Author(s): Yufan Hao and Bill K. P. Chou
Publisher: World Scientific Publishing
Reviewed by Gunjan Singh, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.
The unprecedented rise of China both economically and militarily has become a major cause of concern for the Chinese neighborhood as well as the international community. This increase in economic and military strength has major effects on the countries which share a border with China. These countries have been increasingly feeling insecure and concerned about the way Beijing will interact in case of a conflict. It has also been perceived that Beijing is becoming more assertive in its bilateral relationships post its economic growth.
On the other hand the Chinese government is also facing a number of disturbances and uprisings in the regions which are on the periphery: primarily Xinjiang and Tibet. The year 2008 (Tibet) and 2009 (Xinjiang) saw some of the worst uprisings in China. These disturbances are primarily because of lack of economic development as well as flawed assimilation polices which China has adopted post 1949.
This book attempts to understand and explain the implications of these developments within China with respect to their international implications. The book has eleven chapters dealing with specific area and issues. The chapters are divided based on the geographical region of the borderland being studied (p.7). The regions are thus divided into North and Northwest, East, South and South West. The editors argue that, “within the boundary, the borderlands are the most relevant structure of China’s foreign policy” (p.3). They further highlight five reasons why borderlands are so important for China. First is the effect that the central government’s policies can benefit or harm the international community, due their geographical proximity. Second, borderlands have strong implications for Chinese sovereignty. Third, the unclear demarcation of boundaries between China and some of its neighbors have caused numerous territorial disputes. Fourth, the borderlands are inhabited by the ethnic minorities and last most of threats to China’s territorial integrity come from the border regions (p. 3-6).
The book states that it attempts to answer questions like what interest (internal and external) Beijing has in these borderland provinces. How has Beijing pursued and protected these interests? Are results in sync with the approach and expectation? What implications these policies towards borderland have on neighboring countries? (p.7). The chapters provide a detail analysis of some of the issues which Beijing is facing, especially with respect to Xinjiang, Taiwan and Tibet. However, the chapter discussing the developments in the Hulunbeier city appears to be a simple descriptive chapter based on the author’s perception of the developments and thus fails to provide any insight regarding the larger debate. On the other hand the chapter which deals with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) by Weiqing Song and the chapter which discusses China and its Central Asian Neighbors by Gudrun Wacker have a lot of overlap and repetition. From a readers perspective these two chapters could have been compiled together.
Though the book covers all the border areas with respect to disputes with Russia, Japan, South Korea, Central Asian Countries, Myanmar, Taiwan, it does not have a chapter on India. It is known that China and India still have an unsettled border and the Tibetan question has major implications for their bilateral relationship. The lack of a chapter dealing with the China-India border dispute, which has huge foreign policy implications for China as well as India, can be regarded as a major drawback of the book.
However this book is a must read for scholars and students who are working on the borderland issues of China and also dealing with the foreign policy approaches related to these issues. The book provides an in-depth analysis of issues related to Taiwan, Senkaku island (Diaoyu Islands) Chunxiao Island (Shirakaba) and Okinotorishima Island (Chongzhiniao). In addition to this it also discusses the issues related to SCO, Russia, Hong Kong, Macao and Myanmar. Thus it can be regarded as a very comprehensive collection of articles pertaining to these topics. In addition to this it also highlights the nation building and language politics within China with respect to Hong Kong and Macao and how the Chinese government is managing these issues.
The book highlights the fact that the Chinese government is working hard in order to understand and control the problems which it is facing in the borderland areas. The primary approach which the People’s Republic of China (PRC) undertakes is the one which involves a top-down assimilation process. The chapters also highlight that the PRC has no stated or written policy when it is interacting with these regions but the actions are generally situation and event based. The PRC is still adapting and modifying its reactions with every development. On the other hand the recent economic prosperity which China has achieved has increased its international leverage and standing as well as domestic inequality. As a result there is also an increase in the bargaining power which China now enjoys with respect to foreign policy. Most of the Western, European and West Asian countries are keener to support PRC than the disgruntled minorities as they have huge stakes in the Chinese economy. As a result of this there has been a consistent decline in the international support which the minorities enjoyed earlier.
On the other hand it is also other considerations which drive Chinese reactions. One of the primary focuses today is the energy needs to China. The book highlights the fact that most of the borderland relations are driven by energy demands of China. Beijing is working towards securing its energy reserves. It also states that the island disputes are also driven by energy politics.
Thus one can conclude that the borderland policies of China are formulated with the following issues in mind: first is national integrity and sovereignty (Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang), second is energy security (South China Sea, Central Asian Countries, Russia and Myanmar) and multilateralism (SCO). The book ‘China’s Policies on its Borderlands and the International Implications’ provides a very good perspective on this issue.