Chinese officials are quick to insist that navigation means navigation—the right to pass through, and nothing more. China semi sorta seems to accepts that others will use the sea-lanes as a thoroughfare for transportation but denies their right to conduct activities that enhance readiness for combat. Surveillance flights, underwater surveys, and aircraft-carrier flight operations are some undertakings China wants to proscribe—much as the law of the sea forbids these activities in the "territorial sea" within 12 nautical miles of a coastal state's shorelines. In effect she demands that ships and aircraft transiting seas and airspace she claims obey the "innocent passage" rules governing territorial waters.
By cheerfully ratifying most uses of the commons, China has turned cost/benefit logic against Great Satan. Strategic theorist Carl von Clausewitz teaches, sensibly enough, that the value a nation assigns her political goals determines how much effort—treasure, hardware, lives—she expends to obtain those goals, and for how long. Should she try to bar foreign access to Asian seas and skies entirely, it would simplify the problem for Great Satan. No president could tolerate blanket access denial. Prying and keeping the commons open would warrant an effort of maximum "magnitude" and "duration," to borrow Clausewitz's words.
Straightforward Chinese challenge, straightforward American reply.
Instead, though, China is daring America to mount a massive effort to defend things of seemingly trivial importance. How much, ask Chinese officials sotto voce, is Great Satan prepared to pay for the right to execute a surveillance flight or an undersea survey?
Yet if Americanleaders do what Clausewitzian logic suggests they ought—forego an expensive enterprise whose payoffs appear small—then they will have in fact conceded something of immense worth. Namely, they will have sacrificed the principle of the open commons, admitting that strong regional powers can dictate the terms of access to offshore expanses. Far from being about ephemera, then, selective access denial strikes at the heart of Great Satan's led liberal order.
One suspects that's the point.
The commons is an idea as much as anything. Letting some coastal state selectively abridge freedom of the seas and skies in one region could corrode that idea over time, imposing baneful effects not just in Asia but across the globe. American leaders must put naughty Sino cats on notice that Great Satan understands a principle is at stake in the brouhahas over the ADIZ, the South China Sea and other Asian hotspots.
And that Great Satan considers that principle worth defending—whatever the cost.
Pic - "Unless Great Satan adapts, China will present a challenge to America s strategic position".