The Importance of Being China

Richard Javad Heydarian

“China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that's just a fact,” thundered China’s then Foreign Minister Yang Jiechie almost a decade ago during a high-stakes security forum in Vietnam. This was the beginning of a new, assertive China, openly and coercively carving out a new regional order with Chinese characteristics.

During his visit to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) rotational chairman, the Chinese chief diplomat, and former ambassador to the United States, directed his remark threateningly at smaller neighboring states, specifically Singapore. Only earlier, Hillary Clinton, who was the U.S. Secretary of State at the time, upended regional diplomatic affairs by directly injecting the United States to the intensifying South China Sea disputes. “The United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons and respect for international law in the South China Sea,” Clinton said.

Incensed by a large number of attending nations, at least twelve out of twenty-seven, including Singapore, openly backing up Clinton’s statement, Jiechie characterized the affair as a conspiracy and staged a diplomatic coup, which is tantamount to “an attack on China.” Over the next decade, an epic battle ensures in the South China Sea, the world’s maritime artery, as China, in defiance of international law and everyone’s expectations, and embarks on a massive geoengineering campaign, which upends the regional strategic landscape.

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