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.