VietNamNet Bridge - This article examines perspectives within the Chinese national security community, drawing primarily on the authors' research consultations in Beijing.
Part 1: Incidents, confrontation and crisis in Indo-Pacific Asia
Part 2: Naval nationalism
Part 3: Ideals of confidence 1
Perspectives on maritime security confidence-building in Indo-Pacific Asia vary markedly but the sharpest differences would appear to be between the prevailing views in China and other major powers. Crucially, the US view that CBMs can and should precede trust and agreement on fundamental strategic issues is at odds with the prevailing strain in Chinese policy. Such clashes of perspective cannot be wished away by policymakers. Not only do perceptions of security mistrust often translate into reality, but such perceptions may well have a foundation in objective conﬂicts of national interests.
First, as points of comparison, it is worth noting some prevailing views of maritime CBMs in the United States, Japan and India, the other key Indo-Pacific powers considered in this report.
The United States: The broad US position - shared to varying degrees in Washington's defence and security policy community - is that maritime CBMs with China can and should be pursued in order to maintain stability. But these should not come at the expense of the US ability to deter China from coercive action against Taiwan, US allies or other US interests in the region, such as freedom of navigation. So Washington is the champion of CBMs - but only up to a point.
As outlined in the previous part, US efforts to retain military superiority against China could have a mix of stabilising effects (deterrence as well as reassurance of allies) and destabilising effects (expanding the range of circumstances under which incidents at sea could occur). This policy tension can be expected to increase.
Still, Washington remains committed to pursuing a higher degree of cooperative relations with China, a point reiterated by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in mid-2011. This includes promoting direct CBMs involving continuous dialogue between the two navies to reduce the risks of incidents at sea.
In the words of a 2010 Pentagon report to Congress: The complexity of the security environment, both in the Asia- Pacific region and globally, calls for a continuous dialogue between the armed forces of the United States and China, at all levels, to expand practical cooperation in areas in which the two countries' national interests converge and to discuss candidly those areas in which there is disagreement. Moreover, given the advances in China's military capabilities and its more broadly ranging military operations and mission sets, as documented in the preceding pages of this report, a continuous military-to-military dialogue between the United States and China becomes especially important during periods of friction and turbulence.
The 1998 Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA) process remains in existence, although it is essentially an agreement to hold talks on maritime issues rather than an agreement on rules of conduct at sea, and was interrupted by China's year-long suspension of military dialogue in 2010.
In reality, the MMCA is not much more than a rudimentary agreement to hold periodic meetings, rather than an arrangement about how to handle incidents. Moreover, it has held only eight annual meetings since 1998, in part because of repeated instances of suspension of military dialogue. It is of course better than nothing, and is potentially a building block to more substantial dialogue or agreements, but it neither prevented nor helped in managing confrontations such as the EP-3 or Impeccable incidents.
A Sino-US defence hotline was announced in 2007 although it has reportedly never been employed in a crisis and there remains considerable uncertainty about the protocols for its use.90 Meanwhile, after the turbulence of 2010, some progress has been made to restore high-level defence visits and talks.
Although expert commentary regularly raises the idea of an INCSEA agreement between the United States and China, this does not appear to be among current US aims. Valid arguments against this approach include that a navy-to-navy agreement would not rein in risky behaviour by civilian ships. Moreover, it could be argued that a Cold War-style INCSEA agreement would indicate that the United States and China were locked in an adversarial relationship between peers, signals which a US Administration could be loath to send. That said, debate about the merits of an INCSEA agreement can be expected to resurface in Washington following a
fresh spate of incidents.
Japan: Tokyo's generally supportive views on maritime CBMs with Beijing soured somewhat in 2010, part of a deepening mistrust following the maritime incidents that year.
Concerns have also intensified about the quality of Japan's own policy- coordination and crisis-management processes, the implication being that these would need to be improved so that Tokyo could make timely, sustained and consistent policy responses that both defended Japanese interests and ensured that maritime incidents with China did not escalate out of control. The Japanese security establishment supports engagement with China - including by the United States. But it also sees limits, beyond which benefits of predictability and transparency could be outweighed by more negative impacts, including the intelligence advantage China might gain with close exposure to American or Japanese capabilities.
Still, Japan continues to be open to some bilateral CBMs with China: Japan has offered dialogue about a maritime code of conduct or even an INCSEA agreement but they [China] did not respond. Following the April 2010 helicopter incidents we tried to open dialogue about safety issues. The Senkaku incident has slowed all of this down In November 2009 the Japanese and Chinese defence ministers agreed to look into issues like joint training in search and rescue, cooperation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and to establish as soon as possible a maritime communication mechanism between the two defence authorities. And in July 2010 we held our first round of working-level talks on maritime communication. Generally Japan is not trying to slow this down.
Japanese sources suggest a rising degree of frustration with the implementation of CBMs with China, notably a hotline that was announced in May 2010. One problem is said to be the PLA's insistence that messages to and from Japan be channelled through the 'foreign affairs office' of its defence ministry rather than through military units. In any case, the diplomatic crisis over the Senkaku/ Diaoyu Islands incident involved the delaying of talks meant to bring such a CBM into operation.
At the same time, rising mistrust of China gives Japan a heightened interest in being consulted by the United States and other friendly countries - such as Australia - ahead of their renewed efforts at defence engagement with China.
India: As outlined in the previous part, the Indian security establishment views China's motives
and behaviour in the Indian Ocean with deep mistrust, and refers to Chinese naval capabilities to benchmark India's own force ambition. Even pragmatic moderates within Indian strategic circles see India's essential naval objective as the ability to deter China, albeit asymmetrically. There are, then, inbuilt limits to how far the Indians will readily go with China in maritime CBMs - as demonstrated by New Delhi's relatively slow response in seeking to engage constructively with Chinese anti-piracy task forces.
Even so, New Delhi has taken a positive view of CBMs more generally, shown by its efforts on land and in the nuclear and missile realm. In 2009 India and China agreed in principle to establish a leaders-level hotline, which was announced as 'operational' in December 2010. India accepts the logic that CBMs can and should precede strategic trust. Moreover, India is beginning to be more proactive in indirect forms of maritime engagement with China, for instance hosting visits by Chinese ships and offering to protect Chinese commercial shipping from pirates in Indian Ocean sea lanes. In principle, India would not seem averse to the idea of an INCSEA agreement: during a brief thaw in India-Pakistan relations there was even talk of pursuing one between the two South Asian powers. Ultimately, however, New Delhi is likely to watch and wait as the contested maritime security dynamics play out in East Asian waters before deciding whether to attempt direct maritime CBMs with China.
Rory Medcalf, Raoul Heinrichs, Justin Jones