China is closely surrounded by a large
number of other countries, with whom it has complicated and not always
China has more different political units as immediate
neighbors than any other country except Russia. On land, China shares
borders with fourteen states. The most important of these are Russia,
North Korea, Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma), India, Pakistan, Afghanistan,
and four states of Central Asia. At sea, Chinese claims abut or overlap
with some of the same states plus six others, including South Korea,
Japan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
China has had border disputes with many of these countries, leading
to military clashes in the post-1949 period with India, Russia (at
that time the Soviet Union), and Vietnam, among others. China still
has unresolved border issues with many of these countries.
Due not only to territorial conflicts but to other conflicts of
interest, China’s relations with its major neighbors have seldom
been friendly. Prime examples were Japan and Russia.
China and Japan
While China was historically the paramount power
in the region, with Japan a lesser power, the Japanese modernized
quickly in the late 1800s and reversed this traditional relationship
when they defeated China in the Sino-Japanese War of 1884-95 over
the right to dominate Korea. Taiwan became a colony of Japan at this
time and remained so until 1945. The Japanese became the dominant
power in Asia and invaded China in the 1930s, occupying and ruling
the east coast of China until 1945. During the Cold War, Japan aligned
itself closely with China’s chief rival, the United States.
When U.S.-China relations thawed in the 1970s, so did those between
China and Japan. But the relations remained tense, shadowed by Chinese
demands for Japanese apologies for atrocities committed during World
War II, by Chinese concerns over Japanese military rearmament, and
by competition between the two powers for economic and diplomatic
influence throughout the Asian region. Trade, investment, and Japanese
aid to China have helped consolidate relations – the two are
among each other’s major economic partners – yet have
also provided occasions for frictions over technology transfer, consumer
protection, and similar issues.
China and Russia
China and the USSR signed a formal alliance in
1950, building on the relationship between the two communist parties
that dated back to the 1920s. But Mao Zedong was always suspicious
of Soviet efforts to keep China the junior partner in the relationship.
Over the course of several years before and after the 1960 Sino-Soviet
split occurred, and for 25 years after the split, the 4000-mile long
border with the Soviet Union was the longest unfriendly border in
the world. At one point over one and a half million troops armed
with nuclear weapons were ranged closely along the two sides of this
line. Relations improved in the mid-1980s and have continued to be
friendly in the post-Soviet era, partly because post-communist Russia
has been too weak to provide any near-term threat to Chinese interests.
The Foreign Policy Implications
Chinese foreign policy seeks to
prevent the domination of the Asian region by others while expanding
cooperation with its neighbors. China's location at the center of
Asia surrounds it with potential enemies and involves it in complicated
rivalries. It also gives it the potential to dominate the most dynamic
region of the world. Should another nation dominate the region, it
could turn its attention to dominating China. On the other hand,
too strong a hand could alarm China's neighbors into thinking that
China seeks to dominate Asia itself. A careful mix of military capability,
economic power, and diplomatic involvement is needed to influence
neighbors without pushing them into hostility.
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