Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Centre for Maritime Policy


The rise of China as a regional maritime power is having profound consequences for international security in East Asia. China's growing national strength has increased the intensity with which it attempts to influence its external environment, and improves its ability to operationalize its regional ambitions. Those ambitions are distinctly revisionist and expansionist: China seeks to overturn the regional geopolitical status quo by restoring its long lost primacy in Asia at the expense of regional major power rivals, and by reducing the influence and presence of the United States. Because its foremost territorial claims are maritime in nature - Taiwan, the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, and the disputed territories and waters of the South China Sea - and because East Asia is primarily a maritime region, China has been required to develop both its maritime power and a new maritime strategy.

China has rapidly expanded its maritime economic interests since the reopening of the Chinese economy, in turn generating a greater interest in maritime security and naval development. China's sea dependence remains low, however, with the important exception of oil supplies imported by sea, especially from the Persian Gulf. Nevertheless, China's maritime-strategic modernization has gathered pace as its economy has grown rapidly over the past 20 years, particularly since the 1985 enunciation of a new strategic emphasis upon China's maritime periphery. Initially, the development of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy was spurred by China's territorial claims in the South China Sea and the desire to exploit the Sea's marine resource potential. Since the Taiwan Strait missile crises of 1995-1996, however, China's primary strategic focus has been Taiwan, thus altering the emphasis of the PLA's maritime strategy and force structure development. Whereas planning for South China Sea operations required the development of sea control and power projection capabilities for limited contingencies against smaller adversaries, a focus on Taiwan has required development of sea and access denial capabilties for contingencies involving high-technology maritime adversaries, especially the United States.

Although China remains primarily a continental power by geopolitical disposition, its maritime interests and regional ambitions have nonetheless led it to develop a maritime strategy typical of great continental powers - including the integration of land-based forces. With its foremost strategic interests close to the Chinese coast, at a minimum China aspires to be able to defeat the region's leading sea powers at sea within the East Asian littoral, especially throughout the semi-enclosed seas of Northeast Asia. That aspiration has led to a highly focused programme of PLA force modernization for offensive littoral warfare; a direct challenge to the U.S.-Ied, maritime-based, regional security order. As a consequence, the leading maritime powers in Asia and some coastal states are undertaking cautionary measures to counter, or hedge against, China's maritime expansion. The underlying regional dynamic of China's maritime challenge thus is generating a heightened, potentially dangerous level of great power competition in East Asia and throughout its contiguous seas.