Though Beijing and New Delhi have discussed settling remaining Sino-Indian border issues, Chinese and Indian competition for influence in Central Asia, the Himalayas and Southeast Asia is increasing. Both nations remember the 1962 Sino-Indian War. The Chinese quietly acclimated an assault force, preparing infantry for high-altitude operations, then conducted an offensive that punished the Indian Army. The Indian Army won't let that happen again. The Tibetans still resist Han Chinese domination. For Beijing, the aging Dalai Lama remains a diplomatic thorn. China insists on having a role in selecting his replacement.
Central Asia: Kazakhstan's oil attracts Beijing. Kazakhstan wants to sell oil, but it has no interest in becoming a Chinese protectorate. Thus, Kazakhstan and the United States have several mutual interests. China has internal troubles in its western provinces, some stoked by Uighur Islamic radicals.
Siberia: A long, empty border, and Russian military power is ebbing. Yes, Moscow sees China as a market for advanced arms, but Kremlinites know an expansionist China threatens Siberia's treasure chest of natural resources.
The Koreas: North Korea has been an asset for China, a nuclear-armed midget that rattles Japan and America. North Korea, however, is also dirt poor and starving. South Korea is wealthy, modern and militarily-able. In a crisis, at best the Koreas are question marks for Beijing.
Japan: Old enmities mark the Japanese-Chinese relationship. Beijing once let Washington know it approved of the U.S. Navy vessels berthed in Yokohama. From Beijing's perspective, Washington kept a thumb on Japan. The U.S. and Japan are allies. Japan operates Aegis destroyers and needs more. Why? The Jamestown Foundation "China Brief" recently noted China's navy must breach the "natural barrier" of the Japanese archipelago in order to achieve its "blue dream" of high seas operations.
Taiwan: Taiwan gets American weapons -- a sore spot in U.S.-Chinese relations. While China-Taiwan trade and investment relations are good, Beijing insists it wants to acquire Taiwan -- preferably by diplomacy.
Vietnam: In 1979, China and Vietnam fought a brief but bloody border war. That war told even hard-core Vietnamese cadres that Communist brotherhood was kaput. After the Soviet Union collapsed, Vietnam lacked a major power ally to make the Chinese "colossus to the north" think twice. Hanoi complains of U.S. imperialism, but Asia has experienced millennia of Chinese imperialism. At least with the Americans, you get rock and roll. A bellicose Beijing spurs closer U.S.-Vietnamese strategic cooperation.
South China Sea: Potential petroleum reserves always excite interest. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and even Cambodia claim slices of the seabed. Vietnam and the Philippines have both sparred with Chinese forces in the Spratly Islands. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) already has the outline of an anti-China alliance.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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