Chinese Naval Doctrine and Its Implications

China, one of the oldest civilizations, had a huge impact on the world’s economic and military status due to its sophisticated military and broad trading routes at the time. After the financial crisis of 2008, China regained its position as a regional power. China is quickly increasing its military capabilities to solve regional and global security issues. The Peoples’ Liberation Army Navy PLAN, which is today one of the world’s most rapidly developing and modernizing naval forces, significantly contributed to China’s dominance in the South China Sea. The economy and military of China are growing swiftly. The historical underpinnings of Chinese military might, especially in the field of the Navy, have major and long-lasting impacts both inside and outside of the region. Chinese navigational history dates back to the Ming dynasty, when marine trade routes were used. China served as the Eastern Hemisphere’s economic hub due to the Silk Road and its maritime trade routes. China’s ascent was significantly influenced by its naval might. Chinese naval tactics, notably in the regions around Taiwan and the Hong Kong Strait, are becoming more and more hostile. Examples include offshore defense and the A2/AD strategy in the South China Sea.

Historical Perspective

Between 1400 and 1433, China’s Ming dynasty was a significant maritime power, and seven naval missions were sent out by the Chinese imperial court. Naval conflict has a long history in China. The ancient, the imperial, and the modern eras—during which the Chinese government uses the PLA fleet to maintain standing navies—can be used to split Chinese naval history into three primary categories. To protect itself from the Jin dynasty, which had taken over northern China, the Southern Song Dynasty had to establish a permanent navy. Since they saw the navy more as an afterthought than as a significant military force at this point, the established wasn’t a top concern. Naval strategy, which had previously been one of aggressive restraint, changed to ambiguity under the Ming dynasty. Despite the Ming’s lack of interest in maritime matters, the Chinese treasure fleet was nevertheless able to dominate neighboring Asian navies, allowing them to appoint rulers in Sri Lanka. This is especially true considering how well-known the Ming dynasty was for its policies encouraging the expansion of commerce and its ties to the west.

Modern Naval Era

For the People’s Republic of China, the People’s Liberation Army Navy was founded in 1950. The PLAN was founded in September 1950 and may be traced back to naval units engaged in combat during the Chinese Civil War. The PLAN’s original focus was on coastline defense, guarding against Taiwanese commando incursions on the Fujian coast. Additionally, it contributed to both the First and Second Taiwan Strait Crises.

The Soviet Union supported the PLAN by sending naval advisers and exporting equipment and technology during the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s.

With the fall of the Soviet Union and a transition to a more forward-thinking foreign and security policy, Chinese military commanders turned their emphasis away from land border issues and toward the seas in the 1990s.

Despite the U.S. Navy’s sustained technological superiority, the PLAN surpassed it in terms of overall ship count in 2020. This development took place as US-China relations were deteriorating and China was getting embroiled in territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Chinese Naval doctrine

In 2004, China released a white paper addressing current national security challenges and Chinese security scenarios. As a result of its isolation at the time, China focused on creating smaller but more potent forces, while reforming and condensing the PLAN’s (People’s Liberation Army, Navy) entire structure and chain of command. The development of more comprehensive marine forces, especially amphibious combat units, was also prioritized. Additionally, PLAN modified its focus to put more of an emphasis on creating information-driven, long-range precision attack capabilities. In its white paper from 2006, the PLAN aims to gradually increase the strategic depth for offshore defensive operations while emphasizing coordinated marine operations and strategic counterattacks. PLAN sought to build mobile marine forces, provide combined and integrated maritime assistance, and enhance its overall capacity for operations in coastal seas. The PLAN, PLA Air force, PLA rocket forces, and the PLA itself are all included in the scope of all doctrinal objectives and revisions of the Chinese military. Instead of utilizing any specific nomenclature for doctrine, Chinese military scientists published the article under the categories “operational theory” and “operational practice.” Two essential components of PLA doctrine are the Basic Military Theory and the Applied Military Theory. The former outlines the fundamental concepts that guide modern military and strategic operations, while the later details how all such written regulations are really put into practice.

A new “operational level” called “Active Defense” () is also described in the PLAN document. This level is primarily utilized to conduct “Local Wars Under Modern High-Tech Conditions.” To safeguard the security and safety of marine routes, PLAN provides yet another crucial strategic recommendation known as “Off-shore defense”. 

Off-shore defense:

A PLAN element of the “Active Defense” strategic directives known as “Offshore Defense” was approved by the CMC in 1985. It elaborates the following 7 most important elements, that utilizes the Chinese military forces.

  • Our military’s overall approach is defensive. Only after being attacked do, we attack. But we engage in offensive actions.
  • “Neither time nor space will be a barrier to our counteroffensive.”
  • “We won’t set restrictions on how far our offensives can go.”
  • “When we do begin offensive operations, we will wait for the time and circumstances that suit our forces.”
  • “We will concentrate on the weak points of the enemy army and use our own troops to destroy the opponent’s forces,”
  • We’ll simultaneously conduct offensive operations against the opposition and defensive actions to safeguard our own forces.
  • In accordance with PLA literature, PLAN has the following three crucial missions:
  • Preserve territorial sovereignty of the country
  • Safeguard marine rights and the unity of the motherland
  • Keep the enemy at bay and fend off seaborne invasions

Three Attacks and Three Defenses

The Chinese military also developed the “Three Attacks and Three Defenses” strategy, where “Three Attacks” stood for attacks against vehicles, aircraft, and airborne forces, and “Three Defenses” stood for protection against chemical, biological, and nuclear attack.

The “New Three Defenses” and the “New Three Attacks,” which are attacks using cruise missiles, armed helicopters, and stealth aircraft, were both reintroduced by the PLA, there were defences against electronic jamming, precise strikes, and electronic snooping and surveillance in 1999.

A2/AD strategy:

The goal of A2/AD is to limit the opponent freedom of movement on the battlefield. Area restriction is the practice of limiting the enemy freedom to act in regions under cooperative control by employing defensive measures such as air and sea defense systems Anti-access operations employ attack aircraft, battleships, and specialist ballistic and cruise missiles designed to strike key targets. The two regions where China’s A2/AD is most focused are Taiwan and the South China Sea.

China utilizes increasingly sophisticated land-attack ballistic and cruise missiles to prevent access to US military facilities on Guam and the Japanese island of Okinawa China has used anti-ship cruise and ballistic missile types that, thanks to improved re-entry vehicle technology, can strike precisely and avoid most sea-based missile defense systems China’s anti-ship cruise missiles are intercepted by warships, submarines, and planes patrolling the waterways off its coastline. In contrast, China utilizes fighter jets and a sophisticated system of air and missile defense platforms. Area denial capacity is still maintained by China, and sources say the nation plans to buy updated S-400 air defense systems from Russia.

Maritime/Naval Disputes

There have been ongoing maritime conflicts between China and other nations. Although the geopolitics of the Cold War and Japan’s loss in the Second World War complicated the island’s claims, the Diaoyu/Senkaku Island controversy in the East China Sea dates back to the Sino-Japanese War in 1894. A protracted sequence of incidents rooted in Southeast Asian history have been caused by competing exclusive economic zones in the South China Sea.

China’s territorial or resource claims in the South China Sea have been the focal point of three interconnected but separate maritime conflicts between China and other nations. This hearing’s primary subjects are the Sino-Japanese standoff over rival marine resource claims and sovereign control of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands northeast of Taiwan, Instead of the Taiwan problem, which is up for debate, there is some sort of maritime dispute, along with the complex web of tensions between Beijing and various Southeast Asian states (Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei).

The actions of naval military operations in China’s Exclusive Economic Zone and non-demarcated “near seas” (jinhai), including the U.S. Navy’s ISR operations and drills along China’s coastline, linked concerns expressed above a white PLAN naval transits and the rising PLAN deployment across critical waterways near other states, as well as disputed interpretations of the rights of other navies to function in Economic zone, are some of the more controversial topics (UNCLOS).

The “first island chain,” which spans from Japan to Southeast Asia, is also affected by a third group of issues that are more strategic in character but have not yet escalated to the point of a formal dispute. Many of these problems are a result of a conflict between China’s recent development of the capacity to challenge some aspects of that dominance and the United States’ long-held conviction that maintaining military dominance in the western Pacific is necessary. This conflict is primarily due to China’s deployment of increasingly potent “counter intervention” or anti access, area denial (A2/AD)-type weapons systems along its maritime border.

Regional and Global Ambitions

The People’s Republic of China is developing a potent naval force that will be able to manage its adjacent waterways, quell local disturbances, keep an eye on important sea lanes, and protect its substantial political and commercial interests outside of East Asia. China’s ambitions on a regional and global scale all collide with US goals.

China is susceptible to marine traffic disruptions since it only uses the South China Sea. President Hu Jintao, who was in office at the time, emphasized the necessity for China to take fresh measures to combat the threat posed by “some major powers” aiming to control the Strait of Malacca in 2003. Following that, Hu Jintao’s potential risk received significant attention in the Chinese media, and Chinese intellectuals emphasized the importance of researching into alternate marine routes in order to overcome the “Malacca Dilemma”. China has supported robust domestic economy and shown a readiness to undertake significant projects to improve commerce, infrastructure, and other BRI connectivity components. Global trade, investment, and finance are significantly impacted by the BRI.

The PRC’s interests in the South and East China Seas have absolutely nothing to do with its distant oceans, which are significant to its dreams for a worldwide presence. Achieving complete control, regional superiority, and sovereignty over the nearby waterways are among China’s objectives. China is worried about maintaining the vital interests of its government, the protection of its trade, and the safety of Chinese workers everywhere in the world for its distant seas. China’s Belt Road Initiative More than 60% of the world’s population is impacted by BRI, which spans three continents. The Maritime Silk Road, the centerpiece of the BRI project, runs from South China to Africa and promises to build seaports that will make it easier and more efficient for China to conduct trade. China continues to support and invest in smaller, less developed nations. Despite their inability to pay back China, these regimes nonetheless offer substantial strategic advantages to China. In this way, China is shaping its hopes for the world in the twenty-first century.

Present Naval Capabilities

According to the Department of Defense’s Annual Report to Congress, China now has the world’s largest navy, surpassing the United States, with a total fighting force of more than 350 ships and submarines, plus a number of 130 main surface combatants. China is currently expanding its competence and skill in shipbuilding across all classes of navy and is the largest shipbuilder in the world by tonnage. China concurrently added three more warships to its navy in May 2021. Important capabilities for “nuclear retaliation, South China Sea security, and island seizure” are provided by the three new warships. The Chinese Navy is improving its blue water capabilities while also becoming an expert in at-sea refueling and resupply operations.

According to the Pentagon study, China would continue to build and purchase conventional submarines while also developing new ballistic missile boats and nuclear-powered boats.

Future Naval Developments

China’s navy will become more powerful through 2050 as the military power upgrades management, adds to a big shipyard, and implements a security arrangement with a South Pacific partner. Representatives of the Chinese government and the South Pacific Island nation of the Solomon Islands signed a draught security agreement.

The largest shipyard in China just underwent a “massive expansion,” according to an article that was recently published in the British Royal Navy’s official newspaper. The Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai is expected to have a basin for fitting ships as well as a “big” dry dock with a number of berths.

The Chinese navy has surpassed all other Asian fleets and is now one of the most advanced and well-trained navies in the world thanks to the huge number of ships it receives every year. In 2021, China’s military will have added new ships weighing a total of about 170,000 tons, capping off an impressive year. Seven destroyers of Type 052D, six corvettes of Type 056A, and six mine-sweeping vessels of Type 082II, three Type 927 observation ships, two Type 075 helicopter landing docks, and a Type 094A ballistic missile submarine made up the fleet for the year (SSBN).

Fatima Arshad
Fatima Arshad
Student of Bachelors in Strategic and Nuclear Studies from National Defence University, Islamabad.