Leader Development & Education for Sustained Peace Program: Cross-Cultural, Geopolitical & Regional Education

Topic Debate: China’s Military and U.S. Strategy

Background: In spite of China’s efforts to keep military matters discreet, a compounding of previously discussed rising tensions in the South China Sea dispute, as well as the more recent apparent cleft between Communist Party leaders and military officials has brought discussion of China’s military to the fore.

These events also happen to increasingly affect the U.S.’s strategic interests in the region since President Obama’s announced “pivot” to the Pacific. Thereafter, on 5 January, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta released the strategic guidance for the Department of Defense, which explained:

“U.S. economic and security interests are inextricably linked to developments in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia, creating a mix of evolving challenges and opportunities. Accordingly, while the U.S. military will continue to contribute to security globally, we will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region.”

This week, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) published an informative and valuable assessment, at the request of Secretary of Defense Panetta, of “U.S. Force Posture Strategy in the Asia Pacific Region.” From the summary, the following is an excerpt briefly explaining the report, its findings, and recommendations (emphasis added):

“This report focuses on the larger question of how to align U.S. force posture to overall U.S. national interests in the Asia Pacific region. Current U.S. force posture is heavily tilted toward Northeast Asia, to Korea and Japan, where it focuses properly on deterring the threats of major conflicts on the Korean peninsula, off Japan, and in the Taiwan Strait. However, as evidenced by recent Chinese activities in the South China Sea and throughout the Pacific islands, the stakes are growing fastest in South and Southeast Asia. To be successful, U.S. strategic rebalancing needs to do more in those areas, while simultaneously working with major allies in Northeast Asia to shore up deterrence capabilities in the wake of emerging anti-access and area denial (A2AD) threats.

The project team concluded that DoD has not adequately articulated the strategy behind its force posture planning nor aligned the strategy with resources in a way that reflects current budget realities. DoD needs to explain the purposes of force posture adjustments in light of the new security challenges in the Asia Pacific region. In the past, force posture decisions have been benchmarked against plans, including the capabilities required to prevail over potential adversaries. However, the top priority of U.S. strategy in Asia is not to prepare for a conflict with China; rather, it is to shape the environment so that such a conflict is never necessary and perhaps someday inconceivable. It is therefore critical that the United States can achieve and maintain a balanced combination of assurance and dissuasion to shape the environment.”

Discussion: With the backdrop of these developments and the U.S.’s interests in them, the following articles and resources aim to provide a little more nuance for and build awareness of China’s policies and their military:

  • Firstly, as a resource, CSIS recently launched a useful and visually stimulating tool as part of their Southeast Asia Program called “The South China Sea in High Resolution” that can be used to explore various aspects of this dispute.
  • Jim Holmes, an Associate Professor of Strategy at the U.S. Naval War College, analyzes China’s current behavior in a historical context and considers the possibility that this might be “China’s military moment” to strike: “Beijing may have concluded that patient diplomacy will forfeit its destiny in the South China Sea. In Chinese eyes, it’s better to act now — and preempt the competition. The lesson of 1974: Timing is everything.”
  • In an interview with the National Bureau of Asian Research, Christopher Hughes, a Professor of International Politics and Japanese Studies at the University of Warwick, explains “China’s military modernization and implications for Northeast Asia.”
  • Journalists for the New York Times Edward Wong and Jonathan Ansfield report on a Chinese general’s surprising outburst at a holiday banquet that highlights the previously mentioned cleft between China’s political and military leadership. This simple event may seem insignificant, but Wong and Ansfield explain: “The general’s tirade was one of a series of events this year that have fueled concerns among Communist Party leaders over the level of control they exercise over military officials, who are growing more outspoken and desire greater influence over policy and politics.”
  • Likewise, David Lague of Reuters writes of how China’s “hawks,” that is the hard-line officials within the People’s Liberation Army, are gaining sway over Beijing, arguing that they need to be “more forceful in asserting its sovereignty over the sea.” Lague notes that, “most of them blame the U.S.’s so-called strategic ‘pivot’ to Asia for emboldening neighboring countries, particularly the Philippines and Vietnam, to challenge China’s claims.”
  • Epoch Times reporter Wang Jingwen offers his perspective on the “major reshuffle of China’s top military brass,” tying in the controversy surrounding former Chinese Communist Party official Bo Xilai.
  • M. Taylor Fravel, Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, discusses in The Diplomat what he calls “one of the starkest efforts by China to assert maritime rights in [the] disputed waters,” that is the announcement by the China National Offshore Oil Company to open new blocks “in the South China Sea to foreign oil companies for exploration and development.”

What are your thoughts about this subject? Be a part of the discussion.




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1 Response »


  1. LDESP PACOM News Update: August 2012 | LDESP Blog

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