Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Dao of Strategic Assessment (20): Assessing a World Class Implementer

"When torrential water tosses boulders, it is because of momentum; When the strike of a hawk breaks the body of its prey, it is because of timing.Thus the momentum of one skilled in war is overwhelming, and his attack precisely regulated. His potential is that of a fully drawn crossbow; his timing, the release of the trigger. In the tumult and uproar the battle seems chaotic, but there is no disorder; the troops appear to be milling about in circles but cannot be defeated. An apparent confusion is a product of good order; apparent cowardice, of courage; apparent weakness, of strength. ..." - Sunzi 5

Learning from Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War'
Saturday, May 9, 2009
The China post news staff

Last Friday marked the latest in a string of naval confrontations between China and the U.S., when, according to the Pentagon, two ships from China's Bureau of Fisheries Patrol came "dangerously close" (within 27 meters) to the surveillance ship USNS Victorious operating in the Yellow Sea.

The patrol vessels used high-intensity spotlights on the Victorious multiple times. The crew on the Victorious responded by sounding its alarm and shooting water from fire hoses at the vessels. The hour-long standoff ended only after the Victorious radioed Chinese military vessels for help.

China holds the U.S. responsible for unauthorized entering of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu characterized the incidence as a violation of international and Chinese laws by the U.S. and required the U.S. to take effective measures to prevent a similar incident from happening again.

The U.S., on the other hand, was silent on the confrontation, which is the fourth in the past month alone. The standoff was missing in a White House statement on the conversation between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

The recent showdowns between the so-called G-2 nations are seen as indicators of China's increasing confidence in its naval might and Washington's reluctance to escalate situations in a time when it needs Beijing on broad to tackle issues such as the financial crisis, global warming, and North Korea's arms race.

The unprecedented display of maritime armory on the 60th anniversary of the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) on April 23 was a far cry from the celebration a decade ago, which was, as the Economist put it, "a little more than a few commemorative stamps and plenty of bunting."

Not so this year. In a bit of chest pounding, China showcased two nuclear-powered submarines for the first time.

While China's naval power is still far behind that of the U.S., China's recent clashes with the U.S. are more than simple calls for attention, and should be regarded with caution.

Since the humiliation of seeing the U.S. aircraft carrier Nimitz enter the Taiwan Strait following the 1995-6 missile crisis, China has been eager to deny the U.S. unrestricted access to where it considers its own backyard.

Andrew F. Krepinevich, a military consultant and an expert future strategist, argued that China is not looking for a head-on ocean head bunt with the U.S., but to develop a military strategy that enables the weak to defeat the strong. He called the strategy "shashoujian" (the assassin's mace), a combination of Western technology and Eastern wisdom to create surprise, break the U.S. military's communication network, and launch preemptive attacks "to the point where such attacks, or even the threat of such attacks, would raise the costs of U.S. action to prohibitive levels."

In other words, Beijing opted not to overpower the U.S. Navy, but to obtain the capability of area denial. By showcasing its nuclear submarines and its growing confidence in the seas, Beijing had averted the U.S.' attention out of East Asia, which is in line with the oldest of Chinese military wisdoms, Sun Tzu's Art of War: "When your opponent is in superior strength, evade it."

Other shashoujians such as China's ability to smash orbiting satellites and its cyber-warfare capability (though Beijing denies its development of such technologies) are all aimed at disrupting U.S. military communications and making it difficult to coordinate an operation in East Asia.

/// A good strategist always out-positions his competitor’s advantage through the use of solid planning and preparation. Once a leverage was gained, he has the option of eradicating the competition.

For now, China's strategy seems to be working. Facing a global financial crisis and two ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. is inclined to see China more as a partner than a competitor. Such a situation could post a great challenge for Taiwan.

/// When the resources of the favored is spread thinly, their best survival option is to establish alliances not opposition.

While Beijing and Taipei seem to be on their way to diplomatic detente, the option of attacking the island by force has never left the table. Even best friends fight sometimes, so while the people of Taiwan should hope for improving relations, they should not leave their fate to the mercy of a heavily-armed big brother.

The long term survival of the ROC should not be assumed, but earned. Taiwan's military should learn from China and develop its own area-denial capabilities to prepare for the unthinkable.

These include capabilities to create surprise and opportunities, such as better intelligences and cyber-warfare. After all, one of the best ways to maintain peace and promote camaraderie among friends, ironically, is to make dispute an ugly option.

Copyright © 1999 2009 The China Post.


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