China is worried about the US shifting 60 percent of its warships to the Pacific by 2020 and has asked Washington to respect its interests in the region. US officials announced the plan at a security summit in Singapore.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Liu Weimin was blunt: “All parties should make efforts to safeguard and promote peace, stability and development in the Asia Pacific”, he said, adding that China sees the US’ plan of deploying more ships and giving prominence to a military and security agenda as “untimely.”
A challenge for China?
Earlier, at the Shangri La security summit in Singapore, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had declared that “By 2020, the navy will re-posture its forces from today’s roughly 50/50 percent split between the Pacific and the Atlantic to about a 60/40 split between those oceans. That will include six aircraft carriers in this region, a majority of our cruisers, destroyers, littoral combat ships and submarines,” he added. In a bid to pacify the Chinese, Panetta insisted that the US’ latest strategy had not been conceived as a challenge to China.
However, Dr. Swaran Singh, Expert on US security issues at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, thinks otherwise. “The US has increasingly been focusing on the Asia Pacific area, in which case China is the fundamental concern. In the oceans, among the emerging powers, it is China which is becoming extremely active.” Singh believes that Chinese interest in the region, from the Port of Aden right up to the South China Sea and the Sea of Japan, is not in compatible with US interests. Washington is now becoming concerned about China’s maritime expansion.
Beijing has been criticized for taking an aggressive stance in the South China Sea, regions of which have been claimed by several neighboring countries who want a stake in its vast mineral and fish resources. Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, China and Taiwan are embroiled in a bitter diplomatic battle over rights to islands in the area. Panetta’s trip to Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital, could be seen as an indication of closer ties. Panetta also visited Cam Ranh Bay, a major US naval and military base during the Vietnam War, which could serve as a dockyard for US military ships. The US Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey also visited the Philippines where representatives from the two countries talked about providing assistance and a “minimum credible defense position.”
'Wait and see'
Singh believes that despite the US’ increased interest in the region, the naval deployment does not necessarily signify imminent confrontation. According to him, naval forces are fundamentally "forces of posturing" and in extreme situations one could plan strikes from warships, but long term war is not conducted by naval forces. In the present situation, one could only wait and see how the US responds to growing naval expansion by China.
Meanwhile, Asian countries continue to forge alliances among themselves and with the US. India has been mulling over a security agreement with the US, Australia and the Philippines, while being in close contact with Japan and South Korea. Singh insists however that India is also very careful about not annoying China and is ensuring transparency in bilateral dealings with the Asian giant. Chinese officials, in the meantime, stress the fact that despite their ambitious military plans, Beijing will not seek “hegemony when it is stronger.”
Author: Manasi Gopalakrishnan (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Grahame Lucas