At least in its early years they were the doctrines

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the idea of keeping European great powers out of the area. At least in its earlyyears, they were the doctrine’s beneficiaries, not its subjects.China is not completely uncompromising. Along its land borders it has letsome disputes fade away and offered a bit of give and take. But this is in partbecause the South and East China Seas are seen as more strategicallyimportant. A key part of this strategic importance is the possibility that,eventually, the question of Taiwan’s sovereignty will come to a head; it is ineffect protecting its flanks in case of a future clash with America on thematter. The ever-volatile situation in North Korea could also create aflashpoint between the two states.When Mr Xi said, at his 2013 California summit with Mr Obama, that “thevast Pacific has enough space for two large countries like the United Statesand China,” it was an expression not so much of the possibility of peacefulcoexistence that must surely come from being separated by 10,000km ofwater, as of the idea that the western Pacific was a legitimate Chinese sphereof influence.And if Mr Xi’s words, repeated to America’s secretary of state, John Kerry, inBeijing in July, seemed to imply a symmetry between the countries, Chinaknows that, in fact, it enjoys various asymmetric advantages. For one, it is aunitary actor. It can drive wedges between America and its allies in the region.Hugh White, an Australian academic, argued in a recent article that, bythreatening other Asian countries with force, “China confronts America withthe choice between deserting its friends and fighting China.”
China’s armed forces are much less proficient than America’s. But Chinaenjoys the advantage of playing at home. America can dominate these seasonly through naval and air operations. If Chinese anti-ship missiles present aserious threat to such operations they can greatly reduce America’s ability toproject power, without putting China to the expense of developing a navy of itsown remotely so capable. Thus the military forces of the two sides are not asunbalanced as one might think by simply counting carrier groups (of whichChina is building its first, whereas America has ten, four of them in thePacific).China also thinks there is an asymmetry of will. It sees a war-weary Americaas unlikely to spend blood and treasure defending uninhabited rocks of nodirect strategic importance. America may speak loudly, but its big stick willremain unwielded. China’s people, on the other hand, their views shaped notjust by propaganda but also by a nationalism that needs scant encouragement,look on the projection of power in the China seas very favourably. And itsmilitary-industrial complex yearns to be paid to build bigger, better sticks ofits own. Even if party leaders wanted to succeed in their stated desire for apeaceful rise and to remain within international law, the way they haveshaped the spirit of their country would not necessarily let them.

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