Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 02:46 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 02:46 | SYDNEY

Email of the day: What motivates China?


Sam Roggeveen


5 February 2008 07:49

Further to the China maritime debate kicked off by this post, Jack McCaffrie writes:

The rise of the Chinese Navy is generating a great deal of interest, especially in the US and not just because of what it might mean in any conflict over Taiwan. I think the biggest issue for us is trying to understand the Chinese. We need to figure out what is motivating the naval expansion – is it Taiwan, or is it their increasing reliance on seaborne trade, especially for energy, or is it something else?  Importantly too, they do not necessarily see things the way we do. Their response to the crippled P-3 wanting to make an emergency landing after the collision with their fighter was not what we would have expected. Similarly, I believe they recently refused to allow two US Navy minewarfare vessels to shelter from a storm in Hong Kong waters. The surfacing of their submarine near the Kittyhawk late last year also raises questions. Were they just letting the US Navy know that they could operate undetected near them or were they simply surprised to find themselves in the midst of a battle group and surfaced to avoid problems? There has been talk of establishing some kind of 'Incidents at Sea' (INCSEA) Agreement with China – as used to be the case with the Soviets – but China already has access to a similar set of procedures through its membership of the Western Pacific Naval Symposium. Like most other members it has chosen not to use them thus far.

If there is a conflict over Taiwan in the future I suspect the USN will be most worried by the quiet diesel submarines and the Sunburn missiles on the Sovremennys. I also feel that the USN will operate as far offshore as it reasonably can and thus the threat posed by small (even if fast) patrol craft armed with short range missiles will be limited.

By the way, I’m reviewing a new book at the moment, 'Chinese Naval Strategy in the 21st Century: The turn to Mahan.' It’s by James Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara of the US Naval War College. The thrust (as far as I’ve gone into it) is that Chinese naval planners are definitely following Mahan’s precepts but in a more bellicose way than Mahan himself. I get the sense from the book that the naval planners are having to challenge the continentalists, who still see Central Asia as the future for China. According to this book, too, Taiwan is uppermost in the minds of the naval planners and it has allowed them to adapt Maoist 'coastal defence' ideas to their own 'offshore defence' thoughts.