What Beijing fears most: Intra-Asian balancing
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a rising China, in possession of a modernising military, must be in want of a non-militarised Japan. So is Beijing being foolish by acting assertively in the East China Sea, thereby helping to fuel Japan's evolution into a full-fledged military rival?
Perhaps not, says Hugh White. Based on analyses by Amy King and Brad Glosserman, he argues that either China doesn't believe that Japan can become a 'normal' military power (in which case Tokyo would have little choice but to accept a subordinate role to Beijing in Asia), or China calculates that its assertiveness and Japan's militaristic response will drive a permanent wedge in the US-Japan alliance, to China's benefit.
The possibilities Hugh raises are certainly compelling. China's coercive behaviour has so far elicited a relatively ambivalent response from America. Although Washington talks a tough game in Asia, and has continued apace with military exercises with other powers in the region that share its concerns about China's military modernisation, other aspects of its behaviour are cause for concern. Washington still felt the need to send two very different messages about its intentions to audiences in the US and in Asia (a point the Lowy Institute's Michael Fullilove recently raised with US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in Singapore). Attempts at emphasising the non-military dimensions of Washington's 'pivot to Asia,' the mixed response to China's extension of an air defence identification zone in the East China Sea, and budgetary considerations all point to waning enthusiasm in Washington for confronting Beijing.
Dhruva Jaishankar is a fellow at the German Marshall Fund in Washington, where he manages the India Trilateral Forum, a twice-yearly strategic dialogue between India, the US, and Europe.