SHOULD MILITARY CONFLICT ARISE, HOWEVER, CHINA WILL BE PLAYING THE DEFENSE. THEY KNOW EXACTLY WHAT THEY ARE FIGHTING FOR AND WILL PERSIST AT ALL COSTS TO THE VERY END.
INTRODUCTION BY THOMAS HON WING POLIN
It’s a well-known story by now. As China continues its economics-driven rise, the United States is growing increasingly worried that Beijing will challenge its longstanding domination of East Asia and, perhaps eventually, the world. So Washington responded starting 2011 with its “pivot” to Asia, whose transparent purpose is to contain China and slow its progress.
Amid a flurry of military maneuvers in maritime East Asia, stresses seemed to scale new heights last week during a regional security conference in Singapore when US defense chief Ash Carter bluntly declared Washington’s determination to stay Asia’s overlord for the foreseeable future. “The United States will remain the most powerful military and main underwriter of security in the [Asian] region for decades to come,” he announced. “There should be no doubt about that.”
Is military conflict around the corner? Hong Kong-based analyst and Beijing adviser Lau Nai-keung assesses the relevant issues:
LAU NAI-KEUNG ASSESSMENT
Tensions are high in the East and South China Seas. And with the inauguration of a pro-independence president in Taipei, they have spilled into the Taiwan Strait. Will there be a war between China and the United States or its sidekick, Japan?
Unlike the trigger-happy US imperium, throughout history China has had a tradition of avoiding war as much as possible. For two-and-a-half millennia, supreme master Sunzi (a.k.a. Sun Tzu) has been teaching his compatriots that fighting should be the absolute last resort, and that they should always try to settle differences without bloodshed.
Take Emperor Wu of Han Dynasty (157-83 BCE), who greatly expanded China’s territory and started the ancient Silk Road. He began by following his mother’s policy of exporting beautiful princesses (usually fake ones) to make peace with Xiongnu (Hun) leaders. After years of failure, he finally got frustrated and decided to drive the Xiongnu out of China by force, the domino effect from which toppled the Holy Roman Empire in Europe. That was one example demonstrating that even they possess superior military power, the Chinese tend to avoid fighting.
In modern times, the record has been similar. In the seven decades since the founding of the People’s Republic, China, with 14 neighboring countries (11 of which it has territorial disputes with), has fought only two wars. One was against the US-led coalition in Korea in the early 1950s, and the other against Vietnam in 1979. There were two skirmishes, involving India (1962) and the Soviet Union (1969). The Chinese military practically has had no combat experience since the Vietnam faceoff. Imagine an army which can take on its mighty American and Soviet counterparts, coexisting peacefully for so long with all these smaller but restive neighbors. There can only be one explanation: China has always placed great emphasis on keeping the peace.
When bullied, the first Chinese-style reaction is to take things in stride and lie low. But don’t mistake this as a sign of weakness. It is a polite warning that says: You may not want to do this. When Chinese finally rise up to fight after repeated provocation, they will fight with such ferocity and boldness that the provocateur will regret it ever started the fight. Remember that China fought the Japanese Imperial Army for 14 years from 1931 to 1945, lost over 20 million lives and half of its territory, but never gave up fighting.
This mindset is summed up in a Chinese adage which has been reiterated recently on many occasions: “We don’t want trouble but we are not afraid of trouble.” (我们不想惹麻烦，但也不怕麻烦)
Let’s go back to the original question: Will there be a war between China and the US or Japan? The answer is: China doesn’t want war, but it is not afraid of war.
From the Chinese perspective, there is no pressing reason it should fight a war with America or Japan, as there is no fundamental conflict between China and these two countries. The issue of the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands has been outstanding since 1970 and there is no need to settle it by force now. The South China Sea was calm and peaceful for thousands of years before Washington’s “pivot” to Asia, and there are many ways of restoring it to its original status without having to win a few sea battles against the US Pacific Fleet.
Should military conflict arise, however, the Chinese will be playing defense. They know exactly what they are fighting for and will persist at all costs to the very end. The same cannot be said for the US. It has always enjoyed safe passage in the South China Sea and nothing substantial will be gained after losing lives, warships and warplanes, irrespective of the outcome of the fight. But the downside will be devastating: If the Americans lose this battle for no substantive gain, they will lose virtually everything. Even if they gain the upper hand initially, their country will be plunged into yet another quagmire with no extraction in sight. It will mark the end of US hegemony, at least in eastern Asia and the western Pacific.
No rational president of the United States will give the war order. So there will be no war.