Will Beijing Use Force Over Diaoyu Islands?

The Diplomat’s James Holmes writes that Beijing has found “a low-risk way to make a high-impact statement” by taking to the skies in its dispute with Japan over the Diaoyu Islands, though the advantages become more blurred when viewed from a tactical perspective: In operational terms, how does air power fit into China’s toolkit for the island dispute? Aerial patrols are far from the ideal implement for the job. The late Admiral J. C. Wylie helps explain why. Wylie faults air-power proponents for conflating the power to destroy from the air with the capacity to control territory and people. Air forces, he writes, can rain destruction from the sky. But they cannot loiter on station indefinitely to exercise control. To use a law-enforcement simile, planes and helicopters are like police cruisers roaming the streets — except that, unlike police cars, they can’t stop for long, lest they crash. Their presence is episodic. For Wylie the man with a gun standing at a key spot on the map is the true arbiter of control.  Eighty percent of life is showing up, and staying. Like the cop walking his beat, the soldier, marine, or policeman toting a gun can mount a constant physical presence, and thereby maintain order and suppress lawlessness. Sea power occupies the middle ground between a ground presence and the intermittent presence supplied by air cover. While their endurance is finite and the sea areas they monitor vast, ships can remain on scene for a long time. They can dawdle on the high seas to show the flag and perform police duty. What does this disquisition mean for the Senkakus impasse? Ships will doubtless remain around the islets to put substance into China’s maritime claims. I doubt Beijing will land law-enforcement personnel, let alone troops, in the Senkakus. The ...
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