Thanks to all the blogs and news sites that picked up on what I described as the 'bracing' commentary by a senior US naval intelligence officer about China's naval capabilities and ambitions.
I notice that strategist Thomas Barnett has commented on the video too, though his interest was in a different speaker, Naval War College professor Toshi Yoshihara who, in Barnett's words, reminds the audience 'just how easy it could be to thwart the PLAN by placing one's own area-denial anti-access assets all along (or on) the so-called first island chain, which is owned by everybody EXCEPT China.'
Barnett is arguing that the Chinese military's 'anti-access' strategy (of using anti-ship missiles and submarines to make it almost impossible for the US Navy and its allies to operate safely within the 'first island chain') can be used against China as well.
Barnett does not say so explicitly, but I assume he makes this point as a counter to the Pentagon's China-focused fear mongering and threat inflation that he regularly campaign against. He's basically saying that the situation is not as bad as the China threat school makes out, because the US can counter China's growing capability with the same tactics as those with which China is now threatening the US and its allies.
This seems narrowly right to me, but it also leaves something out: namely, that such a 'balancing dynamic' between China and the US is actually pretty different to the maritime dominance the US has enjoyed in the Asia Pacific for the last twenty years, at least.
For instance, Bill Clinton could protest Beijing's intimidation of Taipei by sailing two carrier task groups into the surrounding seas, but one wonders whether such a gesture would have the same effect now or if a present-day president would even try it, given that Chinese anti-ship capabilities are so much better. Control of the seas within and around the first island chain is now contested.
The kind of equilibrium Barnett and Yoshihara describe, in which the US and China deny each other maritime dominance, might actually be a workable accommodation, though it would require better management than the two powers have shown so far, and US allies would like it far less than the US primacy it replaced.
But even if it could be made to work in theory, it is very much an open question whether the US is prepared to settle for that kind of balance, given it is a step down from the dominance Washington once enjoyed. And just as importantly, does such a balance meet China's demands for security and its sense of itself as a great power?