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China, the United States and 21st Century Sea Power: Defining a Maritime Security Partnership

China, the United States and 21st Century Sea Power: Defining a Maritime Security Partnership, edited by Andrew S. Erickson, Lyle J. Goldstein, and Nan Li. Naval Institute Press, 2010, 568 pp.

This collection of essays, organized into five parts, analyzes China’s rise to power on the world’s oceans and the subsequent restructuring of the global balance of power. The fourth book in the series, “Studies in Chinese Maritime Development,” published jointly by the China Maritime Studies Institute and the Naval Institute Press, it draws from the US Naval War College China Maritime Studies Institute’s third conference. Editors Andrew S. Erickson, Lyle J. Goldstein, and Nan Li all advocate that a maritime partnership between China and the United States is paramount in maintaining the reliability and efficacy of seaborne transport of energy. While such a partnership may have an influence in the maritime realm, both nations embrace a core interest in protecting the global maritime trading system. Yet the question remains, whether this is an issue of economic partnership or adaption? A global partnership and adaption will be necessary for the survival in a global economy.

The first section surveys shared pursuits of the United States and China in the global maritime community. Commenting on China’s maritime development, Zhuang Jiannzhong emphasizes that “Beijing intends to pursue both a full range of development and security interests at sea as well as cooperation with other stakeholders such as the United States.” Former president Hu states, “We must implement the military strategy for the new period, accelerate the revolution in military with Chinese characteristics, ensuing military preparedness and enhance the military’s capacity to respond . . .We are determined to safeguard China’s sovereignty, security and territorial integrity and help maintain world peace” (p. 3–4). Gabriel B. Collins deploys detailed figures and statistics to demonstrate the criticality of the global maritime commons to China’s economic development, as exemplified by the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) counterpiracy deployment to the Gulf of Aden. Collins purports a variety of ways in which the United States may further integrate China into the international maritime systems as well as ensure that its core interests are acknowledged. David N. Griffiths attests on the challenges and predominant contributions to peace and stability.

The second section overviews how the oceans may best be monitored and managed in support of a robust US-China maritime partnership. Erickson examines the Container Security Initiative (CSI), its genesis, and its practical value to the United States and China, concluding that CSI has succeeded by “linking robust economic and security interests, introducing new technologies and commercial opportunities, facilitating access to the U.S. market, and allowing for true reciprocity.” Paul J. Smith explores how China’s vulnerability to terrorism has increased with its international profile. He further demonstrates that the United States and China have substantial shared interest in this sphere, and “their collaboration has deepened, particularly since the September 11, 2001terrorist attacks against the United States.” In subsequent chapters, Goldstein and CAPT Bernard Moreland discuss the supremacy of cooperation opportunities in the civil maritime governance domain. Goldstein offers an in-depth analysis of the respective roles and their prospects for eventual consolidation. He discovers China’s civil maritime organizations, like the US Coast Guard, may serve “as a kind of buffer between states in crisis, circumventing the intensification of crises that may result from rapid naval deployment” (p. xxiii). Moreland enumerates the “rationale for, and accomplishments of, bilateral civil maritime cooperation” and further validates that the United States and China have achieved far more in this discipline than in the past.

The third section researches both maritime legal issues and humanitarian operations. The first two contributors offer Chinese and US viewpoints on paramount aspects of the Law of the Sea. Julie Xue details the differing legal perspectives China and the United States have concerning the Law of the Sea and observes the divergent strategic interests and national histories from which these perspectives emerge. These two nations share too many similar concerns to allow “obstacles to stand in the way of cooperation” (p. xxii); both China and the United States have a “common responsibility” to cooperate to achieve peace and development. Peter A. Dutton ascertains the proposal that the US-China cooperation must respect both nations’ sovereign interests and legal perspectives, thereby allowing each participant the “freedom to define the scope of authorities it views as legitimate to employ.”

No one nation has all the resources required to address the maritime challenges and to provide safety and security throughout the entire world maritime domain. As the largest developed country and the largest developing country, the United States and China bear special responsibility for safeguarding world and regional peace, stability and security by suppressing common threats such as piracy, terrorism, weapons, proliferation, drug trafficking, and other illicit activities (p. 185).

RADM Eric A. McVadon, USN, retired, offers a historically informed tour of US-China cooperation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Goldstein and Murray acknowledge security concerns and strongly advocate that an “increase [in] Chinese participation under the aegis of the International Submarine Escape and Rescue Liaison Office would be valuable confidence-building measure whose advantages would outweigh any costs” (p. xxiv). Erickson concludes the section by asserting the prospects of joint US-China efforts to combat avian influenza.

The fourth section provides a regional context for shared efforts. Michael J. Green assesses the responses of China’s neighbors to its naval development and cooperation with the United States. He purports that the two nations need to enforce their commitment to “insulate maritime cooperation from capricious political retaliation, to test and strengthen agreements like the MMCA, and to increase reciprocity” (p. xxiv). Dr. Wu Shicun of the National Institute of South China Sea Studies proposes a board overview of China’s interest and maritime claims in the South China Sea region. Zhu Huayou provides an in-depth discussion of cooperation in the South China Sea to date and potential areas for future initiatives, including efforts to combat proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, environmental pollution as well as challenges to sea lane security. James R. Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara conclude the section with an analysis of the prospects for cooperation among the United States, China and India in the Indian Ocean and introduce the “strategic triangle” of great power relations.

The fifth section concludes the volume by assessing the prospects for maritime security cooperation between the two nations in the future. Nan Li initiates the discussion by comparing U.S. and Chinese naval education systems. He further advocates that shared concerns may open avenues of opportunity for U.S. – China naval education cooperation which will expand the learning curve; this in turn may enhance confidence building and improve crisis management. Andrew S. Erickson states that the new emphasis on ‘humanitarian operations, especially, offers opportunities for bilateral cooperation to build mutual trust’. Rear Admiral Yang Yi concludes by affirming a Chinese naval perspective on maritime security cooperation between the China and the United States by advocating for ‘gradual trust building [to] reduce suspicions and misjudgment. Furthermore, “the navies of China and the United States can promote mutual trust by strengthening bilateral exchanges and joint actions such as sea rescue and antipiracy operations to enhance cooperation and coordination of bilateral naval strategies” (p. 485).

This is a definitive text that is highly recommended to all those involved in political science as well as establishing international relations. Advocates of strategic policy, maritime leadership, and academic researchers are likely to benefit from Erickson, Goldstein and Li’s exemplary contributions in defining a maritime security partnership between China and the United States through challenging pursuits. Furthermore, this volume is intended to be a guidebook for practitioners in charge of edifice and nurturing the nascent Sino American maritime partnership.

Albert H. Chavez, PhD

United States Navy (Retired)

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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