Combined Ops

Friday, August 03, 2007

China looks to the sea

Stratfor analysis of a Chinese "dilemma":
...Since the economic opening and reform of the late 1970s, China has increased its need for oil and other energy imports, as well as for raw materials. At the same time, it has become more dependent on foreign export markets for its economic well-being. The days of remaining content with defending its land borders against invaders via strategic buffers and coastline patrols no longer suffice as China's strategic interests reach through Southeast Asia into the Indian Ocean basin and as far as West Africa and Latin America.
***
China, then, has three options: It can accept U.S. control of the seas and leave its growing economic interests at the mercy of U.S. good will; it can reduce its overall overseas vulnerabilities; or it can begin to prepare its own counterstrategy to defend its overseas interests. The latter will draw the most attention from its neighbors and the United States.
All about those Sea lanes:
Of particular interest in recent days are the sea lanes China is working to find ways to protect. As you can see from the following (which just reference crude oil shipments) these lanes are heavily traveled. In the... chart, I have marked U.S. allies in blue (yes, Singapore is over-sized) and areas that China is making claims or working to establish relations as red bursts. Note that the red bursts sit athwart the sea lanes.
China is also assisting in building a large naval base in western Pakistan, "China's pearl in Pakistan's waters" as so aptly named in the linked article from the Asia Times:
For China, Gwadar's strategic value stems from its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz. About 60% of China's energy supplies come from the Middle East, and China has been anxious that the US, which has a very high presence in the region, could choke off these supplies to China. "Having no blue-water navy to speak of, China feels defenseless in the Persian Gulf against any hostile action to choke off its energy supplies," points out Tarique Niazi, a specialist in resource-based conflict, in the Jamestown Foundation's China Brief.

A presence in Gwadar provides China with a "listening post" where it can "monitor US naval activity in the Persian Gulf, Indian activity in the Arabian Sea and future US-Indian maritime cooperation in the Indian Ocean", writes Haider. A recent report titled "Energy Futures in Asia" produced by defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton for the Pentagon notes that China has already set up electronic eavesdropping posts at Gwadar, which are monitoring maritime traffic through the Strait of Hormuz and the Arabian Sea.

Drawing attention to China's "string of pearls" strategy, the report points out that "China is building strategic relationships along the sea lanes from the Middle East to the South China Sea in ways that suggest defensive and offensive positioning to protect China's energy interests, but also to serve broad security objectives". The port and naval base in Gwadar is part of the "string of pearls".

The other "pearls" in the string include facilities in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and the South China Sea that Beijing has acquired access to by assiduously building ties with governments in these countries.

See also here for "China builds up strategic sea lanes."

See also "String of Pearls: Meeting the Challenge of China's Rising Power Across the Asian Littoral" by LTC Christopher Pehrson (Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College, 2006) (downloadable pdf):
China’s rising maritime power is encountering American maritime power along the sea lines of communication (SLOCs) that connect China to vital energy resources in the Middle East and Africa. The “String of Pearls” describes the manifestation of China’s rising geopolitical influence through efforts to increase access to ports and airfields, develop special diplomatic relationships, and modernize military forces that extend from the South China Sea through the Strait of Malacca, across the Indian Ocean, and on to the Arabian Gulf. A question posed by the “String of Pearls” is the uncertainty of whether China’s growing influence is in accordance with Beijing’s stated policy of “peaceful development,” or if China one day will make a bid for regional primacy. This is a complex strategic situation that could determine the future direction of China’s relationship with the United States, as well as China’s relationship with neighbors throughout the region.
And this thesis, "“The Malacca Dilemma” — Countering China's “Sring of Pearls” with Land-Based Air Power" by (not surprisingly) USAF Major Lawrence Spinetta:
China is strengthening diplomatic ties and building naval bases along the sea lanes from the Middle East. This “String of Pearls” strategy is designed to protect its energy security, negate US influence in the region, and project power overseas. China is rapidly building a blue-water navy, developing advanced missile technology, and stockpiling undersea mines to counter US Navy capabilities, especially in the event of a conflict over Taiwan. To counter China’s growing naval power, the United States can exploit a critical vulnerability—China’s dependence on sea lines of communication. Eighty percent of China’s oil imports pass through the Strait of Malacca; the Chinese leadership calls this strategic weakness the “Malacca Dilemma.” In conjunction with naval forces, land-based airpower offers a promising way to control key maritime chokepoints and trade routes.
Glad to see people thinking and talking about the "dilemma."


Sea lane map: Chokepoints: Maritime Economic Concerns in Southeast Asia, Institute for National Strategic Studies, Washington,D.C. (National Defense University, 1996)(color and bursts added)

UPDATE: Galrahn at Information Dissemination also is thinking China with the post A Dragon Emerges: Has China Arrived? with some more links.

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