By John Francis Carey
Former President, International Defense Consultants, Inc.
China’s global economic strategy is also China’s global military strategy — and its no secret to anyone.
President Xi Jinping and his top government team want to revitalize the “Silk Road” between China and the Middle East and onward to Europe. Along the way, China knows it needs to invest heavily in infrastructure development — including roads, rail, seaports, canals, military and logistic hubs and whatever else is required to feed Chinese industry the products they need, when they need them, at a price they can control or at least greatly influence.
From Northeast Asia near Japan and Korea, China sees a gigantic ocean highway down through the South China Sea, past Singapore and into the Indian Ocean. This Silk Road highway will require military bases, including modern fighter jet airports and sea ports for China’s growing and very sophisticated PLA Navy.
Wherever China sees a potential “choke point” like the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea or the Strait of Malacca, China is manufacturing alternatives to any potential disruption of the resource flow. In Thailand, China plans a canal that will relieve shipping of the dangerous transit through the Strait of Malacca. In the South China Sea, China is building up to eight fortress islands for air strips, naval seaports and troops concentrations.
This strategy has already started a South China Sea arms race, with Vietnam buying Kilo-class submarines and modern fighter jets from Russia, and the Philippines, long a nation with a military of little consequence, angling for more war supplies and equipment.
China’s strategy has also sparked a new phase of military rules for Japan — and even a revision to their decades-long adherence to their “pacifist constitution.”
Just as nations violated treaties governing shipbuilding and military forces in the past, Japan is already equipping itself large helicopter aircraft carriers, called the Izumo-class “helicopter destroyer” — a name carefully chosen to assure political correctness no doubt.
Vietnam and the Philippines have been the victims of rough treatment from Chinese fishermen for years. Now China is preparing to back up those Chinese vessels with with a system of combat air patrol (CAP) fighter jets, integrated surveillance and warning, missile defense and armed Coast Guard ships or PLA Navy Battle Groups.
Just a few days ago, China told Vietnam that the Gulf of Tonkin was closed for fishing. While lawyers may wring their hands and complain that China has no legal right to make suck a closure, Vietnam is in no position to argue with its well-armed largest trading partner.
China claims most of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year, and denies accusations its actions in its own territory are provocative.
Many fear that China will also be in a position to “close” air traffic over the South China Sea soon by activating and a long-threatened air defense identification zone or ADIZ, as it has already done over a part of the east China Sea.
China has already stated that they intend to control the skies and sea in a vast area of the South China Sea from islands they themselves have built.
As U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton seemed totally unaware of this plan and the implications for all American allies in Asia. Secretary of State John Kerry and successive Secretaries of Defense have also seemed to stand by idle, or nearly so, while China has expanded its holdings in the South China Sea, all subject to arbitration in legal disputes over territorial sovereignty.
Hillary Clinton with the Chinese foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, at the Apec summit, November 12 and 13, 2011. Since this photo was taken, experts believe China has been in the process of creating up to eight military bases in the South China Sea on tiny islets China may not “own” due to territorial disputes and claims from other nations. Hillary Clinton has been promoted to Democratic Party front runner for president. Yang Jiechi is now a State Councilor under Premier Li Keqiang and a man in China’s inner circle. Most foreign policy experts say U.S. Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry have been no match for China.
But no matter to China. To China, ownership is all about who is there, not about some absent landlord’s deed. And to make all this work, China is preparing to bring the “might” that will make their claims “right.”
The so called “salami strategy” or “cabbage strategy” of slowing slicing off one piece of small islet or coral reef at a time so as not to anger the U.S. or any ASEAN nation, has worked marvelously.
China’s Major General Zhang Zhaozhong has been one of the few Chinese to openly discuss the “salami strategy” or “cabbage strategy.”
And now we see China investing heavily in infrastructure projects to all the Silk Road feeder systems bound for China and export routes to send more Chinese goodies to buyers around the globe. China’s huge infrastructure development projects in India and Brazil, are examples of this effort just announced.
During this American presidential election season, each candidate should be grilled on his or her plan for handling all of this. The first question one might pose to American politicians and lawmakers is this: what is the plan to make American economically strong again? Because the U.S. cannot field military assets to do anything in the future world envisioned by China, unless an economic juggernaut backs up the military — and vice versa.
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