Thursday, August 08, 2013

Of China’s Pizza Preparations, Chess And Miyazaki Hayao

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.

7) Play for the initiative. If you already have it, maintain it. If you don't have it, seize it.
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.

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?"


SM said...

Any thoughts on the commissioning of the Izumo-class helo-carrier? Lacking a well deck and with no current capacity to host anything other than the Osprey (which has armaments similar to a Humvee and thus hardly fit for strike missions), I feel China's reaction to be over-much. It's certainly not a carrier of the kind launched by China or India. I get that one day Japan might be able to tinker with it enough so that F-35s could fly from it, but that's a long ways away, if ever. I guess it's less about what capabilities Izumo actually provides Japan, but rather the message it sends when placed within the context of the NDPGs and LDP's constant raising of constitutional issues when it's supposed to focus on the economy.

MTC said...

SM -

Everyone's reactions are overmuch:

To get all huffy about the launch last week of a ship that was budgeted in 2010 and will not be commissioned until March of 2015 is theater, nothing more.

As for whom to ask about the actual operational and strategic significance of the Izumo, the three names that come most quickly to mind are the good doctors Alessio Patalano, Andrew Oros and Richard Samuels. They would have something quoteworthy to say about the Izumo and the successive ships in its class.