China’s strategy: grab turf and hold it

Tonight on my regular gig with John Batchelor and Gordon Chang on WABC radio in New York, the co-hosts drew attention anew to China’s seizure, “reclamation”—a.k.a. fabrication—and fortification of atolls and reefs in the South China Sea.

Two quick points, and an observation from one of the masters of strategy. One, China uses Westerners’ generosity deftly against us: while we debate China’s motives, affording it the benefit of the doubt, China forges ahead with its next move. Our forbearance constitutes Beijing’s opportunity. We’re always behind.

Two, militarized islands are mainly peacetime assets, useful for deterring Southeast Asian neighbors from challenging China’s unlawful territorial claims. They would probably prove untenable in wartime, but that’s beside the point. They are adjuncts to China’s small-stick diplomacy (click here).

And for the big-think observation, Moltke the Elder insisted the strongest form of war was strategic offense combined with tactical defense. In other words, grab something you want, hold it, and dare your opponent to come and take it back—and make himself look like a bully and a warmonger in the process.

Advantage: Beijing. However contemptible China’s motives, you’ve got to admire its strategic dexterity.