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Chinese Military Strategy Week Was Pretty Cool

August 21, 2015
German Navy early 20th Century

The Imperial German Navy created a detailed long-term plan to build a fleet that could match its neighbors. The immediate peer competitors were France and Russia. But its ultimate nemesis was the British Navy. From 1898 to 1914–a mere 16 years–the second largest naval force in Europe was assembled composed of dreadnoughts and cruisers. Great Britain used the Central European arms race to overcompensate, assembling an even larger fleet. Germany’s naval ambitions were for naught. Once World War One was decided on the ground, with the Allies victorious, its navy’s fate was sealed. Ten days after the 1918 armistice Germany surrendered its warships to the British Navy. Naval might is expensive and doesn’t always deliver a return on investment.

The Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) published a worthwhile series of articles on China’s growing military power earlier this month. This was part of its China Military Strategy Week, which ran from August 3 to 7. Its goal was to scrutinize the fine details surrounding the PRC’s ascent as a world power.

CIMSEC being a venue for naval enthusiasts and ideas, China Military Strategy Week had a strong focus on all things blue-water in the wake of China’s Military Strategy 2015. Published by the Ministry of National Defense (MND) in May, the white paper articulated China’s medium-term goals regarding Taiwan and its outstanding territorial claims.

China Military Strategy Week is helpful if the reader is looking for context and insight about China’s military modernization and its emerging foreign policy. A cast of 13 academic writers submitted different articles that were published twice daily over six days. Much of the content treads on familiar ground, but original ideas were also shared.

Readers must keep in mind China Military Strategy Week is the kind of venue where a challenger to US hegemony is scrutinized to better understand its motivations. The articles aren’t explicitly anti-China, but it’s clear that China and its navy are the adversaries of the current world order.

China Military Week launched with an introductory salvo about the philosopher Han Feizi by Paul Bryce. Han Faizi’s 2,300 year-old legacy, no doubt ancient wisdom statesmen from any era agree with, is military power is an extension of state power. This is today’s “Realist” school echoing from the Qin Dynasty.

Chinese PLAN Destroyer Shenyang

In the course of China Military Strategy Week four writers in particular stand out. These are Sherman Xiaogang Lai, Chang Ching, Justin Chock, and Xunchao Zhang. They’re noteworthy for being Chinese, albeit not working or residing in the mainland. Dr. Sherman Xiaogang Lai, an adjunct military professor at the Canadian Royal Military College, has an interesting background.

A former PLA “foot soldier” who fought in the Sino-Vietnamese War, Lai’s article From Expediency To The Strategic Chinese Dream illustrates how the PLAN today was formed by the vision of Admiral Liu Huaqing and several collaborators who laid the groundwork for a Chinese blue-water navy.

Justin Chock, on the other hand, tackles the ongoing spat in the South China Sea. As an international relations scholar, his article A Pacific Rebalance With Chinese Characteristics points out that the aggressive construction work in the South China Sea is for the benefit of an emerging “Maritime Silk Road.”

China and the PLAN are also compensating for the infrastructure built by Vietnam and the Philippines years earlier. It’s obvious China’s claim to the South China Sea, despite trampling international law, is a permanent one and is a recipe for conflict. Chock makes it clear the US intends to block this Chinese expansion.

A Taiwanese research fellow, Chang Ching, contributed the most ambiguous entry in China Military Strategy Week. It discussed the authors and purpose of the China Military Strategy white paper. But Taiwan itself looms large in the other articles as well. Eric Gomez’ own piece suggests the island nation stop buying US weapons in exchange for unspecified political concessions from China.

Gomez points out Taiwan has already lost its arms race with the mainland.

Chinese PLAN Sino-Russian exercises

Finally, Australian researcher Xunchao Zhang takes a broad view of China’s activities across the Indian Ocean and doesn’t find any sinister schemes brewing. Zhang’s Becoming A Maritime Power? emphasizes that feeding its economy, rather than a network of military bases, is Beijing’s ultimate motivator overseas.

The PLAN has been portrayed as a shadowy menace in the Indian Ocean since the 1990s. A quarter century later and it’s only beginning to build serious trans-continental links with a naval base in Djibouti.

China has already built its hard power to the point where it scares the US and its allies. The next big question is whether it can afford a war machine that surpasses the US in the next decade.

By the time China Military Strategy Week wrapped on August 7, a Saturday, CIMSEC was soon back to business as usual. Come September another week is dedicated to a new topic: The Future of Naval Aviation.

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