This chapter was written for a May 2019 conference entitled “Going Global? The People’s Navy in a Time of Strategic Transformation.” The conference was organized by the China Maritime Studies Institute of the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

The steady emergence of the Chinese navy as a strong Asian and, increasingly, a global force naturally raises the important question of the future strategy Beijing will employ to guide that force in both the near and far seas. The thoughts that follow focus primarily on the latter. This chapter calls for great caution in jumping to conclusions about China’s strategic transformation to a dominant global naval power, highlights the dangers of mirror imaging and the application of sweeping ideological and Mahanian realpolitik views, stresses the importance of U.S. actions in influencing future Chinese “far seas” naval strategy, and offers a set of recommendations intended to reverse our present descent into a zero-sum rivalry with China in this area and others.

A Call for Less Certitude, More Caution

To a sometimes-underappreciated degree, China’s naval thinking is a black box. The PLAN does not publish detailed authoritative explanations of its long-term and long-range naval strategy. Much of outside analysts’ knowledge of this transformation relies on:

  • Relatively short, often general, official PRC statements of national security interests and goals, and related general descriptions of naval tasks and objectives
  • Less authoritative analyses and statements of China’s naval strategy, most often by PLA scholars and naval officers
  • Analyses by Western and other non-Chinese of Chinese naval strategy and its transformation based on assessments of the current and likely future evolution of Chinese naval capabilities.

Furthermore, there is a lack of information about the lines of debate within both the PLAN and the Chinese party/state system regarding China’s naval modernization and strategic transformation, and how those debates get resolved.

Consequently, analysis in this area is to some extent based on the speculative interpretation of the available information described above, the accounts of naval strategic transformation drawn from historical records of other states, inferences based on various theories of state behavior, extrapolations of Chinese historical experience and thinking, and, unfortunately, a certain amount of mirror imaging and ideologically-motivated interpretation.

Michael D. Swaine
Swaine is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and one of the most prominent American analysts in Chinese security studies.
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This should not, however, stop one from offering speculation and inferences alongside known facts. But any serious analyst must strive to distinguish between what is in essence speculation based on theory, history, etc., and what is a more reliable conclusion based on known facts about Chinese naval strategy. Unfortunately, this is not always done­—analysts too often make bold declarative statements about Chinese intentions and strategies.1 This can lead to erroneous assumptions that produce bad U.S. policy. Washington’s current largely zero-sum criticism of China and its growing support for a Cold War-style approach to Beijing provide an excellent example.2

China is in the midst of a long-standing naval modernization and we know more about its current and likely near- to medium-term force developments than we do about its future military strategy. However, the general features of both its force development and its evolving strategy indicate that China is in the process of augmenting each in order to better conduct a variety of naval missions in its near seas and to undertake a limited variety of naval missions in the “far seas.”3 Based on authoritative Chinese statements, these latter missions cover five major areas:

  • The defense of China’s sea lines of communication (SLOCs) to the Persian Gulf
  • Countering limited maritime security threats such as piracy
  • United Nations-mandated peace-keeping missions
  • Performing humanitarian assistance/disaster relief missions and Noncombatant Evacuation Operations (NEOs)
  • Asserting in undefined ways China’s overall status and image as a major world power.4

Such missions require a relatively sophisticated blue water navy that can operate for sustained periods and defend itself beyond any support directly provided from the Chinese mainland. This implies the development of naval power projection and sustainment capabilities including, most likely: an unknown number of aircraft carriers, likely sizeable numbers of destroyers (as opposed to smaller frigates) and advanced submarines (both diesel and nuclear), a substantial inventory of cruise missiles, probably small-sized amphibious forces, and undoubtedly an unknown level of replenishment capabilities.5 It also implies the creation of several resupply bases near the Middle East. We already see these developments underway.6

Beyond this, authoritative Chinese sources clearly state that China intends to be a “great” or “strong” maritime power as part of its overall effort to acquire a “world class military.7 But it is unclear what this term means. Some Chinese observers assert that, while developing a highly advanced navy, Beijing will not pursue absolute hegemony of the seas.8 Thus, how large a blue water, power projection force will China develop in the decades ahead? More importantly, what is the specific strategy that will animate that force? Such questions are better subjects for informed speculation than categorical assertions based on theory and mirror imaging.

Adopt a Fact-Based Approach and Avoid Mirror Imaging

In the absence of publicly available authoritative Chinese documents about its naval strategy, the most reliable way to assess China’s future naval strategic transformation beyond the near seas is to examine variables that might influence it over time. Such variables include current force modernization programs, likely future available resources, perceived and anticipated challenges and threats, and both short and long-term national objectives.

At present, China has not publicly laid out a coherent global naval strategy beyond the limited missions outlined above. It is already on the verge of creating a modernized near seas force at least equal to those of the U.S. and Japan and a far seas navy that is second in size only to the U.S. Navy, at least as judged by the number of existing or planned platforms deployed.9

Because China will almost certainly concentrate the majority of these platforms in the Western Pacific to address unresolved sovereignty issues and homeland defense requirements, Beijing’s naval strategy will undoubtedly sustain a major “near seas” focus for the indefinite future. Indeed, as retired Rear Admiral Mike McDevitt predicts,

China will not become a maritime power until it can deal with the challenges in defense of its maritime sovereignty, rights, and interests, and deal with what it terms the threat of containment from the sea.10

Nonetheless, its expanding “far seas” capabilities will likely provide the capacity to conduct increasingly ambitious SLOC, NEO, peacekeeping, and other various missions in support of China’s political and diplomatic objectives far from home. This will eventually include the capacity to challenge the near-total freedom of action that the U.S. Navy has enjoyed for many decades.

Yet the future shape and scope of the PLAN is not set in stone and China would face various hurdles if it were to try to match, much less exceed, the U.S. Navy’s vast global capabilities. It remains unclear whether Beijing’s blue water naval capacity will continue to expand indefinitely until China becomes the world’s dominant naval power with a hegemonic strategy to match.11 There is no question that the PLAN can today deploy both surface and sub-surface naval combatants that could inflict considerable nuclear or conventional damage on nations far from the Chinese homeland, including the U.S. And there is little doubt that this capacity will continue to grow in the years ahead.  But possessing such capabilities in numbers that remain highly vulnerable to U.S. countermeasures and expanding them to a much higher level in support of a strategy designed to control maritime areas across the globe are two very different things.  A truly globe-spanning, dominant naval power will require a force structure and a strategic rationale driven by the need to successfully fend off any attempt to defeat its components within any ocean and to safeguard passage to virtually any major world port.  The U.S. has enjoyed this capacity for decades, but China is far from attaining it and currently has no clear imperative to do so. 

From a capabilities perspective, as Andrew Erickson has argued in detail, achieving anything approaching such an ambitious objective would require a very costly, long-term force buildup and support system involving not only the acquisition of large numbers of sizeable, blue water surface and sub-surface combatants, but also the naval air and replenishment capabilities to protect and sustain those platforms over considerable periods of time and at great distances from China.12 This, in turn, would require the creation of permanent bases across all the major oceans. Although China has established a small base at Djibouti, and could very well create others elsewhere, this is a far cry in scope and number from the nearly 30 naval installations the U.S. maintains in at least 18 countries.13 China’s interest in and capability to create such a massive global presence is not a forgone conclusion.

The U.S. developed its massive global naval force largely as a consequence of rather unique historical, political, and economic circumstances that would prove highly difficult for China to replicate. The U.S. emerged from the Second World War with a large military presence in Europe and the Asia-Pacific, together with new allies in both regions that required occupation and defense against the nuclear-armed and clearly adversarial Soviet Union and Maoist Communist China. Such an expansive geostrategic threat, intensified by the growing ideological competition, resulted in a commitment not only to maintaining but also expanding America’s global naval power along the Eurasian rimland. Indeed, the U.S. Navy became a major pillar in the U.S.-led containment system centered on European and Asian alliance systems.14 And America’s highly productive economic system, dominant in the post-WWII world, facilitated the costly expansion of its naval power.

This enormous system remained in place despite the emergence of the Sino-Soviet conflict, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the end of Chinese efforts to export communist revolution overseas. Its rationale has now been replaced by a new belief that American global predominance, involving naval supremacy, is essential for the maintenance of worldwide peace and prosperity.15 Only the U.S. Navy, the argument goes, along with a few of its closest maritime allies, can maintain the security of global maritime shipping routes and deter the possible emergence of any hostile power in key political-economic regions. Most recently, this argument has been bolstered by the clear identification of China and Russia as hostile adversaries. They are viewed as twin revisionist powers dedicated to overturning the U.S.-led democratic and market-based global order and replacing it with an autocratic and mercantilist one.16 This highly distorted but easily grasped narrative is apparently designed in part to maintain the support of the U.S. public for ever larger defense budgets. It is thus far not having that effect, as judged by recent public opinion polls.17

It is extremely hard to see what the correlates might be to America’s rise as a global naval power that would offer Beijing a similar opportunity and present similar imperatives. Indeed, China sees itself as still very much a developing nation, in many ways inferior to the West, with many enormous domestic challenges that must necessarily be the primary focus of its budgetary efforts for decades to come.18 Additionally, the opportunity to form strong alliances with states having a common sense of threat and a deep mutuality of strategic interest is a rare matter, unlikely to present itself to China during this century. This does not mean China will eschew developing a navy with a significant global presence. It has already done this to some extent.19 But it does suggest that such a presence could take many forms well below anything approaching that of the U.S. Navy today, including relatively small-sized flotillas capable of conducting a variety of important missions short of achieving control over all critical ocean areas.

The Dangers of Ideology and Realpolitik in Viewing China’s Naval Ambitions

Some observers argue that China’s autocratic political system and its communist ideology naturally incline it toward external aggression and global acquisition. Chinese leaders operate in a domestic political world of dominance over others and deadly stakes, which causes them to view the world in deeply suspicious, zero-sum terms; hence, the logic goes, such leaders will inevitably seek to create a clearly predominant global military driven by an aggressive mindset.20 According to this argument, China’s naval strategy is or will by necessity become one designed to control the world’s oceans and subjugate others.

This ideological argument requires far more evidence to be truly persuasive when it comes to China. Historically, autocratic imperial regimes such as the Tang, Ming, and Qing expanded to limits set more by geography and the costs of administration than by any other imperatives. And these regimes maintained their security in a wide variety of ways, including through negotiation (often involving concessions), economic trade-offs, and only at times the use of military force.21 So there is no clear historical basis on which to believe China is strongly inclined, much less committed, to developing a strategy for global naval domination.

Modern Chinese leaders certainly exist in a domestic political environment of insecurity and suspicion that no doubt influences (and often constrains) their view of what can be accomplished beyond their borders. And they must contend with stronger powers, such as the U.S., with a clear memory of China’s unfortunate historical experience at the hands of such powers.22 But domestic and external insecurity and a non-democratic mindset do not translate smoothly into an all-consuming, aggressive quest for military dominance over other nations. Rather, since the end of Mao’s efforts to export revolution in nearby developing states, Beijing has stressed the enhancement of its security and prosperity through trade, investment, technological innovation, political and diplomatic negotiation, and the development of a first-class, modern military. Since that time, China’s foreign policy has been based as much on concession, accommodation, and restraint (as indicated by agreements reached with other states on free trade areas, joint exploration, and continental borders) as on the acquisition of superior leverage and dominance over other states.23 And there is no evidence that these ways and ends have motivated Chinese leaders to build a globally dominant military force.

Moreover, despite some American rhetoric to the contrary, Beijing is not energetically engaged in a threatening effort to duplicate its system across the developing world, nor poised to establish a predatory, debt-inducing network of dominance across Eurasia via the supposedly pernicious Belt and Road initiative.24 In fact, unlike many 19th and early 20th century imperialist powers, it does not possess an ideology or mindset that views the acquisition of other territories or the coercive expansion of its system to other countries as essential to its continued national vitality.

To the contrary, Chinese leaders today see China as deeply imbedded in an unprecedentedly global, integrated economic system of markets, supply chains, energy routes, and systems of technological innovation that enhance economic interdependence to a level never before seen among nations.25 Beijing’s primary focus remains on sustaining its economic growth, defending its homeland, maintaining or increasing its influence among nearby states, and preventing the loss of what it regards as sovereign Chinese territory.

Despite their communist heritage and growing confidence, the Chinese leadership continues to show a strong tendency toward caution and a basic defensiveness in assessing the threat posed by the U.S. and what to do about that threat. Many Chinese intellectuals recognize the enormous costs and dangers of attempting to transition toward a genuinely dominant position in the world, and even in Asia.26 In addition, many Chinese also seem to believe that, even if possible at an acceptable cost, acquiring such dominance is neither necessary nor reflective of China’s true interests and beliefs. In fact, many Chinese cling to the notion that China, as the victim of countless depredations by outsiders, does not wish to adopt that sort of “arrogant” behavior toward others.27

Of course, Beijing has at times feigned a posture of righteous indignation and claimed to be merely defending itself against unjust aggression by others when acting assertively in e.g., the South China Sea.28 But the historical record does not justify taking these examples as proof of an unvaryingly aggressive stance in which such a rationale serves merely as a convenient excuse for acts geared to achieve Chinese regional, much less global dominance. China’s arguably aggressive maritime behavior has almost entirely been directed at defending or advancing its nearby maritime sovereignty claims, which Beijing views as part of its core interests.29

One does not need to believe Beijing’s endless recitation of the desire for “win-win” outcomes to recognize that it is constantly adjusting its external policies to elicit support from other nations and at the same time increasing its relative leverage. This sometimes-contradictory effort cannot be reduced to a simple one-to-one correlation between domestic insecurity and high stakes political competition on the one hand and overseas aggression and dominance on the other. The linkages are far more complex, and run in different, sometimes even contradictory, directions.

Arguably more persuasive (yet still deficient) arguments for China to develop a truly global naval presence and strategy are grounded in offensive realist theories of systemic anarchy and power maximization and related naval theories of hegemonic dominance.30 The uncertainties and fears caused by such factors, the argument goes, could eventually drive China to create a truly globe-spanning blue water navy with a very broad array of strategic goals. According to this view, in its drive to maximize its power, Beijing would likely aspire at least to challenge the ability of the U.S. Navy to prevail in conflicts along the maritime periphery of even Africa and South America.

However, this argument is thus far based almost entirely on pure speculation and highly generalized theories of state behavior and naval strategy, not on actual observations about Chinese behavior and likely intentions. For example, some U.S. naval strategists cite their Chinese counterparts in arguing that China is likely to adopt Alfred Thayer Mahan’s fundamentally zero-sum view of naval power.31 Mahan stressed the need for a global commercial nation to create “overbearing naval power” capable of preventing any potential enemy’s fleets from obstructing its access to key markets and resources. Modern Mahanian thinkers argue the U.S. Navy must ensure the workings of the present-day “liberal” commercial and political order by dominating control of the seas worldwide in order to preserve American power and prosperity. The underlying assumption is that as China’s commercial interests grow, it will inevitably oppose the existing global free market commercial order. As a result, the argument goes, Beijing will most likely seek to build a global navy and maritime fleet that can dominate all others, in order to put in place its own illiberal, mercantilist order. This argument is justified almost entirely by the pro-Mahan writings of some PLAN scholars,32 China’s increasingly global economic footprint, and the fact that China is a non-democratic state engaged in a program of naval modernization involving blue water capabilities.

Great leaps in logic are necessary to lead from this supposed evidence to a China committed to displacing the U.S. as a global naval power for essentially economic and geostrategic reasons. These leaps in logic betray unexamined and misguided assumptions about both Chinese intentions and the ways that American naval power can and should be brought to bear in a highly globalized world. In terms of misunderstanding China, it is highly problematic, first of all, to assume that China rejects the so-called “liberal” features of an open global trading system, given the fact that it has benefited enormously from that system for decades. References by U.S. officials and others to China’s “predatory” and “mercantilist” economic system are cartoonish depictions of a much more complex reality.33 Second, the costs and risks involved in a Chinese attempt to displace the U.S. as the dominant global naval power are huge and unlikely to diminish to such a degree in the decades ahead that Beijing would conclude it is worth the effort to undertake—unless, of course, the U.S. makes it clear that it is using its global naval dominance to support efforts to strangle China and overthrow its government.

As for the role of U.S. naval power, it is questionable whether the commercial workings of this global system require leadership by a single dominant democratic state. Not even American strategists have consistently held such a view. Some U.S. naval officers and strategists have argued for a multinational naval force to ensure the global economic system and as recently as five years ago, some included China in such a force.34 Second, there is the question of how the U.S. Navy, even if it did preserve its dominant position, could constrain Chinese freedom of action in scenarios short of outright war. Short of a threat to China’s homeland through a close-in blockade or cutting China’s SLOCs (both acts of war), how exactly could the U.S. Navy prevent China from accessing foreign markets and resources around the world? We live in a global economic system in which efforts to threaten or disrupt the commercial shipping of significant trading states far from home are nearly impossible and generate intensely severe ripple effects among all states. Mahan did not live in this world.

A Highly Contingent Situation, Heavily Influenced by U.S. Actions

Chinese threat perceptions based on the actual present-day policies and behaviors of other states will likely play a far larger role in determining China’s future global naval outlook than ideology or various naval theories. As noted above, there is little doubt that China will develop a more capable blue water naval capability. Whether this becomes a truly global capability of a very high order or whether it becomes something considerably less will largely be determined by the evolution of the U.S.-China relationship over the coming years and by the domestic challenges and limitations facing the Chinese leadership. Deepening Chinese fears of an offensively oriented, dominance-preserving, containment-focused U.S. bent on undermining the Chinese government and economy could bring us much closer to the former outcome.

It is probably safe to say that today, most Chinese already hold many if not all of these beliefs about the U.S. This was arguably not the case twenty years ago. However, many Chinese also still seem to believe that transitioning to an all-out competition with the U.S. for global naval supremacy (as part of a drive for global predominance) is unnecessary or simply unrealistic, because: a) many countries, including American allies, resist aligning themselves entirely with the extreme American position; b) American relative economic and in some respects political power is declining; c) not all American policy figures ascribe to the more extreme versions of the American. outlook; d) globalization and the overall desire of the foreign business community to trade with China will continue to reduce American incentives to deepen containment; and e) the overall costs of moving to a zero-sum adversarial strategy will remain high for China, especially given its domestic challenges.35

It is certainly not inconceivable that adverse changes in most of these areas could one day cause China’s leaders to fundamentally reassess the nation’s strategic interests and goals in the direction of a dominance-oriented global naval strategy. Nonetheless, it would be reckless to assume that such reassessment is inevitable or will eventually lead to a significant competitive turn and that the many factors in favor of cooperation in formulating China’s global strategy will disappear.

Stop Hyperventilating, Start Balancing, Competing, and Assuring

Assessing the implications for the U.S. of China’s transition to a more globally oriented naval strategy is by no means simple and straightforward. The dynamics at work influencing this process remain highly contingent on several variables, not the least of which is the behavior of the U.S. Undoubtedly, the greatest strategic challenge that Beijing’s naval modernization will pose for the U.S. and its allies over at least the next decade will occur in the Indo-Pacific, and especially in the Western Pacific within the first and second island chains. This amounts to a fundamental shift in the maritime power environment within that critical region from one dominated by U.S. military power to something approaching an unstable balance between the U.S and allied forces on the one hand and Chinese forces on the other.

This presents significant dangers, but not necessarily because it constitutes the first phase of a concerted Chinese effort to push the U.S. out of Asia, as some observers argue. In fact, the U.S. will almost certainly remain strong in the region. But neither Beijing nor Washington will dominate its maritime reaches over the decades ahead. In this situation, the primary danger will result from the increased possibility of miscalculation by either side. This might manifest in the form of an over-confident Chinese effort to use its increased powers to alter the status quo regarding, e.g., Taiwan, and/or an over-reactive effort by the U.S. to contain, limit, or deter Chinese behavior and capabilities. This dangerous situation requires a serious effort to transition from the near-inevitable unstable balance that is now emerging toward a more stable balance.36 Within the naval realm, the U.S. and China would best serve such a balance by transitioning toward an active denial force posture designed to deny the other side control over the region along China’s maritime periphery in ways that minimize rapid or severe escalation.

On the U.S. and allied side, this force posture would likely entail greatly improved passive and active defenses on land, a more dispersed pattern of force deployments, greater numbers of anti-ship and anti-air cruise and other missiles, less reliance on forward deployed aircraft carriers, a greater reliance on more limited-range UAVs, submarines and ASW capabilities, and a greater ability to resupply Guam and more forward areas from Hawaii and CONUS. In a crisis or conflict, these capabilities would focus on interdicting, deterring or destroying offshore Chinese forces without striking logistics points and C4ISR locations deep within the Chinese mainland, as Eric Heginbotham has argued.37 Beyond such military moves, this approach will also require significant diplomatic and political initiatives directed at far more than merely strengthening deterrence toward China, including efforts at reassurance and mutual accommodation, in consultation with America’s allies, in handling potential sources of conflict such as Taiwan.38

In assessing Beijing’s naval ambitions beyond the Western Pacific, the primary risk is that Washington will develop political, diplomatic, and military strategies based on largely unsubstantiated worst-case assumptions about Chinese maritime motives. The U.S. could also fail to undertake changes at home that could strengthen America’s ability to compete with China in both military and especially non-military domains. The simple narrative of a massive Chinese threat to global order will make the work of budgeters and politicians remarkably easy in the short to medium term. But it will not serve American interests in creating a stable foundation for long-term prosperity and order. Indeed, this zero-sum narrative will greatly undermine those voices within China who favor moderation, significantly raise the danger of Sino-American crises and military conflict, and divert huge amounts of U.S. resources away from desperately needed non-military uses at home and abroad.

As other analysts such as Hugh White, Chas Freeman, and Graham Allison have pointed out, Washington needs to recognize that pushing back effectively against Beijing requires a comprehensive strategy of both incentives and disincentives directed at China.39  Such a strategy would require the coordination and support of allied nations, a judicious balancing of likely available resources and policy goals, a far more fact-based assessment of the nature and scope of Chinese threats, support for a more integrated global economic system (including China), and significant improvements in America’s global economic influence. Currently, the U.S. government is moving in exactly the wrong direction in all of these areas.

America needs to present a more detailed and convincing argument to her friends and allies to support any effort to coordinate policies toward China. Many countries depend heavily on strong economic relations with China and are not as vested as Washington in preventing Chinese pressure on Taiwan or neighbors with which Beijing has disputes.40 Hence, they are unlikely to endorse American efforts to treat China as a zero-sum adversary embarked on a strategy to subdue the democratic world through economic and military dominance. Most countries will certainly support a strong, global American navy. However, without clear and palpable Chinese threats, they will not backstop American efforts to confront and undermine Chinese naval modernization at every turn. Indeed, some states believe, correctly, that the PLAN can serve positive functions in a variety of security areas and should be encouraged to do so.41 If the U.S. is going to leverage the Quad and other Indo-Pacific partnerships to more effectively contend with China’s growing naval capabilities, it will need to present a much less zero-sum approach. Even Japan is currently seeking to hedge by improving relations with Beijing, and India has yet to show convincingly that it is prepared to fully back current U.S. security policies toward China.42

Recent American efforts have done very little to channel Beijing away from its own worst-case assumptions about American motives and actions. To the contrary, as it espouses an extremist zero-sum view of China in virtually every area, American deployments in the Mediterranean, Persian Gulf, North Arabian Sea, and Indian Ocean are at about the same level as 10 or 20 years ago.43 In other words, Washington is creating all the onus involved in confronting China while providing none of the bonus required to deter and contain a worst case view of China’s far seas naval ambitions. Of course, a better policy would be to treat the worst-case assumptions as future outcomes to be avoided if at all possible. The best way to do this is to adopt the policies advocated in this paper, reduce America’s overall global naval footprint to focus primarily on Asia (and secondarily on Europe) by decreasing its bases in other parts of the world, use the resulting savings to create a more technologically advanced navy overall, and seek avenues to improve U.S./allied-PLAN interactions.

The U.S. is not going to build its way out of the current deepening naval confrontation with China. It will need to accept the logic of balance over dominance in many areas, fashion credible strategies designed both to deter and reassure Beijing in both the regional and global maritime arenas, and strengthen its capacities at home. For the U.S. military, this will require a denial-oriented naval posture in the Asia-Pacific and a level of technological sophistication second to none. This is not an impossible task. But it will demand a fundamental reassessment of current American policies in the light of realistic assessments of both threats and opportunities, real capacities, and reasonable aspirations.


1 For example, see Oriana Skylar Mastro, "The Stealth Superpower: How China Hid Its Global Ambitions," Foreign Affairs, January/February 2019 Issue,

2 Mike Calia, "Trump trade advisor Peter Navarro: ‘Zero-sum game’ between China and the rest of the world," CNBC News, July 19, 2018,

3 Ryan D. Martinson, “China’s Far Seas Naval Operations, From the Year of the Snake to the Year of the Pig,” Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), February 18, 2019,

4 "China's Military Strategy," Xinhua News Agency, May 27, 2015,

5 Bernard D. Cole, “Military Force,” in China’s Quest for Great Power (Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2016), 52-84;

6 "China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress," Congressional Research Service, Updated August 1, 2018,; Zhao Lei, "Additional overseas PLA bases 'possible'," China Daily, January 10, 2019,

7 For example, see “Scientific and technological innovation, a powerful engine for a world-class military - The Leadership of the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the Core and the Promotion of Military Strengthening and Discipline,” (科技创新,迈向世界一流军队的强大引擎——以习近平同志为核心的党中央领导和推进强军兴军纪实之四),Xinhua News Agency, September 14, 2017,

8 See, for example, Liu Zhong Min, "China's Strategic Choice in its Development as a Maritime Power - The Experience and Lessons from the Rise and Fall of Great Maritime Powers" (中国海洋强国建设的海权战略选择 - 海权与大国兴衰的经验教训及其启示) Pacific Journal (太平洋学报) Vol. 21, No. 8, August 2013

9 Michael D. Swaine, Wenyan Deng, and Aube Rey Lescure, "Creating a Stable Asia: An Agenda for a U.S.-China Balance of Power" Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, October 26, 2016,

[ix] Eric Heginbotham and Jacob Heim, "Why the United States Needs an Active Denial Strategy for Asia," RAND Corporation, June 8, 2015,

10 Rear Admiral Michael McDevitt, "Becoming a Great “Maritime Power”: A Chinese Dream," CNA, June 2016,; “习近平:建设海洋强国,我一直有这样一个信念," Xinhua News Agency, June 13, 2018,

11 Stratfor Worldview, "China's Navy Has Arrived (And the U.S. Navy Should Be Worried)" The National Interest, March 24, 2019,

12 Andrew Erickson, "Power vs. Distance: China’s Global Maritime Interests and Investments in the Far Seas" in "Strategic Asia 2019: China's Expanding Strategic Ambitions" Edited by Ashley J. Tellis, Alison Szalwinski, and Michael Wills, The National Bureau of Asian Research, 2019,’s-Global-Maritime-Interests-and-Investments-in-the-Far-Seas_NBR_Strategic-Asia-2019-China’s-Expanding-Strategic-Ambitions.pdf

13 "China formally opens first overseas military base in Djibouti," Reuters, August 1, 2017,; and see

14 "Cold War to Violent Peace," in The Navy, edited by W.J. Holland, Jr., (Washington: Naval Historical Foundation, 2000).

15 Jon Kyl and Joseph Lieberman, "Why American leadership still matters," American Enterprise Institute, December 3, 2015,

17 For example, see Ian Bremmer, "Americans Want a Less Aggressive Foreign Policy. It's Time Lawmakers Listened to Them," TIME, February 19, 2019,

18 "Commentary: Why is China still a developing country?," Xinhua News Agency, June 5, 2018,

19 "China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress," Congressional Research Service, Updated August 1, 2018,

20 Aaron L. Friedberg, "Competing with China," Survival, 60:3, 7-64, DOI: 10.1080/00396338.2018.1470755; and "The Sources of Chinese Conduct: Explaining Beijing’s Assertiveness," The Washington Quarterly • 37:4, Winter 2015, pp. 133–150 Also see Jerome A. Cohen, "The insecurity underpinning Xi Jinping’s repression," The Washington Post, September 23, 2015,

21 Suisheng Zhao, "Reconstruction of Chinese History for a Peaceful Rise," YaleGlobal, June 13, 2017,

22 The ‘Century of Humiliation’ and China’s National Narratives: Testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission Hearing on “Chinas Narratives Regarding National Security Policy”, 2011 Leg.. (Cal. 2011), statement of Alison A. Kaufman, China Analyst, CNA).; Jutta Weldes, Mark Laffey, Hugh Gusterson, and Raymond Duval, eds., Cultures of Insecurity: States, Communities and the Production of Danger (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999).

23 John Whalley and Chunding Li, "China’s regional and bilateral trade agreements," Centre for Economic Policy Research, March 5, 2014,; Jonathan Watts, "China and Japan agree on joint gas exploration of East China Sea," The Guardian, June 18, 2008,; M. Taylor Fravel, Strong Borders, Secure Nation Cooperation and Conflict in China's Territorial Disputes (Princeton University Press, 2008)

24 See Deborah Brautigam, "Is China the World’s Loan Shark?" The New York Times, April 26, 2019, and Agatha Kratz, Allen Feng, and Logan Wright, "New Data on the “Debt Trap” Question," Rhodium Group, April 29, 2019,

25 For example, see “Openness for Greater Prosperity, Innovation for a Better Future - Keynote Speech at the Opening of the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2018,” (开放共创繁荣, 创新引领未来 – 习近平在博鳌亚洲论坛2018年年会开幕式上的主旨演讲), State Council of the People's Republic of China, April 10, 2018,

26 For examples, see Wang Jisi, "China's Search for a Grand Strategy," Foreign Affairs, March/April 2011,; Yan Xuetong, "How China Can Defeat America," The New York Times, November 20, 2011,; Shi Yinhong, "The Roles China Ought to Play in the World," German Marshall Fund of the United States, August 1, 2011,

27 Angang, Hu, John L. Thornton, and Cheng Li. "China, an Emerging Superpower." In China in 2020: A New Type of Superpower, 1-22. Brookings Institution Press, 2011.

28 For examples of this contrast, see “China’s Defense in the New Era,” (新时代的中国国防), The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China, July 24, 2019,;

Hampton Stephens, “The South China Sea Dispute Takes on New Urgency,” March 12, 2019,

29 Amitai Etzioni, "How Aggressive is China?" The Korean Journal of International Studies Vol.14, No.2 (August 2016), 291-307,

30 Kazuhiko Noguchi, "Bringing Realism Back In: Explaining China's Strategic Behavior in the Asia-Pacific," Asia-Pacific Review, 18:2, 60-85, 2011, DOI: 10.1080/13439006.2011.640580

31 James R. Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara, Chinese Naval Strategy in the 21st Century: The Turn to Mahan (Routledge, 2008); James R. Holmes, "What Makes China "Mahanian"?" The Diplomat, November 18, 2011,

32One might also add that, according to some naval analysts, Mahan’s theory of naval strategy is itself unconfirmed by historical facts. No naval battle or preponderant naval capability has ever clearly determined whether a nation has won a war or established itself as the dominant commercial power worldwide.

33 Rex Tillerson, "Defining Our Relationship with India for the Next Century: An Address by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson," Remarks at CSIS, October 18, 2017,

34 Admiral Jonathan Greenert and Rear Admiral James M. Foggo III, "Forging a Global Network of Navies," U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, May 2014 Vol. 140/5/1,335,

35 Author’s private discussions with Chinese scholars and officials

36 Swaine, Deng, and Lescure, "Creating a Stable Asia: An Agenda for a U.S.-China Balance of Power"

37 Eric Heginbotham and Jacob L. Heim, “Why the United States needs an Active Denial Strategy for Asia,” The Rand Blog, Rand Corporation, June 8, 2015,

38 Michael D. Swaine, Wenyan Deng, and Aube Rey Lescure, "Creating a Stable Asia: An Agenda for a U.S.-China Balance of Power" Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, October 26, 2016,

39 Hugh White, The China Choice: Why We Should Share Power (Oxford University Press, 2013); Chas Freeman, "A New Era in US-China Relations," Remarks at Brown University and Harvard University, November 13-14, 2018,; Catherine Wong, "Thucydides Trap author Graham Allison says China and US must work together and not end up on path that leads to war," South China Morning Post, December 20, 2018,

40 China Power Team, "Is China the world’s top trader?" China Power, March 28, 2019,

41 David Shullman, "Protect the Party: China’s growing influence in the developing world," Brookings Institution, January 22, 2019,

42 Catherine Wong, "China, Japan moving from competition to cooperation, leaders say," South China Morning Post, October 26, 2018,; Horimoto Takenori, "The Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy: India’s Wary Response," Nippon, October 9, 2018,’s-wary-response.html

43 Sam LaGrone, "U.S. Aircraft Carrier Deployments at 25 Year Low as Navy Struggles to Reset Force," USNI News, September 26, 2018,; Ben Werner," Navy End Strength Not on Pace to Run a 355-Ship Fleet," USNI News, March 20, 2018,; Bryan Clark and Jesse Sloman, "Deploying Beyond Their Means: America’s Navy and Marine Corps At a Tipping Point," Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, November 18, 2015,

The author greatly appreciates comments provided by Mike McDevitt, Bud Cole, and Lyle Goldstein, and is indebted to Paul Lee, Ryan Devries, and Sylvie Zhong for their editorial and other assistance.