Testing China’s Limit And Tactical Mind Games – OpEd


Europe has been fighting a losing war in reasserting its foothold in the Indo Pacific, further worsened by the limited economic and military capacity in securing its interests in the region. The aftermath of the two great wars have seen a compelled inward-looking and rebuilding agenda, with constrained capacities in reorienting its strategies on its former colonies. China’s entrenched grip and intention to dictate the region’s security threatens the historical foundation of the West, in which reliance on the US alone to contain China is increasingly overstretched. Britain and France tried to fill the gap but were hampered by consistency and reach, although seen as a much-needed European representation in sending a clear message to China.

Its long held defensive oriented military bearing has enabled realignment and openings for non-military advancement which has contributed to Germany’s integral leadership in areas including knowledge creation and scientific advancement. Moscow’s forceful change on the rules-based order and Beijing’s similar intention pose a direct threat to this architecture that Berlin helped to maintain, jolting the Germans out of complacency.

Germany’s latest efforts to join the fray through its inaugural marathon 24-hour flight to Asia by its Eurofighter jets in joining the Pitch Black exercise, on top of its Bayern frigate’s seven-month deployment earlier this year in Indo Pacific that marked a breakthrough after two decades, is intended to showcase a four-pronged objective.

Firstly, it intends to signal to Beijing that it is ready for a decreased strategic dependence and for an enhanced stance in protecting its greater economic and geostrategic calculations in the region. Secondly, to warn Moscow and future adversaries, that Berlin intends to exit its confinement of focus on economic and value-based peripheries to one that is security oriented with gradual shift to a more assertive defensive posture. This rapid deployment of the long-range flight aims to demonstrate the agility and rapid capacity for Germany to spread its airpower to a distant potential conflict locality, serving as a needed critical juncture for ready surgical intervention to secure its interests abroad or to deter aggressive intentions despite the lack of an aircraft carrier. 

Thirdly, to yearn for greater leadership in the West’s resistance and containment force, playing a deeper role in return for more consolidated trust and reciprocal support for its defensive needs outside the sphere of NATO and in anticipating starker threats originating from Indo Pacific. Fourth, the shift of intent to be communicated to the local populace in pushing for heightened public support and acceptance on new stature in security resources, hence willingness to supersede current internal challenges, and to solicit greater national unity and political wins.

The strategic returns derived from this move gave reassurances to the fearful regional players yearning for a united and consistent Western response and support. Conversely, it gives new barriers for Beijing, Pyongyang and Moscow to halt the expansion of the West’s containment team. It also serves as a pretext for both to justify their hardened fear-mongering tactics and to display larger cards and tools in their tactical countermeasures. Conventional narratives on the West’s unfair and targeted profiling with systemic provocations will be capitalised on by Beijing and Pyongyang in pinning the blame, pointing to the increased measures in encircling China through strategic military drills.

The potential flight manoeuvre near Taiwan during the trip back for Germany’s jets will be seized upon by Beijing specifically for the blame on Berlin and the West in general for the unnecessary provocation amidst already worsening tensions. The manoeuvre, coupled with the unwavering consistency in support of Taiwan through the subsequent high profile US delegation to Taiwan after Pelosi’s trip, might give new repeated assurances of support and commitment to freedom of passage and a rules-based regional order. It reinforces the reminder to Beijing that a committed and combined force of deterrence is still mighty and undeterred, but risks of further pushing Beijing to an already tight corner that will invite riskier mistakes and miscalculations in its retaliations have been well-considered by the containment team. 

Any potential lines that are crossed by Beijing’s counter actions will be used to the team’s advantage, and Beijing is smart enough not to be played into the tactical mind game by the West. However, the bulk of the pent-up anger will be channelled to the immediate regional recipients, with Taipei, Seoul and Tokyo bearing the impact of greater grey zone fearmongering and coercive affronts as part of Beijing and Pyongyang’s new game of testing the limits and response strategies and capacities for these affected players.

The same tactic of “strategic systemic provocation” employed against them, will now be used on their adversaries in hoping for Tokyo and Taipei particularly to engage in early missteps which will be swiftly justified for the need for potentially disproportionate responses. An already worsening security dilemma and sabre-rattling will provide both costs and opportunities, and some parties will wisely or otherwise, capitalize on all available options to ensure the success of their tactical manoeuvres. A cat and mouse game might not yield a clear victory for both, but both sides are compelled to be seen to act on securing their interests and needs, and that a victory in tactical and mind games at the very least, will do some justice to their national pride and collective purpose.

For China, only an outright comprehensive victory over the West both in its geopolitical aspirations in the region and the world and in its soft power and cultural dominance will justify its 100-Year Marathon by 2049 and in redeeming its dented pride by the Century of Humiliation. The greater alignment and combined forces of the Western led containment team will seek to ensure that the historically predominant, stable and proven rules-based international order and norms will persevere against Beijing’s onslaughts.

A new, long and potentially ugly mind and physical game of tactical, deceit and strategic in nature has begun, where conventional and solitary firepower alone would not guarantee long term success and acceptance. Systemic trust, predominance in values and moral purpose, and prevailing guarantees of law and rules-based equality and transparency pillared on freedom and respect for rights are what are needed for a structural and systemic triumph. Based on historical terms, the West might just have both the will and combined capacity to ensure that they remain triumphant in this conflict yet again, this time for a renewed course of better self-correction in its aftermath.

Collins Chong Yew Keat

Collins Chong Yew Keat has been serving in University of Malaya, the top university in Malaysia for more than 9 years. His areas of interests include strategic and security studies, American foreign policy and power analysis and has published various publications on numerous platforms including books and chapter articles. He is also a regular contributor in providing op-eds for both the local and international media on various contemporary global issues and regional affairs since 2007.

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