Tuesday, May 28, 2013

HuffPo: New Lend-Lease for Indo-Pacific Allies

On August 28, 2012, Chinese Air Force Colonel Dai Xu wrote a commentary for the Chinese-language edition of the Communist Party's Global Times. It read, in part:
Since we have decided that the US is bluffing in the East China Sea, we should take this opportunity to respond to these empty provocations with something real. This includes Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan, who are the three running dogs of the United States in Asia. We only need to kill one, and it will immediately bring the others to heel.
The Colonel was not reprimanded for his inciting comments. Rather, he is just one of a growing chorus of increasingly aggressive, and outspoken, Chinese military leaders. Rear Admiral Zhang Zhaozhong has said that the US would "run like a rabbit" if China went to war with Japan over the Diaoyu Islands, and that Chinese naval superiority is so great, "If there is a clash in the South China Sea, the possibility that foreign countries would intervene is low, and any conflict would not last long."
That bark is backed by a growing bite. Since 2002, when Hu came to power, China has been very focused on developing high tech and military technologies, including a blue waternavy. Given the comparative financial crisis in the West, the technical losses due to cyber theft, and China's focus, it is possible that, in a decade or so, China may be equal to the US in advanced technologies, thereafter even pulling ahead.
China's calculus seems to assume that the US will not actively deploy in region. And it is testing that conclusion -- in particular by pushing harder and deeper in the South China Sea and with Japan. If China is proved right, it can lead China to extremely destabilizing unilateral action. If it is wrong, China will find out only once the US does engage, meaning an active conflict in the region. Either outcome, or just the persistent insecurity, is bad, to say the least.
One way to undermine Chinese strategic calculus, and to ensure peace, is to build up a credible regional deterrent. Korea, Singapore and Japan have advanced (though small compared to China) navies and, if they work together, can start to head in that direction.
Additionally, the US could offer 'lend lease' agreements to other, less militarily advanced nations that are persistently targeted by China, in particular Vietnam, Philippines and India.