WWW.SEAPOWERMAGAZINE.ORG 56 SEAPOWER / MAY 2016
SPECIAL REPORT / PARTNERS IN GLOBAL PRESENCE
he added. “RIMPAC provides an opportunity to do
Building a Relationship
Like the last time RIMPAC was held in 2014, China
is invited. And like last time, China is expected to
There are certainly indications that the strong level
of distrust the Chinese have for the United States are
not going to go away overnight. Four Chinese ships
were invited to the 2014 RIMPAC, but China also sent
a fifth ship that was not — an electronic surveillance
ship that is capable of monitoring signals from the
ships in a clear attempt to spy on the very exercise in
which they were participating.
But at least the two sides are making an effort to get
to know each other. News reports last year indicated
that Chinese Adm. Wu Shengli was very interested in
participating in RIMPAC 2016, and the United States
has once again extended the invitation.
The Navy was reluctant to discuss any other aspect
of its relationship with the Chinese, repeatedly declining
to discuss the subject in more detail beyond China’s past
RIMPAC involvement — another indication that the two
nations are at a very delicate point in their relationship.
O’Hanlon said RIMPAC is useful for making the first
steps toward a positive relationship.
“Even though the Chinese don’t reciprocate as
much as we like, I think we can be a bit asymmetric
on RIMPAC,” O’Hanlon said. “We’re kind of trying to
build a relationship.”
One thing is for certain, this relationship will not
warm up overnight, he said.
“I think the broader point I would make about the
relationship would be that it’s going to be complicat-
ed for the rest of our lives,” he said. “This is a rising
superpower for the indefinite future, and China’s going
to be looking for a way to exercise its muscle and its
influence, and find some position on the world stage
that correlates with what it thinks it deserves.”
The United States is likely to maintain a big edge
in certain categories, like standard of living and lead-
ership on the international stage, “but in terms of raw
GDP [gross domestic product] and many measures of
military power, China may be completely competitive
with us,” O’Hanlon said.
But that does not mean there cannot be a happy
coexistence between the two countries.
“If we can maneuver well, stand firm in resoluteness
but at the same time look for ways to allow them to feel
like they’re translating their power into some greater
role on the world stage, we can find mechanisms for
that,” he said. “There’s no reason to assume that their
interests are inconsistent with ours.”
One positive sign regarding China’s rise is how it
is handling a dispute with Japan over uninhabited
islands, O’Hanlon argued.
“I find it heartening that the Chinese are trying to
influence an uninhabited piece of land in the mari-
time domain where the rules of the road are some-
what ambiguous and where exercising military power
doesn’t translate to direct threats to people’s lives,” he
said. “It’s going to be a game of Risk or chess.”
There is no looking into a crystal ball on the rela-
tionship between China and the United States, but at
least we get to make a choice on how it is going to turn
out, he said.
“It’s going to take work,” he said. “Part of the reason
I push against predetermination and saying the inevitable will be good or that it will be bad because two great
powers are competing for space, I just think both of those
doctrines of predestination are equally suspect. What they
fundamentally factor out is a role of policymakers in the
future making key decisions. I’m fundamentally of the
view that it’s not preordained, that we are creating the
future and not victims of it.” n