Furkan Evren Arslan
Far From Asia
Don't you think we are a little "far" from the Asian continent? Of course, this distance I'm talking about is not a physical distance, it's more about why she can not remain more on the world agenda. Assuming that we are quite familiar with the concept of “Agenda'', why can't we see more of Central Asia and East Asia?
Of course, it is inevitable to have many legitimate answers to this, but now I will focus on one aspect of this issue. There is for sure something going on in Central Asia. Unlike us, there is a state that is very interested in that region. Do not immediately think of Russia.
Obviously, the Russian influence in these regions is undeniable, but, there is a country that is much more willing to "penetrate": China.
Thanks to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, established in 1996, China has developed close political relations with all member Central Asian countries. Unlike the temporary tensions of the USA and even Russia have with these countries, China always pays attention to keeping its relations with the countries of the region close. In fact, as the USA and Russia's interest in the mentioned regions decreases, China prefers to establish even closer relations than ever.
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China's rapidly growing and modernizing economy pushes it to constantly seek new sources for raw materials, new markets for ready-made products, and logistical avenues for both. If we consider these reasons, China follows policies in line with its target and interests in Central Asian countries, which have a much weaker economy than themselves, but are rich in raw material resources. In my opinion, when these policies are considered together with the Central Asian countries, the most important transit route of the modern Silk Road project, economic issues gain much more strategic importance for China.
In fact, China's behavior in these regions has been quite realistic and appropriate for the country's interests up to this point. But the policies implemented by China seem to be more than simple business interests.
For example, the fact that China requires the use of Chinese personnel, technologies and tools in the works it invests in gives it a great control right. On the other hand, the debts of the countries we have mentioned to China are increasing day by day and they are becoming dependent on the loans given by China.
In particular, question occupies my mind a lot: We can obviously see the economic dependency of countries( Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan etc.) is increasing day by day, but will this only remain with economic dependency? Also, for what purpose will China use this dependency?
Perhaps the most correct address for the answer to this is the dusty shelves of history. We will examine these historical processes together and make predictions about today’s Chinese foreign policy. China is indeed a developed society with thousands of years of history and culture. In the meantime, the fact that China has fertile lands and is one of the leading states in the textile and industry with the correct use of raw materials has always pushed it to seek a market. The historical “Silk Road” is the biggest indicator of this. (Today, it is known that China has trade projects on the Silk Road.)
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This situation attracted attention by other states in the region, but many times they demanded the Chinese products they depended on as tribute instead of conquering China. As far as we can understand from here, China's products have brought her the protection of territorial integrity besides economic gains. (Have you noticed the similarity between the “economic dependency” we examined above and this situation?)
On the other hand, China's expansionist policies have been more strategic and pragmatic, rather than land based like "jihad”.
For example, they inhibited states that threatened their lands through marriage before using force. These marriages not only limited the threat, but also helped them intervene in the domestic politics of the region. Thus, their political influence in the region increased considerably.(Today, achieving such power is best achieved by developing Public Diplomacy.)
In addition to this, the global activities of Chinese missionaries and the fact that these activities serve China's political influence can be given as an example. Even when we examine just these few examples, we see that historically, Chinese foreign policy has not been driven solely by economic reasons. These give us some ideas about the situations that may occur in the future.
Of course, when we examine recent history, although the activities of the closed communist administration that came with the Mao administration did not constitute an expansionist policy as in the past, with the wide economic reforms made towards the end of the 70s, China again realized its own potential. If we look back today, China is seen as the biggest competitor of the market giant USA.
However, Confucian schools/institutes, which we all hear frequently and operate mostly in Central Asia, serve the consolidation and spread of Chinese culture to a considerable extent.
The fact remains that with all of these, China's activities in the context of public diplomacy are not only regional. For example, according to my reviews, the rise in the economy is an attractive factor for Sub-Saharan African countries. In the use of the economy as a soft power tool, both state and non-state actors engage in various public diplomacy activities. In this context, especially the economic relations established with the region, investments made in the region and foreign aid are the important public diplomacy activities of China in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Photo by Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz on Unsplash
You dear readers, may say: “what's wrong with that? That it is increasing its soft power and expanding its economy”, but the point we need to pay attention to here is how China will use this power that will increase gradually. Yes, it is quite normal for China to want to increase its soft power.
However, when we look at the other side of the coin, "Is a new modern imperialist approach emerging?"
I can't stop thinking about it. Because it is very difficult to believe that it is only about soft power to hold the region in such a tight grip, both economically, politically and culturally.
Moreover, when we examine the history of China again, the "Tributary System" in Chinese foreign policy will again give a few clues about its current situation: In this classical Eastern thought, which is the opposite of the egalitarian thought in the West, son-father, brother-brother, husband-wife, student-teacher, subject-ruler, dependent-sovereign, etc. between each other, there is a natural hierarchical order based on respect and loyalty.
Politically, the most important factor determining the power of a country in the world is the cultural size of that country. A state that represents the "upper culture" can have a natural influence over the people of the "subculture", "assimilating" them into its own culture. Since China is the cultural center of the universe, this right naturally belongs to China.
The idea of natural order, which is the source of this relationship, was supported by Confucian philosophy.
We can clearly see that there are teachings on the use of hard power as well as soft power in Confucian philosophy. China has made these teachings a policy, has extremely realistic attitudes and has not hesitated to use force for its own interests when necessary as in East Turkestan. It is not a fault for me to consider such a state as a threat.