Chapter One – Introduction
states grow increasingly wealthy, do they build large armies, entangle
themselves in politics beyond their borders and seek international influence?”(Rose, 1998)
China as a Power
The post-Cold War transitional period predicted by so many has
seen East Asia cultivate itself into the breeding ground of strategic
competition. Internal and external factors since the early 1980s have provided
an environment suitable for the growth of different edifices of government
whilst being reliant upon old histories to draw up repetitively disputed
geographical boundaries. This thesis
sets out to investigate perhaps one of the most strategically important issues
of modern times for Australia: the implications of the military development as
a result of the rise of China to Australia and the geostrategic implications as
a consequence of its increased military advancement. Australia has, since the
post WWII era, had a strategic advantage in Asia, and that has been its
alliance with the United States. This strategic alliance has provided the
United States with a geographical stepping stone into Asia and has guaranteed
safety and security to Australia.
With the United States making its slow exit from the internal
workings of Asia, Australia has a need for the first time to become an
independent player in the Asian region. By the simple virtue to geographical
location Australia is poised to become a bigger player in the Asian region.
China portrays itself as a Third
World country that pursues “an independent foreign policy of peace.”
Third World means that China is a poor, developing country and not part of any
power bloc such as that around the United States or the socialist bloc formerly
associated with the Soviet Union. “Independence” means that China
does not align itself with any other major power. Chinese spokesmen say that
their country seeks peace so that it can concentrate on development.
China says its decisions on
foreign policy questions derive from the Five Principles of Peaceful
Coexistence: mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual
non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and
mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence. The Chinese leadership originally
enumerated these principles in 1954 when China, with a communist government,
was trying to reach out to the non-communist countries of Asia.
Today, the Five Principles still
serve a useful purpose. They offer an alternative to the American conception of
a new kind of world order — one in which international regimes and
institutions, often reflecting U.S. interests and values, limit the rights of
sovereign states to develop and sell weapons of mass destruction, repress opposition
and violate human rights, pursue mercantilist economic policies that interfere
with free trade, and damage the environment. China’s alternative design for the
world stresses the equal, uninfringeable sovereignty of all states large and
small, Western and non-Western, rich and poor, democratic and authoritarian,
each to run its own system as it sees fit, whether its methods suit Western
standards or not. Another Chinese term for such a system is
“multipolarity.” The Five Principles explain why America should not
be able to impose its values on weaker nations. Thus the core idea behind the
Five Principles as interpreted by China today is sovereignty – that one state
has no right to interfere in the internal affairs of another state.
China says it “never seeks
hegemony.” In the 1960s hegemony was a code word for Soviet expansionism.
Today Chinese officials use the term to refer to what they see as a one-sided
American effort to enforce America’s will on other countries in such matters as
trade practices, weapons proliferation, and human rights. By saying it will not
seek hegemony, China tells its smaller neighbors that China’s economic
development and growing military might, will not turn the country into a
Chinese officials’ position on most
disputes around the world is that they should be solved by peaceful
negotiations. This has been their view on the war between Iran and Iraq, the
struggle between Israel and the Arabs, the rivalry between North and South
Korea, and the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. At the U.N., China often
abstains or refrains from voting on resolutions that mandate sanctions or
interventions to reverse invasions, end civil wars, or stop terrorism. As a
permanent Security Council member China’s negative vote would constitute a
veto, angering countries who favor intervention. By not voting or casting an
abstention, China has allowed several interventions to go ahead without
reversing its commitment to non-intervention.
Of course, these articulated
moral principles do not mean that Chinese foreign policy is not realistic or
strategic. In many cases, the announced principles actually fit the needs of
Chinese strategy. Especially in places relatively far from China, such as the
Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, a few simple principles actually
reflect Chinese interests most of the time. To oppose great-power intervention
and defend sovereignty and equality among states is not only high-minded but
represents China’s national interest in regions where China cannot intervene
itself. The farther one gets from China’s borders, the easier it is for China
to match rhetoric with interests. Even when there are inconsistencies and
tradeoffs in Chinese policy, the rhetoric is flexible enough to accommodate
In a landmark address
that kicked off the 19th Party Congress, President Xi Jinping articulated his
vision for China’s future. The three-and-a-half-hour reading of the work report
saw Xi wax poetic about the priorities of rejuvenating Chinese power and
realising the Chinese Dream. Though Xi’s primary focus was on domestic
achievements, goals and challenges, his speech provides crucial insights into
how China’s strongman leader seeks to advance his country’s role in the world.
The main takeaway for the international community is that Xi
Jinping is extremely confident in China’s growing national power and sees
international trends working in China’s favour. Against the background of
China’s expanding global interests, these assessments suggest that the
international community may face an even more assertive China in the years to
At the heart of Xi’s vision for China’s future is a two-stage plan
he put forward to achieve China’s second centennial goal of becoming a ‘fully
developed nation’ by 2049, the centenary of the founding of the People’s
The objectives laid out by Xi for the first stage, from 2020 to
2035, are primarily domestic, with the end goal of ‘basically realising’
socialist modernisation. The only reference by Xi to China’s international role
during this stage is that the country will become a ‘global leader in
innovation’. However, in the second stage, from 2035 to 2045, Xi set forth a
more outward-looking agenda. By the middle of the 21st century, Xi asserted,
China will have become ‘a global leader in terms of comprehensive national
power and international influence’.
Xi maintained that his articulation of China’s future derives from
an assessment of the international situation that is favorable to China.
After noting that the world is ‘in the midst of profound and
complex changes’, Xi drew attention to what he described as ‘trends of global
multi-polarity’ that are ‘surging forward’ and ‘changes in…the international
order’ that are accelerating. He noted that ‘relative international forces are
becoming more balanced’. In another part of the speech, Xi declared that ‘the
Chinese nation…now stands tall and firm in the East’. These statements
collectively suggest that Beijing is optimistic that the global balance of
power is trending in its direction. China’s judgment that the US is in
decline (which can be traced to the onset of the global financial crisis in
2009) is even more certain today, as it sees US global leadership eroding under
President Donald Trump.
China’s prediction of US decline, combined with Xi’s confidence in
China’s future, likely inspired Xi’s unprecedented espousal of China’s
development path as a model for the world, especially developing countries.
According to Xi, socialism with Chinese characteristics has ‘blazed a new trail
for other developing countries to achieve modernisation’ and provides ‘a new
option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development’.
Moreover, it ‘offers Chinese wisdom and a Chinese approach to solving the
problems facing mankind’. Such statements express an apparent belief that China
presents a credible alternative to liberal democracy.
While not explicitly tied to advancing concrete foreign policy
objectives, Xi’s message to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) regarding Chinese
military priorities suggests a perceived need to be prepared to employ military
power and hints at a greater willingness to do so in the future.
Underscoring that ‘a military is built to fight’, Xi called on the
PLA to ‘regard combat capability as the criterion to meet in all its work’ and
to focus on ‘winning wars’ if called upon to fight. By the end of the
first stage in 2035, ‘modernisation of our national defense and our forces’
will be ‘basically completed’, Xi declared. At the mid-century mark, Xi expects
the PLA will be ‘fully transformed into a first-tier force’.
Such desires are not unusual – rising powers often seek to
reinforce their expanding security needs with military might. However, the
pairing of these objectives with Xi’s ambition to increase China’s
international influence and serve as a development model reinforces the
widely-held assessment that China harbours a deep-seated desire to displace the
US as the dominant power in Asia.
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, there was no mention of China’s
‘core national interests’, which attracted much international attention several
years ago. The task of safeguarding China’s sovereignty, security, and
development interests was primarily discussed in the work report in the context
of Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan. Additionally, Xi opted to boldly highlight the
‘steady progress’ in the construction of islands and reefs in the South China
Sea as a major achievement of his first term. That characterisation may suggest
that China will prioritise strengthening its control over the contested
waterway at the cost of rising friction with its neighbours and the US.
Although Xi assured the world that China won’t seek hegemony and
will ‘continue to play its part as a major and responsible country’, the
overarching vision he laid out should raise alarm bells in Asian and Western
The problem isn’t the implicit rejection of Deng Xiaoping’s
guideline of keeping a low profile. China as a proactive leader would be
welcomed if it worked alongside other nations to strengthen international rules
and norms. But throughout his first term, Xi has sent conflicting signals about
whether he intends to support a rules-based international order. China’s
growing participation in global governance measures, such as UN peacekeeping
operations, have largely been overshadowed by Xi’s other policies. Observers
need only look to China’s declaration of an air defence identification zone in
the East China Sea and rejection of the UNCLOS tribunal’s ruling in the South
China Sea for examples of how Beijing responds when confronted by international
norms and practices it finds unsavoury.
The portrayal of China as a governance model for other nations is
especially worrisome, as it suggests a newfound willingness to offer an
alternative to the Western liberal international order and directly confront
the US, which has previously been eschewed.
As articulated in the Party Congress work report, Xi’s vision for
the future may signal an intention to double down on challenging elements of the
prevailing world order that Beijing sees as contrary to Chinese interests.
Should this come to pass, the international community might look back at the
19th Party Congress as the moment when China’s long march toward reclaiming its
great-power status was matched with the confidence needed to present China as a
buttress against Western liberalism.
?? ?Zhong Guo?meaning
China, or more correctly, the Middle Kingdom, is the literal translation of
China. China has been a warring state from the time if the Three Kingdoms,
through to a sea faring powerhouse around the 14th century. This has
created a significant and complicated history for China in its region. China
has influenced the cultures of many Asian nations and has of course been
through a number of internal changes itself.
China as a trade power
Possibility that one state controls
the sea and land trade routes through Asia
International Relations in East Asia
International relations in East Asia currently focus on two
main facets involving China, these being the Taiwan Strait and the dispute over
the island in the South China Sea. It can be said that to date the United States
‘has struggled to articulate an effective response'(Brands & Cooper, 2018) to China’s advancement in the
South China Sea. The Obama administration opposed Chinese maritime and
geopolitical posture in the Asia-Pacific, yet only on a few occasions did it
check China on its assertiveness in the region. The Trump administration on the
other hand ‘has yet to implement a coherent South China Sea strategy'(Brands & Cooper, 2018) There have been steps in
recent times to deny Chinese access to the islands whilst on the other hand
appearing not to see an importance in the matter. There are significant
concerns surrounding International Relations in East Asia currently, the complexity
arises from the ailment that eight (8) countries have territorial disputes in
the region (China, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines Brunei and
Indonesia), whilst it is simplified that China is the only one whom has
currently sought to assert dominance to gain regional primacy1.
What is the response from these nations to Chian’s claims in the region and how
are they setting themselves up to counter the assertiveness of China in the
International Relations (IR) in East Asia hasn’t always been
at the forefront of the academic mind, according to Alastair Johnston, ‘much of
the published IR research in the United States (and Europe) appears to
systematically exclude or downplay East Asian cases'(Johnston, 2012), whilst according to ‘the 2011 Teaching,
Researching, and International Policy Project survey (TRIP 2011), -46% of the
US international relations scholars surveyed believe that East Asia is the area
of “greatest strategic importance for the US today”‘(Johnston, 2012). It is well versed in the current literature on
China and its rise to power, that the United States will play a vital role in
how the world views this rise and what the response to it will be. All the
while China is on the move and as Alister Johnston points out the East Asian
region will be, if it is not already, an area of great strategic important to
the United States. In light of this it also becomes of great strategic
importance to Australia. United States Marine Corps soldiers now spend half the
year in Darwin, Australia training in tropical conditions. Does this not
signify how important strategically this is to Australia? China’s response to
the Marine build up in Darwin has not been one of joy, to say the least.
In reference back to my opening quote, ‘why, as states grow
increasingly wealthy, do they build large armies, entangle themselves in
politics beyond their borders and seek international influence?'(Rose, 1998)
China has developed a lust for outwards, soft expansion and its international
relations as a result reflects similar traits.
The study of China as a military power
It cannot be undisputed that China has the
world’s largest military force (Lockie, 2016).
But what can this force do, can it reach beyond the shores of China as
an expeditionary force or is it simply an important component of their grand
littoral defensive strategy? What are the regional powers such as Japan, Korea
and India doing at the moment to ensure that this behemoth of a military force
cannot become the primary influence within their own regions?
No doubt the academic world has seen an abundance of
literature focusing on the rise of China and its pending / current and ongoing
competition with the United States. But, it is the intent of this thesis to
focus on the geostrategic implications of China’s military advancement and
investigate how this affects Australia in the region.
This thesis will argue that one of China’s strategic goals is
to become the leading state actor in Asia. In order to satisfy this need China
must adopt a military strategy to assist in the success towards this goal. This
thesis contends that China is developing an increased military strategy,
incorporating all three traditional military elements being air, sea and land
power to progress towards its grand strategy of regional primacy.
An important area of investigation throughout this thesis is
the response to China’s grand strategy by other regional states and what are
they doing to counter China and how this will affect Australia and its position
in the Asian region. Other secondary, though equally important, area that this
thesis will look at is what is the role of Taiwan and the South China Sea in
China’s strategic viewpoint. This will be looked at by utilising the assumption
of neoclassical realist theory. Overall it will be argued in this thesis that
as a rising power China will seek to expand its overall influence in Asia routing
the current leadership of Japan, India and the United States.
It will be argued throughout this thesis that China’s
military developments will assist in its expanding foreign policy remit. The
main contribution to the literature will be that China’s military expansion
will set the agenda for international security in Asia and as a result, for
Australia as well. What this means for international, regional and Australian
security will ultimately be decided in years to come, but what is certain is
that China’s future is not decided, and military expansion is fraught with
Method and Sources
This research thesis is primarily an observed study of the
leading contemporary issue surrounding China and its geopolitical strategic
goals. This is not to be taken as an academic work of sinology. It is the
purpose of this thesis to steer away from a one-sided viewpoint and present a
more holistic geopolitical approach.
This thesis will utilise five (5) types of sources, official
policy documents and statements from both China and other sources, translated
Chinese source material, news report and academic literature. Chinese and
non-Chinese documentation includes defence white papers and published
interviews with officials. A caveat must be applied here and that is that China
despites its modern elements is still quite a heavily guarded country and
information is strictly controlled. It is therefore highly probable that
published material was made so in order to serve the propaganda and/or
will undoubtable change throughout the thesis, as such I’d like to think of
this component as a fluid chapter.
The following chapter sets the theoretical
scene of China and East Asian Security. This chapter follow’s a realist approach around
China’s current position. Neo Classical Realist theory is applied surrounding
China’s behaviour as a state. The theory of Innenpolitik is empowered to cover
China’s domestic situation and the overall affect this has on its foreign
Chapter three’s (3) emphases is on the Peoples
Liberation Army (PLA), its rapid expansion and its capabilities, including
internal structures and technology used, which contribute to China’s overall
strategic power in Asia. Importance will rest on connecting the current
strategic Chinese objectives and how the PLA can contribute towards this, such
as China’s current Maritime Strategy along with the One Belt One Road (OBOR) concept
and its ability to play a protracted role in the South China Sea and the
Spratly Islands rather than the strategic objectives of China simply being a
Moving forward chapter four (4) will set the
scene in regard to a historical context and what has led to the military
expansion covered in chapter three (3). The thesis will begin to lead into
China’s Grand Strategy and the impacts felt in North Asia – primarily Japan,
Korea and Taiwan. This chapter will also demonstrate how these thee (3) nations
have positioned themselves in relation to China’s strategic intent, possible
clashes of interest and what they have already, and are planning to, put into
place to deter or incorporate China.
Chapter five (5) picks up from the last with a
focus on ASEAN nations. This is important in relation to China’s military
expansion and Australia’s position in the region. It is primarily the member
states of ASEAN that are in dispute with China over geographical boarders. This
chapter will also lead into the role of India and the United States to counter
Chinese regional ambitions.
The next chapter, chapter six (6) will delve
into the Australian mindset and counteracting the strategic military
advancement of China. The main topics will cover Australia Asian history, the
ANZUS Treaty, US – China Strategy in Asia and economic partnership as a means
towards building trust. This chapter will focus on Australian interests and
responses to China’s geopolitical ambitions.
The final chapter, will sum up the thesis with
a look at the primary strategic concerns being China as a regional military power
and the implications for Australia and Asia. The thesis will conclude
that the evidence available to date, supports the hypothesis that China is
developing and expanding its military power as an instrument to achieve its
geopolitical strategic goals by attaining a military able to contest US
Brands, H., & Cooper, Z. (2018).
Getting serious about strategy in the south china sea. Naval War College Review, 71(1), 13-32.
A. I. (2012). What (If Anything) Does East Asia Tell Us About International
Relations Theory? Annual Review of
Political Science, 15, 53-78. doi: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.040908.120058
A. (2016). How the world’s largest
military stacks up to the US armed forces.
Retrieved 02/10/2017, Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/chinese-us-military-comparison-2016-8/?r=AU&IR=T
G. (1998). Neoclassical Realism And Theories Of Foreign Policy. World Politics, 51(1), 144-172.
1 For further reading see Brands, H., & Cooper, Z. (2018). Getting serious
about strategy in the south china sea. Naval
War College Review, 71(1), 13-32.