor human rights record could lobby and influence the Indonesian government to close down its own free domestic media.”

Image Sources: Landsberger Posters, Defence Talk

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2012

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