Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 20:15 | SYDNEY
Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 20:15 | SYDNEY

China alarmists: Know thyself!


Sam Roggeveen


15 May 2008 16:55

There's a rather breathtaking lack of self-awareness in this Asian Wall Street Journal op-ed from China military expert Richard Fisher. The passage in question:

China and the U.S. have already tangled around Hainan. On April 1, 2001, a U.S. Navy EP-3 electronic reconnaissance aircraft flying in international airspace near Hainan tangled with a PLA Navy jet fighter. The Chinese pilot died, but in the fight, forced the damaged U.S. aircraft to land on Hainan and endure a humiliating disassembly by PLA intelligence services. This is likely a foretaste of the sensitivity China will accord U.S. or other naval forces that seek to monitor China's nuclear naval operations -- aimed in large part at the U.S.

While conflict with China over this region need not be preordained, there is a clear need to request that Beijing explain the content and purpose of its new large naval base at Sanya. China's potential to base a large force of nuclear weapons so close to the region covered by ASEAN's 1996 nuclear-free-zone treaty would at a minimum appear inconsistent with Beijing's pledge to sign protocols to this treaty. Furthermore, the Philippines' lack of any credible air or naval forces to defend its contiguous sea lanes, upon which much of Asia's commerce depends, creates a dangerous power vacuum.

Regarding the first paragraph, I would refer Fisher to this account of US and NATO jets recently making very close intercepts of Russian bombers. I'm not sure Fisher would call such intercepts evidence of NATO and American 'sensitivity'. Rather, he would probably see them as routine and quite proper demonstrations of sovereignty and defensive preparation against rather provocative Russian flights.

As for the request for China to 'explain' its new naval base, how would Fisher react if China made such demands of the US? (See similar sentiments from Thomas Barnett here.) The US, of course, has by far the most powerful fleet of any country in the Asia Pacific, so the 'power vacuum' Fisher refers to is nothing of the sort.

Look, I'm not suggesting we should be complacent about Chinese maritime capabilities, but undue suspicion is only going to lead us toward what Fisher claims is not preordained: regional conflict.