In recent weeks a number of commentaries have emerged sounding the alarm that conflict between the United States and China are inevitable or at least increasingly likely. In particular these commentaries are quick to point to the confrontation between the Chinese Navy and the U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft in the South China Sea; China’s land reclamation activities in the Spratlys which has served to heighten tensions in the region; the Chinese press, notably The Global Times commentary that “if the United States’ bottom line is that China has to halt its activities, the U.S.-China War is inevitable in the South China Sea”; the continued build up of China’s military and navy to increasingly operate further from China’s shores; the recent news of cyber hacking of the U.S. Federal Government originating in China; the increasingly pointed words coming from the political leadership of both countries; the recent news of the U.S.S. Shiloh pulling into Subic Bay; and China’s bellicose behavior over the past two years in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea (standoffs with Japan, the declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea, China Maritime Law Enforcement vessels confronting the fishing vessels and law enforcement vessels of claimant countries, and the China-Vietnam Oil Rig Stand off of the Spring of 2014). For many observers these examples portend a dark future between the United States and China. These events are indeed troubling and do signal the possibility of turbulent relations between the two great powers, but the likelihood of all out conflict between the two countries is unlikely. Here’s why: [Read more…]
Professor James Holmes and I are in the middle of the usual public back and forth that takes place between academics who disagree strongly. In a January piece here at War on the Rocks, Holmes took issue with an article I wrote that was published in the Diplomat, which itself was a rejoinder to his article criticizing our National Defense University (NDU) report, “Not An Idea We Have to Shun: Chinese Overseas Basing Requirements in the Twenty First Century” (NDU Press, October 2014). Holmes first takes me to task for not responding to the substance of his argument that a fictitious Spanish NDU would have concluded in 1897 that the United States would not build bases and engage in conflict with the Spanish Empire. His larger conclusion is “Never Say Never!” Next, he accuses the NDU report of “cherry picking” its definition of the “String of Pearls” concept, essentially creating a “straw man” and then shooting it down. He prefers the definition laid out in the original Booz Allen Hamilton Report to the Office of Net Assessment in 2004, which hypothesizes that China will form commercial and strategic partnerships in the Indian Ocean to ensure continued access to facilities there to protect China’s overseas shipping and access to energy and raw materials.
Table of Contents
1. Taking the Temperature of China-US Conflict and Cooperation: An Introduction, Jean-Marc F. Blanchard and Simon Shen
2. A Primer on China-US Relations, 1949-2012: A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed, Jean-Marc F. Blanchard
3. China, the US, and the Transition of Power: A Dual Leadership Structure in the Asia-Pacific, Quansheng Zhao
4. China and America: Showdown in the Asia-Pacific?, Suisheng Zhao
5. Friend or Foe: Washington, Beijing, and the Dispute over US Security Ties to Taiwan, Dennis V. Hickey and Kelan (Lilly) Lu
6. China’s North Korea Dilemma and Sino-U.S. Cooperation, Jingdong Yuan
7. Tough Love: US-China Economic Relations between Competition and Interdependence, Wei Liang
8. US-China Relations in Asia-Pacific Energy Regime Complexes: Cooperative, Complementary and Competitive, Gaye Christoffersen
9. Dialogues and Their Implications in Sino-American Relations, Robert G. Sutter
10. Continuity and Change in Sino-US Military-to-Military Relations, Christopher D. Yung
11. From the EP-3 Incident to the USS Kitty Hawk-Song Class Submarine Encounter: The Evolution of Sino-US Crisis Management Communication Mechanisms, Simon Shen and Ryan Kaminski 12 Conclusion, Stanley Rosen
The fifth paper in the Maritime Strategy Series, by Dr. Christopher Yung and Patrick McNulty, is a groundbreaking data-driven look at how the six claimants of features in the South China Sea have advanced and defended their claims from 1995 to 2014. During several years of research conducted at the National Defense University, the authors constructed a custom-built database of open-source reporting on actions taken in the South China Sea by each claimant, classified them into a detailed typology of different tactics, and drew conclusions from the resulting data. Broadly speaking, the research concludes that China has been the most active player, leading the field in use of all tactics save legal measures, and especially so in military and paramilitary actions. But activities by other claimants including the Philippines and Taiwan are also of note, providing a richer picture of the disputes. These data provide one of the only public sources for numerical comparison of various claimants’ actions, and Yung and McNulty’s analysis thus provides a crucial basis for further study of this fraught maritime zone.
Dr. Christopher Yung is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University. At the time of writing, Patrick McNulty was a research analyst at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University.
In a November 8 column, U.S. Naval War College Professor James R. Holmes (aka the Naval Diplomat) criticized a new National Defense University (NDU) report on Chinese overseas basing that I and a team of analysts published in October 2014. Holmes mischaracterizes the report’s findings as concluding “there’s little reason to expect China to seek bases in the Indian Ocean” and criticizes it for “linear thinking” and “straight-line analysis.” In fact, the report argues that China’s expanding global interests will generate increased demands for out-of-area naval operations and predicts that China is likely to establish at least one “dual-use” civilian/military base to provide logistics support for increased People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) operations. The report also concludes that the so-called “string of pearls” model of covert access to commercial ports built with Chinese investment is unable to support a robust, combat-oriented Chinese naval presence in the India Ocean. The report argues that it would not make strategic sense for the Chinese to pursue such a course.
The NDU report is titled “Not An Idea We Have to Shun: Chinese Overseas Basing Requirements for the Twenty First Century” and was written by Ross Rustici and me with research assistance from Scott Devary and Jenny Lin. We examined China’s growing foreign economic and security interests abroad; posited which interests needed to be protected and would generate PLA missions; surveyed press reports and statements by government officials about overseas bases; looked at writings by Chinese civilian and military analysts; and conducted interviews with logistics experts. We concluded that China’s current method of protecting its interests abroad by relying solely on commercial port access was unsatisfactory from a Chinese perspective, which suggests change is likely. A number of Chinese commentators agree with this conclusion.