By Dr. Subhash Kapila
China by all contemporary deductive analysis emerges as Asia Region’s predominant spoiler state. China’s Grand Strategy is premised on two major postulations both strategically targeting the United States. The first strategic objective is to minimise United States undisputed strategic and military predominance in the Asia Pacific and to compel the United States to make an exit from East Asia. The second strategic objective of China is as a consequence of the above to emerge as the strategic co-equal of the United States on the global stage.
China’s evolving into the regional spoiler state was first reflected in my SAAG Paper No. 1104 dated 2004. China was providing indicators then on the likely trajectory it would follow in the years to come. Eight years down the line China has not shaped for the better.
In the last decade it had become fashionable in US and Western think-tanks and academic circles to predict that as China gained in stature and power, China would become a more responsible stake-holder in Asian and global affairs. Retrospectively, those now seem to be pious hopes of those who are oblivious to the brazen impulsiveness of rising powers intent on a ‘revisionist course’.
Contemporaneously reviewed, it can be safely asserted that China poses a direct strategic threat to the United States and figures as the most powerful threat in Japanese and Indian threat –perceptions. Despite their current strategic convergences, China will in due course also emerge as a ‘strategic irritant’ for Russia if not a threat.
The China Threat to Japan and India is more potent simply for the reason that China perceives Japan and India as its challengers for Asian leadership and therefore figure heavily in China’s threat perceptions and also meriting special Chinese attention in terms of China’s political and military coercion.
The United States was not asleep to the emerging China Threat to its national security interests. As far back as 2004, once again, it needs to be pointed out that then President Bush had also directed redeployment of troops from Europe. The concerned White House Fact Sheet of 2004 stands quoted in my Papers of 2004. Deflections from that policy may have occurred due to events in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Reverting to the main theme of this Paper, a brief survey of the security environment and security and stability in Asia Pacific and how it is being impacted by Chinese spoiler-state strategies would be a logical exercise. This is being attempted in terms of East Asia, South East Asia, the Indian Sub-Continent and Indian Ocean Region.
East Asia is the prime focus of China strategic planners as starting from the Korean Peninsula down to Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines, this chain of peninsula and island chains constitute a barrier to China breaking-out into the Pacific Ocean. All of them provide the United States with security network connectivity by virtue of them being tied to the United States in bilateral security treaties, besides enabling forward military forces presence of the United States for an immediate response to any Chinese military adventurism.
China’s spoiler- state demonstrated actions in this region amount to not restraining its protege North Korea from military provocations in the region eg. sinking of a South Korea Navy ship by a North Korea naval ship sometime back, Chinese Navy submarines prowling around in Japan’s Inland Sea waters, Chinese Navy provocative incidents with Japanese Navy ships in the Senkaku Island’s waters Earlier the Hainan Island incident and buzzing of US Navy ships by China especially in the South China Sea were extreme acts of Chinese military brinkmanship against the United States.
The main aim of these Chinese actions was part of brinkmanship strategies against the United States with a dual aim, namely belittling US image amongst American regional allies and secondly to test the limits of US military forbearance. Towards this dual aim China is not acting as a responsible stake-holder in the region, endangering regional stability in East Asia and generating regional political and military tensions.
In South East Asia there was a strategic vacuum till recently when the United States awoke to the creeping inroads made by China and the Americans went into an over-drive to reclaim lost strategic-space in South East Asia. China’s main spoiler-state activities in this region revolve around the South China Sea disputes with virtually all the South East Asian countries and more prominently Vietnam and the Philippines.
China has designated the South China Sea as Chinese waters and a ‘Core Issue’ of China along with Taiwan and that it is ready to go to war those challenging Chinese assertions. Implicit in this is that the United States too should back-off on this issue.
This is yet another manifestation of China’s new military aggressiveness aimed at the dual aims stated in earlier paragraphs against the United States. China has also embarked on issuing stern warnings to Vietnam on its growing proximity to the United States. Chinese military literature abounds with articles espousing “teaching military lessons” to Vietnam and India also.
Curiously similar warnings have yet to emerge against Myanmar which is opening in a big way to the United States and may open a land-approach to China’s underbelly.
On the Indian Sub-Continent region, China has shown no inclination to change its gears in terms of sustenance of Pakistan as the regional spoiler-state acting as a proxy for China against India. Conversely, China seems headed to further stiffen Pakistan’s spoiler- state capabilities against India besides now aiming at embedment of Chinese military manpower in the sensitive regions opposite India’s J&K State.
Hemmed-in in the Pacific Ocean and with the aim of ensuring security of her energy supply-lines, China has made a significant presence in Seychelles Islands. China is reported to be establishing a naval base for her Indian Ocean movement besides Gwadur in Pakistan and one in Sri Lanka.
China seems to be at odds with virtually all its neighbours in different regions of the Asia Pacific. In East Asia military tensions exist with South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. In South East Asia, China has a serious military confrontation with the Philippines and Vietnam more notably besides problems with Indonesia and Malaysia
In the Indian Sub-Continent, a significant military stand-off exists between China and India along the over 3000 km long Himalayan mountain chain. China-Pakistan military nexus acts as another destabilising factor and threat to India’s security.
In the Indian Ocean Region, China has failed to recognise that it has not only to run the gauntlet of the India Navy but also the Navies of the United States and NATO Countries as exemplified by the French Defence Minister assertions at the 2012 Shangri-La Dialogue 2012 in Singapore a month ago.
Now what does the above picture all add upto? In all of China’s demonstrated disruptive and threatening activities recounted above is there even one grain of optimism that suggests that China has benign strategic and military intentions to contribute to Asia’s security and stability? In all of the above survey can one find even one strand that would suggest that China in the interest of Asian solidarity, China would rise above parochial nationalistic impulses and attempt conflict resolution by climbing down from her territorial claims based on Imperial China formulations lost in antiquity?
Regrettably for Asian counties, China has not shown any reasonable inclinations to be at peace with her neighbours across the entire length and breadth of the Asia Pacific. China has not exhibited any sign of being a responsible stake-holder in Asian stability and security.
Can China go to war on its designated “Core Issues’” like Taiwan, South China Sea, Tibet and Xingjian? Can China realistically come out successfully in any military conflict with the United States in the 21st Century? Can China realistically hope that it will be able to establish a “China Hegemony” on Asia?
The realistic answer to all of the above questions is a resounding No. Then what has China embarked on?
Concluding, one would like to suggest is that China’s assumption of the ‘Asia Region’s Predominant Spoiler State’ role lies in the strategic reality that unable to enter into an all-out military conflict with the United States in the Asia Pacific, China has adopted spoiler-state strategies to keep the Asian security environment simmering constantly with the dual aim of belittling and minimising United States strategic status and image in Asia Pacific and hoping thereby in that process that China can induce a strategic fatigue in the United States where it double-thinks on its security commitments and security presence in Asia Pacific.
In short, it is China’s asymmetric strategic response against United States global and regional strategic predominance in the Asia Pacific.