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China's Strategy for Sea Power Breakout

Viewed 581 times 2015-6-21 19:13 |System category:News| recognized, advantages, principal, strategic, economic

Having recognized the strategic advantages of U.S. and India over the ocean, China is in a position to set accordingly the goals of its blue-water navy. The priority should still be Western Pacific, not because of the economic interests it implies – China’s principal economic interest zones are currently South China Sea and Indian Ocean – but because of the ample leeway it provides. It is of course no optimum route to reach China’s interest zones via Pacific, but reserving that option could impose enough strategic deterrence on India as well as Southeastern Asian countries.

 

 

 

The ability to project navy to Western Pacific has another significance, i.e. secure China’s eastern coastal areas. The key to all this is Taiwan because this island, if retrieved, can not only function as the base for eastward advance into Pacific, but also hedge northward and southward the naval powers in Okinawa and Guam, both of which are on the first island chain and thus within the sphere of American influence.

 

 

 

Recent rumor has it that someone in PLA has outspoken of an even split of Pacific with U.S., a foolish display of parochial arrogance if this is indeed true. China is not ambitious to the extent of being unrealistic, and is well cognizant of the fact that its actions over Pacific at least rest on the acquiescence of U.S. navy force on Guam. Reunifying Taiwan will make this no problem because land-based forces on the island will force U.S. power on Guam to reckon with Chinese navy.

 

 

 

Taiwan issue will not be solved in a day or two, but that does not mean we have nothing to do. A few days ago it was reported that “China conducted for the first time military exercises about 260 km northeast of Okinotori Reef in late June”1. Such a move, instantly understood with a map, is to sound out U.S. on China’s entering Pacific. China has been meaning to go there sooner or later, only the financial crisis has precipitated this (check out the maps by the link at the end of this post to see why China chose Okinotori).

 

 

As has been noted previously, China’s chief interests lie in South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, i.e. the resources and markets of Southeast Asia, Middle East, and Africa. It is only natural that China plans to rely on itself to protect its trading routes for the sake of security and reassurance.

 

 

Critical for China’s strategy in South China Sea are two countries. One is Singapore, whose importance is self-evident, the threshold of Strait of Malacca, the main passageway for East Asia – Indian Ocean routes.

 

The assumption that Singapore is pro-China because of its large proportion of Chinese descendants is as wrong as it is widespread. The secret of Singapore’s success is mostly its tilt toward the father-son of U.K. and U.S. and its spurn of communist regime and Chinese culture, hence the nickname “Banana People” given by Chinese Malaysians. Nevertheless they are after all of the same race as us mainlanders, and as China gets stronger, it is actually easier for us to find rapport with them than with the Uighurs. One thing evading the attention of many is that China is modeling itself on Singapore for the latter’s idea of governance – Chinese learning as the fundamental structure, Western learning for practical use2 – which is largely in line with the present idea of governance in China. For a small country like Singapore, keeping balance among the big powers will always be its ideal choice. Do not ever expect it to be fully committed to China. It will be a blessing that the “Lee Dynasty” won’t rub salt into our wounds in our time of misfortune.

 

Another country, to the surprise of many, is Indonesia, which evokes rampant rage3 among Chinese civilians but never an intense response from Chinese government. Every love or hate has a reason. We quarantined all Mexicans in response to swine flu, but did not do the same to U.S. where the situation was in fact direr because U.S. is stronger than us. Then how come China is reticent on Indonesia? The answer is we need it to be our strategic ally. Check out the maps by the link at the end of this post for a better understanding.

 

As is indicated by the map, aside from Strait of Malacca, entering the Indian Ocean has two other surrogate routes, both of which need to go through Indonesia (even one side of Malacca Strait is controlled by Indonesia). Detour from Western Pacific through south of Australia to Southern Indian Ocean is chiefly for deterrence. If the military exercise near Okinotori Reef does not cause too much agitation for U.S., then as a next move some fleet will surely be sent to blaze a trail.

 

Currently as the dominant route, Strait of Malacca mainly enjoys the benefit of shorter distance. But its weaknesses are just as prominent. One weakness is that the narrow waterway is too long to be threat-free (Imagine how dangerous this water, as a pirate-ridden area, will become in times of war when all these pirates turn navies of the enemy); the other one is that should wars break out between India and China, even if each nation around South China Sea acquiesced in the passage of our navy, we would painfully find India already waiting for us at the western gateway of Strait of Malacca.

 

As has been pointed out, India could have annexed Myanmar, but such was against the interests of Britain. Under a similar circumstance China did much better, which is probably the difference between a colony and a semi-colony. India nevertheless did not do nothing. The annexation of Andaman and Nicobar Islands by India has castrated Myanmar in its ability to blackmail India single-handedly – an analogy of U.S. taking away half of Canadian Pacific coast – not to mention these islands has frustrated those who plan to confront India via Strait of Malacca.

 

Confront India from Malacca now seems rather ominous while detour over Western Pacific proves too remote and costly. Thus it has become critical whether or not Indonesia will be our strategic ally. The two routes through Indonesia can be safely considered to be both economical and diplomatically convenient (we only have to deal with the Indonesians only). One route goes into Indian Ocean through Strait Sunda, along which Jakarta and the famous Bandung are located; the other one meanders through Makassar Strait and Strait Lombok, along which the world-renowned resort Bali is situated.

 

Anyone with a little common sense of politics and military should understand that Indonesia must be solicited if China is to act on the Indian Ocean. International politics values power and interests: if you are stronger than I, I will not challenge you; if you have something I want, I befriend you and will by all means necessary restrain myself even though I loathe you.

 

It is no more difficult to win over Indonesia than to gain the support of Singapore. Out of religious reasons Indonesia finds it hard to follow U.S. Indonesia indeed also wants something from South China Sea, but its demanded share is smallest thus not lethal to its relation with China, not to mention the lure of Chinese economy.

 

 

Footnotes:

1. Again the news is not news because the article was written in 2009, the same year when the mentioned military drill took place. If you happen to be interested, you can look for further reports on China’s subsequent moves, which may help you see how China’s strategy has been implemented step by step over the years.

 

 

2. This is a rather literal translation of a famous slogan first coined during “Yang Wu Yun Dong” (洋务运动, literally Foreign Business Movement, meaning the movement of learning from the foreigners, especially their technologies), an elitist movement in response to foreign invasions from the sea in late Qing Dynasty, signaling the reform of Chinese society. It has taken the Chinese well over a century to figure out the right path for themselves. Now the largest consensus in China is the maintenance of centralism and elitist rule in combination with the western ideas on economic development. In short, it is left-wing in politics but right-wing in economy.

 

3. Indonesia has more than once slaughtered its civilians of Chinese descendants.

 

 

Please check out the maps, Why Okinotori, South China Sea Breakout and its enlarged version, by this link http://image.baidu.com/detail/newindex?col=&tag=&pn=0&pid=25056059723&aid=408391115&user_id=928554310&setid=-1&sort=0&newsPn=&star=&fr=&from=2

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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