Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Let's Not Get Too Jumpy About The Chinese Aircraft Carrier

So, China has finally admitted what everybody knew -- that it was building an aircraft carrier. The article focuses on how this threatens the neighbors and in particular the US:
All of these can target US bases, US ships and US carriers in Asia.

Any nation as involved in international trade as China is has a rational incentive to build a navy. Trade needs open sea lanes, and the way you help ensure open sea lanes is with a navy. So, to the extent that both the US and China's interest align in keeping key waterways in Asia, the Strait of Malacca to provide one and probably the most important example, this is beneficial capability.

Obviously, to the extent that the Chinese will use this capability to press their claims in the South China Sea or threaten Taiwan this could be a negative for US interests and increase the probability of conflict.

On this point, FLG caught a relatively recent Charlie Rose with Fareed Zakaria during which Zakaria argued that people in the region, notably Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, want to do business with China, but are also concerned about how Chinese leaders define and see their interests only in narrow terms of Chinese national interests and pursue them ruthlessly. This is just the type of behavior that makes countries seek to balance against you.

Consequently, FLG sees the rise of China as concerning, but perhaps less concerning than most, at least from the perspective of US interests. First, China and the US have a bunch of shared interests in keeping global trade flowing. This isn't the panacea some make it out to be, but it certainly helps a lot. Second, China has a lot more domestic problems than most people realize and domestic concerns will take up a lot of the Chinese leaderships' time moving forward. Third, this isn't really a conflict of ideology. China ain't selling Communism, nor any set of values. China is proceeding, as it has throughout most of its history, under the assumption of its inherent superiority and with a concomitant set of parochial interests and strategies. This isn't a sympathetic story to other countries to join in the strategy and a bunch of countries, India, Japan, Philippines, and Indonesia recently as well, are going to work with the US to balance this out. It's not just going to be the US versus China. It'll be a coalition of countries working to influence and manage the balance of power. FLG will admit, however, that this approach by China is dangerous, especially insofar as how it affects how China views and interprets the actions of others in the region. All things being equal, a country that believes itself inherently superior and destined for greatness is more apt to rush headlong into a violent situation than a country that doesn't have that self-image. Nevertheless, FLG is cautiously optimistic that this isn't the first stages in an inevitable violent clash between the United States and China.

1 comment:

Withywindle said...

I don't take much comfort from "China didn't expand much traditionally." Whole lot of internal colonization, and most of the stuff was worthless beyond it's borders. No longer holds true -- I bet China will grab whatever it can.

 
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