ASCF Report | 3.1.13
By Alan W. Dowd, ASCF
Not long ago, there was talk that China’s immense economic
power would gradually erode America’s role in the Asia-Pacific region and nudge
the U.S. military out of China’s neighborhood. But something interesting has
happened—something the “trade über alles” caucus never foresaw. It seems
China’s behavior has awakened the region to the very real threat posed by a
rising China. The result is the emergence of a region-wide hedge against
Beijing—not an alliance of many nations like that of Cold War Europe, but
rather an alliance of alliances, with the U.S. as the common denominator to
Before taking a tour of this alliance of alliances, it makes
sense to take a look at the one thing capable of uniting the Asia-Pacific
region: the People’s Republic of China.
On a percentage basis, the growth in military spending by
China in the past decade is unparalleled: from $20 billion to around $180
billion. On the strength of that spending binge, China now deploys 79 principal
surface combatants, 50 landing ships and 50 submarines. It has christened new supply
ships, heavy-lift aircraft, stealth fighter-bombers and an aircraft carrier. According
to the Pentagon’s latest report on China’s
military power, Beijing is pouring increasing sums into cruise missiles,
bombers, submarines and sea-skimming missiles capable of attacking ships from
1,500 km away, “particularly aircraft carriers in the western Pacific Ocean.”
In short, these assets are geared toward extending China’s
reach and circumscribing America’s power. As Capt. James Fanell, deputy chief
of staff at the U.S. Pacific Fleet, observes, China “is focused on war at sea.”
If Beijing’s buildup doesn’t get your attention, perhaps its
words will. Ignoring Deng Xiaoping’s advice that China “disguise its ambition
and hide its claws,” recent Chinese leaders speak in blustery, bruising
language. “The great revival of the Chinese nation includes the revival of the
militaristic spirits worshiped by our ancestors,” intones Maj.
Gen. Luo Yuan.
In 2012, Hu Jintao, then-president of China, called on the
Chinese navy to “make extended preparations for military combat.” Against whom
or what, he didn’t say.
His successor, Xi Jinping, declares, “We must insist on
using battle-ready standards in undertaking combat preparations, constantly
enhancing officers’ and troops’ thinking about serving in battle, and leading
troops into battle and training troops for battle. And we must insist on
rigorous military training based on the needs of actual combat.”
The only thing more worrisome than warlike words is warlike actions:
Economic and Security Review Commission (ESRC) reports that a literal army of
Chinese hackers is waging war on America in cyberspace, planting computers with
codes that could be activated to steal or destroy data and penetrating computer
systems at U.S. defense firms and government agencies.
A Chinese coastal province has promulgated a new law unilaterally
authorizing Chinese ships to intercept and repel foreign vessels sailing in a
vast swath of the South China Sea.
encroached on Japanese airspace 83 times in 2011. Japan was forced to scramble
fighter-interceptors 91 times in the fourth quarter of 2012, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Last month, Tokyo
reported that a Chinese frigateused its weapons-targeting radar to “paint” a Japanese ship in disputed waters. China is seeding waters near Japanese islands with
sonar buoys, apparently to
monitor Japanese submarine activity.
waters and islands 500 miles from the Chinese mainland. Its justification: a
map created by Chinese cartographers in 1947. Based on that map, Beijing has
fired on fishing boats in Philippine waters and earmarked $1.6 billion to build
ports and airfields on islands long claimed by Manila. In fact, The Washington Times reports that China
has eight military bases on reefs claimed by the Philippines.
have rammed Vietnamese ships and violated Vietnamese territorial waters.
In short, it’s easy to understand why Japanese Prime
Minister Shinzo Abe warns, “The South China Sea seems set to become a ‘Lake
That brings us to the region’s response.
Let’s begin with something that’s obvious to everyone except
China’s political leaders: As a nation bordering the Pacific Ocean and with
territories in the Pacific, the United States is a Pacific power—not an
outsider. So it is altogether appropriate for the United States to be engaged
in this region.
As evidenced by the so-called “Pacific pivot,” Washington is expanding its
level of engagement in the Asia-Pacific region. For instance, the U.S. is upgrading
military facilities on Guam; has new basing agreements in place or in the works
with Australia and the Philippines; has forged a new security partnership with
India; and is expanding its missile defense-assets in the region. The U.S. will
soon deploy an additional missile-defense X-Band radar in southern Japan to
augment one already based in northern Japan, and Washington is looking to base
a third X-Band radar in the Pacific region even further south, The Wall Street Journal reports, adding
that the Navy plans to deploy 60 percent of its entire missile-defense fleet in
Declaring that “We must not allow the international commons, in particular the
oceans, to become places ruled by might,” Abe recently warned,
“China seeks to establish its jurisdiction in the waters surrounding [disputed]
islands as a fait accompli.’”
To his credit, Abe has proposed a way to prevent that unhappy outcome: “a
strategy whereby Australia, India, Japan, and the U.S. state of Hawaii form a
diamond to safeguard the maritime commons stretching from the Indian Ocean region
to the western Pacific.” Abe is eager “to invest, to the greatest possible
extent, Japan’s capabilities in this security diamond” and is backing up his
words with actions.
Condemning “continuous provocations” by China, he has
announced plans to increase the defense budget for the first time in 11 years
and increase troop strength for the first time in 20 years. Even before Abe and
his hawkish cabinet were swept into power, a Japanese government panel
released recommendations in 2010 calling on the Japanese military to be
prepared to participate in contingency
operations in Korea and the Taiwan
Straits, and urging Japanese officials to be open to lifting bans on “development
and possession of nuclear weapons and their transportation to Japan,” according
to a Defense News report.
Cold War Legacies
As Tokyo’s contingency plans suggest, China affects—and is affected by—the Cold
War legacies in Taiwan and Korea.
South Korea is understandably preoccupied with its
unpredictable northern neighbor. But China’s passive approach to North
Korea—and its aggressive approach to the rest of the neighborhood—have brought
Tokyo and Seoul closer together on regional security issues. Both realize they
face the same threats. Indeed, just as Japanese leaders are mulling the nuclear
question, recent nuclear tests by North Korea have revived debate in South
Korea about going
nuclear. (Skillful American diplomacy would use these nuclear ruminations
in Tokyo and Seoul as leverage with Beijing; more on that in the next column.)
As for Taiwan, China sees it as a rebel province that will
one day—one way or another—be reabsorbed by the Mainland. For the United
States, Taiwan’s position has crumbled from being an ally—“an unsinkable
aircraft carrier,” as MacArthur called it—to an irritant.
Beijing has deployed 1,600 missiles opposite Taiwan and
based 490 combat aircraft within unrefueled range of Taiwan. Historian Paul
Braken argued a decade ago that with just 45 missiles, “China could virtually
close Taiwan’s ports, airfields, waterworks and power plants.” Indeed,
Beijing’s buildup appears aimed at dissuading the U.S. from intervening—and
should conflict arise, as a Pentagon report puts it, “to achieve a military
solution before outside powers could intervene militarily.”
Mustering the best defense it can (given its untenable
geopolitical situation), Taiwan recently deployed three squadrons of
land-attack missiles capable of hitting the Mainland’s anti-Taiwan batteries. The
Taiwanese are deploying indigenous anti-sub and anti-ship missiles, precision
land-attack missiles, and missiles capable of striking
Beijing. Taipei wants to be allowed to purchase F-35s and wants new F-16s.
If the not-so-friendly government of Egypt can have new F-16s, it’s difficult
to understand why Taiwan can’t.
No matter the history, no matter the current geopolitical
situation, the reality is that Taiwan is a representative democracy today. To
allow it to be absorbed by force or incorporated by coercive policies that would
lead to Beijing’s de facto control over the island would be a stain as ugly as
Munich. That’s what’s so worrisome about Beijing’s buildup. If Washington
remains ambiguous about Taiwan, what’s to stop Beijing from one day simply giving
Taipei—and Washington—an ultimatum?
Two decades ago, the Philippines sent America packing. Today, with a wary eye
on China, it’s asking for deeper collaboration with America. Reuters reports
that more than 70 U.S. warships stopped off at Subic Bay in 2012. Clark Airbase
hosts more than 100 U.S. military planes each month. Manila increased defense
spending by a jaw-dropping 81 percent in 2011, and is collaborating with Japan
to deploy a credible deterrent force in its swath of the South China Sea. Tokyo
is providing the Philippines with 12 new cutters and recently signed a
long-term military cooperation agreement with Manila.
Vietnamese warships have responded to Chinese provocations
by ramming Chinese ships and conducting live-fire naval drills in disputed
waters. Vietnam is buying anti-ship missiles, attack submarines and Su-30
warplanes, and America’s Cold War foe has opened its deep-water ports to U.S.
warships. Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, predicts that U.S.
troops will soon train alongside Vietnamese troops—in Vietnam no less. “I would
hope that someday down the road through relationships that we build over the
next year or two that we’ll be able to train in Vietnam,” he said.
Singapore and Thailand
Later this year, the U.S. Navy will begin basing littoral
combat ships in the strategic city-state of Singapore. Singapore has
purchased new F-15s from the U.S. and new submarines from Sweden to support the
Pacific’s alliance of alliances. Thailand and Washington updated their 1962
military pact last fall, with an emphasis on new maritime security roles for
the Thai navy.
During the Bush administration, India and the U.S.
began to view one another as helpful counterweights to China, each providing
strategic depth vis-à-vis China. The result is an important security
partnership, highlighted by $8 billion in U.S. arms sales to India in the past
five years. India plans to build more than 100 new warships in the next 10
years. Thirty-two of the ships are already under construction, with 75 slated
for christening by 2019. In addition, India recently purchased 126 fighter-bombers
from France, added a new nuclear-powered submarine to its fleet and tested a
new missile, the Agni V, with a range of 3,100 miles. The Indian press has
dubbed the Agni V the “China killer.”
Australia is doubling its submarine fleet. The U.S. and
Australia inked a landmark deal last year granting the U.S. broad access to
Australian ports and bases. Some 2,500 Marines will be based in northern
Australia under the deal. And the longtime allies are deepening their
cooperation on missile defense.
Adm. Robert Willard, who served as PACOM commander until 2012, pointedto a trio of “burgeoning trilateral relationships” as essential to keeping the
Pacific, well, pacific: the U.S.-South Korea-Japan partnership,
U.S.-Japan-Australia partnership and U.S.-Japan-India partnership.
These countries possess all the ingredients necessary to
serve as a bulwark against China: they are democratic, strategically located, wealthy
and adaptive. Most important, they are awake to the dangers posed by an
*Dowd is a senior fellow with the American Security Council Foundation, where he writes The Dowd Report, a monthly review of international events and their impact on U.S. national security.