NEWPORT, R.I. – “Red Star Over the Pacific: China's Rise and the Challenge to U.S. Maritime Strategy,” the latest collaboration by Toshi Yoshihara
and James Holmes
, explores how China’s growing sea power promises to be a permanent and complicating factor in the U.S. maritime strategy in Asia.
“The key thesis of this volume is that China’s influence in the maritime domain is not likely to be a temporary phenomenon,” said Toshi Yoshihara, professor with the Strategy and Policy (S&P) Department at the Naval War College (NWC). “The Chinese have been making both an intellectual and material investment in sea power for more than two decades. It’s this fusion of ideas and advances in material capability that makes them a long-term competitor to the United States.”
S&P Professor James Holmes noted “the gestation period was the early 1980’s when China seriously began thinking about its maritime future and started to develop the requisite strategies. We’ve seen a flowering of it over the past five years, and as long ago as 10 years.”
Holmes also pointed out that China’s growing maritime interests were generally overlooked, partly because the country remained a fairly closed society throughout the 1990’s.
“We simply didn’t have the kind of access to Chinese sources that we have today,” Holmes added. “Now there’s an abundance of translations of good Chinese works and we have greater insight into their military strategy.”
Using an historical perspective, the book traces how China became open to the world in the 1980’s and realized that its commercial interests would likely expand globally. China also determined that this expansion of its larger overseas security and economic interests would need to be protected by a greater physical military presence including naval power.
“We didn’t see a real manifestation of this interest until the past decade when the Chinese began to mass produce a series of modern naval capabilities that eventually caught the attention of Western analysts,” Yoshihara said. “The United States also needs to develop a greater awareness of how China thinks about the seas because that’s just as important as the material capabilities they’re able to produce.”
The book examines the Chinese navy's operational concepts, tactics, and capabilities and appraises China's ballistic-missile submarine fleet. Holmes reiterated its perspective is “more from an intellectual dimension—that China’s strategic thought process matters as much as their outward trappings or military weaponry.”
“We take some of our philosophical background from Col. John Boyd, an Air Force officer who died in the 1980’s,” Holmes said. “He theorized that people, ideas and hardware were the most important elements in competitive endeavors like war—and in that order.”
The authors’ inspiration for the book began in 2004 when they realized that Alfred Thayer Mahan’s sea-power theories were popular with the Chinese. They reference Mahan and his influence on Chinese maritime strategy throughout the book.
“I attended a major maritime security conference in Beijing at that time and learned that the Chinese were using his ideas and writings for guidelines in building a strong navy,” said Holmes of the former U.S. Navy flag officer, geostrategist and historian of the 19th Century.
Yoshihara mentioned this coincided with research he was conducting on Chinese translations of Mahan’s works.
“I thought this was a very unique trend of a growing Chinese interest in a long-dead American theorist,” Yoshihara added. “It was really the starting point of our analysis for this project.”
The book compares China's geostrategic predicament to that of the Kaiser's Germany a century ago. It also takes a view of Chinese grand strategy and looks at how China views naval power as a form of “soft power.”
“We conclude with a chapter on a ‘retrospective-prospective’ look at the evolution of U.S. maritime strategy,” Yoshihara said. “It analyzes our country’s transition of a more competitive outlook in the maritime domain to a more collaborative outlook, and how that’s likely to interact with the Chinese at sea into the future.”
By David Reese, Naval War College Public Affairs
NOTE: the views expressed in "Red Star Over the Pacific: China's Rise and the Challenge to U.S. Maritime Strategy” are James Holmes’ and Toshi Yoshihara’s own, and do not speak for the U.S. Naval War College. Additionally, their views do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Naval War College, the Department of the Navy or Department of Defense or any other agency or branch of the U.S. government.