China, the United States and 21st-Century Sea Power: Defining a Maritime Security Partnership / Ed. Andrew S. Erickson, Lyle J. Goldstein, Nan Li, Naval Institute Press
When defense analysts and Pentagon brass talk about China, the discussion invariably revolves around the rise of the Chinese Navy, the modernization of its Air Force—especially so-called stealth fighters—and the anti-access capabilities of its ground and coastal forces. Usually left out of many of the more alarmist discussions is the fact that the large military and economic powers of today rarely—if ever—find it in their strategic or economic interests to clash, and thankfully perform far more joint exercises and training missions than combat engagements. When it comes to China, the US Pacific Command has regular contacts with Chinese military authorities, running naval exercises with the Chinese Navy when and where the two sides can agree to do so.
In this new-ish collection of essays by a group of American and Chinese analysts and military officers, this side of the equation is given its due, and we’re given a more balanced look at the potential for more cooperation between American and Chinese maritime assets in the future.
Dr. Yu Wanli of Peking University writes that traditionally, Chinese naval thinking has been hampered by “land power thinking,” meaning that coastal and near-shore defenses were seen primarily as ways to stall an invading land force. But with China’s globalized economy comes the need to protect sea lanes from piracy and the need for better search-and-rescue capabilities, which has expanded the role that the PLA Navy has to play.
Still, Wanli writes, “China’s naval development does not constitute a competition or race with the powerful U.S. Navy,” since Chinese naval strategy is still dominated by the idea of near-seas defense. That said, exponentially increasing Chinese investments around the globe will only increase the desire of the navy to take a more global role—as it already has in escorting Chinese-flagged ships in the Gulf of Aden. To this end, the PLA Navy’s Rear Admiral Yang Yi advocates a cautious approach in Chinese/American naval engagement in his essay, complaining that the U.S. “deliberately maintains ‘strategic ambiguity’ with respect to its military intervention in a military conflict across the Taiwan Straights,” and complaining that the strategic intention of the United States and Japan “is highly deceitful, making cooperation on the sea difficult.”
That said, he supports more maritime cooperation between the two countries, writing that “it is only a matter of time that the PLA navy and the U.S. navy will break out of the old mode of thinking and change their strategic perspectives and postures toward each other.”
PIC: US Pacific Command. USS Fitzgerald maneuvers with the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy destroyer Guangzhou off the coast of Indonesia