What is China up to? A recent article at http://indiaamericatoday.com/article/creeping-china makes a strong case that China is pursuing a strategy of incremental creep all around the Chinese periphery. The new Air Defense Zone covering territory claimed by South Korea and Japan, virtual occupation of islands also claimed by the Philippines, incursions by Chinese military forces at many points along the border with India. It all points to a slow annexation as it were, of sea, air, and land desired by Beiing. And, because it is slow, incremental, and more or less non-violent, China can claim that they are not being aggressive with anyone.
A recent visit by the President of India to the disputed border region (http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/11/30/us-india-china-border-idUSBRE9AT06A20131130) was berated by Beijing as causing an “aggravation” in their relations. A quick look at the headlines will clearly show that the one factor common to all of the recent aggravations around China’s periphery is action taken by the Chinese to push against their neighbors.
Add to all this, the rapid expansion and modernization of China’s military, and a willingness to show it off to those same neighbors, and it all adds up to a new hegemon on the block. Almost simultaneously with the announcement of the new Chinese identification zone around the Senkaku Islands and other parts of the surrounding sea, was the first sea trials of China’s new (and first), aircraft carrier.
China purchased the aircraft carrier the Liaoning, from Ukraine over ten years ago ago and has done significant work on the ship prior to her entering service in China’s navy in 2012. Displacing nearly 57,000 tons, the Liaoning is a little over half the size of the U.S. Navy’s Nimitz class aircraft carriers. Of note is the fact that the aircraft carrier and her support ships sailed through the disputed waters to a port on Hainan Island. As a show of force, it is not too subtle.
Despite China’s protestations to the contrary, the aggressor in this slow-motion game of brinksmanship and statecraft is Beijing herself. Japan, India, and all the others in China’s way had best be prepared for the day when the Chinese decide to back up their actions and words with an actual threat of force.