How to Measure China’s Maritime Power
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How to Measure China’s Maritime Power


Yesterday, over at Foreign Policy, the Naval Diplomat held forth on the evolution of Chinese sea power over the next decade or so. Check it out. Bumper sticker: it’s tough to predict how swiftly and surely PLA Navy hardware and crews will mature, but China will remain a seafaring power in the broadest sense of the term. It will remain a power to reckon with.

Surly lot that they are, the editors refused to let me ramble on ad infinitum about this big, squishy subject. Forsooth! One major idea left quivering on the cutting-room floor was that naval competition is a relative, rather than absolute, process. Or rather, maritime balances are relative things. Asian geography situates so many powers so close to one another that land and air forces can shape events at sea. Indeed, Corbett could’ve been writing about present-day Asia when he defined maritime strategy as the art of determining “the mutual relations of your army and navy in a plan of war.”

Where China’s maritime project stands a decade hence, then, depends not just on how the PLA’s progress but on how its competitors fare. China can improve its seagoing forces and the shore fire support that shields them all it wants in absolute terms. But if its rivals compete effectively, they can flatten the upward trajectory of Chinese sea power — preserving such advantages as they enjoy today, and staying ahead in the competition.

If they falter, on the other hand, even a so-so Chinese effort to amass maritime might could leave Beijing the regional frontrunner by default. That’s a real prospect. The U.S. military’s budgetary travails hardly need recounting. Naval leaders now speak darkly about a 257-ship fleet, down from today’s already overstretched force. Japanese military budgets remain essentially flat. Tokyo’s much-discussed uptick in defense spending is a pittance, less than 1 percent of its GDP. India’s naval project trails China’s by a wide and, in certain respects, growing margin.

On the other hand — the array of possible futures recalls Harry Truman’s wish for a three-handed economist — Beijing’s domineering conduct these past few years could prompt fellow Asian powers to make common cause. That’s what realist theories of international relations predict. By keeping their sea power strong and aggregating their capabilities, in short, America, its allies, and its friends can have considerable say in the maritime balance. A fateful choice awaits them.

September 2, 2013 at 12:54

China has already humiliated the Yankee military in the Korean War. The Yankees are fearful their glory days of imperialism is fast coming to an end.

China is rising and starting to surpass the Yankees on all areas.

August 21, 2013 at 23:53

Don't worry, my friend. Our leadership changed every few term just like a democractically elected president, except our leader is more capable due to the process of elimination. Only the best and most capable is accept as leader in the CPC committee.  In fact, China leadership takes more accountablity for their poor action than US/Indian politician. LOL

Little Helmsman
August 18, 2013 at 10:53


You make a valid argument for the continuation of an authoritarian state control capitalism.  I appreciate your candor and civil and respectful!  :)  However I have to disagree that somehow authoritarian/dictatorship model leads to better economic performance and efficiency.  I hear the comparison of India as an example that Chinese cite a lot.  That may sound valid on the superficial level.  But in order to have a deeper understanding, one has to have a deeper understanding about the political economy and history of each country to come to a meaningful conclusion.  I think the conclusion that you have concluded is that economic performance depends on what kind of political order a country has.  In your case a one party dictatorship.  My conclusion is that economic performance depends on the right economic policy implement by whatever government which formulated that policy.  You have to understand the difference between correlation and causation.  My premise is that economic performance depends on the formulation of the right free market policy formed by the government in power.  On rudimentary level both dictatorships or democracies can both deliver on the basic infrastructure and frame work in order for a free market capitalist society to thrive and prosper.  This isn't rocket science.  It just simple economic truths.  For most of India's recent history starting in 1947, she has been ruled by the Congress party.  Nehru took his inspiration from Fabian socialists who were critics of the free market capitalist system.  India had a centrally planned economy like the USSR and Maoist China.  International trade and investment were non-existent.  India pursued a import substitution model not an export model engage in international trade with the West.  This was the prevalent model for most of India history until the 1990s when India began to open its own markets to international commerce and encourage foreigners to invest in India.  Why the change in economic policy?  Well, in a democracy, competitive elections mean new ideas and new people in power to implement new policy.  So a democratic government freely elected by the people saw the import substitution model and autarkic development were going nowhere and Indian elites saw the success of Asian tigers and later Chinal  So it is the right free market economic policy and not the rigid dictatorship made for better economic performance.  


Further, I find it amusing that Chinese would cite China's crude dictatorship as example of superior economic performance simply because China's post Mao leaders decided to scrap the centrally planned economy and engage in international commerce.  So China's great advancement in economic development is due to a rigid one party dictatorship?  Btw, what the hell was China during the Maoist years?  A liberal democracy?  How come China's rigid and inflexible dictatorship did not deliver superior economic performance during the time of Mao (1949-1976)?  It was as dictatorial and more murderous and irrational as it is today.  China did not change until 1978 with the ascendancy of Deng Xiaoping.  I can also cite Cuba and North Korea as are shining examples of dictatorships with zero economic performance.  One can use the USSR as another of example of a one party dictatorship of economic mismanagement.  How come these laggards which are real dictatorships did not deliver anykind of economic development?  Who in their right mind would cite North Korea and Cuba which are both one party dictatorships as having superior economy?  Your understanding of economics and economic development is simplistic as you do not know the difference between causation and correlation.  

To an untrained person the argument you made may seem reasonable but to a person with more knowledge about economics and economic development can see the flaws in such a conclusion.  

The last point I want to make is your citation of Japan, S. Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, etc. as proof that authoritarian/dictatorship model is superior than a noisy and chaotic democracy.  Again, I come back to the difference between correlation and causation.  As you know for most of the post colonial era after WWII, the world was deeply divided between the capitalist camp and communist camp which as we know as the Cold War.  The four examples you cite are all pro-US, pro-West camp.  They had nothing to do with your Maoist communist camp.  In the case of S.Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, these countries were all underdeveloped and locked in a deadly life or death struggle with the communists (the sort of people Mao supported).  They were authoritarian because their society were vulnerable to communist troublemaking (propaganda, terrorism, assasinations, etc.).  When a society is threatened by intimidation, terrorism, and social disorder caused by communist agitators, then SECURITY is of utmost importance not building a just, pluralistic society.  Park Chung Hee, Lee Kwan Yew, and Chiang Kai Shek knew that so they rule their countries on an authorian basis to keep it free from communist agitation and troublemaking.  If I were in their shoes, I would make the same decision.  One can also use Pinochet in Chile as another example.  Chile was ripped apart by an admitedly open Marxist government Allende.  He won a very close electoral victory in an open election by the slimmest margin (2%) yet Allende chose to try to make Chile into another Cuba.  But the armed forces of Chile put a stop to that non sense.  Allende now is in Marxist heaven.  Chile is known as the Latin tiger because it pursued a neo-liberal, pro-free market policy.  It has one the most developed economies in Latin America.  

It is easier for a country to democratize as a country develop become richer.  Usually a threshold of $5,000 GDP per capita is cited as the demarcation point where once a country becomes democratic it tends to stay that way.  

My point is that economic development depends the on the right economic policy (free market, international trade, foreign investment, property rights, independent judiciary, etc.) in place not on what political system a country has.  Democracy and pluralism just allows the political debate to be decided on a more rational and less bloody outcome.  Bad leaders can make bad economic policy in a democracy like Nehru did in post independence India.  But democracy has a systemic way to rectify the mistakes of the past through elections and new government while dictatorships deliver on good economic policy like post-Mao when Deng Xiaoping was in power.  But the policy change in China took several decades to change and it was alot more bloodier and the irrationality of policies like Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution are examples of dictatorships.

The success of China in recent history can change if a new group of Maoists rise to power in China and implement an irrational economic policy and all the recent successes China has attained can be reversed.  That's the weakness of a dictatorship.  Absolute power has no accountability so the chances of mistakes are greater.        

August 18, 2013 at 06:42

That assumes that China's neighbors can get over the disputes they have with each other long enough and effectively enough to counter China.  The ONE THING every so-called China expert overlooks is how fractious the entire Far Eastern region is.  Yes, they may all distrust China, but that does not mean they like or trust each other.

For an alliance or confederacy to work, there must be a common cause, common values, and common priorities and the more members there are to this alliance, the more common factors they require to stick together.  But while India and Indonesia may both have their disputes with China, they are not exactly sympatico.  Vietnam and the Philippines may have a dispute with China, but that dispute is also with each other given that all three nations claim the Spratlys in part or in whole.

Another factor that must be taken into consideration is the modern world economy.  Given the amount of trade China has with its neighbors, the ratio of costs to benefits in countering or opposing China are not favorable.  China currently has $25 billion in trade with Vietnam, $25.3 billion with the Philippines, over $30 billion with Indonesia, and over $250 billion with Japan.  Will these nations seriously consider jeopardizing this trade in the name of countering China?

China's naval rise is indeed not an accomplished fact.  Mitigating factors, however, make it likelier than not.   

August 17, 2013 at 02:17

They do have their vets, from Korea and Vietnam. As to how they were treated after the wars? Not so good, according to what I've read on blogs focused on China.

August 16, 2013 at 21:38

@Little Helmsman – Thank you for your response. I'm back but have me adresss your concern. What you have learned is through the limit scope of Western Analysts and to a larger degree, from Western Media bias, intentionally or non-intentionally. You do not understand my people nor understand what we want. Do we want democracy? Absolutely! Do we believe democracy will solve our problem and propel our economy? Absolutely not. If democracy is the answer to economic prosperity, India today would be world-class, highly-innovated society. Don't you remember? Most states began as an authorian-governed state and advanced to democratic-ruling state in latter stage (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore).  Our people are waiting for this transformation and as opposed to Western impatient critics, we are patient people. 

August 16, 2013 at 12:46


You sound just like an old broken recorder, again. Please talk about the present, not the past any more. Long gone were  Mao, the Big Bad Evil Guy, the Cold War & the Soviet Union ! At issue now is a belligerent revanchist hegemonic ambitious China that wants to change the status quo  in its favor to rule the world. But sadly, that's just an… illusion (Too much ambition, but  too little ability & too few resources to achieve that 'China dream'!). BTW, where are JC, Lang1a or Juan? It's just so boring with Bankotsu, Thmak, Admiral & Vic, the SCS god father !

August 16, 2013 at 08:42

Here, here.

Only a keyboard warrior that hasn't seen their broken, battered vets come home with permanent scars inside & out would ever dare to joke about or call for a World War.

August 16, 2013 at 04:50


I looked at the books you listed:

you can discount your first link; while Tibet is a part of China today, the PRC had virtually no right to it; Tibet was formally annexed into the Chinese Empire in 1910, after a relationship of little over a millenium where China had–at best, and for only a short period of time–a puppet government within that particular kingdom. Otherwise, they treated each other as sovereign states, albeit this was a relationship where the various Chinese Dynasties were occassionally sabotaging local government or stealing territory outright. Furthermore, considering the noted disenfranchisement of the native tibetan population, one wonders why there haven't been more protests…

Chiang Kai-Shek and Warlordism? why, besides the already noted history of warlordism after the collapse of the Chinese Empire in 1911, how is this an issue? Looks like a non-event to me.

Your final source takes place during the Korean war.

In summary, you are covering a period between the beginning of Chinese involvement in the Korean War (October 1950) to the beginning of Ping-Pong Diplomacy (the mid to late 70's). This is a period in which, i would note, that Mao Zedong launched the "Great Leap Forward" and the "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution," both horrific failures which not only set China back, but cost the lives of dozens of millions in an orgy of violence, megalomania and starvation. Despite your accusations, more damage has been done by the PRC to itself than through any other source. I might add that this period of time was also when the PRC was also conducting a very large amount of military operations: Tibet (1950), Korea (1950) Taiwan (1950s, repeatedly), India (1962), Sino-Soviet border war (1969) Vietnam (1979). Need i go on? The PRC fought more conflicts during this period of time than the U.S. No small wonder, then, that the U.S made every attempt to ensure that the PRC was either bottled up or directed at another opponent during this time period. 

And now, when the U.S et al have finally let the PRC off the hook, what do they get? "Hey West, China called, they want their empire back!" God, how could you be so thick?!

Little Helmsman
August 16, 2013 at 04:41

oops, should read:  That's why there is no more Cold War anymore! 

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