By Christopher P. Cavas
Pacific Island Chains Measure Regional Influence
WASHINGTON — The extensive chains of Pacific islands ringing China have been described as a wall, a barrier to be breached by an attacker or strengthened by a defender. They are seen as springboards, potential bases for operations to attack or invade others in the region. In a territorial sense, they are benchmarks marking the extent of a country’s influence.
“It’s truly a case of where you stand. Perspective is shaped by one’s geographic and geostrategic position,” said Andrew Erickson, a professor with the China Maritime Studies Institute at the Naval War College.
“Barriers is a very Chinese perspective,” said Erickson. “It reflects a concern that foreign military facilities based on the islands may impede or threaten China’s efforts or influence.”
The springboard concept can work offensively or defensively.
“Many Chinese writings express concerns that the chains can be used as springboards for projection and forces against China. But some sources imagine future contingencies where China itself might have growing influence and presence, with Taiwan being most relevant in that regard,” Erickson said.
“Benchmarks speak to the idea that as China increasingly engages in blue-water operations and limited forms of power projection, having more ships through the first island chain offers a set of milestones by which the People’s Liberation Army Navy – or PLAN – can measure its growing presence and capabilities.”
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