Asian Futures
Limiting Chinese Aggression: A Strategy of Counter-Pressure

Five strategic fallacies are causing us to overlook a range of options for deterring Beijing.

Appeared in: Volume 13, Number 5 | Published on: February 9, 2018
Charles Edel is a senior fellow and visiting scholar at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. Previously, he was associate professor of strategy and policy at the U.S. Naval College and served on the U.S. Secretary of State's policy planning staff from 2015 to 2017.
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  • AbleArcher

    Wouldn’t even need to have the conversation if not for western corporations, eager as they are to make a buck off any tinhorn, Communist, or fascist regime that they can, and their willing corruptocrats in DC, like Clinton, who worked very hard for corrupt western corporations and Chinese Communist Party.

  • AnonymoussSoldier

    How do you make sure that Asia remains as liberal, open and democratic as possible by supporting one of the worst human rights abusers, censor-happy, undemocratic regimes? Your answer is that you can’t. It makes no sense, and it’s not working for that reason. I suppose it makes sense in a policy wonks head – a place usually far removed from the real world – much like someone on the spectrum really.

    The reality is that none of it was inevitable. Thirty years ago, the Communist Party was mowing down 20 year old Chinese students and there were far more bicycles and 100 year old apartment buildings in Beijing than new cars and high rises (however hastily built). The party didn’t turn things around or change; it still has massive SOE’s, currency manipulation, depressed wages, and no right to free speech or assembly for Chinese.

    None of this was inevitable. All the result of specific, bad policy decisions by Western leaders, but especially those in the United States, and namely Bill Clinton. I can talk about it all day long. Breaking down for simplicity’s sake, Clinton did two terrible things.
    1. “Delink”[ed] (his word) the regimes human rights record from its ability to hold MFN status, and all of the implications that has for commerce, ie support for the regime.
    2. Shoehorned the regime into the WTO. He worked very hard on this his whole second term despite already growing trade deficits and the concerns of Japanese and many Europeans. Probably the shady Chinese money helping bills re-election had something to do with it. I actually hope so. If he’s going to sell out should at least be getting paid.

    • KremlinKryptonite

      I’m with you on 90% of that. Without question, the West made china wealthier and at least somewhat more modern over the past three decades, not the Communist Party. Don’t let the so-called “first tier cities” fool you. Much of China is barely developed, or what you would consider a ghetto in a first-world country, outside of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. Even visiting a so called “second tier city”, like Chongqing or Chengdu, is quite a steep drop off from the first tier. They’re not a close second.

      Two points.
      1. The SCS situation is greatly exaggerated, including by the Pentagon. Of course it’s a way to ensure a growing budget. Find me a bureaucracy, military, or other institution which wants a shrinking budget rather than a growing one. I’ve been in the Navy for 20 years, and I can promise you or anybody else who actually cares about the reality of the situation that it’s not so dire. When the shooting starts, the SLOCs (sea lanes of communication/commerce) can be and will be moved outward to the second island chain, and beyond. Take a look at the map with the “first island chain” and the “second island chain” clearly demarcated. The Japanese Navy, although that’s not what it calls itself, is the second best navy in Asia, besides the USN. It is very capable of operating at and beyond the second island chain. The Chinese navy (PLA-N) is currently unable to operate at or beyond the second island chain with any sort of proficiency, and will continue to struggle for decades to come. In other words, go ahead and build some sand dunes. Not only are they easy to destroy, but everyone can literally pass them by with Japanese and USN protection, as far as Japan and South Korea, and Guam are concerned. Cutting off the Vietnamese will probably result in them giving the Chinese another bloody nose and a black eye, as they did in 1979.

      2. Despite western corporations and consumers and speculators increasing the capital wealth of china over the past few decades, the regime in Beijing has had little success translating that relatively newfound economic power into the more potent form of soft power, and that of course is cultural and icon-based power, essentially branding power. Japan, US, and UK are each masters at branding. They have attractive cultures, countries, and national icons. I see more people wearing UK and US flag apparel and accessories outside of the two countries than I do inside of them! That’s a big deal. It’s considered cool! It’s a real accomplishment for a person in Asia to be able to say they’ve visited Time Square. Don’t ask me why, I think it’s a filthy place and too crowded. But it doesn’t matter what a native thinks. It’s the brand power abroad that matters. Despite finding themselves in rather new and unfamiliar territory, like East Africa and South America, the Chinese Communist Party can’t sell itself the same way. Small wonder. Authoritarian oligarchy, mass censorship, and a geriatric politburo rolling around in their foreign-made luxury cars while mandating everyone from school kids to military officers read Marx and Mao isn’t all that attractive.

      • AnonymoussSoldier

        Those are really great points. And I’ll thank you for being frank about situation even though hyping it up is probably good for your career if you’re working in the service over there. I always knew there was something fishy about the island building. Seems more like an act of desperation than a move of strength and acting with impunity.

        • KremlinKryptonite

          That’s an excellent way to put it, acting out of desperation rather than strength. In point of fact, one doesn’t build artificial islands for their military value in such a region, and one doesn’t build them to enhance an already faulty claim of sovereignty either.

          The Chinese suffer from two critical naval problems: Incompetency building carriers, and virtually no anti-submarine warfare (ASW) experience. What do you do when you can’t build a decent carrier, and even if you could then you don’t know how to defend it from subs? You build a fake island. Problem is, that fake island is not moving, and it is bad publicity in the meantime.

          • CheckYourself

            I fully understand all of that, and certainly the only threat to shipping would be the Chinese threatening their own or perhaps that of Taiwan or Vietnam. They can’t effectively push outward if the SLOCs move out there. But! What if they attack Taiwan?

          • KremlinKryptonite

            You’re onto something there, and I’m not sure if you fully recognize it. Any strategic purpose for the forceful acquisition of existing islands and reefs over the decades, or building up submerged ones, certainly has Taiwan in mind. Perhaps only Taiwan in mind. Not only would the party like to crush the next-door Chinese democracy, but of course Taiwan simply must be controlled by the mainland if they’re to ever have any hope of breaking out of the island chains.

            Of course, it’s also been long-standing US policy to intervene in various ways when it looks like Taiwan is under real threat, and this is dating back to the 50s, not just the 1990s Strait crisis, and this despite Carter’s unfortunate decision to partially abrogate the treaty with Taiwan in 1979 and officially recognize the CCP.
            Even so, the Taiwan relations act makes clear that America has some security commitment to Taiwan, although it’s left somewhat vague, and vague on purpose. Sort of strategic ambiguity.

            As far as chinese A2/AD goes, forget america altogether for a second. A2/AD is a two-way street! Taiwan, and especially japan, both have their own A2/AD plans to counter Chinese threats against themselves.
            And it is completely unclear that the Chinese Navy and Air Force (PLAN and PLAAF) could even successfully mount an invasion of Taiwan, even with no direct US assistance in the equation!
            Amphibious assaults are literally some of the most dangerous and complicated military endeavors one can undertake, it’s a pretty tall order for experienced naval powers. China is not an experienced naval power, and invading Taiwan would be a terrible training mission.

            Of course the US does sell and should sell even more hardware to Taiwan, and Chinese A2/AD is rather a misnomer against the USN. Why? USN doctrine relies heavily on sub warfare, early warning, electronic warfare, and stimulating enemy defenses with decoys, like MALDs.
            The Chinese have virtually no ASW experience, and questionable ASW capabilities, and US ordinance, like the LRASM, flips the A2/AD doctrine on its head. The missile does not use its own radar to actively seek targets, rather it picks up on the enemy ship’s radars and homes in on them. Note, this means that it does not even matter if the ship is of a stealthy design. The USN also has its own supersonic anti-ship missile, the multi purpose SM-6, which also happens to be of use in anti-air and anti-ballistic missile operations.

          • QET

            I have an impertinent question for you, KK. You (Anonymouss Soldier, too) are a fount of information, very particular and, if it can be believed, highly relevant information, on Asian history and policy (don’t take the “if it can be believed” personally; this is the Internet after all). AS’s Disqus activity is shielded from view but yours isn’t. In the past 12 months, with the exception of a few posts at The National Interest, all of your posting activity is exclusive to TAI. Why is that? What is so special about TAI that you would author so many lengthy, information-laden posts here and only here? Or is KK just one among many of your Internet avatars? I am not complaining or criticizing you. Just curious why the confinement to these shores.

          • KremlinKryptonite

            I think I know a little more than AS, here, but no offense to him/her. I should know more than most because I’ve been living in East Asia for a decade, and I’ve been in the service for two. But I’m not in the business of “selling” the military. I don’t know, I guess it’s the engineer in me, but the amount of misunderstanding out there drives me bonkers even if it is useful for securing a larger budget. I see where the inefficiencies and the waste are firsthand. I do what I can to inform others.

            Anyways, I used to be a regular on several sites. I see that after so much time has passed they are removed from my history of sites I frequent. I suppose that makes sense because I certainly don’t frequent them anymore. I left some for various reasons, but I was actually banned over at TNI. Only place that has happened. I most definitely didn’t threaten anyone, use profanity, or spam a bunch of links. I was surprised. My guess is that their contributors didn’t appreciate my dismantling all of their clickbait titles and stories. Coming full circle, I appreciate that TAI does not have a lot of clickbait stories. Furthermore, I actually found out from others here that they were also banned over on TNI. There does appear to be some linkage between getting banned at TNI and saying things critical of US-china policy to date, or the Chinese Communist Party. I don’t want to believe it, but there certainly has been an influx of Chinese money to US think tanks and universities, so it’s entirely possible that’s the reason why they would do such a thing.

          • AnonymoussSoldier

            You most certainly do have more knowledge than anyone here on these topics, and I suspect it hurts biting your tongue knowing so much that can’t be shared publicly. Too bad you’re not a Clinton or a close associate of theirs. You could talk all day about classified stuff and have nothing to fear !

  • DiogenesDespairs

    If even the blame-America, largely pusillanimous Obama administration was willing to oppose Chinese expansionism, there should be no doubt about US willingness to do so going forward. And all the states ringing China, from Korea and Japan to India, have had recent experience with Chinese bullying. There should be no problem building an effective alliance. Trade, military and other ties between the US and Europe and the Ring countries are obviously in the interests of all parties involved.

    One big thing that is needed is a more effective response to the South China Sea incursions, but it is probably a good idea to back-burner that until the North Korea problem is resolved.

    The way forward is obvious.

  • Ravikumar

    Nice article! much more needs to be done/ acted upon than just being discussed/ on paper. US is key to most of the initiatives but not all and so who will do what first shall not be a stumbling block for the regional allies to decide their own proactive initiatives to preempt Chinese hegemony.

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