China is not engaged in any international armed conflict at this time of its history. However, it has ongoing territorial disputes with Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Singapore, Brunei, Nepal, Bhutan, Laos, Mongolia, and Myanmar. This long list covers conflicting claims about land and maritime borders, the latter covering a vast area of the South China Sea.
An example of the complexities around diplomatic engagement on these issues is seen in China’s rejection of a July 2016 ruling by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which ruled against China’s maritime claims on territory near the coastline of the Philippines. China insists that disputes of this kind should be resolved bilaterally by the countries that have claims on territory. Such an approach would surely give the advantage to the more powerful country.
In June 2020 conflict erupted among opposing troops in the border area known as the Galwan Valley where there is a territorial disagreement between China and India. No shots were fired in the incident but 20 Indian troops lost their lives in the physical engagement. An indication of how important this territory is perceived by China can be gauged by the fact that the high altitude border has between 200,000 to 300,000 of its troops stationed there. India has 225,000 troops protecting its interests in the area.
In Hong Kong the ongoing difference of views between the Chinese government and the citizens of the city highlights another setting where a simmering tension has the potential to become even more complicated during the next couple of years.
China’s annual military budget of US$261 billion is the second largest in the world. In a country where many children still struggle to get a proper education, the spending of such vast sums of money obviously raises questions about the appropriate use of resources.
The ability of China to control the COVID-19 outbreak during a strict eleven week period of restrictions at the beginning of the year was huge achievement. Since the main restrictions were removed in mid-April, there has been no second wave of infections. One result of this achievement is that it seems to have boosted the confidence of the Chinese government in a way that affirms its undertaking of large scale projects. Hopefully such new found confidence will not be expressed in any military undertakings.
In recent years vast efforts have been made in China to promote 12 core values of Chinese socialism. These values are memorized by school children and can also to be seen in a huge variety of public settings, including public transport. Two of these core values are harmony and justice. As China continues to have a bigger influence in the world, a style of diplomacy that believes in real harmony and justice would be the preferred approach for the benefit of all in this part of the world.