Commenter Jeremy Whipple asked me a few weeks back for my take on Brahma Chellaney’s essay, "China's salami slice strategy," published in The Japan Times. (Link)
Basically I am on the same line, verse and page as Chellaney. To be honest, I have the greatest difficulty not falling for any essay bringing up the Aksai Chin, the only major region of Earth resistant to a one-degree of separation challenge (No matter how many persons you know, you do not know anyone who has been there).
I would differ with Chellaney in repeated use of "China" as a singular origin for Chinese actions. Chinese government ministries, state owned enterprises and People's Liberation Army commands create facts on the ground surprising not only to the targeted regions but to the top central government civilian officials in Beijing. Too often the spokespersons of the Foreign Ministry are just blinking at the camera lights, unable to even offer even standardized cover stories for events -- the anti-satellite interceptor test in 2007 being the starkest example of the FMPRC's being the last to know.
I also have problems with Chellaney's use of the word "strategy." If there is no controlling hand, or small set of hands, deploying the various capabilities of state and quasi-state actors, can one call result a strategy? If the scattered actions evolve out the intrinsic structures or ideologies of the state, is that not more an ethos than a strategy? If it is in the nature of states at China's levels of wealth and income distribution to experience disjointed security policy entrepreneurship, should we not be talking about a zeitgeist rather than a strategy?
Strategy also always implies sacrifice, which sends us back to the question of the ability to decide*. If the blur of action emanates not from a single node but disparate points on a grid, adopting an attitude of "We know what you are doing so cut it out!" is probably pointless. For the smart-aleck reply would be, "If you know what we are doing, please tell us. We are always playing catch-up with our own people."
As for what a state should do in the face of an expansionist power, controlled or uncontrolled, I find the prescriptions of Bruce Pandofini's Commandments of Chess (Link) helpful in clearing away the dross and foam. I cannot judge the merits of the application of these commandments to the chess board. However, I sense that the person reputed to be America's greatest teacher of chess has to at least have a few worthwhile insights into the fundamental principles as regards protecting a vulnerable core, deflecting threats and advancing interests, all whilst coping with severe limitations placed on mobility, time-to-react and deployable resources.
Not all the commandments of have real world applications. However, enough of them do.
In the case of what to do about a salami-slicing Chinese grid mind, commandments #6 and #7 offer a snapshot of the conundrum:
6) Answer all threats. Try to do so by improving your position and/or posing a counter-threat.In his now famous essay attacking constitutional reform, Miyazaki Hayao takes one look at potential outcomes arising from a binomial expression of these two principles and ends up waving the white flag. No matter how much one may try to deter aggression by following commandment #6, a Chinese application of commandment #7 means conflict. So if you cannot fend the Chinese off with talk, just let them have the islands already.
7) Play for the initiative. If you already have it, maintain it. If you don't have it, seize it.
But of course, assuming that this blessed land can play but a single round against an expanding power with multiple means of challenging the status quo seems a huge gamble...with horrible odds against being able to hold the line after that one round.
Later -The East Asia Forum has just published an essay on the potential of a strategy's underlying the Sino-Indian pushing and shoving over in the Ladakh/Aksai Chin Line of Actual Control (Link). Inside the essay is a link to a wonderful Srinath Ragavan opinion article explaining the difficulty an unbiased observer would have in trying to separate legitimate actions from illegitimate ones as regards the LAC. (Link)
* I once read of the idiot manager who at a business meeting asked the assembled, "Why can"t we just focus our energies across-the-board?"