India is in a prolonged standoff with Chinese forces on the Doklam plateau. China may have been caught off guard after Indian armed forces confronted a Chinese road-building team in the Bhutanese territory.
Peaceful resolution requires awareness of the context for the unfolding events. China has engaged in incremental nibbling advances in this area with Bhutanese protests followed by solemn commitments not to disturb the status quo. The intrusions continued. This time, the Chinese signaled intention to establish a permanent presence, expecting the Bhutanese to acquiesce while underestimating India’s response.
Managing the China challenge requires understanding the history of Chinese civilization and the world view of its people formed over 5,000 years of tumultuous history. Caution is required before mechanistically applying historical patterns to the present as these are overlaid with concepts borrowed from other traditions and behavior patterns arising from deep transformations within China and the world at large.
The ideas of US naval officer Alfred Thayer Mahan and British geographer Halford Mackinder are just as discernible in Chinese strategic thinking today as concepts derived from the writings of ancient strategist Sun Zi. The One Belt One Road project initiated by China is Mackinder and Mahan in equal measure: The Belt, designed to secure Eurasia, dominance over which would grant global “All is well as long as each person knows his place in a predesignated order.” hegemony, was suggested by Mackinder in 1904; the Road which straddles the oceans, enabling maritime ascendancy, is indispensable in pursuing hegemony, according to Mahan in the late 19th century. China’s pursuit of predominance at the top of regional and global order, with the guarantee of order, has an unmistakable American flavor. It also echoes Confucius, the Chinese sage who argued that harmony and hierarchy are intertwined: All is well as long as each person knows his place…