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Can Pax Sinica be a New Reality?

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Simply put, Pax Sinica means the world order dominated by China. Just like Pax Romana existed from around 0 AD – 200 AD, Pax Britain from the 18th century and Pax Americana after the 2nd World War.

This brings a number of questions to mind. To begin with, whether we will witness Pax Sinica at all? And does China have the willingness and capacity to make it happen? Can Chinese model be sustainable? What consequences Pax Sinica will have? And how India should prepare for these changing power equations?

Is Pax Sinica Possible? & Sustainable?

Samir Saran, in his book Pax Sinica puts forth five points to establish that China is, in fact on its way to be the next superpower. 

1) Xi Jinping has been declared as a ‘leader for life’ by the 19th National Congress of CCP. 

2) China’s relationship with Russia is growing. Russia sees China as a counter-force against the USA, while China seeks inroads in Europe through Russia. 

3) There is growing divergence between Indo-China. The border issues are not yet settled and their geopolitical interests are in conflict with each other. 

4) China’s BRI is dominating Asia and has penetrated Europe. Italy became the first G7 country to sign a BRI agreement with China.  

5) The response of the USA, the existing hegemon, to China has been nothing but clumsy. Be it arrest of Huawei CFO, a brief trade war, or the response to COVID 19 crisis.

Xi Jinping has expressed China’s willingness to lead the economic world order in many international fora. China has even begun the process by creating alternative financial institutions like NDB and AIIB. And all these surely point to the growing might of China. 

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However, some scholars argue that the Pax Sinica is never possible. And even if China is on the way to become a military and economic superpower, it can never become a hegemon.

First of all, China does not enjoy a soft power like the USA. Pax Americana was successful not only because of the military and economic might of the USA, but also because it was assisted by the appreciation for American way of life. Chinese model, based of non-democratic values, can never capture the imagination of people from other countries. 

Further, after the 2nd WW and eventual collapse of USSR, the USA was not just a superpower, but also, the only superpower. Same does not hold true for the present situation when the world is already multipolar and the nuclear weapons have made the previous power equations irrelevant.

China’s chequebook diplomacy is also not a sustainable approach. It can be used only against non-democratic and small states. And even in such places, we are witnessing rebuff. Maldivian president Mohammed Soli already has expressed desire to pull out of FTA and similar discussions are going on in Sri Lanka for Chinese projects. A country with strong democratic values can never fall prey to Chinese diplomacy.

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Implications of Pax Sinica

China has proclaimed many times that it will strive for rule based world order. But nobody knows the ‘rules’ China asks for. It is questionable that the country which cannot ensure human rights of its own citizens pose itself as a world leader.

The BRI has created heavy and sometimes unsustainable investments in smaller countries. For example, Chinese investment in Maldives is over $ 3 billion, against the GDP of $ 4.9 billion. China has already taken the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka for 99 year lease and may do something similar in Maldives.

If all this becomes reality, it creates a security concern for India. And this time, India cannot remain ‘non-aligned’. The bigger China will be more difficult to deal with, and the border issue may never get resolved. A neglect will surely lead to compromise on Indian sovereignty. 

While India takes its own time to grow, it must align itself with existing global powers to counterbalance China. QUAD and QUAD+ are promising options, and India must take a lead role for their creation and maintenance. India must raise the stakes of international players in Indian economy and it will assist the cause of the west to assist India. India needs to present a better alternative to its neighbours and woo them away from Chinese influence. 

Whatever may be the course of action, this issue needs to be addressed urgently. Time and tide wait for none, and India must adapt itself to changing times. 

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