As Peter draws attention to below
, the maritime rise of China is causing concern among its neighbors, particularly Japan. For the first time
China has officially admitted that it is adding an aircraft carrier to its fleet, retrofitting an old Soviet carrier while "secretly" constructing two new carriers itself (they have not yet officially admitted to building new ones). This is understandably causing jitters among its neighbors, and many of them are increasing their own defense budgets in the wake of the Chinese military build-up. This is because of territorial disputes
that China has with all of its neighbors. In fact, some maps
in Chinese school textbooks include as Chinese portions of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Burma, Bhutan, Russia, Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, Brunei, Indonesia, and most of Mongolia. The claims they make that are most volatile at the moment are their maritime claims, which include waters claimed by Japan and much of southeast Asia.
Another big issue is Taiwan, which the Chinese are still very feisty about. Historically, whenever the United States placed its ships close to China to protect Taiwan, the most that China could do is issue a complaint. Now, the Chinese will be able to flex muscle and send out its own ships-- Taiwan will not enjoy the same protection that it has in the past, nor will China's maritime neighbors be as able to maintain their protests against the Chinese territorial claims. While the strength of China's fleet should not be overstated--the United States still has
more aircraft carriers than the rest of the world combined, including all of the biggest
ones with bigger ones being built--geopolitically this is going to really shift the balance of power in southeast Asia. It should not be seen as a threat to the United States, but our grand strategy must adjust to account for this.
The United States should join China's neighbors in not buying into the claims
that their new aircraft carrier is purely for research and training purposes, and watch the developments with a cautious eye. The aircraft carrier is called the Shi Lang
, named in honor of the Ming-Qing admiral who conquered Taiwan. The island should certainly be concerned, and so should we. The Cato Institute's Ted Galen Carpenter wrote a book in 2005
on how the Taiwan situation could still explode into a larger conflict, and recommended that, in light of growing Chinese superiority in the region, we adopt a more prudent position in regards to the Taiwan issue in particular-- and gives some worthwhile examples on how to handle the delicate situation. To ignore the problem while maintaining current positioning could be disastrous. With the geopolitical reshuffling in southeast Asia, we need to move beyond pure military deterrence and begin using other tools at our disposal to help our friends in the region and keep the Shi Langs of China at bay.