15 November 2013

China’s Far Seas “Five-Year Plan”

Andrew S. Erickson and Austin M. Strange, “Erickson and Strange: China’s Far Seas ‘Five-Year Plan’,” Guest Blog Post for Elizabeth C. Economy, Asia Unbound, Council on Foreign Relations, 15 November 2013.

This guest post is by Andrew Erickson, an associate professor in the Strategic Research Department at the U.S. Naval War College, and Austin Strange, a researcher for the College’s China Maritime Studies Institute.

Given its historical significance and implications for domestic and global markets, the Chinese Communist Party’s recently concluded third plenum of the Eighteenth Central Committee has unsurprisingly shifted the focus of domestic and foreign audiences to China’s economy. Three hundred seventy-six top Party members met for four days and produced a report of approximately 5,000 words that, among various broad objectives, stipulates giving the market economy a “decisive role” in the country’s allocation of resources.

Of course, as China enters its thirty-fifth year of “opening up” economic reforms, reforms to its foreign policies need to follow economic development if China is to peacefully grow into international society. Interestingly, the commencement of likely difficult but urgently needed economic reforms coincides with the completion of another reform project, over 7,000 miles away from Beijing.

The imminent five-year anniversary of Chinese anti-piracy operations is a milestone made possible by economic development. Moreover, as our recently-published study details, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) have been a vanguard of operational reform, which in turn has altered China’s presence and foreign policy trajectory in the maritime commons. …

As China’s Gulf of Aden deployment demonstrates, necessity is an effective motivator. A variety of internal and external economic, social, political and strategic incentives first compelled Beijing to deploy anti-piracy forces. And despite concerns of Chinese decision-makers that the missions were becoming too costly, the PLAN is approaching five years of uninterrupted operations marked by constant learning, growing efficiency, and positive international cooperation. The Gulf of Aden is a landmark for China’s twenty-first-century foreign policy. Let’s hope that necessity will inspire China’s economic strategists to make—and implement—equally bold decisions.

The views expressed here are those of the authors alone. Additional details are available in their recently-published monograph: No Substitute for Experience: Chinese Anti-Piracy Operations in the Gulf of Aden, Naval War College CMSI China Maritime Study 10 (November 2013).