While the appearance of members of a visiting American table-tennis team atop the fabled Great Wall of China seemed to signify to many the almost symbolic breaching of another, long-enduring barrier between Red China and the United States, many China-watchers—the author among them—continue to regard the prospect of a Sino-American detente as highly unlikely.
It is becoming increasingly fashionable in academic and foreign policy circles to advocate a “new” and “realistic” U. S. policy toward Communist China. Such a revised policy of accommodation would make a significant impact on the role of the U. S. Navy in the Far East area, on the western rim of the Pacific basin. But, before we sigh in relief and eagerly anticipate any reduction in tension between Peking and Washington, we should consider again the hard foundations of our present approach to the government of mainland China.
The outstanding feature of the Chinese approach to foreign policy, past and present, has been an extreme egocentric orientation. With a history of 5,000 years of national awareness, racial identity, and cultural pride, the Chinese have developed a self-centered perception of the world and their place in it, which is probably more of a motivating factor for Communist China than simple nationalism is for any other state.
A tradition of “Imperial” China has roots in the pre-Christian era. Indeed, the policy-makers of the Chinese state were able to establish a domain and empire which embraced nearly the entire Far East. Included in this ancient and long-lived Chinese empire were Manchuria, areas in Central Asia, Tibet, Taiwan, the Paracel and Spratly Islands, and Macao.
In addition to such areas which were actually under Chinese control, China exercised a dominant influence over the native governments of Korea and what are now known as Vietnam, Laos, upper Burma, and Cambodia.
Consequently, 20th century Chinese governments—Nationalist and Communist alike—have had two fundamental objectives in foreign policy, objectives pursued since the dismemberment of China by Western powers and Japan in the 19th century: (1) to re-establish Chinese control over Asian areas felt to be traditionally Chinese, and (2) to re-assert Chinese suzerainty over the satellite states.
A third Chinese policy objective is a relatively new one: the spread of Chairman Mao Tse-tung’s own peculiarly revised version of Marxism-Leninism. Some would hold that such an ideological objective is secondary to traditional policies intended to acquire territory and resources. However, the dynamic force of a fanatical crusade to proselytize for a Utopian political philosophy should not be discounted.
What are the fundamental goals of the United States in regard to Asia in general and to China in particular, and what role does the Navy play in these policies?
Uppermost in U. S. foreign policy generally is the recognition—if not necessarily the desire—that the United States remain a major world power. An immediate corollary to this recognition is the geopolitical fact that we must remain a Pacific power. In order to do so, the United States must rely heavily upon sea-power. American leadership of the Western powers, together with the principle of collective security, is tied inextricably to an unhampered freedom of movement on the seas. Similarly, our bilateral and multilateral agreements in Asia and the Pacific would be meaningless without control of the sea and without the moral and psychological undergirding which our Navy supplies in the region.
A second goal of American policy in the Far East stems directly from the need to be a Pacific power. We have recognized since 1898 that the key to success in securing dominion over Western Pacific and Asian waters has been to maintain a balance of power in the area. To this end, we have opposed, diplomatically or militarily, a variety of European powers and Japan. It has been axiomatic for our policy-makers that we could tolerate no country’s coming to power with such force, stability, and aggressively nationalistic ambitions as could challenge our paramount status in that part of the world. The history of our efforts to thwart such competition is well-known, and is a history in which naval power has played a major part.
Finally, American policy for Asia is concerned with a third and fairly recent objective: halting the spread of Communism and of Marxist-Leninist, anti-Western governments.
The conflict between Peking and Washington, which has been the product of clashes over these core policy objectives, resulted in formulation of the U. S. policy of isolating and opposing China—the much-maligned containment policy. It is this policy which is currently under attack by the disciples of a fresh approach.
The questions now should be: Is there a new reality? Have basic factors changed, and can we afford to abandon the so-called “hard line” vis-à-vis the Chinese?
Before attempting to answer these questions, a brief review of suggestions for a revised China policy is in order.
Representative of the scholars and students of policy who argue for a new line is A. Doak Barnett, a China specialist for the Brookings Institution. Professor Barnett suggests that Washington eliminate all special restrictions on non-strategic trade with Peking; that we search for other means of non-official contact; and that we soften our opposition to a seat for Red China in the United Nations. Further, he proposes that the United States take a calmer view of the military threat posed by China, and that we “exercise greater restraint” and show more sensitivity to Chinese fears and irritations, avoiding “unnecessary pressures and provocations.” He also suggests that we halt construction of an “anti-Chinese abm system.” Hopefully, the result of these accommodations on our part would be a sign from Peking that China is willing to be more flexible and less belligerent.
Barnett bases his argument on the assumption that the bipolar balance of power in the Far East—a balance between the theoretically monolithic Sino-Soviet bloc versus the United States with a subservient Japanese ally—has come to an end. In its place he suggests that a quadrilateral balance has emerged, composed of the United States, Japan, China, and the U.S.S.R., each acting independently of its former ally. This new situation, Barnett asserts, reduces the danger that local conflicts will escalate into face-offs between major states. For the professor, an especially attractive effect of such a restructuring is the opportunity for America to overhaul its China policy.
But, is there a new reality which would warrant such policy changes?
Consider first the conflict between China and the United States over China’s desire to re-establish its hegemony in Asia vis-à-vis our determination to remain a Pacific power through the device of an Asian balance of power. There is no indication that China has given up this goal, or that the United States can afford to surrender its power status in the Pacific.
In both words and deeds Peking has consistently demonstrated that it is determined to hold sway in Asia. One need only note its actions in Tibet and its active involvement and ambitions in Burma, Korea, Thailand, and the states of Indo-China to see evidence of this policy under way. Verbal evidence of China’s Asian ambitions is also abundant. A typical editorial published recently in the Peking Review, a weekly official journal, called for a “... fierce and protracted struggle against . . . U. S. imperialism,” which would push the United States out of Asia and the Western Pacific. Typical, too, is a reference to Vice President Spiro Agnew as a “god of plague . . . streamlining the U. S. imperialist plot of aggression in Asia.” A steady barrage of similarly virulent invective fills the pages of official Chinese publications.
As Lucien Pye, a student of Chinese affairs, has said, the utility of hate as a political emotion is a favorite Chinese tactic. One of the outstanding features of modern China is a focus on hatred, together with an enthusiasm for identifying enemies. Hate is employed as a dynamic political emotion, agitating the Chinese masses to fight back at peoples and countries who have allegedly wronged them. Furthermore, Pye suggests, the regime in Peking cannot afford to abandon the cult of national humiliation and the fostering of hate campaigns. It cannot afford to do so because such emotions supply the regime with tools for galvanizing the Chinese people into political action. Needless to say, the United States has been a primary target for Chinese hate campaigns for over 20 years, and there is no reason to expect any genuine change.
For the practical reasons of national policy goals already outlined, and for the emotional reason just described, the Chinese Communists cannot and probably will not cease to regard the United States as a prime enemy. And yet we are asked to look for a softening in Peking’s position, to believe that diplomatic talks held occasionally in Warsaw will build a bridge between our two countries. We are encouraged to believe that the relieving of travel restrictions on China-bound Americans will alleviate the tension and hostility between Washington and Peking. Where is a “new reality” here? Where is the evidence that China has abandoned its desire once again to be paramount in Asia—to regain its historical position?
Naive enthusiasts would point to the recent reception in China of the U. S. ping-pong team as an indication of a “thaw” in Sino-American relations. The U. S. press generally overflowed with optimistic assessments of “improved relations” between Peking and Washington, and an undue amount of attention was focused on the effusive views of the returned ping-pong players themselves (the team’s captain waved a copy of Mao Tse-tung’s book of political quotations, and another player said Chairman Mao was “the greatest moral and intellectual leader in the world today ... he reaches most of the people. His philosophy is beautiful.”). The Chinese must have been gratified to see that, with five cents worth of effort, they could blunt the edge of American hostility to a China which has repeatedly stated its long-range opposition to this country, and simultaneously cause some consternation in the Soviet Union at the (highly unlikely) prospect of a Sino-American détente. The Chinese leadership, whose fundamental ideology assumes an inevitable and necessary clash between a “bourgeois” United States and a Marxist China, sees an opportunity to manipulate a gullible American public in an effort to erode a forceful and realistic Asian policy. Just as Hanoi has been able to blur the American people’s perception of our role and national interest in Indochina, so might Peking—projecting a new and peace-loving image—in a direct appeal over the heads of the government policy-makers, beguile the American public into making even louder pleas for a withdrawal from Asia and the Western Pacific. The United States, as a world power and as a naval power, cannot afford to pull back from the vitally important Western Pacific.
Many advocates of a revised American policy for China base their argument in part on the assumption that China is too weak internally to be a threat. They maintain that the chaos, upheaval, and turmoil generated by the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution have seriously weakened the Peking government. Supposedly, the extreme factionalism and three-way power struggle among the radically activist students, industrial workers and old-line Party cadres, and the armed forces, produced such uproar and disruption that China has been reduced to a crumbling state. The image of a China reduced to civil war might be attractive and plausible to some and is an image used by others to argue for a relaxation of U. S. vigilance. Such an impression of China’s condition is inaccurate, however.
China has been making rapid progress toward a return to normalcy, which, for our purposes, translates as a return to being a threat. On the home front, political control has been re-established under the aegis of the Peoples’ Liberation Army (the armed forces), working at the provincial level through the medium of the so-called Revolutionary Committees. Composed of army men, industrial workers, and rehabilitated Party cadres, these committees in almost every instance are dominated by their military members. Of particular significance, too, was the appointment in early September 1970, of a new political chief for the armed forces. The task of the new political chief will be to continue a policy of giving military support to the revolutionary left, to industry, and to agriculture. The program also concentrates upon establishing military control of civilian institutions, and providing military training for the country’s revolutionary youth. Furthermore, the recent theme of the army’s function is that it is both a fighting force and a political force.
The emergence of the Chinese military as a powerful political element is also seen in Chairman Mao’s decision to elevate Lin Piao, chief of the armed services, to the exalted position of number two man in China and heir to Mao himself.
Other evidence that China is returning to a normal state was the decision of the Party’s Central Committee, in late August 1970, to reconvene the National People’s Congress, theoretically the highest organ of state power, which has not met since 1965, when the Cultural Revolution got underway. As the Central Committee itself announced, “the excellent situation at home and abroad” justifies calling this body into session again. The same Party communique also pointed out that the situation on the entire economic front, both in industry and in agriculture, “is very good.”
On the diplomatic scene, the picture seems to be the same. Peking has renewed its initiatives in Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe, in an attempt to outflank the West. More than half of China’s 45 foreign embassies are again headed by ambassadors, in contrast to the low point during the Cultural Revolution, when all but one ambassador had been recalled to Peking. Furthermore, there has been a steady stream of visiting foreign dignitaries in the Chinese capital in recent months—a rate of one group every five days. And the Chinese are beginning to return the calls. Moreover, China is doing more than merely returning to pre- Cultural Revolution normalcy. It is preparing for a full-scale diplomatic battle with its two major antagonists—the United States and the Soviet Union. Chinese aid programs are in progress in underdeveloped areas, renewed efforts are being made to woo so-called “neutral” countries, and there is even an indication that Peking might show more of an interest in obtaining a United Nations seat.
Militarily, China is also showing signs of improvement and ambition. There has been some merit in the contention of those who favor a new China policy that China is not a military threat to the United States. Admittedly, its offensive capability in the past has been of a low order. A weak economy, a poor transport system, a poor logistics capability, and the general character of the armed forces painted a picture of a weak country.
China’s navy, for instance, is a favorite example of its military weakness. With a negligible amphibious capability, a very small but modern surface fleet (four destroyers, four destroyer escorts, and 11 frigate escorts); about 35 submarines, including three armed with medium-range missiles; 20 minesweepers, 150 motor torpedo boats; and 150 torpedo-carrying jet light bombers, China is no naval power.
On the other hand, a subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee recently offered a different assessment of China’s military potential. The subcommittee reported that the Chinese Communists are giving “overriding priority” to developing modern weapons for strategic attack. It was suggested that these weapons will extend Chinese military power and political influence greatly beyond the reach of their conventional forces. Moreover, the chaos and disorder of the Cultural Revolution has not halted Peking’s progress in its strategic weapons program. If the regime can work effectively with its limited resources, there is good reason to expect a continued drive toward a nuclear missile strike capability.
The subcommittee concluded that there is indeed a threat to China’s neighboring states and to the U. S. presence in those areas. In addition, the report held that there could be a limited Chinese threat to the continental United States by the early 1970s. Finally, the report predicted that the Chinese nuclear threat to the United States will continue to grow and become more sophisticated.
Setting aside China’s potential as a nuclear power for a moment, consider its military and diplomatic capabilities in the face of its conventional weakness. What might Peking’s policy be? Neutralization of its weak neighbors is one highly probable long-range solution. Toward this end, the Chinese could expect to be successful by pursuing a policy which would include support for indigenous insurgency forces. This is a program which we have watched in action for the past 21 years in, variously, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaya. Moreover, outright participation in military operations against the United States cannot be ruled out—the events of the Korean War will attest to that possibility.
Central to the question of China’s long run military—and especially nuclear—capability is the factor of a change in its top leadership. Should the change which one can reasonably expect to occur shortly, in the wake of elderly Chairman Mao’s death, produce a crisis in Peking, the consequences in the Far East would be beyond calculation. On the one hand, China’s political and military power could go downhill in the region. Conversely, the smooth transition to power of a military clique could lead to a strengthened China, a China ready to seek an ideological and conventional accommodation with the Soviet Union. Should the latter alternative occur—and chances are that it will, given the strong position of Lin Piao and the armed forces in domestic politics—the consequences for the United States would be serious. Peking would be in a position to pursue its nuclear program, and, by 1980, could conceivably be able to claim strategic invulnerability. Furthermore, a China free of the Soviet threat and possessed of nuclear weapons would then be in a position to pursue its basic goal of becoming foremost in Asia. At this point, the interests of the United States in remaining a world power, a Pacific naval power, and in maintaining the balance of power in Asia, would be challenged.
China’s actions and words are not those of a country unopposed to the United States. The two states have profound interests which will be at odds well into the future, and there are no reasonable grounds for a new policy of accommodation and intercourse. The Chinese themselves anticipate no such policy shift. As recently as mid-September, 1970, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party released a communique which noted that the Chinese armed forces and, indeed, the whole people have “further enhanced their preparedness against war ideologically, materially, and organizationally to guard against” the imperialist United States.
Understanding the place that Communist China is seeking for itself in the world, and particularly in the Far. East, is of special significance to American naval strategists. Chinese ambitions can best be thwarted by the use of seapower. Peking’s ultimate goal of re-establishing its hegemony in the Orient, in many ways similar to Japan’s ambitions which were checked 25 years ago, points to the necessity for continued support of a naval-oriented strategy. What, then, should be the strategic missions of U. S. seapower in Asia and the Western Pacific?
- First, the primary mission should be containment of Communist China. The containment policy, formulated during the Eisenhower Administration and still valid, is intended to guard against the loss of any territory either to Peking or to her satellite states.
- Second, the United States should continue support for our allies in the area. Such support should be both material in terms of weapons and supplies, and physical, in terms of air and naval firepower.
- Third, the U. S. Navy must maintain a constant state of preparedness. Although an all-out war against China is both unlikely and quite undesirable, the possibility must be weighed and the means for hitting hard at the Chinese empire must be available.
- Fourth, it is imperative that we maintain both sea and air communications between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. In addition, open communications must be maintained in the South China Sea, the Sea of Japan, and in the waters of allied and friendly powers.
- Fifth, we must maintain a naval force in the Far East with sufficient strength to defend the Philippines, Formosa, Australia, and the East Indies from seaborne invasion.
- Sixth, the United States must employ its sea power to guarantee protection for both our own shipping and for that of allied states.
- Finally, we must make every effort to strengthen our naval forces generally in the area. And in particular, in view of the possible loss of air bases in Japan and the Philippines, we must be prepared to fill the gap with carrier-based aircraft.
Naval power is of utmost importance in the Far East, and this is as true today as it ever was in the past. There is a naval vacuum in some areas of the region, for example, in the Indian Ocean, and it must be the policy of the United States to fill this vacuum. Unguarded straits and ocean areas without an American naval presence are potentially vulnerable to Communist aggressors, and it is to the interest of the United States to deny China or its allies these avenues of expansion. There is no “new” reality in Chinese-American relations, and there is no justification for a revised policy of accommodation. The chances for a rapprochement between Washington and Peking are minimal. Both powers have conflicting national objectives in the Far East. Both are ideological powers unalterably opposed to one another. The Maoism and “anti-imperialism” of the Chinese will continue to clash with the anti-Communism and containment policies of the United States. It is highly unlikely that the United States will cease to be Enemy Number One for Peking well into the future. The Chinese leadership could hardly be expected to seek an accommodation with a power which maintains a ring of military bases on China’s sea perimeter from Thailand to Korea. Nor could the Chinese really be expected to seek friendly relations with the country which is blocking its natural access routes to Southeast Asia and the South Seas. And, as has already been demonstrated, the United States cannot in its own self-interest afford to abandon an Asian and Pacific policy which we have found to be vital since becoming a world power. Therefore, there neither should, nor could, be a new China policy for the United States, and in pursuit of the present policy we must continue to recognize the critically important role of seapower and naval strategy.
Educated at the Duenas School (Marianas Islands), the College of William and Mary, and the University of Maryland, with a Ph.D. in Political Science, Mr. Duffee has held the rank of assistant professor since joining the Political Science Department of the U. S. Naval Academy in 1967. For one year prior to joining the staff of the Academy, he was on the faculty in the Department of Government and Politics of the University of Maryland (College Park). At the Academy he directed the course in Chinese Communist Political and Military Systems during the three years from 1967 through 1969, and directed the course in Comparative Government and Politics for the two years 1969 and 1970. Concurrently, he teaches the course in Political Theory.
Blessed Are The Meek
We were off Okinawa; the Kamikazes had come and gone. The Admiral tried to make an announcement to the Fleet, but without success, since at the close of the action, with that magnificent disregard of radio discipline shown by so many American sailors, everybody was yakking on the radio telephone circuits.
The Admiral exploded and roared into the microphone, “This is the Admiral! Jesus Christ! Will you get off the air?”
Dead silence on the airways, and then one small, meek voice was heard, “This is Jesus Christ. Roger, over and out.”
—Contributed by John D. Clark
(The U. S. Naval Institute will pay $10.00 for each anecdote published in the Proceedings.)