Can China 'Win' Without Fighting?
Image Credit: Flickr (Al Jazeera English)

Can China 'Win' Without Fighting?


What options does Japan have?  Robert Dujarric gives us three in our China Power section here.

A few weeks back I likened China’s anti-access strategy vis-à-vis the United States to the “rope-a-dope” strategy Muhammad Ali pursued during his famous Rumble in the Jungle against George Foreman. In wartime, that is, China would let an initially stronger U.S. Pacific Fleet overextend and exhaust itself getting into the theater before risking a fleet-on-fleet battle. It would overcome the Pacific Fleet in the same manner the lighter, more agile Ali beat the burlier Foreman—with a flurry of punches against a tired adversary.

Such a strategy conforms to Mao Zedong’s counsel to let the other boxer waste his energy foolishly while conserving one’s own energy for the decisive counterpunch. But what about a match in which China played the part of Foreman, the bigger, stronger contestant?

There’s a boxing metaphor for China’s peacetime strategy as well. Retired Japanese vice admiral Yoji Koda says Beijing is “shadowboxing” with fellow Asian powers in the East China Sea. Sparring with them individually makes China the stronger competitor. Because numbers are on its side, for instance, China’s leadership can keep law-enforcement ships on station near the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, send PLA Navy task forces through the Miyako Strait and other waterways as a matter of routine, and otherwise overtax finite Japanese military and law-enforcement resources.

It can dance around the ring constantly—compelling its opponent to follow. So long as Tokyo feels the need to monitor Chinese maritime movements, it may wear out its coast guard and navy. In short, Beijing can impose a hyperactive operating tempo on the Japanese sea services—dispersing and enfeebling them while disheartening the Japanese leadership and electorate over time. Ultimately Tokyo may throw in the towel, acknowledging it can no longer keep pace.

China’s navy and police services can sustain such a tempo indefinitely without breaking equipment or tiring out crews. That’s the luxury of being the stronger party to peacetime competition. Shadowboxing, then, is a more offensive variety of the rope-a-dope strategy in which the boxer has no desire to knock out his opponent. He’s determined to win on points—even if it takes the full fifteen rounds, or another bout, or another one after that.

Moving around the ring constantly while feinting or jabbing against an opponent from a lighter weight class lets the shadowboxer score points without cutting loose with a haymaker. In so doing he preserves his strength. He avoids exposing himself to a lucky counterpunch. And he avoids making himself look like a bully in the crowd’s eyesfor decking an outclassed antagonist.

The main challenge is self-discipline. The shadowboxer has to content himself with a victory on points. That means foregoing the glory of a knockout. That’s a tough thing for any pugilist to swallow—especially a pugilist like China that’s attempting a comeback to reverse a long history of defeat.

But, why win by a knockout when you can win without fighting?

December 8, 2013 at 12:25

Trying to explain individual move by China without looking at the grand picture is futile at best, as shown by Mr. Holmes comment here. The islands’ dispute in Asia
has its historical and current implication and Chinese government is partly driven by the chain of events beyond its control.

However, if one looks at the big picture, one can understand China’s reaction. China is trying to present a stature commensurate with its economic and military power. That’s a drastic change from Deng Xiao Ping’s “low profile” approach. As a result, the US and Japan need to be prepared and even get used to the new “major power” diplomacy, which means China will act and behave as an equal to the US. For the US part, it is already starting to understand and trying to get used to the new relationship, as shown by recent ADIZ incident. The short sighted Japanese politicians are moving against this historic change and will suffer greatly.

March 1, 2013 at 13:05

Please explain why China should give up Taiwan or Tibet.

March 1, 2013 at 13:01

I FULLY AGREE. I also think Philipines should add calcium to their diet.

October 30, 2012 at 23:49

Speaking of a little brag, how do you think the rest of the world views seizing foreign territory by force? You can't seem to see the fact that the US is not deterred but is setting course for "air sea battle". The pivot isn't about diplomacy. If we are willing to send carrier after carrier through your own "territory" what makes you think we will back down in the future with more allies and resources prepared? Saddam didn't think we were going to do anything either… twice…and twice he was defeated. Syria and Iran thought we were never going to do anything either…

October 30, 2012 at 22:17

@Be Way
I disagree on what you said I believe that Philippines is fortunate in terms of support that comes form other countries because they know its position in defending her claims of her territory is alligned with laws morality, and truth compared to China fabricating facts and stories to able come up “evidence” to make their claims seems real.

October 29, 2012 at 13:25

CHAMP is not the only option…far from it. What is the difference between sanctioning oil and sanctioning rare earth minerals? Seizing foreign territories is historically an act of war also. We must be willing to respond to China's provocations in a way that will deter future provocations. We really don't have much of a choice and neither do our allies in the face of such aggression.
The US doesn't want to get drawn into war but if China thinks we are going to run away from them they are sorely mistaken. We have seen this movie before. We are prepared with a massive forward presence and many, many allies. China has North Korea.

Be Way
October 29, 2012 at 04:26

No, I don't think you understand fully the essence of China's conduct against its neighbors.     Out of the 14 neighbors that bordered China, why is it always the same players that cried foul against China whether it's from Japan, Vietnam and maybe now Philippines.  Philippines is just unfortunate that it's been caught in the geopolitical maneuver as a result of U.S pivot towards Asia.  'Unfortunate' is actually too mild a word to describe Philippines fate as Philippines is making a big and grave mistake if it intends to indulge itself into an act of provocation by aligning itself with U.S, Australia and Japan against China.    As a small and poor country, Philippines should stear itself out from the sea of hostilities by negotiating with the Chinese directly instead of trying to act beyond its means.   As for Japan and Vietnam, there will be more surprises unfolding in future as China is willing to play along with these two little brags if that's what they intended to based on historical ground.

October 29, 2012 at 04:08

Agreed, and China will give up Taiwan and Tibet that's also a foregone conclusion.

Nan Yang
October 29, 2012 at 02:26

Geography favors China. Diayu Dao is nearer to China mainland.
Furthermore for China to patrol within 12 mile limit is a new status quo. Before the "lsland Buying" thing by right wing Shintaro Ishihara, China marine Patrol ship never enter the 12mile limit.
This is also part of China answer to US pivot. Since Japan is key to this pivot. The strategy is to bash US's sweetest smelling ally Japan everyday and push Japan to the right. When Japan become more right wing, it will break Japan relationship with other neighboring countries like S. Korea and Taiwan. May even push them closer to China. US pivot will then be in trouble.

Be Way
October 28, 2012 at 17:15

Unfortunately for you, the big house of cards is still there from the past many centuries until infinite period of time in future.    A lousy fortune-teller like you is not qualified to comment on such complicated matter.

October 27, 2012 at 23:51

All Japan has to do is sit tight. China’s actions, if they continue this way, will only build and deepen mistrust internationally. From an international stand point, China looks to be the aggressor here. The use of illegal economical sanctions, doesnt really appeal to international inverstors. Japan also has other options, such as moving its manufacturing to
Indonesia, Thailand. CHina isnt the only place to offer cheap labour. So if we take cheap labour away, apart from the expense of relocating, there is little incentive to stay. The cars and electronics produced by Japan will still be desired due to their quality and price. China for the forseeable future needs Japanese components to make anything decent.
The fact is alot of Japanese people will not see too much problem with a peaceful exodus of Japanese investment, if it was to be transferred to the other emerging asian economies, economies that are politically more stable and less hostile and probably just as fruitful in the longterm. If Japanese buisness did leave China it would hurt China’s employment, its access to advanced technologies, potential future investment. It would also show big international business, that their is life after China.

Dalai Dayak
October 27, 2012 at 10:54

Japan will give up the contested islands. It's a foregone conclusion.

October 27, 2012 at 05:03

I think the JDSF do have satellite survellence capabilities, so, if it likes, it can simply monitor the Chinese survellence vessels from space and lodge a complaint; this, Japan can do forever and a day, if it percieves China not really wanting to risk a war, and not willing to take the islands, and just ‘Shadow box’ this type of action might have worked 20,30 years ago, but this strategy is very outdated, with the technology we have today, in such a case, it is China that ould tire it’s self out with such a strategy in the long run, and really gain nothing. I would go as far as to say this is exactely what China is doing, and so the the positive results for them in this endeavor are highly in doubt. I do think however that diplomacy and better trade could end this situation, and I hope they do, and not waste anymore resources, and focus more on there on own social issues without making an international inccident out of it.

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