China’s recent release of its first strategic white paper signals its official emergence as a maritime—and therefore global—power. Little in the document should surprise those who have monitored China’s rise, though it remains to be seen whether China watchers will discern nuance and inscrutability instead of taking Beijing at its word. Simply put, China views the United States as Asia’s hegemon, and its strategy seeks to deprive the United States of this role.
In its quest to eject the United States from a position of power and influence in the region, China has embarked upon a naval building and modernization program. At first, this program seemed aimed at rendering U.S. wartime support to Taiwan moot after the 1996 Taiwan Straits crisis. The effort included weapons and platforms designed specifically to target U.S maritime power projection capability—primarily resident in the air wings of its nuclear-powered aircraft carrier force. Early on, some assigned non-threatening motives for the buildup given the sensitivity of the Taiwan issue to Beijing. Yet over time, China began to develop weapons and sensor architectures far beyond those necessary or even useful for Taiwan scenarios. The Chinese naval program began to lay the foundation for regional maritime dominance and global influence by building modern multi-purpose destroyers, nuclear attack submarines, amphibious vessels, and an improved logistics force.
Bryan and Mackenzie have a great piece. Read the whole thing.
China has been building a world class navy for 20 years now, and is committed to continue doing so. Not traditionally a maritime power, China also has a long, long history of being invaded and occupied by maritime powers- nations that tended not to get invaded themselves. Ergo, become a maritime power.
Which makes perfect sense from China’s point of view. And indeed, while China is pushing hard to become a regional hegemon, they do not have the expansionist tendencies that say, Russia has historically had. That’s not to say they won’t strive to expand or exert influence upon neighbors, or even convert them to satraps. It merely explains why they do as they do. China sees mastery of the South China Sea and the East China Sea as absolutely critical to their own defense and sovereignty.