02 October 2010

International Security, Fall 2010: “Correspondence: Debating China’s Naval Nationalism”

Michael A. Glosny and Phillip C. Saunders, Robert S. Ross,Correspondence: Debating China’s Naval Nationalism,” International Security, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Fall 2010), pp. 161-75.

Michael A. Glosny

Michael A. Glosny is an instructor in the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School and was China Security Fellow at the Center for Strategic Research in the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University.

Phillip C. Saunders

Phillip C. Saunders is Distinguished Research Fellow and Director of Studies for the Center for Strategic Research in the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University. The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or positions of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Robert S. Ross

Robert S. Ross is Professor of Political Science at Boston College and Associate at the John King Fairbank Center for East Asian Research at Harvard University.

To the Editors (Michael A. Glosny and Phillip C. Saunders write):

In “China’s Naval Nationalism: Sources, Prospects, and the U.S. Response,” Robert Ross seeks to explain why “China will soon embark on a more ambitious maritime policy, beginning with the construction of a power-projection navy centered on an aircraft carrier.” Ross argues that geopolitical constraints should lead China, a continental power, to pursue access denial as its optimal maritime strategy. He relies on “naval nationalism” to explain China’s development of naval power-projection capabilities, which he describes as a suboptimal choice given China’s geopolitical position.

We argue that “naval nationalism” is an underdeveloped and unconvincing explanation for China’s pursuit of expanded naval capabilities. Instead, China’s development of a limited naval power-projection capability rejects changes in China’s threat environment and expanded Chinese national interests created by deeper integration into the world economy. In our critique, we first identify flaws in Ross’s geopolitical analysis. Second, we discuss shortcomings in his causal argument. Lastly, we briefly present Chinese rationales for the development of limited power-projection capabilities, which are consistent with a proper understanding of Chinese interests.


Ross’s analysis overlooks both recent changes in China’s threat environment and its global economic integration. In addition, it artificially limits Chinese interests and arbitrarily restricts the range of potential Chinese naval strategies. As a result, his analysis underemphasizes China’s increasingly important maritime concerns and interests. This oversight leads Ross to exaggerate the degree to which geopolitical constraints should force China to behave as a typical continental power.

First, Ross overlooks recent changes in China’s threat environment. Continental concerns were dominant during most of China’s history and did constrain naval development….