China takes a page out of Mahan
By James Holmes
Monday, Feb 06, 2006,Page 8
As China looks overseas for energy supplies to sustain its "peaceful rise" to regional eminence, its leadership has increasingly looked seaward. The deal Beijing inked with the Saudi government last week, guaranteeing Beijing a steady flow of Saudi oil in exchange for certain concessions, was the latest testament to China's concern with secure energy supplies.
Shipments of oil, gas and other commodities make their way to Chinese users primarily by sea. Secure passage through the sea lanes connecting Chinese seaports with foreign suppliers -- primarily in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa -- is now a matter of vital importance to Beijing.
Chinese leaders have begun looking at the seas much as the US looked at the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico during its own rise to regional preeminence. Indeed, Chinese strategists routinely cite the works of an US naval strategist, Alfred Thayer Mahan, to justify a buildup of "sea power," made up of overseas commerce, naval and commercial fleets, and refueling bases situated along the sea lanes.
Writing at the turn of the 19th century, Mahan deemed it an iron law of history that nations found their "surest prosperity" through sea power. Specifically, the US Navy needed to assert "command of the sea" in waters where US merchant vessels hauled vital goods. He called command of the seas "that overbearing power on the sea which drives the enemy's flag from it, or allows it to appear only as a fugitive."
Only a fleet capable of defeating the strongest force likely to be brought against it in vital waters could impose such dominance.
Which waters? Like today's China, the US of Mahan's day had come to view maritime commerce as the key to domestic prosperity. Imperial competition endangered this commerce. After all, the European powers had partitioned much of the non-European world, threatening to deny the US its rightful share of international trade. Mahan exhorted his country to build a navy capable of assuring US access to foreign markets, especially in East Asia.
Digging a canal across Central America would spare merchant vessels sailing from Atlantic coast seaports the arduous voyage around Cape Horn to Asian ports. Mahan and other like-minded navalists such as Theodore Roosevelt lobbied tirelessly for such a canal, which would also allow the US Navy to concentrate its battle fleet -- then as now dispersed between the nation's Atlantic and Pacific coasts -- more readily in wartime.
It was the Panama isthmus -- the "gateway to the Pacific for the United States," Mahan called it -- that gave the forceful maritime strategy he proposed its overarching purpose.
European navies, Mahan believed, coveted Caribbean island bases from which to control shipping bound for the Panama Canal. Cuba offered the best site for such a base, boasting multiple harbors, a generous endowment of natural resources, and imposing natural defenses. Jamaica, positioned astride all major sea lanes in the region, likewise held great promise. He implored the US to obtain strategic outposts in the Caribbean and deny them to the other imperial powers.
Chinese thinkers of a Mahanian bent will apply this logic to the South China Sea, China's gateway to the Indian Ocean and beyond. Like the waterways that obsessed Mahan, this expanse contains waterways of critical importance to national prosperity, most prominently the Strait of Malacca, the world's busiest sea passage. Geography has concentrated minds in Beijing.
And like Mahan's America, which was forced to contend with European fleets for supremacy in the Caribbean, China faces a "distinctly preponderant navy" that controls nearby waters: the US Navy. Beijing is less and less willing to entrust its seaborne commerce, and in turn its quest for economic development, to the uncertain goodwill of the US, which has long ruled the waves in Asia.
What are the implications for Taiwan? The country is East Asia's answer to Jamaica or Cuba: a large island endowed with considerable resources, positioned on the approaches to the Strait. Hostile forces operating from Taiwan could put Chinese ships plying these waters at risk, imperiling China's vital economic interests. There's a strong geopolitical whiff to Beijing's fierce responses to talk of Taiwan formal independence.
And Beijing will attempt to prevent rival powers from obtaining bases in the South China Sea while seeking bases of its own to extend its navy's reach. Taipei should expect vehement Chinese opposition to its plans to build an airfield on Taiping Island in the Spratlys.
It seems Mahan is alive and well in Beijing.
James Holmes is a senior research associate at the University of Georgia Center for International Trade and Security.
Chinese Strategy for Containment of India
China's New Navy
China Naval Modernization PDF File
Beijings Strategy to Counter US Influence in Asia
Growing Asymmetries in the China-Japan Naval Balance
Dire Straits: Competing Security Priorities in the South China Sea
PDF File: Chinas New Great Leap Forward: High Technology and Military Power in the Next Half Century
Chinas Quest for Asia
The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783 by A. T. Mahan
The Interest of America in Sea Power, Present and Future by A. T. Mahan
In twenty or thirty years, they might have some semblance of a navy and might try to attempt something.
But so far their purchases- and its all been purchases they havent BUILT any idiginous weapons of their own that are worth a damn- are few and in some cases rather dumb.
The question is will Chinas "bubble economy" stay inflated long enough for them to fulfill their ambitions...
Good point. The answer is that they are also improving their Defense Industry
See (PDF File) RAND Report at:www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/2005/RAND_MG334.pdf
Also see:The Military Potential of China’s Commercial Technology
They are getting better..
Also see PDF File: Pentagon Quadrennial Defense Review Report for 2006
In order to have a reasonable Military a Country needs the basic Industrial Capacity for Mass Production as well as an large Educated population and High Tech Industries.
China is rapidly building the infrastructure for such a Military.
Already they are the World's Third Largest Shipbuilder
Having the Capacity to quickly build ships is nice to have when you are attempting to increase the size of your Navy...
China is currently having an Air Frieghter Boom
As well as setting its sights on building its own Large Commercial Aircraft ....also very useful in order to build Cargo and Transport Planes for the PLAAF, as well as Ariel Tankers and AWACS.
High Technology? China's PCB (Printed Circuit Board) Production is exceeding Japan's
It is also a large and growing manufacturer of Electronic Components, as Vishay and other component manufacturers are increasing moving production facilities there because the labor is cheap.
And all these improvements are funded mostly by us, the American consumer, who continue to suck up Made in China goods and products like crazy!!!
The problem is, Japan and Taiwan are not our enemies. Their "hostile" action is limited in the commercial, not military or political, and both of them depends on US for defense.
China on the other hand, is looking to take the place of military, political, and economic super-power, directly challenging US position. They have the population, and a US consumer sponsored economy to back it up. I blame the rise of the China on the hunger of cunsumer in US wanting low price low quality products, and the greedy corporation who wants a quick and easy buck.
The fastest way to collapse China is to stop exporting both raw material and food (rice and grain) to the country and stop importing their products,ime. China have totally neglect their farm industry, and currently, they cannot produce enough food to feed their own population. They also does not have enough raw material to manufacturer any of the consumer goods, and they are over invested in their factories.
As for our own government regulations, in my mind, it is one but not a major factor. The major problem with our own econmy is the profit driven corporate culture and the unions, but then, those belong in another thread.
While I have'nt read all of the responses here is my take on China. I have been there 5 times for business. Now you talk to your contacts there about business much I have been told somethings by my chinese contacts. There are 300,000,000 unemployeed people in China. Big problem. While I was in Shanghai I noticed the skyline was littered with cranes making high rise buildings. I commented to my agent that the amount of building was amazing. He told me most of those buildings are empty and will remain so. The government is building them to keep the peasants working. He also told me that they are just waiting for the old guard to die off.
My take on any war with China is the following. We would immediately stop buying product, the factories would be empty and the peasants would revolt. It already happens on a small scale just not reported much. But go figure it is a communist country after all. I could go on and on but I don't like typing that much. Suffice it to say they need us as much or more then we need them.
No hard facts at all to argue this point. However, it seems to me that all the .gov over there has to do is kill about 100,000,000 of their peasant/workers, and the rest will fall back in line. I don't think I would put it against the chinese .gov to do so either, if it kept them in power.
You're right about the unions. They priced themselves out of the market like bitchy American women who want a big house but can't cook.
Looks like they are making the same fatal flaws reading Mahan that the Germans did. Continental powers aren't sea powers. China, of all countries, should know that.
The difference is that neither Japan nor Taiwan was interested in taking over large swaths of Asia, nor in nuking the U.S.
However, China like Imperialist Russia and Germany does have ambitions to become a Sea Power.
It is hemmed in by the first Island Chain, and then there is the Malacca Straits. All of which are choke points making China's shipping vulnerable.
China clearly understands this, and as it becomes increasingly dependent upon trade and imported oil, its National Interests dictate that they gain access to the Pacific (preferably by controlling Taiwan) at all costs.
They are also exerting pressure on Singapore which is on the end of the Malacca Straits.
Obviously it is in Japan's and South Korea's National interest to maintain the status quo, of an Independent Taiwan (due to the amount of ship traffic flowing through the Taiwan Straits).
(Post WWII Japan)
As a side note: The Chicom English News paper is rejecting US Charges of China's Military Potential
Not surprisingly the Taiwanese Paper (China Post) has a nice little article on China's Future Military Deployment and the Threat it poses towards Taiwan
We need to let Japan and Taiwan arm up.
While China is making big bucks in order to modernize their military, the ordinary folks don't see any of the windfall. Most industries are an arm of the PLA. Sure their executives where western suits, but isn't it funny they all seem to hold rank in the PLA?
My understanding is they are having social unrest in the countryside that most outsiders don't go to. People are not getting paid, they are tired of corrupt local pols, and don't like being uprooted from their land for the good of the revolution. Hence the heavy handed response by the government.
Pre-WWI Germany most certainly did want to become a sea power. You really need to read Mahan and understand the underpinnings of what makes a Sea Power. China doesn't have it.
ETA: Russia right now, is playing it just as Pre-WWI France is. They love it when China spends money on ships because they know that's less money to be spent on weapons that could threaten their long border. If you know enough about history the similarities between China and Pre-WWI Germany are striking.
dport - you misread my post, then went off on a tangent over it (making some assumptions about my knowledge). For your convience I highlighted a sentance in Red and increased the Font Size.
Nothing like Error Propagation, oh well, it happens....
Imperialist Germany lasted until Kaiser Wilhem abdicated the Throne...
China’s Maritime Strategy
PLAN officers have studied classic maritime strategists since the 1950s, including Alfred Thayer Mahan, but current Chinese maritime strategy is usually credited directly or indirectly to General Liu Huaqing, PLAN head from 1982-1987 and Central Military Committee Vice-Chairman from 1988-1997. Most notably, he called for expanding the navy’s operations from coastal defense to “offshore active defense.”
Liu reportedly expressed this concept in terms of a three-stage naval development process, applied to two strategic maritime areas of vital concern to the nation. The “first island chain” encompasses the first of these, usually described as a line through the Kurile Islands, Japan and the Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Indonesia (Borneo to Natuna Besar).
No national security goal is more important to China than the reunification of Taiwan, however, and a more reasonable definition of the first island chain would extend it well east of that island, perhaps to a point 200 nautical miles (nm) from the mainland. This first island chain area encompasses the Yellow Sea, facing Korea and Japan; the western East China Sea; and the South China Sea, extending deep into Southeast Asia. It addresses many of China’s maritime national interests: the concentration of economic investment along the coast, offshore territorial claims, oceanic resources, and coastal defense. It is ambitious in scope, extending from approximately 200 to 700 nm from the mainland, to include Taiwan and the South China Sea land features claimed by Beijing as sovereign territory.
The “second island chain” bounds Liu’s second strategic maritime area: a north-south line from the Kuriles through Japan, the Bonins, the Marianas, the Carolines, and Indonesia. This is a much more ambitious goal than that implied by the first island chain, since it encompasses maritime areas out to approximately 1,800 nm from China’s coast, including most of the East China Sea and the East Asian SLOCs.
The third stage of Liu’s putative maritime strategy poses the PLAN as a global force built around aircraft carriers, deployed by the middle of the century. This goal would imply a PLAN many times larger and more air-capable than China’s current force. Alternately, however, global naval force might be deployed in a fleet of ballistic missile submarines (FBMs) capable of launching ICBMs and long-range land-attack cruise missiles.
Excerpt From:The People’s Liberation Army-Navy and “Active Defense”: Coastal or Blue Water Operations?
Vital Sea Lanes for China
Excerpt from Below Link:
China has acted and spoken in a tone of belligerent entitlement in pressing its claims in the South China Sea and to the Paracel and Spratly islands. China has used force and has made clear that it is willing to use more force in the future if the other claimant countries fail to acquiesce in China’s purposes. Control of the South China Sea would facilitate China’s dominance of Asia, since US ships and aircraft as well as those of Japan, South Korea and other countries would have to have Chinese permission to transit the South China Sea, a major supply and transit route. It is estimated that 50% of world commerce and more than 41,000 ships annually transit the South China Sea (in comparison with about 4,000 ships transiting through the Panama Canal each year).  If China controlled the South China sea it could decide which country’s ships could transit and which could not, and thereby it would have a means to exert political pressure on Japan, South Korea, and other countries in the region that depend on supplies moving through the South China Sea for their energy and commercial deliveries. Energy and other supplies could be transported around the South China Sea but this would increase costs. 
Such a coercive use of control over the South China Sea would be consistent with the new Chinese geopolitical doctrine of the “first island chain of defense”. This was advanced as a strategic concept in the 1990’s by General Liu Huaqing, a close associate of Deng Xiaoping, Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission and member of the Politburo elite until his retirement in 1997. The first island chain of defense doctrine holds that to be secure China needs to control the entire region off its shores in a line from Japan to Taiwan and the Philippines  .
See Testimony presented to: The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission 2003:
China: Its geostrategy and energy needs
Saw what was in red, didn't make sense in relation to my post, why use "however" when you're restating the exact same thing? Assumed you made a typo and went from there.
Doesn't change anything. Germany had reasons to build a blue water navy as well. That navy disturbed the balance of power between the UK and Germany, while France laughed all the way to the bank, as they didn't have to worry about German guns that were mounted on ships.
The modern equivalent is playing out here, with the US playing the role of the UK, China the role of Germany, and Russia the role of France.
The biggest blunder the German's made, and the Chinese seem to be making as well, is two fold. If you have a rival continental power, China has two, you don't spend money on a Navy when there is a country already providing free access to the seas, ie the US. You also don't build a maritime nation overnight, if at all. In fact, Mahan argues that geography plays an important role in making a maritime power. China doesn't posses the geographic advantages the UK or the US does. BTW, there is a good reason the US took the baton from the UK as the world's primary sea power, assured access to both the Atlantic and Pacific, something the UK, by their very geography, doesn't have. China also fails to realize we cannot have a threat on the high seas. We simply cannot allow it, much as the Brits could not 100 years ago. Britian could focus spending on their Navy, so could we if we wanted to; whereas, Germany and now China have to devote a significant portion of their budgets to their land armies. Hubris, in this case over Taiwan, will probably be China's downfall.