American and Chinese Strategic Intentions
In November 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama announced the ‘Strategic Pivot to Asia’, the most important strategicshiftsincetheend oftheColdWar.Oneofthe keydriversinthisdecisionisbasedontheassessment that the geopolitical relevance of Asia has grown considerably. According to a study conducted by the HSBC Bank of September this year (2014), worldwide trade is set to triple by 2030, with Asia as the chief driver of economic growth. Hence, the U.S. was compelled to adapt its political, economic and military strategies.
U.S. Secretary of Defence, Chuck Hagel, challenged Beijing at the 13th IISS Shangri-La Dialogue 2014 (May 30 – June 1, 2014) in Singapore, when outlining China’s destabilizing unilateral action in disputed waters off the South China Sea, thereby underscoring America’s strategic intention of remaining within the region.
In an interview with Nikkei ASIAN Review at the end of August this year (2014), Richard Myers, former chair- man of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated: “The U.S. has always considered itself an Asia-Pacific nation. We always talk about the Asia-Pacific as being the key to the future and to a lot of our vital national interests.”
While the mutual interests and opportunities for cooperation between Washington and Beijing are several, both sides face a fundamental conflict of interests. Whereas, according to China, the U.S. should disengage militarily from Asia, the U.S. has, for its part, demonstrated its determination to stay in the region.
One widespread view among Chinese strategists is that the U.S. encourages regional actors to confront Beijing, and that disputes between China and other regional actors are in Washington’s interest. In the U.S. most strategists contend that the recent source of instability is a consequence of China’s provocative behaviour, thus indicating that China ultimately seeks to challenge the world order as spearheaded by the United States.
The leaderships of both nations are aware that the three million square kilometres of the South China Sea (SCS) are of particular strategic importance. Around US$ 5.3 trillion in trade flows through the region in and around the South China Sea annually, one-fifth of which is U.S. commerce. Around 80% of China’s crude oil imports, approximately 66% of South Korea’s energy supplies and almost 60% of Japan’s and Taiwan’s energy are transported through the SCS.
The sovereignty disputes in the SCS involve major themes in grand strategy and territorial defence, including the protection of the sea lines of communication (SLOC), energy, food and environmental security. They are also linked to rising populist nationalism in Asia.
While the West reduces its defence spending, Asia proceeds to rapidly modernize its armed forces following rapid economic growth and strategic insecurity. Nominal defense spending in Asia has risen by 23% since 2010, from around US$ 261.7 billion to US$ 321.8 billion, in 2013. China’s official defense budget amounted to US$ 112 billion, in 2013; an increase of 10.7% over 2012. Both China and its neighbours have invested heavily in so called anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities.
ThePLA’s strategicprioritiesaregraduallyshiftingfromthedefence ofChina’sborderstoforceprojectionwithin East Asia and further afield in an endeavour to secure sea lines of communication and maritime resources. According to the latest Defence White Paper, Beijing plans to deploy forces capable of winning local wars based on informationisation by 2020, namely, successful joint-operations in a contested regional environment enabled by modern technology. Beijing’s objective is to become a ‘peer competitor’ to the U.S. by 2050, in spite of present weaknesses in China’s military capabilities, and even high-ranking Chinese officials admit that the U.S. is 20 to 30 years ahead.
The rapid modernisation of Asia’s military forces coupled with a conflict situation in the competition for natural resources and regional aspirations amounts to a hazardous concurrence of factors that cannot be ignored.
In his speech at the 13th IISS Shangri-La Dialogue, 2014, U.S. Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel stated that the U.S. willcontinueitsaidtonationsinbuildingtheirrespectivehumanitariananddisaster-reliefcapabilities,and in upgrading their respective armed forces. For the first time Indonesia is to receive Apache helicopters to conduct counter-piracy operations, and control the free flow of shipping through the Straits of Malacca.1 Furthermore, Washington plans to provide robust assistance to the Philippines’ armed forces, and strengthen their maritime and aviation capabilities.2
South Korea is to receive “Global Hawk Drones” in an effort to substantially enhance its intelligence, surveill- ance and reconnaissancecapabilities. South Korea also plans to aquire the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.3 The United States is poised to deploy two additional ballistic missile defense ships and has deployed its most advanced capabilities – including two Global Hawks at Misawa Air Base, F-22 fighter aircraft at Kadena Air Base, and MV-22 Ospreys on Okinawa.4
Next year the U.S. Navy will introduce the Joint High Speed Vessel in the Pacific and an additional submarine forward station in Guam. As many as four Littoral Combat Ships will be deployed in the same region by 2017. By 2018, the navy’s advanced multi-mission Zumwalt-class destroyer is scheduled to begin operating out of the
Pacific. And by 2020, the U.S. plans to achieve its objective of operating 60% of both its navy and air force fleets out of the Pacific, while also flying the Hawkeye early-warning and unmanned Triton ISR aircraft in the region. These are clear indications that the U.S. is and will continue to be a Pacific power.
Sources: ISN, ISPSW