Academic journal article Naval War College Review

IMPLICATIONS OF XI JINPING'S "TRUE MARITIME POWER": Its Context, Significance, and Impact on the Region

Academic journal article Naval War College Review

IMPLICATIONS OF XI JINPING'S "TRUE MARITIME POWER": Its Context, Significance, and Impact on the Region

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

Xi Jinping's declaration that China should strive to become a ?true maritime power? ... has been much discussed in the context of China's ?peaceful rise? ... and the pursuit of the ?Chinese dream? (...).1 Although there is, at face value, nothing quite new about Xi's exhortation to the Chinese leadership, his remarks need to be understood against a rather complex background of situations, policies, and aspirations if their full significance is to be appreciated.

Xi's policy is not just about geographic dispositions but needs to be seen in terms of U.S. Navy captain Alfred Thayer Mahan's sea-power theory-the ?neo-Mahanian standard,? as scholars of the U.S. Naval War College have termed it.2 This issue bridges the China of the past and modern China; as a central pillar of Xi's grand national strategy, China's maritime power is a matter of extraordinary importance for its future.

We need to examine a number of questions if we are really to grasp what it means for China to become a true maritime power. What is the history of Chinese maritime power? Why has Xi Jinping suddenly given such emphasis to China's emergence as a ?true maritime power?? How does he understand this term-that is, what is the character of ?true maritime power?? What forces are driving the accomplishment of maritime-power status? How are the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and its navy (the PLAN) and the newly established China Coast Guard (CCG) involved in implementing China's maritime aspirations? What are the implications for, and the likely impacts on, the Asia-Pacific region?


China's national strategy is undergoing a significant transformation. At both the eighteenth Communist Party Congress in November 2012 and the first plenary session of the twelfth National People's Congress in March 2013, great importance was placed on China's becoming a true maritime power. Similar remarks had been made earlier; for instance, Hu Jintao (Xi Jinping's predecessor) proposed building up the power of the PLAN to adapt its historical mission to the new century.3 This mission has now been expanded to include everyone in China-the concept of true maritime power is being used to embolden China's political, ideological, and economic philosophy and, in conjunction with other military, economic, and national-security goals, to project a vision of future national greatness.4

Throughout Chinese history, whenever undue emphasis has been given to land power-as exemplified by China's "Great Wall"-this lack of strategic balance has always undermined the nation's development and prosperity.5 During the hectic Mao Zedong period, Chinese strategists regarded the maritime domain as an imperialist and colonialist sphere, and anyone proposing alternative strategies to the PLA's continental approach was identified as an ideological enemy. Although China has not itself often explicitly defined a national strategy that is definitively "continental" or "maritime," it has usually been characterized-owing to its vast geographic extent and the fact that its predominant cultural interactions have been by land (via the Silk Road) rather than by sea-as a continental power, and this is the current reality.6

It would be untrue, however, to suggest that China was ever a "pseudo-maritime power" ... such stereotypical descriptions of its land-oriented national strategy entirely eclipsing its maritime interests.7 China has never ignored its maritime domain, and there are many historical examples of the Song, Ming, and Yuan Dynasties pursuing maritime expansion rather enthusiastically, going back to what has been called (see below) a "Maritime Silk Road."

Actually, China's national strategies have been mostly neutral in this regard, and its emphasis has shifted between land and sea, as required to preserve peace and stability. Indeed, throughout China's general history the reconciliation of disparities between coastal and inland regions has been a key strategic problem for the Chinese leadership. …

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