Challenging Chinese Expansionism through Economic Partnerships

With a history of territorial disputes, China’s renewed jurisdictional claims and a military build-up have led to clashes and tension with other nations in the region. Though there have been demonstrations of military force from more than one state, with Chinese military capability unrivaled in East and South Asia, there is no clear intention of any violent escalation of territorial interactions. The trend of Chinese regional aggression must be confronted with a collective response of economic incentivisation to bring greater cooperation and security to the Asia Pacific region. Collective actions should avoid appeasement of China, as kowtowing has its own dangerous implications for regional security and the economic environment. Asian states must come together to cull Chinese regional hostility with fiscal incentives and threats of commercial isolation; aiming to balance power against China’s growing influence.

Though non-interference and diplomatic emphasis on sovereignty are key components of Chinese political philosophy, Beijing fickly employs these ideals only when it is commercially and politically convenient. China’s Machiavellian determination to establish regional superiority through military and resource domination initiatives, has demonstrated flagrant disregard for territorial borders and political implications. China’s robust drive for resource domination is reaching a tipping point, which calls for a unified response to staunch the flow of Chinese expansionism. Though a militant “rise” of China has sparked a regional arms race, peace would be best served by shaping Chinese cooperation through economic over military shows of force.  

Despite contention with other states over territory, China asserts primacy through military showmanship, which has escalated in recent years with minimal resistance. Contested areas of both the Senkaku and Spratly Islands lie among strategic international shipping lanes, fishing areas, and potential energy resources like mineral and oil deposits. China’s assertion of preeminence fits well with the nation’s push for resources, arguing for historical hegemony through military compellence. Policies of international condemnation and unenforceable legal objections have led to continued Chinese development and control over areas of strategic importance. As China’s military is now unequaled, the region may move toward continued collective maintenance of a status-quo that favors Chinese possession over legal rights. A policy of appeasement could de-escalate tension in the short term and may save the region an immediate military conflict, but it is an unsustainable solution which fails to address the security and economic implications for neighboring states. History has shown that appeasement of dominating powers leads to further liberties taken. The time for appeasement is over.  

Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Brunei all share contest with China over territory in the South China Sea. Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Japan, and South Korea are also affected by disrupted maritime routes, compromised regional security and increased Chinese militarization of international and sovereign air and sea. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has shown weak response to enforce a collective opposition to Chinese actions, let alone officially make a statement. However, efforts could be renewed and redirected to emphasize military de-escalation and threat of isolation if China refuses to adhere to new regional security norms.

Though previous attempts for a formal trade agreement between ASEAN and the EU fell short, there have been calls for renewal of talks which could be used to support a stronger stance against Chinese militancy. As the EU has previously taken stronger actions in response to Russian aggressions, the EU could now support Asian initiatives in response to China. As of now, the only true commercial agreement spanning East and South Asia remains the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA). Perhaps it is time for a new APTA framework to be implemented that supports the collective, against single-state impositions. As discussions in the United States about a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) remain controversial, if implemented, conditions of the Partnership could be influential in shaping regional de-escalation and territorial equity. If signed, some models predict the TPP would cause GDP loss to China, and would bring regional partners of the agreement further independence. This could serve as a deterrent to Chinese actions, and be an opportunity to frame regional containment.  Whether through existing agreements or combining new forces, regional cooperation and resolve to act remains the most crucial factor in keeping Chinese regional imperialism at bay.