China’s Achilles Heel

Image credit: Poster Collection, US 3481, Hoover Institution Archives.


The best political commentary out of East Asia last week is the one published on December 15 by South Korea’s second largest newspaper, Dong-A Ilbo. The paper’s editors asked a question on the mind of the entire Korean nation after their president had been outrageously snubbed by the Chinese leadership during his four-day state visit to the communist country, and Korean reporters accompanying their president’s visit were savagely beaten by thuggish Chinese security guards: “China should reflect on this question: why is it that for such a big country, there is hardly any neighbor that can be described as China’s friend?”

The question is poignant. It reveals a spectacular vulnerability of China’s national security: China has no real friends along its long, vast land and maritime borders, and any Chinese aggression against any one of its many aggrieved neighbors will likely trigger a massive defense and military coalescence as well as a much stronger coalition of the willing against China. This is indeed China’s Achilles heel.

China borders 14 countries on land, the most of any nation in the world. China also shares maritime borders with more than half a dozen nations in East and South China Seas. In some form, currently or at some moment in recent history, China has border and maritime disputes with nearly all of its land and maritime neighbors, which is extraordinary in the entire history of international relations. Some of these disputes are dormant at the moment, but many remain active and explosive, constantly threatening general wars in the region and beyond. At present, China is aggressively disputing land and maritime territories with South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, India, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia. Any of these disputes could result in uncontrollable military actions that could have a much greater impact on global peace and stability.

While China remains threatening and aggressive, and its Party-controlled military, collectively known as the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, the world’s largest, is growing at an alarming rate, this Achilles heel of China’s own making is keenly felt by China’s rulers. China’s profound fear of a grand international coalition by its many aggrieved neighbors has been revealed in several telling events in recent years, as more and more of China’s neighbors are exploiting China’s weakness by standing firm against China’s aggressive territorial or maritime demands and forcing China to back down.

Full article: China’s Achilles Heel (Hoover Institution)

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