Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chinese "aggression"?

English is a funny language. You can be a competent native speaker and still not grasp anywhere near all the nuances.

Item: I just heard a brief three-minute top-of-the-hour NPR news broadcast. The announcer said that the new U.S. 'security arrangement' with Australia is widely seen as a response to "growing Chinese aggression." My inner antenna switched on: What Chinese aggression? Nothing China has done recently (or not so recently, for that matter) amounts to aggression as I use the word -- that was my reaction.

Then I went to my dictionary. (Dictionaries are not deities, of course, but they're better than nothing.) The first definition of "aggression": "an unprovoked attack or warlike act; specif., the use of armed force by a state in violation of its international obligations" -- yes, that was the sense of the word I had in mind. There is also a second definition: "the practice or habit of being aggressive or quarrelsome" -- that's somewhat looser or broader. Then I went down to the adjective "aggressive"; one of the definitions is: "full of enterprise and initiative; bold and active; pushing." Then there is a little further section which draws fine distinctions among aggressive, militant, assertive, and pushing.

Bottom line? Where I might have said "growing Chinese assertiveness," the NPR guy said "growing Chinese aggression." Is that wrong? Strictly speaking, perhaps not. But I think it's misleading, since "aggression" triggers in most hearers the first sense of the word (unprovoked attack, etc.).

As is well known, China is a rising power in terms of economic and demographic weight (though it also has many problems, which I won't go into here). Rising powers tend to be somewhat "assertive". It's par for the course. That doesn't mean China is going to start a war. Its military is still well behind technologically. Chinese leaders have shown no evidence of exceptional bellicosity. Yes, there are a few possible flash points, but it's nothing to get one's knickers all in a bunch about. Scholars who study Chinese foreign policy closely, like Taylor Fravel of MIT, have shown that China's stance on territorial disputes has been one of compromise more often than not.
Btw, I think having U.S. Marines in northern Australia is not an especially good idea.


hank_F_M said...


You don't really mean that news writers of all stripes should take a vocabulary expansion course. : -)

Increased Chinese Assertiveness is an issue that needs to manged, but I think it is a mangeble issue. From my recent post on the Chinese navy.

Whe viewing Chinese defense efforts we should not take a solely Amercentic view point. Look at the problem for the Chinese view.

- For decades the Chinese military was hobbled by political direction that was time locked in Mao’s long march. In the last twenty to thirty years China has made a number of improvements that could be described simply as building a self-respecting 21st century force.


I think your right the marines in N Australia does not seem a good idea.

First: whatever the President said, i would bet that the Australian government is thinking of Indonesia.

Second. A Marine Expeditionary Unit, is once you get past the expansive vocabulary, an (as in one) infantry battalion with the support for independent operations.. Enough to support disaster relief or conduct minor operations, but also enough to get in trouble but not enough to handle a serious problem or eve get out of trouble. Recall Lebanon 1984.

It leaves up subject to responding to events we rather not and involvement in Australian/Indonesian interactions.

Hank’s Eclectic Meanderings

LFC said...

Hank - I have to admit I don't know anything about the current state of Australian-Indonesian relations.
btw I was just over at your blog now -- haven't thought about or listened to the Allan Sherman 'Camp Granada' song in a long, long time. I might just carve out the needed 2 mins and watch the youtube video sometime...