Academic journal article The Journal of East Asian Affairs

The Great Leap Outward: China's Maritime Renaissance

Academic journal article The Journal of East Asian Affairs

The Great Leap Outward: China's Maritime Renaissance

Article excerpt

Abstract

600 years ago China was the greatest maritime nation in the world, but after the voyages of Zheng He, the Ming Dynasty withdrew from the sea, and China reverted to its traditional focus on "continental" interests. Today China is going back to sea. China's "Great Leap Outward" onto the world's oceans is visible in its growing merchant marine; rise in the global shipbuilding market; and efforts to develop a "blue water" navy. This paper will examine how, starting with Deng Xiaoping's reforms in 1978, China has developed a comprehensive strategy for maritime growth. China's return to the sea will be analyzed under these headings:

1) China has created "treasure fleets" of Chinese built and operated ships to carry China's trade, projected at $1 trillion by 2020. Chinese companies are building ports and providing management services as far afield as Greece and Panama.

2) Shipbuilding has been so successful that China's goal is to become the world's merchant shipbuilding leader by 2015.

3) China has created Asia's largest navy, building a "blue-water" navy to operate on the open ocean.

4) A "navalist" party has emerged, with the theories of Mahan added to the curriculum for military education of Peoples Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) officers.

5) When China has the ships, men, and money too, what will it do with its new maritime and naval capabilities?

Do China's history, and world history, offer clues and parallels for what it may do once it becomes both a major shipping and naval power?

The topic "The Great Leap Outward" fits the theme of China in World History. It will analyze China's maritime renaissance both 1) in the context of China's history and 2) in comparison to other states in the modern era that rose to become powers at sea. China, in fact, has a historical maritime heritage that long predates the modern period e.g., Chinese ships first entered the Indian Ocean when sailors of the Wu kingdom found a sea route to India via Southeast Asia. China's maritime spirit especially thrived under the southern Song, but there has always been a strong "continentalist" pull, and the debate over land/sea orientation continues today in the Peoples Republic. Second: comparisons will be made with states in the modern era that developed seapower as they rose to become great powers e.g., Germany and Japan. Is China following their footsteps, or is China unique in that it has developed a large merchant marine first, and only later is creating a navy to protect it, rather than building both simultaneously?

Key Words: China's Maritime Renaissance; Xiaoping's Reforms; Merchant Marine Expansion; Zheng He

On July 11, 2011 China celebrated its 6th National Maritime Day. The holiday was established in 2005 to mark the 600th anniversary of the ocean voyages of Zheng He. July 11 is the day 606 years ago that Zheng He put out to sea at head of a fleet of 240 ships manned by 27,400 men. It was the first of seven voyages that between 1405 and 1433 sailed as far as Java, India, the Horn of Africa, the Red Sea and the Strait of Hormuz.

Inside China, the holiday serves to remind the Chinese people of their country's proud seafaring history, and builds public support for China's returning to the sea as a great seaborne commercial nation and naval power. For China's neighbors, evoking Zheng He enables China's diplomats to explain China's maritime buildup as part of a "peaceful rise" that will be modeled on the early Ming era's benign dominance of six centuries ago.1

Today China is again making history at sea. A "Great Leap Outward" onto the world's oceans is visible in China's growing merchant marine; rise in the global shipbuilding market; increasing reach in building and managing off-shore ports and port facilities; and efforts to develop a modern "blue water" navy.

This paper will examine how, starting with Deng Xiaoping's reforms and opening up to the outside world in the late 1970s, China has revived its sea-faring spirit and is well on its way to a remarkable maritime renaissance. …

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