12 December 2013

No Clear Strategy on China, Experts Say

Christopher C. Cavas, “No Clear Strategy on China, Experts Say,” Defense News, 11 December 2013.

No real US strategy exists right now for dealing with China, even as the country challenges the territorial status quo of nearby Asian waters, several experts said Wednesday. …

China expert Andrew Erickson of the Naval War College noted “the US has an implicit collection of approaches that together constitute a strategy. … But they would be more effective if they were brought together.” …

The observations came at a hearing late Wednesday called by Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., chairman of the House Seapower subcommittee, to discuss China’s growing naval power. Ongoing efforts by China to assert territorial claims on a number of islands and near-island chains and the recent declaration of a new maritime air defense identification zone were cited as indications of the country’s increased confidence backed by the expanding naval capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy. …

All four witnesses at the hearing noted the difficulty—and the need—for developing a coherent approach to China’s naval prowess.

“Fundamental issues hang in the balance,” Erickson said. “If not addressed properly, China’s rise as a major regional maritime power could begin an era in which the US military lost unfettered access to a key region.”

Click here to read the accompanying written statement, which makes the case for the value of articulating a positive, comprehensive, coherent U.S. Asia-Pacific Strategy: Andrew S. Erickson, “China’s Naval Modernization: Implications and Recommendations.”

Here is the relevant text from my written statement regarding the need for a U.S. Asia-Pacific Strategy:

The need to avoid an insular approach, combined with the increasing inability for Washington to exercise undifferentiated global preeminence, makes it necessary to craft a coherent Asia-Pacific Strategy. Subordination of vital regional realities to global strategy may have been appropriate during the Cold War, when the U.S. confronted a global adversary that threatened vulnerable Euro-Atlantic allies directly, and in the subsequent “unipolar moment,” when U.S. hegemony was undisputed and substantial regional challengers and direct global terrorist threats had yet to manifest themselves, but it is no longer sufficient. Failure to craft an explicit comprehensive Asia-Pacific Strategy will complicate efforts to “see the big picture” across the entire diplomacy, information, military, and economic (DIME) spectrum and beyond. The most relevant example to build on is a series of unclassified regional policy documents issued by the Office of International Security Affairs in the late 1990s.* This strategy should facilitate a coordinated, whole-of-government approach. At the same time, it should also support a clear bureaucratic division of labor based on which agency (or agencies, in special cases) is best placed to lead on and address a given issue. This will help to maximize efficiency and effectiveness by offering clear strategic guidance, aligning resources, and ensuring that agencies not ideally placed to contribute in a given area are not motivated or pressured to waste resources chasing headlines

* See, in particular, United States Security Strategy for the Asia-Pacific Region, 1995, 1998.

The U.S. must (1) engage with China, (2) hedge against its possible negative behavior, and (3) work with its allies, friends, and other partners (including China) to further positive outcomes in the Asia-Pacific and beyond. Accordingly, U.S. policymakers should base their response to China’s naval/military development on the following principles:

  • Understand key dynamics of geography, physics, economics, and politics. 
  • Develop an Asia-Pacific Strategy. 
  • Support rhetoric with resources. 
  • Emphasize and demonstrate U.S. identity as an Asia-Pacific power. 
  • Maintain regional presence and credibility. 
  • Sustain alliances and partnerships and leverage them in new ways. 
  • Engage and cooperate with China where productive to build on substantial shared interests and interdependence. 
  • Accord China international status in proportion to its international contributions. 
  • Focus military and strategic hedging on resisting China’s regional exceptionalism. 
  • Resist intimidation and coercion, pass Beijing’s tests. 
  • Prevent China from using force, or threat of force, to address regional disputes or alter the region’s status quo. 
  • Pursue deterrence by denial capabilities as a minimal foundation. 
  • Avoid making concessions during China’s growth slowdown, while emphasizing that genuine constructiveness and reciprocity may be possible if it ultimately moderates its demands.

The archived Webcast is available here.

Click here for complete information on the House Armed Services Committee Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee hearing  “U.S. Asia-Pacific Strategic Considerations Related to PLA Naval Forces.”