Obama's pivot to Asia does nothing to counter growing Chinese provocations

Stymied of influence in the Middle East, the Obama administration has now decided to "pivot" its foreign policy emphasis to the Pacific Rim.  Historically, America has kept the peace and the shipping lanes open in Asia by the strength of its unmatched, high-tech Navy.  But the days of U.S. dominance in the Western Pacific are likely numbered, because Communist China's power is on the rise, and American sea power is on the decline.

The military component to the U.S. "pivot" will involve, DOD sources say, moving 2,500 Marines to the area, plus permanently stationing three more ships in the Western Pacific every year, culminating in a total force projection on-site of 67 American ships in five years.  This tiny force is supposed to dominate Red China's ever increasing naval presence and deter its provocations in the region.

Even the proposed 67-ship American fleet will probably never materialize, because Congress voted to include the defense budget in the "sequester" cuts, and this means that the entire U.S. Navy will eventually have to shrink from its current 272 ships to 250 vessels.  The days of Reagan's proposed 600-ship Navy are in the boneyard of history.

Against this token American proposal, not to say reality, of 67 ships by 2020, what does China expect to deploy in the Asian theater of operations by the end of 2030?  A two-day conference in May sponsored by the Naval War College revealed some disturbing trends. 

"The PLAN [Chinese Navy] will continue to expand for the next 15 years," said James Fanell, a U.S. Navy captain who retired this year as the Pacific Fleet's director of intelligence.  Carrier strike groups will form and deploy; ballistic missile submarines will increase patrols, and amphibious capabilities will surge.  The PLAN will have 99 submarines, four aircraft carriers, 102 destroyers and frigates, and many smaller vessels, with a total ship complement of 415.

The conference agreed that the PLAN fleet being created is focused heavily on anti-surface warfare, as opposed to anti-submarine warfare.  There are a growing number of destroyers, frigates, and submarines armed with a wide variety of ship-killing missiles, many with ranges far exceeding similar missiles possessed by the U.S. Navy.  A retired Navy captain with the Admiralty Trilogy Group said that these developments "are going to make it difficult for the US and its allies. It will be much more challenging."

And China is not simply engaged in its naval construction frenzy.  The Middle Kingdom is sending out its fleets far and wide, to Africa and to the Mediterranean, gaining know-how with every voyage.  But it's China's near constant provocations in the East and South China Seas and nearby that perhaps shed the most light on its intentions to dominate and control all the sea lanes and land choke points in that area.

In 2012, the PLAN choked off and eventually grabbed the Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines.  It is doing the same thing this year with the Second Thomas Shoal.  After putting an oil rig in Vietnamese waters last year, the PLAN is surrounding the Japanese-held Senkaku Islands with paramilitary boats to intimidate Japanese claimants.

Now China is dumping tons of sand to convert seven islands and reefs in the South China Sea to airfields and ports, from which the Chinese can project yet more naval power.

If the tiny "pivot" to Asia is the best that the Obama administration can do to meet and deter the rising Dragon in the East, look for a frightened Japan and other Pacific nations to massively increase their own defense spending in the years to come, with all the instability that entails.

Christopher S. Carson, a lawyer, is formerly with the American Enterprise Institute.