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Thayer South China Sea: China's Rise and US Naval Primacy

Thayer South China Sea: China's Rise and US Naval Primacy

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Published by Carlyle Alan Thayer
An analysis of US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's speech to midshipment at the US Naval Academy, Annapolis and its relevance to China's rise and the Asia-Pacific Region.
An analysis of US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's speech to midshipment at the US Naval Academy, Annapolis and its relevance to China's rise and the Asia-Pacific Region.

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Published by: Carlyle Alan Thayer on May 31, 2012
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05/31/2012

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Background Briefing:
South China Sea: China’s Rise &
US Naval PrimacyCarlyle A. ThayerMay 30, 2012
[client name deleted]1. The United States will renew its naval power across the Asia-Pacific region andstay "vigilant" in the face of China's growing military, Defense Secretary LeonPanetta said Tuesday. "America is a maritime nation, and we are returning to ourmaritime roots. One of the key projects that your generation will have to face issustaining and enhancing American strength across the great maritime region of theAsia-
Pacific,” he said.
 Critics have pointed out that the US involvement in the South China Sea disputewould just complicate the status quo. Will this latest move only exacerbate it? If, sowhy? If not, why not?ANSWER: Key international shipping routes traverse the South China Sea. They passthrough the high seas. These same sea lanes serve as strategic sea lines of 
communication for all the world’s maritime powers including their navies.
International law provides for freedom of navigation and overflight through thesewaters and the air space above them. The US has and will continue to deploy itsnaval forces through the South China Sea.The issue of freedom of navigation and overflight on the high seas or what the UScalls international waters is a separate issue from territorial disputes over islandsand rocks.The US has repeated stated that it will not take sides in territorial disputes. In otherwords the US will not unilaterally back one cou
ntry’s sovereignty claims overanother’s. This is an issue that the parties directly concerned must solve. The US,
however, has an interest preventing territorial disputes from being settled by forceor the use of force. US naval deployments in the South China Sea are stabilizing tothe extent they deter China from using its growing naval power to assert sovereigntyover islands and rocks occupied by other states.
China’s South Sea Fleet is being modernized with the latest surface combatants and
attack nuclear submarines. In the future China is expected to deploy ballistic missilesubmarines at Sanya whose missiles will be aimed at the United States. China is alsoexpected to deploy an aircraft carrier to Sanya. In other words, the status quo in the
Thayer Consultancy
ABN # 65 648 097 123
 
2
South Ch
ina Sea is being upset by China’s growing naval power and the build up at
Sanya Naval Base on Hainan Island.2. Panetta encouraged the new naval officers to forge stronger security ties withChina even as he vowed the United States would not let down its guard. "We needyou to strengthen defense ties with China. China's military is growing andmodernizing. We must be vigilant. We must be strong. We must be prepared toconfront any challenge," he said.What is the underlining message was he trying to convey?
ANSWER: The United States must carefully assess China’s developing capabilities and
intentions. The growth of capabilities takes a long time to develop. All prudentdefense planners, including those in the United States, must respond to match
China’s grow
ing capabilities. Intentions, on the other hand, can swiftly change.Developing military to military ties is one strategy to develop trust and confidence
between nations. Military to military ties help each nation to understand the other’s
intentions. As Pentagon planners and senior US naval officers have repeatedly
observed, China’s growing military capabilities are aimed directly at the United
States. This requires the United States to develop counter-capabilities through newtechnologies.3. Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie, who was on an official visit to close allyCambodia, pledged US$20 million in military aid.The Chinese Foreign Minister is also set to visit Singapore in a bid to strengthenbilateral ties. Analysts have pointed out that Beijing has embarked on its own charmoffensive
 –
by putting its money where its mouth is. By matching its political rhetoricwith material resources, China has increasingly built its reputation as a credible long-term stakeholder within the region.Do you think China will continue to stick to such tactic and is it a clever for Beijing todo so?
ANSWER: China’s pursuit of international defense cooperation, including giving aid
and financial assistance, is no different in intent from international defensecooperation pursued by other countries. International defense cooperation has
many objectives including gaining political influence and demonstrating one’s ownpower. China’s rise has made it a credible long
-term stakeholder in regional security.China has a comprehensive strategic partnership with ASEAN. China is a foundingmember of the ASEAN Regional Forum and has been proactive in promotingcooperation to deal with transnational or non-traditional security threats. Chinararely puts conditions on its aid in contrast to the United States, Japan, Australia andmany other foreign donors. China is therefore an attractive partner to countries likeCambodia that resist foreign conditionality on their assistance programs. But Chinacan be very fickle if its national interests change. For example, China once supportedthe Khmer Rouge. It abandoned them after the political settlement in Cambodia wasreached and threw its support to the Hun Sen regime.4. China and the Philippines have agreed to show restraint in their tense standoff over a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, Manila's defense chief said Tuesday.Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said he had held a brief meeting with his Chinese

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