China's Real Blue Water Navy
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China's Real Blue Water Navy

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China’s navy is not poised to speed across the Pacific to threaten America the way the Soviet Union once did, if not worse. This despite Peter Navarro and Greg Autry’s over-the-top polemic, Death by China: Confronting the Dragon—A Global Call to Action, in which they claim that “[T]he People’s Republic is moving forward at Manhattan Project speed to develop a blue water navy capable of challenging the U.S. Navy.”

Such statements lack basis in fact and present an ideal strategic teaching moment to remind analysts and policymakers that Beijing’s evolving naval structure and operations yet again show that China is not working off a traditional European, Soviet, or American naval development playbook. Even its most nationalistic and ambitious strategists and decision-makers do not seek what they would term a “global Far Oceans blue-water type” (远洋进攻性) navy any time soon. Yet it is also misleading to argue, as one scholar recently did in The National Interest, that “All but the most hawkish hawks agree that the Chinese military will not pose a threat to the United States for decades.” This is off the mark from the other direction—albeit in a considerably more subtle and thoughtful way. As a rare People’s Liberation Army (PLA) delegation visited Washington recently for a series of official meetings, it is important to understand where China’s military is headed and why—particularly at sea, where U.S. and Chinese military platforms encounter each other most frequently.

Here is the critical point that both writings miss entirely—China’s military, and navy, are not high-end or low-end across the board. Rather, in addition to domestic security/homeland defense, they have two major layers:

1.      China has already developed, and continues to develop rapidly, potent high-end navy and “anti-Navy” capabilities. Like their other military counterparts, they are focused almost entirely on contested areas close to home.

2.      It is also developing low-end capabilities. They are relevant primarily for low-intensity peacetime missions in areas further afield.

These two very different dynamics should not be conflated.

The second area has attracted headlines recently. China is in the process of developing a limited out-of-area operational capability to extend political influence and protect vital economic interests and PRC citizens working abroad in volatile parts of Africa and other regions. In essence, China seeks the bonus of being able to show the flag outside East Asia without the onus of assuming the cost and political liabilities of building a truly global high-end naval capability.

But while selected PLA Navy (PLAN) vessels make history by calling on ports in the Black Sea and Mediterranean to include first-ever visits to Israel and Bulgaria, the majority (like the rest of China’s armed forces) are focused on areas closer to home—primarily still-contested territorial and maritime claims in the Yellow, East China, and South China Seas. From a Sino-centric perspective, these are, logically, the “Three Seas”(三海), or“Near Seas” (近海).

It is here, and largely only here—at least in a direct sense—that U.S. and Chinese military maritime approaches conflict. As an established superpower that has played a critical role in establishing the post-War world order, Washington seeks to work with allies, friends, and potential partners to maintain a single global trade system by preserving unfettered access to a secure commons for all, and to prevent the threat or use of force from being used to resolve political or territorial disputes. As a great power that feels wronged by recent history, Beijing seeks space to rise again and reassert control of previous claims by carving out a Near Seas zone of exceptionalism in which established global maritime norms do not apply.

Comments
134
Fluffy
May 6, 2013 at 16:32

The authors obviously put a lot of effort into this piece. To receive comments such as that from Mr Beijing Olympics 2008 must make the authors wonder why they should even bother publishing it on the web.  

[...] China’s geographical, economic, and (in some cases) technological advantages do not transfer to capabilities that would allow it to engage in high-intensity combat beyond the country’s [...]

Bongskie
February 18, 2013 at 16:19

The 1979 war between China and Vietnam was a huge failure for china as it lost more soldiers in that war than Vietnam did. If they will attack Vietnam tomorrow or the Philippines, they better make sure that they can "whack" them well because otherwise, China might repeat its 1979 embarassment once more all over agin but this time to be seen on CNN, Fox News, and Al Jazeera. These war-mongers supporting China are not here on Earth to make peace but to push their citizens to a war they don't wish to fight. Theirs is a government who try to legitimize their dubious claim over islands belonging to their neighbors by using threat and intimidation plus harassment. I am not envious towards the people of china as I pity them for having a government who knows nothing but to rob the rights of other nations as they effectively rob the rights of the people of China.

McLo
February 18, 2013 at 11:00

You're a fool. The J-20 is larger but it definitely doesn't have a better performance than the F-22 does. Lol, only a CCP shill would ever believe the lies that are told by their oppressive government and fellow two faced comrades. Also fix your grammar.

[...] rate will be a particularly revealing barometer of the PLAN’s future expeditionary intentions,” wrote Andrew Erickson, an analyst at the U.S. Naval War College. The more new oilers, the farther China will be able to [...]

[...] are still in the dark as to how the two countries’ navies would handle such a contingency. China’s development into a full spectrum, blue-water navy is well catalogued, whether it is the commissioning of its Type 071 landing platform docks (LPDs), new Type 52D [...]

[...] a particularly revealing barometer of the PLAN’s future expeditionary intentions,” wrote Andrew Erickson, an analyst at the US Naval War College. The more new oilers, the farther China will be able to [...]

Kempei Matsuya
January 18, 2013 at 18:12

@Broncazonk -  As a reader here, I must say you are nothing but a little nasty piece of low life sh*t who lies without compunction.  Nothing that "US's Sands of Time Running Out" says conforms with the BS you lay out.  Who's your father, boy?  What a sleazebag!

[...] will be a particularly revealing barometer of the PLAN’s future expeditionary intentions,” wrote Andrew Erickson, an analyst at the U.S. Naval War College. The more new oilers, the farther China will be able to [...]

[...] be a particularly revealing barometer of the PLAN’s future expeditionary intentions,” wrote Andrew Erickson, an analyst at the US Naval War College. The more new oilers, the farther China will be able to [...]

CommonSense
November 26, 2012 at 20:39

Well, let us pray more level heads prevail than the hotheads of these forums.  Nations build navies to protect interests and project power and/or influence.  The most influential player right now is the US Navy but fiscal realities will soon pare down the already pared down global blue water presence of that navy.  Expect Russia and China to fill the growing void. 
As technology advances one would expect to see the demise of floating sovereigns.  They are extremely expensive and can bankrupt treasuries rather quickly.

Ray O. Abad
November 26, 2012 at 14:05

Phil. is no match to china militarily speaking but we will fight with or without US help. we need to protect what is ours if not we don't have room in this planet to stay.

[...] Collins & Erickson open by taking “Death by Blue Water Navy” to task over the statement that “[T]he People’s Republic is moving forward at Manhattan Project speed to develop a blue water navy capable of challenging the U.S. Navy.”  Instead, Collins & Erickson argue that the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is building two layers of capabilities: high-tech anti-navy systems that focus on contested near waters (East & South China Seas); and low-end capabilities for peacetime missions elsewhere.  Their thesis is that there is little evidence that the PLAN is developing the ability to challenge the US Navy outside of its near waters, and that the PLAN is more concerned with protecting far-flung sea lines of communication and Chinese citizens abroad. [...]

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