Creeping China

China’s growing geopolitical heft is emboldening its territorial creep in Asia. President Xi Jinping’s promise of national greatness – embodied in the catchphrase “China dream” – is tied as much to achieving regional hegemony as to internal progress.

NEW DELHI – China’s growing geopolitical heft is emboldening its territorial creep in Asia. After laying claim to 80% of the South China Sea, it has just established a so-called air defense identification zone in the East China Sea, raising the odds of armed conflict with Japan and threatening the principle of freedom of navigation of the seas and skies. Meanwhile, the People’s Republic continues to nibble furtively at territory across the long, disputed Himalayan border with India.

Few seem to fathom the logic behind China’s readiness to take on several neighbors simultaneously. China is seeking to alter the status quo gradually as part of a high-stakes effort to extend its control to strategic areas and resources. President Xi Jinping’s promise of national greatness – embodied in the catchphrase “China dream” – is tied as much to achieving regional hegemony as to internal progress.

China’s approach reflects what the Chinese general Zhang Zhaozhong this year called a “cabbage” strategy: assert a territorial claim and gradually surround the area with multiple layers of security, thus denying access to a rival. The strategy relies on a steady progression of steps to outwit opponents and create new facts on the ground.

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