MH60S

Saturday, January 03, 2009

China's Sea Lanes

Interesting catch at CargoNewsAsia.com in the article "China uses ports to protect trade lanes":
A port being built in southern Sri Lanka near the main shipping route across the Indian Ocean is part of a Chinese effort to project influence and protect vital trade lanes, according to a US military study, Asia Pulse reported.

The study lists the commercial-shipping container port at Hambantota being built by Chinese contractors as part of China's so-called "string of pearls" strategy to gain political influence and be able to project power in the Indian Ocean region.

The report, "Joint Operating Environment 2008," was produced by the Norfolk-based US Joint Forces Command.
You can find the referenced, unclassified Joint Forces Command document, Joint Operating Environment 2008 (JOE2008) here. The analysis of China strategic intentions is well worth reading:
Yet, one of the fascinating aspects of China’s emergence over the past three decades has been its efforts to learn from the external world. This has not represented a blatant aping nor an effort to cherry pick ideas from history or Western theoretical writings on strategy and war, but rather a contentious, open debate to examine and draw lessons from West’s experience. Two historical case studies have resonated with the Chinese: the Soviet Union’s collapse and the rise of Germany in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These case studies, written in a series of books, were also made into documentary films and form one of the most popular shows on Chinese television.

In the case of the Soviets, the Chinese have drawn the lesson that they must not pursue military development at the expense of economic development – no traditional arms race. That is the path Deng laid out in the late 1970s and one which they have assiduously followed. Indeed, if one examines their emerging military capabilities in intelligence, submarines, cyber, and space, one sees an asymmetrical operational approach that is different from Western approaches, one consistent with the classical Chinese strategic thinkers.
***
In regard to a potential military competition with the United States, what is apparent in Chinese discussions is a deep respect for U.S. military power. There is a sense that in certain areas, such as submarines, space, and cyber warfare, China can compete on a near equal footing with America. One does not devote the significant national treasure required to build nuclear submarines for coastal defense. The emphasis on
nuclear submarines and an increasingly global Navy in particular, underlines worries that the U.S. Navy possesses the ability to shut down China’s energy imports of oil – 80% of which go through the straits of Malacca. As one Chinese naval strategist expressed it: “the straits of Malacca are akin to breathing itself -- to life itself.”
I've discussed the "String of Pearls" structure China is pursuing in previous posts (see here, here; compare with India's sea lane interests here, here and here).

The lengths to which China is willing to go to protect their strategic lifeline is a measure of their measure of its importance. Unspoken of in the Cargoasia piece, is the lesson to be learned from the Japanese in WWII, who had their own "string of pearls" from the resource rich Malaysia/Indochina to protect for their needed oil and other supples. Japan sought to push out their defensive perimeter to better protect these sea lanes, their failure at Midway to destroy the U.S. carrier fleet spelled doom for their plans.

The vital sea lanes of China include much of the same waters Japan sought to control but extend even further to the Middle East and Africa. The success of the U.S. submarine fleet in interdicting the Japanese supply chain in Worl War II must weigh heavy in Chinese military thought.

The analysis of China is but a small portion of the entire JOE2008 and reading it all is highly recommended.

For reference, a map of Japan's WWII defensive plan appears below:

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