Throughout the Christmas-New Year break, The Interpreter will be featuring some of its best pieces from 2015. More to come between now and January 4 when The Interpreter will be back for 2016.
South China Sea: Does Xi have a grand strategy?, by Linda Jakobson, 13 January.
I do want to emphasise, however, that the word ‘chaos’ or ‘chaotic’ does not appear anywhere in the report. I do not view Chinese maritime security decision-making as chaotic.
This brings me to an observation made by Michael McDevitt. On the basis of Xi’s willingness to make politically ‘courageous’ moves in his anti-corruption campaign, McDevitt questions my argument that Xi and other top leaders find it difficult to publicly disagree with officials or entities that announce or execute counterproductive stances associated with ‘safeguarding China’s sovereignty’. This is an important and possibly a valid point, which I have contemplated while watching one senior official after another being investigated. Nevertheless, on the basis of discussions this past September and November in Beijing about the anti-corruption drive, I came to the conclusion that there are different dynamics at play. The ‘rights consciousness’ movement (which Xi himself has spurred on) is so strong that it does at least to a degree deter Xi from going against the tide on matters involving sovereignty. Obviously, time will tell if I am mistaken.
Finally, I do not claim that China’s maritime actors can behave in any way they choose. Xi’s guidelines box them in. As I have written in The Australian, it is entirely possible that Xi approves of most (or all) of the actions taken in China’s name. My point is that Xi is not deciding on myriad actions; numerous maritime actors are.