Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Security Dilemma Presented by the PLAN

I appreciated your comment 'Dawn is Coming'. The Great Wall is indeed symbolic of Chinese military posture over the past thousands of years; primarily defensive in nature. I couldn't help but feel that you meant to imply that China's navy would be used as a "Great Wall" of the sea to secure China, and China's interests. This is reasonable, a navy is an integral part of defense, particularly for a nation with thousands of miles of coastline.

The world is weary however that the Soviet Air Craft Carrier the Varyag undergoing overhaul now in China, or the second 93,000 ton aircraft carrier currently under construction are not defensive type weapons, neither are the water-born SU-33 fighters that China bought to ride along with it. This is particularly troubling for some analysts when China purchased this aircraft carrier under the pretext that it was to be a floating casino, pictured here. As soon as China started practicing fighter take-offs on its deck and painted it the colors of the PLAN, there was no-longer any question as to China’s intention with this vessel. Casino my 屁股!

President Cheney and Secretary Rice have illustrated this concern as well stating that China’s build-up was inconsistent with China’s claim to a peaceful rise, as I noted in a prior post. I think however that Chinese motivations can still be understood as defensive in nature.

An aircraft carrier, the modern-day Mahanian capital ship, is about power projection. Obviously China has sufficient airfields in mainland China without the added 4 vulnerable acres this aircraft carrier will provide. I think the way to interpret these moves as defensive is to understand that a large portion of China's oil arrives by ship from Middle East and Africa (particularly hotspots like Iran and Sudan). Per Mahan, Naval power is about controlling the flow of goods and men. These oil-tankers ferrying to and from China not only carry oil, but a growing industrial China's energy security as well. While this will always be vulnerability for the PRC, building a blue water navy is the military means to reinforce Chinese energy security.

The problem with China building its navy though is as Stephen Walt’s balance of threat theory suggests, China’s rise will encourage regional neighbors to arm themselves and form alliances to balance a perceived Chinese threat. This will result in a classic security dilemma as delineated by Robert Jervis. China may be unwittingly creating a new twenty-first century arms race in East Asia or with the United States.

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