China’s Strategic Savvy

I thought I’d follow up Richard Weitz’s and JD Yuan’s China twofer from Tuesday with a handful of news items I’ve flagged over the past few days:

First (via DefenseNews), China doubled the amount of its attack sub patrols last year to the (non-alarming) new total of 12. Still, in combination with the modernization of its missile capabilities (also via DefenseNews), it confirms China’s strategic emphasis on theater denial:

Whatconcerns U.S. defense circles is the increasingly flexibility andaccuracy of China’s ballistic missile arsenal, including theintroduction of mobile launchers, maneuvering warheads, improved targetsensors, and command and control, [Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Arlington, Va.-based Lexington Institute,] said.

“The variousimprovements to Chinese missile forces means they will be better suitedfor actual war fighting, for example by targeting U.S. aircraftcarriers,” he said.

Keeping your potential enemies from reaching attack range, or making it very costly for them to do so, is a cost-effective asymmetric approach to conventional war. Add to that the diplomatic overtures to Taiwan and you’ve got a pretty savvy strategic outlook that jibes more with a peaceful rise than aggressive rival, but does a pretty good job of hedging both, nonetheless.

The real risk seems to be that of regional rivalry, which in China’s case mainly means India. (See JD Yuan’s WPR feature article from last November for more.) This case of an Indian sub snooping on Chinese frigates off of Djibouti (via the Interpeter) shows the ways in which maritime stability is as much a potential driver of conflict as cooperation, and should probably be the focus of more energetic efforts to create institutional cooperation rather than ad hoc flotillas.

Finally, Defense Industry Daily flags this UPI Asia report on how China is furnishing not just light arms, but also high-end fighter and trainer aircraft to African nations in return for rights to energy and mineral resources, as well as fishing rights. And in yet another example (via the Economist) of how China’s cash reserves are reshaping the resource landscape, Rio Tinto is negotiating a sale of an 11 percent stake to Chinalco, above and beyond the latter’s current 9 percent stake. (Another beneficiary of Rio Tinto’s fire sale — driven by a recent, ill-advised debt binge to finance the purchase of a Canadian aluminum firm — is Brazil.)

Just another week in the global transfer of wealth and influence from West and North to East and South, I suppose.