China defines maritime power as a country that could “exert its great comprehensive power to develop, utilize, protect, manage, and control oceans.” China would not become a maritime power until it could deal with the challenges it faces in defense of its maritime sovereignty, rights, and interests, and could deal with the threat of containment from the sea.
The maritime power equation includes a large and effective coast guard; a world-class merchant marine and fishing fleet; a globally recognized shipbuilding capacity; and an ability to harvest or extract economically important maritime resources, especially fish.
In a few years China will have the world’s second most capable navy. China is already a world leader in shipbuilding, and it has the world’s largest fishing industry. Its merchant marine ranks either first or second in terms of total number of ships owned by citizens. It already has the world’s largest number of coast guard vessels.
For China to satisfy the maritime power objective, it must be able to defend all of China’s maritime rights and interests in its near seas in spite of U.S. military presence and alliance commitments. In short, it must be able to successfully execute what the latest defense white paper terms “offshore waters defense” for China to be considered a maritime power.
Around 2020, China will have both the largest navy in the world (by combatant, underway replenishment, and submarine ship count) and the second most capable “far seas” navy in the world. The total “far seas” capable warships/Underway replenishment/submarines forecast to be in PLAN’s inventory around 2020 total between 95 and 104 major warships. If one adds this number to the 175-odd warships/submarines the PLAN has commissioned since 2000 that are largely limited to near seas operations and likely will still be in active service through 2020, the total PLAN warship/replenishment/submarine strength circa 2020 is in the range of 265-273, all of which are homeported in China.
Chinese projections suggest that by 2030 China will surpass Greece and Japan to have the world’s largest merchant fleet by DWT and that its “international shipping capacity” will double, to account for 15 percent of the world’s shipping volume. China’s goal is that 85 percent of crude oil should be carried by Chinese-controlled ships. China will become the largest tanker owner by owner nationality around 2017-18.
Shortcomings in the coast guard, maritime militia, and fishing industry are likely to be rectified by around 2025. Chinese experts estimate that the merchant marine objectives will be accomplished by around 2030. China seems determined to move up the value/ship complexity scale in shipbuilding. This is will depend on the success of China’s attempts to create mega-yards to capitalize on economy of scale.
Growth of influence and having more say in the rules
The image of a PLAN “global” navy will over time attenuate perceptions of American power, especially in maritime regions.
The image of a modern global navy combined with China’s leading position in all other aspects of maritime power will make it easy for Beijing to eventually claim it has become the “world’s leading maritime power,” and argue its views regarding the rules, regulations, and laws that govern the maritime domain must be accommodated.
SOURCES- National Interest