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Monday 21 Aug 2017 | 15:03 | SYDNEY
Monday 21 Aug 2017 | 15:03 | SYDNEY

China: How accommodating should we be?

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4 February 2008 13:54

Hugh White starts his response to my post on China's naval expansion by describing China's rise much more starkly than I did, saying 'it poses the biggest challenge to Western maritime domination of the Western Pacific since the rise of the Imperial Japanese Navy a century ago.' But if things really are that serious, why does Hugh seem so relaxed about it?

His argument implies that accommodating ourselves to China's rise is the only sensible course, and I can see the merits of this when it comes to economics. But military power is more zero-sum, and so while we ought to acknowledge that the rise of Chinese naval power is natural and legitimate and China is perfectly within its rights to build its navy, does that mean we just have to lump the consequences, even if its not in our interest? Why can't we, with the help of our allies, politely but firmly signal that we don't intend to just vacate the field?

Not that this is, in my view, a terribly urgent priority, because I'm not convinced China's maritime rise is as serious as Hugh says. In a Taiwan crisis, China now has the capabilities to do serious damage to the US fleet and regional bases. Taiwanese leaders surely know this, and it must psychologically erode the comfort they take from American security assurances. That damages American stature in the region, but only in that specific context. China is a long way from building the kind of ocean-going fleet that would challenge US regional standing more broadly.

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