Beijing’s Appetite For War

dragonIVAnalyst and blogger Richard Fernandez has referred to an article which appeared on the website of the Chinese news agency, Zhongguo Xinwenshe. It was entitled, “Revealing the Six Wars China Must Fight in the Coming 50 Years.  As Richard points out:

the article is another manifestation of the hyper-nationalist attitude seen within some parts of the PLA. However, that an article of this nature was carried by a PRC national news agency suggests that it was approved at a very high level.

The six inevitable wars in the article’s title are in the following chronological order:

  1. The war to unify Taiwan (2020–2025)
  2. The war to recover the various islands of the South China Sea (2025–2030)
  3. The war to recover southern Tibet (2035–2040)
  4. The war to recover Diaoyutai and the Ryukyus (2040–2045)
  5. The war to unify Outer Mongolia (2045–2050)
  6. The war to recover the territory seized by Russia (2055–2060)

In my opinion, what stands out is not simply that China is pursuing an aggressive strategic posture but that it  envisages such a lengthy timetable to implement its goals. Aggressive goals are combined with a degree of patience which was utterly foreign to the likes of Hitler’s Germany back in the twentieth century. These future wars lie far beyond the term of the current Chinese leadership. It seems they are quite content to leave these future wars to their children and grandchildren.

Yet such long term thinking does not preclude quick adaptions to perceived opportunities. What if China decides that war Number 4 can be brought forward?

The disputed islands are covered under the United States’ defence agreement with Japan. Why would China now risk an open conflict with the United States over these islands when its own scenario did not envisage conflict for another twenty five years?

The obvious answer is that China is just as capable of reading weakness as the best of us. When Mark Steyn, David Pryce-Jones and Daniel Pipes, amongst others, write of weakness, surrender and betrayal of allies in the “deal” with Iran, do not assume that the China is not perfectly capable of reaching the same conclusion. On the recent agreement in Geneva with Iran on its nuclear programme, Daniel Pipes wrote:

This wretched deal offers one occasion when comparison with Neville Chamberlain in Munich in 1938 is valid. An overeager Western government, blind to the evil cunning of the regime it so much wants to work with, appeases it with concessions that will come back to haunt it. Geneva and Nov. 24 will be remembered along with Munich and Sept. 29.

China is entitled to believe that the feckless Obama Administration will similarly abandon its allies in East Asia if push really comes to shove, so to speak.

And if the recent signs are any guide, the omens for American reliability are not good. After an initial robust response by the US Administration, we now learn that:

On Saturday, United, American and Delta airlines told CNN that its pilots were following Washington’s advice and complying with Beijing’s “air defense identification zone.”

A senior official in U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration said Friday that commercial airlines are being told to abide by Beijing’s instruction, even if the U.S. government doesn’t recognize it.

“We … are advising for safety reasons that they comply with notices to airmen, which FAA always advises,” the official said…

 As the CNN report went on to note:

It’s a subtle change from two days earlier, when the State Department said “the U.S. government generally expects that U.S. carriers operating internationally” comply with other countries’ mandates, rather than directing them to.

On the other hand, two major Japanese airlines have refused to comply with China’s declaration.

In a formal sense, the US alliance with Japan will continue like the US alliance with Israel. Disturbingly, China may rightly conclude that Japan like Israel will be left to fend for itself if and when the crunch comes. Welcome to the post-American world.

Christopher Carr is a frequent contributor to Quadrant and Quadrant Online

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