China's Lifelines (I)

BERLIN/BEIJING | | china

BERLIN/BEIJING (Own report) - Berlin's foreign policy establishment has intensified its debate on China's military buildup, on the territorial conflicts in the seas of Eastern Asia and on what Germany's reactions should be. After 30 years of a double-digit economic growth average, China now "has arrived at the point," where it translates its "economic strength into political influence and military power," according to last year's colloquium held in the German capital by the Federal College for Security Studies (BAKS). Various experts have now drawn the conclusion that the Peoples Republic of China's primary objective is to ward off from the China Seas, extraneous powers' offensive operations running counter to China's interests, as well as to protect its own maritime trade routes westward. Currently, these are under the control of western nations, who, at any time could decide to put Beijing under strong pressure. In fact, Berlin is expanding its military policy activities along China's maritime trade routes. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the EU must enhance its influence in East and Southeast Asia.

Thirty Years of Growth

Last year, Germany's Federal College for Security Studies (BAKS) was already focusing on China, the new power. At its "Berliner Colloquium 2012," organized by BAKS, the German government's most important think tank on military policy and the Clausewitz Society, Eberhard Sandschneider, director of the research institute of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), explained the background. Sandschneider is quoted as having explained that the Peoples Republic of China has "a successful 30 years with the growth of its gross national product (GNP) at a double-digit rate." It has "now reached the point," where "economic strength is translated into political influence and military power."[1] Therefore, "the days are past, (...) where China behaved as we would like, without insisting on its own conditions."

Dependent on Western Toleration

Over the past few months, several German think tanks have been analyzing China's military buildup, which has resulted. It is consensus that China's defense budget has been growing parallel to the growth of the total Chinese national economy - even though Beijing repeatedly points out that its military budget, at 1.28 percent of its GNP, is lower than the average for the EU countries. Germany, for example, spends 1.4 percent on its military. A short study by the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA) has concluded that China's arms buildup is aimed at the "defense of Chinese core regional interests," as well as the "security of its international transport routes."[2] China is "dependent on the import of sources of energy and raw materials." In 2003, the government in Beijing had, therefore, "announced its intentions, in a white book on its resources policy, to not only promote, but also protect its foreign raw materials investments." Currently, its maritime transport routes are largely under the control of western countries. As the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University (ISPK) recently acknowledged, supplying the People's Republic of China by sea, for example through Southeast Asia's straits, "depends upon whether the USA or India will tolerate Chinese transit."[3]

Cut Off from the Pacific

According to the GIGA, the People's Republic of China's "core interests" are also threatened by offensive operations by extraneous powers in the China Seas. This refers particularly to US maneuvers off China's coastline and the renewal and expansion of the US military's local alliances. Recently, Vietnam decided to enter military cooperation with the United States.[4] "The US government's initiatives in the Pacific" are "aimed at insuring US influence in the region and reinforcing military ties to its partners in Eastern and Southern Asia," GIGA summarized.[5] Chinese observers accuse the USA, "of destabilizing the region with an anti-Chinese polarization." This is apparently a "revival of the containment strategy" - with the intention of "stifling" China. This is also the cause of territorial conflicts over island groups to China's east and south - some of which are uninhabited. For example, this is how Chinese military strategists see the dispute between China and Japan over a group of islands. Chinese control of the islands could open free access to the Pacific to China's Navy, whereas Japan's continued control, could at least seriously restrict China's access.[6] According to an analysis recently published by the Bertelsmann Foundation, 90 percent of China's oil supplies are shipped in the vicinity of this group of disputed islands.[7] Washington has declared that in disputes over these and other islands, it would support China's East and Southeast Asian rivals - without exception.

Securing Maritime Routes

Ret. Naval Captain Heinz Dieter Jopp, former director of the Security Policy and Strategy Department at the German Armed Forces Staff College in Hamburg, arrived at a similar assessment of China's arms buildup. He considers that particularly the Chinese Navy, "in light of China's political and (...) economic focus" will orient westward - toward the Persian Gulf and Africa, "to secure China's necessary resources." Those are the country's "vital maritime life lines." Through its participation in the anti-piracy struggle at the Horn of Africa, China's Navy has "adjusted its supply and maintenance components for missions far away from its home ports and support installations" and has, "enhanced them" to some degree.[8] In the future, Beijing will also "clearly demonstrate (...), where the red lines of its interests" lie - in the China Seas - to "US allies, such as Japan and South Korea." He considers that Beijing will "still not seek confrontation with the USA and its Navy, since its national objectives do not necessitate controlling the Pacific Ocean."

German Interference

Regardless of this, Berlin is trying to reinforce its military political influence, particularly in the countries of Southeast Asia, along whose coastal borders China has its maritime trade routes. This especially includes the three countries bordering on the Straits of Malacca, the most important point of entry from the Indian Ocean to the seas of Eastern Asia. Germany is cooperating with Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia in the forms of arms deliveries and military policy coordination. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[9]) April 22, Singapore's Minister of Defense made an official visit to Berlin. As the German Ministry of Defense announced, the exchange between those two countries has been clearly intensified particularly since the September 2005 signing of the "Accord for Military Cooperation between Singapore and Germany." There are, for example, regular "high-level delegation visits," joint events, such as the "Security and Defense Policy Dialogue" and even joint military maneuvers.[10] The ministry announced that the cooperation, will be "enhanced" in the future. This will heighten pressure on Beijing, to further secure its maritime trade routes against western control, threatening a further escalation of current tensions.

Overland Alternatives

Germany and other western countries are making similar efforts to stifle Chinese efforts to relieve these tensions through the construction of overland transport routes. German-foreign-policy.com reports tomorrow, Friday.[11]

[1] Europas Platz im asiatisch-pazifischen Jahrhundert - Ziele, Strategien, Handlungsoptionen. Bericht über das Berliner Colloquium 2012 der Clausewitz-Gesellschaft e.V. und der Bundesakademie für Sicherheitspolitik, in: Clausewitz-Gesellschaft e.V.: Jahrbuch 2012
[2] Nele Noesselt, Saskia Hieber: Größer, stärker, global? Chinas Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik nach dem Führungswechsel, GIGA Focus Asien Nr. 5/2013
[3] Felix Seidler: Maritime Machtverschiebungen im Indo-Pazifischen Raum: Geopolitische und strategische Trends. Kieler Analysen zur Sicherheitspolitik Nr. 33, Januar 2013. See also Die Pax Pacifica (III)
[4] see also Verbündete gegen Beijing (I)
[5] Nele Noesselt, Saskia Hieber: Größer, stärker, global? Chinas Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik nach dem Führungswechsel, GIGA Focus Asien Nr. 5/2013
[6] Asia-Pacific: Desert island risks; www.ft.com 01.10.2012
[7] Axel Berkofsky: Japan und China: Bittere Rivalen und enge Partner, Asia Policy Brief 2013/03 der Bertelsmann-Stiftung, Juli 2013
[8] Heinz Dieter Jopp: Chinas Marine. Sicherheitspolitische und strategische Vorgaben, MarineForum 7-8/2013
[9] see also Offensiven gegen China (III), Die Pax Pacifica (II) and Die Pax Pacifica (III)
[10] De Maizière hat den singapurischen Verteidigungsminister empfangen; www.bmvg.de 22.04.2013
[11] see also Roll Back China's Influence and Civilian Guise