The following is an excerpt of book chapter by Andrew S. Erickson, “Doctrinal Sea Change, Making Real Waves: Examining the Naval Dimension of Strategy,” in Joe McReynolds, ed., China’s Evolving Military Strategy (Washington, DC: Jamestown Foundation, 2016), 99-132.
Naval and broader maritime security development, the subject of this chapter, represents the forefront of Chinese military development geographically and operationally. In this sphere, the aforementioned sources portray the PLA Navy (PLAN) as undergoing a significant strategic transformation in recent years. Likewise transforming to support comprehensive efforts at sea are China’s maritime law enforcement (MLE) forces, four of which are consolidating into a China Coast Guard (CCG), and its maritime militia. The PLAN thus retains a lead role in the Near Seas, although there the world’s largest blue water coast guard and largest maritime militia share important responsibilities—typically in coordination with what will soon be the world’s second largest blue water navy. Beijing is thus pursuing a clear hierarchy of priorities whose importance and realization diminishes sharply with their distance from mainland Chinese territorial and maritime claims, while engaging in a comprehensive modernization and outward geographic radiation of its forces.
This ongoing sea change is encapsulated particularly clearly (if not always concisely or without repetition) in the 2013 and previous editions of SMS, as well as China’s 2015 DWP. This first-ever defense white paper on strategy offers the latest high-level doctrinal and strategic expression of Beijing’s military development efforts—and indicates more specifically how SMS (2013) is being refined, amplified, and implemented in practice. (…)
These official publications build logically on predecessor documents and are echoed rather consistently in other contemporary documents. They are not merely words on the page, but rather are reflective of China’s increasing naval and maritime developments at home and growing interests and activities abroad. This reality is underscored by the unprecedentedly robust maritime content in the 13th Five Year Plan (FYP) (2016–20) passed by the National People’s Congress and released on March 17, 2016. Operationalizing many of the concepts discussed in the aforementioned publications, this most authoritative and comprehensive of all national planning documents declares that China will:
- Build itself into a “maritime power”
- Strengthen the exploration and development of marine resources
- Deepen historical and legal research on maritime issues
- Create a highly effective system for protecting overseas interests and safeguard the legitimate overseas rights/interests of Chinese citizens and legal persons
- Actively promote the construction of strategic strong points (战略支点) for the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road”
- Strengthen construction of reserve forces, especially the construction of maritime mobilization forces