08 February 2024

CMSI Note 4: “Deck Cargo Ships: Another Option for a Cross-Strait Invasion”

Conor M. Kennedy, “Deck Cargo Ships: Another Option for a Cross-Strait Invasion,” CMSI Note 4 (Newport, RI: Naval War College China Maritime Studies Institute, 8 February 2023).

From CMSI Director Christopher Sharman:

Deck cargo ships. It’s possible you know little about them. Virtually absent from discussions about cross-Strait contingencies is any reference to how deck cargo ships might support a Cross-Strait Invasion or another Island Landing Campaign.

While images of the PLA’s employment of traditional roll-on/roll-off (RO-RO) ferries frequently appear in PRC media, you don’t hear much about this other type of RO-RO vessel. Deck cargo ships are numerous, easy to build, and readily available along China’s coast. Moreover, they can be rapidly constructed at multiple Chinese shipyards. The PLA’s integration of deck cargo ships into PLA’s calculus for a cross-Strait contingency has several operational and tactical implications.

CMSI’s own Conor Kennedy authored this important CMSI note. It is another groundbreaking piece that will influence discussions about PLA amphibious lift capabilities for years to come. I highly recommend you read this CMSI Note, which flags several critical operational and tactical considerations.

“CMSI Notes” are a relatively new product line from the team at CMSI. “CMSI Notes” are short quick turn analysis of potential high-interest China & Taiwan events or topics that have critical maritime policy, DoD, and U.S. Navy significance. They are designed to be a timely reference for senior DoD/Navy leaders, warfighters, and policymakers to help inform both near term and future decision-making. I encourage you to read through this CMSI note and forward it to those who need to see it today.

About the Author

Conor Kennedy is an assistant professor at the China Maritime Studies Institute. The views expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily represent the views, policies, or positions of the U.S. Department of Defense or its components, to include the Department of the Navy or the U.S. Naval War College.

Summary

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has in recent years increased its use of civilian shipping to augment its sea lift capacity. The incorporation of commercial roll-on/roll-off (RO-RO) ferries into the amphibious lift equation, has likely altered assumptions on the PLA’s total amphibious lift.2 The PLA intends to use RO-RO vessels to deliver PLA amphibious and non-amphibious wheeled and tracked vehicles into target port facilities or across landing area beaches, further enabled by lighterage and floating causeway systems.3 Ensuring an accurate assessment of all components of lift is vital to determining the PLA’s ability to launch and succeed in a cross-strait invasion. The inclusion of the major RO-RO ferries in these assessments has been key to assessing lift. However, the PLA also employs another important, but largely ignored type of RO-RO vessel, the deck cargo ship.4

CMSI Perspectives and Key Take-Aways:

  • In addition to RO-RO ferries, the PLA also uses another class of RO-RO ship, the deck cargo ship, in sea transport training exercises.
  • Deck cargo ships are widely used in China’s ocean engineering and construction industry, constituting an existing and large-scale volume of lift capacity.
  • The simple design and relative ease of construction of deck cargo ships means they can quickly be built in large numbers.
  • These vessels may be tasked to bring in large columns of logistics and follow-on forces to consolidate landing areas, possibly in waves not far behind landing assault forces.
  • Deck cargo ships can distribute the risk for many units making transits and force an adversary to find suitable kill solutions to strike numerous lower value targets.

PREVIOUS NOTES IN THIS CMSI SERIES:

CMSI Notes are short, timely analyses of recent China maritime events.

Julia M. Famularo, “‘Choose the Right Person, Choose the Right Path’: Taiwan’s Cross-Strait, National Security & Defense Policies Under a Lai/Hsiao Administration,” CMSI Note 3 (Newport, RI: Naval War College China Maritime Studies Institute, 19 January 2023).

From CMSI Director Christopher Sharman:

While much has been written about last Saturday’s Presidential elections in Taiwan, few have dared to focus on what Taiwan’s Cross-Strait, National Security and Defense Policies are likely to look like under President-elect Lai’s administration.

What are the implications for Taiwan’s development of its maritime domain awareness capabilities under the Lai administration? How might this administration differ (or remain) consistent with President Tsai’s cross-Strait security policies? How is the Lai administration likely to respond to China’s all-domain pressure campaign against Tawain?

CMSI Note #3 answers these questions and more. It is written by Dr. Julia Famularo, who is a visiting scholar with CMSI and a Postdoctoral Fellow in Taiwan Studies at the Harvard University Fairbank Center. Dr. Famularo began studying Taiwan electoral politics in 2000. She was a Fulbright Fellow in Taiwan during the 2007-2008 academic year, at which time she conducted research on the historical development and rise of ethnonationalism in Taiwan and its impact on electoral politics and cross-Strait relations. Since then, she has returned to Taiwan to observe every subsequent presential and legislative election (she has observed the 2008, 2012, 2016, 2020, and most recently was in Taiwan for the 2024 election).

“CMSI Notes” are a relatively new product line from the team at CMSI. “CMSI Notes” are short quick turn analysis of high-profile China & Taiwan events or topics that have critical maritime policy, DoD, and U.S. Navy significance. They are designed to be a timely reference for senior DoD/Navy leaders, warfighters, and policymakers to help inform both near term and future decision-making.

About the Author

Dr. Julia M. Famularo has worked extensively on Taiwan, ethnographic Tibet, East Turkestan, and Hong Kong. Her current research project focuses on whole-of-society resiliency in Taiwan, with an emphasis on Taiwan’s government-sponsored “alternative civilian service” program. Famularo earned her PhD in modern Asian political history at Georgetown University, where she also served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs.

Famularo earned an M.A. in East Asian Studies from Columbia University and a B.A. in East Asian Studies and Spanish Literature from Haverford College. She previously served as an International Security Studies Predoctoral Fellow at Yale University.

Research interests: Modern history; international security; Taiwan including cross-Strait security issues; Tibet; East Turkestan; Hong Kong; human rights

FULL TEXT

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CMSI’s Perspectives and Key Takeaways

  • The incoming William Lai/Bi-khim Hsiao administration almost certainly intends to continue to execute and deepen President Tsai’s defense reforms. Lai has also stated his support for the implementation of an Indo-Pacific Strategy concept.
  • Lai has an opportunity to leverage the national security experience of President Tsai’s outgoing advisors, who may potentially help his administration calibrate Taiwan’s responses to People’s Liberation Army (PLA) military provocations in and around the Taiwan Strait.
  • The Lai administration likely would prove receptive to U.S. and partner overtures that contribute to Taiwan’s ability to strengthen its maritime domain awareness and security; enhance maritime law enforcement and search and rescue capabilities; conduct maritime patrols; and improve information sharing.
  • Lai intends to maintain the cross-Strait status quo, and has stated that he is willing to conduct dialogue with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on the basis of mutual respect and equality.
  • Lai almost certainly will seek to continue President Tsai Ing-wen’s policy of diversifying Taiwan’s economy and expanding sustainable trade partnerships with democratic nations. He has stated that overdependence on the PRC leaves Taiwan vulnerable to economic coercion, and thus opposes pursuing further economic agreements with China under the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) or a potential Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement (CSTSA).

Context

Taiwan’s national elections took place on January 13, 2024. Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate, Dr. William LAI Ching-te (賴清德), and his running mate, Ms. HSIAO Bi-khim (蕭美琴), will serve as the next President and Vice President of Taiwan. Their ticket won 40.05% of the vote. The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidate HOU Yu-ih (侯友宜, also rendered Hou You-Yi) came in second with 33.49%, and Taiwan People’s Party candidate KO Wen-je (柯文哲) came in third with 24.46%.2 

William Lai is the current Vice President (VP). He previously served as a Tainan legislator (1999-2010), Tainan mayor (2010-2017), and as Premier (2017-2019) prior to successfully running as President Tsai’s VP in 2020.3 4 Bi-khim Hsiao most recently served as Taiwan’s diplomatic representative in Washington (2020-2023), where she possessed a strong working relationship with both the Trump and Biden

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administrations as well as with members of Congress.5 Previously, as a Taiwan legislator (2002-2008; 2012-2020), she served on the influential Foreign Affairs and National Defense (FAND) Committee.6 7 During this time, Hsiao also held various leadership positions in the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats, Liberal International, and the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy.8 9 She is from the progressive wing of the DPP and a close ally of President Tsai.10

During the election campaign, the DDP exhorted voters to “choose the right person, choose the right path.” Now that Dr. Lai, Ms. Hsiao, and other senior officials will collectively shape Taiwan’s cross-Strait, national security, and defense policies, what do they believe the “right path” looks like?

Cross-Strait Policy

According to a December 2023 survey, more than 60% of Taiwanese are moderately to extremely concerned that the PRC may attempt to invade Taiwan.11 It is thus unsurprising that defending Taiwan’s sovereign status has remained a cornerstone of President Tsai Ing-wen’s presidency, and such a policy would continue under a William Lai administration.12 13 DPP leaders consistently argue that there is no need to declare independence, as the Republic of China (ROC) is already a sovereign country and the PRC and Taiwan are not subordinate to one another.14 15 16 Lai states that his priority is to maintain the status quo by means of a “pragmatic and consistent” cross-Strait policy.17 18 He is willing to hold dialogue with China on the basis of mutual respect and equality, but criticizes the PRC for curtailing exchanges based on the DPP’s refusal to accept the so-called “1992 Consensus.”19 20 21 22 23 The supposed “Consensus” refers to a “political strategy” devised following the conclusion of 1992 meetings between representatives from PRC and ROC semiofficial government organizations, which enabled the KMT and CCP “to shelve their differing positions concerning which government is the legitimate, exclusive representative of ‘China,’” and subsequently allowed them to proceed to negotiations on practical cross-Strait agreements.24 

PRC authorities have repeatedly linked the so-called “Consensus” to their own “One China” Principle, which maintains that “there is but one China in the world, Taiwan is an inalienable part of China,” and the PRC “is the sole legal government representing the whole of China.” 25 26 Conversely, the KMT asserts that the “Consensus” is intentionally ambiguous, enabling each side to interpret whether “One China” constitutes the ROC or PRC. 27 The DPP argues that as China has “never acknowledged the existence of the ROC,” accepting the “1992 Consensus” implies that Taiwan is part of China.28 29 

According to Lai, pursuing a peace agreement with authoritarian China—as previously advocated by a number of prominent pan-blue politicians—is thus futile, as the fates of Tibet and Hong Kong demonstrate that “peace without sovereignty is not genuine peace.”30 31 Former DPP Premier and party heavyweight Su Tseng-chang also underscored this point during election rallies by calling attention to ongoing PRC human rights abuses against the Uyghurs and Hong Kongers.32 

William Lai almost certainly would maintain President Tsai’s policy of diversifying Taiwan’s economy and expanding sustainable trade partnerships with democratic nations, and states that dependency on China has “created vulnerabilities” that the CCP can exploit “through economic coercion.”33 34 35 36 For this reason, Lai remains opposed to pursuing further economic agreements with China under the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) or Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement (CSTSA). He also supports Taiwan joining the Western-led Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans- Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). 37 38 39 40

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National Security and Defense Policy

Although Lai—unlike Hsiao—did not serve on the Foreign Affairs and National Defense (FAND) Committee, as the DPP Caucus Whip he supported strongly U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and famously excoriated KMT legislators for repeatedly blocking the special budget for arms procurement in 2005.41 42 43 He almost certainly intends for his administration to execute and deepen President Tsai’s defense reforms. 44 45 46 47 48 He has pledged to “expedite” Taiwan’s “transition into an asymmetric fighting force, focusing on cost-effective and mobile capabilities.”49 He also stated that he would “seek greater cooperation with partners and allies, particularly in training, force restructuring, civil defense, and information sharing.”50 Moreover, Lai has specifically stated that he seeks comprehensive security cooperation with Japan.51 

Vice President Lai has expressed his support for the Indo-Pacific Strategy concept. He stresses the importance of ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight; strengthening maritime domain awareness and security; enhancing maritime law enforcement and search and rescue capabilities; enhancing Taiwan’s ability to conduct maritime patrols, including with international partners; and “establishing consultation mechanisms to jointly maintain maritime security.”52 53 

Lai has argued that under his leadership, the potential for a cross-Strait conflict would decrease due to his focus on strengthening Taiwan’s national security and defense capabilities.54 55 It is possible that Bi-khim Hsiao may play an important role in helping to shape the future trajectory of Taiwan’s national security, defense, and foreign policies.

Implications

Throughout the election campaign, Lai and Hsiao made it clear that they would continue to lean toward and seek deeper cooperation with key democratic partners as they safeguard Taiwan’s robust democratic society and freedoms. Their administration’s policies will inevitably influence the trajectory of Taiwan’s security landscape by shaping Taiwan’s deterrence posture, national defense readiness, and ultimately its ability to counter an increasingly aggressive PRC all-domain pressure campaign.

Notes

1 Dr. Famularo is a Visiting Scholar at CMSI and a Postdoctoral Fellow in Taiwan Studies at the Harvard University Fairbank Center. The views expressed here are hers alone, and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Defense. She is grateful to her colleagues at CMSI and fellow Taiwan specialists who reviewed and provided constructive feedback on this memo. 

2 “Presidential and Vice Presidential Election Candidate Votes,” Central Election Commission, January 13, 2024, https://vote2024.cec.gov.tw/en/indexP.html. 

3 Tainan is a city in southern Taiwan, and the former capital. “Vice President Lai,” Office of the President, Republic of China (Taiwan), https://english.president.gov.tw/Page/543. 

4 “H.E. Lai Ching-te, Vice President, R.O.C. (Taiwan),” in “Start a New Blueprint for Asian Development,” Yushan Forum: Asian Dialogue for Innovation and Progress, October 10-12, 2023, https://taef.yushanforum.org/img/Booklet_202310101206.pdf. 

5 Michael Crowley, “One of the Most Influential Ambassadors in Washington Isn’t One,” The New York Times, January 22, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/21/us/politics/taiwan-diplomat-china.html. 

6 “Hsiao, Bi-khim,” Legislative Yuan, Republic of China (Taiwan), https://www.ly.gov.tw/EngPages/List.aspx?nodeid=12167. 

7 “候選人簡介: 蕭美琴 [Candidate Introductions: Bi-khim Hsiao],” 挺台灣 [Team Taiwan] 2024 Presidential Campaign Website, https://taiwan2024.tw/about.

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8 “候選人簡介: 蕭美琴 [Candidate Introductions: Bi-khim Hsiao],” 挺台灣 [Team Taiwan] 2024 Presidential Campaign Website, https://taiwan2024.tw/about. 

9 “Ambassador Bi-khim Hsiao, Taiwan Representative to the United States,” McCain Institute, https://www.mccaininstitute.org/the-sedona-forum/speaker/amb-bi-khim-hsiao/. 

10 Brian Hioe, “What Do the Vice Presidential Choices Indicate About 2024 Elections?” New Bloom Magazine, December 4, 2023, https://newbloommag.net/2023/12/04/2024-vp-picks/. 

11 Timothy Rich, “What Is Taiwan’s New President Going to Do About China?” Foreign Policy, January 17, 2024, https://foreignpolicy.com/2024/01/17/taiwan-president-election-china-policy/ 

12 Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, “William Lai: Taiwan just chose a president China loathes. What now?” BBC, January 13, 2024, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-67920530. 

13 Christopher Bodeen, “Taiwan presidential candidate Lai says he is willing to reopen talks with China,” AP, January 9, 2024, https://apnews.com/article/taiwan-china-politics-reopen-talks-lai-election-d1181df3d51fa3c25c9e6a5a75e7fd72. 

14 Ben Blanchard and Faith Hung, “Taiwan’s sovereignty belongs to its people, presidential frontrunner says,” Reuters, December 31, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taiwans-sovereignty-belongs-its-people-presidential-frontrunner-says-2023-12-30/. 

15 “Presidential hopeful Lai says Taiwan’s sovereignty is ‘a fact,’” Al Jazeera, August 25, 2023, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/8/25/taiwan-vice-president-emphasises-islands-autonomy. 

16 Nathan Batto, “Lai explains independence,” Frozen Garlic, January 6, 2024, https://frozengarlic.wordpress.com/2024/01/06/lai-explains-independence/. 

17 [William] Lai Ching-te, “My Plan to Preserve Peace in the Taiwan Strait,” The Wall Street Journal, July 4, 2023, https://www.wsj.com/articles/my-plan-to-preserve-peace-between-china-and-taiwan-candidate-election-race-war-7046ee00. 

18 Matthew Mazzetta and Shih Hsiu-chuan, “Taiwan’s 2024 presidential candidates: Where they stand on key issues,” Focus Taiwan, December 27, 2023, https://focustaiwan.tw/politics/202312270010. 

19 Matthew Mazzetta and Shih Hsiu-chuan, “Taiwan’s 2024 presidential candidates: Where they stand on key issues,” Focus Taiwan, December 27, 2023, https://focustaiwan.tw/politics/202312270010. 

20 Lu Chia-jung and Lee Hsin-Yin, “Beijing highlights ‘1992 consensus’ in response to Tsai’s National Day address,” Focus Taiwan, October 11, 2023, https://focustaiwan.tw/cross-strait/202310110025. 

21 Brian Hioe, “Tsai Ing-wen Criticizes 1992 Consensus in New Year Remarks,” New Bloom Magazine, January 1, 2024, https://newbloommag.net/2024/01/01/tsai-new-year-remarks/. 

22 Jessica Drun, “The KMT Continues to Grapple with its ‘1992 Consensus,’” Global Taiwan Brief 17, no. 19 (September 21, 2022), https://globaltaiwan.org/2022/09/the-kmt-continues-to-grapple-with-its-1992-consensus/. 

23 Yu-Jie Chen and Jerome A. Cohen, “China-Taiwan Relations Re-Examined: The “1992 Consensus” and Cross-Strait Agreements,” University of Pennsylvania Asian Law Review 14, no. 1 (2019): 1, https://scholarship.law.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1039&context=alr. 

24 Yu-Jie Chen and Jerome A. Cohen, “China-Taiwan Relations Re-Examined: The “1992 Consensus” and Cross-Strait Agreements,” University of Pennsylvania Asian Law Review 14, no. 1 (2019): 1-2, 7, 9-10, https://scholarship.law.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1039&context=alr. 

25 Yu-Jie Chen and Jerome A. Cohen, “China-Taiwan Relations Re-Examined: The “1992 Consensus” and Cross-Strait Agreements,” University of Pennsylvania Asian Law Review 14, no. 1 (2019): 7-8, https://scholarship.law.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1039&context=alr. 

26 Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the European Union, “Questions and Answers Concerning the Taiwan Question (2): What is the one-China principle? What is the basis of the one-China principle?” August 15, 2022, http://eu.china-mission.gov.cn/eng/more/20220812Taiwan/202208/t20220815_10743591.htm. 

27 Yu-Jie Chen and Jerome A. Cohen, “China-Taiwan Relations Re-Examined: The “1992 Consensus” and Cross-Strait Agreements,” University of Pennsylvania Asian Law Review 14, no. 1 (2019): 9-10, https://scholarship.law.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1039&context=alr. 

28 Lu Chia-jung and Lee Hsin-Yin, “Beijing highlights ‘1992 consensus’ in response to Tsai’s National Day address,” Focus Taiwan, October 11, 2023, https://focustaiwan.tw/cross-strait/202310110025. 

29 Chung Yu-chen, “DPP’s VP candidate challenges applicability of ‘1992 consensus,’” Focus Taiwan, December 19, 2023, https://focustaiwan.tw/politics/202312190020. 

30 Lin Chiao-lien and Chung Yu-chen, “Hong Kong, Tibet show why China ‘peace agreement’ not viable: Lai,” Focus Taiwan, September 11, 2023, https://focustaiwan.tw/cross-strait/202309110005. 

31 Brian Hioe, “Gou’s Notion of a Peace Treaty between Taiwan and China Revives Longstanding KMT Proposal,” New Bloom Magazine, September 13, 2023, https://newbloommag.net/2023/09/13/gou-peace-treaty/. 

32 The author directly observed Su Tseng-chang discuss PRC human rights issues during multiple 2024 election rallies.

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33 [William] Lai Ching-te, “My Plan to Preserve Peace in the Taiwan Strait,” The Wall Street Journal, July 4, 2023, https://www.wsj.com/articles/my-plan-to-preserve-peace-between-china-and-taiwan-candidate-election-race-war-7046ee00. 

34 Wen Kuei-hsiang and Frances Huang, “Tsai urges China not to use ECFA to politically threaten Taiwan,” Focus Taiwan, January 1, 2024, https://focustaiwan.tw/cross-strait/202401010006. 

35 Christopher Bodeen, “Taiwan presidential candidate Lai says he is willing to reopen talks with China,” AP, January 9, 2024, https://apnews.com/article/taiwan-china-politics-reopen-talks-lai-election-d1181df3d51fa3c25c9e6a5a75e7fd72. 

36 Stuart Lau, “Taiwan’s new president: 5 things you need to know about William Lai,” Politico, January 13, 2024, https://www.politico.eu/article/five-things-you-need-to-know-about-taiwan-new-president-william-lai-elections-dpp/. 

37 Matthew Mazzetta and Shih Hsiu-chuan, “Taiwan’s 2024 presidential candidates: Where they stand on key issues,” Focus Taiwan, December 27, 2023, https://focustaiwan.tw/politics/202312270010. 

38 Teng Pei-ju, “DPP’s Lai commits to preserving cross-strait status quo,” Focus Taiwan, October 26, 2023, https://focustaiwan.tw/cross-strait/202310260021. 

39 Kentaro Iwamoto, “RCEP kicks in as China seeks to lead regional economic integration,” Nikkei Asia, January 1, 2022, https://asia.nikkei.com/Economy/Trade/RCEP-kicks-in-as-China-seeks-to-lead-regional-economic-integration. 

40 Brian Hioe, “Presidential Debate Mostly Plays Out As Expected, with Cross-Strait Issues Playing Significant Role,” New Bloom Magazine, December 30, 2023, https://newbloommag.net/2023/12/30/2024-presidential-debate/. 

41 Ko Shu-ling, “DPP asks Lien to break the ongoing legislative deadlock,” Taipei Times, May 4, 2005, https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2005/05/04/2003253075. 

42 “Parties spar over Pentagon report,” Taipei Times, July 21, 2005, https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2005/07/21/2003264366. 

43 “超派!賴清德曾為軍購槓藍委 「飆國罵」影片曝光 [So fierce! Video clip of Lai Ching-te lashing out and cursing at [pan-] blue legislators on arms procurement committee],” 鏡新聞 [Mirror News], YouTube, October 4, 2023, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tue-yzK0D3E. 

44 [William] Lai Ching-te, “My Plan to Preserve Peace in the Taiwan Strait,” The Wall Street Journal, July 4, 2023, https://www.wsj.com/articles/my-plan-to-preserve-peace-between-china-and-taiwan-candidate-election-race-war-7046ee00. 

45 Brian Gray, “What Are Taiwan’s Presidential Candidates Saying About Defense?” The German Marshall Fund of the United States, December 18, 2023, https://www.gmfus.org/news/what-are-taiwans-presidential-candidates-saying-about-defense. 

46 Christopher Bodeen, “Taiwan presidential candidate Lai says he is willing to reopen talks with China,” AP, January 9, 2024, https://apnews.com/article/taiwan-china-politics-reopen-talks-lai-election-d1181df3d51fa3c25c9e6a5a75e7fd72. 

47 Alastair Gale, “Delayed U.S. Weapons Raise Taiwan’s Vulnerability to Invasion,” The Wall Street Journal, January 16, 2024, https://www.wsj.com/world/delayed-u-s-weapons-raise-taiwans-vulnerability-to-invasion-d98c6635. 

48 Ben Blanchard, “Taiwan presidential front-runner vows to speed up defence reforms,” Reuters, July 6, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taiwan-presidential-front-runner-vows-speed-up-defence-reforms-2023-07-06/. 

49 [William] Lai Ching-te, “My Plan to Preserve Peace in the Taiwan Strait,” The Wall Street Journal, July 4, 2023, https://www.wsj.com/articles/my-plan-to-preserve-peace-between-china-and-taiwan-candidate-election-race-war-7046ee00. 

50 [William] Lai Ching-te, “My Plan to Preserve Peace in the Taiwan Strait,” The Wall Street Journal, July 4, 2023, https://www.wsj.com/articles/my-plan-to-preserve-peace-between-china-and-taiwan-candidate-election-race-war-7046ee00. 

51 林翠儀 [Lin Cui-yi], “談「台灣有事」籲避戰 賴清德接受NHK專訪:台日應全方位合作 [NHK Japan interviews Lai Ching-te, who discusses a potential Taiwan contingency and how to avoid war: Taiwan and Japan Should Engage in Comprehensive Cooperation],” 自由時報 [Liberty Times], October 6, 2023, https://news.ltn.com.tw/news/politics/breakingnews/4450125. 

52 賴清德 [William Lai], “[政見願望] 國家希望工程:海洋國家,航向世界 [[Political Vision] National Project of Hope: Maritime Nation Navigates toward the World],” 挺台灣 [Team Taiwan] 2024 Presidential Campaign Website, November 11, 2023, https://taiwan2024.tw/policies/11. 

53 William Lai, “National Project of Hope: Ocean Nation, Sailing to Join the World,” Democratic Progressive Party Press Release, December 20, 2023, https://www.dpp.org.tw/en/press_releases/contents/105. 

54 【下班瀚你聊】[Let’s Chat After Work] Episode 110, 風傳媒 [Storm Media], YouTube, November 5, 2023, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBLqKQEB7cs&t=4055s. 

55 Brian Gray, “What Are Taiwan’s Presidential Candidates Saying About Defense?” The German Marshall Fund of the United States, December 18, 2023, https://www.gmfus.org/news/what-are-taiwans-presidential-candidates-saying-about-defense.  

***

Key points summarized in: Julia Famularo, “Economic Diversification and Defense Reform Will Likely Continue,” in Frank ZhouTaiwan Elections 2024 Recap: Democracy Prevailed, And Now the DPP Has Work to Do, Harvard Fairbank Center Blog Post, 26 January 2024.

Economic Diversification and Defense Reform Will Likely Continue

by Dr. Julia Famularo, Postdoctoral Fellow in Taiwan Studies, Harvard University

Throughout the election campaign, Lai Ching-te and Hsiao Bi-khim made it clear that they would continue to lean toward and seek deeper cooperation with key democratic partners as they safeguard Taiwan’s robust democratic society and freedoms. Their administration’s policies will inevitably influence the trajectory of Taiwan’s security landscape by shaping Taiwan’s deterrence posture, national defense readiness, and ultimately, its ability to counter an increasingly aggressive PRC all-domain pressure campaign.

Here are some key takeaways from my recent article for the U.S. Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Initiative, “Choose the Right Person, Choose the Right Path”: Taiwan’s Cross-Strait, National Security, and Defense Policies Under a Lai/Hsiao Administration:

  • The incoming William Lai/Bi-khim Hsiao administration almost certainly intends to continue to execute and deepen President Tsai’s defense reforms. Lai has also stated his support for the implementation of an Indo-Pacific Strategy concept.
  • Lai has an opportunity to leverage the national security experience of President Tsai’s outgoing advisors, who may potentially help his administration calibrate Taiwan’s responses to People’s Liberation Army (PLA) military provocations in and around the Taiwan Strait.
  • The Lai administration likely would prove receptive to U.S. and partner overtures that contribute to Taiwan’s ability to strengthen its maritime domain awareness and security; enhance maritime law enforcement and search and rescue capabilities; conduct maritime patrols; and improve information sharing.
  • Lai intends to maintain the cross-Strait status quo, and has stated that he is willing to conduct dialogue with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on the basis of mutual respect and equality.
  • Lai almost certainly will seek to continue President Tsai Ing-wen’s policy of diversifying Taiwan’s economy and expanding sustainable trade partnerships with democratic nations. He has stated that overdependence on the PRC leaves Taiwan vulnerable to economic coercion, and thus opposes pursuing further economic agreements with China under the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) or a potential Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement (CSTSA).

***

Andrew S. Erickson and Christopher H. Sharman, “Admiral Dong Jun Engages Friends and Foes: China’s First Naval Defense Minister Brings Joint Operational Experience,” CMSI Note 2 (Newport, RI: Naval War College China Maritime Studies Institute, 30 December 2023).

From CMSI Director Christopher Sharman:

China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has a new leader – and he is a Navy guy!

On 29 December, Admiral Dong Jun was appointed China’s 14th Minister of National Defense. Admiral Dong Jun’s impressive career as a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) officer will certainly influence how he executes his new role.

This analysis focuses on Dong’s formative experiences as a naval officer, and their potential implications within the maritime domain; with particular emphasis on Dong’s liaison role – representing the PLA, and ultimately the Central Military Commission (CMC), in interactions with foreign militaries.

Dong’s unprecedented background as the PLAN Commander reflects serious joint and naval focus under Xi with growing potential applications to disputed sovereignty claims in the East and South China Seas—none more important than Taiwan.

But what do you know about Admiral Dong’s Navy career? What assignments have shaped his thinking? What joint experiences does he have that enable him to assume this influential position?

The China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) is pleased to bring you CMSI Note #2, “Admiral Dong Jun Engages Friends and Foes: China’s First Naval Defense Minister Brings Joint Operational Experience.” We are publishing this note just one day after the announcement of Admiral Dong’s appointment to serve as the PLA Minister of National Defense.

“CMSI Notes” are a new product line from the team at CMSI. They are short quick turn analysis of high-profile China maritime events or topics that have critical policy, DoD, and U.S. Navy significance. CMSI Notes are designed to be a timely reference for senior DoD/Navy leaders, warfighters, and policymakers to help inform both near term and future decision-making. I encourage you to read through the attached CMSI note and forward it to those who need to see it today.

This CMSI Note, along with our first note published on 27 December titled, “Admiral Hu to the Helm,” will be posted shortly on the CMSI webpage. Considering this is a holiday weekend (and unlikely to be posted until next week), we encourage you to circulate this note to your distribution lists to ensure the right folks have eyes on to support the inevitable questions about Admiral Dong that will come early next week.

My profuse thanks to Dr. Andrew Erickson and the whole CMSI team who helped pull our second CMSI Note together so quickly. Andrew’s decades of experience and laser focus on China’s Navy enabled our team to get this note to your in-boxes within ~24 hours of the public announcement of Admiral Dong’s appointment.

Very Respectfully,

Christopher H. Sharman

Director

China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI)

中国海事研究所

***

Andrew S. Erickson and Christopher H. Sharman, “Admiral Dong Jun Engages Friends and Foes: China’s First Naval Defense Minister Brings Joint Operational Experience,” CMSI Note 2 (Newport, RI: Naval War College China Maritime Studies Institute, 30 December 2023).

Admiral Dong Jun Engages Friends and Foes:

China’s First Naval Defense Minister Brings Joint Operational Experience

Dr. Andrew S. Erickson and Captain Christopher Sharman, USN (Ret.)[1]

On 29 December 2023, Admiral Dong Jun (董军) was appointed China’s 14th Minister of National Defense (国防部部长) at the seventh meeting of the Standing Committee of the 14thNational People’s Congress.[2] He replaced the previously deposed Army General Li Shangfu, ending a four-month leadership gap. Admiral Dong is the first PLA Navy (PLAN) officer to head China’s Ministry of National Defense (MND). Previously the 9th People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Commander, he was likewise exceptional in achieving this position from a background in theater joint operations.[3]

As PRC Defense Minister, Dong lacks operational command over the PLA (the responsibility of the Central Military Commission/CMC and which is operationalized through the Theater Commands).[4] He is instead a diplomat-liaison representing the PLA, and ultimately the CMC, in interactions with foreign militaries. Dong’s unprecedented background as the PLAN Commander nevertheless reflects serious joint and naval focus under Xi with growing potential applications to disputed sovereignty claims in the East and South China Seas—none more important than Taiwan. This analysis therefore focuses on Dong’s formative experiences as a naval officer, and their potential implications within the maritime domain; with particular emphasis on Dong’s liaison role.

CMSI’s Perspectives and Key Takeaways

  • Admiral Dong, one of the PLA’s most experienced joint commanders, has deep expertise at the operational level of war.
  • His operational assignments in the Eastern and Southern Theater Commands provide him with unique understanding regarding PRC sovereignty claims and will make Dong a potent interlocutor with foreign counterparts regarding Taiwan, the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands, and South China Sea disputes.
  • Within the limits of his position, Dong is likely to advocate for more robust PLA joint integration—especially as it relates to PLA options for Taiwan—based on his experience overseeing PLA joint operations in the Eastern and Southern Theater Commands.
  • Years engaging foreign counterparts, particularly as PLAN Commander, enhance Dong’s ability to convey China’s strategic goals and objectives to international audiences.
  • Dong has engaged extensively with Russian counterparts through naval exercises and high-level communications, highly compatible with China’s growing strategic and security cooperation with Russia.

Career Background

Born in the shipbuilding port city of Yantai, Shandong province, in 1961, Dong entered the Dalian Naval Academy in 1978. A career surface warfare officer, Dong subsequently served in the former East Sea Fleet (now Eastern Theater Command Navy) including as commander of the Naval East Sea Joint Command/92269 Force (海军东海联合指挥部/92269部队) in the Zhoushan Water Garrison District.[5]

From 2007 through end of 2009, Dong served as Director of the Military Training Department of the PLAN Headquarters Department with the grade of Division Leader. In this capacity he almost certainly oversaw the PLAN development and implementation of the 2008 Outline on Military Training and Evaluation (OMTE) (trial in 2008, implemented in January 2009). The OMTE acts as the overarching training guidance document that mandates what training, and how much of it, the PLAN does. This edition remained in effect for a decade until the next series was released in January 2018/2019.[6]

From early 2010 through the end of 2011, Dong served as Director of the Operations Department in the PLAN Headquarters Department with the grade of Division Leader. There, Dong likely played a role in day-to-day oversight of early naval escort task forces to the Gulf of Aden and other day-to-day PLAN operations. From 2012-2013, Dong was one of the North Sea Fleet Deputy Chiefs of Staff with the grade of Corps Deputy Leader. Notably, he acted as the PRC deputy during the first Naval Cooperation exercise with Russia in 2012.[7] In July 2012, Dong was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral (one-star).[8]

From July 2013 through November 2014 Dong served as one of the Deputy Commanders of the East Sea Fleet as well as Commander of the newly-established East China Sea Joint Operations Command Center (ECS JOCC) (东海联合作战指挥中心) with the grade of Corps Leader.[9] In its first serious foray into joint operations command, the PLA established the ECS JOCC in 2013 as a “special joint operations command headquarters” for PLA operations in the direction of the East China Sea; particularly to coordinate PLAN, PLA Air Force (PLAAF), and potentially China Coast Guard operations in that sea area and the airspace above.[10]

As the first commander of the first PLA joint operations command entity—especially the one that would face immediate requirements in terms of “defending” China’s recently-declared Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ)—Dong was presumably scrutinized closely in this capacity. On his watch, PLA command and control constructs and operational forces faced real-world tests; he likely had to direct forces to address U.S. and Japanese activities within the area of responsibility of what would become the Eastern Theater Command in 2016.

From December 2014 through December 2017, Dong served at the PLAN Headquarters Department as one of the Deputy Chiefs of Staff with the grade of Corps Deputy Leader.[11]There his responsibilities likely centered on force modernization, strategy, and training; as well as multifarious meetings and official functions. For example, on 18 August 2015 Dong participated in a PLAN seminar focused on building innovative think tanks in the service.[12] Per standard practice, on 2 March 2016, Dong attended the PLAN’s annual military work meeting at which leadership reviewed previous-year PLAN achievements and current-year requirements.[13] Dong was deeply involved in the Sino-Russian Joint Sea (海上联合) exercise in 2015[14]and 2016,[15] serving both times as executive training director (执行导演).

In January 2017 Dong became one of the concurrent Deputy Commanders of the Southern Theater Command and Commander of the Southern Theater Command Navy with the grade of Theater Command Deputy Leader.[16] He was promoted to the rank of Vice Admiral (two-star) in July 2018. Whereas his predecessor oversaw the maritime operations group specifically, Dong likely acted as the principal maritime deputy commander at the physical JOCC, thereby examining how the maritime component fuses with the other components. In this capacity, he was probably involved in key events, including the 2018 Decatur Incident, the 2019 Hong Kong PLA response, and the command’s expanding area of responsibility.[17] He was undoubtedly involved in managing the PLA response to increasing U.S. FONOPS starting in 2017,[18] and presumably was involved in the joint Summer 2020 South China Sea exercise.[19]

Further afield, in March 2017, Dong was part of an official PLA delegation to Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.[20] In October 2017, in a foreshadowing of his own future leadership responsibilities, Dong visited the Philippines as part of a delegation under State Councillor and Defense Minister Chang Wanquan.[21] From December 2019 to January 2020 Dong planned and led as “chief director” the Sino-Pakistani joint naval exercise Sea Guardians 2020.[22]

In March 2021, Dong returned to Headquarters as one of the PLAN Deputy Commanders with the grade of Theater Command Deputy Leader. In August 2021, Dong was named PLAN Commander with the grade promotion of Theater Command Leader. The following month, he was promoted to the rank of Admiral (three-star, the PLAN’s highest rank).[23] Dong subsequently presided over such milestones as the launch of China’s third aircraft carrier, Fujian, in June 2022.[24] From 14-19 December 2022, Dong headed a conclave of the PLAN’s most senior officers. In Ryan Martinson’s analysis, “the six-day training event can be reduced to a single theme: make all necessary preparations to defeat the U.S. Navy in great power war at sea.”[25] On a related note, Dong has been credited with intellectually guiding the requisite “naval talent construction.”[26] He has informed “practical training closely in line with actual combat” in the Eastern Theater Command.[27] Dong headed China’s Navy until 25 December 2023, when he attended a ceremony with Xi Jinping in which command passed to Admiral Hu Zhongming.[28]

Throughout the latter stages of his career, Dong has engaged with many navies, including those of Sweden,[29]Djibouti,[30] the UK,[31] North Korea,[32] Chile,[33] Singapore,[34] and Gulf of Guinea nations.[35] Dong’s longtime interaction with Pakistani and Russian counterparts is particularly significant.[36] He has extensive experience engaging with Russian counterparts through exercises and high-level communications. The tracks with Moscow’s increasing importance as a strategic partner of Beijing, and the great and growing entente that Xi envisions moving forward. Of note, in November 2021, Dong participated in a video call discussing joint Sino-Russian maritime and air joint patrols that year. The other principals were then State Councillor and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, PLAAF Commander General Chang Dingqiu, Commander-in-chief of the Russian Navy Admiral Nikolay Yevmenov, and Commander of the Russian Aerospace Forces General Sergei Surovikin.[37] 

Implications

All told, Admiral Dong’s pathbreaking career has made him one of the PLA’s most experienced joint commanders, with deep expertise at the operational level of war. He has international, joint, and extensive naval experience in the Eastern and Southern Theater Commands, the two most important areas of unresolved PRC sovereignty claims, now aggressively pursued under Xi. This familiarity and credibility, together with Dong’s track record and seasoned status as an international interlocutor will be particularly helpful with messaging on PRC strategic goals—the focus of his new position.

The breadth of Dong’s assignments makes him uniquely qualified to serve as Defense Minister where he will represent the PLA at bilateral meetings and high-profile forums on the international stage. His navy and joint operational assignments enhance his ability to articulate and defend PRC’s positions on disputed features in the East and South China Sea and to address PLA operations around the PLA’s most pressing objective: Taiwan.

Taiwan’s 13 January 2024 presidential election and the PLA response—while an Eastern Theater Command responsibility and role—will be one of Dong’s first tests on the international stage. While the nature of any PLA military response to the elections is unknown, Dong will be charged with representing the PLA response to foreign audiences. Through his actions, he will be charged with demonstrating to foreign and domestic audiences alike, the PRC’s unwavering resolve to unify with Taiwan. Given the stakes for all concerned, Dong’s time on center stage will be closely scrutinized. But his navy and joint operational background coupled with foreign engagement prowess suggest he will be well prepared to address this challenge.

Notes

[1] Dr. Erickson is Professor of Strategy at CMSI. CAPT Sharman is Director of CMSI. The views expressed here are theirs alone. They thank Ken Allen, Roderick Lee, Ryan Martinson, and anonymous reviewers for invaluable inputs.

[2] Jiang Chenglong, “China Names Former Navy Commander Dong Jun As New Defense Minister,” China Daily, 29 December 2023,https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202312/29/WS658ea3c6a3105f21a5079c7e.html

[3] As Joel Wuthnow observes, “Most paths to theater and service commander ran through service positions, most notably theater service component commanders. …There was also a new phenomenon of officers being promoted through full-time theater deputy commander positions. This route could offer more exposure to theater joint operations for future senior commanders. Nevertheless, this was a narrow path to promotion: the only examples have been Dong Jun (later promoted to navy commander) and Chang Dingqiu (future air force commander).” Joel Wuthnow, Gray Dragons: Assessing China’s Senior Military Leadership, China Strategic Perspective 16 (Washington, DC: National Defense University, 13 September 2022), 29, https://ndupress.ndu.edu/Portals/68/Documents/stratperspective/china/china-perspectives-16.pdf.

[4] The PRC MND does not have any operational command responsibilities over the PLA during peacetime or wartime. As such, China’s Defense Minister does not provide operational command over PLA forces while wearing that hat; however, as a concurrent CMC Member, the Defense Minister and the other CMC Members, including the CMC’s two Vice Chairmen, do have operational command of the entire PLA during wartime. Having served as a former Theater Command Navy Commander and concurrent Theater Command Deputy Commander, Dong does bring joint operational command experience to his new billet.

[5] Ying-Yu Lin, “The PLA’s New Generals: Security Implications,” The Diplomat, 28 September 2021, https://thediplomat.com/2021/09/the-plas-new-generals-security-implications/.

[6] “我军新军事训练大纲建设主体工程基本完成” [The Main Project of the Construction of Our Military’s New Military Training Outline Has Been Basically Completed], 新华网 [Xinhua Net], 3 January 2019, http://www.xinhuanet.com/politics/2019-01/03/c_1123942829.htm.

[7] “军事纪实 《军事纪实》 20120504 黄海观澜(下)‘海上联合2012’中俄海军联合演习纪实” [Military Documentary “Military Documentary” 20120504 Yellow Sea Observatory (Part 2) “Maritime Joint 2012” China-Russia Joint Naval Exercise Documentary], 23 June 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBPSNZA7s7w.

[8] “海军隆重举行将官军衔晋升仪式–吴胜利宣读命令  刘晓江主持” [The Navy Held a Grand Ceremony to Promote Flag Officers in Rank—Wu Shengli Read Orders, Liu Xiaojiang Presided], 人民海军 [People’s Navy], 30 July 2012, 1.

[9] As Roderick Lee and Morgan Clemens explain, “The CMC’s establishment of joint theater commands and theater command joint operations command centers has enabled the PLA to reliably plan and command joint operations for the first time. This ability to conduct joint operations is especially useful within the first island chain, given the wide range of forces that the PLA has available to use in the near seas [Yellow, East China, and South China Seas].” Roderick Lee and Morgan Clemens, Organizing to Fight in the Far Seas: The Chinese Navy in an Era of Military Reform, China Maritime Report 9 (Newport, RI: Naval War College China Maritime Studies Institute, October 2020), 5, https://digital-commons.usnwc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1008&context=cmsi-maritime-reports.

[10] Michael Dahm and Alison Zhao, Bitterness Ends, Sweetness Begins: Organizational Changes to the PLAN Submarine Force Since 2015, China Maritime Report 28 (Newport, RI: Naval War College China Maritime Studies Institute, June 2023), 3, https://digital-commons.usnwc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1027&context=cmsi-maritime-reports.

[11] 本报记者王元元 [Reporter Wang Yuanyuan], “海军首长视鼸间989,547护航编队官兵–吴胜利致辞, 苗华主持–杜景臣蒋伟烈刘毅丁毅王登平邱延鹏徐卫兵王建国参加” [Naval Chiefs See Officers and Sailors of Escort Fleets 989 and 547—Wu Shengli Delivered a Speech, Miao Hua Presided—Du Jingshen, Jiang Weilie, Liu Yi, Ding Yi, Wang Dengping, Qiu Yanpeng, Xu Weibing, and Wang Jianguo Attended], 人民海军 [People’s Navy], 26 December 2014, 1; 岳菲菲 [Yue Feifei], “解放军多位将领岗位调整 海军至少5人变动职务 张海阳卸任第二炮兵政委” [Many Generals/Admirals in the People’s Liberation Army Change Positions. At Least Five People in the Navy Have Changed Positions. Zhang Haiyang Resigned as Political Commissar of the Second Artillery Force], 北京青年报 [Beijing Youth Daily], 4 January 2015, http://politics.people.com.cn/n/2015/0104/c1001-26318074.html; 特约记者沈抒 桕杨 本报记者王智涛 [Special Correspondents Shen Shu and Gao Yang, and Reporter Wang Zhitao], “有一种信念在强化   有一种使命在升腾 —第二期海军学习贯彻全军政治工作会议精神集训班研讨恻记(下 )” [There is a Belief that is Strengthening and a Mission That Is Rising—Commemorative Notes from the Second Training Class for the Navy to Study and Implement the Spirit of the Military Political Work Conference (Part 2)], 人民海军 [People’s Navy], 30 March 2015, 1-2; 岳怀让 [Yue Huairang], “董军少将出任驻粤部队领导, 曾任海军副参谋长” [Rear Admiral Dong Jun Takes Position as Leader of Units Stationed in Guangdong Province, Once Took Position as Deputy Chief of Staff of the Chinese Navy ]” 澎湃新闻 [The Paper], 26 January 2017, http://www.thepaper.cn/newsDetail_forward_1608805.

[12] 李明波 [Li Mingbo], “海军召开新型智库建设理论研讨会” [Chinese Navy Holds Theory-Based Seminar on Building New-Type Think Tanks], 人民海军 [People’s Navy], 19 August 2015, 1.

[13] 赵宝石 [Zhao Baoshi], “王海在海军军事工作上强调在新的起点上推进战斗力建设创新发展” [At Chinese Navy’s Military Work Meeting, Wang Hai Emphasizes Pushing Forward Innovative Development of Combat Power Building at a New Starting Point], 人民海军[People’s Navy], 3 March 2016, 2.

[14] Joint Sea 2015 occurred over nine days in Peter the Great Gulf and the Sea of Japan, then concluded with a joint naval military parade. “Chinese, Russian Navies Complete 9-Day Joint Exercise, Hold Parade,” China Daily, 29 August 2015, http://eng.mod.gov.cn/MilitaryExercises/2015-08/29/content_4616513.htm. For Dong’s involvement therein, see “中俄海军举行大规模立体联合登陆军演” [Chinese and Russian Navies Held a Large-Scale Three-Dimensional Joint Landing Exercise], 中船重工 [China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation], 26 August 2015, https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/vlZexMljvI8KGGcOtZB7oQ.

[15] 范江怀、陈国全 [Fan Jianghuai and Chen Guoquan], “中俄‘海上联合-2016’军事演习正式开始” [China-Russia “Joint Sea-2016” Military Exercise Officially Begins], 解放军报 [PLA Daily], 14 September 2016, 3; “【好福利】想知道中俄联合军演的官兵们在干什么吗? 来这里——” [<Good Welfare> Do You Want to Know What the Officers and Soldiers of The Sino-Russian Joint Military Exercise Are Doing? Come Here—], 湛江晚报 [Zhanjiang Evening News], 15 September 2016, https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/1WFQNA8OVshnvMGe4lOHmA.

[16] 岳怀让 [Yue Huairang], “董军少将出任驻粤部队领导, 曾任海军副参谋长” [Rear Admiral Dong Jun to Head Guangdong Forces, Formerly Deputy Chief of Staff of Navy], 澎湃新闻 [The Paper], 26 January 2017, https://www.thepaper.cn/newsDetail_forward_1608805.

[17] Roderick Lee, “The PLA Navy’s ZHANLAN Training Series in 2021: Growing Emphasis on Joint Operations on the High Seas,” 21.9 Jamestown China Brief (7 May 2021), https://jamestown.org/program/the-pla-navys-zhanlan-training-series-in-2021-growing-emphasis-on-joint-operations-on-the-high-seas/.

[18] Ronald O’Rourke, U.S.-China Strategic Competition in South and East China Seas: Implications for U.S. Interests—Background and Issues for Congress, R42784 (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service,15 November 2023), 18-19, https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R42784.

[19] Brad Lendon, “China Test Fires So-Called ‘Carrier Killer’ Missiles into South China Sea,” CNN, 29 August 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/28/asia/china-missile-tests-exercises-intl-hnk-scli/index.html; “南海军事演习引发海外关注 专家: 演习区域大参演军兵种多 [South China Sea Military Drills Draw Attention from Overseas—Experts: Large Drill Area, Many Types of Participating Military Forces], 环球时报 [Global Times], 6 August 2021, http://www.xinhuanet.com/mil/2021-08/06/c_1211320206.htm; “China Holds Another Round of Naval Drills in South China Sea,” AP News, https://apnews.com/article/global-trade-asia-pacific-b825dd7a44ac3d4bafae84123af33958.

[20] 蒋子文 [Jiang Ziwen], “海军原副参谋长董军少将出任南部战区副司令员” [Rear Admiral Dong Jun, Former Deputy Chief of Staff of the Navy, Now Serves as Deputy Commander of the Southern Theater], 澎湃新闻 [The Paper], 27 March 2017, https://m.thepaper.cn/newsDetail_forward_1648939.

[21] Li Jiayao, “Chinese defense minister leaves for China-ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Informal Meeting in Philippines,” China Military Online, 23 October 2017, http://english.chinamil.com.cn/view/2017-10/23/content_7796623.htm; Li Jiayao, “Defense Minister Talks Security with ASEAN,” China Military Online, 24 October 2017, http://english.chinamil.com.cn/view/2017-10/24/content_7797926.htm.

[22] “‘海洋卫士-2020’中巴海上联合演习闭幕” [China-Pakistan Joint Maritime Exercise “Sea Guardians 2020” Concludes], 解放军报 [PLA Daily], 15 January 2020; Dong Zhaohui, “Sea Guardians 2020 China-Pakistan Joint Naval Exercise Wraps Up in Karachi,” China Military Online, 14 January 2020, http://eng.mod.gov.cn/xb/News_213114/TopStories/4858549.html;

[23] Xi Presents Orders to Promote Military Officers to Rank of General,” Xinhua, 6 September 2021,http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202109/06/WS6136147aa310efa1bd66daee.html.

[24] Wang Xinjuan, “China Unveils Giant Aircraft Carrier CNS Fujian,” China Daily, 18 June 2022, http://eng.chinamil.com.cn/CHINA_209163/TopStories_209189/10164161.html?&tsrcfedwzhl.

[25] Ryan D. Martinson, “Winning High-End War at Sea: Insights into the PLA Navy’s New Strategic Concept,” Center for International Maritime Security, 18 May 2023, https://cimsec.org/winning-high-end-war-at-sea-insights-into-the-pla-navys-new-strategic-concept/.

[26] 刘峰记者牛涛 王汉 [Liu Feng and Reporters Niu Tao and Wang Han], “深入贯彻习近平强军思想 贯彻新时代人才强军版略, 畜力开创海军人才建设高质量发展新局面–海军人才工作会议在京召开 海军司令员董军、政治委员袁华智出席并讲话” [Deeply Implement Xi Jinping’s Thought on Strengthening the Military, Implement the Strategy of Strengthening the Military through Talents in the New Era, and Create a New Situation for the High-Quality Development of Naval personnel. The Navy Talents Work Conference Was held in Beijing. Navy Commander Dong Jun and Political Commissar Yuan Huazhi Attended and Delivered Speeches], 人民海军 [People’s Navy], 23 September 2022, 1.

[27] 孙前前 记者王力飞 [Sun Qianqian and Reporter Wang Lifei], “海军党委视频慰问海上海外、新域新质、跨区驻训任务部队和驻高山海岛部队–向海军各级指战员仪心切问候和新春祝福 [The Navy Party Committee Paid Its Condolences via Video to Troops Stationed Overseas, In New Domains and With New Qualities, And on Cross-Regional Training Missions, As Well As Troops Stationed on High Mountains and Islands. Heartfelt Greetings and New Year’s Blessings to Naval Commanders and Personnel at All Levels], 人民海军 [People’s Navy], 13 January 2023, 1.

[28] “中央军委晋升上将军衔仪式/习近平颁发命令状并表示祝贺” [Central Military Commission Promotion Ceremony to the Rank of General/Admiral—Xi Jinping Issues Certificate of Command and Expresses Congratulations], 华人风采CN [Chinese Style CN], https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5aU8F46NRII.

[29] “[视频]吴胜利会见瑞典海军检查长扬·托恩奎斯特” [[Video] Wu Shengli Meets with Swedish Navy Inspector General Jan Törnqvist], CCTV-7国防军事频道 [CCTV-7 National Defense Military Channel], 4 November 2011, https://tv.cctv.com/2011/11/04/VIDE1351150218491838.shtml.

[30] “[视频]吴胜利会见吉布提海军司令” [[Video] Wu Shengli Meets with Djibouti Navy Commander], CCTV-7国防军事频道 [CCTV-7 National Defense Military Channel], 8 July 2011, https://tv.cctv.com/2011/07/08/VIDE1351150059058191.shtml.

[31] “[视频]吴胜利会见英国海军参谋长” [[Video] Wu Shengli Meets with the British Chief of the Naval Staff], CCTV-7国防军事频道[CCTV-7 National Defense Military Channel], 11 July 2011, https://tv.cctv.com/2011/07/11/VIDE1351150063558551.shtml.

[32] “[视频]吴胜利会见朝鲜海军副司令CCTV-7国防军事频道” [[Video] Wu Shengli Meets with the Deputy Commander of the North Korean Navy], CCTV-7国防军事频道 [CCTV-7 National Defense Military Channel], 20 September 2011, https://tv.cctv.com/2011/09/20/VIDE1351150194690640.shtml.

[33] “吴胜利会见智利海军司令” [Wu Shengli Meets with Chilean Navy Commander], CCTV-7国防军事频道 [CCTV-7 National Defense Military Channel], 7 June 2011, https://tv.cctv.com/2011/06/07/VIDE1351150016673515.shtml.

[34] “Chief of Navy RADM Wat Makes Introductory Visit to China,” Singapore Ministry of Defence, 11 September 2023, https://www.mindef.gov.sg/web/portal/navy/pressroom/articles/2023/11sep23_article.

[35] “Navies of China, Gulf of Guinea Countries Discuss Maritime Security,” PRC State Council Information Office, 27 May 2022, http://english.scio.gov.cn/pressroom/2022-05/27/content_78239826.htm.

[36] See, for example, “中俄两国国防部长举行视频通话” [Russian and Chinese Defense Ministers Hold Video Call], 解放军报 [PLA Daily], 24 November 2021, 1, http://www.mod.gov.cn/gfbw/qwfb/4899464.html.

[37] Li Jiayao, “Chinese, Russian Defense Ministers Hold Talks via Video Link,” China Military Online, 23 November 2021, http://english.chinamil.com.cn/view/2021-11/23/content_10110231.htm.

***

Christopher H. Sharman and Andrew S. Erickson, “Admiral Hu to the Helm: China’s New Navy Commander Brings Operational Expertise,” CMSI Note 1 (Newport, RI: Naval War College China Maritime Studies Institute, 27 December 2023).

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From CMSI Director Christopher Sharman:

China’s Navy has a new leader.

While many in the west were celebrating the holidays, China’s Commander in Chief, Xi Jinping, promoted Vice Admiral Hu Zhongming to Admiral and appointed him to serve as Commander of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).

This promotion has significant policy and DoD implications. It is worthy of your attention. Please forward this note to the audience who needs to see it now.

Admiral Hu’s promotion will influence the development of China’s Navy, operations, and its future trajectory. Moreover, his unique operational background, professional expertise, and responsibilities will shape PLAN priorities and future interactions with the United States Navy for years to come.

But what do you know about China’s new Navy leader? What experiences influenced his thinking and how might they affect his leadership of the world’s largest navy (by number of ships)? Why is he the right person to guide the PLAN, during a time when it is charged with great responsibilities on a demanding timeline?

Attached is our inaugural China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) “CMSI Note.” This is our attempt to answer these questions and many more.

“CMSI Notes” are a new product line from the team at CMSI. “CMSI Notes” are short quick turn analysis of high-profile China maritime events or topics that have critical policy, DoD, and U.S. Navy significance. They are designed to be a timely reference for senior DoD/Navy leaders, warfighters, and policymakers to help inform both near term and future decision-making. I encourage you to read through the attached CMSI note and forward it to those who need to see it today. This “CMSI Note” will be posted to our website shortly.

My profuse thanks to Dr. Andrew Erickson and the whole CMSI team who helped pull this first CMSI Note together so quickly. Andrew’s decades of experience and laser focus on China’s Navy enabled our team to get this note to your in-boxes within ~24 hours of the public announcement of Admiral Hu’s promotion.

As always, should you have comments or feedback, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. Your feedback will help to shape how we tackle future CMSI Notes.

Very Respectfully,

Christopher H. Sharman

Director

China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI)

中国海事研究所

***

Christopher H. Sharman and Andrew S. Erickson, “Admiral Hu to the Helm: China’s New Navy Commander Brings Operational Expertise,” CMSI Note 1 (Newport, RI: Naval War College China Maritime Studies Institute, 27 December 2023).

Admiral Hu to the Helm:

China’s New Navy Commander Brings Operational Expertise 

Captain Christopher Sharman, USN (Ret.) and Dr. Andrew S. Erickson[1]

China’s Navy, the world’s largest by number of ships, has a new leader. On 25 December 2023, Commander-in-Chief Xi Jinping, in his capacity as Central Military Commission (CMC) Chairman, promoted Vice Admiral Hu Zhongming (胡中明) to Admiral and appointed him Commander of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) (海军司令员).[2] Hu’s predecessor Admiral Dong Jun (董军) attended the promotion ceremony, suggesting this is an orderly and expected transition—unlike recent removals of the PLA Defense Minister and the former Commander of China’s Strategic Rocket Forces.[3]

CMSI’s Perspectives and Key Take-Aways:

  • Admiral Hu’s operational experience commanding both submarines and surface ships will enable him to guide PLAN efforts to improve coordination across warfare domains.
  • Hu has experience commanding units operating throughout the South China Sea. He commanded the 2nd Submarine Base, which has nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) that will have operated in the South China Sea. Prior to 2010, he was a submarine Commanding Officer at the base, which means he likely operated in disputed waterspace.
  • This confers significant real-world experience operating in contested waters and may portend a vision to use the PLAN more aggressively in gray zone activities or even future conflict, although the Commander’s core responsibilities are to man, train, and equip the force.
  • Hu’s background fuses Theater Command experience with technical, exercise-testing, and operational knowledge which will enable him to focus PLAN efforts to address critical shortcomings with a fast-growing force.
  • Multi-fleet experience gives Admiral Hu unique insights into each fleet’s strengths and weaknesses that will enable him to provide organizational and training improvements to ensure PLAN readiness, as well as to offer uniquely tailored guidance for PLAN operational and tactical improvements.
  • As a submariner, Hu is well-positioned to help the PLAN prioritize and address its weaknesses in undersea warfare.
  • Hu’s first-hand experience averting a submarine disaster and keen understanding of the complexities of the undersea domain may portend a greater emphasis on damage control training as well as undersea warfare.
  • Hu has substantial international experience. He joined the PLAN’s first global circumnavigation in 2002. He was the PLAN lead (Executive Director/执行导演) for the Sino-Russia exercise Joint Sea-2017, giving him personal familiarity in cooperating with a major strategic partner.[4]

Discussion:

As tenth Commander in the PLAN’s seventy-four-year history, Admiral Hu brings a broad organizational and functional background, as well as valuable technical and operational prowess to a force whose surface fleet and anti-surface mission and missiles have burgeoned dramatically but whose submarine leadership and training apparently still lag overall.[5]

In a pronounced—though hardly unique—pattern, PRC bureaucracy tends to incrementally test, groom, and socialize rising leaders over time. For the past two years (December 2021-December 2023), Hu served as the PLAN Chief of Staff (海军参谋长) with the same grade as the PLAN Deputy Commanders (Theater Command Deputy Leader). In this role, in September 2023 Hu traveled overseas to South Africa, where he paid a courtesy call at South Africa’s Naval Headquarters in Pretoria.[6]

In addition to this topline bureaucratic experience, Hu’s career reflects Xi’s military restructuring. Established on 1 February 2016, the Theater Commands offer both a more operationally-relevant means of organizing PLA(N) forces and the unprecedented prospect of allowing meaningful numbers of naval officers to attain leadership positions in military regional bureaucracies.[7] In December 2019, Hu received rank promotion to Vice Admiral (2 stars).[8]From December 2019 to December 2021, Hu served as the Commander of the Northern Theater Command Navy (北部战区海军司令员), headquartered in his hometown of Qingdao, and as a concurrent Deputy Commander of the Northern Theater Command (兼北部战区副司令员) with the grade of Theater Command Deputy Leader.

From 2016 to December 2019, Hu served as one of the PLAN Headquarters’ Deputy Chiefs of Staff (海军副参谋长) with the grade of Corps Leader. Hu received rank promotion to Rear Admiral (1 star) in July 2014,[9] then became an Assistant to the Chief of Naval Staff in December 2014 with the grade of Corps Deputy Leader.[10] Hu began his systematic climb through navy leadership with appointment as the Commander of the Navy’s 2nd Submarine Base (海军潜艇第二基地司令员) at Yalong Bay in Sanya, Hainan Province (MUCD 92730) starting in July 2013 with the grade of Corps Deputy Leader.

Born in January 1964 in the naval city of Qingdao, Shandong Province, Hu joined the PLA in 1979. He began his career in the submarine force and served with distinction in a wide variety of roles, including commanding a submarine. As of 1996, Hu served as Commanding Officer of the submarine “Great Wall 11” (“长城11号”潜艇).[11] In 2008, as Commander of the 90th Detachment (92730部队90分队分队长) of the 2nd Submarine Base—one of the two units responsible for China’s nuclear-powered submarines—Hu was credited with numerous achievements in a special PLA Daily feature. His unit was recognized by the PLAN “as an advanced ship company standard-bearer, and by the fleet as a standard-bearer unit for grass-roots construction.” In 2006, the PLAN recognized Hu as “an excellent grass-roots master standard bearer,” credited with strong education and management contributions. For this, he was honored with one second-class merit and three third-class merits. Hu completed conventional submarine commanding officer comprehensive training, destroyer captain solo qualified training, and full subject training for “a new type of submarine.” The last almost certainly means qualification to command a nuclear-powered submarine, because the 2nd Submarine Base only has nuclear-powered submarines. Hu also participated in the PLAN’s first round-the-world cruise in 2002, as well as in many major exercises and drills.[12]

In 2009, as the Commanding Officer of a submarine, Hu was lauded for having previously avoided disaster during an “automatic steering depth test” during sea trials for a new type of submarine, improving testing procedures, and innovating training and real time communications measures to enhance safety during emergency conditions.[13] Apparently the mishap took place in less than 100m of water (百米不到的海域) and the submarine’s underbelly actually grazed the seafloor (潜艇腹部与海底擦肩而过又迅速上浮).[14] The submarine in question was definitely a nuclear-powered boat, because it was from the 2nd Submarine Base, which only has nuclear-powered submarines.[15]

In July 2013, Hu was appointed Commander of the 2nd Submarine Base. As Commander of that base in 2014, Hu was credited with cultivating human capital necessary to unleash nuclear submarine combat power by taking measures to “train the troops with difficulty and rigor in accordance with actual combat needs” (实战需要出发从难从严训练部队) while emphasizing safety and accident avoidance.[16]

Bottom Line:

Xi’s selection of Admiral Hu Zhongming to lead the PLAN reflects his priority for PLA military commanders to have real-world operational experience and follows a trend of PLAN leaders who bring credible warfighting capabilities to their leadership roles. Hu’s operational experience will guide efforts to rapidly address identified shortcomings within the PLAN and to enhance its warfighting capabilities across all PLAN warfare domains and with other services.

Specifically, Hu has extensive experience in undersea warfare, heretofore a lagging area for the PLAN. He has first-hand familiarity with two key warfare communities (submarine and surface). Finally, he has considerable experience training forces—which will be his job: to man, train, and equip the service. The PLAN commander no longer makes operational decisions in peacetime, so how his units are used will ultimately be decided by the CMC and the Theater Commands.

Admiral Hu’s practical experience suggests he is likely to be a seasoned and pragmatic, if inevitably Party-controlled, interlocutor during diplomatic engagements with foreign Navy delegations. He is likely to be an operator’s operator, adeptly capable of addressing complex maritime issues—from the capability requirements to the Navy’s role in support of maritime disputes. The breadth of his operational assignments along with his unique maritime achievements suggest he is likely to command the respect of the PLAN and the trust of Xi at a time when the PLAN is charged with great responsibilities on a demanding timeline.

Notes:

[1] CAPT Sharman is Director of CMSI. Dr. Erickson is Professor of Strategy there. The views expressed here are theirs alone. They thank Ken Allen, Ryan Martinson, Joel Wuthnow, and anonymous reviewers for invaluable inputs.

[2] Hu was promoted to 3-star Admiral, the highest PLAN rank.

[3] 责任编辑: 温腾 [Editor in Charge: Wen Teng], “中央军委举行晋升上将军衔仪式 习近平颁发命令状并向晋衔的军官表示祝贺” [The Central Military Commission Held a Ceremony for Promotion to the Rank of General. Xi Jinping Issued a Certificate of Order and Congratulated the Officers], 人民日报 [People’s Daily], 25 December 2023, https://wap.peopleapp.com/article/7297251/7135115.

[4] “中俄 ‘海上联合-2017’ 创该系列演习多个 ‘首次’” [The Sino-Russian “Maritime Joint-2017” Exercise Series  Achieved Many “Firsts], 中国新闻网 [China News Net], 25 September 2017,

https://www.chinanews.com.cn/m/mil/2017/09-25/8339843.shtml.

[5] China Maritime Studies Institute, “Chinese Undersea Warfare: Development, Capabilities, Trends,” Quick Look Conference Summary (Newport, RI: Naval War College, 5 May 2023), https://bit.ly/CMSI2023.

[6] “PLAN CoS meets CSAN,” DefenceWeb, 7 September 2023, https://www.defenceweb.co.za/sea/sea-sea/plan-cos-meets-csan/.

[7] At a ceremony attended by the entire CMC, five new “Theater Commands” were established in protocol order—Eastern, Southern, Western, Northern, and Central—and their commanders and PCs were appointed. They replaced the former seven Military Area Commands (e.g., Military Regions)—Shenyang, Beijing, Lanzhou, Jinan, Nanjing, Guangzhou, and Chengdu. Whereas the former Military Regions were primarily the regional Army Headquarters and dominated by Army officers, the five Theater Commands have become joint organizations.

[8] 责任编辑: 韩佳鹏 [Editor: Han Jiapeng], “海军举行晋升将官军衔仪式 4人晋升为中将” [The Navy Held a General Promotion Ceremony—4 People Were Promoted to Rear Admirals], 当代海军 [Navy Today], 14 December 2019,  https://web.archive.org/web/20191214091634/https://news.163.com/19/1214/12/F0C0Q4P40001899O.html. As a general rule, PLA rank and grade promotions have not occurred at the same time; however, this situation began changing in December 2019 when grade and rank promotions for 3-star flag officers occurred simultaneously. Although starting in 2017 the PLA has wanted simultaneous rank and grade promotions to occur at every level, it has been a very long and difficult process and has not yet been fully implemented.

[9] 本报记者蒲海洋 [Pu Haiyang], “海军隆重举行将官军衔晋升仪式–吴胜利宣读命令  刘晓江主持仪式” [The Navy Held a Grand Ceremony to Promote Flag and Genearl Officers in Rank—Wu Shengli Read Orders, Liu Xiaojiang Presided Over the Ceremony], 人民海军[People’s Navy], 11 July 2014, 1.

[10] 吴耀谦 [Wu Yaoqian], “胡中明少将履新海军参谋长助理, 曾参加海军首次环球航行” [Major General Hu Zhongming Serves as the New Assistant to the Chief of Naval Staff and Participated in the Navy’s First Round-The-World Voyage], 澎湃新闻 [The Paper], 8 April 2015, https://www.thepaper.cn/newsDetail_forward_1318375.

[11] 翟佩能、郭建跃 [Zhai Peineng and Guo Jianyue], “立足本职岗位建设精神文明” [Building a Spiritual Civilization Based On One’s Own Position], 解放军报 [PLA Daily], 15 December 1996.

[12] “建功军营精武沙场——第九届全军学习成才标兵风采录” [Constructing Military Camps and Martial Arts Sands—The Ninth Army Learning And Successful Pacesetters’ Style Record], 解放军报 [PLA Daily], 22 September 2008, https://mil.news.sina.com.cn/2008-09-22/0624522402.html.

[13] 本报特约通讯员 黄育平 叶文勇 [Special correspondents Huang Yuping and Ye Wenyong], “潜艇艇长胡中明–试验试航不惧险” [Submarine Captain Hu Zhongming—Experimentation and Sea Trial without Fear of Danger], in “人民海军走过六十年风雨征程一代新型舰长走向大洋” [The People’s Navy Has Gone through Sixty Years of Ups and Downs, And a New Generation of Captains Has Gone to the Ocean], 解放军报 [PLA Daily], 24 April 2009, 3.

[14] See 本报记者孙国强特约通讯员马俊 [Reporter Sun Guoqiang and Special Correspondent Ma Jun], “生命线之光–南海舰队某潜艇基地扎实开展政治工作纪实” [The Light of the Lifeline—A Record of Solid Political Work Carried Out at a Certain Submarine Base of the South China Sea Fleet], 人民海军 [People’s Navy], 23 March 2015, 1.

[15] For confirmation that it happened to a boat from that unit, see Ibid. Pre-2009, the 2ndSubmarine Base was receiving both Shang- and Jin-class submarines; suggesting that the boat in question was perhaps most likely a Shang I, although it could have been a Jin.

[16] 者虞章才肖勇利特约记者沈抒 [Yu Zhangcai, Xiao Yongli, and Special Correspondent Shen Shu], “以只争朝夕的精神强军兴军–第一期海军学习贯彻习主席系列重要讲话精神集训班学员畅谈学习体会 (下)” [Strengthen the Military with the Spirit of Seizing the Day and Night—Students of the First Naval Training Class for Studying and Implementing the Spirit of President Xi’s Series of Important Speeches Talk About Their Learning Experience (Part 2)], 人民海军 [People’s Navy], 17 March 2014, 2.

Xi Jinping Appoints China’s Top Naval Commander: Admiral Hu Jongming Will Oversee the Largest Navy in the World by Number of Battleships,” Radio Free Asia, 27 December 2023.

… … … Hu Zhongming’s previous positions include deputy chief of staff of the navy, deputy commander of the Northern Theatre Command, commander of the Northern Theatre’s navy, and chief of staff of the navy.

Born in Qingdao, Shandong province, in 1964, Hu joined the PLA in 1979. He is a submariner by background and captained a submarine in the past.

Hu replaced Adm. Dong Jun, who was also present at the appointment ceremony, suggesting it was an orderly transition.

Operational experience in disputed waters

“Adm. Hu’s operational experience commanding both submarines and surface ships will enable him to guide PLAN efforts to improve coordination across warfare domains,” said a report by the China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) at the U.S. Naval War College.

More importantly, “Hu has experience commanding units operating throughout the South China Sea.”

“He commanded the 2nd Submarine Base, which has nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) that will have operated in the South China Sea,” said the report authored by Christopher Sharman and Andrew Erickson.

“Prior to 2010, he was a submarine Commanding Officer at the base, which means he likely operated in disputed waterspace.” … …

While the main responsibilities of a commander of the navy are “to man, train, and equip the force,” Hu’s appointment “confers significant real-world experience operating in contested waters and may portend a vision to use the PLAN more aggressively in gray zone activities or even future conflict,” according to the CMSI report. … … …