China's Naval Expansion and Asia's Response

Master's Thesis, 2014

135 Pages, Grade: A


Table of Contents



List of Tables

List of Figures

List of Maps

Chapter 1 Introduction
1.1 The Research Questions
1.2 The Hypotheses
1.3 Rationale and Scope of the Research
1.3.1 Rationale
1.3.2 Scope
1.4 Methodology
1.5 Chapterisation

Chapter 2 Theoretical Framework of China’s Naval Modernisation and Asia’s Response
2.1 On China’s Naval Modernisation
2.2 Realist Approaches
2.2.1 Neo-Realist Structural Approach
2.2.2 Neo Classical Realist Approach
2.3 Liberalism and Neo-liberal Institutionalism
2.4 Hedging
2.5 Proposed Hypothesis and Methodology
2.6 Explaining the Regional Variations

Chapter 3 China’s Naval Modernisation and Expansion
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Chinese Naval History
3.2.1 History of People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy)
3.2.2 The Early Years: 1949-1954
3.2.3 Period: 1955-1959
3.2.4 Period: 1960-1976
3.2.5 Period: 1976-1980s – Post GPCR
3.2.6 Period: 1980-1995, Deng Xiaoping’s Navy
3.2.7 Period: 1996-2008, Building Blue-Water Capability
3.2.8 Period: 2008-2013, Towards a Blue-Water Navy
3.2.9 Main PLA Navy Units
3.3 Evolving Capability
3.3.1 Chinese Military Budget
3.3.2 Arms Policy
3.3.3 Military Training, Exercises and Joint Operations
3.3.4 Evolving Naval Strategy: “Coastal Defence” to “Offshore Defence” to “Distance Seas Defence”
3.4 Informatisation of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy
3.5 Non-contact Warfare
3.6 China’s Expansion in Indian Ocean Region (IOR)
3.6.1 The Pakistan Corridor
3.6.2 The Irrawaddy Corridor
3.6.3 Lhasa to Kolkata Project
3.7 The Malacca Dilemma
3.8 The “String of Pearls”
3.8.1 Pakistan
3.8.2 Burma
3.8.3 Bangladesh
3.8.4 Sri Lanka
3.8.5 Thailand
3.8.6 Cambodia
3.9 China’s Support Chain in Indian Ocean
3.9.1 Salalah, Oman
3.9.2 Aden, Yemen
3.9.3 Djibouti
3.9.4 Karachi, Pakistan
3.9.5 Colombo, Sri Lanka
3.9.6 Singapore
3.10 Drivers of China’s Naval Modernisation and Expansion
3.10.1 Painful History
3.10.2 Security
3.10.3 Territorial Reasons
3.10.4 Economic Reasons

Chapter 4 Asia’s Response
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Taiwan: History and Context
4.2.1 Internal Balancing
4.2.2 External Balancing
4.2.3 Taiwan Accommodation Behaviour
4.3 South Korea: History and Context
4.3.1 Internal Balancing
4.3.2 External Balancing
4.3.3 South Korea Accommodation Behaviour
4.4 Japan: History and Context
4.4.1 Threat Perceptions: Perceived Chinese Aggressiveness
4.4.2 Shifting Capabilities
4.4.3 Internal Balancing
4.4.4 External Balancing
4.5 India: History and context
4.5.1 Threat Perception
4.5.2 Internal Balancing
4.5.3 External Balancing

Chapter 5 Conclusion
5.1 Perceptions
5.2 Explaining Regional Variation



Many people supported and assisted me in the researching and writing this dissertation. In preparing this manuscript, I have benefitted from the advice and support of many people in the Jawaharlal Nehru University. I am particularly indebted to both my supervisor Professor Varun Sahni and Professor Rajesh Rajagopalan, for their close reading of my original draft and their useful insights into my research.

Despite the best efforts and advice of these people, errors undoubtedly remain in the text. In expressing appreciation for their advice and support, I do not mean to suggest that any of the above individuals are responsible for any errors in this dissertation. I assume sole responsibility.

First of all, I would like to appreciate Dr. Jayati Srivastava and Dr. Madan Mohan for their support in the entire M. Phil. course work.

I would like to thank University Grant Commission (UGC) for providing me financial support in the form of Junior Research Fellowship (JRF). I would also like to thank all the staff of the Central Reference Library, JNU and DEL NET for their support in writing this dissertation. I am pleased to acknowledge here.

Furthermore, I would like to thank all my friends of the Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University for their unyielding support. I am thankful to Dr. Vineet Thakur for his insights in reviewing one of the chapters in my dissertation. I also thank all my friends and love ones especially, Aehtsham, Ambedkar, Alvite, Ahsana, Chingiz, Noorshafi, Shristi, Junjun, Nishwat, Zahir and Fariz.

My greatest gratitude is, of course, to all my family members and particularly my brothers Md. Sweet Ali and Md. Rocket Ali for their unconditional love and support, and unfailing ability to brighten my life, whenever I struggled in my life.

Finally, I dedicated this M. Phil. dissertation in the loving memory of my father Kh. Umed Ali, mother Saru Gogoi and brother Kh. Firoz Ali.

Khutheibam Farook Ali


illustration not visible in this excerpt

List of Tables

Table 3.1: China’s domestic ship building industry (SBI)

Table 5.1: Differences in response between study cases

List of Figures

Figure 2.1: Asian state perception and Reaction Mechanism

Figure 3.1: Chinese Military Expenditure 1990-2012 (2014 US $ million)

Figure 4.1: Taiwan Military Expenditure from 2000 to 2013 in US $ 2013 Rate

Figure 4.2: ROK Military Budget from 1998 to 2013

Figure 4.3: Military Expenditure of India from 1998 to 2013 in Current U.S. $

List of Maps

Map 3.1 Major PLA Naval Units

Map 3.2: String of Pearls

Chapter 1 Introduction

On the 23rd of November 2013, China made an announcement regarding the establishment of Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea (ECS). The ADIZ covers airspace over Japan’s Senkaku Islands which is claimed by China as Diaoyu Islands. The ADIZ “includes the airspace within the area enclosed by the outer limit of China's territorial waters and six other points” (Dan 2014). The six other points, according to Government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), are 33º11’N (North Latitude) and 121º47’E (East Longitude), 33º11’N and 125º00’E, 31º00’N and 128º20’E, 25º38’N and 125º00’E, 24º45’N and 123º00’E, 26º44’N and 120º58’E (Government of the People’s Republic of China 2013). Moreover, China’s ADIZ overlaps Japan’s established ADIZ in the ECS. China establishment of ADIZ in the contested airspace shows its ability and confidence in its military and particularly in its People Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and People Liberation Army Navy Air Force (PLANAF) in protecting and safeguarding China’s sovereignty, territories, and air security while maintaining flight order in the ECS (Osawa 2013). The establishment of the ADIZ suggests that China is strengthening its maritime and insular claims in the region (Hsu 2014: 1).

Earlier in 2012, China launched its first aircraft carrier Liaoning, successfully completed sea trials of combat systems and conducted a formation practice, launching and recovering of JF-15 fighter aircraft in the vessels (The Guardian 2014). The Liaoning aircraft carrier became the most visible representation of China’s ongoing naval modernisation and expansion programme. The aircraft carrier itself is a symbolic manifestation of China’s growth in prominence and influence in international politics. Much of China’s naval modernisation programme has focused on the implications for Cross Strait relations with Taiwan (Ross 2002) or its potential impacts on the United States (U.S.) regional domination (Holmes 2010). However, another area that needs equal attention is how China’s naval modernisation and expansion programme is affecting the Asian nations.

Asia is a unique continent with high levels of economic connectivity and relatively little political and security integration. Relations between China and different nations of Asia are a mix of countervailing trends of ever increasing economic integration and cooperation juxtaposed with a squalid history of past wars, past racial tensions and deadlocked maritime territorial disputes. The Chinese establishment of ADIZ in 2013 sparked tension and confrontation in the ECS region. This event could increase air patrols of different nations in the region as the declared ADIZ overlaps with Japan’s ADIZ, and have the potential of “sudden escalation given an accident or miscalculation” (Hsu 2014: 1). The event raises very pertinent questions about how the region is reacting towards China’s transformation into a maritime power and its consequent assertiveness.

1.1 The Research Questions

What factors drive China’s naval modernisation and expansion? What are the security implications of China’s naval modernisation and expansion for the security of Asian region? How is the region balancing this potential assertiveness and subsequent security threat? Why Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea reacted so differently considering the similar contexts and same disputed waters? How India reacted to the China aggressive moves in the Indian Ocean? Is there a region wide trend in how Asian states respond to the PLA Navy’s modernisation and expansion drive? These questions are very crucial for policy and decision-makers alike and the central purpose of this dissertation is to research a comprehensive study of the regional foreign policy to answer these questions.

1.2 The Hypotheses

Domestic as well as international constraints drive China’s naval modernisation and expansion. As China’s naval expands, a region wide trend of increasing threat perception is observable among the Asian nations. As China’s naval expansion and its policy becomes assertive atleast in ECS and SCS, a clear balancing behaviour among the Asian nations is observable. This involves internal balancing in increasing its own naval capabilities as well as external balancing in increasing ties with the U.S. This dissertation proposes that varied responses by the Asian states to the PLA Navy’s modernisation and expansion are a reflection of historic memory of war and conflict, and economic dependence rather than only threat and capabilities.

1.3 Rationale and Scope of the Research

1.3.1 Rationale

History shows that rising naval powers have always been a problem. Examples include the rise of Germany naval power till World War I and the rise of Japan naval power in the inter-war period (1919-1939). According to the School of Realism, since international politics is a zero-sum game, the rise of China’s naval power needs to be studied in order to understanding the implication it would have on the security of the other nations and how rising Chinese power at sea could be balanced so as to maintain harmony in international politics. Thus, rising Chinese power can alter the balance of power affecting the harmony in the international politics.

1.3.2 Scope

The main idea of the study is to identify the variable that explains the variation in the responses of the Asian states to the China’s naval modernisation and expansion. The present study limits its enquiry to the China’s naval modernisation and expansion, and not with the overall Chinese military modernisation. The expansion section will deal specifically with China’s navy expansion in the Indian Ocean region (IOR). The study will limit the responses to few Asian nations, two small powers namely Taiwan and South Korea, and two big powers namely Japan and India. The study will covers period spanning from 1990 to 2013. The responses by Asian nations will focus on the patterns of both the military as well as diplomatic behaviour that these nations formed for collective security and balance of power and stability in the region.

1.4 Methodology

The study follows mixed method of research comprising qualitative and quantitative techniques. A comparative case method will be used to grasp the idea of differences and similarities in the responses made by the small power nations and the big power nations. Both primary as well as secondary sources will be used in the research. The primary sources will basically deal with the official documents including declarations and agreements of the government. The existing literature on China’s naval modernisation and response to it will be considered as the secondary source.

The study will try to explore different empirical facts to answer the research questions and test the hypotheses. The deep analysis of the China’s naval modernisation and expansion programme and responses made to it and understanding the variable that explains the variation in the responses will provide the answers to the research questions. The qualitative data will be analyses on the basis of deductive reasoning of the theoretical understanding of the China’s naval expansion and responses to it.

1.5 Chapterisation

Building upon the theoretical foundation of Stephen Walt’s Balance of Threat Theory, this dissertation attempts a regional trend surrounding China’s naval modernisation and expansion programme over the past two decades and how the Asian neighbours have reacted and responded to it. This dissertation particularly looks to provide a comparison of reactions and responses from Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and India, four different Asian nations that have different culture, political structure, size, and locations.

Chapter 2 lays the theoretical foundations for this dissertation. This chapter introduces the current theoretical concepts such as balance of power theory, balance of threat theory, hedging, balancing, and threat perception in explaining Asian nations to China’s naval modernisation and expansion programme. The chapter also provides the dissertation’s main hypotheses in detail, the gap in the existing literature and introduces the variable “historic memory of war and conflict” in explaining the variation in the responses of the Asian nations to China’s naval modernisation and expansion programme.

Chapter 3 establishes the independent variable that forms the foundational premise of the dissertation: that China is modernising its naval forces and power projection capabilities in recent decades.

Chapter 4 analyses each of the four study cases through the variable outlined in Chapter 2. This chapter examines the patterns in the perceptions and response behaviour of the four Asian nations namely Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and India to China’s naval modernisation and expansion in the Asia region.

Chapter 5 finally combines the findings, drawing comparisons across all the four cases and explaining the finding, discusses its theoretical implications, and identifying the variables that explains the variation in the responses.

Chapter 2 Theoretical Framework of China’s Naval Modernisation and Asia’s Response

This chapter examines the modernisation of China’s navy and responses of the Asian’s navies. Outlining the different schools and approaches, it delves into the gaps in the existing literature.

2.1 On China’s Naval Modernisation

China is modernising its military capabilities most visibly its Navy. China’s navy has been evolving its operations from “coastal defence” to “near seas defence” to “far seas” (Li 2009: 144). This dissertation shall focus on Asia’s reaction and response to China’s naval modernisation, rather than China military modernisation programme. This dissertation hopes to add to the ongoing “China Threat” debate by addressing literature gaps about the effects of its naval modernisation programme.

China’s military modernisation programme in the context of China’s rise is significant for world politics. This raises questions about the intentions behind the China’s naval modernisation programme. Thomas Christensen (2001), Robert Ross (2009), Andrew Erickson and Gage Collins (2010) have argued that structural factors are pushing China into increasing its military budget every year. For Christensen (2001) the U.S., Taiwan and Japan are major external compelling factors that create insecurity for China pushing it to massively investment in military inventory. Ross (2009), in contrast, cites growing Chinese nationalism, domestic politics and growing combative elements within Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as key influences. Erickson Collins (2010), C. Raja Mohan (2012) and Robert Kaplan (2014) point to economic imperatives such as energy security, and growing GDP. However, there is a consensus among the security experts that China’s naval modernisation and expansion programme are not directly aimed towards East and Southeast Asian scenario. The presumption of the security experts is that China’s ongoing rapid China’s naval modernisation is geared towards Taiwan contingency and energy imperatives. Still, concerns and reactions are evinced from the Asian nations on the increasing Chinese activities at sea. There are varying reactions and responses to China’s naval rise. The following are the theoretical approaches dealing with the China’s naval rise and Asia’s response to it.

2.2 Realist Approaches

In examining the effects of the growth in material capabilities of a large and rising state on the smaller and neighbouring states and consequently their responses, different conceptual strands within realism such as the balance of power, the balance of threat, security dilemma offer a different theoretical explanation. The main branches within the school of Realism are Classical Realism, Neo Realism (structural) and neo-classical realism.

2.2.1 Neo-Realist Structural Approach

Neo realism is a variant of the Realist School. According to Neo realism, anarchy is the structural condition of the international politics. But anarchy does not mean that it is chaotic and disorder. It also has nothing to do with conflict. It is an ordering principle which means that the system comprises of sovereign independent states and there is no central authority to control or monitor their behaviour. As there is no authority to check the behaviour of different nations, nations cater to their own self, or self-help, in international politics. The most important features that neo-realism contributes to the school of Realism is that anarchical structure of the international politics shapes the foreign policy behaviour of different nations. The anarchical structure of the international politics compels different nations to pursue the politics of self-help. Survival is the primary goal for all nations in international politics (Waltz 1979). When a sovereign nation pursues the politics of self-help and increases its military capability to be more secure in international politics, it automatically undermines and decreases the security of other nations (Jervis 1978: 187) and specially those nations that share land and maritime borders. States can never be certain of other states’ intentions (Mearsheimer 2001). One nation’s increasing its arms is inevitably considered a threat to other nation’s security as it tilts the balance of power (Hertz 1950). This is known as “Security Dilemma” in international politics.

John Herz coined the term Security Dilemma. According to him, Groups and individuals who live alongside each other without being organized into a higher unity . . . must be . . . concerned about their security from being attacked, subjected, dominated, or annihilated by other groups and individuals. Striving to attain security from such attacks, they are driven to acquire more and more power in order to escape the effects of the power of others. This, in turn, renders the others more insecure and compels them to prepare for the worst. Because no state can ever feel entirely secure in such a world of competing units, power competition ensues, and the vicious circle of security and power accumulation is on. (Herz 1950: 157)

Neo realism would argue that the anarchical structure of international politics creates a security dilemma between China and Asian states. This inevitably leads to tension and conflict in the region. The region is an ocean dominated region with different nations sharing the same waters and Sea Lanes of Communications (SLOCs) for trade and other commercial activities. These nations are maritime trade dependent economics with significant volume of their trade or goods passing through the oceans. Consequently, navy assume greater importance as armed forces. The navies, for nations, are vital potential offensive instruments as well as defensive assets to pursue their foreign policy objectives effectively, and if required to deny others access, thereby creating offensive/defensive ambiguity (Lind et al . 2000: 191). In this context, China’s on-going naval modernisation programme as an external stimulus, according to Mearsheimer (2006: 160-162) and Collins (2000: 14), has the potential and capacity to aggravate this state induced security dilemma, causing tension and inevitable insecurity among the Asian nations.

Further, the two theories within realism, namely the balance of power and balance of threat theory can provide further explanation for this. According to balance of power theory, states are unitary actors in international politics and seek their survival at the minimum and universal domination at the maximum. Balance of power creates peaceful structural conditions (Morgenthau 1948, Waltz 1979). Nations seek to maintain an appropriate equilibrium of power among all the nations and prevent the domination of any nation in the system.

States seek to achieve this goal of power equilibrium among other nations through either internal balancing i.e. increasing economic and military capability or external balancing i.e. creating alliances. For successful operationalisation of this theory, the anarchical structure of international system must have at least two or more states in the state of self-help with no domination of authority over them and the states conduct their foreign affairs in their own selfish national interest (Waltz 1979: 116-128). In short, states balance against any power that they feel will dominate the system. In this context, as the capability of China’s naval power increases, reactions and responses from the Asian nations both in terms of internal and external balancing behaviour must be observable.

The modified version of the balance of power i.e. balance of threat theory can also be applicable in explaining the phenomenon. The balance of threat theory stipulates that state do not reacts and respond negatively to a powerful or rising state, as balance of power theory postulates. It is the threat perception of states that compels them to opt for internal as well as external balancing. The theory argues that states balance by allying against a perceived threat. However, small and weak states are likely to bandwagon with a powerful or rising state for the sake of their own security and survival. In short, states do not balance against the powerful or rising power, but balance against the threat (Walt 1987).

For the purpose of identifying a perceived threat posed by another states, the theory provides four criteria: aggregate power (size, population, and economic capabilities), geographical proximity, capabilities, and intentions. These four criteria determine whether other states view powerful or rising nations as a threat or not. The more other states hold a state to be possessive of these four qualities, it is more likely that the other states will view as a threat and will try to balance against the powerful or rising state (Walt 1987). In this context, the modernisation programme of China’s navy is viewed by those Asian nations which have had territorial conflict, past disputes, maritime conflict and cultural confrontation with China, as a threat. The regional security problems like the porous borders, maritime disputes, past historic memory of confrontation are key elements that would initiate most of the Asian nations to balance against rising China and its increasing naval capabilities (Simon 2005: 275-278).

2.2.2 Neo Classical Realist Approach

This variant of Realism school incorporates into its understanding the insights of classical as well as neo-realism. According to this variant, all three image variables are important in determining a country’s foreign policy. Along with the international system, “domestic politics, internal extraction capacity and processes, state power and intentions, and leaders’ perceptions of the relative distribution of capabilities and the offense-defence balance” are equally important for making a theory of foreign policy (Schweller 2003: 317). Gideon Rose (1998) argues that “relative material power establishes the basic parameters of a country’s foreign policy” but “there is no immediate or perfect transmission belt linking material capabilities to foreign policy behaviour.” He further argues that Foreign policy choices are made by actual political leaders and elites, and so it is their perceptions of relative power that matter, not simply relative quantities of physical resources or forces in being. This means that over the short to medium term countries' foreign policies may not necessarily track objective material power trends closely or continuously. (Rose 1998: 147)

Neo Classical realists “seek to explain why, how, and under what conditions the internal characteristics of states intervene between the leaders’ assessment of international threats and opportunities and the actual diplomatic, military, and foreign economic policies those leaders pursue” (Taliaferro et al. 2009). Neo Classical realist scholars rely on three core realist assumptions. First, that the human being survives as a member of a larger group rather than as an individual. Second, that politics is a perpetual struggle among self-interested groups. Third, that power is a necessary requirement for any group to secure its goals. Along with these three core realist assumptions, neo classical realist theory incorporates the integral premises of neo-realism that the international system structures constraints the policy choices of the state. But the approach of neo classical realism essentially differs from that of neo-realism. Individual state behaviour rather than international outcome is the dependent variable for neo classical realism.

Neo Classical realists believe that the domestic politics and elite perceptions act as an intervening variable between the relative power distribution of the international system (independent variable) and foreign policy of a state. Even though they do not account for the transformations that have occurred at the domestic level as well as at the level of perceptions with the dramatic changes in the international technical and economic life, they incorporate the value of these elements in foreign policy decision making. Unlike structural determinism, neo classical realism has much more to say about the foreign policy and individual state behaviour and it places these variables in their context. Scholars like Prem Shankar Jha, T.V. Paul, and Happymon Jacob have successfully applied the neo classical realist theories to explain foreign policies of many nations (Shankar and Paul 2010, Jacob 2010).

Neo classical realists claim that China-Asian relations can only be understood by taking into accounts both the systemic as well as domestic politics, internal extraction capacity and processes, state power, intentions, perception and misperceptions of systemic factors by leaders’ of the relative distribution of capabilities (Rose 1998: 157-161). The variant takes into account the main features and characteristics of realism while at the same time appreciating constructivist epistemology (Rose 1998: 152). Therefore, neo classical realism would argue that it is very important to understand the perceptions and misperceptions of the Asian nation’s leaders and foreign policy makers towards the China’s naval policy and its modernisation programme so as to fully understand the reactions of Asian nations. However, Ross contends that the capability and aggregated economic consideration are sufficient variables in explaining the reactions and response towards China, dismissing an analysis of the perceptions and behaviour of China in evolving the behaviour of Asian states, particularly the “Secondary East Asian States” (Ross 2007). If capability and aggregated economic connectivity were the only variables in explaining the response, then uniform behaviour patterns would have been observed in Asian region. This is not so: the Asian region is a very diverse region and has diverse perspectives about the China’s naval modernisation and expansion programme.

Singer first came up with the conception of threat perception in “Threat-Perception and the Armament-Tension Dilemma”. This forms the basis for one state perceives another state actions as threat and reactions to such actions. This is expressed as Threat perception = Perceived Capability x Perceived Intent (Singer 1958: 90-105)

The conception of threat perception is further analysed by Rousseau. He argued that identity in the forms of culture, norms, and history plays a key role in perceiving threats by a state (Rousseau 2006: 24). The above equation helps to distinguish the variable that is key to our understanding of how Asian nations perceive China’s naval modernisation programme i.e. how the intention of China is perceives.

As the capability of China increases, it is very crucial for China to manage its rising image and how its neighbours perceive its intent to avoid further tension and conflict in the region. In the light of the armed clash in the SCS in June 2011 and the setting up of new ADIZ in the ESC in November 2013, the possibility that how the Asian nations would perceives the China’s intentions is an important hypothesis to test and examine.

2.3 Liberalism and Neo-liberal Institutionalism

Liberalism argues that economic interdependence, especially free trade inhibits interstate conflict, and fosters peace and harmony. Liberal Institutionalism focuses on the international institutions and their contribution in fostering collective security and cooperation. A new variant of liberalism, neo-liberal institutionalism, accepts certain premises of realism and disagree on certain other premises. Neo-liberal institutionalism accepts that the international structure is anarchy and the states are the primary, if not the only, actors in international politics. But neo-liberal institutionalism disagrees with realism in dismissal of international institutions and their contribution in international politics. This variant argues that international institutions can help in socializing the state behaviour and fostering cooperation by reducing the transactions cost, and providing way for peaceful settlement of difference, if any, among nations. It is mainly concerned with the political economy dimensions of international politics.

The issue of China’s security relations with Asian nations is viewed by the liberal institutional approaches mainly through the lens of liberal peace. Building peaceful and stable security communities between different nations followed from increasing transnational trade and commerce activities (Deutsch and Kann 1969: 5). This liberal peace prophecy is strongly evidence in the China-East Asia region as well as in the ASEAN-China Free Trade Zone and growing cooperation and interdependency on “non-traditional security” issues over the decades (Dosch 2007: 215). For Taiwan, China is the largest trading partner. For Japan, it is the second largest partner. China is the largest export market for Republic of Korea. “In 2006 China’s trade deficits with Japan, members of ASEAN, Korea and Taiwan reached US$24bn, US$18bn, US$45bn, and US$66bn respectively” (Tong and Zheng 2008: 70).

Liberals thinkers like Jorn Dosch view the rise of China’s naval modernisation in Asia as a positive force. The rise can be a “hegemonic stabilizer” in the Asian region (Dosch 2007: 209). David Kang also argues that East Asian nations feel less threatened and fear with the rise of China. These nations see a strong China will bring stability to the region (Kang 2007: 4). Kang sees the development in the post-Cold War era in Asia has been the convergence in the national identities (Kang 2007: 9-12, 198). Accommodation behaviour in regional dynamics to China’s position, rather than balancing behaviour against it, is expected. In short “fear deflation process” is what is expected with the rise of China by East Asian nations (Kang 2007: 4).

In similar vein, David Shambaugh draws attention of economic interdependence while dealing with China-Asian relations. He argues that the rise of China is a “principal catalyst” indicating a rise of a new order in the region (Shambaugh 2006: 64-65). Despite China’s rising capability, most of the Asian nations do not fear China. Asian nations see China to be more benign (Shambaugh 2006: 64, 67). Although there are still concerns on the rise of China, Shambaugh argues that the region views rising China as “a status quo power (Shambaugh 2006: 65) practicing skilful, “adept and nuanced” diplomacy (Shambaugh 2006: 64). Shambaugh sees regional states accommodating themselves to China’s rise, and views regional bandwagoning dynamics operating in China’s favour (Shambaugh 2006: 99).

With respect to ASEAN, thinkers like Amitav Acharya (2009), Nicholas Khoo (2004), and Leszek Buszynski (1997) agree that ASEAN as an international institution has been able to bridge the gaps between China and Asian nations economically. However, Acharya admits that with regards to ASEAN-China security relations, ASEAN as an international institution has many shortcomings (Acharya 2009: 192). ASEAN being a diverse region lacks cohesive identity (Khoo 2004: 44) and divergent security interests (Buszynski 1997: 555-577), and as such each nation in the region conducts its security and foreign affairs independently with China, outside the framework of ASEAN. Moreover, ASEAN cannot make a breakthrough with the disputes over the Parcel islands in South China Sea (SCS) involving members of ASEAN and China.

However, economic connectiveness between the Asian nations, particularly the ASEAN and China has substantively increases. US $ 192.6 billion worth of goods flow in this region (ASEAN Secretariat 2011), and people to people contact has substantially increases thereby fostering peace, harmony and understanding among people of different nations of Asia.

2.4 Hedging

This is a strategy adopted to cope with an uncertain future. Policy makers choose to decide and take extreme decision and position when only international politics moves towards completely predictable directions. However, if the future is uncertain, choosing and taking a extreme strategy of response could be fatal for states in great game politics. States can follow multiple strategies such as balancing and bandwagoning (Lee 2012: 8). In short, hedging refers to a bundle of strategies that states follow rather than an exclusive one.

An increasing numbers of scholars argued that a midway approach would be the optimum approach in understanding the recent trends of relationship between the China and Asian nations. Neither a purely realist understanding nor a liberal interpretation would be enough to understand the security and practices in the region (Goh 2007: 15). The states in this region apply strategy of balancing entirely different from the one practice in the West (Kang 2003: 61). Neither balancing nor bandwagoning, nor containing or engaging, but a strategy that Goh refers to as “omni-enmeshment” is being followed by the nations of this region by engaging both the U.S. and China. “Omni-enmeshment” refers to the strategy of engaging with the rising China, simultaneously aligning with the U.S., and also at the same time following a strategy of non-balancing behaviour against any great or rising nations, although the rising nations might be a threat to its security in the future (Goh 2007: 120)

Moreover, Cheng-Chwee Kuik argues that as the rising China threat was just a potential rather than actual, direct balancing behaviour is undesirable keeping into account the opportunities and good relations that the rising China provides (Kuik 2008: 161). Thus, the Asian nations might have reacted and responded to China growing military might and naval modernisation with a variety of hedging strategies between low level indirect balancing and at the same time grapping the opportunities that a rising China provides. However, the recent Chinese decision of setting up of new ADIZ in the ECS which covers numbers of islands that are disputed between China, Japan, and Vietnam (Avery 2013) might change the dynamics of strategy behaviour of Asian nations in general and East Asian nations in particular while dealing with China.

2.5 Proposed Hypothesis and Methodology

The first proposed hypothesis is that Asian states view China’s naval modernisation as a threat to their national security.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 2.1: Asian state perception and Reaction Mechanism

As the modernisation programme of Chinese armed forces and particularly the naval forces changes the distribution of power in the region, our dependent variable is the perception of threat of the Asian states and how Asian states estimates the Chinese intention.

There can be three possible scenarios on how Asian states perceive China’s naval modernisation programme and respond to it. They are as follows:

1. First scenario: With the increase in the material capability of China’s naval forces, a clear increase in the offensive intention is being perceived by the Asian states. Since the perception is one of offensive behaviour. There will be significant shift towards negative threat perception, resulting in full balancing behaviour involving internal as well as external balancing.
2. Second scenario: With the increase in the material capability of the China’s naval forces, Asian states see it both as an opportunity as well as a mild threat; hence, they follow a hedging strategy.
3. Third scenario: With the increase in the material capability of China’s naval forces, China is seen to be the new superpower in the region with which the Asian states would bandwagon.

Meanwhile, China’s rise also offers opportunities to the Asian states. The presence of increasing trade ties and benefits derived from China’s growing economy, Chinese increasing Chinese investment in the region, China’s naval security to SLOCs giving better energy security to the Asian states, along with simultaneously territorial and maritime conflicts and disputes are very important for the Asian nations to judge China’s peaceful rise doctrine. The public statements and the white papers of the Asian nations are also very important documents to judge how the Asian nations perceive the China’s rise phenomenon.

The second assumption i.e. Asia’s response is based on the first being true i.e. China’s naval modernisation and threat perception by Asia’s nations. The second assumption is in lexicon priorities i.e. the second can be initiated only and only when the first is true and fully satisfied. That increase in the material capabilities of China’s naval forces, iff, has led to threat perception, then Asian nations would react and respond with adjusting in the hedging strategy towards balancing behaviour. Asian nations will initiate policy of internal balancing by increasing the military budgets and material capabilities to narrow the gaps created by the increasing material capability of neighbours. Moreover, these nations would also initiate external balancing policies to bring the balance of power and stability in the region. Military expenditure of the Asian nations over the last decades indicates that Asian nations have increased their military expenditure. However, there exist large gaps between the military expenditure of China and Asian nations and hence their respective capabilities. Meanwhile U.S. remains the external offshore balancer in the region.

2.6 Explaining the Regional Variations

Variations in reactions and response to China’s naval modernisation by each of the Asian nations are expected as the region is very diverse. Moreover, the relationship between China and different Asian nations, along with their difference, also varied. Walt “Balance of Threat” variables i.e. power, capability, and geography are similar for all the cases taken in these studies i.e. Japan, India, Taiwan and South Korea. The variables “power” and “capability” of China’s navy are similar for all the four Asian nations. These four Asian nations also share territorial and maritime boundary with China. However, the variations in the responses with respect to the four case studies can be explained through the prism of historic memory of war and conflict.

For the purpose of this dissertation, it can be said that those Asian nations that felt a threat of cultural domination and had a recent history of war with China were prone to judge China’s intentions more negatively and try to balance it. This case may be true for India and Japan. India fought war with China in 1962 (Sino-Indian war) resulting in the defeat of India. Japan fought war with China in 1894-1895, 1937-1945 in which Japan won the first Sino-Japanese war (1894-1895) and China won the second Sino-Japanese war (1937-1945). In the case of South Korea and Taiwan, no major wars were fought with China. China considered Taiwan as an integral part of China and an internal security matter. Integrating Taiwan with the mainland is the main goal for China in future. In the South Korean case, the Korean War was war of great game politics with China supporting North Korea and the U.S. supporting South Korea. The war was not between China and South Korea. As such, with no historic memory of war and conflict, South Korea and Taiwan feel less threatening by the China’s naval rise and enjoy the opportunities that China offers to both the nations. The economic dependence of Taiwan and South Korea to the growing Chinese imports and exports also plays a key variable in decreasing the negative response phenomenon and inhibiting antagonistic actions. In short, the variable historic memory of war explains the variation in the response of the four Asian nations to the China’s naval modernisation programme.

Chapter 3 China’s Naval Modernisation and Expansion

This chapter establishes the independent variable that forms the foundational premise of the dissertation: that China is modernising its naval forces and power projection capabilities in recent decades. With modernisation programme, China’s navy has expanding its naval activities in the Indian Ocean and also successful deployed its navy in the anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden.

3.1 Introduction

The past two decades have seen enormous Chinese military modernisation ranging from PLA (People’s Liberation Army) equipping itself with modern weapons and gadgets to the PLA Navy inducting aircraft carrier and nuclear submarines so as to create forces more capable of power projection.

China’s naval policy followed two strategic goals in dealing with nations of Asia. First, China is trying hard to secure all the disputed islands in the SCS, and also not allowing other nations to be involved in the region i.e. Chinese access denial capabilities. The discovery of oil, natural gases and other natural resources in the SCS are also one of the main reasons for Chinese area denial/access denial behaviour in this region (McDonough 2013).

Second, China is expanding its frontiers in the IOR. Chinese policy makers have established good strategic relations with Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Kenya, Tanzania and Maldives, and are also investing by developing deep water-sea ports in these nations. Strategic ambitions and strong economy are the driving forces of China’s growing interest in IOR. Economic growth is the centrepiece of Chinese policy and strategy. China relies constantly on external sources of energy and raw materials to sustain its economy growth. Major portions of Chinese goods are imported and exported through the Indian Ocean SLOC (Sea Lines of Communication). Since China also receives most of its crude oil and other necessary raw materials through the Indian Ocean SLOC, securing SLOC on the Indian Ocean becomes one of the major motivations behind the ‘String of Pearls’ which relates to China’s Grand National Strategy (Storey 2006). China’s soft power strategy and maritime aims with the backup of strong economic power have yielded a fair measure of success. China is gradually laying its foundation in the IOR for both its economic activities and military access, reinforced by diplomatic ties with all important strategic states in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) (Mohan 2012). Thus, a modern, powerful navy that can look beyond the traditional security concerns of China became a necessary requirement for Chinese policy makers, and hence the justification for modernising and expanding the role of the PLA Navy.

3.2 Chinese Naval History

The historical expedition seven voyages (1405 to 1433) of Admiral Zheng He during the Ming Dynasty to the IOR are considered as antecedent of present China’s naval modernisation. The Chinese literature described the Zheng’s seven voyages as missions of friendship, diplomacy, and trade, as opposed to European conquerors and colonisers. This historical evidence is often cited in Chinese writing to convince the world that the rise of China and its growing maritime activities is a peaceful rise and others have nothing to fear.

Though Zheng’s voyage was successful in establishing diplomatic relations between Imperial China and other nations of the world, China never became a naval power (Saadi 2012). The weakness of Qing Dynasty navy led to the invasion of China by foreign powers and China suffered “Century of Humiliation” in 19th and 20th century. China was defeated in Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895. Also, the navy played a minimal role in China’s civil war and war against Japan from 1937-1945. However, soon after 1949 Communist Revolution, Beijing addressed its naval and maritime needs. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy) came into existence with the establishment of People’s Republic of China in 1949 (Kondapalli 2001: xviii-xix). The history of People’s Liberation Army Navy is divided into seven periods.

3.2.1 History of People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy)

The establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949 by Chinese Communist Party (CCP) can be considered as the starting point of PLA Navy. The PRC officially inaugurated the PLA Navy in May 1950 (Lewis and Litai 1994: 147-148, 223). In the initial years of its establishment, the PRC’s army did not have the abilities to protect even the narrow Taiwan Strait. “The Kuomintang (KMT) Navy continued raiding coastal installations, landing agents, attacking merchant craft and fishing vessels, and threatening invasion in the mainland on a large scale.” (Cole 2010: 16). So, Beijing’s initial policy was to secure its coastline and island territories against the KMT regime in Taiwan.

3.2.2 The Early Years: 1949-1954

The East China People’s Navy was constituted on 1st May 1949 as part of East China Military Command, headquartered in Shanghai. The main purpose of this Command was to protect China’s coastline against “imperialist aggression from the sea”, to support with economic reconstruction and to keep fighting against Chiang’s forces (Xihan, quoted in Muller 1983: 47). The new force was meant to be defensive, one that would be inexpensive to build and train (Zhang 1995: 46-54).

During Mao Zedong’s 1949-50 visits Moscow, and Soviet Union agreed to provide an initial loan of $300 million for establishing of PLA Navy. $150 million, amounting to half of the loan, was used to acquire naval equipment. Moreover, the Soviet Union provided assistance in building a number of large shore-based infrastructure, including shipyards, naval colleges, and extensive coastal fortifications (Swanson 1982: 196).

The main objective of Beijing during this initial phase was to capture the KMT occupied offshore islands, and the invasion of Taiwan. PLA achieved a major victory by occupying Hainan in 1950, KMT’s second largest island. But the initial plan of invasion of Taiwan in spring 1950 was postponed until the summer of 1951.

In 1953, Mao Zedong placed three priority missions to PLA Navy: first, to eliminate KMT naval obstruction; second, to assure secure navigation for China’s marine commerce and to prepare to recover Taiwan, and third, to resist aggression from the sea (Swanson 1982: 187). PLA Navy in its initial period faced many hurdles; first, lack of trained personnel and amphibious ships; second budgetary problems; and third, relating to second, was the lack of air power and logistical support. These problems continued to harm the PLA Navy during its initial period of existence (Cole 2010: 19-20).

3.2.3 Period: 1955-1959

The period witnessed the continued conformity to Maoist ideology, hampering naval development with the navy remaining as a subsidiary force to PLA. The Korean War established the significance of naval forces in achieving national objectives. The September 1950 allies’ amphibious landing at Inchon was a decisive point in the war. The “allied command of the sea allowed free employment of aircraft carriers and battleship to bombard Chinese and North Korean forces” (Cole 2010: 20). The mining of the Hungnam coast by North Korea resulted in the cancellation of a planned assault in October 1950 further established the importance of naval forces.

After experiencing the first hand effects of modern weaponry in Korea, including the risk of nuclear war, some PLA leaders felt the need to revise Mao’s theory of “People’s War” to “People’s War under Modern Conditions”. The most important PLA leader was Peng Dehuai, commander of the Chinese forces in Korea, and he made efforts at “regularization and modernisation” of the Army. But his efforts failed and Maoist ideology triumphed with navy remaining as a secondary force (Cole 2010: 21).

Within a decade of its formation, the PLA Navy demonstrated its ability as an effective coastal defense force. China was able to possess all the disputed islands except Quemoy, Matsu and Taiwan by the end of the decade (Li 2003: 143). The Navy’s Aviation School was established in Qingdao in 1950, and the People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force (PLANAF) was set up in 1952. The objective of the unit was to provide backup to anti-surface ship and antisubmarine defensive operations (Allen et al. 1995: 206). During this period, the PLANAF consisted of eighty aircraft, including MiG-15 jet fighters, Il-28 jet bombers, and propeller-driven Tu-2 strike aircraft (Swanson 1983: 205).

PLA Navy operating forces consist of three fleets: the North Sea Fleet, the East Sea Fleet and the South Sea Fleet. The North Sea Fleet was adjacent to the U.S. naval forces in Japan and as such consisted of the largest numbers of PLA Navy’s submarine forces. The fleet was headquartered in Qingdao, and responsible for the Bohai, the Yellow Sea, and the northern portion of the ECS. The most important and the busiest, the East Sea Fleet, headquartered in Ningbo, faced the KMT forces supported by the U.S. across the Taiwan Strait. The fleet was responsible for the ECS and Taiwan Strait. The South Sea Fleet, headquartered in Zhanjiang, covered the SCS, faced a hostile Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), but was relatively stable (Cole 2010: 21-22).

3.2.4 Period: 1960-1976

Major foreign and domestic events in the 1960s further strained China’s PLA Navy modernisation. The most important was the Sino-Soviet split and the withdrawal of Soviet advisors from China in the mid-1960s. Other compelling events in the 1960s were war with India, the reemerging Vietnam conflict, unrest in the new African states, and the revolutionary development in Southeast Asia. These major developments did not involve the PLA Navy directly, but limited the PLA’s naval modernisation. Moreover, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR), from1966 to 1976, also hindered critical naval developments. In this period, the Maoist ideology dominated the strategic thinking.

During the 1960s, Beijing faced no overseas threat. Taiwan was weak; the U.S decided not to repeat its 1950 provocation. However, by the end of the decade Beijing-Moscow relations deteriorated to the point of armed conflict. One significant development during this period was the evolution of China’s maritime nuclear power project. Beijing heavily invested in the development of nuclear-armed missiles and nuclear-powered submarines to carry the missiles. Nonetheless, these were national projects rather than those of PLA Navy, and they did not boost the Navy’s ability to gain the resources necessary for modernisation (Cole 2010: 22-23).

Furthermore, at the end of the GPCR, PLA Navy modernisation was also domestically hampered by the “Gang of Four.” Jiang Qing, Mao’s widow and Zhang Chunqiao supported a “continentalist view” and held an anti-Navy position (Lewis and Xue 1994: 147-148). As a result, PLA Navy remained an extension of the Army. A modernisation programme of PLA Navy was constrained, as People’s War corresponded to revolutionary soldiers inculcated in Mao’s ideology rather than to technology and weaponry (Cole 2010: 23).

3.2.5 Period: 1976-1980s – Post GPCR

The evolution of a powerful navy of Japan and potential threats from the Soviet Union were the main concern for Beijing during the early period of this phase. The PLA Navy’s primary priority in the 1970s was securing mainland China against possible Soviet invasion from the northeast. China perception of the threat from the Soviet Union was the result of the Soviet naval revolution in the 1970s, although this revolution was defensive in nature and primarily intended against the U.S. The Soviet Union’s new Global Navy demonstration in 1975 Okean exercises further reinforced China’s concern about Soviet maritime power. The continued presence of Soviet naval forces in the North Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean in the late 1970s and 1980s threatened Chinese interests including SLOCs which were vital to Beijing’s rapidly growing merchant marine (Cole 2010: 24).

Despite the Soviet Navy threat, many other internal and external factors were responsible for delays in the development of a large, modern PLA Navy. The contestation of leadership in post-Mao China between Hua Guofeng and Deng Xiaoping and the resulting political crisis restricted the resources for military modernisation. This crisis came to an end with Deng Xiaoping emerging as top leader in 1980. After the arrest of the Gang of Four in 1976, Hua Guofeng shifted from the strictly continentalist position to at least highlight the PLA Navy’s nuclear deterrent mission. Nonetheless, Deng Xiaoping emphasised the Navy’s responsibility as a coastal defense force in 1980. Moreover, the disorder in the economic and social structures that lasted post-GPCR in China limited the naval development. This disorder affected military-industrial complex (MIC) restricting modernisation efforts in the PLA.

The shift in the alliance and the rapprochement of China towards the U.S. allowed Beijing to bank on the U.S. to counter the Soviet maritime threat. As a result, China did not need to invest in its own naval forces. Furthermore, Beijing’s constant fear of Japanese aggression was also mitigated because of the U.S.-Japan security treaty (Stackpole, quoted in Hiatt 1990). As a result of these international events, Beijing paid less attention towards the modernisation of the PLA Navy.

However, in the 1980s, Beijing’s view of PLA Navy transformed because of the major changes in China’s external environment, and maritime power became a significant factor of national security strategy. Securing offshore territorial claims became Beijing’s second maritime priority after the Soviet threat. China’s successful campaigns against the South Vietnamese naval forces and control of the disputed Paracel Islands in 1974 indicated that the SCS islands and reefs would not alone be territorial claims of Beijing. Moreover, Cam Ranh Bay Soviet naval base constantly panicked China of the Soviet threat from the SCS (Cole 2010: 25).

These factors triggered a structural change in SCS PLA Navy Fleet’s organisation. First, the Marine Corps as an amphibious assault force, which was formed in 1953, but disbanded in 1957, was reestablished in December 1979. Second, the PLA Navy heavily relied, for the first time, on the Chinese manufactured warships. Although China was relying on Soviet designs, Luda -class guided-missile destroyers, Jianghu- class frigates, and Houjian fast-attack missile boats indicated a remarkable growth in China’s maritime capability (Cheung 1990: 28). The submarine force consisted of the first Chinese-built nuclear-powered attack submarines, as well as about sixty conventionally powered boats. Seaborne nuclear deterrence continued to remain underdeveloped, following Mao’s belief that Navy to be built up “to make it dreadful to the enemy” (Muller 1983: 171).


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China's Naval Expansion and Asia's Response
Jawaharlal Nehru University  (School Of International Studies)
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china, navy, pla, asia, balance of power
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M. Phil. Khutheibam Farook Ali (Author), 2014, China's Naval Expansion and Asia's Response, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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