Major General Luo Yuan, deputy secretary general with the PLA Academy of Military Sciences, recently engaged in an unprecedented online debate about the U.S. intent to conduct a major, combined US-RoK exercise in the Yellow Sea in response to North Korea’s sinking of the Cheonan. Following are the summaries of his arguments, courtesy of People’s Daily, with my responses:
First, in terms of security, Chairman Mao Zedong once said, “We will never allow others to keep snoring beside our beds.” If the United States were in China’s shoes, would it allow China to stage military exercises near its western and eastern coasts? Just like an old Chinese saying goes, “Do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you,” if the United States does not wish to be treated in a specific way, it should not forcefully sell the way to others.
Would the US allow such exercises? In a word, yes. Unless Washington was willing to publicly abandon freedom of navigation as a vital interest, it would have no other choice but to permit such an exercise. In fact, while many Americans have forgotten, for decades it was rather routine for Soviet naval forces to prowl up and down the Eastern Seaboard. The American response was merely to track, observe and wait for the next time.
Second, in terms of strategic thinking, China should take into account the worst possibility and strive to seek the best results. The bottom line of strategic thinking is to nip the evil in the bud. The ultimate level of strategic thinking is to subdue the enemy without fighting. Preventing crisis is the best way to resolve and overcome the crisis. China’s current tough stance is part of preventive diplomacy.
I’m really not sure what this means. If on one hand General Luo is characterizing Beijing’s stance towards Pyongyang’s behavior as “tough”, he and I obviously have different understandings of the word “tough”. If on the other hand the General is characterizing Beijing’s stand against the combined exercise as “tough”, the general may be right–Washington may be subdued “without fighting” and Sun Tzu will be smiling in his grave.
Third, in terms of geopolitical strategy, the Yellow Sea is the gateway to China’s capital region and a vital passage to the heartland of Beijing and Tianjin. In history, foreign invaders repeatedly took the Yellow Sea as an entrance to enter the heartland of Beijing and Tianjin. The drill area selected by the United States and South Korea is only 500 kilometers away from Beijing. China will be aware of the security pressure from military exercises conducted by any country in an area that is so close to China’s heartland.
The aircraft carrier U.S.S. George Washington dispatched to the Yellow Sea has a combat radius of 600 kilometers and its aircraft has a combat radius as long as 1,000 kilometers. Therefore, the military exercise in the area has posed a direct security threat to China’s heartland and the Bohai Rim Economic Circle.
Again, I can’t be certain where this is going, but it appears to be yet another attempt to try and lay claim to historical ownership of a wide swath of international waters and limit not just military access, but all access, betraying Beijing’s long-term desire to shape the interpretation of the Law of the Sea to China’s advantage.
Fourth, in a bid to safeguard security on the Korean Peninsula, the U. N. Security Council has just issued a presidential statement, requiring all parties to remain calm and restrained to the so-called “Cheonan” naval ship incident, which had caused a major crisis on the Korean Peninsula.
On the other hand, the joint military exercise by the United States and South Korea on the Yellow Sea has created a new crisis. This is another reason why China strongly opposes the military exercise on the Yellow Sea. In order to safeguard security on the Korea Peninsula, no country should create a new crisis instead they should control and deal with the existing one.
I read a lot, and from what I’ve read, the exercise only represents a “crisis” to Beijing. No one–not even the leadership in Pyongyang–believes such an exercise might be used to stage a reprisal for the sinking of the Cheonan.
Fifth, in terms of maintaining China-U.S. relations, especially the two parties’ military relations, China must declare its solemn stance. China has been working to promote the healthy development of China-U.S. military relations. Therefore, China has clearly declared that it is willing to promote the development of the two parties’ relations. Deputy Director of the General Staff Gen. Ma Xiaotian has also expressed his welcome to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to visit China at a proper time.
This a classic, passive-aggressive response if I’ve ever seen one. Perhaps translated it might read, “Sec. Gates can visit China when America learns how to behave.”
Chris van Avery is a Military Professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies. The views represented herein are his own.
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