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A Naval Race with China Is Unnecessary and Will Likely Backfire

June 14, 2018 in Economics

By John Glaser

John Glaser

WASHINGTON – Policymakers increasingly perceive China’s growing
naval strength in Asia as an acute threat to American interests
that must be met with a corresponding surge in U.S. naval power in
the Pacific.

However, precisely what tangible threat a few more Chinese
frigates on the other side of the planet poses to U.S. national
security interests is rather difficult to identify. And exactly
what objective is supposed to be achieved by boosting the U.S.
Navy’s presence in the region is something of a mystery.

Hawks point to Chinese territorial claims and naval activity in
the South China Sea as a signal of Beijing’s growing ability to
undermine freedom of navigation. But capability does not equal
intent. Indeed, any interruption in commercial shipping in the
Pacific would be devastating for China’s own economic and security
interests.

China’s naval expansion
threatens not so much America’s security, but its
prestige.

China is the largest trading nation in the world and relies on
the South China Sea for almost 40 percent of all its trade, valued
at roughly $1.5 trillion per year. If anything, Beijing’s more
assertive posture suggests a determination not to close off vital
sea lanes, but to keep them open.

It is notable, in addition, that the United States perceives a
grave threat from China’s naval expansion that China’s own
neighbors seem to miss.

Average defense spending as a percentage of GDP among the 11
East Asian states along China’s periphery has declined by almost
half over the past 30 years. Moreover, none of them have engaged in
their own freedom of navigation operations to directly challenge
China, despite encouragement to do so from Washington.

The Philippines had a major dispute with China over maritime and
territorial claims, which led to multiple naval standoffs, but now
Manila appears to be buddying up to Beijing, not balancing against
it. If China’s own proximate rivals don’t see a major threat, why
should we?

Even stipulating that Chinese naval power is a problem, one is
still left to wonder what effect beefing up the U.S. Pacific Fleet
is expected to have on Beijing’s calculations.

Are we to believe Beijing will respond to a proliferation of
U.S. warships off its shore by slashing its naval budget,
decommissioning scores of ships, and eagerly forfeiting its
regional ambitions?

There is a glaring logical contradiction in depicting China as a
nascent peer competitor doggedly seeking to supplant America as the
global juggernaut by whatever means necessary, but which will
abruptly cower in response to a mild U.S. naval buildup in the
Pacific Ocean.

More likely, cranking up a Sino-American naval competition will
generate heightened fear and suspicion in Beijing.

Combined with President Trump’s …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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