Modernising the military is one of China’s four pillars in its modernisation drive which includes education, industry and infrastructure, military and agriculture.
China’s largest strategic concern – regime survival and domestic stability – directly links to its economy. To sustain its economic growth China has to be depending increasingly on its external supply of energy, raw materials and food. So the development of Sea Line of Communication or (SLOCs) is vitally important as more than 80% of China’s trade go through the sea. The majority of the energy comes from the country’s coal about 65 %, 30% by oil and remaining by gas, nuclear and hydroelectric power.
The choke-point of Straits of Malacca is considered too risky for China because if there will be a collision near its narrowest point in Singapore it will disrupt the traffic flow by up to 2 weeks to China. So if there is a disruption of deliveries then China’s economy will be in a total standstill. So China knows the importance of protecting its SLOCs so that the oil supply from the Middle East remains uninterrupted.
Currently such protection is provided by the United States Navy in the form of permanent deployment of an aircraft carrier in the Gulf region. China currently enjoys being a ‘free rider’ meaning China gets free protection from the U.S Navy without having to pay for it.
However, for the past few years the U.S has already been cutting back its defence budget plus more oil has since been discovered recently, hence making the U.S less dependent on Middle Eastern oil in the future. Sooner or later the U.S will have to scale back its commitment to provide security to the shipping lanes in the Middle East.
String of Pearls Strategy
This gave rise to the String of Pearls strategy. It is like pearls tied to a string and each pearl represents a country normally a port where China can get access to it. The string that attach to the pearls represents the Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs). The String of Pearls will provide China with forward presence and military bases along the SLOCs from China to the Persian Gulf in the Middle East. A pearl normally comes with facilities like airstrips and naval bases.
The First Pearl is located at the Hainan Island in South China. The Chinese have already upgraded the naval base and military facilities. This massive underground submarine and warship base is built because of its strategic location in the South China Sea. The entrance is so huge that it can allow the fleet of 50 plus conventional and nuclear submarines to go in and out without Western spy satellites detecting.
In its Grand Strategy that encompassed the ‘Peace Development’, China has identified 3 stages in development spanning 50 years. This involves both the economic and military. In the first stage of development from 2000-2010 China hopes to double its GDP and upgrade its Navy from ‘Green Water’ to ‘Blue Water’ and operate within the First Island Chain that stretch from Japan to Philippines , has been achieved.
The second stage from 2010-2020 with total GDP to be double and the development of the ‘Aircraft Carrier’ fleet of up to six carriers groups, to operate beyond the First Island Chain to reach the Second Island Chain which stretch from Guam to Indonesia and Australia is already on target with the recent commissioning of its first Aircraft Carrier, The Liaoning.
And finally, from 2020-2050 to catapult the nation to the middle rung of the Advanced Nations and with its Navy upgraded to a truly ‘World class Blue Water’ which can project power forward in all Oceans of the World. With a doctrine change from a inward looking to a outlook one, China’s Foreign policy has to be a more outward looking with global influence.
The following are the reasons why China putting so much importance in this area,
> One China policy
> To counter U.S forces from Guam & Hawaii in case of future confrontation
> Strategic positioning of the Pacific
Full article: CHINA’S String of Pearls Strategy: Why is the U.S. AFRAID and how does it affect us? (Malaysia Chronicle)