The Chinese Oppose the US Pivot to the Pacific: The Chinese Military and the Korean Crisis


2013-04-16 In the height of the Korean crisis, and the clear need for the United States to reinforce South Korea and Japan, our Chinese “allies” are attacking such efforts under the guise of the threat of the “Pivot to the Pacific.”

Rather than focusing on the real and present danger from North Korea, we learn that it is the United States and its relationship with allies which pose the real strategic threat in the region. 

In its latest account of national defense efforts, China said Tuesday that the United States is destabilizing the Asia-Pacific region by strengthening its military alliances and sending more ships, planes, and troops to the area. 

The U.S. policy known as the “pivot” to Asia runs counter to regional trends and “frequently makes the situation tenser,” the Defense Ministry said in its report on the state of China’s defense posture and armed forces. 

“Certain efforts made to highlight the military agenda, enhance military deployment and also strengthen alliances are not in line with the calling of the times and are not conducive to the upholding of peace and stability in the region,” spokesman Yang Yujun told reporters at a news conference marking the report’s release. 

“We hope that the relevant parties would do more to enhance the mutual trust between countries in the region and contribute to peace and stability,” Yang said.

China has consistently criticized Washington’s deployment of additional ships and personnel to Asia, along with increasing cooperation both with treaty partners, including Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines, as well other countries such as Vietnam that aren’t traditional allies. 

Interestingly, the key official which the Obama Administration has sent to Asia to re-enforce the US role in the crisis is the one who has publically questioned the “Pivot” himself.

“I’m not convinced that increased military ramp-up [in the Asia-Pacific] is critical yet,” Mr. Kerry said at the January hearing. “That’s something I’d want to look at very carefully.” 

The “rebalancing” of America’s focus and resources — away from the Middle East and toward a rising Asia — was considered part of the legacy of Kerry’s predecessor, Hillary Rodham Clinton. China had been put on notice that the United States was reasserting itself as an Asia-Pacific power. But was Kerry suggesting, as some surmised, that the US would now focus more on engagement with a rising China? Was he signaling that the “pivot to Asia” is no longer a guiding priority? 

Or from another commentator regarding Kerry’s first foreign visit, to Europe:

The “Asia pivot” is considered a legacy of Clinton and US President Barack Obama’s first administration, but when Kerry spoke at his January confirmation hearing, he said, “I’m not convinced that increased military ramp-up in the Asia-Pacific is critical yet. That’s something I’d want to look at very carefully.” 

The PRC has just issued a White Paper on the development of their military Credit Image: Bigstock 

Or yet another source commenting on the Kerry trip to Europe:

On the second day of his European tour Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry played down the administration’s declared focus on Asia, sounding almost dismissive of a policy his predecessor championed. 

“It used to, you know – people called it the pivot, right?” Kerry said in reply to a question during a youth engagement event in Berlin, Germany. 

“We are paying attention to Asia, and so are you,” he said. “But we’re not doing it at the expense of Europe, not at all.” 

At the forefront of “people” who referred to a “pivot” to Asia was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who first laid out the concept in Foreign Policy magazine in late 2011. 

“As those wars [in Iraq and Afghanistan] wind down, we will need to accelerate efforts to pivot to new global realities,” she wrote in an essay entitled “America’s Pacific Century,” laying out a vision of “engagement in the Asia-Pacific over the next 60 years.” 

“This kind of pivot is not easy, but we have paved the way for it over the past two-and-a-half years, and we are committed to seeing it through as among the most important diplomatic efforts of our time,” she wrote.

Clinton expanded in a subsequent speech – also called “America’s Pacific Century” – in Hawaii, where she said the winding down of the wars placed the U.S. at “a pivot point.” 

The “pivot” term stuck, although some administration officials preferred to refer to a “rebalance” to Asia. (At a U.S. House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific hearing Tuesday Acting Assistant Secretary of State Joseph Yun used the term “strategic rebalance” several times.)

Washington’s Asia-Pacific partners, which include designated “major non-NATO allies” Japan, South Korea, Australia and the Philippines, welcomed the declared new regional focus. 

Chinese officials and analysts meanwhile fretted about what they see as a containment strategy, with one scholar arguing in the state-run China Daily last November that “the U.S. wants to convince China’s neighbors that the Asia-Pacific needs Washington’s presence and protection in order to ‘unite’ them to strike a ‘strategic rebalance’ against China in the region.” 

Obama’s second-term secretary of state appears set on “rebalancing the rebalance.”

Re-balancing the Pivot is certainly something the Chinese would welcome, but certainly not a good message to send to American allies facing directly the North Korean threat, or the US forces risking their lives as well. 

But not outdone to miss an opportunity to talk about their future and their growing role in the world, the PLA has chosen this moment to publish a White Paper on their defense.

When reading Chinese literature of this sort, capabilities are often asserted which they aspire for, rather than they currently have.  But the effect is almost the same, as the world is embracing the DF-21s as an historical game changer, even though it has not been tested against mobile targets, not tested in real operational conditions.

Chinese Military White Paper April 2013

We learn from this White Paper that the US is the key threat:

Some country has strengthened its Asia-Pacific military alliances, expanded its military presence in the region, and frequently makes the situation there tenser. 

Or this:

Major powers are vigorously developing new and more sophisticated military technologies so as to ensure that they can maintain strategic superiorities in international competition in such areas as outer space and cyber space.

Among the Chinese “responses” to such challenges:

In line with the requirements of its offshore defense strategy, the PLAN endeavors to accelerate the modernization of its forces for comprehensive offshore operations, develop advanced submarines, destroyers and frigates, and improve integrated electronic and information systems. Furthermore, it develops blue-water capabilities of conducting mobile operations, carrying out international cooperation, and countering non-traditional security threats, and enhances its capabilities of strategic deterrence and counterattack.

Or, with regard to the PRC Air Force:

PLAAF is strengthening the development of a combat force structure that focuses on reconnaissance and early warning, air strike, air and missile defense, and strategic projection. It is developing such advanced weaponry and equipment as new-generation fighters and new-type ground-to-air missiles and radar systems, improving its early warning, command and communications networks, and raising its strategic early warning, strategic deterrence and long-distance air strike capabilities. 

And with regard to the PLA Second Artillery Force (PLASAF:

The PLASAF capabilities of strategic deterrence, nuclear counterattack and conventional precision strike are being steadily elevated. The PLASAF has under its command missile bases, training bases, specialized support units, academies and research institutions. It has a series of “Dong Feng” ballistic missiles and “Chang Jian” cruise missiles.

How much more transparency does one need!

If one is looking for any reference to the North Korean nuclear threat and again this is being issued in the height of it, look again.

We do learn the following:

The PLA Second Artillery Force (PLASAF) is a core force for China’s strategic deterrence. It is mainly composed of nuclear and conventional missile forces and operational support units, primarily responsible for deterring other countries from using nuclear weapons against China, and carrying out nuclear counterattacks and precision strikes with conventional missiles. 

Or that

The PLASAF capabilities of strategic deterrence, nuclear counterattack and conventional precision strike are being steadily elevated.

And for those who believe in minimum deterrence, the PRC does not:

If China comes under a nuclear threat, the nuclear missile force will act upon the orders of the CMC, go into a higher level of readiness, and get ready for a nuclear counterattack to deter the enemy from using nuclear weapons against China. If China comes under a nuclear attack, the nuclear missile force of the PLASAF will use nuclear missiles to launch a resolute counterattack either independently or together with the nuclear forces of other services. The conventional missile force is able to shift instantly from peacetime to wartime readiness, and conduct conventional medium- and long-range precision strikes.

We have a somewhat different view of the impact of the Chinese “response” to developments in the region.  For our various looks at the PRC military challenge see the following:

And for our brief on interpreting the Chinese military challenge see the following: