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Brave New World: China’s Expanding Maritime Strategy

Jun 02 , 2015

China’s White Paper on Military Strategy published by China’s State Council on Tuesday formalizes the evolution of China’s naval strategy from “offshore waters defense” to a new maritime strategy that encompasses both “offshore waters defense” and “open seas protection.” This shift marks the first formal change in China’s maritime strategy since 1993 and has been made possible by significant improvements in naval capabilities that have enabled China to increase reliance on its navy to protect its expanding national interests.

As detailed in my recently published monograph, “China Moves Out: Stepping Stones Toward a New Maritime Strategy,” China’s maritime strategy was ripe for change. Hu Jintao’s strategic guidance to conduct New Historic Missions in 2004 charged the military to defend China’s expanding national interests and implicitly tasked the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) to expand operations to protect maritime interests. Strategic emphasis on safeguarding the security of international Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOCs) in the 2012 Defense White Paper made operationalization of “open seas protection” a near-term PLAN requirement.

In addition, efforts to improve operational and tactical capabilities in the Western Pacific and its “normalization” of Western Pacific deployments in late 2012 enabled the PLAN to look toward conducting operations farther from China. Strategic guidance to defend China’s interests coupled with enhanced operational capabilities that allow China to meet this strategic directive make now the ideal time for the PLAN to integrate “open seas protection” into China’s offshore maritime defense strategy.

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