President's Forum

By Shuford, J. L. | Naval War College Review, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview
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President's Forum


Shuford, J. L., Naval War College Review


The China Maritime Studies Institute: Defining Partnership with China

ONE OF THE MOST CRITICAL ISSUES facing our nation in the new slobal strategic environment is the rise of China. The scale of Beijing's rapid economic growth is unprecedented, and its military modernization is also progressing apace. There is considerable reason for optimism regarding the emergence of China, since it has benefited in extraordinary ways from the ongoing processes of globalization. Indeed, Chinese leaders appear to have embraced former Deputy secretary of State Robert Zoellick's prescription for China in which he called for China to become a "responsible stakeholder" among the great nations of the world.

Nevertheless, it would be vastly premature to say that the "China question" confronting the world community has already been resolved. There are a variety of tensions that still impact significantly upon East Asian security, and it is generally agreed among international-relations specialists that the rise of great powers has historically formed a fundamental factor in destabilizing the international system. There is a tendency in Washington for policies concerning China to become quickly politicized. Human rights and environmental protection advocates are highly critical of Beijing, while big business sees endless opportunities in the Middle Kingdom.

A little over three years ago, the Naval War College clearly recognized China's rapid growth as a key factor for understanding the emerging twenty-firstcentury global order. Navy leadership understood this well and saw the requirement for objective research on China's rise that would be insulated from the various policy agendas driving the debates about China in Washington. With this concern in mind, the China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) was established in October 2006 at the College. The objective was not to create another China institute-of which many fine examples exist in academia-but rather to create a China maritime studies institute. The intention was to give this new institute the focus required to succeed and thereby fill an emerging gap.

In ancient times, the Chinese proved themselves to be bold and capable seafarers, claiming among other inventions the compass, the rudder, and the watertight bulkhead. Under the flag of the Ming dynasty's great Admiral Zheng He, vast Chinese fleets explored the distant reaches of the Indian Ocean. However, in the modern period China has been fundamentally a continental power, with little presence on the high seas-until recently. Nevertheless, the gap in understanding China's maritime development was not simply a result of the novel aspect of this phenomenon. The U.S. Navy also suffered from weakness in regional studies as a result of a relatively limited Foreign Area Officer program over the last few decades. Thus, the impetus to establish CMSI represented both increasing demand for expertise and a supply shortfall.

In supporting the research needs of the U.S. Navy, the main objective of the College's CMSI is to increase knowledge and understanding regarding the maritime dimensions of China's rise. In doing so, CMSI has undertaken research along the following vectors: energy, global commerce, law of the sea, maritime technologies, merchant marine, naval development, naval diplomacy, and shipbuilding. In developing the institute's research areas, we recognized that Chinese naval development is following in the wake of China's clear emergence as a commercial maritime power. Indeed, the most vital foundation of China's maritime development is the export juggernaut that has emerged in the last two decades.

The U.S.-China maritime relationship will form an essential bedrock for maritime security in the twenty-first century. In support of this relationship and also the new U.S. maritime strategy (which is the focus of this issue of the Review) CMSI held its annual conference, on 6-7 December 2007, on the theme of "Defining a Maritime Partnership with China.

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