China's relentless push to reduce US influence in the Asia-Pacific region

Jenny Lin says an ancient strategy to sow discord seems to be at work

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 March, 2013, 3:16am


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Why has the Chinese government, especially the People's Liberation Army, appeared more aggressive, self-confident and assertive in dealing with the US and its allies? The answer could lie in an ancient Chinese tactic called the "unrelenting strategy" - a part of the "36 stratagems" derived from the I Ching.

Mao Zedong incorporated this ancient teaching into his strategic thinking, and it was recently discussed in Chinese media as having made the Japanese miserable over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands dispute. Use of this strategy suggests that Beijing has taken the US-China relationship onto an adversarial path, as the Chinese Communist Party seeks to reduce Washington's influence in Asia.

This "unrelenting strategy" first calls for China to confuse its opponent's judgments; second, create and induce internal conflicts within its opponent; and third, deepen the opponent's existing internal conflicts before launching an offensive attack.

This does not necessarily mean the PLA is ready to use military force against the US; rather, Beijing is pressing every advantage against the US to transform the balance of forces between them. That said, evidence of all three is visible in Chinese behaviour.

To effectively implement the strategy, China must fulfil certain preconditions - achieve internal stability, along with economic, political and military strength - before it can contend with other powers. Since Deng Xiaoping introduced reforms, the party has made great strides in building national strength with economic growth and military modernisation.

So step one in the "unrelenting strategy" can now be implemented. Washington has been consistently surprised by the PLA's rapid development.

Step two seeks to induce the opponent's internal political conflicts. This is evident in the divisions between the US business and security communities. Despite regulatory barriers and security concerns, US companies continue their investments in China and remove incentives for Beijing to foster a better business environment for foreign companies. Moreover, US companies making money in China press the US to go easy on Beijing to protect those profits. The lack of co-ordination between the US government and private industry is being exploited by Beijing.

Step two also strives to create tension in US relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. China seeks to divide and conquer with its preference for bilateral mechanisms.

In the context of the Asia-Pacific security environment, step three - "launching an offensive attack" - is Beijing's long-term strategy and aims at eliminating Washington's influence. In the short term, the PLA will not hesitate to demonstrate its military capabilities to US allies and partners in the region.

Thus far, Beijing has been testing the waters by intimidating Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam with assertive behaviour over territorial disputes. Ultimately, China seeks to discredit a security alliance with the US.

There are several ways the US can respond. First, it must get its own house in order. This is important in countering the belief that the US is in decline. Moreover, it must lead by example and better manage relations with China.

Second, the US should strive for better relations between its public and private sectors. Policies that rejuvenate the economy and boost US business competitiveness should be a focus.

Ultimately, however, given China's "unrelenting strategy", it is unlikely that the US and China can foster a constructive relationship without the party abandoning its strategic intent to reduce US influence in the Asia-Pacific.

Jenny Lin is a Sasakawa Peace Foundation resident fellow at Pacific Forum CSIS. She previously worked at Project 2049 Institute, and the Centre for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs, Institute for National Strategic Studies. The views expressed here are those of the author. Distributed by Pacific Forum CSIS. Copyright: Pacific News Service