Ending US Navy dominance?

So suggests the headline on an FT article (subscription only) by Mure Dickie and Stephen Fidler on Chinese naval modernization that is actually more considered than the headline would suggest.

Acknowledging that China is “a big beneficiary of the “Pax Americana” enforced by the US Navy that keeps its sea lanes open,” the article seeks to explore the means by which China seeks to take its maritime security into its own hands.

The conclusion? China, while en route to becoming a more significant regional naval power, has yet to decide just what that means. How far does the PLAN plan to be able to reach? Will the relatively localized “string of pearls” ultimately reach into the Persian Gulf and the African shore of the Indian Ocean?

They write:

Mr Wang [Xiangsui] of the University of Aeronautics says Chinese defence planners have themselves yet to achieve consensus either on what their naval strategic goals should be or how they should go about achieving them. Indeed, he hopes Beijing will end up agreeing with him that the navy’s aim should not be to oppose the US but to fit into a stable international security system.

“China has a need to guarantee access to maritime key points – but does not need to do this by confronting the US Navy,” he says, suggesting instead that the main aim should be to work alongside Washington.

Nonetheless, US defence planners are likely to continue to find it hard to take China’s good intentions on trust while the country remains an authoritarian and avowedly communist one-party state. Beijing meanwhile still shows little willingness to embrace the level of transparency that might allay their suspicions.

Given the different messages emanating from different corners of the US defense establishment on China, it may be premature to conclude that the US has made up its mind on how to interact with China.

And for that reason it is incredibly important the the candidates vying for the 2008 Republican and Democratic presidential nominations spend a great deal of time explaining how they would resolve the many paradoxes of China, and mold a security environment that will encourage China to opt for a navy development plan that upholds, not undermines regional order.

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