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By 2010 China felt that it was strong enough to establish its own “Monroe Doctrine”. But it wanted in a manner, US blessings. A senior Chinese official indicated off the table to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Washington accept the South China Sea as China’s “core interest” that is, South China Sea was Chinese sovereign territory, and China would accept USA’s domination elsewhere. Clinton declined the proposal. The US replied with its position that it was in America’s national interest to have the sea lanes of South China Sea open and free for navigation.

 

At another official podium at the Shangri-la dialogue at Singapore this April, (2014) China’s Defence Minister Gen. Chang Wanguan retorted to US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel that China would make “no compromise, no trading” in the fight for China’s “territorial sovereignty”. It was a slap in your face statement on China’s position.

 

President Xi Jinping raised the China dominated unipolar Asia flag when addressing the fourth summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in Shanghai on May 21, 2014. He announced an Asia Security concept which in a nutshell can be summarized as “Asian security by Asians for Asia”. There is no place for outside powers-a pointed message to the US to leave Asian matters to Asians to settle. The declaration of the Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over lapping parts of Japanese and South Korean ADIZ, and employing the one billion dollar oil rig to drill in Vietnam claimed waters in the South China Sea, were replies to US pivot in Asia. Beijing dared and tested Washington in the Asia pacific region.

 

China perceives that President Barack Obama is entering the lame duck period of his presidency. The US is also seem to be in withdrawal mood-Afghanistan and Iraq, undecided in Syria and Ukraine, moving towards compromise with Iran over Tehran’s nuclear enrichment. America is losing points.

 

That obviously brings to question the strength and determination of USA’s enhanced security agreement with Japan and support to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to change the constitution on military doctrine. Yet, the non-committal US position in the case of Senkaku or Diaoyu Island in Japanese control but claimed by China has put to question on America’s response to a Chinese military initiative to take over the Senkakus.

 

The other issue is that of Taiwan.  

 

The Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) passed by the US Congress in 1978 enjoins upon the US President to come to Taiwan’s aid if attacked by China. Even then, it is not very clear how the US President of the time will make the determination to come to Taiwan’s assistance militarily.

 

The US has a military agreement with the Philippines, strong relations with Malaysia, and considering upping the relationship with Vietnam. Singapore is also a military support base. And Australia is a treaty partners.

 

With its ‘pivot’ or ‘rebalancing’ in Asia which will see 60 percent of American deployment in the region by 2020 and a base in Darwin, on paper it would see an array of countries, if South Korea is also included, ranged with the US to stand up to an aggressive or threatening China. Many international observers are of the view that China’s aggressiveness has pushed these counties to the US camp.

 

Most of these countries bullied by China on territorial issues especially now with China claiming 90 per cent of the South China Sea as its territory, would be natural US allies. But the US track record on clear commitment does not inspire confidence among them.

 

Despite military and security agreements between them, it is difficult to say how strongly Australia would support the US in a China-US military standoff. Australia seemed to have become too dependent on China for its export of minerals, especially iron ore. Chinese propaganda and upbraiding of Australia by the Chinese official media has made Canberra somewhat shaky. If presented by a fait accompli, however, Australia would find it difficult to close its doors to Washington.

 

Japan, however, is a different question altogether. USA has been both Japan’s quarter-master and protector. Under USA’s umbrella Tokyo advanced economically and technologically. If allowed to work freely, it can leap frog in the front lines of the worlds military, including nuclear, in a very short time. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s tinkering with constitution to give his country more military teeth is opposed by a significant number of Japanese. But the USA supports Abe’s adventure.

 

Militarily, China has a psychological disadvantage vis-à-vis Japan; and this comes out periodically. China has never won a war with the Japanese. They would do everything to keep Japan’s military stunted. And they want to get back the Senkakus and Ryukyus island chains which they claim.

 

A PLA inspired article last year lists the six inevitable wars in a chronological order as follows:

 

(i) To unify Taiwan (2020-2025)

(ii) Recover various islands of the South China Sea (2025-2030)

(iii) To recover Southern Tibet-India’s Arunachal Pradesh (2035-2040)

(iv) To recover Diaoyutai/Senkaku and Ryukyus (2045-2050)

(v) Unify outer Mongolia (2045-2050)

(vi) Recover territory seized by Russia (2055-2060).

 

This is not a stated official policy. Developed by military experts, these are inputs for consideration by policy elites and cannot be dismissed out of hand. There has been no official denial either.

 

The chronology is interesting. Unification of Taiwan is becoming increasingly achievable given the Taiwanese KMT government leanings and weakening of the pro-independence DPP. Among China’s military think tanks, development of Anti Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) weapons systems by China may deter US interference/involvement for the short period required for PLA and the navy and air-force to take control of Taiwan and make it an irreversible act. It will be great achievement of Xi Jinping’s (retires in 2022) promised celebration of 100 years of the Communist Party in 2019.

 

In that case Xi will surpass Mao Zedong who defeated imperialism and colonialism. Such a success, defeating biggest imperialist the USA can be springboard for Xi to jump over the age restriction for the party chief. A natural corollary would be to exercise sovereign control of the Spratly and Parcel Islands.

 

The next step would be to wrest Arunachal Pradesh from India (2035-2040). This time scale pushed the resolution of the India-China border question by another 20 to 40 years if not more. The PLA does not expect India to sit with folded arms.

 

The time frame for ‘recovery” of territories from Japan, integrate Mongolia, and tear away Russia’s Siberia are admittedly more difficult targets. What is moot here is that China’s ambitions are known, and more territorial demands will be unveiled as it gets stronger. All concerned are also watching China’s irredentism very closely.

 

The chronology of the wars can change depending upon circumstances, but studies and projections by Chinese military experts create great mistrust with its neighbours. A situation has come when no neighbour trusts China.

 

After the $40 billion gas import deal with Russia this year, Chinese experts are trying to project a new alliance has been arrived at with Russia to support each other strategically. Russian president Vladimir Putin is no fall guy, and the Chinese leaders know it. At the moment the tactical moves are based on the Crimean crisis.

 

Putin and the Russian political, diplomatic and military elite certainly do not want to promote an Asia Pacific region and the concerned Sea/oceanic commons dictated by Chinese sovereignty. It is in Moscow’s interest to reorder relations with Japan, and even Japan may reciprocate if the arrangements suit its own security interests. Russia’s relations with Vietnam and some other ASEAN are stable. Military sales here are growing.

 

The challenge to President Putin in this region is the US. How will Washington deal simultaneously with China and Russia, and how will it guide Japan in its relations with Russia. A balance is not easy to find.

 

This article was also carried by the South Asia Analysis Group on August 13, 2014.

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.