China’s recent assertiveness in the South China Seas is a harbinger of things to come. Beijing’s seapower project and the enormous resources it has enjoyed have opened up new strategic vistas for Chinese leaders and military commanders. With larger and more capable seagoing forces at its disposal, Beijing is well positioned to fashion sophisticated strategies that will be more effective and equally difficult to counter. While such strategies do not—yet—portend the fundamental reordering of maritime Southeast Asia, they will likely yield incremental dividends that advance China’s larger aims at sea.
Comprehensive Chinese Seapower
China’s naval and maritime buildup is providing Beijing with the wherewithal to pursue its ambitions. The rate and scale of the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) modernization process have defied many predictions in the West, reversing sanguine and even condescending conclusions about China’s aptitude at sea. But, seapower is more than just the navy. Rather, it is a continuum that gives Beijing a range of options. Non-naval and non-military platforms and systems account for a significant portion of Chinese seapower.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Long-range, precision-strike weaponry deployed on the mainland can influence events, perhaps decisively, at sea. The anti-ship ballistic missile—a maneuverable ballistic missile capable of hitting moving targets at sea—is just one member of a large family of missiles in China’s arsenal that could perform maritime-strike missions. Indeed, the PLA boasts large numbers of shore-based fighters, bombers, and cruise missile units that can launch salvos of anti-ship missiles.
The growth of China’s maritime surveillance and law-enforcement services has been equally impressive. The civilian arm of Chinese seapower has enabled Beijing to dispatch nonmilitary ships to confront the Philippines in the South China Sea and Japan in the East China Sea. Even civilian vessels could form maritime militias to serve China’s nautical aims. In short, Beijing possesses diverse elements of seapower to defend its prerogatives in the nautical domain.