The Cold War Daily

Notes on the new great power struggle.

Tag: East China Sea

If you like what China has done in the East China Sea, just wait till they do the same in the South China Sea

The Bloomberg piece lays out the now-familiar “salami-slicing” strategy, compared to the game Go, to push out neighboring powers to establish a zone of influence in the East China Sea. Next up will be the South China Sea, according to Douglas Paal, at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“China is playing the classic game of weiqi, wherein it slowly expands influence through steps that are not a threshold to violence and do not trigger a forcible response,” Paal said, referring to the strategic board game known as Go in English. “Next steps are likely in the South China Sea, but this will be delayed as China builds out its radar and intercept infrastructure.”

The nice thing is such a strategy achieves two goals simultaneously. It creates a zone of influence and also erodes a clear, rules-based order, sending up the mist of ambiguity the Chinese Communist Party likes to operate under. This is part of a macro trend across a number of realms as China’s power increases.

China’s rules-based order in the Air Defense Identification Zone

Forgiving any translation errors – which are possible, take a look at this comment about the significance of China’s Air Defense Identification Zone from one Ma Jun, a research fellow of the department of foreign military studies.

“It shows China is willing to participate in the formulation of international rules. Like it or not, China has set up a new ‘rule of game’ in the East China Sea. China will no longer allow others to unilaterally establish international rules, especially those concerning its neighbors and itself.”

So, China’s “participation” is the unilateral creation of rules in its region like the ADIZ, as opposed to what it sees as the “unilaterally” established international rules by others. But the more interesting idea comes next. Jun writes: 

“China will not blindly obey to the rules not agreed upon by China as it now has the desire and capability to guarantee the regional security. This is a fact other countries should learn to accept. As a member of the international community, China should not be excluded from the formulation of international rules.”

I am not sure China can actually guarantee regional security, which takes a mix of significant military commitments and diplomatic flexibility. But the assumption that rules come unilaterally seems to say a lot about China’s understanding of rule-making in general. It shows the kind of brittleness in the China’s relations with its neighbors.

Frankly, if Ma Jun simply wrote that China expects a big seat at the table on these matters, one befitting its size and influence, his position would be much clearer. Instead, the explanation that China shouldn’t be excluded from the “formulation” of international rules hints that the “formulation” of rules by China by necessity involves a top-down approach at home and abroad. This is the kind of thing that rattles neighbors and causes uncertainty.

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