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Greenert: Don’t ‘Unnecessarily Antagonize’ China

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert and Chief of Navy of the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Adm. Wu Shengli greet each other in Qingdao, China on April 21, 2014. US Navy Photo

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert and Chief of Navy of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Adm. Wu Shengli greet each other in Qingdao, China on April 21, 2014. US Navy Photo

NEWPORT, R.I. — Open discussion of how U.S. forces could deter Chinese ships and aircraft could unnecessarily antagonize one of America’s largest trading partners, the Navy’s top admiral said during an address at the U.S. Naval War College on Tuesday.

“If you talk about it openly, you cross the line and unnecessarily antagonize,” said Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert during the Current Strategy Forum in Newport, R.I. in response to an audience question.
“You probably have a sense about how much we trade with that country, it’s astounding. “

Greenert was responding to an audience question on how to speak to mid-level officers and enlisted U.S. sailors on tactics, techniques and procedures how to counter Chinese ships and aircraft.

“In a classified nature we look at all of this. There are groups up [Naval War College] that talk about it all the time,” Greenert said.

While the Pentagon seldom singles out China as potential adversary publically, the growing capability of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) — especially the PLA Navy’s (PLAN) — drives larger strategy discussions in the military and in Congress.

Military planners present the problem of Anti-Access Area Denial (A2/AD) — the ability of a force to deny a superior force access to a particular area — agnostically without mentioning specific countries or regions

“It would be antagonistic to any country to openly say that we are preparing [for conflict],” Greenert said later to reporters.

The Pentagon ultimately wants to be able to access any part of the globe with military forces in an all-domain access plan and worked through the all-service Air Sea Battle Office.

“Air Sea Battle is about access and assuring access, and that’s anywhere in the world, it is our intention [to have] all domain access as part of our strategy,” Greenert said in the meeting with reporters.

But key strategic crossroads, like the Strait of Hormuz, the areas around North Korea and the South China Seas are omnipresent in any discussion of A2/AD threats.

To be fair, U.S. strategists constantly generate plans based on a variety of scenarios, no matter how unlikely. For example the U.S. in the lead up to World War II had a war plan designed to counter an attack from the British Isles and more recently created a plan to handle a so-called zombie infestation.

However, the ultimate plan that guided U.S. construction ahead of World War II was War Plan Orange, the plan that focused on the contingency of an expansionist Japanese Empire.

While Chinese capabilities are surely in the mind of U.S. strategists, the Pentagon is also seeking closer military-to-military relationship with Beijing and the PLA.

China is sending four ships to the U.S. led Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2014 multi-national exercise later this month and Greenert and his wife are set to meet his counterpart, PLAN chief Adm. Wu Shengliin, in a July visit to China.

China and the U.S. are also signatories to the Conduct Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES).

A late 2013 run-in between a PLAN amphibious ship and the guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens (CG-63), in part, prompted 21 Pacific nations to sign a military maritime rules-of-the-road earlier this year.

“My view when people ask me ‘what are you going to do about the South China Sea?’ [I say] we’re going to manage it, we’re going to work CUES,” Greenert said.
“We’ve got to manage through it, kiddo.”

Greenert’s view on discussing countering China openlly was disputed by at least one speaker at the Current Strategy Forum.

“I think it’s important for leaders to find ways to talk about China as a military rival,” in order to inform civilian leadership, Aaron Friedberg, a professor at Princeton University said in a later panel.

  • We need to discuss what we will do if the Chinese misbehave. And ultimately if we are determined to support our allies, the Chinese should know should know what lines they should not cross.

  • Stephen

    What’s astounding is how much of a trade imbalance that America is loosing to China. America exports more to Canada than it does to China or ever will. The idea that openly recognizing Chinese aggression will somehow encourage it is quit frankly stupid. China will push until forced to stop. China will escalate until they are hunkered into their 3000 miles of tunnels but only at a point where they could guarantee to overwhelm North American missile defenses. Anyone who tries to avoid it by giving the bully their lunch money needs to go back to school. They obviously failed bully 101.

  • Chesapeakeguy

    Isn’t it always a matter of ‘good policy’ NOT to ‘unnecessarily antagonize’ anyone? However, open, and HONEST, discussion about options that might be worth exploring in dealing with any potential threat is one of the things that separates “us from them”! Some among the ChiComs military have openly boasted about nuclear attacks on our cities. Are we supposed to just sit back and take that, bluster though it might be? How has turning the other cheek worked out with a dirtbag regime like North Korea? Hmmm?

    These are COMMUNISTS. If you give them an opening they are likely to take advantage of it. I personally feel better when I read among our military and government and citizens that we SHOULD take these regimes head-on, though within reason. The Soviets were driven out of business because the USA (mainly) put forth in both word AND deed that we would prepare to deal with them militarily in any theater, in any warfare area. They couldn’t keep up. While I don’t think the ChiComs outside of their army constitute any real threat at present, we should not encourage them by remaining silent at their own transgressions, vocal, written, or otherwise! Communists RESPECT force. Let’s flex our muscles once in a while to let them know we are here, and and that we’re keeping tight tabs on them as well!

  • Secundius

    “Antagonize the Chinese”!

    I don’t know what you mean With the Chinese, its all about antagonizing, Their trying to get their navy bloodied, their deliberately trying too provoke a measured naval responds. Their navy, as far as I know. Has never seen a Blue Water Naval Sea action. Their trying to get their feet wet, so to speak. And their trying to do it in the dumbest possible way. By trying to provoke an attack with the US. Navy, or some equally powerful regional Navies. Going after the Philippine and Vietnam, is just plan stupid. Neither countries have a REAL navies, they have TOKEN navies at best and VIRTUAL Navies at worst.

  • Stephen

    At the root of the problem with American policy towards dealing with Chinese aggression inability to adopt international norms is the duplicity of so called Chinese experts. Kissinger writes in one statement that a democratic China will be a willing participant in the international community and calls the Communist one party system as “fragile” the in another statement writes that China views itself “the prospect of a strong China exercising influence in economic, cultural, political, and military affairs not as an unnatural challenge to world order but rather as a return to normality. Americans need not agree with every aspect of the Chinese analysis to understand that lecturing a country with a history of millennia about its need to “grow up” and behave “responsibly” can be needlessly grating.” So when policy makers are reshaping our view of adherence to international norms by China. Is it any wonder why we continue to encourage Chinese adventurism through a soft handed acceptance of what China experts would like us to accept as a return to older Chinese norms. It is clear that China experts like Kissinger are ensuring the Chinese regimes strength rather than its fragility.

  • The Hard Man

    Greenert is an idiot. By letting the PLAN do whatever they want without challenging them. You are encouraging them to further aggression and provocations, mostly against US allies, kiddo! Those allies are looking at us like ‘are you a superpower or what?’