GoLocalProv | Don’t forget China

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

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While the attention of the American foreign policy establishment remains focused on the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian conflict, it is important to recognize that in the long term, the greatest challenge to American security remains China, which has made it clear for some time that it seeks to supplant the United States as not only a regional but also a global hegemon. Indeed, we are now in the midst of a new “cold war” not unlike its predecessor between the United States and the Soviet Union.

In order to become the global hegemon, China must first secure its geographical core. It is clear that the Chinese strategists have read their Mackinder and Mahan. Accordingly, China has worked diligently to undermine the US-led alliance system along the Asian rim and has invested heavily in naval, missile and other military capabilities. Over the past few decades, the PRC has pursued massive military buildup, including an ambitious maritime modernization program. Today, the size of its navy rivals that of the US Navy. Although still qualitatively inferior to its US counterpart, the PRC Navy has more hulls and its shipyards are producing modern ships at a breakneck pace that far exceeds US naval production.

Aided by the “tyranny of distance”, he seeks to deny the United States unfettered access to the Western Pacific through an anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategy that includes the deployment of a layered ballistic and cruise missile system. that threatens US and allied forces operating in the Western Pacific. The PRC’s ultimate goal is to deprive the United States of the ability to operate west of the “Second Island Chain”, the series of islands stretching from Japan’s Bonin and Volcano Islands to the Marianas and the western Caroline Islands to western New Guinea. and the eastern maritime border of the Philippine Sea.


In particular, Beijing, defying international standards, attempted to establish sovereignty over the South China Sea and continued to threaten Taiwan’s independence. In addition to embarking on a major build-up of its naval forces, Beijing has also carried out numerous maritime provocations against its neighbors as well as the United States, in the South China Sea, which Robert Kaplan called “the cauldron of war”. ‘Asia’, a ‘nervous cauldron’. region, crowded with warships and merchant ships…” Such a region is particularly vulnerable to miscalculations or miscommunications.

As noted, Beijing claims “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea, seeking to dominate this vitally important maritime region by overriding competing claims of smaller, weaker powers: Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Borneo , Malaysia and Singapore. Since seizing Scarborough Shoal in 2012, China has illegally claimed features of the South China Sea, building and militarizing numerous man-made islands. In doing so, China has undermined international law and standards.

To complement its A2/AD strategy in the Western Pacific, Beijing has used “grey area” maritime operations: provocative actions without war, which seek to assert and expand Chinese control over a vast area of ​​islands and reefs. contested and contrived in the South. China Sea. The main instrument for carrying out its operations in the Gray Zone is the PRC’s irregular “maritime militia”, made up of numerous apparently civilian vessels, which operate from Chinese-held islands in the South China Sea, harassing ships from countries with competing territorial claims. They also interfere with freedom of navigation (FON), which undermines US security commitments in the region. Although taking place below the threshold of direct military confrontation, these operations employ coercive elements that undermine existing rules and norms.

Economically, China is pursuing a grand strategy of predatory capitalism. The PRC refuses to adhere to the norms of liberal internationalism by employing massive government support for Chinese companies and ignoring environmental and labor standards, thereby upending global markets. As a result, it dragged one key American industry and supply chain after another into its orbit, eliminating millions of American jobs along the way.

Beijing has also used its “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) to advance its geopolitical situation by seeking a strategic foothold in Southeast Asia. For example, China has invested in lucrative railway and pipeline projects in Malaysia and attempted to establish a naval base in Cambodia. But for countries that have been trapped by Beijing’s infrastructural ambitions, the BRI, a neo-colonial approach focused on resource extraction and debt as a means of control, has proven to be a debt trap.

Technologically, China is seeking to harness the “fourth industrial revolution”, based on artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing and the exploitation of 5G networks. Psychologically, China has sought to exploit the divisions of American society. Beijing could very well have engaged in biological warfare by unleashing – intentionally or not – the Wuhan virus that has ravaged the economies of liberal states.

The success of China’s grand strategy is not predetermined. The United States has the means to exploit Chinese weaknesses. It is a matter of will to do so.

Next: countering China’s grand strategy

Mackubin Owens is a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He was previously editor of Orbis: FPRI’s Journal of World Affairs (2008-2020). From 2015 to March 2018 he was Dean of Academic Affairs and Professor at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. From 1987 to 2014 he was Professor of National Security Affairs at the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

He is also a veteran of the Vietnam Marine Corps, where as an infantry platoon and company commander in 1968-69 he was twice wounded and awarded the Silver Star Medal. He retired from the Marine Corps Reserve as a colonel in 1994.

Owens is the author of the FPRI monograph Abraham Lincoln: Leadership and Democratic Statesmanship in Wartime (2009) and US Civil-Military Relations after 9/11: Renegotiating the Civil-Military Bargain (Continuum Press, January 2011) and co-author of US Foreign Policy and Defense Strategy: The Rise of an Incidental Superpower (Georgetown University Press, Spring 2015). He is also completing a book on the theory and practice of American civil-military relations for Lynne-Rienner. He was co-editor of the textbook Strategy and Force Planning, for which he also wrote several chapters, including “The Political Economy of National Security”, “Thinking About Strategy” and “The Logic of Strategy and Force Planning”.

Owens’ articles on national security issues and US politics have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, International Security, Orbis, Joint Force Quarterly, The Public Interest, The Weekly Standard, The Washington Examiner, Defense Analysis, US Naval Institute Proceedings, Marine Corps Gazette, Comparative Strategy, National Review, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor; The Los Angeles Times, The Jerusalem Post, The Washington Times and The New York Post. And, he once wrote for the Providence Journal.


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