China’s Elite Frenemies

Dec 25, 2018 | China, Gov, Gov.China, India, Japan, N.Korea

East Asia DeskKari.Amarnani author

China’s closest allies and the adversaries in its path

How did we as people come to be who we are today? That question brings forth the importance of relationships. As people, the external influences that we have accumulated and been exposed to in our lifetime significantly shape the kind of people we become. Countries, just like individuals, have connections that affect their standing and impact their overall nature. The perfect way to grasp the essence of what makes this idea authentic is understanding how a country operates with its neighbors, and the ideal example for this is China.

China is a nation that is rich in its population and its bountiful natural resources. With over a 1.3 billion population, it is located in East Asia and it is the driving force of the continent, flourishing in its general success in its agriculture, industry and services. It has come a long way in terms of its relationships with other Asian countries, so much so, that as of now, it is on its way to becoming a hegemon, quite close to our friends, The United States. It’s kind of a big deal. How did this nation get to be so influential and powerful? And what is its relationship like with the other countries in Asia? Let’s find out.

It’s time to dive into China’s intracontinental connections and get insight into how these states operate together. Brace yourselves— it’s going to be the Great List of China.

Below are China’s best friends and worthy partners:

Russia, the competitive player that makes you stronger:

I know what you are thinking. Russia? Is that even an Asian country? It is a common misconception that Russia belongs in the continent of Europe, and well, it does— but only 23% of it. 77% of Russia’s territory is considered to be in Asia. Though most of its people reside in the European area of the state, geographically and politically speaking, it is in the Asian territory.

China’s relationship with Russia is a doozy. Historically, these two have come a long way in their socio-economic ties. According to China, its relationship with Russia is at its best which says a lot seeing as how the two states have only started growing and developing its international affiliation in 1991.

How did they get to be at this level of closeness? Don’t be fooled— their relationship isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. Power is registered as influence, status and capability in the context of international relations; with power comes authority over others. Because China and Russia are two states with enormous lengths of strength and sustainability, they have maintained a level of friendly (and sometimes chaotic) rivalry. It is easy for partnerships to get a little competitive when strong attributes and performances are involved.

At one point in time, China and Russia had a hostile relationship. Russia fought Japan over control and did it on Chinese soil, attempting to overpower and conquer both nations. Years later, when communism started booming in China, Russia came to its aid with advice and guidance, so much so, that it funded the Chinese Communist Party. This brought about great ties between the two states among many others that bind them in a string of mutually beneficial positions.

The biggest and strongest link that connects China and Russia together is something that poses as one of the biggest international threats to the West: put an end to the hegemony of the United States. Russia is locked and loaded with its military capabilities, possessing one of the strongest militias in the world. China is renowned for its economic and political impact among other states. Together, they are a force to be reckoned with. This common goal brings the two together sharing a legacy that could alter the international and economic scenery of the world.

Pakistan, that one friend that will always have your back:

Have you ever had someone in your life that saw the potential and strength in you when no one else did? Someone who supported you and had your back when it felt like nothing was going right? Well, that’s the kind of relationship China and Pakistan embody with each other. To quote Shehbaz Sharif, the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly of Pakistan:

“Pakistan-China friendship is higher than the Himalayas, deeper than the ocean, sweeter than honey, and stronger than steel.”

It’s a bit difficult to think about political entities and find something that makes one go, “Aw, how sweet” because let’s face it, it’s a business of strategy, dominance and power. But China and Pakistan have the kind of connection that surpasses all economic and political formalities. When the president of China, Xi Jinping, visited Pakistan in 2015, he stated that it felt like he was visiting his own brother’s home. Putting it in perspective, saying that these two states are close may just be an understatement.

Aside from the fact that they are geographically adjacent, what other factors connect China and Pakistan in their string of friendship and dedication? First things first, let’s get into their roots and origins.

China and Pakistan established diplomatic relations in 1951 and since then have had almost no major cause of conflict between states. Pakistan was one of the first countries to acknowledge and recognize the People’s Republic of China, providing support even as the rest of the world displayed its hostility towards the reform with China slowly navigating to international detachment decades later. Furthermore, Pakistan stands its ground defending China regarding territorial, political and economic disputes.

Sounds one-sided, I know— but China has invested just as much effort and determination in having Pakistan’s back. China is the biggest economic shareholder in Pakistan, investing not only funds and military equipment to progress and secure the nation, but also knowledge and insight with matters of stabilizing relations with its neighboring countries. Neighboring countries, you ask? This is where it gets interesting.

One of the biggest reasons that China and Pakistan keep each other close is that they both have a common enemy which they are devoted to taking down at any given opportunity: India. It has been said that when talking of issues in China and Pakistan, it would be impossible to leave India out of the equation. These three states have been engaged in a long-lasting economical and geographical power struggle.

China, rivaling India with its population, natural resources and economic status and impact, has lost one out of two wars with India. Pakistan, rivaling India with its religious and territorial conflict, has lost all four wars with India. Together, with the combination of China and Pakistan’s political assets, they may just take down their enemy. Since the progression and development of the India-United States relationship, two states that threaten China’s standing, China has been in close contact with Pakistan. Sounds like a game plan is soon in the works.

North Korea, the tormentor that you stay friends with for security:

This friendship might be a little different than the ones we have talked about above— but it is still a friendship. What kind of friendship? A strategic one. North Korea is that friend that you want to keep around just for the sake of convenience and protection. It sounds mean, yeah, but it’s equalized by the fact that this ‘friend’ uses you as a safety net and lowkey keeps you as a hostage. Wait, that may not be an equal exchange.

To summarize, these two are friends— with shades of gray.

China and North Korea were allies during the Cold War, a period of tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, including their respective allies, as they fought their way to being the only superpower after World War II. This era brought about a conflict between several nations in the fight to keep either the United States or the Soviet Union in power; having two superpowers was unacceptable.

China and North Korea were allies during the Cold War, a period of tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, including their respective allies, as they fought their way to being the only superpower after World War II. This era brought about a conflict between several nations in the fight to keep either the United States or the Soviet Union in power; having two superpowers was unacceptable.

China was an ally of the Soviet Union, and North Korea supported China in its endeavors, making it an ally of the Soviet Union by association. Though these two states started out as strong companions, through time, it became apparent that China prioritizes connections that provide a mutually beneficial relationship.

Why do they keep each other around? What do they get from this complicated alliance?

The Chinese have a proverb, “If the lips are gone, the teeth will be cold.” It translates to concepts of interdependence; in an interconnection, if one falters, the other will suffer consequences. In this analogy, China is the ‘lips’ and North Korea is the ‘teeth’. North Korea depends on China to take care of matters when situations go awry in the former’s state. To avoid further complication in China’s own respective state, it handles the issue in North Korea in an effort to maintain peace and good standing.

China’s biggest concern with North Korea is the possible fall of the nation, leaving a vast population of lost and starving people under China’s care. It’s been hard as it is with the existing poverty in the nation and the influx of refugees would drastically alter China’s economic status. To circumvent the chance of that happening, China provides economic aid to North Korea. Although, we have established that China acts on mutually beneficial relationships, so what exactly is China getting out of the deal?

In the eyes of the Chinese military, North Korea is an excellent buffer zone. North Korea is located in the east of China, right above South Korea and west of the United States. In the case of an altercation with South Korea or the United States, North Korea’s placement acts as a zone of protection. South Korea and North Korea are in a long-standing battle for supremacy, thus North Korea has more than one reason to defend China from South Korea’s potential opposition. It’s safe to say that these two are playing the game and they’re playing it well. Let’s hope it stays that way.

China’s Hostile Connections

Now that we are knowledgeable about China’s flourishing and friendly relationships in Asia, it’s time to visit the opposite end of the spectrum. Who does China not get along with, and why?

1. India

China and India have a rich history. It all began when India recognized the People’s Republic of China as the state’s form of government in 1950. From then on, conflicts arose mainly with territorial matters. China and India are neighboring countries, compromising border control and placing cities under confusion regarding which state they ultimately reside in. These conflicts with territory caused resentment between China and India, as well as, comparison from the rest of the world with their large population and economic status. Even if these two states attempted to put the past behind them, China stands in place with Pakistan, an undeniable enemy of India.

2. Japan

China and Japan have a bittersweet relationship that comprises many complicated feelings. Though they act in a civilized and formal manner, there is a build-up of tension between the states from past issues that have rendered them hostile to this day. Some of these issues include events from the Sino-Japanese War and the period where Japan occupied Manchuria, a region that originally belonged to China. There have been some cruel acts between the two, especially on Japan’s part, yet neither state is apologetic.

China: A Gregarious Companion

The connections that we keep closest to ourselves are the ones that say the most about who we are and what we care about. This is not any less true in the study and practice of international affairs. Though China has gotten some backlash on its belief in focusing on states that only benefit them, in the grand scheme of things, the nation cares to prioritize themselves by catering to needs that can promote and build the country. In the end, it is all a matter of survival.

Generally, China has good relationships with most of the Asian countries. Most conflicts that arise are linked with border control and economic standing. China has the capability to direct resolution in many states in the chance of flourishing great communication and friendship, but of course, it takes two to tango. It can get difficult to foster amiability when dealing with strong personalities and culture. But no matter the circumstance, China has the resources and the skill to uphold its existing charisma and sophistication and take the world by storm.

The nation has come a long way in the connections that they have formed. Even in its roots, China was placed in complicated situations and affairs that ultimately altered its course through time, leaving it isolated from the rest of the world. During this period, it was clear which states were truly behind China and which states sought for its downfall. Regardless of the complexities, China emerged out of its shell a new nation and it could not have been done without the ‘friends’ that it had gained along the way, and not to mention, its enemies too, because without them— China would not be what it is today.

China is a goldmine of strength, intuition and power. Though its straightforward attitude with reaping benefits has deemed it a blunt and cold nation by the rest of the world, there is something to be said about the relationships that it fosters around them. The great nation knows what’s the best for its country and it knows who to trust. With that kind of resolve, behold, a sea of wonder.