China Will ‘Pull the Trigger’ in the South China Sea

    Gordon G. Chang

    Security, Asia

    Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) navy sailors march during an open day at the Ngong Shuen Chau Naval Base on Hong Kong's Stonecutters Island July 28, 2012. The naval base was open to the public on Saturday, four days ahead of the PLA Army Day on August 1. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

    Beijing may want to “win without fighting” as Holmes suggests, but it cannot win without confronting.

    The National Interest has recently hosted a debate on whether China wants a confrontation in the South China Sea.

    In a January 24 piece, “China Wants Confrontation in the South China Sea,” I argue what the title states. James Holmes, in “No, China Doesn’t Want Confrontation in the South China Sea,” takes a different view.

    In this piece, I show China wants more than just to provoke a confrontation in that contested body of water. It wants to “pull the trigger.” Beijing, we should recognize, will almost certainly use force if it gets the opportunity.

    That’s more than just a prediction. It is an extrapolation from past Chinese behavior.

    “An antagonist who stumbles into the arena of combat is different from one who strides into the arena,” writes Holmes, the first holder of the J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College. In this regard, Jim, whom I greatly admire and respect, is certainly correct.

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    China, however, is more than stumbling into the South China Sea. It is using its power to push out others, namely, the United States, which has no South China Sea sovereignty claims, and rival claimants. Beijing may want to “win without fighting” as Holmes suggests, but it cannot win without confronting.

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