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Preface Richard J. Ellings The Strategic Asia Program chronicles, explains, and forecasts the critical international developments in what is today the core of world power and influence. As the program has made clear for many years, according to nearly every meaningful measure—from economic and military to political—usable national power is concentrating in the Asia-Pacific, and extraordinarily so. In this new volume, Strategic Asia 2012–13: China’s Military Challenge, we return to Strategic Asia’s central concern and the theme of the highly popular 2005–06 book. We focus again on China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) because its development is shifting the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific and beyond. China’s strategic posture is improving rapidly relative to that of all of its major regional competitors, including the United States, and recent Chinese assertiveness reflects this trend. Fully appreciating the range of developments that could slow or reverse China’s ascent, our new volume seeks to provide an up-to-date and forward-looking analysis of (1) China’s increasingly capable military and Beijing’s use of it, (2) the responses of the principal states whose interests are affected, including their responses to America’s rebalancing policy, (3) the rising risks to peace that are associated with these developments, and (4) the responsibilities and options now facing the United States. The challenges of China’s growing military capacity and more aggressive foreign policy come at a difficult time. The United States sustained its commitments and engagement in the Asia-Pacific through the post–Cold War period, and indeed, reflecting the growth of China and Asia more broadly, sought strategic rebalancing even before the events of September 11, 2001. That first effort to bolster attention to the region lost momentum for a decade due to the immediate requirement and subsequent decisions to fight the global war on terrorism. Though the Obama administration now seeks to refocus America’s strategic attention on the Asia-Pacific and reinvigorate xii • Strategic Asia 2012–13 our alliances and partnerships in the region, such plans seem to be “colliding with the realities of the defense budget,” as Dan Blumenthal argues cogently in this volume. There is no question that the U.S. government faces exceedingly difficult economic choices. The issues at stake involve, however, nothing less than the future of U.S. influence and capacity in the world’s most critical region— and probably nothing less than peace in the region. Budget decisions must therefore be made with long-term strategic interests in mind. These decisions will send loud messages about the level of our commitment and reverberate among our allies and partners and in China itself, because in these decisions we will, or will not, fund the systems, people, operations, and training upon which our capability, credibility, and leadership rest. For three decades, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) stuck mostly to a route toward self-strengthening and domestic restructuring—an apt itinerary for a country in a weaker geopolitical position—but it seems to have reached a turning point. Three decades of relative quiescence, punctuated occasionally by modest demonstrations of military power, masked an extension of economic interests and ambitions around the globe. For the past two years especially, however, the PRC has acted more in accord with much of its military history and the rising power it is. China has sent a drumbeat of increasingly aggressive signals through military and paramilitary activities from the North Pacific to the South China Sea, by a host of diplomatic initiatives and stands, and through propaganda. Two of these policies are particularly striking: an uncompromising baseline of support for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) despite military threats and actions by the North Koreans against their non-Communist neighbors, and the drive to absorb nearly the entirety of the South China Sea as a sovereign part of China. The latter is informative because of China’s direct confrontations and clashes with its neighbors. Over the past several decades, with an opportunistic and evolving set of diplomatic, fishing, energy development, and paramilitary and military actions, China has sought in piecemeal fashion, and by dividing ASEAN members diplomatically whenever it can, to achieve sovereignty over most of the South China Sea in spite of possessing no internationally recognized legal basis. It began with mostly nonmilitary efforts led by announcing claims; it established an administrative office with supposed jurisdiction over the area and conducted fishing and energy-related activity; it...


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