China’s Response to Territorial Disputes

The Economist recently reported that “the Permanent Court of Arbitration, an international tribunal in The Hague, has declared China’s “historic claims” in the South China Sea invalid. It was an unexpectedly wide-ranging and clear-cut ruling, and it has enraged China.” As the region and the United States anxiously await China’s response, Colonel Thomas Drohan’s new book, A New Strategy for Complex Warfare: Combined Effects in East Asia, provides useful insights in gauging China’s possible reactions.

East Asia Warfare Strategy

The book’s concept of combined effects warfare shows how Chinese strategy in East Asia is so effective against the combined arms-heavy approach of the US such as in recent “rebalancing,” relative weaknesses in the key US-Japan alliance and mounting Chinese capabilities account for the timing of Chinese actions; and Chinese security culture explains why China pursues a strategy of blending confrontation with cooperation. It explains contemporary China’s combined-effects approach to complex warfare, specifically which includes the kind of persistent reexpansion we are seeing in the South China Sea:

“Current operations seek to fragment rivals on China’s borders and occupy China-claimed territories with complex invasions…Party operations play an existential role in constructing and justifying both an intuitive moral order and a central authority. Major combined-effects offensives include:

  1. a) Military, economic, and political operations to reorient Taiwan toward the mainland
  2. b) Diplomatic partnering with the Soviet Union, then conducting ideological warfare against it
  3. c) Support of Vietnam, and then warfare against it to ensure cliental loyalty to China
  4. d) Seizure of disputed Southeast Asian territory while expanding ties with claimants
  5. e) Incursions in Japan-claimed territory while increasing ties with Japan and the U.S.
  6. f) Maritime reclamation (dredging) operations create, occupy, and militarize new territory.

China’s leaders value holistic, sustainable operations, consistent with the assumption that threats are permanent and any elimination of them are temporary…”

The book also explains how how the limitations of of the US-Japan alliance empower China’s combined-effect strategy in the South China Sea.

“However, the limits of the US-Japan alliance–such as restricting Japanese defense to its own territory– facilitate China’s desired combined effect. Thus, China does not have to integrate its problematic effects of masking its predatory intent while increasing its military-economic strength, stirring anti-Japanese nationalism that does not empower Chinese democracy, and isolating Japan from US intervention, as long as Japan and the United States are complying with these effects anyway.”

In addition, the book helpfully explains why China’s strategy emphasizes military and economic confrontation (in the South China Sea)– while at the same time claiming to be all about harmony and peace as China follows up the UN Tribunals ruling again them with threats to establish an ADIZ and use all of that to “negotiate” its expanding new normal.

“Chinese security culture can help us understand continuity in Chinese strategies and why elites cannot afford to fold in the face of foreign pressure if they are to retain domestic influence. Confrontational sovereignty claims trump tangible benefits of cooperative interdependence. Moral order, central authority, and territorial integrity persist as highly valued interests, particularly among China’s single-Party leadership. So while modernization has strengthened national capabilities, it has also increased national willpower. When China has had the capability to engage other powers as an equal or more, it has done so. We can infer that military equality is the PLA’s precondition for expanding military-to-military relations with the U.S. The loss of ideological sovereignty in the past has become the consensus threat to national security. Ideological sovereignty is closely connected to economic nationalism.”

A New Strategy for Complex Warfare: Combined Effects in East Asia is part of the  Rapid Communications in Conflict and Security (RCCS) Series, headed by Dr. Geoffrey R. H. Burn.

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