We had a most interesting exchange on the topic of China’s Politico-Military Posture: Is it defensive or aggressive. We asked UNR professors John Scire and Xiaoyu Pu to debate the issue. Although neither felt strongly one way or the other, for the sake of argument they agreed to take opposite sides on the issue for the purposes of illuminating aspects of Chinese regional and domestic activities.
Here is a summary of their presentations and the PowerPoint slides they used.
China’s Politico-Military Posture and Behavior Reflects a Very Aggressive Stance
China is an emerging world power which shows clear signs of becoming an aggressive one. Politically, they actively oppose US efforts in the UN to reign in rogue regimes, such as Iran and especially North Korea, a very dangerous state with the ability to start a war with the US.
They are actively pushing their territorial demands on to their neighbors in SE Asia, including Viet-Nam, the Philippines, and even Malaysia. China is laying claim to many islands and their resources in the East and South China Seas, lying far beyond even the 200-mile internationally accepted economic zones. They have also initiated a number of incidents with Japan.
Economically, they have engaged in very aggressive neo-mercantilist policies which have adversely affected the US economy. By not living up to provisions of the WTO, by allowing massive theft of US patents and copyrights and methods of production, and by directly subsidizing industries that dump products on the US, they are engaging in economic warfare.
Militarily, China seems bent on developing a Navy and Air Force which are clearly meant to project power far from their borders. This includes an active carrier-building program. China has fielded a powerful long range missile force, with increasing capability to target the US mainland as well as our deployed forces in the Pacific. I should also note the active stealth aircraft development program. They have exchanged fire with several SE Asian nations and US allies in the region.
It is in the Cyber arena that does and should raise the most concerns. Here China has implemented a very far-reaching cyber intrusion program, with the capability of intercepting our most secret communications. The PRC seems intent on using their growing cyber capabilities to assist in its economic espionage efforts. Finally, China appears capable of having the ability to essentially “blind” American military forces if a conflict should occur.
The Chinese are behaving as aggressively as they can be given their relative weakness vis-à-vis the US. However, as their military power grows, I believe they will become even more aggressive world-wide.
Dr. John Anthony Scire
Click here for Dr. Scire’s presentation: China’s Aggressive Actions
China’s Politico-Military Posture Should Be Considered Primarily as a Defensive One
The media increasingly describes China as an assertive power. While there might be some valid reasons to worry about the intentions of a rising power, many discussions confuse “assertiveness” with “aggression.” “Assertiveness” refers to a confident and direct way of defending a country’s rights or claims. While China’s “assertiveness” seems to be inevitable, we should differentiate different types of assertive behaviors. The first type is “offensive/expansionist assertiveness,” which refers to the aggressive behavior exerted by a great power to expand its interest and influence without provocation from other countries. The dominant strategic thinking in China is that the expansionist/aggressive approach would not work to promote China’s national interest and security. The second type is “defensive assertiveness,” which refers to a great power’s willingness and capability to defend its current interests in responding to challenges from other countries. The third type of assertiveness is “constructive assertiveness,” which refers to the active and constructive approach taken by a great power to solve regional and global problems. Many of China’s behaviors are defensive because China is responding to the provocations of other countries. China’s assertive behavior is not necessarily bad if it is a constructive behavior to solve regional and global problems.
Furthermore, Chinese leaders’ major security concern comes from internal threats. China recently announced that a high-level security commission will focus more on “state security” or domestic challenges, although it might coordinate foreign affairs as well.
Chinese leaders are also constrained by China’s geopolitical environment at regional level. Since the US announced its “pivot” to Asia, Chinese elites have worried about the implications but have taken a restrained response. At the global level, China has limited power projection capabilities. We currently see little if any evidence that China is already taking an aggressive approach. China’s assertive behavior is mostly responsive and defensive. China is both a rapidly rising power but also a fragile developing country.
China is not eager to challenge the US leadership. The world should welcome a China that is taking a constructively assertive approach to solving global and regional problems.
Dr. Xiaoyu Pu
Click here for Dr. Pu’s presentation: China’s Defensive Actions