For the PLA, Has War Already Begun?

“China’s ‘Three Warfares’ and India”
Abhijit Singh
Journal of Defence Studies
October-December 2013
pp. 27-46

Cymraeg: Sun Tzu. mwl: Sun Tzu. Português: Sun...

Sun Tzu (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The author, who is a research fellow at India’s Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, offers up a highly readable paper with a fascinating proposition: China is already at war with India.

Singh calls out what he calls China’s “Three Warfares” (3Ws) strategy, by which China wages war against an adversary by influencing public opinion, conducting psychological operations, and laying the legal groundwork to support its territorial claims. The PLA, through “work regulations” issued in 2010, is now focusing that effort on India.

It does not demand much effort to see that China is pursuing the same approach in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. What is disturbing is that this effort is not directed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but by the PLA. This is not diplomacy as far as the Party is concerned: this is asymmetrical warfare.

The paper is a fascinating, short, and essential read for those looking to understand China’s near-abroad foreign policy, and who inside of Beijing’s guarded compounds is actually running the show.

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Hardball on the Water

“How the U.S. Should Respond to the Chinese Naval Challenge,” Dean Cheng’s policy brief for the Heritage Foundation, offers few original policy recommendations, (“fully fund the Navy’s shipbuilding program, invest in strong R&D, strengthen ties with allies, and uninvite China to RIMPAC“) and does not even begin to address the fiscal or diplomatic impacts of the ideas it offers. It does, however, present a clear case for playing a game in the region that the Chinese will understand – and respect. The soft approach won’t work with China, Cheng asserts. Time to play hardball. Tell that to the crew of the USS Cowpens – they’ll say that’s exactly what they’re doing.

China’s Military Build-Up

If you haven’t come across Breakout, Reuters’ series on China’s evolving defense posture, treat yourself – it will be worth your time. The series – which will ultimately reach eight parts in total – is not a primer as much as it is a focus on eight different aspects of China’s rise, sort of like a Robert Kaplan book. My favorite piece so far, “The Chinese Navy Dismembers Japan,” focuses on Maneuver 5, a large-scale exercise involving much of the PLAN designed to simulate a showdown between the PLAN and the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force.

My Power is Softer than Yours

English: Press room of State Council Informati...

Press room of the State Council Information Office of China (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

China’s Soft Power in East Asia: A Quest for Status and Influence?
Chin-Hao Huang
National Bureau of Asian Research
January 2013
24pp

China has pledged itself to winning the “soft power” game in Asia and worldwide ever since the phrase became a buzzword among international relations literati following the 204 publication of Joseph Nye‘s Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics. Beijing has spent billions on this campaign, funding schools of Chinese language and culture, big-budget films, and an expanding global media network of foreign language television, radio, magazines, newspapers, and wire services all controlled by the State Council Information Office.

Beijing has done little to help itself in this campaign, especially with its neighbors. Armed belligerence in the South China Sea and the Senkakus, bolstered by questionable legal claims, has made China look less attractive to its neighbors and more like a teenaged dragon out to test the limits of its growing power.

Chin-Hao Huang of USC tells us not to let ourselves get lulled by this ham-handed behavior. China appearing itself in the foot does not mean that the U.S. and Europe can let up their efforts to build attraction and influence in the region. In fact, it doesn’t mean that it is losing the soft-power war, either. Studies indicate that China’s soft power is rated just below that of Japan and the United States by populations in Asia. So, in fact, the U.S.  needs to get better at playing the game right now, both to exploit the current opportunities and as a hedge against the day that China begins playing the coquette again.

We also have to consider the possibility that the elements that invite soft power may vary from culture to culture. We see that in our own efforts to build soft power among Muslim populations worldwide. It may be that by compartmentalizing the Senkakus and South China Sea disputes that China is able to play divide-and-conquer among its neighbors. Or it may be that some cultures respect the might China has created even as that power is aimed at them, especially if China is able to rise at the cost of Japanese and American prestige in the region. Asia for the Asians Redux, if you will.

Whether you buy Huang’s argument or whether you think he is repeating the obvious, he deserves credit for pointing out that just because China is playing the bully doesn’t mean they’re losing hearts and minds, and we need to figure out how to play that game much better in a region that has stymied us for half a century.

Is Vietnam the Prussia of the 21st Century?

“The Vietnam Solution
Robert D. Kaplan
The Atlantic
June 2012

Blick auf Hanoi

Blick auf Hanoi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Robert D. Kaplan

Robert Kaplan has spent the last two decades on the ground of the world’s trouble spots, hunting for the untold stories of the conflicts that happen on the edges of globalization and what the US defense establishment calls “The Long War.” His worldview is divorced from both the Pentagon and the Ivory Tower, cleaving more closely to a ground-level perspective that we hear and read all too little.

Kaplan began his post-9/11 writings focused on failed states and non-state actors and how those two created not just an opening but a need for the U.S. to step in and change things. With his recent book Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power, Kaplan began to shift his attention to the emerging great power politics in Asia, and in the June edition of The Atlantic, Kaplan turns full-face toward China.

Coming just as China is starting to flex some muscle in the South China Sea off of Vietnam’s shores, Kaplan’s article offers a view of the Middle Kingdom from Hanoi. It is not a nice view, given China’s growing diplomatic aggression, but it is for Vietnam not a new one: the Vietnamese, Kaplan points out, have been maneuvering against the Dragon to maintain their independence for a millennium.

They have done this because they have become adept at playing regional power politics to keep the Chinese from squashing their country out of existence. Kaplan dubs Vietnam “The Prussia of Asia,” and as I am halfway through Christopher Clark’s superb Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947, the point rings true. Vietnam has learned to play a Clausewitzian game as well as anyone in the region.

The article is excellent, and my only quibble is that Kaplan did not ask the hardest question: whether Vietnam’s domestic politics and the direction its economy is taking will allow it to resist being drawn into China’s orbit. This is a non-trivial question for those of us watching the South China Sea. Vietnam remains the wild-card for both sides. But, reading this article, it is clear that this is exactly how Hanoi would like to keep things.