Home » Budget Industry » Retired U.S. Admirals Debate China’s Military Might


Retired U.S. Admirals Debate China’s Military Might

Members of a special battle force stand on China's missile destroyer Haikou at a naval port in Sanya, south China's Hainan Province, June 9, 2014. Xinhua Photo

Members of a special battle force stand on China’s missile destroyer Haikou at a naval port in Sanya, south China’s Hainan Province, June 9, 2014. Xinhua Photo

American allies and partners in the Pacific don’t Washington or Beijing, “to do anything stupid” that would lead to war after the Trump administration takes office in January, retired Rear Adm. Mike McDevitt, USN, said Tuesday.

The allies and partners “don’t want to have to choose” sides in such a dispute. They want the United States to be “an over-the-horizon force” to counter China militarily. At the same time, they recognize their dependence on China economically, the senior fellow at CNA said during a debate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Tuesday.

Retired Adm. Dennis Blair and former director of National Intelligence, said, “We talk to [allies and partners] ahead of time” before negotiating with China over important security questions so “they know this is not a selling out of the American guarantee.”

The proposition McDevitt and Blair debated was: “China can defend its sovereignty and maritime interests while tolerating U.S. military presence in Asia. The views they presented during the debate and question period represented their given position on the proposition, not necessarily their personal opinions, both participants noted.

The security relationship [between China and the United States] did not loom large in the recent presidential campaign, Blair said. Telling the audience at the Washington think tank discussion, “that’s been a good thing.” The campaign issue with China centered on trade. Security and trade “could continue to be compartmented” when Donald Trump takes the presidential oath of office.

McDevitt noted that on the future of Taiwan “the Republican Party has been traditionally stronger” in its support of the island than the Democrats in answering another question. “The atmosphere between Beijing and Washington” will likely become “much more difficult that it is today” on Taiwan and other issues.

As to whether the United States would come to Taipei’s defense, Blair said, it “would depend on how” the crisis started. Was it Chinese adventurism or Taiwan’s actively seeking “de jure” independence from the mainland?

Unlike 1996 when the Navy sent two aircraft carrier battle groups into into the Taiwan Striar undetected, McDevitt said now the amount of risk the United States would have to absorb would be much higher.

“Today China would know where the carriers are all the time” and Beijing with its military buildup of land, air and naval forces over the past 20 years “has foreclosed” on an independent Taiwan without its consent.

With its moves in the Yellow, East and South China Seas, Beijing “has the ability to credibly defend itself from an attack from the sea.” McDevitt said one way of looking at the Pentagon’s Third Offset Strategy is in a conventional war in the Pacific the United States “would have to fight to gain sea control” and “fight to maintain sea control.”

Today, “China is playing the home game.”

Blair, in his role, said it was important to view the United States’ military presence in the Pacific through Beijing’s eyes. From that view, both the government and people see that “China is a peaceful country” with “no plans to attack the United States.” Yet the United States military plans include combat with China. “It made no sense” to the Chinese that there was no change in the American force structure in the region when the Cold War ended. In fact, the American military presence has grown in recent years, he said.

They also consider naval transits close to its claimed territory and flights of bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons near those land features provocative and reminiscent of threats that the United States made in earlier crises over Taiwan decades earlier.

He added in the Chinese view the United States is no longer “a cork in the Japanese bottle” in Tokyo’s claims in the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and has been encouraging the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia in territorial disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea.

The view of the government and people is: “China has a right to be acknowledged as the most powerful nation in the region,” Blair said.

  • muzzleloader

    “China can defend it’s sovereignty and maritime interests while TOLERATING (emphasis added) U.S. military presence”
    The Western Pacific, South China Sea, and Straits of Malacca have had an unquestioned and unchallenged American naval presence for over 70 years. That must never change. While China has every right to be a strong military power in Asia and beyond, it must never grow so belligerent that it chooses to not tolerate a U.S. presence at some point.
    A robust naval presence along with a firm foreign policy is essential. Scarborough Shoal, Fiery cross Reef,and the like, should be areas where American combatants should have frequent presence. This would not be to provoke, but to establish that International waters are just that, and that free right of passage can never be infringed.

    • qiuwei

      [ That must never change. ]

      it has already change. if American is unwilling to face reality and seek to invade other country and start a war, then America will lose moral support from Asia. no one here is interested in a war that serve no interest for us. if US want to lose ally fast, more pointless war is the way to go.

  • PolicyWonk

    The US can be far more involved in the S. China Sea, by investing more heavily in Virginia-class SSN’s with the VPM (a subtle, yet potent weapon if things get dicey) and constantly patrolling the S. China Sea. We could also invest in some AIP boats, which we could forward base in Japan, the Med, and Middle East – and sell some to Taiwan.

    Neither this administration or the previous did much when it came to supporting Taiwan, and this had not been to our credit. The reaction to the ChiComs ramming one of our planes was a lot of hand-wringing, shortly thereafter followed by the largest giveaway of dual-use technologies in history. The US NIE said the ChiComs got more technology in 6 years than the Soviets got in 60 years of Cold War.

    Yet throughout all of this, we failed to support Taiwan because we were afraid of upsetting China, who we then needed because we went and invaded Iraq, and needed to borrow money from them to do it. Then we got voted out of Iraq by the Iraqi people – and then China got the lions share of the oil deals that were issued shortly thereafter. Hence – given that Al Qaida won a major victory in the GWOT, the US endured a major national security and foreign policy disaster, plus accumulating $2T in debt and counting: the US got reamed and gained virtually nothing.

    We definitely need smarter politicians who are capable of planning further ahead than then nose on their face: The Chinese are in the game for the long run, and our short-term gain mentality isn’t helping advance our interests.

    • Elvis

      Fact is that while Trump may reset our relationship with China, Putin is not going to help us against China. The interests of Russia is the creation of a multipolar world (for which they need China), not the extension of American primacy.

      Whatever actions China takes which weakens the United States benefits Russia. The only thing we could do to get Russia on our side is disband NATO or at minimum, let Russia restore it’s hegemony over the former Soviet states (including the Baltic States).

      Since Trump appears set on a civilizational war with Islam or at least “radical Islam”, odds are good of an escalation on the “War on Terror” and getting involved in more wars or deeper in the current wars. All of which will benefit China the way that the Afghan & Iraq Wars under Bush the 2nd and the Syrian & Iraq Wars under Obama, benefitted Beijing by taking up our time, money, & attention.

      • qiuwei

        putin is not going to help. putin isn’t stupid, he know if china fall, russia is next. US is a bigger threat to the world then china is, you do not help the murderer kill the only man that stop the murderer from murdering you.

        to normalized the relation with russia is neccessary because not doing so give china leverage over russia. however to think russia would side with US is naive. when Abe invited putin to japan expecting to ride on trump, what did putin say to abe? “japan is at odd with us for 70 years, you expect to resolve this in an hour (laugh)?” putin isn’t stupid, he will make trump pony up resources for years and accepting russian expansion in europe before he will take trump seriously. he want to eat his cake and put it on a tab. the question is can EU accept Putin eating their cake infront of american? can Trump control EU to applease Putin long enough to convince Putin that America is serious in allying Russia.

  • tteng

    1. On SCS, with Duterte’s consent, China temporary (maybe?) won round 1, and moving to round 2.

    2. Round 2 will be ‘Singapore’, and China looks to squeezie S-pore by reducing S-pore’s ‘role as THE transit stop of $5T SCS trade’ with multiple ports construction with Malaysia on both sides of the Peninsula. China accounts for about 60% of that $5T transit; China can take that (i.e. port call and related service) away from S-pore.

    3. As for Taiwan’s role, strictly militarily speaking as an anti-Air-Sea-Battle (from PLA’s POV) strategy, China will grab Taiwan if there is a major US/China throw down (i.e. conventional, major but limited) in westpac. Once Taiwan fall, the US ASB has to fight (and must re-take Taiwan) in the narrow and shadow ‘Taiwan confine’. If ASB can’t prevail, then next is off-shore-containment (basically a siege); however, as Sun Tsu said: foremost to attack the strategy, next best to attack the diplomacy, next is open ground warfare, and the worst choice is to lay siege for the long haul.

    China is attacking the US strategy on multiple fronts.

    • Elvis

      If analysts like Gordon Chang are correct, then this is a temporary thing. Sooner or later the economic & social challenges that China is facing will be too much at which tims either China will have to turn inward or worse it will collapse. Problem solved, American primacy in the Far East will most likely continue throughout the 21st century.

      If in turn China is able to continue to rise as I expect, whatever we do is irrelevant. Due to geography, sooner or later, China will reestablish it’s primacy in the Far East and perhaps even its on & off historical hegemony. Depending on what we do, we will end up with a global competitor or a mortal enemy.

      • tteng

        Gordon Chang has a captured audience (comparable to Trump supporters who are willful oblivious to Trump’s disqualifying flaws and are ideological purist) who can’t stand the notion of a upper coming China and like what he writes, thus keeping him in the spotlight and $$. He is 16yrs past his previous prediction of a collapsing China which, btw, has grown 3-4X since; his ‘temporary, or sooner or later’ has a very long shelf life.

        Nukes/Internet/trade has shrunk the world. Whatever China becomes, it can never be ‘mortal enemy’ to the US or Russia; even India’s nuke can ruin China’s day for good. And Internet has clearly laid plain each/all system(s) pros and cons, and nobody can force its own on another willfully; the west has shown its inability in ME and Russia barely keeps its elbow room; China is not going to try. As for trade, China needs the world; thus China must keep good connections to all. As for hegemony- carrot and stick; I think China has been masterful & unsparing with carrot, while waving (minimal, unlike the west and Russia) the stick, most important of all, bloodlessly effective.

      • qiuwei

        Gordon Chang has 30 year to be correct and his prediction are still just that. anyone that believe him might as well believe in santa clause as both story has about the same accuracy. he clearly has a personal bias with no grounding in reality.

  • Apparently these admirals have not read, or if they did, forgot what Admiral Mahan wrote. control of the seas, power projection, and choke points is what it is all about. Let’s stop the hand wringing. China only respects power. Dose China really understand our interest in the Western Pacific? Are they really interested in getting along? We are, as I have stated before, an island nation. how much of our foreign trade is sea borne. Can we protect our and our allies trade route sea lanes, including straights (choke points). Currently we can not go it alone but will have be assisted by the Japanese and South Korean navies to augment our numbers. Both those navies have Ageis systems and have trained extensively with the USN. But as stated would it be in their national interest to get involved. We should have a PACFLT strong enough to go it alone. But unlike WW2 we do not have the time to build up a surface and submarine fleet. It took almost 2.5 years until mid 1943 to really start on the offensive in the Pacific. We do not have that time NOW. The next conflict will be a come as you are affair. And numbers do count.

    Yes speak softly but have a big stick, a really big stick. I feel, my opinion, that the US Pacific Fleet is a semi big stick that has to go in harms way. Thing of mainland China as one great aircraft carrier. Can the us fleet stand off far enough to do battle and win? That will be the question sooner than latter admirals.

    • Elvis

      Part of the reason China is doing what it is doing is catching up to its neighbors in the South China Sea. Due to decades of weakness they were unable to properly defend their interests as the Philippines, Vietnam, & Malaysia occupied or seized islands, fortified said islands, & harassed Chinese fishing. Now that China is the big dog, the shoe is on the other foot and they are crying to the United States.

      On top of that China likewise has legitime military reasons for doing do. Previously if Taiwan decided to make its defacto independence internationally recognized, all that was holding back was the United States. Due to an obsolete air force & navy, China was incapable of any real action as we saw in the 1990s. On top of that since we control the “choke points” we could impose a naval blockade on China for a variety of reasons from a new Taiwan crisis to a reaction to internal affairs in China.

      Now that China is the world’s largest trading nation it is imperative for them to be able to protect their SLOCs. Which means dominating the South China Sea (with the added bonus of creating a submarine bastion), naval bases all the way to Africa, and neutralizing our ability to threaten China via those “choke points”

    • qiuwei

      you do not start an arm race you will lose, that is the problem. you really think these admiral are stupid? they are not, they understand the cool hard fact that china is in a position similar to where US was before WWII. where her military while not as strong can be rapidly build up faster then the war can be ended. that China can outproduce US if it come to open hostility. trying to threaten China is as effective as Japan trying to threaten US during WWII, sure Japan can win pearl harbour, and hunt down American ship for the next few month, but then American carrier and warship will slowly by surely outnumber the Japanese.

      War is a contest of economy. US cannot afford to be the “imperial japan” of 2020s. one does not wake up a sleeping giant.

  • DevilDoc

    Blair was my CO on the Cochrane. He should be in consideration for Secretary of State.

  • John B. Morgen

    The United States needs to increase its presence in the South China Sea, conduct more port visits with our close allies, such as Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, etc. Perhaps establish several military bases on Taiwan. The Pacific Fleet is going to need more ships, and more deployments in and around the Western Pacific; four or five carrier battle groups are going to be needed. The President Trump Administration has to make it quite clear about the United States’s foreign policy positions; especially, for the South China Sea region for all Asian-Pacifica nation-states to know. China needs to know the dos and don’ts what the United States will accept from China’s Imperialism, and President Trump needs to be consistent but firm with his words of intent and also military actions.

    • Elvis

      Fortunately the Taiwanese are extremely unlikely to let us establish military bases in Taiwan. It would be like the Cuban Missile Crisis again, as Taiwan is to China what Cuba was to us geopolitically.

      No way would China permit such action and would therefore impose at minimum at devastating embargo on Taiwan at minimum and more likely a blockade, including legally created minefields in the surrounding seas.

      I did NOT vote for Taiwan, but I do like what he said about Taiwan & China. In which he talked about using Taiwan as a bargaining chip with China in reaching a comprehensive agreement.

      I would support such a policy. We should put everything on the table and reach a grand bargain with China the way that the European great powers did with each other and previously the empires of ancient & medieval Eurasia.

      Such an agreement could in addition to trade & investment also include spheres of influence, North Korea, cyberspace & outer space, and the status of Taiwan.

      I would say that for the right price, we pull our “protection” of Taiwan (currently ambiguous) and let China force the reunification of Taiwan with the mainland, with perhaps us as mediators to make it as peaceful as possible.

      • John B. Morgen

        Your position is more of appeasement towards a despotic regime, if not avoidance of responsibility for defending a good ally, which the United States has supported the island for many decades. Your insane claim that Taiwan would not accept American basing of units is flawed because in 1958 the United States Air Force had stationed F-104 fighters at Taoyan Air Base, Taiwan. The Taiwanese would accept an American presence on their island nation-state, and help defend their sovereignty because the expansionism of the PLAN which is profoundly clear. The PLAN is clearly planning to invade Taiwan, by building a very large but modern navy, and that is also capable of projecting naval power from afar.

        It is clear the President-Elect Trump is heading for a folly of agreement with the Chinese because no comprehensive would be agreeable by the Chinese, unless the terms are all in favor that supports the Chinese interests, and nothing more than that stance. First the Chinese will gain control of the South China Sea, next isolate all allies of the United States, and then attack Taiwan.. Nothing is going to be peaceful.

        • Elvis

          The world has changed since 1958, when China lacked the ability to blockade, much less attack Taiwan. Not to mention being an isolated nation with an autarkic economy.

          • John B. Morgen

            Your assessment analysis is very out of date, if not very erroneous about the PLAN’s abilities, I suggest very profoundly that you get yourself a copy of Janes’ Fighting Ships 2015-2016 or 2016-2017, which either edition will update your knowledge about China’s Fleet strength, and also its future plans. You maybe surprised.