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.

Posted by Chris van Avery in Foreign Policy, Maritime Security

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  • Total

    Oy. You know what? Rather than arguing as if the Chinese government is a commenter in a discussion thread, it might be rather more useful to _understand_ their viewpoint. That doesn’t me we have to agree with it, or accede to their demands, but they’re giving us information and the best you can do is fisk it?

  • SwitchBlade

    There is a “viewpoint” and there are facts.

    As in the First case; “if the United States does not wish to be treated in a specific way,”. As one that spent a month chasing a Soviet task group around the western Atlantic, I support the explanation that the statement’s implication is not correct.

    Since very few navies, apparently including China’s, don’t have the range of the U.S. Navy, it’s convenient for others to cover their deficiency by stating that its really our fault. Not every reader knows this and/or is old enough to remember the Soviet Navy operating off of the east coast and in the Caribbean Sea.

  • Byron

    The PLAN Admiral is rattling pots and pans to see how much American ink he can get printed. He knows damn well that other than shoving the water around and burning the hell out of jet fuel, not much will be accomplished.

  • KhakiPants

    Does anyone else think this sounds a lot like the good General is just upset he doesn’t have the hot new toy that the popular kids on the block do, so he he doesn’t want them playing outside the front of his house? Because that’s what his entire “statement” reads like.

    “Mommy won’t buy me a forward deployable carrier group, so you can’t play with yours where I can see you!”

    Give me a break. Get the capability and THEN we’ll discuss what command and control of the seas by China Washington will and will not allow. Until this, it’s sound and fury, signifying nothing.

  • The Maoists have been edging toward a superpower confrontation via their proxy North Korea for decades now.

    And now that they think they have exploited capitalism for as much as they can … and eroded so much of our manufacturing/defense base … they must be miscalculating that the time for that is now.

    They are quite like the Japanese militarists in the late 1930s.

    China is a great people and culture. With time, they’ll have Asia in their orbit anyway, but the Maoists are impatient … like the Bushido Japanese were.

    If we don’t stand up to them, Japan will go nuclear overnight, and the Chinese will have infinitely more to worry about … off their shores … than mere US/ROK maneuvers.

  • I submitted that to the comments for the article in the People’s Daily.

  • KhakiPants

    Lou, as someone who lives in Japan and has daily contact with a fairly wide variety of Japanese, I don’t know how you can claim that “Japan will go nuclear overnight.” For the generations that grew up after WWII, nuclear energy, let alone nuclear weapons, are totally verboten. In many ways, the Japanese view nuclear weapons the way the US population did in the 1950s; with a completely irrational fear that any brooking on the subject of nuclear power will lead to bombs dropping everywhere. If Japan has any popular boogyman, it is nuclear weapons.

    The Japanese live with far more fear of nuclear weapons than those who were born after the 1960s can simply comprehend. Certainly it isn’t a fear I can comprehend (though it is one my mother has often spoken about in detail). I doubt that even in serious defense of the nation would it be easy to introduce nuclear weapons to Japan. The public outcry would be massive. The protests you would see, the civil disobedience, the general breakdown of the “nonconfrontationalism” so often used to characterise the Japanese would be like nothing in the modern history of Japan.

    China or the DPRK would have to actually be claiming to directly invade or attack civilian targets before the Japanese public would accept nuclear arms.

    Overnight is, I think, an exaggeration.

  • Derrick

    To me, it seems that this Chinese official is just trying to get publicity, that’s all. I wouldn’t take any of it too seriously. The statements are very vague and up to interpretation.

    My guess is that the Chinese leadership is a little afraid of the US navy operating so close to Beijing, so they are trying to speak up, but don’t intend on doing anything, so they are moderating their rhetoric, since there is nothing China can do to stop the exercises, without triggering World War 3, as the exercises are being held in international waters.

    I interpreted those statements as the Chinese are trying to separate the Cheonan incident from these exercises, whereas the US sees them as connected (ie the Cheonan sinking is what triggered these exercises). I would guess that maybe the Chinese are backing down from supporting North Korea?

    Can the South Koreans prove that their vessel was attacked outside North Korean waters?

  • Confronted with the specter/probability of another nuclear holocaust at the hands of China(‘s North Korean pet pit bull) anyway, if we back down (forfeiting the credibility of our Deterrent Resolve) and if the Japanese then *don’t* create their own nuclear deterrent, I don’t think the Japanese government and media would have any trouble at all overcoming their people’s anti-nuclear attitudes, KP.

  • KhakiPants

    I’m far more circumspect on that point. My current position takes me right into the middle of Japanese daily life, I speak the language, and I follow the politics quite closely. Yes, I agree, that given sufficient justification, the government and the media could sell nuclear armament to the Japanese public, but that sufficient justification would be a very serious threat indeed.

    China already has nukes, and a fair number of them. Something like 250 launchers and 700 missiles with 145 deployable warheads? The threat alone that under some possible circumstance China could maybe decide to launch at Japan has not yet been enough for Japan to even allow our Nuclear Naval Forces the access they really need to be entirely effective in and around Japan, let alone publicly allow the US to store nuclear weapons on Japanese soil (despite whatever secret agreements may exist).

    I reiterate, even if we back down, and back off, leaving Japan to assume a larger roles in its own defense, any possible build up in military power will be met with resistance by striction construction constitutionalists who will consider any build up in offensive capability as unconstitutional. Even with a directly issues threat, to get so far as to authorise the placement and possible launch of nuclear weapons on Japanese soil? Ooh boy… The Japanese equivalent of C-SPAN will be a pretty good watch. I’d probably need me some popcorn.

    Still, not overnight.

  • Matt Yankee

    I am surprised at how China is able to get away with not being held responsible for North Korea’s recklessness. It seems to be still protecting and thus enabling the North to continue the dead end path. Why isn’t the US singling out China over their enabling policies. We seem like a child being led around by our ear from one provocation to the next. First one bomb test than another then kidnap some civilians then sink a ship with almost 50 killed. Never one time have we shot back.

    I think the focus should be deterring China and making them pay a real price for North Korean actions. They can in fact change the North’s behavior but they choose not to…Why?

  • Total

    “There is a “viewpoint” and there are facts.”

    And if the Chinese much to our surprise start a war over their “viewpoint” are you going to whine and complain about how they’re ignoring the facts?

    Sigh. Yes, I suppose you are, Douglas.

  • Derrick

    I personally intend to wait until the results of the Cheonan investigation are posted online. I’m most curious to know her position at the time the torpedo struck her.

    China seems to be adopting a neutral stance. They are neither supporting nor condemning North Korea. From what I gather, they have no “viewpoint” on the incident.

    The only tangible action item I got from reading the above article is that China is open to military discussions with the US again.

  • Chuck Hill

    There are two other possible explanations.

    First, the whole manufactured crisis of a US Carrier being in their waters is for domestic consumption, to justify the expense of their naval build up.

    Second, they are telling us that exercising in their yard is just bad manners.

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III

    China is interested only in their domestic welfare and extending their strategic depth further out to sea. Their domestic welfare now must be supported by their trade agreements, especially raw materials they import from across the Globe. China only makes major moves when circumstance allows it. Their first forays into the Indian Ocean has been under the auspices of anti-piracy missions. With this incident they can now assert their ‘manifest destiny’ to control the oceans out to… Crap, what is their term… Near Sea? I can’t quite remember, but the Yellow Sea is considered by the Chinese to be theirs. While some say they are not patient, they pretty much are, in that they waited for this latest incident with the DPRK and have influenced us not to hold our show of force in the Yellow Sea (comparing it to Sun Tzu’s talk of defeating an enemy is hyperbole). They did so with a fairly reasoned argument for domestic ears–thought not one they would have made 5-10 years ago.

    The analogy made to the Chinese military starting to act like the Japanese military of the late ’20s up to the end of WWII, I agree with, for the most part. However, Japan was overcome with a greater sense of militarism culturally than what I understand to be happening in China today. What is the most worrisome is the fact that China’s military is cloistered from the rest of the world. I cannot predict what will be the long term effect of that, though I greatly doubt it will be good.

    Lastly, anything China says about control of the Seas surrounding it must resonate louder with its neighbors than it does with the US. It’s not yet our home that they are butting up against. If China is anything, it is arrogant before their time. They say Americans are arrogant. But, we’ve save China from Japan, defeated the Germans twice and put a man on the Moon. China has grown their economy and build a dam bigger than any we have… They’ve got a way to go and not much room to expand until they piss off their already developed neighbors who they have a not so good 2,000+ year history with.

  • claudio

    I read it as the the Chinese telling us that they don’t like us in their backyard and they would prefer if we take our ships and planes, EP-3s and the Ocean Surveilance ships and park them somewhere else. Same LP; playing over and over.

    Meanwhile, Mil-Mil relations/meetings are on hold and don’t be surprized if answers to HK port call requests are a bit capricious.

    They are simply doing what they perceive that they MUST do. Assert themselves, both for domestic and regional benefit. We need to do what we need to do. Game on!!

  • Chuck Hill

    Problem is that the Chinese seem to have forgotten that we are playing on the commons and in the South Korean’s yard, not theirs.

  • Derrick

    That’s why I read it as the Chinese just playing tough diplomacy, that’s all. If the Chinese were really upset that the US Navy was too close to them, they would raise the interest rate on the money the US government owes them.

    What happens in those Chinese-US military relations/meetings? Are any tangible action items generated from those discussions?

  • What happens in those Chinese-US military relations/meetings? Are any tangible action items generated from those discussions?

    A lot less than you think, unfortunately. I would say there’s been precious little negotiating on security positions. Both sides at this point are confined to stating and restating (and re-restating) their positions and shaping the narrative in the public discourse.

  • Lou, I will have to agree with KhakiPants, Japan will not go Nuclear, and if they did, it would be for the primary reason to have Nukes, DETERRENCE. MAD was a pretty good tool in the arsenal to keep countries at bay during the Cold War (Cold War part II may be here). Besides, didn’t we limit Japan through the U.S. dictated Japanese Constitution that limits their capabilities. Since we are going the route of cutting back on U.S. carrier fleets, maybe we can loosen the reigns on the Japanese and allow them to build up some of their own again.

    No doubt the Chinese are getting stronger, they believe/perceive they are getting stronger relative to us getting weaker (U.S. dept as a classic Thucydides balance of Power issue), and are starting to exert more open displays of military power whether that is the continuous CYBER attacks, Naval exercises, stated PLA comments about their future ambitions, continuos military build up, and supposed nK sinking of the DPRK Naval Ship. Kind of difficult to see where these cats are headed (they like that deception / surprise stuff), and some of the little countries in the surrounding area are getting a little queasy inside. When 2015 rolls around, and they roll out an Aircraft carrier, that will start to alter some of the dynamics even more.

    Intuition only here, but our nine years of playing in the sand box, trying to rebuild the Middle East, may not be the best strategic approach right now. Maybe we should balance things out a little bit with respect to not throwing so many strategic eggs in the Nation Building Middle East basket, and redirect some of those to modern versions of Offense and Defensive preparations. We don’t need another Task Force Smith II on our hands.