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Reviewed by:
  • Red Star over the Pacific: China's Rise and the Challenge to U.S. Maritime Strategy
  • Wei-chin Lee (bio)
Toshi Yoshihara and James R. Holmes. Red Star over the Pacific: China's Rise and the Challenge to U.S. Maritime Strategy. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2010. xii, 293 pp. Hardcover $36.95, ISBN 978-1-59114-390-1.

If Edgar Snow's Red Star over China foretold in 1937 why the peripheral Chinese Communist Party had the potential to gain victory in the Chinese civil war in 1949, Yoshihara and Holmes's Red Star over the Pacific conveys the message that the Chinese are coming with the intent to march to the seas beyond Taiwan and into the Pacific. This message undoubtedly attracts attention and concern in East Asia because China has long been considered more of a continental power, busy managing and monitoring its long territorial borders with fourteen states, than an ambitious maritime nation. Even if China decides to seek maritime dominance, its oceanic frontier is blocked by a foreign-controlled island chain that encloses the entire Chinese coastal line. As one Chinese analyst frankly admits, China faces the predicament of "having seas but not the ocean" (p. 51)—humming a tune that recalls imperial Germany's struggle to develop a sizable and capable navy that could open the gates to the Atlantic during the age of British naval supremacy. Nevertheless, China's booming economy and technological innovations have offered both the resources needed to upgrade and uplift its naval force and the technological sophistication in missile development required to overcome the geographic barrier to the ocean. This is certainly an alarming signal to the United States, which has served as the predominant provider and guarantor of regional security and stability in the Western Pacific since 1945. Consequently, this book is a welcome addition to the study of Chinese military development. It helps readers size up China's motives and moves for a better grasp of China's naval challenges to the United States and other regional players.

Any book on naval development must pay tribute to Alfred Thayer Mahan for his geopolitical insights in strategic analysis. The book opens with a layout of Mahan's dual tridents of sea power. The first trident explains why countries covet access to distant places to secure access to sources of economic well-being—foreign trade, commerce, and resources—by political measures conducive to military, particularly substantial naval, strength. With economics and commerce ranked as the predominant priorities in the first trident, any sea power should concentrate on the second trident's three prongs: domestic production base, merchant and naval shipping for economic exchanges, and overseas markets. Therefore, Mahan stresses the importance of forward naval bases and powerful battle fleets to retain command of the sea for unobstructed access to commercial benefits. For Mahan, geopolitical conditions and strategic considerations for gaining maritime access for commercial purposes construct the logic of sea power, while the material grammar of sea power consists of superior weaponry and operational platforms for naval battle efficiency and warfare. [End Page 281]

In various chapters, the authors investigate and portray the intersection between Mahan's logic and grammar in China's recent naval development and deployment. By examining how Chinese military strategic thinkers interpret and apply Alfred Mahan's theory in China's geopolitical environment, chapter 2 of the book shows how Beijing pursues its maritime strategy. Much as with the introduction of Western ideas into China in the past, Chinese scholars and seafarers modify and adapt Mahan's thoughts to China's unique circumstances. They have incorporated the country's historical legacy of Sinocentric view and Mao's "active defense" concept into Mahan's malleable claims for a sea power theory "with Chinese characteristics" (p. 16). The complexity of regional alliance politics, the U.S. concerns over the effect of Kenneth Boulding's "loss-of-strength gradient" in its power projection, and China's initial jeune école approach to fleet building as well as diplomatic prudence have so far prevented both countries from outright and tense saber-rattling confrontations in their bilateral interactions in the Pacific.

The authors point out that China's...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 281-284
Launched on MUSE
2012-03-01
Open Access
No
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