Academic journal article Naval War College Review

The Geopolitics of East Asia: The Search for Equilibrium/Chinese Grand Strategy and Maritime Power

Academic journal article Naval War College Review

The Geopolitics of East Asia: The Search for Equilibrium/Chinese Grand Strategy and Maritime Power

Article excerpt

Lim, Robyn. The Geopolitics of East Asia: The Search for Equilibrium. New York: Kentledge Curzon, 2003. 208pp. $90

Kane, Thomas M. Chinese Grand Strategy and Maritime Power. Portland, Ore.: Frank Cass, 2002. 158pp. $55

One of the most intriguing questions about the People's Republic of China (PRC) today is whether its communist government does or does not have the "ambition" to acquire a blue-water navy. If building an oceangoing fleet is among Beijing's long-term goals, then China may one day become a dangerous peer competitor of the United States. If so, a future Sino-U.S. maritime conflict is possible; if not, Washington's primarily maritime power and Beijing's primarily continental power need never meet in battle. The two books discussed here focus on different aspects of China and so answer this question in radically different ways. Robyn Lim examines Far Eastern geopolitics and history to address the issue of Sino-U.S. conflict. Focusing on the numerous twentieth-century wars fought among the East Asian quadrilateral-the United States, China, Japan, and Russia-Lim concludes that a new "great-power war" is "thinkable" and that such a conflict would probably be maritime in nature: "If China, a rising continental power, is indeed seeking domination over East Asia and its contiguous waters, this pattern of conflict is set to continue-because the United States, with its own maritime security at stake, is bound to stand in China's way." The underlying reason for a possible future Sino-U.S. conflict, says Lim, is Japan's defeat in World War II, coupled with the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991. Not only has Russia's precipitous decline given China "strategic latitude unprecedented in modern times," but the waning security threat along the Sino-Russian border has allowed Beijing to point "east and south strategically, pressing on the vital straits that connect the Indian and Pacific Oceans." In light of Russia's decision to sell massive amounts of military equipment-dominated by ships, planes, and naval weaponry-to China, possible Sino-U.S. flashpoints include a PRC invasion or blockade of Taiwan, international conflict on the Korean Peninsula, maritime tensions with Japan over the Senkaku (in Chinese, Diaoyutai) Islands, and Southeast Asian resistance to China's self-proclaimed sovereignty over the South China Sea.

To offset such a conflict, Washington must ally itself even more closely with Tokyo, be prepared to stop a PRC attack on Taiwan, dampen the rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and redirect future Chinese maritime expansion into more peaceful directions. Lim cautions that too strident a policy might push China into a corner, leading to irrational decisions on Beijing's part-much as Washington's 1941 failure to deter Tokyo resulted in the miscalculated decision to attack Pearl Harbor. However, Lim concludes that in the coming years a certain degree of great-power conflict will probably be unavoidable, since "when China started to demonstrate blue water ambition, it was certain to collide with America's interest as the global 'offshore balancer.'"

Thomas Kane examines the future of China's navy in Chinese Grand Strategy and Maritime Power. Studying the history of Chinese grand strategy, which has most recently included calls for the creation of a "new order" among the world's great states, Kane concludes that "if China wishes to claim a leading role in international politics, it must become a seapower," which means, in turn, that "maritime development is one of the most prominent and most challenging goals of the PRC's [grand] strategy."

To support his point, Kane argues that for thousands of years the Chinese were among the world's great practitioners of seapower. …

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