Sunday, February 8, 2009
Is it just me, or are my postings increasingly coming to be inspired by Beatles' songs? The Anglophile in me is seemingly making a formidable comeback. No matter. Onto more important things - the Chinese navy, for instance.
China's increasingly capable navy has indeed been in the headlines lately for its first distant-waters deployment to combat Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. In early January, too, China's national defense spokesman made it clear that the Chinese navy is in the market for an aircraft carrier (though Chinese capacity to actually deploy carriers is at least a decade away - which, in fact, is not that long), and most recently, the government released its White Paper on National Defense, which highlights China's steadily growing military and naval capabilities.
But what is really drawing attention from rival navies and the country's neighbors is action below the surface: Chinese submarine power! [enter Beatles' music here]. The Chinese have been making substantial investments in subs - buying from the Russians (typical) and building their own. Just last week, the Federation of American Scientists issued a report saying that U.S. naval intelligence counted 12 "patrols" by Chinese attack submarines in 2008 - twice the number in the previous year, and the highest thus far.
The number of patrols still remains below the likely level of U.S attack submarine patrols, though higher than that of Russia. It's unclear as to what, exactly, constitutes a patrol, but it's thought to mean an extended voyage.
The larger question, however, is what does all of this mean? If we think about this linearly, we quickly come to the conclusion that China is harnessing its military and naval capabilities (duh). But for what purpose? If the submarines deployed into the Pacific, for instance, this would break with Chinese policy of not deploying nuclear weapons outside Chinese territory. So, either Chinese policy will change (which presently appears unlikely), or the focus is directed elsewhere, most likely Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.
Indeed, second only to its economic development, Beijing's foremost focus is on national unity - the so-called "One China" policy. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting a Chinese naval advance on Taiwan - heaven forbid! What I am suggesting, however, is that the buildup and modernization of China's naval forces is in the short term intended to secure China's sphere of influence in the Pacific. I would be very surprised if the motivation was discovered to be otherwise. If we accept this as the case, the subsequent question then becomes what does this mean for geo-politics and, from the American standpoint, how concerned should we be? Is China's naval buildup of greater consequence than its global economic and diplomatic advances? And how, if at all, should the U.S. parry this perceived threat?