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  • Jul 30, 2014
  • Updated: 11:46pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 December, 2013, 4:27am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 December, 2013, 4:27am

Security, not power, is Beijing's goal in air defence zone dispute

"The gains from control over a few uninhabited rocks are vastly outweighed by the risks."

Here's a comment by a respected British commentator that perfectly summarises the bafflement of outsiders about China's territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas. Face, nationalism, historical grievances, anti-Americanism, anti-Japanese sentiments, regional dominance or hegemony ... Critics have marshalled one or more of these elements to explain China's behaviour. Or, China is Germany 1914 all over again. Funny how no one ever cited Bismarck's unified Germany after 1870, whose diplomacy secured European peace for a generation.

To a disinterested observer, all those China "explanations" must seem unconvincing or unsatisfying. First, is Beijing staking its foreign policy on nationalist feelings over the Diaoyu Islands? Or is it the other way around: the nationalist/historical issue over the Diaoyus is only part of an overall foreign policy - but doesn't drive or explain it? One thing you know for sure is that imposing an "air defence identification zone" that includes the Diaoyus is not an ad hoc, one- step-at-a-time dumb chess move. It's part of an overall strategic conception with its own goal, purpose and rationale.

Let's start with the Hobbesian thesis: every country feels threatened or insecure; China especially so. Despite its new-found wealth, its military can't fight overseas other than invading Taiwan. Its shipping and supply lanes are patrolled by a powerful rival, the US, and it's encircled geographically by countries allied to the US. Its hold on Tibet and Xinjiang are constantly challenged. It can buy client states in Africa and Latin America but has no genuine defence allies. The overwhelming foreign policy goal of Beijing is therefore not dominance but security. Within this framework, sometimes it goes along with other world powers, such as over Iran's and North Korea's nuclear ambitions; sometimes it provokes them, such as with the air defence zone. Sometimes, it just miscalculates. So is China a status quo or revisionist power? The best answer is: it doesn't want to overthrow the US-led international security and economic architecture, but demands adjustments within it.


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The "great game" of international politics has lots of she says/he says -- just like divorce litigation. What to one party is understandably "self-defense" to another is naturally "aggression." It depends on one's particular national perspective. The basic fact is that the legitimate interests of China's security do very much include disrupting the USA-Japan Alliance and driving the USA out and away from northeast Asia. This is appropriately one of the fundamental goals of China's foreign policy, which also naturally seeks to consistently counter the USA globally. For the PLA, it is axiomatic that a weaker USA means a safer China. Covertly/overtly and directly/indirectly, China has understandably and legitimately been working steadily to weaken the USA's global posture, at the very least since --- the 1989 collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and the events in Tiananmen Square; and the 1991 Revolution in Military Affairs (first Iraq War) and the fall of the Soviet Union. 1989-1991 was an especially scary time for the leadership of the Communist Party of China. They then initiated or enhanced a range of long-term strategies to deal effectively with real or perceived USA threats to China. Just one such legitimate expedient was China's hidden role in furthering North Korea's development of nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. Make no mistake, even today the "crazy" Kims still serve China big-time by exposing the sheer emptiness of the USA alliances in the region.
John Adams
Good summary Mr Lo.
I agree with you.
Declaring an ADIZ, in and of itself, could conceivably be about "security". But the specifics of this zone clearly point to other motivations. I mean, if it's just "security", why overlap with someone else's zone, and why specifically overlap on the Diaoyu Islands. No, this is about oil and gas reserves those islands are suspected to have under the sea floor, and maybe about some fish stocks. Of course, if it stokes the flames of mindless nationalism, that's probably ok too insofar as Beijing is concerned.
The irony about the whole "security" song and dance is that this does the exact opposite. If it's 'encirclement' that China fears, her moves simply encourage the US and SE Asian nations to pivot towards each other, so Beijing's actions only serve to enhance that which she fears.
Some kind HK primary student with the patience
may teach you
(1) about scientific explanations
then perhaps you might understand
the relation between sunrise and co ck crow
(2) about the maths
that reveals you as 66?
I want to stay with Borelli
for cultural vanity
but you prefer pedestrian Damian
and it seems more descriptive
No one would be too surprised
that you opt for 666
This column seems to consist entirely of wishful thinking.

If it was merely security (from what exactly by the way?) China is after, it would seek (NATO-style) alliances in Asia, sign defence pacts, diffuse regional tensions, seek compromises, negotiate skilfully, promote diplomacy, invest in building soft power and so on. You only have to look at Brazil to see another regional power that is growing fast and is much bigger/powerful than any of its neighbours handle its (re)emergence very differently, and more peacefully.

Instead, China displays an arrogant sense of infinite entitlement to its neighbours, seemingly wanting to re-establish its Middle Kingdom status, to which all of its Asian satellites must pay tribute and kowtow in fear. There appears to be no room for compromise, negotiation or even just a hint of understanding that not everybody agrees that some lines on a 19th century map constitute valid territorial or nautical claims.

The establishment of the very oddly shaped air defence zone with the Senkaku Islands and the adjacent oil/gas reserves as only logical centrepiece, is just the latest instalment in a series of increasingly aggressive moves by the PLA. We unfortunately see a China that appears to be motivated by nationalism, (real and perceived) historical grievances and relatively minor geo-political interests. All of this lessons, not increases China's security.

Martin Wolf was entirely correct to state that this is a dangerous trend.
China belongs on a psychiatrist's couch. It's obsessed with security, but who is its enemy? Are there any countries that are attempting to steal Chinese territory? No. Beijing is just paranoid. And it never gave a damn about the territory of the many other countries whose territory has been violated throughout their history by Chinese colonialists
Readers without background knowledge
can’t appreciate AL’s perceptive analysis
Instead of ignorant elaboration
they should read How About (5, Dec 10:16am)
to clear the ground for meaningful discussion
Logic is necessarily objective
Opinions based on personal preferences are fantasies
which the shallow and ignorant would sell and buy as arguments
under the misleading banner of “informal logic”
which along with the use of BIG words
give the fool a false sense of “authority”
The mogician has nothing
but fast empty “proofs” for prejudice
Here's one example
“the specificS of this zone CLEARLY point to other motivationS”
specificS refer to China’s ADIZ overlapping Japan’s and covering Diaoyu Islands
motivationS refer to natural resources
Such foolish associations need no refutation
Logic goes on holiday if every English speaker becomes a logician
The only defense of one such particularly noisy English-speaking mogician
is by way of adhom,
like a disoriented old fool whining
“m’boy, m‘boy”
Sovereignty may be a two-way street
but Borelli’s thinking is a one-way alley
A slow learner who hasn’t grasped 5% of what has been told
should work on past lessons instead of crying for solutions
After the first seminar, no freshman’d dare to assert statements like his
to avoid being bypassed as a don’t-belong for the rest of the term
What and why did Borelli beg when he asked “Did people feel that”?
Who care why he thinks something has a “funny angle”?
The following discussion isn't for Borelli
an uninspired and ungrateful beneficiary of my time
who should try play ball and see if he has some talent in the playground
For those who oppose my opinion with discipline and open mind
Try think in different directions and appraise findings in different contexts
For background ideas needed to discuss sovereignty of non Atlantic islands
think Deigo Garcia
follow the history of Pikinni
think Hiti-Tautau-Mai
Some readers should have noticed
If nothing else I’ve toilet trained Borelli
let’s see how long he could retain the trained discipline
The last street cat my grandma brought home was quite smart
An extremely shallow conclusion, Alex, and against the facts, which should be taken at face value.
China is pushing for maritime expension to extend its territorial waters into areas where it can grab all the oil, fish and other natural resources for itself and position itself for military, economic and political dominance of East Asia and the Western Pacific, period.
All the drum banging nationalism, megaphone propaganda and dredging up Chinese anti foreign sentiments are simply among the unscrupulous tactics being used.
More useless verbiage. I'm amused you feel the need to rehash stuff from another thread, of course without a grasp of the specifics or any appreciation for relevance, context, and applicability. You truly are a pathetic specimen, even among the learned cohort of CCP apologists. BTW, double-six is just a number. If you're going to use a reference, it's triple-six you're looking for. This is what it's come to for Pierce m'boy...he needs help to get his own smack-talk right.
Theories need to be proven with evidence. That's how it works in science. Obviously, that's too profound a concept for you. How does one "show evidence for ...world bank" data...if anything, the data was the "evidence". You barely know which way is up anymore, such is the sorry state of that mush between your ears. And as usual, those who understand informal logic the least are the most eager to belittle it. Pierce m'boy here is exhibit A of the decrepit extreme of human nature...hopefully something natural selection can correct in due course.
You're equating your 'internet friends' with Cameron's expression of friendship? You really are pathetic beyond words. Btw, my raking you over the coals is not an ad hominem. I don't think your argument is stupid simply because you're stupid; you don't have an argument, and I just think you're stupid. There's a big difference, but of course you'll be too stupid to grasp it. Oh well.
Do write again. You amuse me, and that's your purpose in life.




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