On Thursday, June 15th, 2017, Dr. Christopher Yung spoke to DMGS students, faculty, and staff about the implications of the modernization of China’s navy. Dr. Yung is the Donald Bren Chair of Non-Western Strategic Thought at Marine Corps University. Here, he serves as the Director of East Asian Studies and lectures on topics related to China and East Asian Security. He has contributed to several publications on topics related to Chinese maritime strategy.
Dr. Yung opened his presentation by emphasizing what he believes is the biggest contemporary threat to US national security: avoiding systemic conflict with China. He outlined several popular hypotheses regarding the reasoning behind China’s naval modernization, including global power projection, global sea control, regional sea control, sea denial activities, and some combination of these. Dr. Yung outlined the modernization of the Chinese navy over time, describing that in the mid-1990s, Chinese air defenses were limited, and its navy could not operate far from shore. Since then, the Chinese navy has been gradually developing, increasing the number of modernized ships and its capability to defend those ships at sea. It has been quieting its submarines, improving their battery life and range, and developing better sensors and air defenses, allowing its ships to operate further from China’s shore. Using this context, Dr. Yung began to develop his hypothesis. Even with the development and modernization of its navy, China is nowhere near the capability to conduct far seas operations or combat the US Navy in conventional combat. Furthermore, China’s logistical ability has not been modernized or developed alongside its navy, and as such, would not be able to support global operations. Additionally, Taiwan continues to remain a thorn in China’s side, even though it has the capability to solve the Taiwan issue militarily. Dr. Yung concluded that these facts indicate that China’s naval development is in pursuit of a mixture of goals, specifically the accomplishment of certain aspects of its grand strategy. The US-led international order has economically benefited China, and the preservation of this order can allow China to continue to grow. As the US military responds to the world’s problems, China is left to manipulate and develop what it sees as its own territory without becoming entangled abroad. Therefore, China has the incentive to preserve the international order and maintain peaceful relations with the US. China has also been gradually folding Taiwan into its political sphere by slowly reducing its number of allies. Furthermore, its operations in the South China Sea erode regional confidence in the ability of the US to protect national interests there.
Following Dr. Yung’s presentation, DMGS students, faculty, and staff had the opportunity to network with him and others who came to hear him speak. Dr. Yung was enthusiastic to hear questions from several students who met with him after his presentation, and provided his contact information to interested students.