EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: US world power rests upon its ability to dominate the seas and the world’s commercial and military routes. Any power aspiring to a similar position goes against American geopolitical interests. China’s naval successes in the past decade or so therefore have far-reaching effects as the country is gradually becoming more experienced in military operations in far-flung regions across the globe.
A look at the map of China shows what the country’s geopolitical imperatives have been over the course of centuries.
Perhaps the first goal of all the successive Chinese dynasties was to gain and maintain control of the heartland – the Han core, which contains major Chinese rivers and is abundant with people and productive lands. The next logical goal was maintenance of influence over the buffer zones that surround the Han core. These consist of mountainous regions to the west, desert lands to the northwest, and impregnable forests to the south.
The third major imperative was historically to protect China’s coastline from foreign powers. However, because this threat was quite small in the ancient and medieval periods, the country did not see a need to develop powerful naval capabilities. In an age when there were no transcontinental trade routes and the only way to connect with the Middle East and Europe was the famous Silk Road, the geographical boundaries (mountains, jungles, deserts, and the sea) on all sides made China essentially a closed country with self-sufficient economic means. The Yangtze and Yellow rivers, with their surrounding fertile lands, produced enough to feed large populations in the Han core.