A Japanese soldier with the JGSDF and a Chinese soldier with the PLA post security during a medical training event as part of Exercise Khaan Quest 2015 in Tavantolgoi, Mongolia, June 23, 2015.

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No one wants open war, including China. However, the best chance of war comes with a stable and united Asia. A destabilized Asia isolates the various nations threatened by China. If united, they could face down Chinese aggression and China would most likely back down unless a hawk faction took over the party.

Also, I think you are misinterpreting the intent and extent of these islands. The islands they are claiming aren’t just the Senkaku Islands or Taiwan, they spawn from island disputes between the Korean Peninsula and China to the South China Sea and the Philippines. It extends China’s reach thousands of kilometers beyond their previous borders. Furthermore, it increases China’s ability to conduct operations within the East Asian commercial zones. They want to overthrow the US + allied control of trade and security operations in Asia. In this sense, if Vietnam or Indonesia wants to use the shipping lanes that run adjacent to the Paracel Islands, they would have to operate within the confines of the chinese navy rather than the US + allied navy.

Effectively, the islands enable China to solidify their attempts to claim hegemony in East Asia. You can understand their reasoning behind this through their actions in Central Asia. The new Silk Road is meant to secure Chinese trade and economy by creating a route unreachable by the US.

TL;DR China is preventing war by dividing Asia and keeping the nations mostly isolated from one another. And with a disjointed Asia, their moves for a “few plots of land” actually further their economic and military strength in the region.

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