At The Federalist, Sumantra Maitra explains that China’s recent aggressive behavior is a result of the country’s leaders realizing their actual place in the global hierarchy, and responding with panic. He writes (abridged):
When working as a political journalist in New Zealand, I interviewed Winston Peters, who is now the deputy prime minister. Peters is an enormously smart but politically volatile man who was a conservative in his early life, then broke off to start a new party called New Zealand First (sound familiar?), and is now in a coalition with the Labour government.
His politics was a mixed bag way ahead of his time in 2011. The most controversial of his policies was a virulent stream of anti-China rhetoric …particularly the Chinese investment and buying spree.
Last week, China started a trade war with Australia, sanctioned American senators, antagonized the British to where the Conservatives are now the most Sino-skeptic party in Europe, bullied a feckless European Union, had a stand-off with the Indian air force on the Himalayan border, and made plans to send inquisitors to Hong Kong.
Britain is hinting at a possible evacuation and relocation of British-born Hong Kong dual citizens and residents.
Chinese leaders have realized the cat is out of bag.
While that highlights China’s aggressive posture, also highlights a certain amount of panic and misunderstanding of their position in the global hierarchy. As Jack Snyder wrote in his phenomenal work, great power aggression is often a symbol of either ideological insularity and misunderstanding, or sheer imperial overestimation and delusion. In Chinese case, it might be a combination of both.
Theirs is not the conduct of a would-be superpower, much less a great power. It is the conduct of a panicked and cocooned middle power.
Sumantra Maitra is a doctoral researcher at the University of Nottingham, UK, and a senior contributor to The Federalist. His research is in great power-politics and neorealism.