Its recent naval exercises demonstrate that China can operate 21st-century ships on far deployment. But can a strategy based on island-chain control produce a navy capable of projecting global power?
China has a long, if episodic, history as a naval power. Its best-known actions were the early 16th-century voyages of Zheng He, who led fleets of large ships as far as Africa and the Persian Gulf. Other notable Chinese naval operations date as far back as the 13th century “lake campaign,” when Mongol forces overturned Song rule and established the Yuan Dynasty. Despite those exploits, however, China historically has been a continental power, with land forces taking the lead in ensuring national security against threats from the northern and western reaches of Asia.