With America’s ‘Thousand-Ship Navy’ Who Is Getting Pulled Along?

U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Jonathan Greenert believes that the growth of the Chinese navy is forcing other nations to expand their power to resist. He said it is reasonable to discuss putting together a “thousand-ship navy” which could include India, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, the Philippines and other countries. The navy would take ships and resources from each country in order to preserve existing maritime global trade networks.

America’s concerns regarding Chinese strategy stem from two areas: First, China’s expanding economic power and influence is causing America to become marginalized in the political and economic landscape of the West Pacific region; secondly, due to China’s economic development, the U.S. is searching for a new identity consistent with its economic and military strength. With these two models of development considered together, America is feeling an unprecedented threat to its ability to maintain control — act as hegemonic power — in the region.

Actually, if it is already true that America can’t rely on its own strength to contain the rise of China, then creating a new great power relationship with China would already be considered a compromise with China by hawks in America. This has led to discordant views on how to deal with the rise of China, and it will be difficult for American leaders to reach a consensus. America believes that if it allows its hegemonic status in Asia to become unstable, it will naturally trigger a global chain reaction of challenges to its power.

In reality, there are already challenges to America in the Middle East and South Asia, as well as in Eastern Europe and Ukraine. If it stubbornly seeks to continue to constrain China, then it will find it quite difficult to ward off what would be a “three-pronged” attack. In particular, new problems in Ukraine have led to general problems in Russia-U.S. relations, and it is already being dubbed a beginning of a “new Cold War.” Compared with this latest issue, territorial sovereignty issues in the West Pacific have relatively little importance to America’s status as a global hegemonic power. Even now, when events in Ukraine are entering a passive phase, America continues to speak wildly about inhibiting Chinese strategic ambitions — ignoring the important while emphasizing the trivial — and propagating clearly wild suspicions.

When you list all of America’s Asia-Pacific allies and potential allies, except for Japan, the Philippines and Australia, what other countries would be willing to participate in an American-led strategic force is still an unknown variable. America has tried to use regional disputes to get these countries to acquiesce, but it may be overplaying the influence these disputes could have in creating regional cohesiveness, even for America’s stalwart allies Australia and Japan.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, besides the Philippines, is not going to want to choose between China and the U.S. Especially in these times of military tension, the organization won’t want to fall in line with any side’s military forces. Furthermore, China’s cooling economy and defense strategies aren’t so scary to ASEAN members, no matter what America thinks. In fact, increasing cooperation and a strong relationship with China will help these countries’ economic development.

Among the countries the U.S. hopes to enlist in order to contain China, India is one of the strongest. India also has some concerns over China’s growing military presence in the Indian Ocean, as well as a border dispute with China that won’t be easily solved. However, this isn’t concrete proof that India will help the U.S. counter China. India is currently in the middle of historic economic development and military growth, with an uncertain strategic direction. America might possibly even fear India in the future, as it is also unsure of India’s strategic goals.

While India aims to become the prime authority in the Indian Ocean region, the current leader in the region is still America, so India will need a clear and obvious reason to expand and develop its naval presence there. Ironically, it is the “China threat” theory championed by America that can provide this convenient excuse. We should realize that India’s building of an aircraft carrier port and operation of bases in the Andaman Island chains, while ostensibly in response to China, will actually help India gradually establish strategic control over a chokepoint into the Indian Ocean.

America’s strategic re-balancing toward the Asia-Pacific, meant to contain China, is already seeing difficulties in implementation. Now, the idea of a “thousand-ship navy” has also been discarded, and besides the lack of a certain degree of trust between the region’s nations, financial expenditures also represent a large problem. During this time of American pressure to provide funds domestically, other countries are also reconsidering their ability to help; especially if the goal is seen as meant for American self-interest. No country wants to risk its economy because of the questionable concepts within the “China threat” theory.

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