Very interesting report from the Associated Press yesterday. RADM Donegan’s observations regarding anti-access capability in the article below express some of the same concern that has been heard in Naval and foreign policy circles elsewhere.


US admiral concerned about China military buildup


HONG KONG — A U.S. Navy admiral expressed new concern Friday over China’s military buildup and urged Beijing to be clearer about its intentions.

With China’s military growing at an “unprecedented rate,” the U.S. wants to ensure that expansion doesn’t destabilize the region, Rear Adm. Kevin Donegan told reporters on a visit to the Chinese territory of Hong Kong.

Donegan referred to China’s expanded weaponry. His remarks echoed the concerns of other U.S. military leaders who have said the growth in China’s military spending — up almost 15 percent in the 2009 budget — raises questions about how Beijing plans on deploying its new power.

“When we see a military growing at that rate, we’re interested in transparency and the understanding of the uses of that military,” said Donegan, commander of the USS George Washington aircraft carrier strike group, a key part of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Donegan’s comments come as a top Chinese general visits the United States on a mission to strengthen trust between the two militaries and dispel U.S. concerns about the growth of the People’s Liberation Army.

Xu Caihou, the PLA’s second-highest ranking officer, told President Barack Obama on Wednesday that ties between the two countries’ militaries play “an important role in enhancing strategic mutual trust and deepening their pragmatic cooperation,” according to Chinese media reports.

China has boosted military spending by more than 10 percent annually for almost two decades, and the official figure of $71 billion this year is thought by many analysts to represent only a portion of total defense spending. It still amounts to only a fraction of U.S. defense spending.

China says much of the increase is used to improve salaries and living conditions for soldiers, but it has also been adding sophisticated new warships, submarines, fighter jets and other weapons systems to its arsenal. PLA leaders have also said they are considering building an aircraft carrier, but such a development is thought to be years, if not decades, away.

Donegan acknowledged the possibility of a Chinese aircraft carrier, but also said he was concerned with anti-access weapons. This class of weapons includes missiles and submarines that can threaten U.S. forces in the region and prevent them responding in the event of a crisis.

“I am absolutely concerned,” Donegan said.

He went on to say, “When a navy is doing that, we just want to make sure it’s transparent enough so those in the region understand what they’re doing.”

At the same time, Donegan described positive exchanges between the two militaries that he said he hoped would continue, including a visit by five Chinese army generals aboard the George Washington during its call in Hong Kong this week.

Ties between the two militaries have been repeatedly roiled by China’s objections to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, claimed by Beijing as its own territory, as well as Chinese efforts to disrupt Navy surveillance missions off its shores.

A series of confrontations involving vessels from the two navies has raised concerns over China’s rising determination to defend what it sees as its territorial interests in the South China Sea, where the U.S. has long operated as the major international power.

Donegan said the Navy would continue to operate in international waters — something that could come in defiance of Beijing’s claims it has the right to bar surveillance work inside its exclusive economic zone.

“We are going to continue to operate in the South China Sea and international waters and not in territorial seas of another country,” he said.

The visit of the George Washington, considered the crown jewel of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, is its first to Hong Kong in its 17-year history.

Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen contributed to this report from Beijing.


Is RADM Donegan on the mark with his concerns about China’s increasing capability and long-term intentions? What are the chances of the Chinese being “transparent enough so those in the region understand what they’re doing”?

Posted by UltimaRatioReg in Foreign Policy, Maritime Security, Navy

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  • Derrick

    Personally, I feel RADM Donegan is right regarding his concerns over China’s increased military budget. For example, I read on the Internet a while back that China had developed a ballistic missile that could conceiveably strike aircraft carriers, and given that RADM Donegan is responsible for the USS George Washington carrier strike force, he has every right to be concerned.

    What concerns me the most is China’s desire to develop an aircraft carrier. Such a move would clearly challenge the US Navy’s control of the world’s oceans. It would also change China from a regional power into a global one.

    I’m assuming that asking China to stop its military buildup to be futile, as the country learnt the hard way about having a weak defense in World War 2 when Japan overran it, and with North Korea developing ballistic missile capability, they are highly unlikely to embrace disarmament anytime soon.

    However, would it be possible for the US and China to agree on some sort of high-level framework for military cooperation? I know the US and Chinese navies have joint exercises together, but I was thinking more in the terms of cooperative patrols of the nearby waters, perhaps with alternating commands (the US for 1 year, China for another, etc). An outright alliance is probably impossible, but cooperation in common threats should be doable (such as piracy, patrolling trade routes, etc), since the Chinese and American economies are so intertwined, China must share a lot of the interdependencies with the US. However it will be tricky because a lot of the US debt is owed to China. But then again, China needs US investment to keep its economy running…

    China’s military buildup is understandable. Every country wants to be a superpower. I think what we need to do is make sure China realizes that alienating itself from the US will cause more harm than good. Plus, a gentle reminder that it was the US that really helped liberate them from Japan (by dividing Japan’s forces), and it’s the US that keeps Japan and North Korea from becoming threats that China probably couldn’t handle on its own.

  • Mike Jones

    Of course he is right to be concerned. However, he must also recognize that while increased transparency might decrease tension, it will not change the correlation of forces. PACOM needs to be ready.

  • He is just, correctly, keeping an eye on the long game – in public – as he should.

    Good for him.

  • Chuck Hill

    China’s intentions are transparent. They intend to be a superpower. They intend to reclaim what they think is theirs. As good students of Sun Tzu they will maneuver us into a position where they can get what they want without having to fight us.

    RAdm Donegan is absolutely right in firing a shot across their bow and reminding them that we are watching.

  • Phil Ridderhof

    I guess if I were in China’s shoes, would I do any different? Do we have a certain “right” to be the pre-eminent hegemon, with sole abilities to project power well beyond our shores (up to China’s front yard)?
    If we can have a Monroe Doctrine, why can’t they?

  • Derrick

    Not sure if China’s foreign policy is really relevant to RADM Donegan’s comments. All I read from the post was that RADM Donegan was informing China that he was concerned whether their military buildup might be used against the US Pacific fleet.

    Every time a nation builds up its military, it’s a concern to everyone, and RADM Donegan was very polite in requesting transparency (I don’t see his concerns as firing a warning shot across someone’s bow). It China wants to be a world superpower like the US, then China has to learn to cooperate with the other global superpowers, just like the US does.

    What I saw RADM Donegan doing was being very diplomatic and offering a hand to open dialogue with the Chinese military. China would be wise to take this offer of friendship and suggest more cooperation, such as an open waters or open skies treaty with the US to promote trust and cooperation.

    Besides which, China is bordered on all sides by major military powers: Russia to the north, India to the west, Japan and North Korea to the east, and Australia to the south. If their leadership is smart, they will be looking for all sorts of ways to make peace with the US.

    Whether China likes to admit it or not, they need the US military in the Pacific to keep regional stability and keep them safe. It’s most certainly in their best interests to keep the US 7th fleet in the Pacific as long as possible.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    It would seem China is not only taking from the pages of Monroe, but Mahan. And your point is an excellent one. Does the Monroe Doctrine, Chinese-style, spell the eventual end of meaningful American influence/presence on the Pacific Rim? Are we willing to live with that?

    And what of those who are concerned that China’s naval expansion is aimed more globally? They have already expressed a desire to protect what has become vital interests in the oil and strategic materials of what have become virtual Chinese colonies in Africa, and have shown an eye toward Indonesia’s oil, as well.

  • Chuck Hill

    The increase in military spending probably just proportional to the growth of their economy.

    Still they have been aggressive in asserting claims to islands in the South China Sea. Their neighbors are nervous, I think with good reason, but they want do anything until the “correlation of forces” has been altered in their favor. They got Hong Kong without firing a shot, I think they expect to do the same with the Spratlys and Taiwan.

  • Cap’n Bill

    The Admiral’s comments are yet another step along the way to everyone’s understanding that China by ancient tradition is a great sea power. For several years the senior U S military officers have been pinging on this situation.

    The far reaches of PACCOM are bound together by seapower. There is little doubt that today’s Chinese Leadership understands their own Marintime History. China has the financial means to once again become preeminent in waters stretching for thousands of miles from their ports. It seems to be reaasonable for China to want to firm up their status. No doubt this must come at the expense of recent US primacy in the area.

    I’m pleased to see substantial publicity being given to this situation. Both parties need to be aware of what seems to me to be a natural affirmation of changes in political power.

  • Derrick

    China has stated they are attempting to develop supercarriers implies they wish to field a blue water navy, and a blue water navy means they intend to project military power globally. That is an expected development since much like the US, their economy is more dependent on international trade now. However, a lot of things have to happen before China can field a blue water navy. They will need to make stronger ties with their neighbours and the US, otherwise they will just get locked into a regional arms race and won’t be able to spare the resources to build modern nuclear-powered carrier strike forces.

    Historically, one of the main reasons the US has become a global superpower because it does not share borders with regional military powers (except maybe Canada). China does not have the same luxury.

    As for Taiwan, due to historical circumstances China will always claim Taiwan as their own. However, I think they expect to claim Taiwan without military action. They are probably going to do it slowly, first with free trade with Taiwan, better diplomatic relations, and maybe even transforming China to a democracy before thinking about Taiwan.

    As for China’s position on US military presence in the Pacific rim, I doubt that they would want it to end. Without the US to counterbalance Russia and India, China would be overwhelmed.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    “Without the US to counterbalance Russia and India, China would be overwhelmed.”

    It could be argues that the above would seem to be looking at Chinese intentions through American lenses. One might argue that, taking the LONG view (ie: decades and not a 4-yr QDR/election cycle), the Chinese are preparing themselves to not need a counterbalance to Russia or India. While it might be desirable and convenient to have the US to pull into their sphere for the next decade or even two, a PLAN on the ascent while a US Navy is in decline would seem to obviate that strategy as a matter of course.

    The Chinese see the US as economic competitors, sometimes rivals, sometimes partners, and potential enemies, all at once. The US has a seemingly difficult time cognitively processing that. Which means that we ought to be aware that China may indeed welcome US “partnership”, but increasingly on China’s terms. And when China feels that the US brings nothing to the table, or may have national/economic interests in opposition to the PRC, then they can be positioned to jettison its US “partnership” and be in a position to counter the US economically and militarily in a region they deem of critical importance.

  • I wonder if Australia is Concerned!!!

  • Derrick

    I would assume every nation has selfish interests, so if the US has interests in opposition to any nation, I’m pretty sure they would not cooperate fully with the US too. For example, France, a long term ally, refused to assist the US in the 2003 Iraqi military operation.

    China and US have a very tight economic relationship, (the US owes a lot of its debt to China, who needs US investment to keep its economy going), so I doubt there will be open political conflict like between the US and USSR during the cold war.

    As for China trying to prepare themselves to not need the US to counterbalance Russia or India, easier in theory than in reality.

    But back to the subject at hand:
    Certainly more transparency between the US and China is a must. Maybe it’s too soon for an open waters or open skies treaty, but at least an increase in the joint military exercises the 2 countries already are doing.

  • CAPT P.M. Leenhouts USN (Ret)

    “Cap’n Bill Says: The Admiral’s comments are yet another step along the way to everyone’s understanding that China by ancient tradition is a great sea power.”

    Ummm… China has had episodic periods of interest in the sea, but no sustained tradition of seapower.

  • Phil Ridderhof

    It comes down to: do you focus on capabilities, or perceived intent? We tend to view everyone else’s military in terms of capability, then are surprised when they take a similar measure to us and don’t understand our “benevolent” intent.
    I’m not sure where the line between global and regional reach is, but I do know it doesn’t take going too far in the Pacific or Indian Oceans to require a “blue water” capability. While we think of Chinses relations with India or Russia primarily in terms of the continental aspect, there is potentially a significant maritime aspect to both. We aren’t the only factor in China’s calculations.

  • claudio

    I worked with RADM Donegan years ago when he was skipper of VFA-131. Can’t say that I’ve seen anyone else who worked as hard as he did at being the best, be it as a CO, officer or a pilot. Great respect for the man.

    While I agree that we should be concerned about China and their military buildup as a matter of national interest, I have to ask myself when does this beating over the head becomes too much.

    I think the PRC knows what our concerns are. They’ve heard it last week during visit here in DC. They’ve heard it during PACCOMs COC just recently. They’ve heard it for a long time, ad nauseam. Do they need to hear it from a CSG Commander? Maybe, because he’s playing in their backyard? But not so sure? Unless it is part of a bigger strategy to just keep knocking them over the head with this, not sure what the benefits are.

    At times we characterize comments by “Gomers” as being made for domestic consumption. Makes one wonder if during these times of austere resources, some of this repeated concern is not meant for domestic consumption as our budget just got passed and the QDR and other documents which will require significant funding are just around the corner.

    Just my .02

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “Do you focus on capabilities, or perceived intent?”

    The $64,000 question. A balance of both? And in what measure of each?

    The US Navy even had a war plan in the 1930s for the eventuality of war with Great Britain, implausible as that may seem.

  • Chuck Hill

    Phil Ridderhof Says: It comes down to: do you focus on capabilities, or perceived intent? We tend to view everyone else’s military in terms of capability, then are surprised when they take a similar measure to us and don’t understand our “benevolent” intent.

    Point well taken, but not entirely true. We don’t worry because Britain or France has SLBMs.

    The Chinese–We fought a war with those guys. It’s not all in our heads.

    It’s going to take a while before we feel completely comfortable.

  • Derrick

    The US has fought wars with many nations, even Britain (the war of independence). The US has fought 2 major wars against Germany. If anything, the US should be very cautious when dealing with Germany.

    The “war” the US fought against China was a conflict in Korea, and the Chinese didn’t get involved until after the US crossed the 38th parallel. However, China was an US ally during the First World War.

    However, past history isn’t really that relevant to this discussion, at least in my opinion. To me, RADM Donegan’s concerns come from the possibility of a shift in the balance of power in the Pacific, which the US seventh fleet needs to be aware of and compensate for. I don’t think China’s intent really matters in this case.

  • Chuck Hill

    Intent is in question and when a country shoots up our EP-3 and tries to intimidate our vessels engaged in intelligence collection in international waters it is not comforting.

    China was an ally during WWII but that is was a different regime.

    I’m not suggesting they are automatically our enemy, only that in an uncertain future the may be.

    We have a lot of parallel interests particularly in promoting commerce but countries do not always act rationally and it seems that strongly emerging nations seem particularly prone to starting conflicts: Germany rapidly gaining on the UK prior to WWI, and again in WWII, Japan in WWII, and perhaps even the US in the War of 19812. They are flexing their new found muscle. They don’t feel they are getting the respect they deserve, and bursting with confidence they turn to a military solution for perceived insults of the past.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “past history isn’t really that relevant to this discussion”

    Past history is ALWAYS relevant.

    “The farther we can look into the past, the farther we can see into the future.” -WSC

  • Derrick

    We learn from history, but history does not necessarily dictate the intent of a nation. The intent of the nation depends on the political climate of the nation’s current leadership and population. Germany was responsible for 2 major conflicts in Europe, which cost the lives of millions. Should the past history be interpreted that Germany remain divided and permanently disarmed? Is the current US military presence in Europe specifically because of recent past European history?

    What I thought RADM Donegan was doing was keeping tabs on all the regional powers in the Pacific. In this specific example, it was China. I don’t think the specific country should be the determining factor of whether the US military asks for more transparency or not. For example, I think that if Japan or Australia for that matter started an aggressive military buildup, for whatever reason, it would still be a good practice for RADM Donegan to ask for transparency in their military operations too.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “Should the past history be interpreted that Germany remain divided and permanently disarmed?”

    The Russians think that isn’t a bad idea.

    “Is the current US military presence in Europe specifically because of recent past European history?”

    How recent is recent? 2008? 1968? 1961? 1956? 1946-48? 1939? 1921?

    Japan and Australia are allies. China is NOT an ally. But don’t think there wouldn’t be a whole bunch of nervous folks on the Pacific Rim watching a Japanese military buildup. And with good reason. The same with Germany in Europe. But neither nation is. And neither have made recent proclamations about the need for a world-wide blue water navy and global interests, or of replacing US influence with their own. (Or, in the case of Russia, restoring former prestige and re-assimilating “near abroad” neighbors, by force if necessary.)

  • CPT Joe

    China’s design of a long range missile said to be able to knock out a carrier group is reason enough to question their intentions. Woe be the CNO who ignores their capabilities. It’s time to rearm a skeleton navy that can’t muster a hundred ships in an emergency. If China can find the funds and materials to build a large fleet, Washington needs to start laying keels now. The Chinese won’t tarry long once they are ready. Taiwan will be their first target.

  • Derrick

    I try to learn from history, which has led me to believe that peace is maintained through strength. As for specific examples I gave, I was just trying to state my belief that a nation’s history doesn’t tell you what its future will be. For example, Japan had a history of being an enemy of the US navy in World War 2, but now is considered an ally.

    However, regardless of the intent of China’s design of a ballistic missile designed to attack aircraft carriers, I think it would be a prudent response to deploy more Aegis cruisers and possibly another supercarrier to the Seventh Fleet. Maybe even start more ballistic missile interception exercises for carrier-based pilots. Also, North Korea’s dialogue regarding its official views of the US are a little strange so these suggestions can also serve a dual purpose.

    Personally, I think any request for more transparency in any Pacific power’s military, especially if there is evidence of the desire to deploy a blue-water navy (a real navy with supercarriers) is justifiable by any nation, and not just the US. The pacific is an important transport zone for international trade.

    My personal belief is that if the US doesn’t maintain naval superiority of the seven seas, it leaves itself very vulnerable to economic problems. So I think the military should pressure the state department to get more visibility into China’s military buildup.

  • Jonathan

    China has absolutely NO RIGHT to Taiwan, Tibet, or the Spratly Islands. They are fascist bully-boys pure and simple with no real regard for anyone. As will all bullies they must be resisted.