China’s Growing Naval ProwessApril 24, 2013
This month’s edition of Proceedings (the journal of the US Naval Institute) focuses on the growth and development of the Chinese Navy, or the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) as it is known there. China is aggressively adding capability to its naval forces in order to meet three goals of increased scope and difficulty.
First, to secure their anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategy, which is designed to upend the near 70 year US naval domination of their waters. This is the “first island chain” strategy, outlined in the infamous “nine-dash line” map. China first seeks to achieve hegemony within the waters bounded by the first chain of islands off her eastern shore.
Second, to extend their own naval hegemony beyond their near waters and out to the “second island chain,” a series of small atolls farther out into the Pacific, then sweeping down to include the Indonesian archipelago. Dominating this chain was the same strategic goal that the Imperial Japanese Navy pursued in World War Two; controlling this chain would fully isolate the US from East Asia and force its allies to seek accommodation with China. Achieving this goal would probably require open war with the US, as it would necessitate seizing control of US territories Guam and the Marianas Islands.
The third goal of Chinese naval strategists would be complete domination of the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans. This would seem to be relatively easy, as the US would have been defeated in the completion of the second goal. Only India, which is also building up a formidable naval force, would be left to compete with the PLAN.
Of course, parts 2 and 3 are long term goals, and the successful completion of even stage 1 is far from a sure thing. Especially given that the US navy is taking Chinese developments seriously. This issue of Proceedings has a number of articles that examine Chinese seamanship, their growing blue water capabilities, their submarine forces, and other factors. It is a must-read issue for anyone interested in the potential Sino-American naval competition in the coming years and decades.