September 23, 2009:
The Chinese Minister of Defense has made it official. China is building air and naval forces that can project Chinese military power far beyond coastal waters. It's been six centuries since China has sought to dominate the high seas. Back in the early 15th century, China dismantled its high seas fleet because it was too expensive to maintain, and foreign trade was not that important to China. That has changed. About 15 percent of China's booming economy comes from exports. Many of the raw materials needed to produce goods for domestic consumption, must be imported.
Thus China is committed to developing aircraft carriers, high quality SSNs (nuclear powered attack submarines), long range bombers and new warship designs. China is also striving to create a highly professional military. The Chinese already believe, and openly talk about, having achieved the ability to produce modern weapons. This is the result of stealing much military (and non-military) technology, and making an enormous (and largely successful) effort to develop the manufacturing skills to produce the gear themselves.
There are problems with all this. First, there is the corruption in the Chinese military, which has been a problem for thousands of years. Then there is the need to promote many officers, especially senior ones, more on the basis of their loyalty to the Communist Party, than for their military skills. Finally, there is the long tradition of the military not being prepared for war. Instead, more emphasis is placed on appearing to be prepared. None of these are uniquely Chinese problems, but they are all problem China has to overcome before their effort to dominate distant areas becomes a reality, rather than an expensive illusion.
Nevertheless, the Chinese leadership believe that, by 2033, the six hundredth anniversary of the dismantling of the last Chinese high seas fleet, China will again be projecting its military power far from home. In the early 15th century, Chinese war fleets were visiting Africa, India, the Persian Gulf and all over South East Asia. No one opposed them then. But now