August 30, 2011

Read This Now: Military and Security Developments Involving China

Last week, the Department of Defense (DOD) released its
annual report to Congress on Chinese military and security developments. While
the report largely mimics last year’s submission to Congress, this year’s does
provide some interesting breakout boxes on issues that we are studying here at
the Natural Security blog. Of particular note are the sections on China’s territorial
disputes and regional energy strategy, two areas that are particularly
important in trying to understand China’s activities in the South China Sea.

According to the DOD study, “China’s broad claim
to potentially all of the South China Sea remains a source of regional
.” The Defense Department points to China’s increased naval
activity in the South China Sea and other parts of the region as a particular
source of angst: “In
recent years, some of China’s neighbors have questioned Beijing’s long-term
commitment to peacefully and cooperatively resolve the remainder of its
. PLA Navy assets have repeatedly circumnavigated the South China
Sea since 2005, and civilian enforcement ships, sometimes supported by the PLA
Navy, have occasionally harassed foreign vessels.”

But the section on China’s
regional energy strategy provides some useful context that is needed to understand
Beijing’s territorial claims and increase naval activity in the South China
Sea. Beyond the obvious energy resources that states – including China – are making
claims to in the South China Sea, DOD’s report points to potentially other
reasons why China has stepped up its naval activity in the region.  “Beijing has
constructed or invested in energy projects in more than 50 countries, spanning
nearly every continent
,” DOD reports. One “goal of Beijing’s
foreign energy strategy is to alleviate China’s heavy dependence on Sea Lines
of Communication (SLOCs), particularly the South China Sea and Strait of
,” the report found. “In 2010, over 80 percent of China’s oil
imports transited the South China Sea and Strait of Malacca.”

Moreover, China’s increasing
reliance on overland pipelines to meet its energy needs may have implications
for its cost-benefit-analysis with respect to claims over seabed energy
resources in the East and South China Sea. “A crude oil
pipeline from Kazakhstan to China illustrates efforts to increase overland
,” the department notes. But I don’t want to give too much away, as
Christine and I have a forthcoming paper on these topics, as part of CNAS’ broader study on the South China Sea.
Look for that in the near future. In the meantime, give this report a read.