China's power and influence are growing - but to what end?
The world's most populous country will soon become the world's biggest economy (by some measures, it already has.) And as its economic power grows, China is developing increased military capabilities as well. But in some ways, the Chinese government's exercise of this growing clout is sowing anxiety among neighbors and rivals.
China's increased military might, for example, has emboldened its leaders to expand territorial claims in their near-abroad. They've challenged Japan "over the territorial rights of key islands in the South China Sea," explained CBS News Senior National Security Analyst Juan Zarate, and they're "really pushing against the regional countries that in some ways view China as a threat."
"Japan, South Korea, the Phillipines, Vietnam: all feeling the pressure of a China that is growing in strength not just economically but militarily," Zarate said. That pressure has led to some tense diplomatic standoffs between China and its neighbors in recent months.
The United States is "serving as the counterbalance," Zarate said. President Obama is in Asia this week--the latest step in his "pivot to Asia"-and the U.S. has been steadily beefing up military assets in the region to reassure China's neighbors.
"You see the U.S. moving back in--opening a base again in the Philippines, opening a marine base in northern Australia, beginning to cooperate more aggressively with Vietnam," he said. "You also see countries in the region jockeying against the Chinese, and you've also seen popular opinion sway against the Chinese."
"In many ways, I've said to China, welcome to hegemony," Zarate added. "These are the pressures and the pushback that they're going to see, and it's not just coming from the U.S., but it's coming from the internal populations in countries in the region."
The U.S., of course, has its own issues with China apart from any regional tension. Chief among those is the Chinese government's sanctioning of cyber attacks directed at U.S. military assets and companies in an effort to gain competitive advantage.
That effort reflects China's view "that its economic security is not only principal to regime survival," Zarate said," but that its national economic assets are national security assets as well."
"This is a real challenge for the classic capitalist systems in the U.S.," he said. "Despite what people believe, the CIA and the NSA aren't spying on behalf of Boeing or Apple. The Chinese government, in essence, is spying on behalf of its state owned enterprises and economy."
In May, the U.S. issued indictments for five members of the Chinese military for hacking computers and stealing trade secrets from American businesses. But the ongoing standoff over cyber-attacks, whatever the result of the indictments, raises some more general questions about China's approach to the global community, Zarate said.
"What are the intentions of China as a great power?" He asked. "It's a great economy, soon to overtake the US in terms of overall size - that makes sense - but are they going to be a responsible partner and party?"