Beijing proves its aggressive intentions

Reuters

People's Liberation Army Hong Kong garrison march during a military parade attended by Chinese President Hu Jintao at Shek Kong airbase in Hong Kong June 29, 2012, two days before the 15th anniversary of the territory's handover to Chinese sovereignty from British rule.

Article Highlights

  • We now have proof of China’s intention to assert its territorial claims with military strength.

    Tweet This

  • Establishing a military garrison on Yongxing "essentially reveals Beijing’s plan for controlling disputed territory"

    Tweet This

  • if the Sansha garrison becomes an effective power, and is allowed to stand, then it will inexorably spread.

    Tweet This

For years, Asia watchers have debated whether China’s growing military power really represented a threat to stability in the Pacific. Some observers, including myself, worried that China’s strength could ultimately undermine norms of behavior and force smaller states to accommodate Chinese positions on territorial disputes. That China had not yet actually moved to unilaterally change borders, interfere with shipping on the high seas, or attack its neighbors made much of the discussion academic.

We now have proof of China’s intention to assert its territorial claims with military strength. This week, Beijing set up a new provincial-level city government to administer all its island claims in the South China Sea, as well as administer all the waters in the Sea, and “elected” a mayor for its insta-city of Sansha. The new governing council will represent approximately 1,100 Chinese residents of three island groups, all of which are claimed by multiple countries, including Taiwan, the Philippines, and Vietnam, in addition to China.

The real news, however, is that Beijing is also setting up a military garrison on Yongxing Island, which is also claimed by Vietnam. The garrison will serve “self-defense” purposes and carry out military operations, according to Chinese news reports. While it is unclear now how large the garrison will be, it is a game-changing political decision by Beijing. It essentially reveals Beijing’s plan for controlling disputed territory, which was the concern of those of us who feared what the growth of China’s military would mean for how nations acted in Asia. It makes power politics the reality, not just the possibility, in the South China Sea, and it forces smaller nations to decide if they can in any realistic way continue to oppose China’s claims. If accepted by other nations, this week’s moves will signal the beginning of true Chinese hegemony in Asia, and the creation of a new norm of regional politics based on might.

Beijing’s announcement should put enormous pressure on Washington. There are times for quiet diplomacy and behind-closed-doors talk, and there are times to clearly draw a line in the sand. This is not a casus belli, of course; but neither can it be overlooked, for one garrison can lead to another and then another. It may not happen this year or next, but if the Sansha garrison becomes an effective power, and is allowed to stand, then it will inexorably spread. Washington must make clear to Beijing that this course will result in some response from America, such as enhanced military aid to Southeast Asian nations, the end of military-to-military discussions between China and the U.S., or a refusal to ease export restrictions targeting China. If we do nothing, and hope it’s yet another boast from a “paper dragon,” we will wake up to a South China Sea that is de facto controlled by China. That may well lead to an environment in which we will find ourselves pulled into conflict between China and its neighbors, or one in which we pull up stakes due to the desire to avoid confrontation, and thereby announce the end of our influence in Asia.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Michael
Auslin

What's new on AEI

To secure southern border, US must lead international effort to stabilize Central America
image The Ryan pro-work, anti-poverty plan: Thomas Aquinas 1, Ayn Rand 0
image Does SNAP support work? Yes and no
image Obama Democrats lose their big bet on health exchanges
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
    MON
  • 22
    TUE
  • 23
    WED
  • 24
    THU
  • 25
    FRI
Monday, July 21, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Closing the gaps in health outcomes: Alternative paths forward

Please join us for a broader exploration of targeted interventions that provide real promise for reducing health disparities, limiting or delaying the onset of chronic health conditions, and improving the performance of the US health care system.

Monday, July 21, 2014 | 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Comprehending comprehensive universities

Join us for a panel discussion that seeks to comprehend the comprehensives and to determine the role these schools play in the nation’s college completion agenda.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 | 8:50 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Who governs the Internet? A conversation on securing the multistakeholder process

Please join AEI’s Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy for a conference to address key steps we can take, as members of the global community, to maintain a free Internet.

Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Expanding opportunity in America: A conversation with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan

Please join us as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveils a new set of policy reforms aimed at reducing poverty and increasing upward mobility throughout America.

Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 6:00 p.m. – 7:15 p.m.
Is it time to end the Export-Import Bank?

We welcome you to join us at AEI as POLITICO’s Ben White moderates a lively debate between Tim Carney, one of the bank’s fiercest critics, and Tony Fratto, one of the agency’s staunchest defenders.

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.