Diaoyu Stand-off a Bid to Cement Xi’s Authority?

At Fareed Zakaria’s Global Public Square at CNN, The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos answers readers’ questions about China, including the following:

“Hen na gaijin” raises the issue of the South China Sea. How likely is a clash over territorial disputes there or the East China Sea?

The danger is not of a strategic decision but of a mistake – a miscalculation, an error, a clash – and that danger gets larger as more vessels crowd into a confined space. Importantly, it can be said that Chinese leaders, even the more hawkish wing, do not actively seek a conflict simply because the Party’s operating principle is to control – and a conflict, by definition, has too many variables it cannot control. The Party knows that one of the few things more destabilizing than a conflict would be a conflict in which it loses.

At the Sydney Morning Herald, John Garnaut offers an explanation for Beijing’s willingness to risk such a conflict. According to sources said to be close to new president Xi Jinping, the stand-off has served as a means for Xi to consolidate his standing within the military, akin to Deng Xiaoping’s 1979 invasion of Vietnam.

“To sort the horses from the mules you need to walk them around the yard,” said the friend.

[…] A second associate of Mr Xi, a retired officer who is the son of one of the People’s Liberation Army’s top commanders, said pushing the PLA onto a war-footing – even an artificial one – was the first and most important stage in his consolidation of political power.

[…] The associates of Mr Xi say the dispute is moving into a less dangerous phase following his successful demonstration of military authority and his appointment as President on Thursday, which was the third and final of his formal leadership titles.

[…] Few believe a senior Chinese leader would deliberately trigger a war, as Deng did with Vietnam after securing a green light from Washington. But Mr Xi’s mobilisation of the military for war preparations may have served a similar purpose.