String of Pearls: Meeting the Challenge of China's Rising Power Across the Asian Littoral

  • July 01, 2006
  • LTC Christopher J Pehrson

China's rising maritime power is encountering American maritime power along the sea lines of communication (SLOCs) that connect China to vital energy resources in the Middle East and Africa. The "String of Pearls" describes the manifestation of China's rising geopolitical influence through efforts to increase access to ports and airfields, develop special diplomatic relationships, and modernize military forces that extend from the South China Sea through the Strait of Malacca, across the Indian Ocean, and on to the Arabian Gulf. A question posed by the "String of Pearls" is the uncertainty of whether China’s growing influence is in accordance with Beijing’s stated policy of "peaceful development," or if China one day will make a bid for regional primacy. This is a complex strategic situation that could determine the future direction of the China’s relationship with the United States, as well as China’s relationship with neighbors throughout the region. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the “String of Pearls” from within the context of the post-Cold War global security environment and propose informed recommendations for U.S. policy and strategy. Substantive, results-oriented engagement supported by pragmatic military hedging is the best strategy to influence and encourage China to participate in the international community as a responsible stakeholder. Bold leadership and prudent foresight will enable the United States and China to reap the rewards of strategic cooperation and avert the calamity of a hostile confrontation.