Kaplan: Make way for China

Robert D. Kaplan supplies a chapter on Chinese naval strategy to a Center for a New American Security report entitled China’s Arrival: A Strategic Framework for a Global Relationship. Much of the chapter is based on his previous work in Foreign Affairs and The Atlantic with a healthy dose of James Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara, two academics many will be familiar with. Kaplan’s primary contention is that in the long-term, China is pursuing a two-ocean strategy for its navy:

… the Chinese Navy would prefer to be not a one-ocean, but a two-ocean power, with multiple access routes between the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific to ease its dependence on the Strait of Malacca. (pp. 53-54)

Unfortunately much of the analysis is based on the Mahanian concept of physical protection of the sea lanes. This type of thinking has been criticized by naval thinkers in the West, but is considered the norm in Chinese strategic circles (see Mao Zedong, Meet Alfred Thayer Mahan: Strategic Theory and Chinese Sea Power (PDF) by Holmes and Yoshihara). Much of China’s resources pass through the Malacca Strait from the Indian Ocean. It is to this end that China has set up its string of pearls strategy (one being Gwadar Port), contemplating a Kra Canal as well as beefing up its naval power projection capabilities into the Indian Ocean. Thus, quoting Chinese naval analyst Zhang Ming, “India is perhaps China’s most realistic strategic adversary.” Kaplan points out that 90 percent of Chinese arms sales are to Indian Ocean littoral countries, virtually surrounding India on three sides.

This all sounds very ominous but before you begin accusing Kaplan of being a war-monger realize that much of this article is about justifying China’s expansion. Kaplan stresses that “there is nothing illegitimate about the rise of the Chinese military.” and “… it is too facile to suggest that China is acquiring naval power as a means to the end of regional or perhaps global hegemony.”(pp. 46) Chinese expansion is a function of expanding trade, giving rise to economic and strategist interests overseas. Furthermore, Chinese naval expansion, argues Kaplan, is “an indication that its land borders are for the first time in ages not under threat.” (pp. 48)

Kaplan once again makes the comparison of China’s rise to that of America’s rise in the 19th century. He even makes a reference to the Indian Wars and the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890. Reader beware, one must tread carefully when using historical metaphors and analogues. There is learning from history, and there is being blinded by history. A good book to read on this subject is Neustadt and May’s excellent Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers. That said, I think Kaplan is doing something more subtle here. Rather than making an argument about the progress of a rising power, he is offering a moral argument to counter anti-Chinese sentiment in the US. Basically he is saying: hey, we went the same route and the world didn’t turn out so bad did it? For some that may seem a very egocentric argument, but remember that the entire report is directed at the American and Chinese decision makers and is titled: A Strategic Framework for a Global Relationship. Kaplan argues that China’s naval rise can present the US with opportunities for engagement (eg. the Chinese dispatch to the Gulf of Aden as an example), and we know from his previous work that Kaplan supports the military as the harbingers of diplomacy. Furthermore, Kaplan advises that rather than leveraging allies like Japan and India to isolate China, the US should leverage these relationships to bind China in an Asia-centric alliance system. A moment of institutional liberalism from the self-proclaimed pessimistic realist Kaplan?

The rest of the report is written by name-brand academics such as John Ikenberry, Michael Green and Richard Weitz. Often Kaplan is criticized for writing in academic settings. The situation is no different here as he makes a number of claims without sufficient evidence. At least this time he uses endnotes (a whole 16 of them!). Since this is really a think piece, an exploration of a potential naval strategy from a decidedly American point of view, it might not require such adherence to the rigour of the academy. Unless you are a professional academic working on SLOC issues or are familiar with Holmes and Yoshihara’s work, this article is probably worth the read.

h/t to Lex who passed this on oh so long ago!

About Younghusband

Sir Francis Edward Younghusband (1863-1942) was a British explorer, army officer, military-political officer, and foreign correspondent born in India who led expeditions into Manchuria, Kashgar, and Tibet. He three times tried and failed to scale Mt. Everest and journeyed from China to India, crossing the Gobi desert and the Mustagh Pass (alt. c.19,000 ft/5,791 m) of the Karakoram mountain range in modern day Pakistan. Convinced of Russian designs on British interests in India, Younghusband proactively engaged in the nineteenth century spying and conflict over Central Asia between the British and the Russians known as the Great Game. "Younghusband" is a Canadian who has spent a number of years bouncing back and forth between his home country and Japan. Fluent in Japanese and English with experience in numerous other languages from Spanish to Georgian, Younghusband has travelled throughout Asia. He graduated with an MA from the War Studies Department at the Royal Military College of Canada, where he focussed on the Japanese oil industry and energy security issues. He has recently returned to Canada from Japan, and is working in the technology sector.
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14 Responses to Kaplan: Make way for China

  1. hattip says:

    Seriously, there is no good to this at all. “Engagement”? You are “engaging” with your enemy. The only sort of “engagement” we should be contemplating is of the old fashion, military kind. To do otherwise is to court disaster, defeat and humiliation, which is of course what the international Left and their American branches wish for the USA. One may quibble above various strategic outlooks, but thy are really secondary, perhaps even tertiary, and thus beside the point.

    The solution is to treat China like we treated the Soviets: Containment, Over-match and the will to fight and win. This means calling the PRC by their true names.

    Of course, this means marginalizing China’s water carriers in the West. It is time to take look a little closer at who materially, intellectually and politically supports China and why, so as we can make a sober assessment of how we got to this predicament in the first place. I posit that it is not by accident: the Keft saw what containment did to their spiritual “fatherland”, the USSR, and took step to make sure that this did not happen again in China’s case.

    It is highly unlikely that on its own, and in a natural working out of matters, that a communist country would hold the debt of the most prosperous capitalist nation of history. It is highly unlikely that, again, in the natural workings of things that the major manufacturing economy of history would see its manufacturing capabilities hollowed out and that work is shipped lock stock and barrel to a communist nation.

    Our forebears understood all of this during the Cold War. This is one of the ore reasons why we “won”, if indeed win we did win it, an increasingly dubious proportion it would seem in the age of Pelosi and Obama. The American’s leftists seem to have figured this out too.

    The rational solution is to raise high tariffs on Chinese goods, direct and indirect, begin an aggressive geo-political strategy of containment, radically tax any America corporation that manufactures there and spend government money on building out our armed fores instead of featherbedding the various clients of the Democrat Party.

    This of course means removing the fifth column that is the Democrat Party and the American Left from any influence whatsoever in our nation, society, culture and civilization. Seem pretty clear that if this does not happen we face a prospect of losing over match or even losing a war. We may lose the ablity to even challenge.

    One can say that our “leaders” have their head in the sand, but perhaps portions of our elites know all to well what they are doing. Perhaps they are traitors.

  2. kurt9 says:

    I see nothing wrong with this rise of China. They are highly dependent on the Malacca Straights for much of their shipping, including oil imports from the Middle-East. Despite all of the attention that the East Coast of Africa gets about piracy, the Malacca Straights also has the problem of Indonesian pirates. Also, the straights narrow down to 50 miles at one point. It is only natural and reasonable that the Chinese would want to develop the blue-ocean navy to ensure the openness of these and other waterways for their merchant ships.

    It is irrational to regard the Chinese as an “enemy”, like the former Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was a monolithic system that was an ideologically expansionistic (e.g. they sought to convert the world to Soviet Communism). The Chinese are neither monolithic nor do they seek to convert the rest of the world to “Chinese-ness”.

  3. antiobjectivist says:

    The American Left is not responsible for the policy of having China manufacture for American consumption and shut down American factories – that is overwhelmingly the work of the American Right. The labour unions lead the anti-China chorus such that it is… Besides, Chairman Mao himself said he preferred the American Right.

  4. Carl says:

    Which one of you left the door to Hattip’s padded cell unlocked?

  5. McKellar says:

    The threat from the PRC isn’t in expansion or in the spread of an old ideology they no longer believe themselves, but in its own internal instability. A strong Chinese naval is good for keeping sealanes open, but there’s also a chance that an ambitious admiral or a flailing statesman will use that navy in some foreign (or Taiwanese) adventure to build domestic support or overawe the restless Chinese masses with newfound imperial glory.

    The right strategy for China isn’t containment, for that would only breed frustration and resentment, but to keep foreign adventurism expensive and make internal reform easy for the PRC. That means a well-armed Japan, India, and Taiwan, international cooperation in SE Asia, and functioning states throughout Africa, as well as giving Chinese leaders and institutions the respect they need to go about the business of reforming their country.

    Maybe a Chinese Navy tasked with showing the flag and granting shore leave to the sons of peasants on distant stations could help move China forward, it would certainly be better than another PLA rocket brigade.

  6. antiobjectivist says:

    “The right strategy for China isn’t containment…but to keep foreign adventurism expensive…” To use another word, containment, for the sake of the American Lake (Pacific Ocean).

  7. antiobjectivist says:

    There seems to be these delusions of ruling the world out there – this deciding what China can have, when and where, as if they report to higher masters. It’s the same logic behind the Policy Planning Guidance FY 1994-99 for which Paul Wolfowitz was credited. This delusion is a very expensive one and is bankrupting the United States more than any other item, other than perhaps its extreme largess with the banks and with the plutocracy, based on this “going Galt” fantasy. I mean I found some thing on YouTube where someone was claiming that New York State’s revenue woes are caused by a slight tax increase on the rich… so, they are fleeing Park Avenue, 5th Avenue and the Hamptons at record numbers are they? What nonsense!

  8. Pingback: Recommended Reading (2009-12-12) « Automatic Ballpoint

  9. Anon says:

    I’m not sure what the Communist Party of China says in their mission statements at their annual get togethers, but I don’t think they really advocate international revolution anymore. I think it is very sensible to have the Chinese become stakeholders in international security. Hopefully, this will also lead to greater human rights and more democratization inside China once they feel more secure on the global stage.

  10. kurt9 says:

    The Chinese today are about as communist as your local PTA. In other words, there not.

  11. Mikhail says:

    How things change. 10 years ago, Hattip’s views were still mainstream opinion. Today it’s on the fringe even by the right-wing standards of Freepers.

  12. antiobjectivist says:

    The Chinese government actually supported the Nepalese king against the Maoists. So, they were on the wrong side, but this was so.

  13. Mikhail says:

    Peru’s Shining Path accuses China of having abandoned Mao’s ideals, and on Dec. 26 1992 it exploded a car bomb near the Chinese Embassy in Lima.

  14. Ralph Hitchens says:

    Kurt9 is basically correct. The PRC’s naval expansion needs to be seen in context: they are generations away from being able to challenge the US and its longtime allies in a naval context, beyond Taiwan of course. Generations, I say — given the cost of major vessels and the decades of operational experience necessary to keep them at sea.