A Ring of Fire around China

BERLIN/WASHINGTON/BEIJING | | china

BERLIN/WASHINGTON/BEIJING (Own report) - German foreign policy experts are predicting a massive arms buildup in East Asia and are not ruling out the possibility of US military aggression against China. According to a recent analysis provided at a symposium at the Federal College for Security Studies (BAKS) in Berlin, the United States is reinforcing its "military presence in the region" and is in the process - with the help of its allies - of laying a "preventive ring of fire" around the People's Republic of China. The symposium's participants, including high-ranking members of the German military, were sounding out which position the larger Asian nations would now take toward Beijing and if their respective military strategies include a confrontation with China as a possible or probable prospective scenario. The results constitute an interim balance sheet of western efforts to win allies against the Chinese rival. For years, Berlin, whose activities were not specifically handled at the BAKS' symposium, has been engaged in a massive arms buildup of the People's Republic of China's potential adversaries, including South Korea, which, occasionally over the past few years, has ranked the world's best customer of German war material. The German Bundeswehr has been supplementing the arms buildup of the respective countries with military cooperation programs.

Military Strategies

The Asian arms buildup, accompanying the economic emergence of the People's Republic of China, was recently the focus of a symposium at Berlin's Federal College for Security Studies (BAKS), the German government's central think tank for military policy. Alongside BAKS, other organizers of this symposium were the CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation, and Martin Wagener, of the Trier University. Wagener's seminars also focus on the demand that Germany free itself from the military policy "constraints" imposed by the post-war West German Constitution, to have a larger "margin of maneuver." (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[1]) At the symposium in Berlin, lecturers from the Bundeswehr, from think tanks, and universities analyzed the military strategies of the major Asian countries and the USA and their respective plans for upgrading their military equipment.

Beijing: Harmony

However, as was made clear at the seminar by a Brigadier General from the German Ministry of Defense, German military experts do not consider the Chinese armed forces a threat to western interests in the foreseeable future. The People's Liberation Army is in no way prepared for a "military conflict with the USA;" technologically, it lags "ten to twenty years" behind. According to the Brig. Gen., Beijing sees itself "in the Confucian tradition of harmonious policy making, which, for example, in the framework of the United Nations, banks on cooperation."[2] Therefore, the Chinese government's objective is the "projection of a deterrence capacity." The People's Republic is not interested in a "regional arms race."

Washington: Forward Presence

Wagener, a junior professor at the Trier University, attested that, on the contrary, in "the general confrontation for East Asian predominance" the United States is preparing for "potential military clashes with the People's Republic." Washington is not only maintaining its alliances "with Japan, South Korea, Australia, Thailand and the Philippines," it has also "a forward presence" of around 75,000 troops in the area, "excluding those in Hawaii." Washington is enhancing its missile defense system, advancing its "work on its AirSea Battle Concept," diversifying its "military presence in East Asia" and is restructuring "Guam to become a substitute base, also in case of a loss of its bases in Northeast Asia." The US military presence resembles "altogether (...) a 'ring of fire' that will be preventively placed around China, which Washington, in case of conflict, is also certainly willing to activate," Wagener is quoted as having said. He also pointed out various examples of US "political muscle flexing" - for example, by dispatching in the mid-1990s two aircraft carrier groups to the South China Sea and sending a military escort for a US warship to the same area in March 2009.

Japan, South Korea: Reinforcing the Alliance

According to the symposium, one can expect, at least, a potential confrontational posture toward Beijing from Washington's main regional allies. There is no doubt about Japan. Tokyo, it was explained, has adopted a "two-pronged approach" seeking "China's integration," but "the results of these efforts are rather meager." Therefore, the Japanese government has decided a "strategic reorientation" and has reinforced its troop contingency on the Okinawa and Nansei Islands. Tokyo seeks also - in spite of its budget cuts - "to enhance its military capabilities and to strengthen its alliance with the USA." It is likewise with South Korea, which is engaged in a comprehensive arms buildup - from 2004 to 2008, it ranked fourth among the arms customers in the world. The Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC) describes the South Korean armed forces' geostrategic orientation as being based on a defense doctrine that parts from a multiple "threat situation." Conflicts also with China are definitely being anticipated. BICC also points to the "strong presence of US American troops" stationed in South Korea.[3]

India, Russia: No Obstacles

The experts at the symposium in Berlin were skeptical about the West's efforts to integrate India into the anti-Chinese front. The "modernization of the Indian armed forces" they say, is "not oriented against the People's Republic but against Pakistan." The Indian armed forces are technologically lagging so far behind their Chinese rival that there is hardly a realistic possibility of catching up. Besides, India's domestic problems are too serious for that country to be able to afford an offensive military policy on a large scale. Russia was also discussed. It has been a long-running riddle in the German capital, whether Russia would take China's side in a conflict situation.[4] This apprehension, according to the results of Berlin's symposium, is unfounded. Moscow does support Beijing with arms supplies and there is - for example within the framework of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) - certainly punctual cooperation in military policy aimed at the USA. However, "due to very divergent interests," this cooperation "is rather instable and selective." A "permanent anti-American alliance between Russia and China" is not to be expected.

Arms Supplier

Berlin is supporting this emerging anti-Beijing alliance with large quantities of war materials. South Korea, for example, has been among the top ten recipients of German military wares for the past decade. German companies have delivered mainly warships to Seoul. South Korea even ranked first place in the German government's 2008 global Arms Exports Report. Australia, another close ally of the USA, has bought double and triple-digit million Euros worth of military material from Germany annually. The same applies to India. Berlin wants to sell Eurofighter combat planes to India, even though experts in Berlin are not sure of that country's participation in a conflict against China. In addition, large amounts of German weapons exports are being delivered to several other Southern Asian countries, which could be considered western allies in a crisis, because of their territorial disputes with China over various groups of islands. German sales of tanks promoted Singapore to among the top 10 importers of German war material. Even the tiny Southeast Asian sultanate, Brunei Darussalam, made it to fourth place on the 2009 list. It bought German patrol boats for nearly half a billion Euros. Brunei Darussalam has a contention with China concerning property rights over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.[5]

Military Cooperation

Other than the delivery of war material, the Bundeswehr is seeking to develop its military cooperation with the important western allies opposing the People's Republic of China, including South Korea,[6] Japan [7] and India [8]. Germany is in full agreement with NATO's new strategic concept that foresees, among other things, extending its activities to the Pacific Basin - and not least of all developing a closer cooperation with Australia.[9] The constellation upon which the prospective - possibly escalating - confrontation between the West and China is based, can be clearly discerned. Germany has long since taken sides - that of its military partners and arms customers and thereby against Beijing.

[1] see also Die Gesetze des Krieges
[2] Zitate hier und im Folgenden: Wettrüsten in Asien? Die Modernisierung der chinesischen Streitkräfte und die Reaktionen regionaler Mächte; www.baks.bund.de
[3] Bonn International Center for Conversion: Länderportrait Korea
[4] see also A Question of Orientation and Der Sinn der Aussöhnung
[5] see also Partner Vietnam
[6] see also Disastrous for China
[7] see also Alte Freunde
[8] see also Anti-China Offensives (I)
[9] see also War Strategies (II)