Maritime Strategies of China and Southeast Asia

Dr. Udai Bhanu Singh is Senior Research Associate at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • January 2015
    Review Essay

    Maritime security in the Indo-Pacific (or the Indian Ocean–Pacific Ocean continuum) has acquired salience following the shift of the centre of gravity from the Atlantic. It has brought the focus onto the trade, resources and energy lifelines that run across it. The emerging power equations marked by an assertive China, a rising India, a resurgent Japan, together with a rebalancing United States make for a potentially turbulent region. The resultant situation has thrown up new challenges and opportunities which are compounded by the traditional and non-traditional threats that plague the region. The regional states’ response to the evolving strategic environment in the Indo-Pacific (which includes China’s growing naval power) has manifested itself in individual maritime strategies. As it happens, these maritime strategies are as much affected by the process of norm making currently underway as by China’s growing naval assertiveness.

    It is in this aforesaid context that the two books under review become relevant. While Cole belongs to the moderate school (no panda-hugger), Yves-Heng Lim could possibly be included among the dragon-slayers. Lim, a faculty member of the Fujen Catholic University in Taiwan, has utilised Chinese sources—one dozen Chinese books and 80 articles selected from four Chinese journals. The second book is penned by Capt. Bernard D. Cole who retired from the US navy and teaches at the National War College (NWC) in Washington DC. His previous publication1 was well acclaimed by the strategic community.

    As the rapid rise of People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) begins to manifest itself in the growing number of incidents in the South China Sea, the East China Sea and elsewhere, it is being increasingly asked: what are China’s motivations to modernise and how does it prioritise its modernisation? Yves-Heng Lim’s book, China’s Naval Power: An Offensive Realist Approach, approaches the question from an offensive realist perspective. The author views Chinese naval modernisation as stemming from its desire to secure a hegemonic position in East Asia. Naturally, this does not come without its attendant problems for the neighbouring countries. The national security concerns of Asian maritime nations and their concerns pertaining to the Asian maritime commons have been covered in extensive detail in Bernard D. Cole’s book, Asian Maritime Strategies: Navigating Troubled Waters.