Thursday, May 12, 2005

An Emerging Chinese Threat?

The Atlantic Online | June 2005 | How We Would Fight China | Robert D. Kaplan

Across the Baltic from where I'm sitting in Stockholm, the shipyards in St Petersburg are busy building advanced submarines not for the Russian but for the Chinese navy.

And for the Indian and Iranian navies, by the way.

There is no doubt that China has started to invest heavily in the modernization of its obsolescent armed forces, and that this involves the adding of capabilities - among them advanced submarines - that they never had before.

But that this mean that there is a threatening Chinese military giant appearing on the horizon?

Increasingly, that seems to be the mood in the United States. The different debates there on China borders on an obsession. If it's not the trade deficit, it's the military dimension, the Taiwan issue, the currency regime or the Chinese role versus North Korea.

There is no doubt that there are genuine challenges ahead. China's peaceful rise, to use that official phrase, is still a rise that affects all the power relationships in an increasingly important part of the world. And one in which the United States remains the prime strategic stabilizer.

In the latest issue of always-worth-reading Atlantic Montly, Robert Kaplan lays out the case for a coming military rivalry with China.

In his view, the US military contest with China in the Pacific will define the 21st century, and China will be a more formidable adversary to the United States than the Soviet Union ever was.

Robert Kaplan is a prolific, well-informed and influential writer who has covered most issues of relevance when it comes to peace and war in our times. He's worth reading.

Another issue is whether these fears aren't somewhat overblown. I tend to believe that we are overlooking significant internal weaknesses in the Chinese development. We might not see the undisturbed and smooth rise to power and pre-eminance that Kaplan and others are forecasting.

But whatever will happen in the future, the debate now is undoubtedly a most important one.

Meanwhile, the shipyards in St Petersburg are kept busy.