Red Menace

By Kurlantzick, Joshua | Newsweek, October 11, 2010 | Go to article overview

Red Menace


Kurlantzick, Joshua, Newsweek


Byline: Joshua Kurlantzick

Why Beijing has turned so pushy.

For months, the rest of Asia has watched China with rising alarm. It goes far beyond the recent standoff in which Beijing forced Tokyo to release a Chinese ship captain who had been detained in disputed waters. There's also the revival of China's old claim to the entire Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. Not to mention Beijing's designation of the South China Sea as a "core national interest"--a term previously used for Taiwan and Tibet--and the way its Navy has harassed American and Japanese vessels on the open sea. Southeast Asian nations are getting pressure to sever even informal relations with Taiwan. And their complaints about Chinese dams on the Mekong River, which have diverted water from lakes and paddies downstream, are met with imperial disdain.

It wasn't so long ago that China was congratulating itself on the success of its "charm offensive," as Beijing sought to build economic ties in the region and beyond. Smaller Asian nations, recalling their vassal status under previous Chinese empires, welcomed Beijing's new emphasis on building consensus. (The contrast with George W. Bush's America was stark.) All those dire warnings about a rising Red Menace seemed the stuff of overheated Washington think tanks.

So leaders on both sides of the Pacific are wondering and worrying about Beijing's sudden belligerence. One cause may be simple overconfidence: as mainland analysts like to note, the global economic crisis has left China far healthier than many of its neighbors, or indeed the United States. Just as Chinese leaders lecture Western officials in public about the flaws of free-market capitalism, so too have they grown more willing to make demands of other Asian countries. "There is a certain extent of hubris in [China's] actions," says Lam Peng Er, an expert in China-Japan relations at the National University of Singapore. …

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