Day will come when we must choose US or China
China correspondent for Fairfax Media
February 16, 2013
BEIJING: Within two decades the US will be forced out of the western Pacific, says a high-ranking Chinese military officer, amid concerns that increasingly militarised great power rivalry could lead to war.
Senior Colonel Liu Mingfu, at the People's Liberation Army's National Defence University, told Fairfax Media this week that American strategic influence would be confined ''east of the Pacific midline'' as it is displaced by Chinese power throughout East Asia, including Australia.
Colonel Liu's interpretation of one facet of what the new Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, calls ''a new type of great power relationship'' adds to the uncertainty and anxiety surrounding China's strategic ambitions.
"It is the most dangerous strategic crisis that the world has faced since the end of the Cold War " ...Hugh White, former deputy secretary of the Department of Defence. Photo: Jessica Hromas
It clashes with comments days earlier by his university colleague General Zhu Chenghu. ''We have no intention of driving the US out of east Asia or the western Pacific,'' General Zhu told a conference in Atlanta. ''But I don't think most Americans believe what the Chinese are saying.''
On January 31 James Fanell, intelligence chief for the US Pacific Fleet, which commands six aircraft carrier groups, told a San Diego conference that China's ''expansion into blue waters is largely about countering the Pacific Fleet''.
Even China's civilian maritime surveillance agency ''has no other mission but to harass other nations into submitting to China's expansive claims'', he said.
''And I can tell you, as the Fleet Intelligence Officer, the PLA Navy is going to sea to learn how to do naval warfare,'' said Captain Fanell. ''Make no mistake, the PLA Navy is focused on war at sea and about sinking an opposing fleet.''
Anxieties about China's strategic ambitions have grown since it occupied islands administered by the Philippines in the South China Sea last year and, particularly, China's ongoing brinkmanship with Japan and its security guarantor, the US, in the East China Sea.
Japanese leaders have accused China of locking weapons-guiding radars on Japanese targets - which China denies - while Western military sources say Chinese planes, ships and submarines have challenged Japan-
controlled waters and airspace around the Senkaku Islands, known as Diaoyu in Chinese.
Some security analysts say Australian political leaders are in public denial about the stakes involved and invidious choices the nation may have to face.
''It's the most dangerous strategic crisis that the US has faced, that the world has faced, since the end of the Cold War,'' said Hugh White, former deputy secretary of the Department of Defence, saying China and Japan were drifting closer to a war that could draw in the US.
''This makes rather a nonsense of the mantra we hear both from Gillard and Abbott that 'we don't have to choose between the US and China','' he said.
An assertive, rising China has also triggered the formation of a regional latticework of security structures, partly pioneered by Australia and now championed by the new Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, who proposes a ''democratic security diamond'' involving India, the US and Australia.
Ely Ratner, fresh from a stint at the China desk of the US State Department, said Australia should speak louder in favour of international laws, norms and institutions given its dependence on the flow of goods in east Asia.
As much as 57 per cent of Australian exports passes through sea lanes in the South China Sea, Australian government estimates show.
''The overriding question is whether China is interested in a region based on rules and institutions that seek co-operative, non-coercive ways to deal with disagreements,'' said Mr Ratner, a fellow at the Centre for a New American Security, which was founded by the State Department's recently retired assistant secretary for east Asia, Kurt Campbell.
''Or is it going to deal with disagreements by using military, non-military and economic coercion, as we saw against the Philippines and Japan, and diplomatic coercion as we saw at the East Asia Summit?'' he said, referring to China's intervention to block discussion of maritime security issues.
Colonel Liu, who has warned Australia not to support the Japanese ''wolf'' or American ''tiger'' in a military showdown, does not hold the rank of general or act as an official spokesman.
But his views have been taken more seriously since his fiercely nationalistic book, The China Dream, was allowed back onto the shelves after Mr Xi's elevation in November, when Mr Xi began talking about his own nationalistic ''China Dream''.
And they reflect a common assertion in some quarters of Beijing, and particularly the army, that the Obama administration's ''pivot'' to Asia is an aberration in a long story that will see the US Pacific Fleet eventually give up on its allies in the region.