Tag Archives: China

A Growing Concern: Chinese Illegal Fishing in Latin America

The Southern Tide

Written by Wilder Alejandro Sanchez, The Southern Tide addresses maritime security issues throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It discusses the challenges regional navies face including limited defense budgets, inter-state tensions, and transnational crimes. It also examines how these challenges influence current and future defense strategies, platform acquisitions, and relations with global powers.

“The security environment in Latin America and the Caribbean is characterized by complex, diverse, and non-traditional challenges to U.S. interests.” Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, Commander, U.S. Southern Command, before the 114th Congress Senate Armed Services Committee, 10 March 2016.

By W. Alejandro Sanchez

In mid-August the Ecuadorian Coast Guard detained a Chinese vessel off the Galapagos Islands, an inspection revealed the ship was transporting approximately 300 tons of fish, some of which were endangered species. This is yet another high-profile incident involving Chinese ships fishing without authorization in Latin American waters and ongoing efforts by regional naval forces to stop this crime. (This commentary follows up a previous report by the author for CIMSEC entitled “Latin American Navies Combat Illegal Fishing.”)

Ongoing Incidents

The most recent incident occurred on 13 August when an Ecuadorian Coast Guard vessel and a supporting helicopter detained the Chinese vessel Fu Yuang Yu Leng 999 within the Galapagos Islands Marine Reserve. The vessel was escorted to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, where an inspection discovered over 300 tons of a variety of fishes, particularly hammerhead and silky sharks as well as other endangered species. The vessel was a factory ship, which was fed fishes that were caught by other vessels. The country’s Ministry of Defense has stated that the Chinese fleet operating around Ecuador may number as many as 300 vessels. The incident prompted non-violent protests in front of the Chinese embassy in Quito as well as in Santa Cruz Island. At the time of this writing Ecuadorian authorities have put the crew on trial and have also sent a letter of protest to the Chinese government.

Previous to this case, the most notable illegal fishing-related incident in the region (so far) occurred in Argentina last year. In March 2016, the Argentine Coast Guard located a Chinese fleet fishing in its territorial waters by Chubut, southeast of the country. Security vessels were deployed, and the Coast Guard shot at the vessel Lu Yan Yuan Yu to prevent it from fleeing to international waters. Rather than stopping, the Chinese ship tried to ram one of the vessels.

Argentina Coast Guard footage of Chinese fishing vessel Lu Yan Yuan Yu in March 2016. 

There have been other incidents in the past couple of years involving Chinese fishing fleets. A final example occurred in 2015, when the Chilean Navy stopped a number of Chinese vessels off the Bio Bio region in Chile’s exclusive economic zone. The concern was that they were fishing for shrimp. An 11 July 2015 Navy press release explains that said vessels were inspected and no illegal cargo was found.

In December 2016, the Peruvian media reported the presence of large fleets from Asian nations (China, Korea, Taiwan). Similar articles explaining how these fleets hurt Peru’s fishing industry were also published in May to continue to raise awareness among the population. It is important to stress that apart from the 2016 incident in Argentina, there have been no other reports regarding violent maneuvers by Chinese fishing vessels when in contact with Latin American security forces (at least none that the author could verify).

The Response

Leaving aside the governmental response to these incidents, regional naval security forces now must demonstrate that they are capable of monitoring and controlling their nation’s territorial waters. For example, after the Galapagos Islands incident, the Ecuadorian Navy carried out naval exercises aimed at combating transnational maritime crimes. The 209/1300 submarine Huancavilca participated in the maneuvers, along with three coast guard vessels and a helicopter. A civilian fishing vessel and crew were also utilized as the target for said maneuvers. Days after the exercises, the Ecuadorian media reported that Huancavilca had departed for the Galapagos Islands to help with patrolling the area against illegal fishing activities.

It is also worth noting that Ecuador and other nations are obtaining new naval platforms, particularly offshore patrol vessels (OPV), to monitor their maritime territory. For example, IHS Jane’s has reported that on 31 July the Argentine government passed a decree “authorizing state credit to finance some of the major defense acquisition programs included in the 2017 budget.” The acquisitions program includes OPVs, Beechcraft T-6C+ Texan II aircraft, among others. It is unclear if the OPV acquisition was motivated by the 2016 incident, but it stands to reason that this incident provided even more evidence that the Argentine Navy requires new platforms for maritime control.

Discussion

Discussing unauthorized Chinese fishing is complicated as alarmism must be avoided. The incidents between Chinese fishing fleets and security forces in Latin American waters have been few – at least from what has been reported. And apart from the 2016 incident in Argentina, none other has been violent.

Nevertheless, there are a plethora of reports regarding Chinese fleets operating without authorization in Latin America and other parts of the world, particularly in Africa: just this past June, Senegal detained seven Chinese trawlers for illegally fishing in its waters. Moreover, it is correct to assume that these fleets will continue to attempt to operate in Latin American waters in the near future, particularly as domestic demand for maritime resources prompts them to be bolder when it comes to the areas that they travel to. It is also important to mention that not all the fish China captures are for internal consumption, as the Wilson Center’s report “Fishing for Answers” explains: “most of China’s high-value species and about half the overall catch are exported to the EU, the United States, and Japan, and the other half is brought back to China and sold domestically.” (While this article is focusing on illegal fishing by Chinese fleets, we must keep in mind how growing global demand for fish is affecting the fishing industry in general).

Thus one concern looking toward the future is whether there will be more violent confrontations between illegal fishing fleets and security forces given a growing demand for maritime resources. So far, the vessels have either attempted to flee or surrendered to authorities, but the Argentine incident raises the question: would some of these crews one day decide to fight back in order to avoid capture and protect their profit?

Finally, the possible ramifications of future incidents like this must be considered. China is a global economic force, and most nations, including developing nations such as those in Latin America, would not want to take Beijing head on. This is arguably the reason why the incidents mentioned in this article have not somehow evolved into some type of trade or diplomatic crisis. In fact, just this past March, the Argentine government signed a  memorandum of understanding with the Chinese company Ali Baba to sell products like wine, meat, and (somewhat ironically) fish. Similarly, in spite of the December 2016 reports about the Chinese fishing fleet in its territorial waters, Chinese-Peruvian trade remains strong as the latest data by the Peruvian government states that trade grew by 30 percent in the first half of 2017 compared to the same period last year.

How Ecuador reacts to this latest incident will be interesting as Quito-Beijing ties are not only strong due to commerce but also on other areas. For example, Ecuador has acquired “709 4×4 and 6×6 multipurpose trucks, 6×4 fuel and water trucks, and different types of buses in a deal reportedly worth USD81 million,” according to IHS Jane’s. On 4 September, Ecuador’s daily El Telegrafo reported that China’s Ministry of Agriculture has proposed the establishment of an “intergovernmental communication mechanism” between Quito and Beijing to “exchange information and jointly protect” maritime resources and crack down on illegal fishing activities. At the time of this writing there have been no reports about how the Ecuadorian government will respond to this proposal but, if previous incidents in other countries are a precedent, the Galapagos Islands incident will probably be minimized in order to protect Quito-Beijing partnerships in other areas.

Final Thoughts

Demographic growth and scarcer maritime resources are a catalyst for more frequent clashes at sea. In recent years there have been various reports about Chinese fishing fleets operating in international waters and also crossing into a country’s maritime territory to carry out unauthorized fishing activities. The most recent August incident off the Galapagos Islands is another example of this problem, one which has gained prominence in Latin America since the March 2016 incident in Argentina.

New platforms like OPVs will help regional navies to more efficiently patrol their maritime territory and intercept unauthorized fishing fleets in the near future; however this is just half of the equation. The second part is how Latin American governments will adapt their relations (particularly trade) with China since most violating fishing fleets appear to be Chinese. Combating illegal fishing is a complex issue, as it involves modern (and numerous) platforms for surveillance and interception, as well as a skilled judicial system to prosecute the culprits. Adding the future of a country’s relations with China will not make the problem any easier. 

 Alejandro Sanchez Nieto is a researcher who focuses on geopolitical, military and cyber security issues in the Western Hemisphere. Follow him on Twitter: @W_Alex_Sanchez.

The views presented in this essay are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.

Featured Image: Ecuadorian Navy photo of intercept of Chinese fishing vessel FU YUAN YU LENG 999.

Will Artificial Intelligence Be Disruptive to Our Way of War?

By Marjorie Greene

Introduction

At a recent Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting Warren Buffett said that Artificial Intelligence – the collection of technologies that enable machines to learn on their own – could be “enormously disruptive” to our human society. More recently, Stephen Hawking, the renowned physicist, predicted that planet Earth will only survive for the next one hundred years. He believes that because of the development of Artificial Intelligence, machines may no longer simply augment human activities but will replace and eliminate humans altogether in the command and control of cognitive tasks.

In my recent presentation to the annual Human Systems conference in Springfield, Virginia, I suggested that there is a risk that human decision-making may no longer be involved in the use of lethal force as we capitalize on the military applications of Artificial Intelligence to enhance war-fighting capabilities. Humans should never relinquish control of decisions regarding the employment of lethal force. How do we keep humans in the loop? This is an area of human systems research that will be important to undertake in the future.       

Self-Organization

Norbert Wiener in his book, Cybernetics, was perhaps the first person to discuss the notion of “machine-learning.” Building on the behavioral models of animal cultures such as ant colonies and the flocking of birds, he describes a process called “self-organization” by which humans – and by analogy – machines learn by adapting to their environment. Self-organization refers to the emergence of higher-level properties of the whole that are not possessed by any of the individual parts making up the whole. The parts act locally on local information and global order emerges without any need for external control. The expression “swarm intelligence” is often used to describe the collective behavior of self-organized systems that allows the emergence of “intelligent” global behavior unknown to the individual systems.

Swarm Warfare

Military researchers are especially concerned about recent breakthroughs in swarm intelligence that could enable “swarm warfare” for asymmetric assaults against major U.S. weapons platforms, such as aircraft carriers.  The accelerating speed of computer processing, along with rapid improvements in the development of autonomy-increasing algorithms also suggests that it may be possible for the military to more quickly perform a wider range of functions without needing every individual task controlled by humans.

Drones like the Predator and Reaper are still piloted vehicles, with humans controlling what the camera looks at, where the drone flies, and what targets to hit with the drone’s missiles. But CNA studies have shown that drone strikes in Afghanistan caused 10 times the number of civilian casualties compared to strikes by manned aircraft. And a recent book published jointly with the Marine Corps University Press builds on CNA studies in national security, legitimacy, and civilian casualties to conclude that it will be important to consider International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in rethinking the drone war as Artificial Intelligence continues to flourish.

The Chinese Approach

Meanwhile, many Chinese strategists recognize the trend towards unmanned and autonomous warfare and intend to capitalize upon it. The PLA has incorporated a range of unmanned aerial vehicles into its force structure throughout all of its services. The PLA Air Force and PLA Navy have also started to introduce more advanced multi-mission unmanned aerial vehicles. It is clear that China is intensifying the military applications of Artificial Intelligence and, as we heard at a recent hearing by the Senate’s U.S. – China Economic and Security Review Commission (where CNA’s China Studies Division also testified), the Chinese defense industry has made significant progress in its research and development of a range of cutting-edge unmanned systems, including those with swarming capabilities. China is also viewing outer space as a new domain that it must fight for and seize if it is to win future wars.

Armed with artificial intelligence capabilities, China has moved beyond just technology developments to laying the groundwork for operational and command and control concepts to govern their use. These developments have important consequences for the U.S. military and suggest that Artificial Intelligence plays a prominent role in China’s overall efforts to establish an effective military capable of winning wars through an asymmetric strategy directed at critical military platforms.

Human-Machine Teaming

Human-machine teaming is gaining importance in national security affairs, as evidenced by a recent defense unmanned systems summit conducted internally by DoD and DHS in which many of the speakers explicitly referred to efforts to develop greater unmanned capabilities that intermix with manned capabilities and future systems.

Examples include: Michael Novak, Acting Director of the Unmanned Systems Directorate, N99, who spoke of optimizing human-machine teaming to multiply capabilities and reinforce trust (incidentally, the decision was made to phase out N99 because unmanned capabilities are being “mainstreamed” across the force); Bindu Nair, the Deputy Director, Human Systems, Training & Biosystems Directorate, OASD, who emphasized efforts to develop greater unmanned capabilities that intermix with manned capabilities and future systems; and Kris Kearns, representing the Air Force Research Lab, who discussed current efforts to mature and update autonomous technologies and manned-unmanned teaming.

DARPA

Finally, it should be noted that the Defense Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA) has recently issued a relevant Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) titled “OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics” – as part of the Defense Department OFFSET initiative.  Notably, it includes a section asking for the development of tactics that look at collaboration between human systems and the swarm, especially for urban environments. This should certainly reassure the human systems community that future researchers will not forget them, even as swarm intelligence makes it possible to achieve global order without any need for external control.

Conclusion

As we capitalize on the military applications of Artificial Intelligence, there is a risk that human decision-making may no longer be involved in the use of lethal force. In general, Artificial Intelligence could indeed be disruptive to our human society by replacing the need for human control, but machines do not have to replace humans in the command and control of cognitive tasks, particularly in military contexts. We need to figure out how to keep humans in the loop. This area of research would be a fruitful one for the human systems community to undertake in the future.  

Marjorie Greene is a Research Analyst with the Center for Naval Analyses. She has more than 25 years’ management experience in both government and commercial organizations and has recently specialized in finding S&T solutions for the U. S. Marine Corps. She earned a B.S. in mathematics from Creighton University, an M.A. in mathematics from the University of Nebraska, and completed her Ph.D. course work in Operations Research from The Johns Hopkins University. The views expressed here are her own.

Featured Image: Electronic Warfare Specialist 2nd Class Sarah Lanoo from South Bend, Ind., operates a Naval Tactical Data System (NTDS) console in the Combat Direction Center (CDC) aboard USS Abraham Lincoln. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Patricia Totemeier)

China’s Synchronization of Party and Military

By Dr. Ching Chang

The Coming Synchronization

As many political observers have already noted, the Nineteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China is expected to be held in Beijing soon, most likely in the late fall of this year. Generally speaking, this event may lead to a major power reshuffle within the top leadership of the Communist Party of China (CCP). According to the general precedent in Chinese Mainland politics so far, the majority of the members in the Politburo Standing Committee will retire right after this meeting.

Members of the delegations from various provinces, municipalities, and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) commands will elect members and alternate members of the Central Committee as well as members of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. The new members of these two Central Committees form the power basis for the CCP leadership in the future. The First Plenary Session of the Nineteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China will be held immediately after the CCP Nineteenth National Congress to elect General Secretary, members of Politburo, Politburo Standing Committee, endorse the members of the party Secretariat, and finally decide the members of the Military Commission of the Central Committee.

Per the political and strategic culture known as the principle of “the party commands the gun” established through the Sanwan Reorganization in 1927 and the Gutian Congress in 1929, the Communist Party of China is tightly linked with the military organizations of the People’s Liberation Army. As noted in the General Program of the Party Constitution of the Communist Party of China: “The Communist Party of China persists in its leadership over the People’s Liberation Army and other armed forces of the people, builds up the strength of the People’s Liberation Army, ensures that it accomplishes its historic missions at this new stage in the new century, and gives full play to its role in consolidating national defense, defending the motherland and participating in the socialist modernization drive”, the leadership over the People’s Liberation Army is absolutely non-negotiable to the Communist Party of China.

However, the party and military are interdependent in several aspects, including personnel career management and organizational alignment. Given the recent political reforms and consequences of the administrative power reorganizations in the mainland China, there are three issues concerning the synchronization of party and military that need to be well-managed in the coming CCP Nineteenth National Congress itself or the subsequent First Plenary Session of the Nineteenth National Congress.

Party Post and Military Billet

The party post is a required element for professional career development within the People’s Liberation Army and a prerequisite for further promotion. Any PLA members assigned to key leadership billets should have matching party posts compatible with their decision-making and policy formulation authorities. Those senior leaders with high military ranks who lose their party posts in the next five-year term National Congress of the Communist Party of China are likely to enter retirement in the near future.

On the other hand, under the leadership of Xi Jinping, the prerequisite of appropriate party posts, such as members and alternate members of the Central Committee as well as members of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection for those who want to be promoted to the rank of three-star general or admiral, may be a thing of the past. Since his inauguration as the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Xi has personally handpicked five senior military members, two on July 31, 2015 and another three on July 28, 2017, to be promoted to the rank of the three-star general officers with no proper party post in the top tier of the Communist Party of China. Among these five senior newly promoted high rank general officers, none of them owns the party post such as members or alternate members of the Central Committee or even members of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. Apparently, there is a certain gap between party post and military billet developing in the top layer of the PLA leadership.

Three-Star PLA General Officers Promoted by Xi With No Proper Party Post

Name Billet as Promotion Promotion Date
宋普選Song, Puxuan Commander, Northern Theater Command July 31, 2015
李作成Li, Zuocheng Commander, Chengdu Military Region

(Now, Chief of Staff, the Joint Staff Department of the Central Military Commission)

July 31, 2015
韓衛國Han, Weiguo Commander, Central Theater Command

(Now, Commander, PLA Ground Force)

July 28, 2017
劉雷Liu, Lei Political Commissar, PLA Ground Force July 28, 2017
于忠福Yu, Zhongfu Political Commissar, PLA Air Force July 28, 2017

There are various interpretations to explain why the mismatch of the party post and military billet may occur in such a high tier of the PLA leadership. Natural attrition together with unexpected disciplinary actions disrupted original leadership echelon arrangements is perhaps the most acceptable explanation to PLA observers. After all, a total of 24 incumbent, former, or alternate members of the Central Committee and members of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection have been disciplined, including one former Politburo Standing Committee member and four present or former Politburo members under Xi’s leadership.

Other interpretations may include that Xi is basically following the tradition to promote those senior officers with party posts unless their specialties are in areas where appropriate military billets cannot be assigned. As no suitable candidate with proper party post may be available, the selection list may naturally extend to those without a party post in the high tier of the Communist Party of China.

General Li Zuocheng, who was newly promoted to Chief of the People Liberation Army’s Joint Staff Department. (Ren Dong/Color China Photo via AP Images)

In any case, the personnel reshuffle is unavoidable in the coming Nineteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China in order to let the military billets match with party post. Further, certain military elites with strong professional career potential also appeared in the list of members and alternate members of the Central Committee as well as members of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. Most importantly, members given positions on the new list will likely have a better potential for further promotion since they are chosen by Xi and he may stay in power for at least another five years.

Reinstitutionalization of the CMC after Military Reform

The second issue concerning the synchronization of party and military is the possibility of re-institutionalizing of the Central Military Commission after the PLA military reform. Members of the Central Military Commission were not matched with military posts until the Fourth Plenary Session of the Sixteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China on September 16, 2004, when Jiang Zemin resigned the chairmanship of the Central Military Commission.

As Hu Jintao succeed Jiang to be the new CMC Chairman, several senior members were selected into the Central Military Commission as new members according to their military billets. Members of the Central Military are institutionalized since then by the following order:  Defense Minister, Chief of the General Staff Department, Chief of the General Political Department, Chief of the General Logistics Department, Chief of the General Equipment Department, Commander, Commander of the PLA Navy, Commander of the PLA Air Force, and Commander of the Second Artillery Corps. Apart from the Chairman of the CMC, two senior military professionals will be appointed as the deputy Chairman of the CMC. An extra First Deputy Chairman of the CMC is likely to be appointed for the next generation of leadership. This similar practice was adopted for the cases both for Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping.

President Xi Jinping greets personnel at the Central Military Commission’s Joint Command Headquarters, where he called on the Chinese military to continue improving its capabilities for joint command. (Photo by Zhou Chaorong/China Daily)

So far, this institutionalized Central Military Commission structure was followed in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Military Commission of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. Following selection of the Central of Military Commission membership, the National People’s Congress will elect another set of the members, drawing on the same pool of candidates, to the National Central Military Commission in late March after the National Congress of the Communist Party of China in the previous year. Obviously, there is a gap between the establishment dates of these two Central Military Commissions of the party and the nation separately. Nonetheless, the existing National Military Commission will somehow automatically cease to function in order to assure the synchronization of party and military.

The Central Military Commission is the highest mechanism for determining the military and defense policy proposals prior to submittal to the Politburo for further discussion and review. As we already know, there have been many organizational revisions in the People Liberation Army’s administrative chain of command and operational command and control structure. It is necessary to reorganize the members of the Central Military Commission to reflect the present PLA administrative and command structure. For instance, a new service equivalent organization known as the PLA Strategic Support Force was established in January 2016. The Joint Logistics Support Force directly subordinated to the Central Military Commission is another significant reorganizational arrangement. Four General Departments are reorganized into fifteen functional departments or agencies. Most importantly, there is no representative for the newly formed PLA Ground Force, the army equivalent, as the member of the Central Military Commission so far.

Due to the recent reforms noted above, the current PLA organization structure and the organization of the Central Military Commission are obviously not aligned. These reorganizations likely need to be matched with newly institutionalized Central Military Commission representation structure in order to assure their smooth operation. It is a reasonable prediction that this reorganization of the Central Military Commission will be a priority in the coming First Plenary Session of the Nineteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China right after the CCP National Congress itself.

Revision of Associated Party Constitution

Last but not the least, the PRC’s National Defense and Military Reform is a part of overall social reform policies as noted by a policy document known as “The Decision on Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening Reforms” (中共中央關於全面深化改革若干重大問題的決定) that was approved by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party at the Third Plenary Session of the Eighteenth Chinese Communist Party Central Committee on November 12, 2013. It is naturally no surprise that numerous institutions need to be amended and experience organizational reforms in various aspects of Chinese political, legal, and social systems. This is also the case for the PLA organizational reform.

For instance, the previous General Political Department of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army was consolidated into a newly established organization known as the Political Work Department of the Central Military Commission on January 11, 2016. It remains the chief political organ under the Central Military Commission and still leads all political activities in the People’s Liberation Army.

Nonetheless, after this reorganization process, the authorities of this new Department are inconsistent with the Article 23 of the Constitution of the Communist Party of China:

“Party organizations in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army carry on their work in accordance with the instructions of the Central Committee. The political work organ of the Military Commission of the Central Committee is the General Political Department of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army; the General Political Department directs Party and political work in the army. The organizational system and organs of the Party in the armed forces are prescribed by the Military Commission of the Central Committee.”

Although clearly the Political Work Department of the Central Military Commission is intended to succeed the previous General Political Department of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army with all its powers, it is still necessary to revise the bureaucratic language in the Constitution of the Chinese Communist Party to fit with the new military establishment.

Since, per the point four of the Article 19 of the same constitution: “The functions and powers of the National Congress of the Party are as follows: ………4) To revise the Constitution of the Party;” we should expect certain work for revising the Constitution of the Communist Party of China will be taking place in the coming Nineteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China.

During his inspection of the PLA Hong Kong Garrison Force in this June, Xi Jinping himself called for efforts to build a highly centralized and unified military force, and run the military in accordance with law to forge a strong force with ironclad belief, faith, discipline, and responsibility. We should expect the synchronization of party post and military billet, institutionalization of the CMC after reform, and revision of the Chinese Communist Party Constitution to align with new military structures that will be a part of Xi’s legacies in the coming Nineteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China and its subsequent First Plenary Session of the Nineteenth National Congress in October 2017.

Dr. Ching Chang was a line officer in the Republic of China Navy for more than thirty years. As a very productive commentator on the Chinese military affairs, he is recognized as a leading expert on the People’s Liberation Army with unique insights on its military thinkings.

Correction: The month which the Nineteenth National Congress will occur is in October, not November.

Featured Image: President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, and other senior leaders Li Keqiang, Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhengsheng, Liu Yunshan, Wang Qishan and Zhang Gaoli attend a grand gathering in celebration of the 90th founding anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, Aug 1, 2017. (Xinhua)

China’s Quest for Great Power: Ships, Oil, and Foreign Policy

Bernard D. Cole, China’s Quest for Great Power: Ships, Oil, and Foreign Policy. Naval Institute Press, 2016 304pp. $34.95

By John Bardenhagen

China’s Navy is emerging as a force capable of global reach following three decades of focused modernization, a transformation that has been fueled by China’s economic growth. Military analysts and Asia Pacific scholars closely watch China’s naval modernization in order to discern whether and in what ways China’s Navy will pose a threat to the United States and its interests. To understand the trajectory of China’s Navy, one must also examine the trajectory of China’s economy and how its growth fits into China’s overarching foreign policy and the stability of the PRC government. Author Bernard Cole accomplishes this In China’s Quest for Great Power: Ships, Oil, and Foreign Policy.

Reading this book left me with two primary impressions. First, I was impressed with how much it covered. The titles of the book’s chapters highlight the breadth of topics: maritime world, PRC maritime forces, maritime strategy, economy, energy security, foreign policy in the making, and foreign policy in action. Entire books could, and have, been written on each of these individual topics. This is also apparent through a review of the notes and bibliography sections of the book, which, at 75 pages, are nearly a third of the length of the book. Second, I was impressed with how succinctly Cole tackles each subject.

The strength of this book is Cole’s ability to break down such an expansive and complicated topic into neatly crafted subunits. In the Navy, we use the term ‘wave tops’ to describe the highlights of a much more thorough recounting of an event or analytical product. This book is a careful threading of the ‘wave tops’ of recent events, historical context, and Cole’s own analysis of the subject. The sole weakness of this book is that it is never allowed to deeply delve into one specific area. Though succinctness and breadth was the author’s intent and also the source of the book’s strength, the lack of depth makes this book more of a launching point toward further and greater research than a single, comprehensive resource.

For those new to the China’s foreign policy and maritime development, this book will surely be an invaluable resource. As a naval intelligence professional, my early education of the region was primarily focused on military capabilities and largely avoided the topics of economics and foreign policy. Greater context, however, was severely lacking, and such a lack of context lessens the ability to understand the particular drivers behind a foreign military’s actions whenever a significant event occurs. China’s military, like those of other nations across the globe, does not operate in a vacuum. To better understand the Chinese navy we must all broaden our scope to cover other tangential but intertwined areas. Reading this book serves as a good step in that direction.

For those scholars on the subject, the so-called “China Hands,” this book will help readers keep current to the late 2015, early 2016 timeframe with the added benefit of doing it in as few pages as possible. Specifically, Cole’s book incorporates the PRC’s newest leadership statements, defense white papers, and other official documents to bolster his analysis and infer the direction in which China’s Navy is headed. Most prominent of the recently released official documents cited in this book was China’s 2015 Defense White Paper which was used to support Cole’s thesis: China’s pursuit of continued naval expansion is both a priority and directly tied to China’s economic expansion.  Furthermore, Cole argues that China’s economic expansion is directly tied to regime stability, which he uses as a basis for assessing the trajectory of China’s Navy. For Cole, and I personally agree, the direction in which China’s Navy and interests are headed is ever outward and forward.

Cole highlights China’s reference of the United States as its primary security concern in its 2015 military strategy (p.200). While eventual war with China is not a foregone conclusion, the threat of conflict has increased as the balance of power between the United States and China has leveled, making pursuit of greater understanding of China’s Navy, foreign policy, and future growth all the more important. This will become increasingly true as China further expands its global reach and finds itself competing with the United States for control over limited resources essential for growth in both countries.

Lieutenant John A. Bardenhagen III is currently stationed at U.S. Pacific Command’s (PACOM) Joint Intelligence Operations Center (JIOC). He has previously served on the U.S. Seventh and Third Fleet Staffs, at the Chief of Naval Operations-Intelligence Plot, and on the COMPHIBRON FIVE Staff aboard the USS MAKIN ISLAND (LHD-8). He recently graduated in 2016 from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey with a Master of Arts Degree in national security affairs, specializing in Far East Asian regional studies. His opinions do not represent those of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, or Department of the Navy. 

 Featured Image: Chinese nationals living in Cyprus wave Chinese national flags as the Chinese frigate Yancheng comes in to dock at Limassol port, January 4, 2014. (Reuters/Andreas Manolis)