If Bismarck were in Beijing today, he would say this was our nightmare,” says Shi Yinhong, an international relations scholar at Renmin University in Beijing, about China’s relations with the rest of Asia. “His advice was always that if you have five neighbours, you need to be on good terms with at least three. That is not our case.”
For the past few months, Asia has had a sneak preview of the sort of diplomatic minefields that could lie ahead as China’s influence and power expand. Unresolved territorial disputes have flared up, a possible arms race has started to take shape and there have been the stirrings of a real strategic rivalry between the two main powers in the region, China and the US – which will be one main backdrop when leaders of the Group of 20 developed and emerging nations meet in Seoul on Thursday.
At the root of the anxieties is the worry that a self-confident China, which recently overtook Japan as the second-largest economy in the world, wants to translate its economic power into greater political and military influence. Beijing’s massive stimulus plan helped Asia to ride out the global financial crisis with relative ease and its sustained economic dynamism is of big benefit to other countries in the region. But the recent tensions serve as a warning that the rise of China could become harder to accommodate politically.
“I fear we could be about to enter a much more rocky period,” says Simon Tay, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.