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Monday, June 25, 2007

A China Brief

Some positive spin in a China Brief from the Jamestown Foundation:
Indeed, these developments indicate that China’s senior leaders and strategists are increasingly concerned with traditional and non-traditional threats (e.g. piracy, smuggling, terrorism and other disruptions by non-state actors) to ocean commerce. The recently released U.S. Department of Defense annual report on the Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2007 confirms the concerns of China’s most senior leaders. The DoD report states: At present, China can neither protect its foreign energy supplies nor the routes on which they travel, including the Straits of Malacca through which some 80 percent of China’s crude oil imports transit – a vulnerability President Hu refers to as the “Malacca Dilemma” [emphasis added by author] [1].

Corroborating this assessment, the vice chairman of a major Chinese security think-tank asserted to this author in April that China is looking beyond Taiwan to sea-lane security missions for the PLAN. He noted, however, that the task is too large for the PLAN and even for the U.S. Navy to undertake alone; cooperative efforts would be required. (This unprecedented statement interestingly implies that the U.S. Navy may not have been relegated to the singular role of a prospective disrupter of oil flow to China.) Aware of U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Mullen's recent invitation to PLAN Commander Vice Admiral Wu Shengli for China to join the "Thousand-Ship Navy"—a freeform voluntary transnational network of navies—the vice chairman offered two minor caveats with respect to initiating exercises and operations between the two navies [2]: (1) Historic sensitivities favor beginning bilaterally, and then perhaps folding in Japan and South Korea as well as other regional navies; (2) Asking China to cooperate in Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) operations would be a step too far, given Beijing’s concerns about Pyongyang’s reaction.

By and large, the invitation has been well received by the Chinese military, and Admiral Wu expressed interest toward the idea, pending further discussion during Admiral Mullen's mid-June visit to China (AFP, April 10). A senior PLAN officer well connected to China’s military leadership expressed to this author in late April unreserved support for U.S.-China cooperation in conducting exercises and coping with threats to the security of the SLOCs. A recently retired but also well-informed PLAN officer expressed similar support in April, cautioning only that a wary Beijing may be painfully deliberate in considering participation in more complex exercises and in operational cooperation at sea [3].
Baby steps.

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