The title for this column is meant to be more deliberate than dramatic. Chinese seapower in the western Pacific, its current primary area of concern, is already well and truly multi-dimensional. The PLA-N (People’s Liberation Army-Navy) is its lead instrument. But land, air, space and cyber dimensions are its important and growing partners. That may well be the reality in the Indian Ocean as well a decade from now. The signs are discernible if we wish to read the tea leaves.
More specifically, the Chinese navy has grown at a pace never seen before. Even the raising of a navy by the Spartans—a formidable land power—in the Peloponnesian war of 4 BCE, which then defeated Athens, an established seapower, falls short for pace of growth. A recent report by the CSIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C.) puts it starkly: ‘Between 2014 and 2018, China launched more submarines, warships, amphibious vessels and auxiliaries than the number of ships currently serving in the navies of Germany, India, Spain and the United Kingdom.’
In essence, their likely strategic and operational frameworks for the IOR (Indian Ocean Region) may mimic those for the first and second island chains. The PLA’s active-defence, sometimes vaguely termed in the West as A2AD (Anti-access/ Area Denial), is essentially sea control (with concomitant sea denial).