Friday, April 15, 2005

Big Trouble in Little China 2

Once China's real strategic imperative -- securing its energy and trade routes -- are grasped its activities are more easily interpreted. Increases in China's amphibious capabilities are usually seen as menacing Taiwan. But here's what the Navy League has to say:

The PLAN's evolving strategy has been described in terms of two distinct phases. The strategy's first phase is for the PLAN to develop a "green water active defense strategy" capability. This "green water" generally is described as being encompassed within an arc swung from Vladivostok to the north, to the Strait of Malacca to the south, and out to the "first island chain" (Aleutians, Kuriles, Ryukyus, Taiwan, Philippines, and Greater Sunda islands) to the east. Analysts have assessed that the PLAN is likely to attain this green water capability early in the 21st century. Open-source writings also suggest that the PLAN intends to develop a capability to operate in the "second island chain" (Bonins, Guam, Marianas, and Palau islands) by the mid-21st century. In the future, the PLAN also may expand its operations to bases in Myanmar, Burma. These bases will provide the PLAN with direct access to the Strait of Malacca and the Bay of Bengal.

These are very same island chains which so preoccupied the Imperial Japanese Navy during the Second World War and for exactly the same reasons. Any attempts to positively control sealanes leading in and out of northeast Asia will involve dominating the Malay Barrier and the Bonins, Guam, Marianas, and Palau islands. As to the amphibious force, the Navy League has this assessment:

The PLAN's 7,000-man Marine ... Force's ... primary mission is to safeguard China's island holdings in the South China Sea during times of peace and to seize and defend islands in the South China Sea during times of war. (Here's where the Spratleys comes in. It sits across the route from the Malay barrier to the East China Sea -- Wretchard). The Marine Force also may be used for amphibious raids or for establishing beachheads in scenarios entailing a military confrontation with Taiwan.

Taiwan is the secondary mission. Keeping China's access to energy is the primary mission. The devil in the proposition is that as long as China is seen as representing a threat to Japan, any attempts to reach out to "the first island chain" (which includes the Aleutians) and the "second island chain" (which includes the Bonins, which is Japanese territory) will bring a reaction from Nippon. Like the Anglo-German Naval Race of the 1900s, any serious maritime rivalry will be fraught will grave consequences. One interesting thing about these developments is that for the first time in 500 years Europe is absent from the maritime strategic equation.