Eyes of the Fleet

Eyes of the Fleet

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

China builds up strategic sea lanes

The Washington Times tells us "China builds up strategic sea lanes."

China is building up military forces and setting up bases along sea lanes from the Middle East to project its power overseas and protect its oil shipments, according to a previously undisclosed internal report prepared for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
"China is building strategic relationships along the sea lanes from the Middle East to the South China Sea in ways that suggest defensive and offensive positioning to protect China's energy interests, but also to serve broad security objectives," said the report sponsored by the director, Net Assessment, who heads Mr. Rumsfeld's office on future-oriented strategies." (Eagle1 says, "I think for clarity this should read "...Director, Office of Net Assessment. The director heads ...")


The internal report stated that China is adopting a "string of pearls" strategy of bases and diplomatic ties stretching from the Middle East to southern China that includes a new naval base under construction at the Pakistani port of Gwadar.
The Times says these additional bases are located in Bangladesh, Burma and other locales. The report also reportedly suggests a Chinese pattern of seeking to control strategic "choke points" and that the build up of Chinese naval forces is proceeding more rapidly than earlier estimates suggested.

Hmmm. In his classic book, Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, Captain Wayne Hughes tells us what a navy is for:
A navy's purposes deal with the movement and delivery of goods and services at sea; in contrast, an army's purpose is to purchase and possess real estate. Thus a navy is in the links business, while the army is in the nodes business. Seen that way, a navy performs one or more of four functions and no others:

At sea, it (1) assures that our own goods and services are safe, and (2) that an enemy's are not. From the sea, it (3) guarantees safe delivery of goods and services ashore, and (4) prevents delivery ashore by an enemy navy.

China is doing almost precisely what the Japanese attempted in World War II when it tried to protect its sea lines of communication from oil and rubber rich areas to Japan. In fact, they are almost exactly the same sea lanes and choke points, unless the canal through Thailand referenced in the article is built. Not too surprisingly, they are still vital sea lanes for Japan and the rest of the Far East. If China wants to play the "big dog" in the area, this strategy would put them in a pretty good position to do so.

So, just when the critics were gearing up to suggest that the U.S. Navy might be a target for larger budget cuts (budget cutters always seem to fight the very last war and seem to always pose the "what have you done for me lately?" question), along comes China to show us why we need a force capable of defending our sea lines of communication and safeguarding our goods and services and hindering, if necessary, someone else's.

Keep an eye on this issue and on China's Navy.
Update: Here's a map of Japan's WWII conquests:

Except for Pakistan, pretty much the same area under discussion.

Update 1.5: On this map the red arrows more or less point to areas mentioned in the article:

Update 2: Global Security's take on the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) here.
Update3: China Defence Today's more timely review of the PLAN here
In recent years, the PLAN's maritime mission has evolved from a role of static coastal defence to one of “active offshore defence”. In this capacity, the PLAN can be used both as a tactical force and to support strategic national defence. The objectives of this new strategy are to assert China's role as a regional maritime power, to protect coastal economic regions and maritime interests, and to optimise the Navy's operations for national defence. The PLAN's responsibilities now include capture and defence of islands, and protection and blockade of sea-lanes of communication. Moreover, the PLAN is increasingly viewed by senior PLA leadership as integral to resolution of the Taiwan issue -- should force be required -- and for safeguarding China's Xisha and Nansha Islands in the South China Sea. Finally, the PLAN is likely to be increasingly used as an instrument of overseas diplomacy through participation in goodwill cruises and port visits.

The PLAN's evolving strategy has been described in terms of two distinct phases. The strategy's first phase is for the PLAN to develop a "green water active defence strategy" capability. This "green water" generally is described as being encompassed within an arc swung from Vladivostok to the north, to the Strait of Malacca to the south, and out to the "first island chain" (Aleutians, Kuriles, Ryukyus, Taiwan, Philippines, and Greater Sunda islands) to the east. Analysts have assessed that the PLAN is likely to attain this green water capability early in the 21st century. Open-source writings also suggest that the PLAN intends to develop a capability to operate in the "second island chain" (Bonins, Guam, Marianas, and Palau islands) by the mid-21st century. In the future, the PLAN also may expand its operations to bases in Myanmar, Burma. These bases will provide the PLAN with direct access to the Strait of Malacca and the Bay of Bengal.

Update 4: Chrenkoff also has taken a look at China's sea lane situation here. He's not as stressed over the immediate situation and, perhaps in a nod to the Oriental way, takes a longer view:
Actually, the really interesting pastime is not so much projecting the present-day China into the future, but predicting what China will be like in five, ten, twenty or fifty years from now. Yes, some things never change, as realists would want to remind us; great powers have their own national interests which they pursue with a single-minded zeal, and China will always, for example, strive to ensure its energy security. But aside from that, what will the country look like? Will it eventually turn democratic, or at least liberalize more, to be on par with, say, Singapore? Will Chinese people and infrastructure manage to cope with the economic growth? Will there be one China or perhaps several successor states?

Well, in the meantime, keep your powder dry.

1 comment:

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