Beijing’s territorial plays in the South China Sea, especially its land reclamation efforts, are provoking a lot of pushback. Earlier today, we wrote about how Japan is bolstering the anti-China coalition by joining U.S.-Australian military exercises and strengthening its defense ties with Malaysia, as well as with Vietnam and the Philippines. On top of that, the U.S. has ordered its ships and aircraft to ignore what China claims are legitimate exclusion zones around its artificial islands, of which there are currently seven, including at least one airbase. The Chinese legal claims, we have mentioned, are shaky at best.
Beijing is reacting to the backlash furiously. Even as it blasted U.S. flights over its land reclamation projects in the Spratlys as “provocative behavior” that could lead to open conflict, it released a new military doctrine whitepaper, the eighth since 1998. The document (which you can read in English in full here) stresses a shift away from a military designed strictly for territorial defense to one that is able to project power on the high seas, in cyberspace, and in outer space. Here’s a chunk on naval power from China’s mouthpiece, the Global Times:
The Chinese navy kept troops close to land from the 1950s to the end of the 1970s under the strategy of inshore defense. Since the 1980s, the Navy has realized a strategic transformation to offshore defensive operations.
The shift in the PLA Navy’s focus to a combination of “offshore waters defense and open seas protection” is essential as China is facing rising challenges from the sea and the country is more reliant on maritime resources and energy, said Yu Miao, another AMS researcher.
The traditional mentality that control of the land is more important than control of the sea must be abandoned, and great importance has to be attached to managing the seas and oceans and protecting maritime rights and interests, said the paper.
The PLA Navy will enhance its capabilities for strategic deterrence and counterattack, maritime maneuvers, joint operations at sea, comprehensive defense and comprehensive support.
With China’s foes banding together, the U.S. getting much more involved, and Southeast Asian countries going on a naval shopping spree, tensions are spiking. Everyone is betting China will back off if its faced with enough opposition. But so far, Beijing is not showing any signs that it’s about to blink. In fact, it’s digging in.