China’s Navy is going blue.
This trend from brown to blue-water operations continued to mature over the next several decades and in May 2015, China issued a white paper entitled, China’s Military Strategy. The paper outlined the strategy of “active defense,” which is essentially an amalgamation of the concepts of offshore defense and open seas protection. The strategy maintains, “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.” The ideas articulated in this strategy have already begun to crystallize; China’s ships have progressively been operating away from their coasts over the years and they are going to continue to operate even further and for longer periods.In a relatively short period of time, the PLA Navy has transitioned from operating primarily as a coastal or brown-water force to competently executing open blue-water operations, and there’s no looking back now.
The Pentagon’s 2015 report on China’ s Military Power noted, “Whereas ‘near seas’ defense remains the PLA Navy’s primary focus, China’s gradual shift to the ‘far seas’ has necessitated that its Navy support operational tasks outside the first island chain with multi-mission, long-range, sustainable naval platforms with robust self-defense capabilities.” China has set out to do exactly that.
China has shown no signs of slowing down its investment in its military. The Pentagon’s 2015 report on China’s Military noted that “China has the fiscal strength and political will to support continued defense spending increases, which will support PLA modernization toward a more professional force.” From 2005-2014, China’s military budget increased by an average of 9.5 percent each year. In 2014, military spending exceeded $165 billion, and in 2015 the spending was estimated at $190 billion. And although it was announced that China’s military budget will only grow at 7-8 percent in 2016, China still ranks number two in the world for military spending, behind only the United States. Furthermore, China’s defense budget is expected to increase significantly by 2020 to $260 billion. These investments will continue to translate into a navy with a more global reach.
During the Navy’s transformation over the last decade, Admiral Wu Shengli has been at the helm as the commander of the People’s Liberation Army Navy. In April 2014, he gave the keynote address at the 14th annual meeting of the West Pacific Naval Symposium where he noted, “Since the 21st century, the ocean has been closely linked with a nation’s prosperity, people’s wellbeing and social stability as it had never been. The navy is the main part of a nation’s sea power. A new naval relation is required by each country in the region to meet the challenges facing their common security.”
Admiral Wu has overseen a dramatic transformation of China’s Navy to bring these words to fruition. The result has been a more capable, professional, and lethal naval force.