China’s emergence at sea

In the midst of concerns about the changing profile of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) — as suggested by reports about China’s “secret” aircraft program, discussed at Wired’s Danger Room blog, and this report about China’s submarine purchases sparking a maritime arms race (via NOSI) — it is worthwhile to look closer at China’s maritime strategic thinking.

Two articles from the Autumn 2006 issue of the (US) Naval War College Review — one is a translation of an article from a Chinese defense journal — provide a realistic assessment of China’s naval plans that suggest the course of the PLAN’s budgeting priorities and doctrine is still up in the air.

The first, by two professors at the Naval War College, looks at Chinese thinking on developing aircraft carriers, and concludes that it is far from certain that the PLAN will opt to develop American-style supercarriers, and even if they develop aircraft carriers, it is not certain how they will fit in Chinese plans. The second, meanwhile, is by Xu Qi, a PLAN senior captain, and looks at the big picture of China’s thinking on maritime geostrategy, suggesting that after under emphasizing naval affairs for centuries, China is rethinking its approach to the sea: “If a nation ignored maritime connectivity, it would lack a global perspective for planning and developing, and it would likely have difficulties in avoiding threats to its security.”

Both articles suggest that there are still more questions than answers surrounding Chinese military modernization, despite the media’s — and the global defense industry’s — interest in suggesting that the threat posed by China is unambiguous.

Interesting…the media-industrial complex?

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