Friday, April 24, 2009


"The rebirth of China's modern navy, which celebrates its 60th anniversary today in the north-eastern port of Qingdao, is an inevitable by-product of the country's economic renaissance. China's navy may not yet quite match that of Japan, though it has a better name: the People's Liberation Army Navy (which, in English, sounds like a revolutionary clothing store) versus Japan's Maritime Self Defence Force. Yet the trend is clear enough. Japan's military spending is limited - by postwar pacifist convention, if not by law - to 1 per cent of gross domestic product. Defence analysts estimate that China spends roughly 4 per cent of a smaller but far faster-growing GDP on its military, of which the navy is an increasingly prestigious part....

One does not need to swallow this hook, line and sinker (no maritime pun intended) to acknowledge that, as China becomes more deeply embedded in global trade, it will feel the need to protect its interests....

If only for that reason, the rise of China's navy may actually be a good thing. As China turns seawards, after centuries of looking inwards, it would be foolish to imagine there were no dangers. But it would be equally unwise to ignore the fact that a more powerful navy is an almost inevitable consequence of China's growing integration into the global economy. That too carries risks. But on balance, it is surely something to be welcomed".

David Pilling, "China flexes new economic muscle at sea". Financial Times, 23 April 2009.

"Dans ce meilleur des mondes possibles...tout est au mieux",

Voltaire, Candide ou l'Optimisme, 1759.

Apparently, the good offices of the Financial Times have been invaded by that special air which was once inhabited by Voltaire's early contemporary, Leibniz ("tout est pour le mieux dans le mielleur des mondes possibles"), and, which one would think not only the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, but more contemporary events of the twentieth century, would have dispelled and obliterated by now. Apparently not it would appear judging from the comments in David Pilling's column in yesterday's FT. The mere idea that anyone would actually believe or take seriously, Peking's propaganda claims (and those of its adherents) that:

"China has joined the web of the global economy. The new mission of the PLA navy is to protect our national interests in coastal areas and the high seas, not to engage in an arms race."

By definition, for anyone who has any knowledge of the world history of the last five hundred years, the only possible purpose of the PRC's going out and building and then deploying a high seas fleet (or fleets) would be to project militarily Peking's power and influence around the globe. Given the fact that Peking has ongoing ocean basin disputes with the following countries: Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, as well as the ongoing problem with Formosa, one would have to have a great deal of Panglossian optimism about the nature of man to believe that the current regime in China does not at some point envisage using its fleet for less than peaceful purposes. However the really astonishing aspect of the Pilling article is that the entire basis for his relative optimism concerning the PRC becoming a major naval power is erroneous. Meaning the post hoc, ergo propter hoc reasoning that: 'China joins the world economy and becomes a major trading country, therefore China must become a major naval power.' Using that yardstick of reasoning, it could quite easily be argued that both Germany and Japan must by definition also have become major naval powers. Indeed, based upon the sizes of their economies, both should possess the second and third largest navies in the world. And, yet, both powers chose not to. For reasons which need not detain us here, except to show that Pilling's reasoning has no basis in fact or in recent history. Just at the negative analogy of Sovietskaya Vlast's investment in the fifties, sixties and seventies in becoming the second largest naval power in the world, had of course nothing to do with its (non)involvement in the world economy. The rationale for this investment was purely grossmachtpolitik and most definitely not handel-politik. Similarly, if Peking is expanding its military and investing monies into building a high seas fleet, it is purely for power political reasons. Reasons similar to that which saw its fleet engage in the none-to-friendly harassment of US ships near its coastline. No doubt, if given its head, Peking would engage in these tactics quite often, as suited it. Make no mistake: the masters of Chinese policy are not adherents to any Kantian ideas of international relations. They are interested purely in realpolitik and machtpolitk. As long as they think that an ocean going navy will suit its needs for browbeating (if not worse) other powers, then they will build and then deploy the same. Which means that the West and Japan must be on our guard and must be prepared for what comes next from Peking. Whatever it might be, it will not be suited to any Panglossian universe.


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