Barack Obama, China, East Asia-Pacific, Jonathan W. Greenert, National Bureau of Asian Research, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, pivot to Asia, PLA Navy, South China Sea, The National Bureau of Asian Research, Trump, U.S. Navy, Wu Shengli
Here’s a shorty but a goody that I read about recently but haven’t been able to post on due to the rush of Kavanaugh-related news. And I can’t write about it tomorrow because both the new monthly U.S. jobs and trade figures come out. So without further ado here’s the gist: China’s aggressive efforts lately to expand its control over the South China Sea – whose waters and key shipping lanes the rest of the world consider to be international – may have been encouraged by the Obama administration’s feeble responses to its initial moves in the area.
Where’s the evidence? An August report written for the well-regarded National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR) by no less than a recently retired U.S. Chief of Naval Operations – the Navy’s senior-most officer – Jonathan W. Greenert.
Greenert never explicitly blamed the former President for coddling China in the region – which also boasts abundant energy resources. But he did write that at the start of the latest phase in China’s campaign to interfere with freedom of navigation in the South China Sea – turning a series of reefs and other geological features into small-scale but full-fledged islands that could host military facilities – other regional countries:
“perceived the United States’ slow and politicized response to Chinese activities as having been insufficient to address the challenge. Indeed, there is evidence that Chinese leaders were prepared for a more robust reaction from the United States and might have recalibrated their activities as a consequence. When there was no such response, the island-building campaign continued apace.”
And his evidence was first-hand:
“In my interactions as U.S. chief of naval operations with the PLA Navy commander, Admiral Wu Shengli, Admiral Wu made clear that he thought the United States would have a more forceful reaction when China began its island-building.”
Since Greenert served as CNO from 2011 to 2015, these interactions obviously took place during the Obama years.
As RealityChek readers should know, I favor a change in U.S. strategy in the East Asia-Pacific region that would feature a military pull-back (mainly because of the increasingly dangerous nuclear threats from China and North Korea), and a reliance instead on America’s economic power to defend and advance the United States’ essential interests in the region – which are economic. Here’s a recent, comprehensive statement of this position.
But of course, I’m not in charge of America’s Asia policy! And since President Obama stated his determination to keep U.S. Asia strategy on course – even announcing a “pivot” of American military forces and broader strategic focus to the region from the Middle East that turned out to be far more bark than bite – that strategy’s viability demanded that China’s adventurism meet a much stronger U.S. rebuff. Indeed, the results of the “talk loudly but carry a small stick” Obama strategy are becoming alarmingly clear – increasingly brazen challenges by China to the American position in East Asia that could easily trigger a conflict.
President Trump has (rightly) complained that Mr. Obama’s neglect of the North Korea nuclear threat wound up dumping that mounting crisis into his lap. Before too long, he may be making equally justified complaints about his predecessor’s record in the South China Sea.