China is pursuing a policy of “gunboat diplomacy” in the East and South China seas that is destabilizing the Asia-Pacific region, the Center for a New American Security says in a report.
Although Taiwan has maintained some maritime claims that are identical to China’s, the lengthy report — entitled Tailored Coercion and released on March 21 — says that Taipei has pursued policies that are distinct from Beijing’s and not at cross purposes with Washington.
Taiwan is praised in the report for its East China Sea peace initiative, for signing a fisheries agreement with Japan and for “energetically” denouncing China’s declaration of an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea.
“In short, Japan and Taiwan — as well as the US as their ally — are growing increasingly concerned over Chinese coercive action in the East China Sea and are taking steps to counter it,” the report says. “Japan and Taiwan are seeking to bolster defense both independently and together.”
China’s behavior has been “uniquely escalatory and revisionist,” the report says.
It added that Beijing’s assertiveness is the product of overlapping trends including triumphalism in the wake of the 2008 Olympics and the global financial crisis. The report also points to Chinese nationalism, enhanced Chinese military and maritime capabilities, bureaucratic politics and internal sources of instability as reasons for its actions.
Chinese actions have often been premeditated and highly provocative and form “a troubling and destabilizing” pattern of behavior, it says.
“China is seeking to revise the situation in Asia through a variety of means that are designed to exert maximum influence without crossing the military threshold,” it says.
As the US rebalances to Asia, it will need to revise its forward-deployed presence, enhance its own military capabilities and help improve the ability of regional countries to “more independently monitor, deter and repel Chinese coercion,” the report says.
The report adds that as China seeks to exercise further influence over its periphery and challenge US dominance it is increasingly using coercive diplomacy.
“China has been doing this with its maritime neighbors, from Japan to Taiwan to the four Southeast Asian nations that also have competing claims in the South China Sea (Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam),” the report says, adding that this more focused form of coercive diplomacy — “which might have been referred to in the past as naval coercion or gunboat diplomacy” — appears to be most coercive and least diplomatic with states where Beijing wants to isolate its antagonists.
“Allies will have to do more to promote their own security, but must also be engaged to forge a common approach for discouraging bad behavior and countering maritime coercion,” the report says.