Editor's Page

Most of the conversation about the Asia-Pacific ultimately centers around the numerous islands dotting the map and the territorially contested nature of several of them. But while islands are often the source of disputes, they also may offer the solution, asserts Naval War College sinologist and frequent Proceedings contributor James R. Holmes. The area’s island-defined geography is the friend of the U.S.-Japan alliance, affording “abundant opportunities” to deny “China’s military access to the vast maneuver space of the Western Pacific while hampering its movements up and down the Asian seaboard.” But which historical model should the island-chain perimeter defense follow? The answer suggests that what has worked in the past as a line in the sand can also work as a line on the sea.

Although the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has grown in size and capability, China still has a key maritime weakness, one that is often overlooked. But not by Naval War College professor Milan Vego. The vast majority of China’s trade is by sea—85 percent in 2011—meaning that the security of its sea lanes is vital to continued economic growth. Chinese merchant vessels must transit a number of international choke points to reach mainland ports, and Dr. Vego argues that at this time the country cannot adequately protect its trade. All this could spell danger should China engage in a war at sea.

But make no mistake: The PLAN is improving and becoming a more professional naval force with each passing year. Since the 1980s, Captain Dale Rielage informs us, China’s navy has worked to overcome its past emphasis on ideology and develop the technical expertise that it had lacked. As a result, the service has made significant gains toward achieving a mature maintenance culture that “will keep the PLAN surface force ready to answer all bells.”

Lyle Goldstein and Shannon Knight present an eye-opening analysis of Chinese press reports that point to the country’s accelerated activity regarding ocean-floor sensors placed at strategic locations along its coast. They found that the Chinese have been diligently studying Cold War history to guide their decisions on how exactly to implement sensor technology. Based on what the authors have discovered, China’s neglect of antisubmarine warfare is also becoming a thing of the past.

War, of course, is not inevitable, especially if other options present themselves to settle disputes in South and East Asia. The number-one answer, says Captain Stuart Belt, is to follow established legal norms to keep China’s territorial aspirations in check. Even though the United States is not a party to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, it supports its provisions, and the author believes that “meaningful adherence by states to international law is the best chance of calming the waters of the Western Pacific.”

Paul Merzlak , Editor-in-Chief


Conferences and Events

View All

From the Press

23 February - Seminar

Sat, 2019-02-23

David F. Winkler

3 March - Lecture

Sun, 2019-03-03

Stephen A. Bourque

Why Become a Member of the U.S. Naval Institute?

As an independent forum for over 140 years, the Naval Institute has been nurturing creative thinkers who responsibly raise their voices on matters relating to national defense.

Become a Member Renew Membership