Sea Control 41 – The View From China

In this very interesting episode, Matthew Hipple talks with Dean Cheng, a Senior Research Fellow at the Asian Studies Center at the The Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy at The Heritage Foundation. Cheng is specialized in China’s military and foreign policy, in particular its relationship with the rest of Asia and with the United States. He has detailed knowledge of China’s military and space capabilities and has written extensively on China’s military doctrine, technological implications of its space program and “dual use” issues associated with the communist nation’s industrial and scientific infrastructure.

According to Cheng, China sees itself as a status quo power, but they define it very differently than the US does. The influence of the US in Asia spans about the last 250 years, when China has its weakest period of the last thousand years – also known as the “Century of humiliation“. On the other hand, China defines his status quo power over the last 4’500 years, during which China has been always the centre of Asia. Understandably, China seeks to gain back its influence in Asia and to expand its borders, including outer Mongolia and the territory seized by Russia, Taiwan, southern Tibet, the various islands of the South China Sea and probably more in the long term (see Geoff Wade, “China’s six wars in the next 50 years“, The Strategist, 26.11.2013). But this doesn’t mean that a war is imminent between China and the neighbouring countries. China has no imperialistic attitude – it tries to reach its goals in an indirect way by influencing and intimidating their neighbours and through their salami-slice strategy in the South China Sea.

China under the  Qing Dinasty (1644 – 1911) and as Republic of China until 1949.

China under the Qing Dinasty (1644 – 1911) and as Republic of China until 1949.

Dealing with China requires another view on International Relations. From the European and US-American perspective, International Relations often has something to do with “Balance of Power“, but in Asia it’s more about “Bandwagoning“. Accordingly, China’s neighbours are reacting differently, but not really hostile. For example the Philippines sued China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which leaved China unimpressed. There were also multiple ramming incidences between Vietnamese and Chinese vessels, but both countries are not interested to escalate these skirmishes.

The US is exploiting the disaffection of the Chinese neighbours by building an alliance structure to contain China. This is seen by China as a fundamental problem, which they like to get rid of it. Additional, the US conduct recognition operations along the Chinese coast, publish annually DOD’s report to Congress about China and sell arms to Taiwan. All these actions are antagonising China. Even China will not go to war about these disputes, it sees the US-American influence in Asia as the core of the problem. Should these disputes escalate to a question about the dominance over Asia in the 21th century, China could see itself forced to take up arms.

Should the situation escalate, China’s economic center of gravity lies at the coastlines, which they protect with an anti-access-aerial-deny strategy. Cheng lines out that the US, most likely, will not find the solution to an escalated situation by military means. Relating to submarine tactics of the US and their allies, he criticizes vehemently the Chinese participation at RIMPAC 2014.

During the podcast, Cheng speaks about the Chinese “status quo”, about the South China Sea, India, Pakistan, the use of crises as policy tools and about a lot more, which gives you a look behind the headlines.

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CIMSECThe Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) is a non-profit, non-partisan think tank. It was formed in 2012 to bring together forward-thinkers from a variety of fields to examine the capabilities, threats, hotspots, and opportunities for security in the maritime domain. Check out the NextWar blog to join the discussion. CIMSEC encourages a diversity of views and is currently accepting membership applications here.

This entry was posted in China, English, Sea Control, Sea Powers, Security Policy.

One Response to Sea Control 41 – The View From China

  1. In the Podcast, Dean Cheng criticizes vehemently the Chinese participation at RIMPAC 2014 for not serving the interest of the US. According to Andrew S. Erickson and Austin M. Strange the RIMPAC participation has multiple benefits for China:

    First, strong performances off Hawaii will burnish the PLAN’s domestic and international reputation as a dynamic, world-class navy. Second, as with Gulf of Aden anti-piracy, other than providing a rare window to showcase maritime prowess cooperatively, RIMPAC offers a useful platform for China to learn about the technologies, equipment, personnel, tactics, and procedures employed by the world’s leading navies. […] Third, given the uncertain future of Somali anti-piracy operations, engaging in the U.S.-hosted exercise offers particularly useful pretext for deploying a variety of PLAN platforms, equipment, and servicemen outside of East Asia to accumulate experience and sharpen skills, many of which are applicable to missions closer to home. Finally, given the diplomatic damage wrought by Beijing’s increasingly assertive tactics in the East and South China Seas, RIMPAC is the PLAN’s latest “Far Seas foil” that exudes cooperation and progressiveness, temporarily offsetting destructive themes surrounding island and maritime disputes. — Andrew S. Erickson and Austin M. Strange, “China’s RIMPAC Debut: What’s in It for America?“, The National Interest, 03.07.2014.

    But why should the US give China this excellent platform? First, Washington’s formal invitation to Beijing was delivered in 2012 – a pullback of the invitation would be a very harsh and confronting symbol. Second, the danger of a brought intelligence gathering by the Chinese participant is relatively low, because Chinese’s participation is limited primarily to low-sensitivity activities. Irrespective of its participation, China has collected, and will continue to collect, all the information it can. Third, the US Navy, too, is interested to engage with Chinese sailors as well as collect information about present Chinese naval strengths and weaknesses. Fourth, with RIMPAC, the US is providing a modest communication platform for the navies of China and its rival claimants Japan and the Philippines. In this sense, the biannual exercise is a rare window for forward-looking engagement among all parties. China’s participation does not harm U.S. credibility, and America is using other means to assure its allies in their home waters. Finally, China’s attendance at RIMPAC benefits America’s long-term efforts to make China more accountable as a global maritime actor.

    Source: Andrew S. Erickson and Austin M. Strange, “China’s RIMPAC Debut: What’s in It for America?“, The National Interest, 03.07.2014.

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