Friday, December 31, 2010

Core Intentions?

Concern in Asia is raised by China's plans to conquer disputed islands in the South China Sea:

Under the tactical plan, the Chinese Air Force, working in tandem with air combat units of the Navy, would stage surprise bombing runs over military ports and ships based at targeted islands.

The plan calls for eliminating the enemy's combat capability over the course of about an hour and then begin landing troops using amphibious assault ships, such as the Kunlunshan, the biggest such vessel in the Chinese naval fleet. It has a displacement of 18,000 tons and can accommodate four helicopters on its deck.

While the invasion was under way, the main units of the North China Sea Fleet and the East China Sea Fleet would take up positions to block U.S. aircraft carriers from approaching the island.

Taiwan should take note of that outline: Achieve surprise, strike hard and fast to stun defenders, land troops, slow down our carriers.

The bigger lesson--one that really keeps China's neighbors nervous--is that China's plans to take these islands are fairly new and follow on the new declaration that these South China Sea islands are a "core interest" of China. While China has long claimed them and taken some in the past, in doplomatic circles that designation had been reserved for Taiwan and Tibet.

But as Chinese military capabilities have increased, so too has their scope of core interests. Neighbors have to wonder what core interest related to them could be discovered in the future as Chinese military capabilities expand to put them within reach. When Chinese intentions can change overnight, neighbors have to react to Chinese capabilities, just in case a "peaceful rise" of China turns into a "core interest" at their expense.