The power projection balance in Asia

Article Highlights

  • China is posing a serious challenge to the US ability to underwrite stability in the Asia Pacific region.

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  • Developments in China are undermining a US regional strategy that depends on projecting power quickly into East Asia.

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  • China’s developing military capabilities raises the costs of US power projection into the region.

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Blumenthal: The Power Projection Balance in Asia

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The following is an excerpt from The Power Projection Balance in Asia, the tenth chapter of Competitive Strategies for the 21st Century: Theory, History, and Practice, edited by Thomas Mahnken (Stanford University Press, 2012). No reproduction, distribution, or any other use is allowed without the permission of the publisher.
The full chapter can be found in the attached PDF.

China is posing a serious challenge to the U.S. ability to underwrite stability in the Asia Pacific region. Since World War II, U.S. regional security strategy has relied on a forward military presence in what China calls its first island chain,1 sea and air control of the Pacific, and the ability to “command the commons,”2 a prerequisite for projecting substantial force into the region when necessary. China is developing military capabilities to coerce countries within the first island chain and is beginning to project power deeper into the Western Pacific, which raises the costs of U.S. power projection into the region. Over the long term, China seeks to exert control over its periphery. These developments are beginning to undermine a U.S. regional strategy that depends on projecting power quickly into East Asia.

In the short term, the security competition in Asia will be characterized by U.S. attempts to continue to project power in the region to reassure and defend allies, defend its homeland and territories, and defend the global commons against Chinese attempts to coerce U.S. allies and exert more control over its periphery. In the longer term, the Sino-U.S security competition will be characterized by Chinese attempts to project power further afield to defend sea-lanes and perhaps make a bid for regional dominance.

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About the Author


  • Dan Blumenthal is the director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, where he focuses on East Asian security issues and Sino-American relations.  Mr. Blumenthal has both served in and advised the U.S. government on China issues for over a decade.  From 2001 to 2004, he served as senior director for China, Taiwan, and Mongolia at the Department of Defense.  Additionally, he served as a commissioner on the congressionally-mandated U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission since 2006-2012, and held the position of vice chairman in 2007.  He has also served on the Academic Advisory Board of the congressional U.S.-China Working Group. Mr. Blumenthal is the co-author of "An Awkward Embrace: The United States and China in the 21st Century" (AEI Press, November 2012).

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