Discussing China at Foreign Exchange
Kaplan is making an assumption that China harbors a deep desire for hegemonic dominance. This is incorrect strategic analysis. Chinese military doctrine is completely defensive… The only thing that a friend or foe of China needs to understand is what China considers to be within its perimeter. China is primarily obsessed with reversing its so-called "Century of Humiliation."
I have to agree with Kaplan assumption because of two underlining premises, the definition of hegemony and Chinese military doctrine. Chung Kuo is what the Chinese call their country. It is often incorrectly translated as the Middle Kingdom. The first syllable Chung mean center and the second syllable Kuo means country. This is how Chinese are taught from birth to see their country, the center of the universe, the flower of civilizations. China perception of itself, or an ideal perception of itself is key to how it perceive other. China does seek hegemony and has historically, until the last two century, enjoyed hegemony. Historically, China relationship between itself and its neighbors was were superior-subordinate relationships. That was the nature of international relation in the Pacific until the arrival of Westerners. It meant that annually, at China Imperial court, countries far and near paid tribute to China in lavish gifts and openly recognized China supremacy, swore allegiance and reaffirmed their vassals status in relation to China. Rulers of Pacific countries had to seek official recognition from China. For instance, before a Vietnamese crown-prince became a Sovereign, he had to get approval from China before his coronation. The Chinese Emperor then grant him a title and a new name, in addition to his Sovereign name. In Vietnam, the ruler called himself Emperor at home, but when addressing the Chinese emissary, he referred to himself only as King. All these were formality and symbolic but violation of these etiquettes guaranteed a war, often not annexation war, but a punitive war. The 1979 Sino-Vietnamese war is the modern example of punitive campaign. What usually happened is vassal states apologized, sent more lavished gifts, and be pardoned. This is hegemony as it understood in the Pacific.
You are absolutely correct in saying that China want to reverse its "Century of Humiliation." But that means a restoration of power relation in the Pacific to the condition prior to the arrival of the Westerners, which is the condition similar to what I described above. In such a condition, the whole Pacific is within China perimeter as a sphere of influence. China therefore naturally resent US influence in the region. The facts that other Pacific countries often went to the US first for assistance before going to China is an unbearable insult.
Chinese recent shift in its military doctrine reflect its ambition. The so call defensive people war doctrine was discarded replaced by a more offensive doctrine. There were two primary reasons for this evolution. First, the PLA was shifting its doctrine from the "People's War" to fighting a "Local War Under High-Technology Conditions." The Chinese believe their next war will be a short, fast-paced conflict on their periphery rather than a protracted war of attrition on friendly terrain...
I am aware of China's traditional understanding of hegemony vis-a-vis its vassal states (which even extended at one time to Sri Lanka). However, I would have to disagree that this is how China would like to frame relations in the current era. Let us look at China's relations with India. China did wage a (successful) punitive campaign against India in 1962, but its current relationship is not an attempt to place India in a humiliatingly superior-subordinate relationship. At least I don't think Indian or Chinese leaders perceive it that way. Admittedly, China's relations with Vietnam and the "Nanyang" region as a whole are more complex and delicate because of historical relations. However, I do not think that China since the eighties has sought to meddle in Vietnam's foreign or domestic policy, nor did it derail the re-estalishment of diplomatic relations between the US and Vietnam. (I am unfamiliar with Vietnamese history after the 1979 conflict, so correct me if I
...I think the shift in PLA tactics and strategy is not equal to a shift in overall military doctrine. (In fact if I recall my Garver readings correctly, that tactical shift occurred in the sixties). Your own post shows that China is not preparing for occupation, but for fighting short forward battles on the periphery and retreating. This is the tactic they used against India, Korea, etc. Their doctrine is not about regime change or occupation of foreign soil. The Chinese use force to bring states back to the bargaining table. This may cause some humiliation if a country gets its nose bloodied, but the goal is not to subordinate/overthrow/occupy/annex the neighboring country.