How to counter Chinese aggression against its island neighbors? Since our current strategery of sort-of pivoting to Asia while getting distracted in Eastern Europe doesn’t seem to be working here’s an outline suggestion from Peter Layton:
Since China’s strengths are in material power, which includes the ultima ratio regum, nuclear weapons, a new strategy could instead seek to play on China’s sensitivities and vulnerabilities. After all, strategy should ideally seek to exploit weak points, not go head-to-head against another’s strengths, as our current one does.
China is particularly sensitive to perceived interference in its internal affairs. Even meetings with the Dalai Lama by foreign governments cause angst in Beijing. The Chinese Communist Party seems to believe it is particularly vulnerable to outside intrusions in its domestic politics. Some new strategy might be able to play off such fears and create a perceived linkage between future Chinese actions over the disputed islands and external prying into Chinese domestic politics and internal matters.
There might even some helpful symmetry, in that such external meddling might then be explained as simply related to China’s meddling in the domestic affairs of others through seizing their islands, fishing areas and EEZs. Such external intrusion, though, would need to be carefully targeted to be effective in managing this issue, while avoiding unintended wider consequences. A thoughtful and considered strategy, not an unfocused broad-brush approach, would be required.
Jimmy Carter had many failings as a President, but one of them was hardly his own fault. Militarily, he was dealt a weak hand upon assuming office, with the US armed forces hamstrung by Vietnam Syndrome, staggered from downsizing, addled by drugs, and suffering the pains caused by switching to an all-volunteer force. Since he didn’t have much of a stick (nor would he have known how to use one), Carter made human rights the centerpiece of his foreign policy. It wasn’t a strong play, but it was the best play he had. To a limited extent it worked, too, and helped set the stage for Ronald Reagan fighting the Evil Empire with military and moral means.
We could certainly do worse today than to see if squeezing that particular nut might make Beijing cry.