Tuesday, September 21, 2021

China’s geopolitical weapons: Technology, Coercion, Corruption

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Hal Brands is a Bloomberg opinion columnist, Distinguished Professor Henry Kissinger at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, and a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute. Most recently, he co-authored “Lessons from Tragedy: Statecraft and World Order”.

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Photographer: Johannes Eisele / AFP / Getty Images

Photographer: Johannes Eisele / AFP / Getty Images

China’s desire for domination combines timeless ambitions with 21st century methods. Look no further than Beijing’s growing quest for spheres of influence. Like countless great powers before it, China aims to shape and control its environment. It aspires to create geopolitical domains in which its interests are protected and its prerogatives respected.

Yet Beijing is doing so, in part, through an approach to strategic rivalry in the digital age, which forces rivals to rethink what spheres of influence are and how best to challenge them.

“Sphere of influence” refers to to an area in which a large country can exercise authority over smaller players and keep its big power competitors at bay. Since antiquity, ambitious powers sought spheres of influence for four basic reasons: protection (as a strategic buffer against rivals); projection (as a secure base from which to exert global influence); profit (as a means of extracting resources, accessing markets and exploiting small economies in one’s own); and prestige (as a symbol of status vis-à-vis inferior powers as well as great powers).

However, the particular characteristics of these spheres have varied.

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In the 19th century, for example, Britain enjoyed its so-called informal empire in South America, exerting influence mainly by its financial primacy and the threat on the horizon of the Royal Navy. After WWII, the Soviet Union dominated Eastern Europe with a much heavier hand. He remade governments in his communist image, while using police state methods and the Red Army to impose geopolitical discipline on countries within his reach.

After the Cold War, it seemed spheres of influence were gone, as there was only one superpower – the United States – and he was determined to deny such privileges to any competitor.

“We won’t recognize – won’t recognize a nation with a sphere of influence,” then Vice President Joe Biden said declared in 2009. However, China obviously has other ideas. His geopolitical project presents some methods that students of past rivalries would find familiar, and others that are newer.

In East Asia and elsewhere in its immediate periphery, China aims for a fairly traditional sphere of influence. He created trade and investment relations supposed to make the region’s economies ever more Beijing-centric and ever more vulnerable to Chinese economic coercion. It is using its growing military might to pressure, and possibly eventually conquer, Taiwan, to assert vast claims in the South China Sea and to force the Indo-Pacific countries to hesitate before arousing discontent in the South China Sea. Beijing.

By weakening relations between the United States and its allies and friends, these measures aim to push Washington out of the region, just as Washington once pushed its European rivals out of the Caribbean. And China increasingly uses political influence campaigns, help for corrupt officials, and other quiet interventions to twist the region’s politics in its favor. Chinese military officials can Deny that the country “will never seek a sphere of influence”. In reality, China is

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