The Economist reports this week on the growth of China's maritime power. Many pundits express surprise and alarm at this fact, while the rest of the rational, thinking world acknowledges it as inevitable. China already has the world's largest merchant fleet and engages in a staggering amount of international trade. Virtually every nation on the planet has China as a trading partner. This is a fact which will not diminish for some time to come. It is therefore only natural that China would seek to expand its influence and security into the waters surrounding its territories. China has long had eyes on a greater influence in the western Pacific rim, thwarted only by the nation states of South Korea, Japan and the United States. Australia, although a solid player in the region, is less of a bulwark against China than a speed bump. It lacks the population and economic resources to counter the emerging influence.
India remains a viable competitor on land, as does Russia. However, it is the sea over which more than 90% of all commerce flows. China, which lives and dies by this fact, understands the importance of the free flow of trade and the risk from non-state actors (read pirates). It will be interesting to note whether they plan on building anything more than a regional navy, vice a true blue water force. A nuclear powered attack submarine can be troubling in a choke point, but it can be cornered and killed. A well protected amphibious assault group, supported by a carrier air wing is another matter entirely. Only one nation in the world has true power projection - the United States. It is this capability, enshrined in the Expeditionary and Carrier Strike Groups which preserve our preeminent around the world. These assets, although expensive, assure our ability to shape global trade to our needs and prevent real disruption of our economy.