Tags: Emerging Threats | Homeland Security

Check China's Aggression Before It's Too Late

Check China's Aggression Before It's Too Late
Philippines Spratly Islands protest (AP)

By Tuesday, 01 December 2015 02:22 PM Current | Bio | Archive

In Sun Tzu’s "The Art of War" present Chinese military strategy in the South China Sea comes into focus. Tzu argued that the best war is one not waged, one in which the cleverest leader wins without fighting.

The Chinese declaration over its perimeter zone incorporates a number of islands claimed by other regional nations, e.g. Japan and the Philippines.

With the construction of reefs that can accommodate air force assets, the government is sending a message: the so-called contested islands are part of the Chinese Middle Kingdom.

This message reverberates across the Asian fairway to Taiwan. China will not go to war to secure control of this breakaway island, but it will attempt to intimidate it with targeted missiles and seduce it with collaborative commercial ventures.

A similar strategy is employed throughout the region. Recognizing the fact that control of the South China Sea affords China de facto control of the Malacca Straits through which 60 percent of commercial tonnage is transported, China can dictate to states dependent on open sea lanes.

Moreover, this strategy carries over to the Pacific basin where the U.S. once had clear hegemonic authority. Despite the so-called pivot to Asia, the administration has done virtually nothing to counter Chinese initiatives other than fly a B52 over the air perimeter and send a destroyer within the 12 mile radius of claimed Chinese territory.

Chinese officials do not consider this self-declared zone a casus belli. Should the U.S. project the real power at its disposal, the Chinese would be obliged to back down, with some face saving gesture. But with the Obama presidency, that isn’t necessary.

President Obama is at least as wary of war provoking gestures and has signaled in several ways that the U.S. will no longer serve as the balance wheel in preserving Asian equilibrium.

What this ultimately means is that China — without firing a shot in anger — will gain control of the China Sea, the Pacific and possibly the Indian Ocean as well. This evolving strategic picture is increasingly apparent, but it is given scant attention in the White House.

When asked to comment, State Department officials contend the U.S. Navy is superior and capable of dealing with any threat to our interest.

This, of course, is somewhat valid. Our navy is superior . . . at the moment.

However, that moment is being eclipsed by an uptick in Chinese defense spending, specifically on its blue water navy and a corresponding reduction in U.S. naval expenditures.

A key variable in assessing this profile is the will to act. Chinese leadership is aggressive; ours is passive. Xi wants to engage his neighbors in threats and incentives.

The U.S. is often described by Asian leaders from the Philippines to Japan as missing in action, an unreliable ally that has turned inward.

Sun Tzu is not merely a guide, he was prescient. China could win a war without fighting it  — a bloodless victory over the continent. There is a danger that Tzu warned about —  miscalculation that emerges from arrogance.

If Asian nations perceive China as overtly aggressive and heavy handed, they might dismiss the commercial overtures and band together as a defense condominium.

Although this is an unlikely scenario based on the history of Asian fragmentation, it is a position the U.S. should encourage if only someone at State had a strategic vision.

Sun Tzu has lessons for all nations, particularly the U.S. that has the ability to project power. The alternatives between conciliation and war are not realistic.

There are many positions between the extremes including active diplomacy, saber-rattling, military maneuvers, alliances, and defense assistance.

The key to our involvement in the Pacific is not simply the projection of power, albeit that is important, but a strategic vision that considers goals and capabilities, national will and alliance assurances.

At the moment there are merely tactical maneuvers like fly-overs, but an overarching strategy is missing.

Sun Tzu noted that “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” As I see it the noise is deafening.

Herbert London is president emeritus of Hudson Institute and author of the books "The Transformational Decade" (University Press of America) and "Decline and Revival in Higher Education" (Transaction Books). Read more reports from Herbert London — Click Here Now.

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The key to our involvement in the Pacific is not simply projection of power, but a strategic vision that considers goals and capabilities, national will, and alliance assurances. At the moment, an overarching strategy is missing.
Emerging Threats, Homeland Security
Tuesday, 01 December 2015 02:22 PM
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