U.S. adviser DeFrancia discusses China maritime policy | AspenTimes.com
Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

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U.S. adviser DeFrancia discusses China maritime policy

ASPEN – Jim DeFrancia has an extremely lengthy resume.

The Aspen Planning and Zoning commissioner is president of Weston Capital Corp., a firm engaged in real estate asset management and development on behalf of private investors, banks, government agencies and insurance companies. He also is a principal of Lowe Enterprises, a national development company.

He is currently the court-appointed receiver of the bankrupt Dancing Bear project in Aspen and the foreclosed Base Village development in Snowmass Village. He also is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, the University of Michigan and the Wharton School. In fact, the list of his roles and accomplishments seems never-ending.

On Wednesday, DeFrancia was invited by Aspen Business Luncheon coordinator Todd Shaver to speak as a Pentagon insider, given that he has found yet another role: adviser to the Secretary of the Navy on maritime strategy in the Western Pacific and naval energy policy.

And in that position, much of his attention is focused on U.S. relations with China and Chinese maritime strategy, the main topics of his Wednesday speech.

China’s view of its naval role is far different from how the United States operates its Navy, DeFrancia said. In China, the Navy is a subset of the People’s Liberation Army, employing a defensive strategy, looking to keep the naval operations of other countries far away from its shores, he said.

U.S. allies in the Far East look to the United States as a balance, not a competition to China, DeFrancia explained. “They want to make sure that we’re there. They’re not satisfied with, ‘Don’t worry if there’s a crisis in the South China Sea, we can get there.’ They want to make sure we’re there now. They want ships on patrol, they want bases in the area, they want to be comforted that we’re around to provide some balance to the Chinese.”

India, in particular, is nervous about expanding Chinese influence, in some ways feeling that China is trying to encircle it by increasing trade with Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Africa.

“The Indians are a longstanding, you might almost say traditional, enemy of the Chinese; they’ve had two armed conflicts in the last 50 years and they’ve had border disputes that are continuing to this day,” he said. “Our approach has been to try to balance between the Chinese and the Indians and try to keep a relative compatibility in terms of firepower and general capacity.”

The Chinese have no aircraft carriers, DeFrancia said. They have sophisticated artillery and missile batteries along their coast as part of a longstanding defensive strategy.

“That seems to be their desire. They want to keep us away from their coast when they want us away from their coast,” he said. “We in turn, want to be able to move as close to the Chinese coast as suits us, when it suits us, and we’ve concluded that we’re probably better off doing that with increased submarine forces and less surface forces because of their increased missile defenses.”

During a question-and-answer period, DeFrancia was asked about how China looks upon North Korea and its nuclear defense capabilities.

“Don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers,” DeFrancia said. “The press often portrays the Chinese as being negligent or not concerned about North Korea and North Korea’s nuclear capacity. In fact, they are more worried about North Korea than anybody.”

China shares a 1,000-mile border with North Korea, and any disruption of those boundaries could result in millions of refugees flooding into China with the associated effects of disease and other destructive and disruptive social impacts.

“They are very concerned about a regime that – and they agree with us – is essentially irrational,” DeFrancia said.

“It’s almost a good cop/bad cop routine. We go public and go to the U.N. and call for sanctions and criticisms and demands, and the Chinese appear quiet. But the fact of the matter is that they come down in their own way. So there is more cooperation there than might appear.”

The Aspen Business Luncheon meets at 12:45 p.m. on Wednesdays at the Hotel Jerome. For more information, e-mail Shaver at Todd2007@BullMarketWorld.com.

asalvail@aspentimes.com