True, the military balance in the Asia-Pacific is in a disturbing and unstable state of flux. In that respect, China has indeed pulled ahead in certain areas, as I have written before. For example, the PLA’s prowess in fielding capable antiship missiles (both cruise and ballistic) does indeed present a daunting deterrent. On the other hand, Washington retains numerous advantages, including its more capable and experienced submarine force and some highly motivated and well-equipped allies. However, a deeper appreciation of the China issue will realize that “threat” is a function of both capabilities and intentions. Regarding the latter, China’s obsession with face turns out to be rather benign, predictable and often amenable to negotiated solutions. One may hope that China’s new naval ambassador, the tall sailing ship currently under construction for the PLAN, could go some distance toward revealing China’s decently civilized, if not altogether panda-like, disposition toward the wider world and the oceanic domain. According to a December 2016 Chinese news report, the unique ship will be launched at the end of 2017.
Lyle J. Goldstein is associate professor in the China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, RI. The opinions expressed in this analysis are his own and do not represent the official assessments of the U.S. Navy or any other agency of the U.S. government.
Image: People’s Liberation Army Navy sailors. Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Navy