Winning in Asia

In his piece in The Interpreter Brendan Taylor makes some sound observations about the handicaps that face us in Asia:

For one, geography favours China and Russia too strongly. Taiwan, for instance, is 11,000 kilometres away from the continental United States. It lies a mere 160 kilometres from China. Coupled with its development of increasingly powerful and precise anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities, this geographic advantage is fast enabling Beijing to block America from coming to Taiwan’s defence.

Second, even if America finds more funding to throw at this problem, the costs to Beijing of countering such responses are considerably lower. Washington, for example, is seeking to establish military bases at a greater distance from China and to project power into key theatres such as the South China Sea from these. The new joint US-Australia base at Manus Island could well be a case in point. But Beijing can simply react to these efforts by producing more missiles with the capability to strike at such facilities.

Third, countries are generally most willing to use military force to secure interests closest to them. Russia’s 2008 incursion into Georgia and its 2014 annexation of Crimea confirm this. China too has been unequivocal in its commitment that Taiwan constitutes a “core interest” that it would fight to defend.

As should be needless to say I disagree with his prescription. He’s thinking too much in terms of hard power. The way we can win in Asia is by ensuring that we are a juster, more equitable, more prosperous society.

We didn’t win the Cold War by force of arms at least not by force of arms alone. We won because our system was obviously successful and the Soviets’ wasn’t. China’s spreading money around Asia won’t be enough to buy friends for them. For every friend they buy, there’s resentment. There’s a Sri Lanka.

2 comments… add one
  • Andy

    I would agree with you except to say that hard power is necessary if we are going to credibly meet our mutual defense obligations.

    To use the Cold War example, our force of arms kept Berlin and western Europe (and South Korea) free so that our system could win over the Soviets in the long game.

    We need to decide if we are willing to invest the hard power necessary to defend Taiwan (and other regional nations) and thereby deter any Chinese expansionism to give the time necessary for systemic competition to play out.

  • bob sykes

    America’s so-called hard power is illusory. While our military is (temporarily) larger than China’s, it is dispersed across the whole world, while China’s is concentrated inside the Nine Dash Line. In all likelihood, China already has naval and air superiority inside that zone, and bases in Australia or Diego Garcia do not change that.

    We will have to negotiate some sort of settlement with China that concedes it a world leadership role. Or we can fight them and lose.

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