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Research Report

BEYOND THE SAN HAI: The Challenge of China’s Blue-Water Navy

Patrick M. Cronin
Mira Rapp-Hooper
Harry Krejsa
Alex Sullivan
Rush Doshi
Copyright Date: May. 1, 2017
Pages: 45

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. None)
  2. (pp. 1-1)
  3. (pp. 2-3)
  4. (pp. 4-5)

    The United States has dominated the world’s blue waters for decades. A blue-water navy generally refers to a force capable of operating across open oceans and deep waters. With China’s rise, however, the United States’ uncontested naval supremacy increasingly will be challenged. The rapid emergence of China as a maritime power in its own right, one with increasingly sophisticated expeditionary and power projection capabilities, is likely to profoundly reshape the politics of Asia and affect the interests of the United States and its allies and partners. By 2030, the existence of a global Chinese navy will be an important, influential,...

  5. (pp. 6-13)

    As China has risen, its leaders have advocated for a navy commensurate with both growing national prestige and increasingly expansive interests.³As a part of these efforts, China has worked feverishly to increase the size of its navy. In short order, it has emerged as one of the world’s leading shipbuilders, relying on a mix of both private yards and state-run companies, as well as commercial theft, to sustain its rapid naval modernization.⁴ These bold measures have met with considerable success, and China’s navy is now perhaps the world’s second-largest. By 2015, China was estimated to have a fleet of 330...

  6. (pp. 14-18)

    It is now clear that China’s naval strategy, capabilities, and missions have evolved to focus more closely on distant blue waters than at any other time in China’s modern history. What is far less clear, however, is how to understand the political and strategic ramifications of this increasingly capable PLAN. For that reason, this section looks beyond China’s more traditional “near seas” missions within the First and Second Island Chains and considers China’s growing military presence in the IOR.

    As Chinese naval vessels sail from eastern China through the Malacca Strait and as far as the energy-rich Middle East, China...

  7. (pp. 19-24)

    As defense planners wrestle with the implications of China’s quest to build a navy for the open ocean, they also must consider the effects of that naval modernization closer to China’s shores, particularly for close U.S. allies. China’s pursuit of a blue-water navy for far-seas operations in the Indian Ocean and the Middle East will strengthen the PLAN’s ability to conduct nearseas defense missions. This in turn may raise significant deterrence and assurance concerns for allies and partners like Japan and South Korea, which are likely to fear abandonment absent concrete U.S. reassurance.

    This chapter analyzes the implications of China’s...

  8. (pp. 25-29)

    As with the U.S. Navy, the effectiveness of China’s increasingly blue-water force will depend on a network of enabling and force-multiplying systems. Fundamentally, these revolve around the collection and exploitation of information – a surveillance, reconnaissance, and strike network able to pair robust data with precise kinetic capabilities. The United States’ own system of satellites, sensors, and communications nodes have provided it with the unrivaled domain awareness and precision missile capabilities necessary to operate effectively at sea and in the air far from home.

    In seeking asymmetric advantages to potentially contest American force projection, China has invested simultaneously in its...

  9. (pp. 30-36)

    American interests in an open, stable, and democratic Asia-Pacific region have remained remarkably durable throughout the post–World War II era. Yet as China’s power expands beyond its near seas and out to the Pacific and Indian Oceans, there are serious questions about how the United States should adjust its strategy for preserving a favorable regional order and securing its national interests.

    The loss of U.S. global maritime dominance would put at risk fundamental national security interests. In the Indo-Pacific region, it would call into question the ability of the United States to command the offshore lines of communications, and...

  10. (pp. 37-41)
  11. (pp. 42-43)