It’s clear that China’s Navy is growing in size and quality. Not only does China have the largest navy in East Asia, it has an increasingly modern and capable force of imported and indigenously produced destroyers, frigates, missile patrol craft, and submarines. Beijing is even planning to deploy its own aircraft carriers, a development sure to alarm neighbors such as Japan, Vietnam, and India.
But what does it mean for American policy makers? Should the United States increase its own maritime power in response to Beijing’s growing strength? Are there diplomatic levers that Washington might pull to forestall potential Chinese aggression? Below, I explore these issues, first by giving a brief history of China’s evolving naval strategies since the People’s Republic began in 1949. (It’s critical that U.S. policy makers understand the evolution of China’s thinking about the roles and missions of its navy.) Then, I provide a full accounting of recent Chinese naval hardware developments. Finally, I draw policy recommendations designed to help American policy makers manage the challenges that have arisen as a result of China’s improving capabilities, regional assertiveness and expanding global interests.
In short, the U.S. will need to strengthen its ties to key countries in East Asia and develop strategic and tactical military concepts and capabilities that would allow it to counter China’s growing military power. Meanwhile, U.S. policy makers must seek collaboration with the Chinese military in an effort to highlight the benefits of being a global stakeholder to Beijing.