DavidD wrote:So where do you expect these developments heading, and how do you expect the various actors to react should a war break out between China and one of the actors? I just have trouble seeing any of the actors taking definitive action for the sake of another country. I mean, India didn't even ally itself with anybody in the cold war, do you really think the GOI will, for example, authorize a blockade of the Malacca straits if a shooting war breaks out over the Diaoyu/Senkakkus? Heck, Japan, being completely devoid of resources instead of just being deficient of it like China, would probably be hurt much more by a blockade of the Malacca Straits than China would be. Short of sailing into the SCS to confront the PLAN, I see few realistic ways for India to come to Japan's aid.
You don't have to engage in a battle to influence a war. India can, for example, boost the scale of deployment on the LAC, precipitating counter-deployment. China-bound shipping can be delayed through 'anti-terrorism' operations. New oil drilling operations can be started in the SCS and/or the Indian Navy can engage in a naval exercise in the SCS, albeit in the EEZ of a host nation. The Taiwanese can coincide that with (loose) talk of formal secession, forcing the Chinese military to adopt a threatening posture on that front. The Vietnamese can mobilize its forces for a round of military exercises. The US Navy will likely do a fly-the-flag carrier run, if its not already engaged in fighting the war.
Its a similar situation here in the subcontinent. China is unlikely to go to war with India. That doesn't change the fact, that in any war with Pakistan it cannot commit its military resources fully, because of the need to man the Chinese border/LAC, maintain a defensive posture and be prepared to tackle unforeseen circumstances, no matter how unlikely they may be. And vice versa where the western front needs to watched in an Indo-China war. If you have more than one adversary (as both China and India do), you have to watch your flanks, even if the threat appears benign.
And these are just overt actions in wartime. During peacetime joint training and more importantly intelligence sharing can be invaluable. Then there's also the possibility of some degree of pressure applied through trade though nothing as crude or counter-productive as sanctions. In fact the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership has been interpreted in some quarters as step in a containment strategy (its a strongly disputed theory though).
But, more important is the question of why China is letting it happen. The US is the dominant power in the Atlantic (and the rest of the world too of course) but it has fairly good relations with most of Europe and the Americas (barring Cuba, Venezuela and the occasional diplomatic headache).
I'm not convinced by the idea that a flaring up of regional tensions is/was an inevitable
result of the China's meteoric rise, and could not have been foreseen and tempered by active intervention.
Considering how India doesn't even threaten the SCS for its own disputed lands, I can hardly imagine India doing so for Japan's disputed lands thousands of miles away.
You're thinking in absolutes instead of degrees. When India, US, Australia and Japan conducted a large scale naval exercise, they weren't plotting an attack on China. But China still delivered a diplomatic demarche to each of them. India tapered down the exercise for the next couple of years (until now), but not because of the looming threat of a Chinese invasion. It too pushes and prods its neighbours to ensure China's influence doesn't get too widespread.
Its a question of a balance. In general, most parties want to maintain the status quo. But if relations start deteriorate beyond a point, then all the things we take for granted and call unimaginable, become a lot more real. These things never start out in war because they are always nipped in the bud long before they get out of hand. In this regard, China appears to have (uncharacteristically) dropped the ball letting events slide, to the detriment of its own national interests.