Michael McDevitt Talks China’s Maritime Strategy at Paulson Institute

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With a Chicago blizzard brewing outside, Rear Admiral Michael McDevitt (US Navy, Ret.) spoke to University of Chicago students at the Institute’s Contemporary China Speakers Series today about China’s rise as a maritime power and what the future holds for security in the East Asian region.

Drawing upon his 34-year active duty military career—culminating in a post as commander of the Pacific-based USS George Washington aircraft carrier battle group—McDevitt emphasized the importance of studying Asian security issues, pointing out a recent spat between China and Vietnam that nearly came to a head after China placed a floating oil rig in disputed waters.

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Currently a Senior Fellow with CNA Strategic Studies, McDevitt was the latest China expert to join the Institute’s Contemporary China Speakers Series, held with the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.

Engaging the crowd with a rundown of China’s PLA-Navy vessels and weapons technology, McDevitt noted that China’s official position as a maritime power also encompasses civilian aspects, including the shipbuilding, merchant marine, fishing, resource exploration, and seaport infrastructure industries, in many of which China leads the world in scale. As China’s naval capabilities develop, its ability to defend its interests at sea will transform the way in which East Asian nations interact. Nevertheless, these developments will present new challenges for the US, McDevitt pointed out.

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So what does this all mean for the future of the US-China relationship? According to McDevitt, while China’s activity in the South China Sea has challenged American allies, the South China Sea is not necessarily the most important aspect of the US-China relationship. In fact, should both countries continue to operate with mutual understanding and respect in military matters, there will remain opportunity for strong bilateral relations.