With the “Arab Spring” scenario unfolding in Ukraine, the USA is aiming at, among other things, driving a wedge between Russia and the EU, and we must recognize that they will succeed in doing this. It is no secret that Russia’s power rests on hydrocarbon exports. The primary consumer of Russian gas and oil is Europe, so the damage the Russian Federation would suffer from ruptured ties with Europeans can hardly be overestimated. The logical result of the current crisis in Western relations has been the formation of closer relations with China. It is believed that Russia requires approximately 3 to 4 years to reorient oil and gas flows to the East, and these is reason to believe that the USA will make every effort to prevent the consolidation of cooperation between Moscow and Beijing. It is very likely that in the near future the West will try to destabilize the situation in China, thereby weakening its two geopolitical rivals.
It should not be assumed, that due to the extremely close economic tries between the USA and PRC, characterized by the term “Chimerica”, the Americans will be unable to bring tumult to the Middle Kingdom. The rupture of relations between Russia and the EU is also costly for Europeans, as local entrepreneurs frequently remind European officials, but this has not deterred the latter from introducing new sanctions. Of course, this has been done under intense pressure from Washington, which has long been trying to impose a planned Transatlantic free trade zone on Europe, which is clearly not consistent with the interests of both Russia and China.
It should be noted that the topic of discussion is neither a direct confrontation or a cold war between the USA and PRC. But the West will certainly try to make life difficult for the Chinese, while officially distancing itself from this process, in order to avoid accusations of meddling in the internal affairs of another state and, as a consequence, invoking a response from Beijing. The main goal is to keep China occupied with its internal problems, in order to cramp its external ambitions. In addition, the destabilization of the region will force capital out of Asian markets in search of more quiet and secure financial havens, which the Unites States intends to provide.
The West has already begun to take preventive measures to protect itself from the negative effects of the deteriorating situation in the PRC. Recently, foreign companies have been withdrawing from China. Previously the transfer of industrial capacity to the Middle Kingdom allowed the USA and Western Europe to overcome the consequences of the economic crisis of the 70s. Today European and American corporations are building plants domestically or transferring their production to countries with lower labor costs such as Vietnam, Pakistan, Indonesia, India, or Bangladesh. Obviously, there are also objective reasons – manufacturing goods in China is becoming less profitable. But much of this lies in the hands of Western, primarily American, politicians. The withdrawal of foreign companies entails a further economic decline in China, which, among other things, complicates the employment situation, and consequently increases social tension.
Problems of a social nature, which are ample in the Middle Kingdom, may be used by external powers to destabilize the country. These are the same factors that were relevant in Arab countries and in Ukraine – the gap between rich and poor, corruption, and the lack of American-style democracy. To this list should be appended the environment, the state of which is without a doubt very poor in the PRC today, and has already served as the impetus for mass demonstrations ending in riots and confrontations with the police.
The uneven economic development of coastal and continental regions of China strongly affects the income level stratification of regional populations, which leads to an exacerbation of disagreements within Chinese society. It is worth remembering that this situation was one of the key internal problems that led to the collapse of Yugoslavia.
The frequent attacks, that are typically ascribed to Uighur separatists, do not contribute to social stability. But when incidents occur in southern provinces far from Xinjiang, and the perpetrators are ethnic Han, official statements are frequently received with skepticism.
The problem of separatism is not a new one for China. It is unlikely that the West is not using inter-ethnic conflicts within the PRC to its own ends. The “Arab Spring”, according to its American ideologues (it is worth noting that not everyone in the western leadership shared this idea), should have raised the tide of controlled chaos which afflicted the Caucasus and Central Asia, and struck a blow not only in the Muslim regions of Russia, but also appeared in Chinese Xinjiang. The stumbling block in this regard was Syria, over which Moscow and Beijing both took a categorical position, knowing full well that it represented a threat to them both. To compensate for the loss on the Syrian front, the Americans managed to accelerate a similar scenario in Ukraine, which was scheduled for 2015-2016. But despite turning to plan B, the civil war in Syria is still far from over. The unrest in neighboring Turkey should also be mentioned. In general, regardless of how events develop in the Middle East, the logical next step is a worsening situation in the countries of Central Asia (especially after the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan), which, in its turn, will have an impact on China’s sensitive Xinjiang province.
Tibet is another region that is traditionally considered to be unstable, which is fighting for its rights not without the West’s support. Tibet was used to annoy Chinese leadership leading up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. These and other development show that the West has the capability to influence the population of Tibet through Tibetan leaders and organizations scattered throughout the world. Today the forms of protect to which Tibetans resort are demonstrations and acts of self-immolation, but they have the potential to grow into full-scale rebellion, as they did in 1959. By the way, the Arab Spring also began with a self-immolation in Tunisia.
Less well-known from the perspective of separatist sentiments is the territory of Inner Mongolia. The indigenous population to these lands is not very fond of the Han, but the problem is that due to the PRC’s policy of ongoing resettlement of this region by Chinese, the population is less than 20% Mongol. Nevertheless, during the latest spat of unrest in the Middle Kingdom, there were attempts to create and independent (or semi-independent) state in Inner Mongolia. In addition, the call for unification with Outer Mongolia, which already has independence, may be used as a guide. Now the People’s Party of Inner Mongolia is fighting for the right of self-determination for Mongols in the PRC, the headquarters of which is located in Princeton, New Jersey, USA, where the organization was founded in 1997.
Recently Taiwan has experienced calls to declare independence from mainland China. Of course, the PRC and the Republic of China do in fact exist as separate sovereign states, but both Beijing and Taipei, each in its own way, will continue to insist on the unity of the Middle Kingdom. An official declaration of Taiwanese independence will severely damage Communist China’s image and would very likely force it to take decisive action, regardless of the cost. In the East it is dangerous to “lose face”, as you could lose power along with it.
After Crimea was united with Russia, a domestic fifth column and some Western experts began to actively promote the idea that the Crimean precedent could be used by China to separate the Far East from Russia. The main purpose of this claim is to influence public opinion, both in Russia and in China, and to thereby create additional obstacles on the path to rapprochements between Moscow and Beijing. In fact, Crimea is far from the first such instance, and precedents were made in Kosovo, Comoros, and other cases. On the whole this is a Western ploy to promote its own interests, and it is doubtful that China wishes to resort to such tactics. But there is no guarantee that such a scenario would not be implemented regarding China itself. Beijing hinted at this recently when during a recent visit by Xi Jinping to Europe, he was given a map of China from 1735 printed in Germany. As it turned out, the map lacked many areas that are officially considered to be integral and inalienable parts of the Middle Kingdom. Tibet, Xinjiang, Manchuria, and Inner Mongolia. It is difficult to imagine that the European higher officials and their aides did not know sensitive the Chinese are regarding ancient cartography. This was likely done deliberately in an attempt to put pressure on Chinese leadership and remind them of their own internal problems. However, on the Chinese Internet an entirely different map has been circulating, published in London in 1844, on which the Chinese state includes some lands that now belong to Russia. This naturally caused a wave of Anti-Russian sentiment in the Chinese blogosphere, which immediately drew the attention of Russian opposition, as well as foreign media.
It must be clearly understood that an alliance between Moscow and Beijing, in any form, would seriously complicated the West’s, and in particular the USA’s, task of maintaining its dominant position in the world. Therefore the destabilization of the situation around Russia and China, as well as within them, is a highly desirable and a much less expensive way to contain its geopolitical rivals, as opposed to direct confrontation or military conflict.
Roman Pogorelov, journalist, orientalist, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.