China Plans Foreign Military Bases, How the US Should Respond
In a move that is likely calculated to counter US influence abroad, the Chinese government plans to set up military bases beyond its own borders, including in neighboring Pakistan. The establishment of these bases would be significant for a number of reasons, including the fact that a base in Pakistan would allow China to further counter its rising neighbor India. A base in Pakistan would also give the Chinese military another springboard from which it could quell separatist unrest in the Uighur-populated Xinjiang region.
The Chinese government asserts that international law does not prohibit the establishment of these bases, a claim which is technically sound. However, a recent statement by the Chinese government suggests that its strategic rationale may not be as sound or amicable. By gaining permission from host countries to establish military bases, the Chinese government can legally position forces that are intended to protect their interests and citizens. Nevertheless, the recent Chinese statement repeatedly cites the need to protect these interests from “potential enemies” – rather than actual threats realized through current events.
One salient theme behind this development is the fact that China is a rising nation – with considerable untapped productivity, room for further economic growth, and regional security concerns, China has any number of rational bases for further developing its military capability. Acknowledgment of this reality, however, should not be used to assuage American security concerns. The Chinese government’s blatant disregard of human rights and civil liberties, mistreatment of its Uighur Muslim minority, and nationalistic scapegoating of its neighbor Japan should further galvanize American efforts to bring China into an equitable international system. In the future, such a system should be one that mandates unwavering observance of fundamental human rights. Both the United States and the world have an interest in seeing that China develops a respect for the rule of law at home and abroad. In short, China should be forced to choose: either abide by humane international norms, or risk unified international opposition to further military buildup.
This does not mean that the United States is blameless and has no need for good faith engagement with its rising strategic rival. In a recent Washington Post article on US cybersecurity affairs, Harvard Law professor Jack Goldsmith indicated that the United States approach to cybersecurity appears one-sided to many nations, including China. The United States concern for China-based cyberattacks, when juxtaposed against its pride in thwarting Chinese free speech controls on the internet, appears somewhat hypocritical. While fighting for these free speech rights may seem altruistic, US security interests would be better served if it looked to develop international cyberlaw norms, rather than online vigilante justice. This is just one example of the many ways in which the United States can shape an international system that balances a rising China.
(Note: any opinion portions of this article reflect the opinions of the author, and not those of the National Security Law Brief, or of the AU – Washington College of Law.)