An Ocean Not So Pacific

Russia, which harbors plans to exploit the economic potential of Siberia and its Far East in close cooperation with its Asian neighbors, has something to mull over.

An important aspect of the rivalry between the U.S. and China, which is taking on increasing significance in East Asia, is the potential for naval confrontation. The face-off is already on the agenda of many international conferences and seminars, and is a topic of parliamentary debate and media discussion. All too often, the impression created is that «China is to blame for everything." The data point to the methodical build-up of its surface and submarine fleet, the coastline deployment of precision anti-ship missiles, and the creation of enhanced tools to track maritime targets and disable enemy command-and-control systems. According to U.S. experts, the main objective is to «deny access» to the U. S. Navy in various regions of the Pacific Ocean.

The wording is technical in nature, but replete with latent resentment. After all, the everyday «access» of the Internet has inculcated us into believing that the very concept is a sacred human right. So if U.S. sailors need «access» to waters adjacent to a certain territory then how can it be denied? After all, for more than half a century naval bases, patrols and intelligence gathering in the proximity of China’s coast have been a natural natter to the Americans. The U.S. (and its faithful allies) wields such force — in the shape of six aircraft carrier groups — as a guarantee of political stability and economic prosperity across the entire East Asian region, and to secure international lanes of communication. Even the mere suggestion that «forward deployment» could, in the eyes of the Chinese or someone else, appear to be an act of open aggression and expansionism is deeply offensive to the American psyche.

In Washington’s official interpretation, the principle of freedom of navigation requires that the 200-mile economic zones of all coastal nations be open to foreign military vessels. The United States justifies its right to «access» the Chinese coast on this very proposition. When U.S. diplomats are asked how their country’s administration would react to the presence of Chinese warships in the exclusive economic zone of the United States, they assert that there would be no objection (omitting to point out that China is not yet able to mount such an expedition). But if China’s naval capabilities — and control of the seas — continue to grow, will we see such an incursion in future? If so, expect the U.S. to promptly revise its policy of acquiescence.

What is worse, the problems outlined above affect not only U.S.-Chinese bilateral relations. The level of military and political tension is rising throughout East Asia. The question hovers: will the rivalry between the two powers undermine regional stability, without which the continued growth and integration of the East Asian economies will founder?

Russia, which harbors plans to exploit the economic potential of Siberia and its Far East in close cooperation with its Asian neighbors, has something to mull over. In particular, the fact that any escalation between the U.S. and China is not in Russia’s national interest, and does not chime with its comprehensive program of modernization. It is reassuring that many other countries in the region share these sentiments. Consequently, there is hope for a multilateral dialogue on Asian security underpinned by joint actions and agreements. As Russia’s resurgence continues, its contribution here will be even more vital — economically, politically, and militarily. In this context, the modernization of the Russian Armed Forces (including the Pacific Fleet) comes not a moment too soon.

On the other hand, given the uncertainties that lie ahead, how can we vouch that no dangerous conflict will ever flare up on our Far Eastern borders? In such circumstances, it is our duty to ensure that no confrontation — however hypothetical — could ever spill over into Russian territory.

Victor Sumsky, special to RBTH Asia

Russia Beyond the Headlines Asia



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