31 January 2013 ~ 0 Comments

The “Malacca Dilemma”: Leading to Conflict with China or Dialogue and Cooperation?

Wolfgang LegienEditor-in-Chief, Naval Forces; former Director of Politico-Military Affairs, Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic, “The ‘Malacca Dilemma’: Leading to Conflict with China or Dialogue and Cooperation?”; review of Gabriel B. Collins, Andrew S. Erickson, Lyle J. Goldstein, and William S. Murray, eds., China’s Energy Strategy: The Impact on Beijing’s Maritime Policies (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2008); Naval Forces: The International Forum for Maritime Power 29.4 (April 2008): 146.

At a time when everybody feels the effects of exploding oil prices and the prospect of dwindling exploitation of the major oilfields which inevitably will lead to further price increases way beyond the present already harmful level due to increasing shortages, a book that analyses the consequences of China drawing upon much of the world’s remaining oil reserves for its exclusive use is bound to raise the interest of the reader—and that of naval experts as it also discusses possible military consequences like a naval arms race that neither can be in the interest of the U.S. nor China.

And although it is inevitable that there is a fair amount of overlap when 20 renowned (U.S.) experts in the fields of economics, energy, sinology, and naval strategy analyse Chinese reactions to what they perceive to the ‘Malacca Dilemma,’ this book fascinates its reader. Even if this is ‘preaching to the preacher,’ the ‘Malacca Dilemma’ should be briefly explained as this explains the Chinese perception and possible reactions: China’s booming economy (exemplified by a near 700 percent increase in shipbuilding contracts over the last 10 years, making China large containership shipbuilder No. 2 with a share of 39 percent of global contracting and slated to shortly overtake Korea at 43 percent, and an almost three decades double-digit GDP growth which is unprecedented in world history) and risking consumer appetites, coupled with occasional rolling blackouts due to spiraling demand in Chinese megacities, have prompted intense anxieties in China concerning energy security, write the editors. And since 80 percent of Chinese fossil fuel imports pass by ship through the Malacca Strait, an important component of Beijing’s concerns have come to be known in China as the ‘Malacca Dilemma.’

While Chinese economic growth has thus far remained peaceful (however, sovereignty claims in the resource-rich ‘Yellow Sea’ should not be overlooked!) and avoided triggering instability in the international system, and China clearly intertwined within a web of interdependent commercial and institutional interactions which gives hope that this peaceful development continues, some indicators need watching: Little or no progress regarding political reform, violent rioting by a disgruntled underclass suggesting that economic progress has not arrived ‘on the street,’ Chinese nationalism coupled with Chinese military modernization continuing apace. …

But some of the studies are of a more hopeful nature. However, this may be due to the fact that they draw on the use of methodologies that focus on Chinese-language sources. The ‘hawks’ probably would argue that these studies exaggerate Chinese dependency on international economic cooperation if they want to maintain their recent growth rates, and put down this view to ‘wishful thinking.’ Clearly, it is this mix expressed that makes the value of the book. It does not ‘con the reader into a conclusion,’ and knowing the Naval War College and the Naval Institute Press they do not attempt to do so. As former Commander U.S. Pacific Command, ADM. (Ret.) Thomas Fargo put it: the book is “comprehensive, diverse and essential for maritime professionals … a subject we must understand clearly for our Asia-Pacific future.”

So readers and analysts should assess the diverse views expressed in the studies to come to personal conclusions, as one of Tom Fargo’s predecessors, ADM. (Ret.) Dennis Blair, comments: “This book is a comprehensive assessment of China’s overall and maritime energy security strategies; as important, it provides clear and detailed guides to judge the nature of future Chinese developments and overall Chinese strategy.” The prudent military planner must carefully watch both, the military buildup and here first and foremost the build-up of naval components giving China a power projection capability, and the expression of official Chinese politics, soberly and unbiased, “disaggregating the topic of [the] PLA’s development at the strategic, operational and tactical levels,” as one study suggests. At the tactical level an unexpected finding is that “PLA units are actively engaged in a campaign of reducing energy consumption”—this appears to be the result of working on Chinese-language sources: why should the military be more ‘green’ than the rest of the country, even though examples cited are to reduce in the PLAAF costs for taxiing by towing the aircraft into starting/parking positions.

There are so many highly interesting topics discussed in the studies (which cannot all be listed even by headline only in this review: Does China need to cooperate, China and Africa, China and Central Asia, China and Russia, PLAN procurement plans and state-of-the-art of modern weapons systems…), that I can only recommend reading this book. Looking at the PRC’s desire to secure the supply of oil and gas brings in Russia, especially since Europe and the U.S. supported the ‘Colour Revolutions’ in Eastern Europe. Mikhail Delyagin, Director of the Russian Institute of the Problems of Globalisation, said in 2006: “Western policy pushes Russia away from the West and accelerates its re-direction to China and China-related Southeast Asian countries.” The expansion of Moscow’s gas transportation network to Asia is [an] expression of the Kremlin’s hope to meet a large chunk of Chinese energy needs. Sino-Russian oil-gas cooperation gets increased significance in the light of another study I just read which predicts falling production rates in the world’s largest oilfields in Saudi-Arabia, Kuwait and Mexico, with Ghawar collapsing even, so that [the] price for [a] barrel is predicted at US$250 per 2010 (NB: it was US$10.72 in 1998).

As concerns the readiness of the PLAN to secure their SLOC (vide the ‘Malacca Dilemma’) one has to state that, while the latest surface units achieved a quantum leap in capabilities (compare destroyers “Luda” or “Luhu” even with a “Lu[y]ang” and frigates “J[i]anghu” with a “Jiangkai”), the PLAN lacks modern auxiliaries to sustain surveillance operations. And their SSN have [so] few sea days… that their operational value is questionable.

But now I have started to draw my own conclusions, which is what the publishers want to provoke. I[t] worked with me, so why should it not work with you? You have only to read this book.

China’s Energy Strategy: The Impact on Beijing’s Maritime Policies (CMSI Vol. 2)

Gabriel B. Collins, Andrew S. Erickson, Lyle J. Goldstein, and William S. Murray, eds.,China’s Energy Strategy: The Impact on Beijing’s Maritime Policies (Annapolis, MD:Naval Institute Press, 2008).

  • Coming soon on Kindle!
  • China Ocean Press (www.oceanpress.com.cn) has purchased the simplified Chinese language rights and will soon publish an authorized Chinese-language edition.

Japanese language summary translation now available: “書籍3: 中国のエネルギー戦略–北京の海洋政策への影響.”

Coauthor:

  • “Introduction,” pp. xi-xix;
  • with Gabriel Collins, of “Chinese Efforts to Create a National Tanker Fleet,” 81-114;
  • and, with Lyle Goldstein and Gabriel Collins, of “Chinese Naval Analysts Consider the Energy Question,” 299-335.

SAMPLE CHAPTER: Dan Blumenthal, Concerns with Respect to China’s Energy Policy,”418-36.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

China’s rapid growth has prompted Beijing to undertake an aggressive search for resources on a truly global scale. The resource most directly tied to continued growth in China is energy. Rising consumer appetites in China, coupled with occasional rolling blackouts due to spiraling demand in Chinese cities, have prompted intense anxieties in China concerning energy security. Since 80 percent of Chinese fossil fuel imports pass by ship through the Malacca Strait, an important component of Beijing’s concerns have come to be known in China as the“Malacca Dilemma.” This book draws on America’s finest experts in the fields of economics, energy, China studies, and naval strategy in order to explore China’s “Malacca Dilemma” and its implications for global maritime security. The essays in this volume draw from a wide variety of viewpoints, but a central theme of the analyses is that the United States needs to be concerned that China is drawing upon much of the world’s remaining oil reserves for its exclusive use. The resulting competition for this diminishing resource could lead to energy insecurity and may support other tendencies toward rivalry that in turn could foster a naval arms race neither side seeks. One of the major conclusions of this study is that there is, in fact, ample room for Sino-American energy dialogue and cooperation in the maritime domain and that the competition for limited energy sources like oil need not lead to conflict.

BLURBS

“This book is a comprehensive assessment of China’s overall and maritime energy security strategies; as important, it provides clear and detailed guides to judge the nature of future Chinese naval developments and overall Chinese security strategy.”

Admiral Dennis Blair, U.S. Navy (Ret.), former Commander, U.S. Pacific Command

“…a necessary read for anyone interested in the future of the People’s Republic of China’s energy development and its strategic implications for the U.S., with particular attention to maritime development in both countries. The book tackles the prospects for China’s energy development in a remarkably comprehensive, nuanced fashion. It evaluates Chinese perspectives and prospects, analyzes the PRC’s capabilities in each relevant global region, and dissects the PLA Navy’s capabilities with respect to energy security issues. The authors, including those writing for the final section, which analyzes the implications for U.S. policy, carefully identify inevitable uncertainties and analytical disagreements. On balance, the book stresses the room for U.S.-China energy cooperation in the maritime domain. Importantly, it provides the rich array of data and analysis necessary for readers to develop their own deeply informed perspectives on this issue.”

Dr. Kenneth Lieberthal, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Political Science, University of Michigan and former Senior Director for Asia on the National Security Council

“Comprehensive, diverse and essential for national security professionals… a subject we must understand clearly for our Asia-Pacific future.”

Admiral Thomas B. Fargo, U.S. Navy (Ret.), former Commander, U.S. Pacific Command

REVIEWS

“The China Maritime Studies Institute… is fast becoming a center of excellence for research on all aspects of the Chinese navy. … all the contributions are excellent… The beauty of this book comes in different forms. As the editors indicate in their introduction, the contributors do not always agree. … Important statistics are also provided. …provides the latest scholarship. Further enhancing the book’s value is that the contributors are all actively involved in shaping this multifaceted debate in their respective institutions. … This reviewer could not exaggerate the importance of this book in understanding the issues shaping the development of the Chinese navy.”

Richard Desjardins (Canadian civil servant), Joint Force Quarterly 57.2 (2010): 132-33.

“[the authors] have described the drivers of China’s quest for a limited power projection capability—and they did so well before Beijing’s December 2008 decision to deploy a series of task groups to the Gulf of Aden in order to protect shipping from an onslaught of pirate attacks. … This volume makes the case that Beijing’s desire to ensure steady and secure access to the energy resources required to continue the momentum of China’s economic growth will ‘compel the PLAN [People’s Liberation Army Navy] to be used increasingly in nonconflict situations in a wider variety of regions.’ The PLAN’s actions today certainly support this argument; Beijing’s naval task groups in the Gulf of Aden are operating thousands of miles from China to protect merchant shipping, much of which is transporting oil. … details how important maritime commerce is to China’s continued economic development.”

Scott W. Bray (the U.S. Navy’s Senior Intelligence Officer for China), Turning to the Sea… This Time to Stay,” Book Review Essay, Asia Policy 9 (January 2010): 167-72.

“…it is a relief to read a mass of carefully considered common sense such as is contained in this fine book. It is refreshing to be reminded that so many of America’s military, especially naval, intellectuals can be so clear headed and rational. …Defence planners and warriors who are currently or likely to be involved in the Indo-Pacific regions should study this book very carefully.”

Ships & Shipping (July 2009): 38.

“…the book is superb, rich in information and subtle analysis, and should be of interest to all students of geopolitics.”

Arthur Waldron, Pacific Affairs 82.2 (Summer 2009): 328-30.

“The importance of the energy factor in politics today can hardly be called into question. … How much does… energy affect… military doctrine? How does the energy vulnerability of the state influence the modernization of the army? As far as China is concerned, these questions are answered at the beginning of the complex research by Gabriel Collins, Andrew Erickson, Lyle Goldstein, and William Murray…. This approach makes the book… exciting reading and gives a lot of food for thought and discussion. The authors are fellows of the U.S. Naval [War] College and are famous for their studies on various aspects of China’s energy strategy, including its impact on [the] maritime strategy of the country.”

Yevgeny Petelin, “Energy at the Edge of War and Peace,” Security Index 87.15 (Spring 2009): 147-49.

“The editors achieve their task of examining China’s energy security and naval modernization and their impact on Sino-American relations. …this book is highly recommended.”

Andrew Forbes, International Journal of Maritime History (December 2008): 478-79.

“…this is an invaluable book for anyone wanting to understand China’s economy in general and its maritime strategy in particular.”

David N. Griffiths, Canadian Naval Review 4.3 (Fall 2008): 42-43.

“a book that analyses the consequences of China drawing upon much of the world’s remaining oil reserves for its exclusive use is bound to raise the interest of the reader…. 20 renowned (U.S.) experts in the fields of economics, energy, sinology, and naval strategy analyse Chinese reactions to what they perceive to the ‘Malacca Dilemma,’ this book fascinates its reader … it is this mix expressed that makes the value of the book. It does not ‘con the reader into a conclusion,’ and knowing the Naval War College and the Naval Institute Press they do not attempt to do so. … readers and analysts should assess the diverse views expressed in the studies to come to personal conclusions… There are so many highly interesting topics discussed in the studies (which cannot all be listed even by headline only in this review…), that I can only recommend reading this book.”

Wolfgang LegienEditor-in-Chief, Naval Forces; former Director of Politico-Military Affairs, Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic, Naval Forces: The International Forum for Maritime Power 29.4 (April 2008): 146.