The Dragon

by Dave Schuler on February 4, 2014

I don’t have a great deal to say about this but I wanted to open this question up for discussion. China has, probably, more territorial disputes than any other country in East Asia, possibly in the world. It has territorial disputes with all of its neighbors, notably Japan, South Korea, India, Russia, and the Philippines. How do you think China’s neighbors would react to an aggressive and expansionary China?

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

... February 4, 2014 at 9:21 am

How do you think China’s neighbors would react to an aggressive and expansionary China?

I would expect India to resist any serious expansion by China. The bit I have heard of in the past is a very remote piece of terrain.

Russia will attempt to find a bargain: trade favorable trade in raw resources for time, I would think. Long term, the Russians have a demographic nightmare on their hands with regards to China, but their nuclear arsenal should give the Chinese pause. Russia is unlikely to back down, however.

South Korea is already armed, or at least they used to be. I doubt the Koreans would be willing to give up any land that would jeopardize their mainland position, but they may give up some islands, particularly is the Chinese can make some assurance wrt to crazy NorKs.

The Philippines would have no option but to acquiesce, unless the receive strong international support for their position, which would have to be led by the USA. Given the current occupant of the White House, that won’t happen until at least 2017.

And the big question is, what will the Japanese do? I’ve got no idea. Short-term it probably depends on whether or not the USA supports them in the current dispute. Who knows what this Administration will do? And what happens with those little islands is probably dependent on just how valuable the resources allegedly in the area truly are.

Long term is more interesting for Japan. On the one hand, they really need to militarize to insure some security. However, obvious problems exist with that strategy, both domestically and internationally. And they have a demographic problem as well, though not as bad as the Russian. Honestly, I expect that Japan will probably build a nuclear force (assuming the haven’t already) of its own to give the Chinese pause from any further disputes after the current one (whatever the current one is at the time the Japanese decide to go nuclear and announce it), and will probably try to continue increasing trade ties. The carrot and stick approach, after a fashion.

Are the Chinese and Vietnamese still having problems? Aren’t they due for another war?

TastyBits February 4, 2014 at 9:24 am

We are about to find out.

Presently, they are probing the defenses. In the case of US allies, they are testing the US’s commitment. I would expect them to make some moves against Taiwan soon. It will not necessarily be military, but there will be a military threat in the background.

China is a country where the “build stuff to break it” economy would work. They have a lot of single men with no chance of ever marrying, a lot of new military toys, and a withdrawing sheriff.

Dave Schuler February 4, 2014 at 9:25 am

They have a lot of single men with no chance of ever marrying

They’re also a Confucian society with a lot of elders completely economically dependent on the earnings of too few children. Under the circumstances I wonder if war would be particularly popular in China.

TastyBits February 4, 2014 at 10:43 am

I do not keep up on China like I should, but I think that many people have a too rosy scenario. Of course, they have that about everywhere else as well.

I know they are trying to establish oil and gas rights in some areas. I think they are trying to secure as much costal area as possible, and I would think they would want to secure as many sea lanes as possible.

They are moving to become a superpower, and they are probably marking their playground.

Andy February 4, 2014 at 11:33 am

This post is why our long-standing allies in the region do not want the US to withdrawal all of our forces off their territory and why an old enemy, Vietnam, is looking for closer relations.

The flip side of this coin is what happens to these other countries? I’m specifically thinking of Japan and their military forces.

Jimbino February 4, 2014 at 11:37 am

It seems that China has historically had few territorial disputes, especially if you consider its size and the number of its neighbors. Amerika, in contrast, has only two neighbors, but has maintained disputes, invasions and wars throughout the world.

We have a lot to learn from China, not least of which being how to limit our rampant breeding.

TastyBits February 4, 2014 at 12:29 pm

@Andy

Do not forget about Australia.

Tim February 4, 2014 at 1:18 pm

Even if a country is aggressive and expansionist, it expands where it is “cheapest.” China may make moves to “test the perimeter” of some of it’s neighbors, but it’s important to remember that so far, the dispute is mostly over tiny islands an a border with India that is next to a part of China that is largely not Han and that isn’t well off, in terms of industry or minerals.

China HAS been increasingly aggressive in expanding it’s interests in Africa. Look for this to expand into food soon. It is likely that for the foreseeable future, Africa will continue to be an easier place for China to go than it’s own backyard.

Really, China’s “claims” on its borders are about denying potential competitors effective control, and not about ultimately winning control.

Dave Schuler February 4, 2014 at 2:24 pm

I can’t help but wonder if we’re not seeing the results of generational change within China. The CCP isn’t made up of old revolutionaries any more. They’re bureaucrats, technocrats. Their control over the People’s Army isn’t as tight as it used to be.

This feels to me like we’re entering a condition somewhat resembling the one that prevailed in Japan between the world wars.

Also, perhaps I’m misreading all of your reactions but I’m not as convinced that China is the irresistible juggernaut y’all seem to believe it is. I’ve read serious military analyses that suggest that Taiwan, let alone Japan, could probably take China if attacked.

The People’s Army might be evolving in a different direction but as of today I think its might is mostly directed inward.

Also, how long do you think the CCP could hold onto power if Japan, South Korea, and the United States all blocked trade with it?

TastyBits February 4, 2014 at 3:29 pm

Unless Taiwan has made serious defensive upgrades in the past few years, they would be overrun without a quick US response.

Their army only needs to be better or outlast than their neighbors. Their navy and airforce is what they are building. They need a coastal force which they have built up, and a deep water force which they are building.

China like Russia is working towards its own self interests, and those include expanding their sphere of influence (yeah I said it).

Do you mean a naval blockade?

Dave Schuler February 4, 2014 at 3:31 pm

Do you mean a naval blockade?

Nah. I mean stop buying from them.

... February 4, 2014 at 3:36 pm

This feels to me like we’re entering a condition somewhat resembling the one that prevailed in Japan between the world wars.

That is not a pleasant thought.

Nah. I mean stop buying from them.

No way the billionaires and centimillionaires that depend on Chinese labor would allow that to happen.

TastyBits February 4, 2014 at 4:01 pm

@Dave Schuler

Nah. I mean stop buying from them.

Take your two hits, then pass that blunt.

Ben Wolf February 4, 2014 at 5:41 pm

The first line is containment, manifested by security and cooperation agreements between many Southeast Asian countries and the United States. That’s the obvious step.

Phase Two, should containment fail, will be to destroy China’s ability to sustain war materially and politically. China has poured vast resources into creating a modern military, but the last fourteen years (as well as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) should have amply demonstrated that a modern military has significant weaknesses. They are dependent on synchronized operations which are therefore vulnerable to asymetric disruption.

China’s opponents will refuse to fight it in the open where it has the advantage. They will strike where the Chinese do not expect. They will fund separatist ethnic groups in the western regions, they will conduct “terrorist” attacks against the mainland. They will court the sympathy of the world while at the same time devoting themselves to sending so many body bags home the Chinese people demand an end to the war.

That’s how you win against a superior military power.

steve February 4, 2014 at 9:19 pm

Andy would probably know better, but what I have read about the Chinese military is not that impressive. They would be hard to attack, but I am dubious about their offensive abilities. I think there is still so much residual resentment towards Japan that I am not sure the other countries would work with them even if CHina did turn aggressive.

Steve

Andy February 4, 2014 at 10:22 pm

China’s military is impressive in some areas, backward in others. More important than their overall current capability at this time is where they are investing resources. Those investments seem primarily aimed at capabilities to control China’s maritime littoral and near-abroad. Of particular note are cyber, access denial, long-rage strike, and anti-satellite capabilities. It’s probably not a coincidence that those areas will give weight to China’s various maritime claims as well as create headaches for US military planners.

... February 4, 2014 at 10:35 pm

They would be hard to attack, but I am dubious about their offensive abilities.

It’s those pesky nukes that present the big problem. The other nuclear powers would have to fear that any conventional conflict might escalate quickly.

michael reynolds February 4, 2014 at 11:07 pm

It’s 150 miles from China to Taiwan. China could certainly bomb Taiwan, but invade them? Not in the foreseeable future.

In order to launch invasions across open water you need control of the air and a way to stop submarines. That’s not the English Channel, and we have these things called satellites so there will be plenty of warning, no element of confusion as to destination, etc… Ain’t happening.

This is all fantasy.

michael reynolds February 4, 2014 at 11:21 pm

The argument that we are too interconnected with China economically for war to occur is of course exactly what smart people said right before World War 1. People who trade do sometimes go to war.

But war is no longer profitable the way it was in the good old days. China doesn’t need to seize resources, they can buy them. Japan’s got nothing in resources, it does pretty well for itself. That paradigm just doesn’t make sense economically. Too easy to buy what you need, and too hard to deal with modern insurgencies.

Except for two places. There’s two places on this planet that may have vast resources, no military defenses, and no insurgency: Antarctica and the ocean floors. Science would be the better investment if you really wanted natural resources.

That would be the logical move rather than military expansion. Not that I expect people to be logical. Just saying: a big chunk of this planet isn’t claimed aside from some easily-discarded bits of international paper.

TastyBits February 5, 2014 at 3:38 am

@michael reynolds

Assuming that the US has assets in the area to intercept a Chinese invasion fleet, do we? At what point? (1) The troops on the ships, (2) the troops on the landing transports, (3) the troops on the beaches. What if the Chinese were “just doing exercises” or “just fooling around”? They may lose a few men, but they would have gained much more.

Besides everything else, you are going to have a bunch of Republican assholes second guessing you, and you thought Syria was a big headache.

Dave Schuler February 5, 2014 at 1:35 pm

It’s those pesky nukes that present the big problem.

That’s why our primary posture should be, just as it should be with Russia, one of negative reciprocity: we won’t use our nuclear weapons if they don’t use theirs.

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