• Fri
  • Aug 1, 2014
  • Updated: 3:40am
My Take
PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 June, 2014, 3:25am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 June, 2014, 3:25am

Misperceptions dog United States, China regional intentions

People are puzzled by China's (mis)behaviour in the South and East China Seas. Why are they risking so much for so little? Numerous theories have been advanced, ranging from the plausible and rational to the overtly racist.

I prefer a non-partisan explanation by Hugh White, a former Australian defence official and now an academic. Writing recently in a blog run by the Lowy Institute for International Policy based in Sydney, White paints a truly scary picture of the mutual but parallel misperception between Beijing and Washington. Since neither side wants war, both sides think, it becomes a matter of proving your own resolve to the other to move things your way. You can see where this is going. White does not think China's aim is unreasonable. It wants to overhaul - not overthrow - the US-backed regional security system. It wants to diminish - not eliminate - America's pre-eminent role.

Point 1: The consensus in Washington is that China will not seek dominance in Asia if it means risking a war with the US that it is certain to lose. But that's what encourages China to pick "small" fights with its neighbours over issues that don't immediately engage American interests: an island here, a shoal there. A string of "petty" maritime disputes may alienate China's neighbours, but they also undermine their confidence that when push comes to shove, the US will always come to the rescue.

Point 2: The thinking in Beijing is that the US will not risk a war over regional disputes in which it has no direct stake. China can then rearrange the regional order to play a more dominant role in line with its emerging status as a world power once US allies lose confidence in their partnerships and alliances with the US.

So China must contain the small disputes while the US will try to generalise them. For example, instead of individual maritime fights over, say, the Scarborough Shoal and the Diaoyu Islands, US defence chief Chuck Hagel has turned them into disputes about freedom of navigation. As White has observed, all this means China's actions will become "more flagrant and US commitments more categorical" over disputes that most people would consider "minor" - exactly what the headlines read these days.

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How About
Right on Alex, it is about brinksmanship!
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It's always wise to down those mandatory rounds of Moutai and Jim Beam before they move on to business of world domination.
clc2
I think that a mutual misunderstanding process explanation has less to do with what has been happening than a rapidly growing PLA budget and a President who got to power and consolidated it rapidly with deep PLA support.
The PLA leadership, raised not on news but on propaganda, is a pretty unsophisticated lot that sees conspiracies everywhere and is deeply xenophobic. Thanks to their support of Xi, they now have a much freer hand to whack the neighbors.
Those on the receiving end of China's regional intentions are not appreciative, regardless of anything that the U.S. does or doesn't do or any accommodations that they may be forced at the point of a gun to make.
The more correct process comparison is "PLA horses feeling their oats."
Hollander323
The dispute started as early as the 70's, if it is true that China wanted to diminish US dominance it only happened rather recently, the sequence of event appears to be wrong, I am lost in your logic Alex, sorry!
XYZ
Sure, fine, that all makes a certain kind of sense. As did the web of alliances that led to the slaughter of millions and the destruction of centuries-old empires in the wake of WWI.
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The critical point is that the risk of miscalculation leading to war in Asia continues to grow and that responsible government leaders should be working to reduce that risk, not fan the flames of conflict.
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