U.S. Peacetime Strategy with China

Blog | August 11, 2017

EWI’s Policy Innovation Blog provides an unbiased platform to showcase diverse thought leadership, sometimes, with contrasting viewpoints. The intent is to help inform audiences of the varied perspectives on today’s global challenges. The views and opinions expressed on the Policy Innovation Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect official opinions held by the EastWest Institute.


How should the United States handle China’s rise as super power? Political commentators and senior elected officials often declare how the U.S.-China relationship will be paramount in defining the 21st Century. Unfortunately, proposed actions after this statement generally cease beyond this attractive sound bite. The debate surrounding China has focused predominantly on the actions the Chinese have taken and the impact of China’s rise on U.S. interests.

What has not been seen is a comprehensive Grand Strategy from the United States regarding its whole-of-government approach towards China. Additionally, operational activities associated with influencing China’s behavior have not been coordinated across the total power structure of the United States due to the lack of a Grand Strategy.

This article discusses potential options or enhancements the United States can pursue to shape both the activities within China’s sphere of influence as well as the outward effects of China’s actions, which better align with United States interests. Finally, should these shaping activities fail, this article also considers operational level actions that could be taken so that the United States is best postured to defend its national interests. 

China’s Dream

Shortly after becoming General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Chairman of the CCP Central Military Commission in November 2012, President Xi Jinping announced how the “Chinese Dream” will be achieved by reaching goals associated with the two 100-year anniversaries. For the 2020 Communist Party anniversary, he said, “I believe that by the time when the Communist Party of China marks its 100th founding anniversary, the goal to complete the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects will be inevitably achieved.” Concerning the 100th founding anniversary of the People’s Republic of China in 2049, Xi stated, “the goal of building an affluent, strong, civilized and harmonious socialist modern country will certainly be fulfilled, and the dream of great renewal of the Chinese nation will inevitably be accomplished.”[1] In March 2014, Xi stated “Today, the lion (China) has woken up. But it is a peaceful, pleasant and civilized.”[2] This expands on former premier Wen Jiabao’s use of the term “peaceful rise” to describe China’s expansion into world affairs in 2003.

Considering China’s overall strategic goals and anticipating events in the span of the 21st century and given the actions being conducted on the part of China in the South and East China Seas, we must question the means in which the Chinese government appears to be executing their “peaceful rise.” What if China’s peaceful rise is a mere ruse for a long-term plan of expansion designed to further support the CCP’s strategic goals, with an unstated end goal of creating a new world order, one in which China has a controlling interest? China’s path towards this objective may not involve open armed conflict and open defiance of the existing world order, but continued actions both on the high seas and within the world’s economic enterprises give many governments reason to be concerned.

One alarming projection is that by 2049, China’s economy will be twice as large as the United States’ and its military force will be more powerful than any other.[3] From this position of strength, China will have the means to reshape the world in a way contradictory to current international norms and practices that have benefited China, the Asia Pacific region and the world—an aim advocated by certain influential officials in China.[4]  

The latest defense white paper on China’s Military Strategy recognizes the need to align to the grand strategy of China’s “Two 100’s;” but, more important, is a publicly stated position on expansion, or rather the ability to expand its military capabilities beyond defense. Surrounded in the discussion of “Active Defense,” the PLA Navy (PLAN) will “shift its focus from ‘offshore water defense’ to the combination of ‘offshore water defense’ with ‘open seas protection,’ and build a combined, multi-functional and efficient marine combat force structure.” Interestingly, China’s Military Strategy clearly recognizes the importance of the maritime environment and the current complex challenges in the global commons with a statement shifting away from one of a dominant land-focused strategic thought to one which focuses on the sea. “The seas and oceans bear on the enduring peace, lasting stability and sustainable development of China. The traditional mentality that land outweighs sea must be abandoned, and great importance has to be attached to managing the seas and the oceans and protecting maritime rights and interests.”[5] Clearly this recent strategic document from the Chinese Ministry of National Defense is a clear indication of China’s focus beyond its shores and regional intentions.

The current world order, formulated upon the conclusion of World War II, is based upon fundamental human rights, conditions for the maintenance of justice, tolerance and the restraint over the use of armed force.[6] Chinese Communist Party leadership may decide that in order to achieve its unstated end goal of a Chinese directed world order, they need to challenge the policies and enforcement capabilities of the United Nations (UN). In fact, many of China’s academics are already making these statements:

Wu Xinbo, a professor at Fudan University, calls for an end to the “U.S.-centered Cold War structure” in East Asia. Yuan Peng, a leading Chinese scholar of US foreign policy, suggests that because the rise of developing countries is upending the existing world order, China should seize the opportunity to “modify unreasonable international mechanisms…including international or regional organizations, regimes, and laws.”[7]

Although China and the U.S. can work together with the international community to sustain, strengthen and, as necessary, reform the existing rules-based order, current daily operational and tactical actions on the part of the Chinese and certainly the lack of strategic transparency and current “manifest destiny”-type events employed within the South China and East China Seas indicate intentions by Chinese leaders to erode the order altogether; these revisionist actions follow a more hegemonic than peaceful trajectory. Perhaps, China’s definition of “peaceful rise” consists merely of any action necessary short of combat. For now, coercion and aggression across a whole-of-government approach appears to be working for the Chinese.

China’s leaders emphatically believe the aim of the United States Asia Rebalance strategy is to contain China to a prescribed region in a manner similar to the policy of containment used on the former Soviet Union—with the use of Cold War-type actions on the part of the United States—but this argument fails to consider a crucial difference. Trade between the Soviet Union and the U.S. was non-existent while China and the United States are each other’s first or second trading partners.[8] Arguably, no other nation in the world has benefited more than China from the U.S.-led globalization efforts. To stifle the U.S. economy would not allow China to achieve its strategic objectives of the “Two 100’s.” 

The primary objective of the CCP is to maintain power in China; therefore, the concern on the part of the United States and others in the region remains the question of whether or not armed conflict is a tool that may be utilized to ensure CCP continuation. If the U.S., its allies and its partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region believe the strategic vector that China is following includes the use of armed conflict to achieve its ultimate goal, they, collectively, must be prepared to respond to this threat, no matter how unlikely.

Proposed Strategic and Operational Responses in Phase 0 (Shape)

Strategic and Operational response vectors both prepare the U.S. and the region for potential armed conflict and work to urge China to comply with the existing international norms of behavior and laws, thus, serving as a mechanism to maintain the current global rules-based order.

Strategic Level Actions

Speaking at the 2017 Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore, U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis recently summarized the U.S. Department of Defense(DoD) approach stating, “by further strengthening our alliances, by empowering the region, and by enhancing the U.S. military in support of our larger foreign policy goals, we intend to continue to promote the rules-based order that is in the best interest of the United States, and of all the countries in the region.[9]

While Secretary Mattis clearly speaks of objectives and strategy from the DoD—within the context of a true grand strategy synchronized across the U.S.’s own collective power—no single body exists that has created a cohesive plan in which to coordinate U.S. objectives across the Diplomatic, Information, Military and Economic (DIME) spectrums. Within each area of the DIME, individual departments or organizations have created comprehensive documents addressing their specific “stovepipes,” but the U.S. lacks a prioritized, phased and clearly stated plan with a purpose or method to achieve stated objectives and desired ends.

To accomplish this goal, the U.S. should retool the National Security Council Interagency Policy Committee (NSC/IPC) exclusively devoted to its whole-of-government approach towards China. Creating an entity similar to a previous NSC committee orientated against the Soviet Union in the Cold War can provide guidance and direction with an overarching plan for a whole-of-government approach. The creation of this comprehensive, grand strategic plan focused upon China’s peaceful rise will allow planners across the U.S.’s own comprehensive collective power to develop unique applications of power to achieve desired objectives.

Any worthwhile strategy examines strengths and weaknesses of the potential adversary and looks for ways to exploit these weaknesses and marginalize their strengths. The same principals hold true for the Phase 0 (Shape) strategic landscape, in developing a vibrant and robust relationship with China in a non-kinetic manner. China continues to seek legitimacy as a global power and to be seen as a super power outside of just its economic juggernaut. To become globally relevant across the DIME, they seek engagement and acceptance. It is this objective that becomes the principal “weapon” in Phase 0 (Shape) of managing China’s rise. However, these engagements should start at the strategic level and translate down to the tactical level only after appropriate milestones are met at each level. We must determine, at the strategic level, what objectives are required to be completed prior to shifting efforts to the operational and then tactical level. By doing so, we emphasize the current world order, from the strategic to the tactical level. Stated differently, reacting breathlessly to provide the Chinese with tactical level vignettes, such as ship visits, only serves to delay meaningful engagement across the DIME by ignoring the broader strategic objectives.

Military Operational Level Actions

In the whole-of-government approach, the military faces delicate and complex challenges as it executes two courses of actions (COA) simultaneously:

  • COA 1 - the most likely COA with China—a “tense” rise with a persistent, looming threat of war and to properly manage this competition in the western Pacific.
  • COA 2 - the most dangerous armed conflict with China—being prepared to rapidly defeat PLA forces in combat to achieve diplomatic “white space” for peaceful negotiations.

These courses of actions share similarities. Both require military forces capable of defeating the PLA. Both require logistics capabilities near the potential area of conflict which require a constant meaningful engagement of regional countries. Both courses of action require either kinetic (combat) or non-kinetic (security) operations at sea enforcing existing international norms, standards, rules, and laws. Finally, both require a strong presence of forces operating at sea and ashore in contested regions to re-enforce existing maritime law and a preferred partner of choice both at sea and ashore.

A Matter of Trust

The U.S. Phase 0 (Shape) military operational activities’ objectives are to move China towards acceptance of current world order processes and institutions. This requires simultaneous effort on two separate vectors: (1) to support Phase 0 (Shape) or peacetime objectives and (2) to establish conditions to prevail in combat by ensuring access for U.S. forces. Should hostilities commence, even very capable U.S. joint forces will be put at a disadvantage if forced to operate at a distance from their support locations. Ensuring the ability to receive logistical support from facilities near the potential operating area is essential; this can be pursued by activities in peacetime to arrange agreements, preposition materials and build necessary infrastructure. It boils down to positive, trusting and enduring relationships with U.S. regional allies and partner nations nurtured during peacetime.

The operational mechanism to build lasting trust between nations for the military is sustained engagement that builds lasting mil-to-mil relationships and supports building lasting relationships across the entire DIME. This is done through an approach that focuses on identifying areas where a host nation can improve and prosper across three lines of effort: governance, development and security. Coordinating these efforts through the ambassador and the country team to ensure a synchronized and balanced whole-of-government approach is essential.

The military is a supporting commander in achieving Phase 0 (Shape) objectives following recommendations that the United States should lead with diplomacy and economic power, but those instruments of statecraft need to be backed by military power.[10] Clearly, the western Pacific and regionally the South China Sea are first and foremost a naval theater, and the purpose of any navy is to project power in order to maintain the flow of free commerce, ensure freedom of navigation and, in a land campaign, to ensure the logistics supply of ground forces is not impaired. To be able to project power, there will be significant challenges putting our joint and predominantly naval forces at high risk. The U.S. military must have the sufficient forces in the region with the appropriate capabilities to deal with this risk in Phase II (Seize the Initiative). The ability to prevail in combat reassures regional allies and partners and shapes Chinese behavior in Phase 0 (Shape) through deterrence. For the vast expanses of the western Pacific, the presence gained with a larger quantity of assets may outweigh the value of a fewer number of higher quality. A larger number of ships in Phase 0 (Shape) equates to more presence at sea, and relationships and enforcement of the current world order cannot be built without such a presence. As Chief of Navy Operations John Richardson recently remarked, “to provide credible options, to provide partnering opportunities, you need to be there. Numbers are a part of that solution.”[11]

As the U.S. rebalance in Asia continues, the next few decades will become even more transformative, due to a positive economic relationship with China and a new-found position of economic strength within the U.S. energy sector. The U.S. military should continue to execute the Phase 0 (Shape) vector actions of encouraging Chinese transformation away from the use of coercion and aggression, but at the same time, continue to prepare for the Phase II vector of hostilities in the region. Utilizing activities in Phase 0 (Shape) allow travel in any direction and scope along both paths simultaneously.

Learn from Iraq and Afghanistan

The Phase 0 (Shape) operational level military actions needed to positively shape the U.S.-China relationship and build trust within the region are those that capitalize on current operations at sea, but also leverage key successful practices executed within the confines of the last ten years of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan ashore. Phase 0 (Shape) actions that continue to build prosperity within regional countries constitute three principle lines of effort: security, development and governance. In the long-term, these lines of effort will build sustained trust with the United States as a partner of choice. These operational lines of effort can be accomplished utilizing teams similar to the Provisional Reconstruction Team (PRT) units developed and utilized successfully within Iraq and Afghanistan. These tactical level units consisted of micro-entities equipped with the whole-of-government representation that had reachback capability to larger organizations within the Department of Defense, Department of State, Department of Agriculture and the Department of Justice. While the composition of the PRT reflected the needs of the host nation, the overarching goal of a PRT was to foster trust with the hosts and build security, governance and localized economic development, which in turn, brought about prosperity.

This model has application to many countries within Southeast Asia. It can be argued that PRTs as utilized in both Afghanistan and Iraq were not successful due to the current state of both countries. However, the constraints by which a PRT organization operated in a combat zone with weak central governments versus fairly developed nations in Southeast Asia with established central governments are far different. The greatest difference between Southeast Asia and  Afghanistan is that the political and security environment would not call for U.S. combat forces to coexist with a reconstruction/development team. Additionally, most Southeast Asian nations with which we desire to partner already have or are working towards creating what the World Bank refers to as a “good policy environment.”[12] Consequently, the sometimes-opposing lines of effort between theater security cooperation (TSC) and offensive combat operations within the same space would not have to be considered. With the potential addition of new country specific PRTs, relabeled Regional Development Teams (RDT), the RDT construct becomes the ground enabler organization during Phase 0 that will allow the flow of forces to theater for Phase 1 (deter) and higher if required to shift towards the kinetic vector to deter/counter China. As the execution of the RDT will not require such a significant focus on security, an increased focus on economic development will in turn allow the RDTs to be seen as a significant diplomatic tool to enable stronger economic ties and trust between the United States and each individual Southeast Asian country. The RDTs become the foundation to fill the essential role in an “Archipelagic Defense” concept that establishes a series of linked defenses along the first island chain.[13]

Currently, at the operational level within the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, TSC is conducted by a supported means across the principle Task Forces (TF): TF 70 (Ronald Reagan Strike Group and supporting assigned escorts), TF 72 (P-3, P-8 fixed wing aircraft); TF 73 (COMLOGWESPAC and lead TF for current CARAT exercise schedule); TF 74 (Submarine forces); newly created TF 75 which is based out of Guam and coordinates the efforts of all Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) forces; and TF 76 (Bonhomme Richard Strike Group with 31st MEU embarked). The focus of TSC efforts remain centered upon higher headquarters directions associated with Commander Pacific Fleet and Pacific Command guidance and engagement priorities; however, the challenge remains of assessing the military effect, within a country, of a port visit or a military exercise on host nation mil-to-mil relationships or the impact to local communities. Often, the unit’s attention on the exercises and port visits is too short to assess any lasting impact, and the unit is neither trained nor resourced to assess their tactical actions across an operational or strategic landscape. The military elements of power utilized in Phase 0 (Shape) are hard power and equate well to deterrence or security but not to governance and development. The ability of tactical units to assess a strategic effect is beyond their capability due to limited time within the battle space and inability to fully appreciate the DIME at their Tier V or VI level of operations. A well-established country RDT would be better situated to assess the impacts of these tactical units and better understand requirements of the host nation to fit tactical units to TSC objectives across time, space and within each section of the DIME approach.

Command and Control

With the implementation of the RDT model, command and control of forces conducting theater security cooperation operations would be on a larger and more sustained scale than currently conducted, and would require a command structure that fully synchronizes the whole of government approach across departmental, coalition, joint and civilian NGOs.

With the addition of dedicated RDTs within specific regions of Southeast Asia, the span of control of the existing Seventh Fleet TF structure would be taxed. Due to the increased intensity and focus of TSC operations, a dedicated Task Force whose Phase 0 (Shape) focus is theater security cooperation can quickly shift to access in the littoral and landward logistics security if Phase II (Seize the Initiative) operations becomes necessary. This new TF would command and control all RDTs within each specified region within Southeast Asia and be the supported commander for all port visits by vessels. Operational control would remain as before; however, a coordination line would exist directly with each ambassador’s country team, the U.S. Pacific Fleet HQ and U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) to ensure whole-of-government objectives are synchronized and supported. The potential exists that TF could become a standing JTF with the employment of special forces, Army civil affairs battalions or Marine special purpose elements. Further analysis to understand optimal joint command structure of this standing JTF would modify doctrine noting its commander will be uniquely situated to support potential Phase III (Dominate) requirements under the Joint Force Maritime Component Commander, predominantly ensuring access as well as Phase 0 (Shape) whole-of-government actions across the entire DIME level of effort.

The advantage of this command structure to the joint force is significant, for predominantly Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) capacity will quickly be consumed under current force structure limitations. The use of Coastal Riverine and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) forces conducting sustained security missions as well as a dedicated Naval Mobile Construction Battalions (NMCB) throughout each country will quickly deplete current available operational forces. Army and Air Force assets will also be an attractive option to fill capability and capacity gaps. Additionally, the TF Commander himself should not be limited to a Navy Flag Officer. With the addition of forces from all services, a Flag or General Officer from any service could be considered as a commander of this new JTF.

The Cost of Presence

Finally, the cost of presence must be addressed. A comparison of assets utilized for TSC operations can be examined and balanced across the broad spectrum of naval operations. TSC port visits reduce availability for at-sea operations, which re-enforce existing norms, standards, rules and laws. The preponderance of underway time for warships should be spent reassuring allies, partners and friends in the region by operating at sea within the Chinese exclusive economic zone (EEZ), conducting high-end war exercises that prepare for Phase II (Seize the Initiative) operations, or responding to Phase 0 (Shape) crisis events. These operations serve to reinforce the UNCLOS and validate the existing world order in addition to being a deterrent to current Chinese coercion.

The gigantic expanse of the Pacific Ocean reduces opportunity for blue water operations near Asia. Most port visits require a ship to transit away from the Chinese EEZ in order to get to the port visit. Thus, operational availability of a destroyer is reduced due to competing requirements of TSC in a port visit or exercises with a host nation. For many nations in the region, there is very little value gained by U.S. Navy forces conducting low end exercises. The operational return on investment for increasing the Fleet’s battle skills in conducting the predominantly basic level exercises and engagements is very little for the operational Fleet Commander, but there is significant value in building relationships.

In addition to the reduced availability for at sea presence, sending a surface combatant or submarine to a port for a limited engagement visit is costly. An average for a four-day port visit in Malaysia or Indonesia is approximately 500,000 USD for a large surface combatant—this value would be less for a smaller ship and greater for a larger amphibious vessel or aircraft carrier. Additionally, a conservative estimate of 600 barrels of gas a day, or 30,000 USD at current market rates (50 USD per barrel), is the nominal burn rate for that destroyer underway. Considering the likely transit to and from a Southeast Asian country of interest is two to three days each way from the Chinese EEZ, this equates to an additional conservative cost of 120,000 USD and four days off station plus transit time. In comparison, for the same expense, littoral NECC forces such as a Coastal Riverine Squadrons (CRS) or NMCB could operate in the field or in the littorals for an order of magnitude greater to achieve the same relationship building purpose ashore.

Nonetheless, there are clear advantages for port visits. By creating a centralized TF focused solely on TSC in Phase 0 (Shape), the trade-off between at sea presence focused on deterrence and high end warfighting skills training and TSC port visits/low end exercises can be more rigorously assessed. In addition, significant operational flexibility is added for the principal battle commander in the Pacific to better react to or deter potential Phase 0 (Crisis) events. Essentially, for a fraction of the cost, the ability to sustain and build relationships with our host nation partners is significantly reinforced while also increasing our ability to respond to any crisis scenario. 

Using the RDT construct of conducting whole-of-government operations, the TF commander serves to enhance TSC within this critical Southeast Asia region. In addition to providing near continuous TSC coverage, this standing TF commander can plan and execute existing standing exercises such as Pacific Fleet’s Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) or Pacific Partnership, relieving force providers from dedicating an additional staff to command and control these important exercises. Finally, the TF is better positioned to determine both the needed metrics to measure theater security cooperation strategic goals and the level of effectiveness across the joint force in achieving those goals.

Currently, TF 73 is the commander overseeing the CARAT series of exercises, while TF 76 has Pacific Partnership duties. A new, single TF Flag Officer and staff would focus on Phase 0 (Shape) TSC objectives and also concurrently on Phase II (Seize the Initiative) littoral access responsibilities. Finally, while the forces ashore are continuing to develop lasting relationships that ensure access in Phase II (Seize the Initiative), high-end surface combatants can increase operational availability at-sea responding as a deterrent to current PRC aggression and coercion, or conduct maintenance in home ports increasing readiness for Phase II (Seize the Initiative) operations if/when called upon.


Based on the arguments above, the following operational level actions are recommended to take to execution the current Phase 0 (Shape) strategic landscapes at play in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region:

  • Ensure a whole-of-government approach by empowering a National Security Council Interagency Policy Committee (NSC/IPC) exclusively devoted to a combined departmental/interagency approach towards China.
  • Establish an additional task force specifically devoted to regional maritime security, headed by a Flag or General Officer, under operational command of the U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander and which, importantly, works in coordination directly with United States Pacific Command (PACOM) and applicable Ambassador country teams.
  • Within the new task force, create Regional Development Teams (RDTs) modeled after the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) employed in Afghanistan. These RDTs shall be a coalition and joint in nature and include inter-agency coordination to ensure a whole- of-government approach.
  • The pivot of naval forces to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region must not only include high-end warships associated with hard power, but critical support elements for this high-end fight associated with soft power in peacetime-Phase 0 (Shape) and access to the littorals in Phase II. Units should be identified across the joint force that increase a sustained relationship presence ashore such as additional NECC forces, Army Civil Affairs Battalions, etc.
  • With the addition of a Joint High Speed Vessel and the High-Speed Ferry to the inventory of Seventh Fleet, the development of an Adaptive Force Package (AFP), (flexible and agile ship loadouts of equipment and people designed for a specific purpose) for Navy NECC, Marine Corps, and Army forces to rapidly conduct Theater Security Cooperation on a sustained basis must be considered.
  • Shift command and control of Pacific Partnership, CARAT, and other Southeast Asian bilateral exercises from TF73/TF76 to TF/JTF of theater security cooperation (TSC) to ensure full synchronization of TSC from the strategic to the tactical. This would also allow TF 73 to focus on combat logistics and voyage repair exclusively while allowing TF 76 to focus on their expeditionary duties in support of Marine assets.
  • Shift Destroyer Squadron Seven (CDS7) OPCON from TF 73 to TF 76 to improve peacetime activities and wartime coordination of amphibious mission areas. Continue to develop TF 76 into a fully supported strike group on par with TF 70 with the addition of CDS7 and the addition of a third FDNF Cruiser in theater as an Air Warfare Commander assigned OPCON to TF 76. The Seventh Fleet Commander would overnight gain the addition of another Strike Group available for tasking by appropriately re-apportioning increased the FDNF presence within theater.
  • With CDS7 OPCON to TF 76, it will require floating command spaces while keeping ashore spaces available in Singapore. Middle Pacific Surface Combatants or West Coast independent deployers can serve as the flagships for CDS7 and be assigned to TACON to TF 76 as strike group assets. This will allow CDS7 to have a DDG platform as the flagship while conducting missions under TF 76 and serving as the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) operational commander.


The U.S. is not nor can it be in a traditional “Cold War” with China for one reason—our economies are vastly interconnected from trade to debt.  Both share the principle common interest to continue building prosperous economies. With the stated objectives of the “Two 100s” China has formed its own whole of government approach of aggression and coercion to build upon its current level of “Comprehensive National Power.”[14] However, the achievement of these objectives through aggression and coercion is not acceptable as part of current norms, standards, rules and international law. In response, the U.S. must continue to re-enforce and promote existing UN centric resolution mechanisms to solve critical territorial, maritime and resource challenges within the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

Further, the U.S. and our Allies Phase 0 (Shape) activities must be comprehensive across the span of whole-of-government and focus on decreasing the level of aggression and coercion not only within the maritime commons of the western Pacific, but also across shared diplomatic, economic and information domains. To accomplish this goal, the U.S. should  empower a National Security Council Interagency Policy Committee (NSC/IPC) exclusively devoted to our whole-of-government approach towards China. Creating an entity similar to a previous inter-agency committee orientated against the Soviet Union will provide guidance and direction under a mutually supportive construct with an overarching plan from which both military and civilian planners at the Tier 1 level and below can utilize to conduct further mission analysis and work towards desired outcomes and end states across the entire Diplomatic, Economic, Military and Economic (DIME) spectrum. The collective actions implemented across the DIME must remain well-phased, coordinated and integrated to effectively persuade China towards accepting the current world order rather than eroding it by creating a “China-centric” order.

“You can’t surge trust” has been a common theme amongst Flag and General Officers in speeches and Congressional testimony. As China continues to expand its influence within the Indo-Asia-Pacific region and in an effort to ensure the country’s truly “peaceful rise,” the U.S. should continue to increase its focus as the preferred partner of choice centered on existing norms, standards, rules and laws. To become a preferred partner of choice demands a continuous presence throughout the region executing a whole-of-government approach, at the request and with the support of its allies and regional partners. Operational level activities must be responsive enough to ensure U.S. efforts complement China’s own national interest towards a mutually desired peacetime status.

There will inevitably be friction as the U.S. and China continue a relationship of managed rivals. The U.S. must continue to execute actions that strengthen the global and regional rules based system and that best avoid combat among the two major powers by influencing China’s tense rise with definitive strategic objectives executed through connected operational and tactical actions, but also a coordinated effort to build a sustained presence and trust with regional partner nations.


David Haas is currently appointed as the FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer for two Presidentially declared disasters in the State of Nevada. He is a retired Navy Captain and former Surface Warfare Officer. He served as the U.S. Seventh Fleet Operations Officer and Maritime Operations Center, Director from 2011 to 2013 and oversaw all U.S. naval operations in the western Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Commander Jack McKechnie is an Aviation Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy and previously served as Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff for Theater Security Cooperation, US Seventh Fleet. CDR McKechnie is currently enrolled as graduate student in International Relations with American University, School of International Service. The views expressed here are his own.

[1]  “Xi Jinping pledges ‘great renewal of Chinese nation,” China Internet Information Center. November 30, 2012. http://www.china.org.cn/china/2012-11/30/content_27269821.htm

[2]  “Xi Jinping says the world has nothing to fear from awakening of ‘peaceful lion’” South China Morning Post. March 28, 2014.  http://m.scmp.com/news/china/article/1459168/xi-says-world-has-nothing-fear-awakening-peaceful-lion?page=all  

[3] Michael Pillsbury, The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2015, p. 30

[4]  Ibid, p. 178

[5] The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China, China’s Military Strategy, May 2015. http://eng.mod.gov.cn/Database/WhitePapers/

[6]  United Nations. Charter of the United Nations. Preamble

[7] Minzin Pei, “How China and America See Each Other,” Foreign Affairs 94 no. 2 (March/April 2014)

[8] U.S.-China economic ties have expanded substantially over the past three decades. Total U.S.-China trade rose from 5 billion USD in 1981 to an estimated 559 billion USD in 2013. China is currently the United States’ second-largest trading partner, its third-largest export market, and its biggest source of imports. China is estimated to be a 350 billion USD market for U.S. firms (based upon US exports to China and sales by U.S.-invested firms in China). Wayne M. Morrison. “China-U.S. Trade Issues.” Congressional Research Service (Mar 17, 2015). Summary

[9] https://www.defense.gov/News/Transcripts/Transcript-View/Article/1201780...

[10] Patrick Cronin, ed. “Cooperation from Strength: The United States, China, and the South China Sea.” Center for a New American Security, January 2012.

[11] https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2017-05-16/navy-chief-says-u...

[12] World Bank Policy Report, “Assessing Aid, What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why, World Bank, 1998, pg. 2.

[13] Andrew Krepinevich, “How to Deter China: The case for Archipelagic Defense,” Foreign Affairs 94, no. 2: 78.

[14] Larry Wortzel, The Chinese Armed Forces in the 21st Century, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, Carlisle PA, 1999, 107.