In January 2013, senior US Navy intelligence officer Captain James Fanell described China’s maritime strategy and ambitions as ‘hegemonic’ and aggressive, and said China ‘bullies adversaries’. This unusually blunt assessment made news around the world. Sam Roggeveen, who broke the story for The Interpreter, described Fanell’s comments as ‘bracing.’
While it did not receive quite as much media attention, Captain Fanell gave another presentation at the same conference this year, beginning with an admission that his previous comments were ‘provocative, even controversial in January 2013.’ Rather than concede the point, however, Fanell goes on to state that in light of recent developments, the previous year’s assessment ‘now seems obvious, even conservative…It sounded so aggressive then to simply state the facts. What a difference a year makes.’
There may be disagreement on whether to categorise Fanell’s position as ‘conservative’, particularly amid reports that the Pentagon has distanced itself from other recent comments he has made.