07 January 2011

Book Review: China, the United States and 21st Century Sea Power: Defining a Maritime Security Partnership

Xinhui, Book Review: ‘China, the United States and 21st Century Sea Power: Defining a Maritime Security Partnership,” China Defense Blog, 5 January 2011.

In the fourth volume of the series “Studies in Chinese Maritime Development” authors from the US Naval War College and their Chinese counterparts (including Rear Admiral Yang Yi, former director of the Institute for Strategic Studies of the National Defense University of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army) map out a possible path for a maritime security partnership.

The goal of this book was not to provide “in-depth analyses” as was the seen in the previous three volumes (China’s Future Nuclear Submarine Force, China’s Energy Strategy, and China Goes to Sea: Maritime Transformation in Comparative Historical Perspectives) but rather to focus on the requirements to establish political and institutional frameworks in hopes of creating a stable, mutual and beneficial relationship for both sides.

The authors from both sides are professionals — given today’s political reality between the two nations, especially the predominant concern in the Taiwan Strait, they focus on MOOTW and non-traditional security threats and opportunities. These threats range from anti-terrorism, civil maritime enforcement, humanitarian operations, submarine rescue, to the prospects for Sino-US naval cooperation against avian influenza. …

Of course, it is unrealistic to expect civilian cooperation to translate into the military space as long as the Chinese sticky point of “sovereignty” is in question (or the perception of). A great length of the book is devoted to sharing common interests, and addressing common uncertainties and mistrusts between both sides. The PLAN’s deployment to the Gulf of Aden is frequently cited as an example of military-military cooperation, but it should not be the only one. Other events such as PME exchange and submarine rescue (China is already getting support from England) should also be included in building up the political and institutional framework. The Chinese contributors to this volume also expressed interest in the U.S Navy’s Global Maritime Partnerships (GMP), which is a good start.

Unfortunate incidents will occur again, and angry OpEds that paint using black-and-white will inevitably fill our screens, but one could hope that with time and further understanding, such unfortunate events will be managed with greater ease. The attempt by the good folks at the US Naval War College should be applauded – the impact of this important work will move from academia to shape the policy between two great nations and half the world. As David N. Griffiths phrased it “China and the United States cannot afford to leave incident management to chance or instinct. The stakes are too high.” …


Andrew S. Erickson, Lyle J. Goldstein, and Nan Li, eds., China, the United States, and 21st Century Sea Power: Defining a Maritime Security Partnership (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2010).

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