The Rise of Chinese “Sea Power”

In an age of missiles and terrorist threats, many people think that “sea power” is a word and concept from the past. Not in China. Indeed, China is increasingly emphasizing its naval and maritime interests: economic development, territorial management, energy and food security as well as trade. A navy sufficient to promote such activities is being rapidly developed and purchased from abroad (mostly from Russia, the EU when possible).

Many of China’s neighbors are alarmed. The United States Defense Department views China’s goal as being to build a series of military and diplomatic strategic bases – a so-called “string of pearls” – along the major sea lanes from the South China Sea to the oil rich Middle East.

China seeks not only to secure its energy supplies, but to achieve broader security goals. For example, the Gwadar military port, which China is constructing in southwest Pakistan, is strategically placed to guard the throat of the Persian Gulf, with electronic eavesdropping posts to monitor ships -- including war ships -- moving through the Strait of Hormuz and the Arabian Sea.

Similarly, China is building container port facilities at Chittagong in Bangladesh for its naval and merchant fleets, as well as more naval bases and electronic intelligence gathering facilities on islands owned by Myanmar in the Gulf of Bengal. Indeed, China’s ties with Myanmar’s military dictators look set to turn into a de facto military alliance. In nearby Thailand, China has invested $20 billion in a plan to build a canal across the Kra Isthmus to connect the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Siam, thereby providing an alternate oil import route that avoids the Strait of Malacca.