East/South China seas: The strategy is failing


It now seems reasonable to assume that China will continue to ramp up the pressure on the disputed islands across the East and South China Seas until it owns them. The latest moves against the Philippines and Indonesia, and on over-fishing, are just the most recent steps towards eventual possession. If we wish to prevent that outcome, we need a serious rethink. Current strategies are failing.

Australia’s current strategy includes encouraging the America to pivot, befriend the Japanese, do some hedging and decry Chinese assertiveness. Our underlying logic, and that of others, seems to be that by reinforcing the balance of power and so demonstrating resolve, China will realise it cannot achieve its objectives by force and thus be deterred. This is all good realist stuff, but it plays to China’s strengths: global economic power and, nearer the Chinese mainland, military might.

The problem is that the Chinese are clearly not deterred. The clever use of Coastguard ships has kept the perceived level of violence down. The Chinese have generally kept the disputes bilateral, thus maximising their power against each interlocutor. Moreover, the Chinese Government often simultaneously offers economic carrots, such as free trade agreements, which deters firm responses to Chinese territorial moves.


Read more: http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/2014/04/02/East-ChinaSouth-China-Sea-The-strategy-is-failing.aspx