Tuesday, April 19, 2016


"Admiral Harry Harris, the commander of US Pacific Command, was recently asked in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing about China’s strategic goals. “China seeks hegemony in East Asia. Simple as that,” he responded. Admiral Harris concluded: “China is clearly militarising the South China Sea and you’d have to believe in the flat Earth to think otherwise.” But despite the Obama administration’s “three no’s” — no reclamation of land, no militarisation and no use of coercion — Beijing has pressed ahead with all three. The administration’s aversion to risk has resulted in a policy that has failed to deter China’s pursuit of maritime hegemony, while confusing and alarming America’s regional allies and partners. It is time to change course as we enter a critical two-month period for US policy in the Asia-Pacific region. The Permanent Court of Arbitration is expected to rule by early June in a case brought by the Philippines concerning China’s claims in disputed areas of the South China Sea. Confronted with the possibility of an unfavourable ruling, China may use the coming months to secure its existing gains or pursue new forms of coercion to expand them. This could include further reclamation and militarisation at strategic locations such as Scarborough Shoal, attempts to expel another country from a disputed territory or the declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone in all or part of the South China Sea. In response, the US will need to consider fresh policy options. As part of the annual Balikatan military exercise with the Philippines this month, the administration should consider having a carrier strike group patrol the waters near Scarborough Shoal in a visible display of US combat power. Ashton Carter, US defence secretary, should emphasise on his trip to the Philippines that Manila is a treaty ally of the US. And the administration should urgently work with the Philippines and other regional allies and partners to develop strategies to counter Chinese behaviour that is in violation of international law. If China declares a South China Sea ADIZ, the US must be prepared to challenge this claim immediately by flying military aircraft inside the area affected under normal procedures, including not filing a flight plan, radioing ahead or registering frequencies. It is also time for the US to move beyond symbolic gestures and launch a robust “freedom of the seas campaign”. It should increase the pace and scope of the Freedom of Navigation programme to challenge China’s maritime claims, as well as the number of sailing days that US warships spend in the South China Sea. Joint patrols and exercises should be expanded and ocean surveillance patrols to gather intelligence throughout the western Pacific continued".
Senator John McCain, "America needs more than symbolic gestures in the South China Sea". The Financial Times. 12 April 2016, in www.ft.com.
"Recent events related to the South China Sea (SCS) reveal Chinese thinking about its maritime strategy in that important area. First, China believes that establishing sub-regional hegemony is achievable. Second, it has a coherent maritime strategy with a two-pronged approach: modernizing and restructuring its military to allow for naval power projection, along with consolidating diplomatic and economic relations with ASEAN. Restructuring the military is in sync with Chinas “One Belt, One Road” initiatives as they require a strong blue-water navy to protect China’s expanding overseas maritime interests. Simultaneously, a strong navy with asymmetrical capabilities can mitigate US military technological advantages, keeping it at a distance from China’s territorial expansion in the SCS".
Preeti Nalwa, "China's “undeterred” strategy on the South China Sea: a “challenge” for the US". Center for Strategic and International Studies. 7 January 2016, in www.csis.org.
Notwithstanding his sometimes illogical and overly emotional view of politics and diplomacy, in the case of the Peoples Republic of China (hereafter the 'PRC') and the South China Seas, Senator John McCain, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee is most definitely accurate in his assessment of the overall situation as it relates to the aims of the regime in Peking. There can be very little doubt that as the academic expert from the American 'think-tank', the Center for Strategic and International Studies shows, that the PRC is indeed seeking to establish some type of hegemonic position in the South China Seas. The only question for American and Western statesman is: will they undertake to take the necessary steps to prevent this fraught event from occurring? Once one ignores the completely illusory idea that the PRC is a 'responsible stakeholder' (in the mots of former American Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick), then it is self-evident that Peking's goals in its immediate neighborhood are coercive and hegemonic in nature 1. Such goals can only be resisted by a mixture of forceful diplomacy and containment `a la George Kennan and Paul Nitze 2. Any other type of strategy is merely an encouragement of those elements in Peking who seek to overturn by hard-edge diplomacy and force the status quote ante bellum in the Orient.
1. See on this topic, ten-years after Zoellick coined the phrase: Evan A. Feigenbaum, "China as a Responsible Stakeholder? A Decade Later". Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 23 March 2016, in www.carnegieendowment.org
2. See on the different, if not necessarily antagonistic styles of containment by Kennan and Nitze: John Lewis Gaddis. Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy during the Cold War. Revised Edition. (2005). And: Melvyn Leffler. A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration and the Cold War. (1993).


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