*Asia’s Cauldron*

That is the new book by Robert D. Kaplan, and the subtitle is The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific.  Since this is possibly the most important topic in the world right now, you should read this book.  Here is one interesting excerpt of many:

According to Yale professor of management and political science Paul Bracken, China isn’t so much building a conventional navy as an “anti-navy” navy, designed to push U.S. sea and air forces away from the East Asian coastline.  Chinese drones putting lasers on U.S. warships, sonar pings from Chinese submarines, the noisy activation of Chinese smart mines, and so on are all designed to signal to American warships that Beijing knows about their movements and the United States risks a crisis if such warships get closer to Chinese waters.  Because “relations with China are too important to jeopardize with a military confrontation,” this anti-access strategy has a significant political effect on Washington.  “The strategic impact of China’s agility is not so much to tilt the military balance in its direction and away from the United States.  Rather,” bracken goes on, “it introduces new risks into the American decision-making calculus.”

Some chapters of this book are deeper and better thought out than others, but still it is definitely worth reading.



In one of those $200 navel review books that I could read a portion of on a google book search, they noted that the Chinese have vacillated between a brown water (coastal) and blue water (oceanic) strategy. The Soviets did much the same in their day, starting with nuke-missile depth charge armed helicopter carriers (Moscow class) and eventually working toward jump jet carriers.

Once a brown water navy gets to a certain size, they seem almost inevitably pulled to a blue water role. I imagine it is a combination of prestige issues, and having to justify a lot of expense on a purely reactive force.

The Indian Navy has had on again/off again modernization for some time, and this also has to be factored into the Chinese equation with regards to long term goals.

A Chinese professor once told me something that always comes to mind when discussing China. He said the Romans looked out at the world and saw barbarians that could be Romanized. The British looked out and saw a world that could be Anglicized. Americans see a world that can be Americanized. China just sees a world full of barbarians that can never be Chinese.

If you want to go around mixing it up with the barbarians, a deep water navy is the way to do it. If you just want to keep the barbarians from crossing over the horizon, then you have little use for a deep water navy. Maybe China is changing as they scour the globe for energy and natural resources. There's a lot of history to overcome, but I suppose it is possible.

For all the barbarian apathy, the Chinese have been pretty enthusiastically emigrating into these barbarian lands for more than a 100 years now?

I think you are mixing up individual decision-making with that of the powerful elite. By the same token, it would be mixing up the actions of early abolitionists with the powerful, capitalist elite in Britain (or is that English?).

As a posted below, you can always pick apart a generalization. That just takes something useful and makes it useless, like taking your car apart and arranging the parts in alphabetical order. That may satisfy a need for rigid categorization, but you still have to walk to work.

My professor was trying to contrast the Chinese wold view with those with which I was familiar. Steve Sailer takes a different tact and looks at the Anglo-sphere as island based seafaring raiders. That leads to a different type of culture than the land based peoples of Europe who are always at risk of invasion. China's culture probably reflects its geography too.

Land powers v. sea powers:


"The British looked out and saw a world that could be Anglicized. Americans see a world that can be Americanized."

That seems to me to be not very accurate about the British: is it truer of the Americans?

The Brits did a pretty good job spreading their ways for people you think were not much interested in spreading their culture.

As to America, our chief export is culture.

As to America, our chief export is "culture."


India has 125 million people who can speak English. There are also 88 million English speakers in Pakistan, and 75 million in Nigeria. Yes, I'd say the British did try to Anglicize those areas.

The English cultural legacy is most evident in the global popularity of cricket and football (soccer).

I don't think the historical record supports this statement at all. The Chinese expanded and absorbed a ton of non-Chinese people living south of the Yangtze (there are various "autonomous zones" scattered around containing the renmants of those cultures. There are also lots of examples of the more powerful northern barbarians overruning Chinese territory and then being Sinicized, or being invited in to provide soldiers for the Chinese army. The Qing dynasty was of non-Chinese origin, and the T'ang dynasty was only half-Chinese.

After the Mongol period, Chinese culture seems to have become more rigid in many ways, but even today the Chinese seem determined to sinicize Tibet for example.

Hush, don't disturb people's exotic romanticizations!

What are the lasting Chinese influences outside of China? The Romans still cast a shadow over Europe. China, despite relatively more power and a longer history seem to have had little influence on the world outside their borders.

Like all generalizations, one can find nits to pick. That really just means you don't understand how generalizations work and why they are useful.

Um, well a lot of influence actually. Many Asian languages are influenced by Chinese or at least used Chinese characters at one point. Ethnic Chinese dominate business in Southeast Asia, as they have for centuries. Chinese cuisine has dramatically influenced the food across Asia.

I think your professor's point is very thought provoking, but there are certainly a lot of Chinese who have moved overseas and adopted local customs, religion, and languages, and mixed with the local population.

That's like asking, "What are the lasting influences of the British outside of the British Empire?"

The Chinese like to pretend they aren't an imperial people, yes. This is done by pretending that that they aren't currently ruling an empire. I mean, just set aside the very, very heavy and obvious Han Chinese influence in Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The current political borders of China are not the cultural borders of a Chinese (Han) nation-state; they are the borders of a multi-ethnic empire ruled by the Han. Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, Turkestan, and Tibet make up over half the area of the People's Republic, and all are as "Chinese" as Punjab was "British" - except in the cases where they have been made as Han by migration as Australia was made British.

What does Chinese want to conquer besides Taiwan, which is awfully Chinese?

Japan? Korea? Vietnam? Siberia? The weakest country might be the Philippines, but it's long history with the U.S. -- how invading the Philippines in 1941 work out for Japan, anyway? -- makes it unappealing.

Maybe Malaysia, which has a lot of Chinese already.

What does Chinese want to conquer besides Taiwan?

Besides a few small Japanese islands? Most of the South China Sea, apparently. See map here: http://www.china-briefing.com/news/2011/05/31/chinas-territorial-disputes-in-the-south-china-sea-and-east-china-sea.html

That's the context in which we need to evaluate Chinese claims that they just want to "keep the barbarians from crossing over the horizon" as Z put it. When the Chinese say that they have no ambitions for territorial expansion, they mean that Taiwan, parts of Japan, and most of the South China Sea don't count because, in their view, those areas are already part of China. It would be like Putin saying that the West should stop meddling in "internal" Russian affairs like the Ukraine.

Americans tend to know nothing about the South China Sea and assume it's just irrelevant to them. But by some accounts I've seen, a large fraction of the world's tanker trade and up to half of all oil shipped by sea passes through that area. Given that the Chinese deliberately tried to provoke a naval incident in international waters last December by challenging a US fleet, we should assume that a China that claimed control of that area would be very dangerous indeed.

Well, these haven't been the best few years for the Indian navy.

Sank one sub + crew while berthed in port, almost lost another sub & some officers on a sea trial, grounded a warship, managed to crash another into a merchant vessel, embroiled in more than one procurement scandal, internal succession fights at the top & a worsening power struggle between the naval ministry (bureaucrats) versus career officers.

I pointed out to you before, but I'm not sure you saw it as the thread was growing old, that India needs to demonstrate competence in high technology endeavors in order to be taken seriously in global power rivalries. The context was their Mars mission, and my argument for it over simple demonstrations of orbital systems (which are obviously much more useful) was that it was much harder. The harder the demonstration, the stronger the evidence that the Indian national technical means is something you can't write off.

There's a lot of evidence that India can't do this sort of thing (operate a navy, operate in space, trust their nuclear weapons will work if they are called upon), and that's a problem because it invites competitors to push you around knowing you'll just take it because you doubt your own ability to effectively respond.

Unless the US gets it's creeping statism under control there will be nothing for China to push.

Europe converted their defense spending into welfare spending. There's no reason Americans won't vote for the same.

Isn't defence spending a kind of welfare spending?

If you want to be glib then yes, any kind of ________ spending is welfare spending. Though I think the Europe kind is a little less useful when Russia is amassing troops on your borders.

'Since this is possibly the most important topic in the world right now'

And here I was, thinking it was the rebirth of the Soviet Union - or was all that hyperventilating about the Crimea just wasted breath?

In the big picture, Ukraine doesn't matter to us. Look at it this way: part of Georgia was annexed. And that was a minor worry, a local conflagration.

The future will depend on our relationship with China, with Japan, with India, with the Koreas, with Indonesia, and their complex interlocking relationships. T

One could argue that the two are related to the same issue. If China believes the US is unwilling to stand by its commitments to defend allies from incursion generally around the world, it could alter their approach to the South China Sea.

I don't share this belief, but to those who do the two are very important indeed.

From my POV the two are interlinked better in that China can see how the Crimea adventure is sinking the Russian economy and could have long lasting effects on internal Russian politics once the immediate wave of nationalism passes. China has far less stable urban centers with enormous in-migration from rural areas and they spend the vast portion of their "defense" budget protecting these centers and keeping unrest at bay. Any move to step up action at sea (beyond the mentioned low cost/low impact "agility") would almost certainly open up serious weaknesses internally.

China's claims in the South China Sea are causing everyone else in the region to build up their navies. Maybe they can knock out the Americans, but can they need to knock out Japan, Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia.

In Luttwak's Logic of Strategy, the path forward is to dump free trade and slow the global economy. It would wound nations such as China the most because it would be a green light for everyone else to pass protectionist policies. Ironically, an anti-free trade shift in U.S. policy would boost the domestic economy through onshoring of manufacturing. This will also prove popular with the public. It's a matter of whether there is any politician cunning and ambitious enough to propose it.

You could have a system of conditional sanctions in place, without using them, in the event x happens. In other words, pre negotiate with allies on unified sanctions if x happens. We are all worse off if there is a slowdown in global growth.

Would it improve the economy and prove popular when prices exploded?

since the goal of the last 4+ years of FED policy has been to engender inflation, yes it would.

MNCs based in the US have many billions invested in China operations, it would be politically very difficult to tell them to abandon their factories and KFCs, which is essentially what trade barriers would force.

The similarities of the Chinese naval strategy and Tirpitz's concept for the German navy have been pointed out, and are fairly strong. But the US is different enough from early 20th century Britain that the result need not be the same.

Navies are sitting platforms for easy attack. They are more of trigger point than a spear.

How many aircraft carriers has the U.S. lost in combat to an "easy attack"?

Most important issue in the world? As far as 99% of the US population is concerned, if it doesn's involve Islam, it isn't important. The only thing that matters about China is the Uighur issue, with trade and military expansion being unimportant.

Still, what is described for now is a defensive navy...btw, their subs can sink our surface ships...

If the shooting started, their subs wouldnt last a weekend. Sub supremacy is established first, then the surface warfare starts.

How does the first part play out? My impression was subs are terribly hard to find. Sincere question. How does one establish sub supremacy?

Good subs are hard to find. Cheap or low tech ones, not as much. The US sub force's current job is keeping track of those subs in case some other country tries something.

Even if enemy subs evade their US shadows, there are roughly two places you need to look, near where they port and near their targets, our carrier groups.

It seems to me that lost in discussions about Crimea/Russia and China is the axiom/theorem/belief/findings that nations that trade do not go to war. Does it depend on what we trade? Is there some long-term economic utility calculation that trumps ideology that I am not seeing?

I was under the (possibly mistaken) impression that European trade was quite high prior to WWI.

Nope, you are quite right. In fact there was a book published in 1911 or 12 arguing that inter-European conflict was an impossibility because the damage to the interlinked economies would be too great to fathom.

This is undoubtedly an important issue, but should we trust one of the preeminent cheerleaders of the Iraq War to explain it to us?

So we (the United States) can't patrol around in our boats over there. Why should we again? Protect some ships maybe, but that's more to the Indian Ocean. China is up and coming, and the reason they are is because of us. As in the USA. We sourced the production of so many things there, used the profits from that arbitrage to make piles of cash for the Fortune 500, and now that arbitrage is shrinking. That is, the average American is more broke and the average Chinese person is less broke. So now China has a bunch more money than they did in 1980. Alright, what do you think a powerful (with money) nation does? Do they sit around and play checkers? No, they build things. Like skyscrapers, stadiums and military capabilities. None of this should be a surprise, it all makes sense.

It is indeed predictable and even almost inevitable -- but still unsettling.

Granted there are huge differences in culture, politics, and ideology but the Chinese navy over the last 20 years or so reminds me of the rise of the Imperial Japanese Navy prior to WW II. At first the Japanese didn't have the shipbuilding capacity or expertise, so they bought capital ships such as battleships from British shipbuilders. Nowadays the major capital ship is the aircraft carrier, and several years ago the Chinese purchased a former Soviet aircraft carrier the Varyag, which they recently launched with the namerenamed Liaoning.

With continued economic growth and increasingly far-flung economic interests all over the world, China will continue to increase its means as well as reason for expanding its Navy's blue-water capabilities. The comments here are undoubtedly correct -- China's focus will be on defending its own shores rather than projecting power abroad. But even so, with growing rivalries over islands in the South China Sea and elsewhere, China would be remiss if it didn't also expand its Navy's capabilities.

And if a US-China naval war did break out say 20 years from now ... even though the US would have a big advantage on paper, I'm once again reminded of how easy it was to think that the US Pacific fleet was invincible against an inferior Asian foe ... until 1941. In the end the US did indeed steamroll over the Japanese Navy, but not until after several naval defeats and the shocking discovery that they had airplanes that were about as good as the US's (superior in some ways), far better torpedoes, superior night fighting skills, etc. Simultaneously, the German U-boat fleet was showing how dangerous a land-based adversary could be even in the naval dimension.

"reminds me of the rise of the Imperial Japanese Navy prior to WW II"

How'd that work out for Japan, anyway?

Historic events which resulted in success by no means guarantee that future events of similar character will end in success as well.

For one, China is a land-based country, and a huge one - it is hard to isolate it from international trade in the same way as Japan could be.

Note that the ability of the Vietcong to resupply over the land borders was a crucial one.

One more thing.

In the beginning of the 1940s, Japan DID successfully push the British out of their seas of interest. That they lost to the USA is another story. Britain never really reasserted itself in the region again.

Tyler, quit promoting this expensive saber-rattling. Hitler and, afterwards, the USSR- these were bogeyman worth spending a ridiculous portion of GDP to oppose.

Islamic terrorists, the Chinese, 21st century Russia- not so much.

National insecurity is the justification for obscene spending on promoting 'security'. Go away, Kaplan.

Yep, this time is different...

Yep, it is.

Hitler was a bogeyman? I knew this blog attracted right wingers but outright Holocaust deniers, thats a new one.

Huh? Holocaust denial--where? Did you miss: worth spending a ridiculous portion of GDP to oppose.

Poor word choice- my apologies. I should have used the term 'external threat'.

I prefer to think you deliberately chose to read my comment uncharitably rather than that you are an idiot, but I may be wrong about this.

Hi would you mind sharing which blog platform you're using?

I'm looking to start my own blog in the near future but I'm having
a difficult time making a decision between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.

The reason I ask is because your layout seems different then most blogs and I'm looking for something unique.
P.S Apologies for being off-topic but I had to ask!

After I originally left a comment I appear to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments
are added- checkbox and from now on each time a comment is added I receive four emails with the exact same comment.
There has to be a means you can remove me from that service?
Appreciate it!

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