Sunday, December 20, 2015

Seeing Through the Charm Offensive

China's neighbors are building real capabilities to resist China. Is it enough?

Japan will finally put boots on the ground in their small islands south of the Japanese main islands:

In recent months, the U.S. has pressured Tokyo to counter China's island building and military training in the region. Japan is responding with plans to deploy a line of anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile batteries along 200 islands located roughly 870 miles from the Japanese mainland toward Taiwan. Japan also is taking steps to increase the number of military personnel stationed in the East China Sea by about a fifth to a total of 10,000 by 2020, the Guardian reported.

This is a vast improvement over past plans to deploy forces capable of rapidly pre-empting a Chinese effort to seize those islands by getting their first.

Japan's effort reflects a regional response to Chinese assertiveness over territorial claims against neighbors:

The nations bordering the South China Sea, and the new islands built by China, are creating alliances and trying to persuade more distant and powerful nations (like America and India) to lend some military, or at least diplomatic support to opposing an increasingly aggressive China. Much to China’s dismay such an alliance has formed and grown stronger in 2015. Recently Japan and India formed military ties directed at Chinese aggression while Taiwan, Australia, Japan and Indonesia all created new military agreements with each other. The growth of this alliance has encouraged a reluctant United States to become more involved and aggressive in defying Chinese claims. China set out to create an empire in the South China Sea but has also generated a rapidly growing and aggressive anti-Chinese military alliance. As the old warning goes, be careful what you ask for.

Vietnam, which lacks a 100-mile wide anti-tank ditch as Taiwan has, is also reacting to China's assertiveness:

Vietnam's military is steeling itself for conflict with China as it accelerates a decade-long modernization drive, Hanoi's biggest arms buildup since the height of the Vietnam War.

Of course, this regional response needs America involved because China is so powerful that they could pick on any single target and overwhelm them while other neighbors are unable to decisively intervene to help the target.

Unless you assume China will conveniently attack every neighbor at the same time and dilute Chinese power rather than picking out a weak member of the herd.

That's where we come in with our deployable power that can help knit together all the separate centers of power that would resist China.

And yet Russia remains apart from this growing regional response, believing China's claims against Russia are uniquely dormant.

Well, they are for a little while longer.

I certainly wouldn't trade places with China (although I'd like updated figures from Strategypage--the site I link to is now missing--used for that back-of-the-envelope comparison, because despite Putin's aggression and bluster, I think he's more the Mussolini figure if you think there is an eerie inter-war vibe going on now).

And just what does China calculate in all this? Do they believe the reaction to their build-up and assertiveness creates a window of opportunity to act now to achieve some of their territorial goals?

Or do they believe they can be patient and watch their power grow to bully foes into submission without a fight that risks drawing in America?

UPDATE: Austin Bay discusses the decision of China's neighbors to create anti-access/aerial denial (AA/AD) capabilities to deter China just as China has created this capacity in the face of American naval power.

In one sense, I don't understand all the hype. Isn't this just traditional coastal defense?

In the age of sail there were gunboats and forts and coastal batteries. Later you could add in longer-range cannons, torpedo boats, coastal monitors (and even coastal battleships). Even later add in submarines and aircraft and land-based torpedo batteries as well as mines.

And now we have long-range anti-ship missiles based on land with satellites to help find targets added to the mix. Isn't this just the traditional coastal defense but with longer range to cope with the longer range of naval power?

Not that it isn't significant. It just isn't new.