• brillopedia

CHINA’S MIDDLE KINGDOM SYNDROME: A HEGEMONIC ROAD TOWARDS EXPANSIONISM

Updated: Dec 3, 2020

By

Sakshi Soni, II year of B.A.,LL.B. from NMIMS, Indore


From China’s unending border disputes with every other nation to its Belt and Road Initiative to its strategic construction of ports (stretching from the Eastern China Sea to the Mediterranean) to its plan to unite the ports in the Middle East, East on the horn of Africa, Europe, Southeast Asia and East Asia under one common network - everything culminates into its clear intention of expansionism. They want to rule this entire planet through their political and hegemonic clout.


But the moot point remains why?

It is very important to contextualize China’s policy of utter expansionism on the global geopolitical scene, in relation, to its 2000 years old historical imagination of politico-economic glory; in which, China regarded itself to be the “centre of the world.” It is a classic case of glorification. Revivification of historic golden eras to influence contemporary phenomena hegemonically. And it sprouts from the rooted idea of establishing China as the centre of the world. Imagining it from the contours of Middle Kingdom Syndrome, this dominates or represents such a phenomenon.


In an attempt to dominate the global political and economic system, since the 1950s, China has steadily subverted the international institutions and its way of thinking - which works to establish peace and stability across the world. Its modus operandi is to support international institutions and agreements which agree with its principles but where it holds divergent views like human rights - it subverts and creates parallel models and institutions. [1]


Ancient China 221 BCE-1911CE

The name ‘China’ is derived from the name of the Chinese Qin Dynasty pronounced ‘Chin’.[2] In Mandarin Chinese, the country is known as ‘Zhongguo’ meaning “central state” or “middle empire”.[3] Since the time of Qin dynasty in 221 BCE, till 1911 CE ruled by Qing dynasty, China regarded itself to be the ruler of the world. A powerful exporter of the original goods and path-breaking technologies, China was the biggest and the most developed economy of the world. With its astonishing silk route and export of the goods such as silk, tea, compass, seismometer, along with the knowledge of paper and the printing process, China was the major exporting hub of the world during that time. Initially, China was divided into multiple independent states before being unified. The term ‘middle kingdom’ [4] was used to indicate the actual middle areas of these states during that time. With time, the term has undergone evolution to mean different things in a political and geographical perspective. During the 19th and 20th century, the term ‘middle kingdom’ used to describe the country as a single and powerful nation and was the reflection of the solidarity among the Chinese people. Imperial China, however, didn’t establish a military hegemony over the globe but projected an astonishing influence on Old World culture. Eventually, in the 19th century, the middle kingdom was dominated and humiliated by the rising western powers, the defeat in the opium war being the most telling. In 1911, Sun Yat Sen's vision to “revitalise the Chinese nation to its past glory” was miserably failed by the rising Japanese aggression in 1937 and further by a civil war which results into the division of the nation into “People’s Republic of China” under Mao Zedong and “The Republic of China” Taiwan under Chiang Kai- Shek.


Revolutionary China (1949-1976)

On October 1, 1949, Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong declared the creation of the people’ Republic of China (PRC)[5]. This announcement also ended the costly civil war between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)[6] and the Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT), which had been preceded by on and off the conflict between the two sides since the 1920s. There are plenty of reasons responsible for the rise of communism in China under Mao's leadership. First, the strong grassroots support and the influence of Communist Party in rural society because of their efforts in land reforms; Second, superior military organization and morale of the Red army; and third, years of corruption and mismanagement of Nationalist Government had eroded its support from the public.


In 1945, the leaders of both the sides, Chiang Kai-shek (supported by the US) and Mao Zedong met for a series of talks on the formation of the post-war coalition government. However, these efforts completely failed in 1946 when the full-fledged civil war broke out between both the groups. In October 1949, Mao Zedong finally succeeded in the establishment of the PRC and his ‘Red Terror’ and Chiang Kai- Shek and his force fled to Taiwan. However, the victory of Communism and ‘fall’ of mainland China in 1949, resulted in the suspension of all the diplomatic relations between the US and PRC. Until the 1970’s the United States and the whole world continued to recognize the Republic of China, as China’s real government. Aggrieved at the recognition of Taiwan in the UN, China created an alternate international system of “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence” which we in India understand as “Panchsheel”. In 1971, PRC was selected as a permanent member of the United Nation Security Council and this enabled China in its rapid development and made it acceptable to many nations.


Rising China

After the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, China’s economy under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping opened up to the world which ultimately made it a superpower. Deng’s major economic reforms in the late 1970s and early 1980s boosted China’s growth in its initial phase of shaping its economy. During this period China also joined the international finance organisation, including the International Monetary Fund. However, the ‘Red Terror’ of China was again witnessed by the world in 1989, when a democracy protest at Tiananmen Square in Beijing was brutally put down. The incident was condemned by the rest of the world and to build its global image, PRC in early 1990’s embraced more integration with the international organisation responsible for keeping the “Rule-based order” around the world. In the first decade of 21st century, China behaved according to global norms and standards but as its economy grew, it signalled its plan to regain the lost glory of it being the “Middle Kingdom.”


Revivification Middle Kingdom: Expansion of Red Dragan’s Clout

In 2002, Hu Jintao, a technocrat, came into power for the next ten years. During his reign, China openly challenged international norms and regulations. Hu Jintao claimed non-negotiable sovereignty over the South China Sea till the “nine-dash line” based on a 1947 map. This impinged on the territorial integrity of all states of the South China Sea, besides challenging the “Right of Passage” international norm for maritime shipping[7]. To strengthen its power and claim, it builds military bases on disputed islands. By 2010, the world witnessed the strength of China’s economy and its military power and its growing ambition to influence global governance. Under the reign of its Paramount Leader Xi Jinping, China called for a multipolar world, challenging the hegemony of the US and the west. In its attempt to revive its “Middle Kingdom” persona, China launched the Belt Road Initiative (BRI), a vast project of linking 138 countries and 30 international organisations to China. Jinping in his quest for world dominance provided loans to the member countries most being from the third world on opaque terms which resulted in the debt trapped nations. In the present international politics, the table has turned and the faded Asian giant is coming back on the global geopolitical scene. On October 18, 2017, on the occasion of Nineteenth Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, ‘emperor’ Xi Jinping made a call for “a new era” where the nation would enter the international arena as a “leading global power.”[8] China’s establishment of its first overseas military base in Djibouti and its growing interference in Nepal, Myanmar, Pakistan, recently against India, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and even in the happy Kingdom of Bhutan is a threat for world politics. China has started to treat the regional countries as its virtual sphere of influence and the states are unwilling to take on ‘powerful’ China.


Modern China has become a dominated nation across the world since 2000. Its dominance of the pharmaceutical industry, renewable energy technology, global wireless communication has spread its influence around the world. The lack of strong voices against Beijing in international forums especially in the UN and in WHO is acting as an appeasement for China. Chinese telecom giants such as Huawei nearly have a monopoly in supplying equipment for telecom industries throughout the globe. Even when it is well known that the Chinese telecom equipment is continuously breaching the nation's security and yet, it is often sacrificed by these countries to fulfil their vital need for a faster and a more efficient network in this technology centre world. Its growing tendency of neglecting International norms in global governance in recent Taiwan elections, increasing domination in South China sea and introducing controversial new security laws in Hongkong, despite worldwide condemnation. The silence of the Global community including India over China’s increasing hegemonic and aggressive attitude stands testimony to the revival of the Middle Kingdom.



[1]‘Revival of the Middle Kingdom’- By Col RN Ghosh Dastidar published on Jul 16, 2020

[2] ‘Ancient China’- By Joshua J. Mark published on Dec. 18 2012

[3] http://ancientcivilizations.azurewebsites.net/Articles

[4]The term was also used as a reference to the culturally significant regions which were located along the valley of the yellow river.

[5] History.state.gov/milestone/1945-1952/Chinese rev

[6]Inspired by the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Communist Party was founded in 1921 in Shanghai on the principles of Marxism-Leninism.

[7]Indiandefencereview.com/revival of the middle kingdom

[8]harvardpolitics.com/world/the road to the middle kingdom