Press reports say the aircraft carrier USS George Washington will make a port call in South Korea some time this week in preparation for joint exercises with the South Korean navy. Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Seoul today and will join Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for planning meetings with South Korean counterparts. A joint announcement regarding the exercises is scheduled for Wednesday.
Last week, Maj. Gen. Luo Yuan, deputy secretary general of China’s PLA Academy of Military Sciences, in an interesting online discussion at the People’s Daily, gave five reasons why China opposes U.S.-South Korean naval exercises, and more specifically, a visit by the George Washington to the Yellow Sea. Admittedly, he makes some sound points.
First, Luo invokes a Chairman Maoism: “We will never allow others to keep snoring beside our beds.” (I’m not even sure what that means). Then, he poses the question: “If the United States were in China's shoes, would it allow China to stage military exercises near its western and eastern coasts?” The U.S. should treat others as it would like to be treated, he says.
Second, when it comes to its own security, China must always prepare for the worst. “The bottom line for strategic thinking is to nip the evil in the bud,” Luo says.
Third, the Yellow Sea is the gateway to China’s capital, Beijing. The U.S.-South Korean drill area is only 500 kilometers from Beijing. Aircraft (presumably he means F-18s) from the George Washington have a combat radius of 1,000 kilometers, putting Beijing within range as well as the “Bohai Rim Economic Circle.”
Fourth, the UN Security Council has pleaded for calm and cool among all parties in the wake of the Cheonan sinking. The U.S.-South Korean naval exercise creates a new crisis, Luo says, arguing that exercises in the Yellow Sea will only heighten tensions on the Korean peninsula.
Fifth, Luo says sending the George Washington into the Yellow Sea creates an additional barrier to development of healthy China-U.S. military relations, adding to China’s resentment over arms sales to Taiwan.
Luo cites the 1994 “Kitty Hawk issue,” when that carrier steamed around in the Yellow Sea, causing great consternation among Chinese officials. He claims that’s the last time aircraft carriers ever appeared in the Yellow Sea. Yet, last week, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the George Washington was just there in October, so somebody's confused here.
Towards the end of his online discussion, Luo lets on perhaps the real reason the PLA doesn’t want U.S. ships in the Yellow Sea: the ships powerful sonar and sensors can monitor and map the “hydro-geological conditions of China’s submarines’ channels out to sea.”