China has broken every economic record, but it is losing the image game. No country can do without it, but the numbers that fear China are growing. This message appears clearly in work conducted by the Washington DC-based think tank, PEW (social guru, among the most respected in the world), who published the results of a laborious survey listing the perceived threats deriving from 2 superpowers, the US and China. In 5 out of 11 Asian countries surveyed (including China), there exists a dominant feeling that an armed conflict in the Pacific is likely to occur due to Chinese expansionism. The results derive from Beijing’s claims regarding some islands and shoals comprised in the Nine-dash line, which was the ideal junction of submerged land that—even if thousands of kilometers from China’s southern coast—China declared an “inalienable part of its territory.” Not surprisingly, the three countries listing China as their prime threat are Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines, with whom the dispute is dangerously deteriorating from judicial to military. On the contrary, only Malaysia and Pakistan aim the same accusation toward the United States, probably due to their judgment of the US’ politics as hostile toward the Muslim religion. Furthermore, Islamabad lists China as its best ally, a clearly anti-Indian viewpoint. The study also reveals the conservation of the US’ image despite its international reputation being damaged by Datagate and the mistaken use of drones, which frequently caused civilian casualties. Evidently, Washington’s consolidated position and the advantages of the Pax Americana in the region are still considered vital.
As always, the validity of a survey is questionable. The reliability of the analysis, the respondents’ sincerity, and biased diffusion are debatable. The web offers examples of alignment in all its forms, focusing on the debate between China’s peaceful ascent, and at the other conceptual extreme, the danger it poses for its neighbors. Entering into the debate carries the risk of propaganda; in any case, an observation and a question mark can be drawn going forward. The first reveals a loss of faith among Asian countries toward China. It can assume the form of alarm, suspicion, vigilance, creating distance, and perhaps neutrality, but there’s no doubt that the stream of sympathy China had garnered in the international community has suffered. Statistics indicate this, as well as diffuse perception, the media, public opinion, and adjacent countries. For 30 years, China grew without provoking alarm, but benevolence and curiosity were frequently cloaked by the pragmatism of capitalizing on China’s reawakening. Now, this prosaic hope is being converted into a fear of hegemony at varying rates in different countries. The growing fear arises from this. It’s therefore legitimate to ask why China would dig up disputes that had been buried for decades. Even the architect of contemporary China, Deng Xiao Ping, warned not to irritate the neighbors, and to not provoke uncontrollable escalations. In his view, China needed to gain time; it needed peace to lead it to prosperity. China’s successes were resounding, and this could have caused it to forge ahead toward an assertive role. Prudence seems to be a rare commodity and to favor hawks, but successful GDPs don’t automatically convert into successful military campaigns.