Red Star Over the Pacific: China’s Rise and the Challenge to U.S. Maritime Strategy by Toshi Yoshihara and James R. Holmes. Published by Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland. 312 pages, 2010.
Toshi Yoshihara and James Holmes are associate professors at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. They have published a book this October that is an interesting and thought provoking discussion of the rise of China’s naval capabilities. It is however a holistic approach looking at capabilities, strategic thinking, cultural influences and other regional powers to assess potential options that China may consider in asserting dominance its hemisphere. The book opens with the Chinese rehabilitation of the works of American naval strategic theorist Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914) from imperialist to an original and Chinese application of his theories of control of maritime communications. He quotes American national security journalist Robert Kaplan’s criticism that the U.S. Navy pays homage to Mahan by naming buildings after him, the Chinese avidly read him. It is however, according to the authors, an amalgamation of Mao “active defense” concept; with Mahan’s theories of sea power that synthesizes a truly 21st century Chinese naval strategy.
Chinese Major General Jiang Shiliang in the military publication Zhongguo Junshi Kexue discusses Mahan in the context of China needing to control strategic passages in which vital goods traverse. The stability of China rests on raising the standard of living for its people and fueling the appetite of Chinese industries with raw materials. What is important to note is that the Chinese military is debating the importance of sea power versus land power as it relates to China’s security and dominance in Asia. In a chapter entitled, “Fleet Tactics with Naval Characteristics,” the book games out potential scenarios for a U.S.-China naval engagement. The authors use the method and language of Wayne Hughes to dissect Chinese tactics in the 21st century in the near shore and on the high seas. The book discusses China’s naval undersea element, its anti-ship missile component, and Chinese naval concern for America’s AEGIS systems that are discussed. What is clear is that China has only begun to project naval power, deploying a naval contingent in 2008 to fight Somali piracy along with other nations, including the United States. India, Japan, and other Asian powers are expressing concern regarding the building of Chinese naval basing in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. India is sensitive that the British successfully occupied India from the sea, and is taking measures to assert its dominance in the Indian Ocean.
The book is thought provoking, and discusses the People’s Republic Army (Navy) or PLA(N) maritime strategic view of island chains that encircle China, and the view of Taiwan in allowing it access to an outer chain of islands. It also does not postulate necessarily an aggressive China, but one in which its interest and influence are taken into consideration by the United States. The book’s final chapter discusses the incorporation of regional navies along with the United States in assuming the burden of guaranteeing free access to the seas and how China may fit within this American naval strategy known popularly as the 1,000-ship navy. This volume is an excellent read for those interested in Asia, maritime strategy, and geo-strategic questions.
Editor’s Note: Commander Aboul-Enein is author of “Militant Islamist Ideology: Understanding the Global Threat,” published in 2010 by Naval Institute Press. He teaches part-time at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces and maintains a regular book review column in the Naval District Washington newspaper, Waterline.