Chinese Maritime Ambitions

U.S. Navy Boatswain’s Mate Seaman Louie Beasley, Jr., from Oklahoma City, directs an MH-60S Sea Hawk, assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 25, while landing on the flight deck of the guided-missile destroyer USS Preble (DDG 88) during deck lan

Chinese Maritime Ambitions

Implications for U.S. regional interests

Understanding China’s intentions in the maritime domain

Whether in the near or far seas, China’s objectives engage U.S. interests. This research project develops a rigorous framework for interpreting the nuances of China's maritime ambitions and devising effective U.S. strategic responses.

Research Focus

China wants to become a ‘maritime great power,’ a term Chinese President Xi Jinping uses as part of his national revitalization rhetoric. To this end, China is building a blue-water navy that can control its near seas, fight and win regional wars, and protect its vital sea lanes and its many political and economic interests beyond East Asia.

What is China trying to achieve in the maritime domain? How does it plan to do so? And how should the United States respond to the threats posed by China’s maritime objectives? The Chinese Maritime Ambitions project answers these questions by considering China’s national discourse, military capabilities, and behavior.

Using this framework, this line of research distinguishes between China's ambitions and methods in the near seas — the South China Sea (SCS) and the East China Sea (ECS) — vs. those in the far seas — the Indian Ocean and beyond. In the near seas, China is concerned with sovereignty and regional hegemony. In the far seas, China is concerned with protecting the sources of Chinese Communist Party domestic legitimacy such as economic growth, guarding against external political pressure, and protecting Chinese nationals.

While China’s maritime ambitions are problematic in both the near and far seas, U.S. policy must consider these differences in the degree of threat and risk. China’s maritime ambitions in the near seas pose the greatest threat to the interests and security of the United States and its allies. In contrast, in the far seas, there are aspects of China's current objectives that are legitimate and do not necessarily threaten U.S. interests. China’s methods, however, undermine stability, democratic norms, and sound economic development. There is also a risk that China could change its strategy in the far seas to disrupt freedom of navigation as its capabilities evolve.

Lead Researcher

fsi_bio

Oriana Skylar Mastro

FSI Center Fellow
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fsi_bio

Oriana Skylar Mastro

FSI Center Fellow

Publications


Chinese Intentions in the South China Sea
2020–21 Wilson China Fellowship: Essays on the Rise of China and Its Implications, April 2021

The PLA’s Evolving Role in China’s South China Sea Strategy
China Leadership Monitor, December 2020
See also China’s South China Sea Strategy Prioritizes Deterrence Against the US, APARC website

Commentary


What Are China’s Leaders Saying About the South China Sea?
The Lowy Institute, February 2021

How China is Bending the Rules in the South China Sea
The Lowy Institute, February 2021

Russia and China Team Up on the Indian Ocean
The Lowy Institute, December 2020

Beijing’s Line on the South China Sea: “Nothing to See Here”
The Lowy Institute, November 2020

Chinese Maritime Ambitions
Testimony Before the House Foreign Affairs Committee – Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Non-Proliferation, June 2020

Rising Tensions in the South China Sea
Council on Foreign Relations, May 2020

Military Confrontation in the South China Sea
Council on Foreign Relations, May 2020