May 13th 2015

China's Growing Global Military Presence: Walk Softly and Carry a Small Stick

by Daniel Wagner

 

Daniel Wagner is the founder and CEO of Country Risk Solutions and a widely published author on current affairs and risk management.

Daniel Wagner began his career at AIG in New York and subsequently spent five years as Guarantee Officer for the Asia Region at the World Bank Group's Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency in Washington, D.C. After then serving as Regional Manager for Political Risks for Southeast Asia and Greater China for AIG in Singapore, Daniel moved to Manila, Philippines where he held several positions - including as Senior Guarantees and Syndications Specialist - for the Asian Development Bank's Office of Co-financing Operations. Prior to forming CRS he was Senior Vice President of Country Risk at GE Energy Financial Services. He also served as senior consultant for the African Development Bank on institutional investment.

Daniel Wagner is the author of seven books: The America-China Divide, China Vision, AI Supremacy, Virtual Terror, Global Risk Agility and Decision Making, Managing Country Risk, and Political Risk Insurance Guide. He has also published more than 700 articles on risk management and current affairs and is a regular contributor to the South China Morning Post, Sunday Guardian, and The National Interest, among many others. (For a full listing of his publications  and media interviews please see www.countryrisksolutions.com).

Daniel Wagner holds master's degrees in International Relations from the University of Chicago and in International Management from the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Phoenix. He received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from Richmond College in London.

Daniel Wagner can be reached at: daniel.wagner@countryrisksolutions.com.

The alarm bells that are ringing among various governments and in the press with respect to China's growing global military presence are overdone. Yes, in doing so, China is indeed seeking to expand its global political, as well as its ability to project its military power abroad. As the world's second largest economy and de facto superpower, what, exactly, would the West and its neighbors expect it to be doing? The difference is, unlike when the other Great Powers sought to expand their own global reach, China actually has little ability to project its power at the present time.

Not Really a String of Pearls

For more than a decade now, the West has been pounding the 'String of Pearls' drum, arguing that China has been seeking to secure its flow of natural resources from around the world by using its economic and military relationships with governments throughout Asia to establish numerous military facilities throughout the region. There is some truth to this, of course, with the Chinese having either financed, established or having access to ports in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan. But a recent report from the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) notes that, based on its long-standing foreign policy principles and objectives, there is little reason to believe that China will make much additional headway in pursuing more in the way of a String of Pearls, and there is actually no evidence that China is using any of these sites for military activities.

Moreover, China's history in the region are still prominent in its popular memory, given Beijing's 1979 invasion of Vietnam, its support of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia (1976-1979), and accusations of involvement in Indonesia's 1965 coup. Furthermore, China still has unresolved border disputes with several nations in the region, including Bhutan, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia, as well as claiming a sizeable chunk of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. These will presumably make it difficult for China to achieve much more in the way of an enhanced naval presence elsewhere in Asia.

China's ongoing regional disputes over the Senkaku, Spratly, and Paracel Islands have only exacerbated regional tensions. China's 'nine dash dotted line' -- which denotes an imaginary maritime boundary extending hundreds of miles beyond its internationally recognized Exclusive Economic Zone into the South China Sea - will never stand up in international court, but that has not prevented China from assertively pursuing its territorial claims there. Its recent construction of air strips in the South China Sea is as much intended to intimidate its neighbors as to project its military power.

Not Taking Africa by Storm

The Chinese have been trying to establish a military base in the geo-strategically significant nation of Djibouti for years, whose president recently said that China's presence there would be welcome, which is hardly surprising given how close the two countries have become economically. Both countries signed an agreement last year allowing for a Chinese naval presence, and now Beijing is intent on building a permanent military base in the northern city of Obock.

Djibouti already serves as the U.S. military headquarters on the African continent, where the U.S. projects its own power in Africa and the Middle East. Both France and Japan also already have a presence there, and Djibouti is routinely used by other navies to battle pirates in Somalia. If it does build a military installation there, China will just be one more country that recognizes Djibouti's strategic importance and seeks to project its power from the tiny country.

As South Sudan's number one foreign investor, China has come to play an unusually active role in an effort to resolve the ongoing conflict there. Such involvement contradicts China's traditional doctrine of non-interference in foreign countries' domestic disputes, but Beijing's economic and geopolitical interests in South Sudan have convinced it to bend its rules. China has high stakes in both Sudan and South Sudan, having invested $20 billion in Sudan prior to the 2011 partition, and an additional $8 billion in South Sudan following its secession. While playing its diplomatic role, China also happens to be the government's top weapons provider. Last year China sold $38 million worth of ammunition, grenade launchers, machine guns and missiles to South Sudan's government.

As a result, many voices in South Sudan and the international community have accused Beijing of prolonging the conflict. Some rebel figures have also criticized Beijing, claiming it is playing a contradictory role by arming South Sudan's military while investing time, effort and money in peace talks. South Sudan's rebels do not view China as a legitimate or genuine peace broker, and accuse it of playing peacemaker simply to protect its oil interests. Such a perception can only be heightened by China's deployment of 700 troops to the South Sudanese states of Unity and Upper Nile, in an effort to safeguard China's workers and assets. It marks Beijing's first contribution of a battalion to any UN peacekeeping force. Some might ask, what took it so long to do so?

China has expressed interest in building "Overseas Strategic Support Bases" in a number of other African locations, such as Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Madagascar, Nigeria and Angola. Given Beijing's growing dependence on Africa's natural resources, protecting its energy investments across the continent will continue to drive its Africa foreign policy. China is hardly taking Africa by storm -- nor could it, given its current military capabilities. Rather, it is carefully and adeptly increasing both its presence and its influence on the continent.

Walking Softly and Carrying a Small Stick

China does not subscribe to the concept of 'spheres of influence', but it does deploy military assets when it believes its interests are threatened. Beijing is perhaps a generation away from having a meaningful blue water navy, so in the interim it has resorted to the pursuit of non-military activities, such as disaster relief and combating piracy. It has also enhanced military exchanges with a broad range of countries in Asia and beyond, and ramped up 'military diplomacy', engaging in anti-piracy exercises, increased naval visits, and 'technical service' stops at ports around the world.

This expansion of China's 'soft' military presence abroad is an effort to protect its commercial interests, as well as being consistent with its growing and increasingly important role on the global stage. It is easier for China to gradually enhance this soft military presence given its belief in non-interference in other countries' internal affairs, and more generally, its adherence to principles of non-alignment. President Xi's launching of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Project and Beijing's '1+2+3' strategy -- both of which seek to enhance China's infrastructure and economic capabilities -- appear to be based more on economic than political or military considerations.

Of course, it can easily be argued that both initiatives have a 'dual use' connotation, but even if this were to be the case, it has to be based on longer term, rather than short or medium-term objectives. This is ultimately what concerns Western military strategists. And yet, as the INSS states in its report, China does not appear to be building a covert logistics infrastructure to fight either the U.S. or India. Its strategy of creating access to a limited number of military bases, combined with access to overseas commercial facilities, will only create a 'light' military footprint.

Most of China's military budget is dedicated to securing its borders through a robust army and air force. It has only one aircraft carrier (which it did not build) and very little ability to project its power on the high seas. Creating a blue water navy is a very costly, complicated and time consuming proposition, which China is decades away from achieving. So, China really has no choice but to walk softly and carry a small stick. Its near-term efforts aimed at establishing greater military influence in the world will likely prove to be much ado about very little for many years to come. Beijing's preference to let others do the fighting and then swoop in after the fact for the commercial spoils in war zones is unlikely to change for a long time to come.



Daniel Wagner is CEO of Country Risk Solutions and author of "Managing Country Risk", please see below for link to Amazon. For Country Risk Solutions' web site, please click here.

You can follow Daniel Wagner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/countryriskmgmt



To follow what's new on Facts & Arts, please click here.



Buy the Book:

 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jun 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "The facts are clear: the wealthiest 0.54%, about 40 million people, are responsible for 14% of lifestyle-related greenhouse gas emissions, while the bottom 50% of income earners, almost 4 billion people, only emit around 10%. The world’s top 10% income earners are responsible for at least 25% and up to 43% of our environmental impact. Most people living in developed countries would fit into this category, meaning you don’t have to consider yourself rich in order to be globally affluent. Even many poorer people in wealthy countries have a disproportionately large and unsustainable resource footprint compared to the global average."
Jun 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "To be sure, the American Dream was always more aspiration than reality. Economic, social, and intergenerational mobility have always fallen short of what the myth of the self-made man or woman would lead one to expect. But with social mobility now declining as inequality rises, today’s young people are right to be angry."
Jun 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "There is only one way to repair America’s reputation, regain the trust of allies, and ensure that the US can act as an effective counterweight to China: address the root causes of the cracks that Trump’s disastrous presidency has exposed and widened. This is in line with the vision advanced in 2011 by two military strategists, Captain Wayne Porter and Colonel Mark Mykleby, using the pseudonym “Mr. Y.” Porter and Mykleby argued that national security depends not only on the capacity to respond to threats from foreign powers, but also – and perhaps more important – on the “application of credible influence and strength.” That influence, in turn, depends on America’s success in providing a “pathway of promise” for US citizens – and a model for the world."
Jun 14th 2020
EXTRACT: "The most critical question then is not how far Trump will go to promote his treasonous agenda, but for how long Republican leaders will silently accept and subserviently enable Trump to destroy the basic moral tenets and values on which this Union was founded, and which they swore to uphold and protect...............Of course, shame on us if we continue to be surprised by Republicans’ continuing silence, because as we all know, even when presented with overwhelming evidence that Trump committed crimes against the American people, Trump’s Republican stooges in the Senate exonerated him following impeachment almost unanimously...................The Republican leadership, to be sure, has made its bed. It has committed moral suicide. History will judge them harshly for their treason and betrayal of the nation, including all of those who have lived and died throughout our history to foster and protect our safety, integrity, and freedom."
Jun 9th 2020
EXTRACT: " Governments can do nothing about the quotidian offenses of living as a black person in America – the empty taxis that refuse to stop, being mistaken for employees in supermarkets, the myriad intentional and unintentional insults. Many now in the streets won’t be satisfied unless the result of this national spasm is improved schools, health care, and job opportunities for minorities – a fair shake for black people. What will happen when America once again falls short of honoring its professed values?."
Jun 8th 2020
EXTRACT: "It should be apparent to most observers of international relations that the Chinese government wants the world to play by its own set of rules. Beijing appears to believe that China’s rise and its assumption of global leadership positions are an inevitable extension of earlier periods in its history, when it was the world’s most powerful country. This is often at odds with the global norms that have been established – with China’s participation, it is worth adding – since the 1940s. While this is clearly the Chinese century, few outside of China would agree that Beijing’s global leadership is either inevitable or necessarily desired – certainly not on the Chinese government’s terms."
Jun 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "Many Americans are clearly horrified by their president’s crass and incendiary words. But will their disapproval be offset by anxiety about violent social unrest? Will age-old racial prejudices, often unspoken, or even acknowledged, still make them vote for the false security of a coarse white bully?  Much will depend on how hot this summer gets. If people think rationally in November, it is hard to imagine that enough of them would vote to keep this appalling administration in power for another four years. But fear is reason’s worst enemy."
Jun 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "For starters, many Americans have accepted that they live in a winner-takes-all society of deepening inequality. While the wealth and incomes of those at the very top continue to grow, tens of millions of Americans struggle to afford health care, childcare, and other basic goods. This story has been told many times over. But what often goes unremarked is that the responsibility for managing the social costs of this system has been offloaded onto the police."
May 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "Obamagate is the latest conspiracy theory to be pushed by US president, Donald Trump. It started on the morning of May 10, when Trump retweeted the word “OBAMAGATE!” By the next day, the Obamagate hashtag had accrued over two million tweets and another four million by the end of the week. Trump has repeatedly reused the slogan on his Twitter feed since and it has been promoted by right-wing influencers including Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and many others....You are not alone if you’re confused by what Obamagate actually is or why Trump is tweeting about it."
May 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "Not all aspects of our near and medium-term future can be foreseen at this juncture of the Covid-19 pandemic, but we now know enough to make some hypotheses about what is likely to change, based on what has already changed. The future is sure to look very different than it did before this decade began, regardless of whether a vaccine is found. If a vaccine is found, it is unlikely to be tested, approved, manufactured, and efficiently distributed to the world’s population of nearly 8 billion people for years. Bearing in mind that there is no vaccine for any coronavirus, what is likelier is that the world will be living with Covid-19 as a part of our ecosystem for many years to come – possibly permanently. That means that our new normal is probably already here."
May 21st 2020
EXTRACT: "LONDON – The new Franco-German proposal for a €500 billion ($547 billion) European recovery fund could turn out to be the most important historic consequence of the coronavirus. It is even conceivable that the deal struck between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron might one day be remembered as the European Union’s “Hamiltonian moment,” comparable to the 1790 agreement between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson on public borrowing, which helped to turn the United States, a confederation with little central government, into a genuine political federation."
May 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "In April 2011, Donald Trump, then considering a run for the presidency the following year, said that he had sent investigators to Hawaii to check out rumors that President Barack Obama wasn’t born there, but in Kenya, which would disqualify him for the presidency. His investigators, Trump declared, “cannot believe what they’re finding.” I can find no record of Trump being challenged on this outlandish claim at the time. In the fall of 2016, Trump, now the Republican presidential nominee, was convinced by his staff that he had to abandon this “birther” nonsense. He did so reluctantly, charging – also with no evidence – that such rumors had actually been initiated by his opponent, Hillary Clinton. There, in a nutshell, is Trump’s modus operandi: he’s not just a liar but a fabulist, seemingly unconcerned with whether his fictions will be exposed. If they are, the world simply moves on as he invents fresh distractions."
May 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "Li, a doctor, was purportedly silenced and chastised by Chinese officials for warning on December 30, 2019, about a new virus in the Wuhan hospital where he worked. When it became evident that he was on to something serious – so serious, in fact, that it ultimately killed him – the Chinese government changed its tune and celebrated Li’s bravery. If only that had happened sooner, the argument goes, the world would have avoided this horrific pandemic.................... But that’s not what happened."
May 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "Jana Winter and Hunter Walker at Yahoo News broke the story that 11 Secret Service agents have tested positive for the coronavirus. Likely some of them served in the West Wing. This week it was revealed at that a US military valet who brought Trump food came down with the virus, sending Trump into a “lava level” rage. Two aides to Vice President Mike Pence have tested positive. Some observers are afraid that the virus is circulating in the West Wing itself."
May 6th 2020
EXTRACT: "There has been much debate around the world about the source of the COVID-19 pandemic, ranging from a laboratory to Wuhan’s seafood market to some other form of animal-to-human transmission. While there is no proof (yet) that the virus may have been inadvertently released from one of the two biological research laboratories located at Wuhan, there is evidence that viral release has occurred in the past, and a host of additional data that point to a laboratory connection. "
May 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "A better bet is that nothing will be the same. Wealth will be destroyed on a catastrophic scale, and policymakers will need to find a way to ensure that, at least in some cases, creditors take part of the hit, a process that will play out over years of negotiation and litigation. For bankruptcy lawyers and lobbyists, it will be a bonanza, part of which will come from pressing taxpayers to honor bailout guarantees. Such a scenario would be an unholy mess."
Apr 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "We need the twenty-first century’s two superpowers, America and China, to set the example, by burying their rivalry and uniting all of humankind around a collective response to the current crisis, and to those that await us. As COVID-19 has taught us, the old international system can no longer guarantee humankind’s safety and security. We cannot afford to be taught that lesson twice."
Apr 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "It should come as no surprise that Trump has abused his power in orchestrating the federal response to the pandemic. For example, he made sure that Colorado received 100 much-needed ventilators, and made sure that Colorado voters knew it, in order to help re-elect troubled incumbent Republican senator Cory Gardner.  More alarming, Trump effectively threatened to wage germ warfare against US Postal Service workers by denying them congressionally approved virus-mitigation aid unless the USPS quadrupled rates on packages. Trump’s actual target was Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post."
Apr 28th 2020
EXTRACT: "These ten risks, already looming large before COVID-19 struck, now threaten to fuel a perfect storm that sweeps the entire global economy into a decade of despair. By the 2030s, technology and more competent political leadership may be able to reduce, resolve, or minimize many of these problems, giving rise to a more inclusive, cooperative, and stable international order. But any happy ending assumes that we find a way to survive the coming Greater Depression."
Apr 26th 2020
EXTRACT: "In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the US Federal Reserve will buy unlimited quantities of Treasury bonds, the Bank of England will purchase £200 billion ($250 billion) of gilts, and the European Central Bank up to €750 billion ($815 billion) of eurozone bonds. Almost certainly, central banks will end up providing monetary finance to fund fiscal deficits. The only question is whether they should make that explicit."