Chapter 6 Military Preparedness of the PLA in the South China Sea
Division of Chinese Politics, Military and Warfighting Concepts
Huang Chung Ting Associate Research Fellow
“China’s Military Strategy,” a 2015 Chinese defense white paper, states that “Preparation for military struggle (PMS) is a basic military practice and an important guarantee for safeguarding peace, containing crises and winning wars. To expand and intensify PMS, China’s armed forces must meet the requirement of being capable of fighting and winning, focus on solving major problems and difficulties, and do solid work and make relentless efforts in practical preparations, in order to enhance their overall capabilities for deterrence and warfighting.” The white paper stresses that in light of the evolution of warfare and the national security situation, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) should not only base its military preparedness on winning informationized local wars, but also highlighting maritime military struggle and maritime PMS.
In 1968, Richard Nixon declared the Vietnamization of the Vietnam War, which indirectly opened the door to military preparedness for the PLA in the South China Sea. Since defeating the South Vietnamese Navy in 1974 and acquiring all of the Paracel Islands, the PLA had been pushing forward its “From Green Water to Blue Water” plan through the Navy’s submarine 252 and the South Pacific Special Surface Fleet, which had stepped out of the first island chain while strengthening its military preparedness in the South China Sea by implementing the “Green Water Defense” strategy formulated by Commander of the PLA Navy Liu Huaqing. In 1988, China capitalized on Vietnam’s preoccupation with withdrawing its troops from Cambodia to capture the Johnson South Reef in the Spratly Islands. In the early 1990s, it took advantage of the retreat of U.S. forces from the Subic Bay Base to Guam to seize Mischief Reef.
The securing of strategic positions in the Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands in the South China Sea is fundamental to the PLA’s military preparedness in the region. With the subsequent establishment of the Sansha Garrison, the creation of the regular combat readiness patrol system in the South China Sea, the expansion of the PLA’s naval fleet, and the reclamation of islands in the waters, the PLA has been able to prepare for military struggles in the region in a diversified manner. As the South China Sea has become a major arena for the U.S. -China competition in the Indo-Pacific, the PLA’s preparations for military struggle in the South China Sea are a matter of concern to the countries with a stake in the region. On the basis of this knowledge, this paper intends to delve into the military preparedness of the PLA in the South China Sea from three perspectives: the extension of military strength and battlefield awareness, the offense and defense on islands and reefs, and the suppression of foreign forces in the waters.
Owing to length constraints, this paper will leave out the topic of military preparedness in the airspace of the South China Sea. The military drills carried out by the PLA and other countries in the South China Sea are in the nature of military diplomacy, regional cooperation, humanitarian relief and disaster assistance, and are therefore not covered in this article.
However, in addition to the economic and development benefits claimed by the CPC government, the process of promoting the BRI has continued to create debt traps, loss of national sovereignty, environmental damage, and social disorder in the countries concerned, and has been widely criticized by the international community as irresponsible, suspecting China’s real intention behind the BRI is no win-win situation for China and BRI recipient countries as claimed.
Since the United States and other major European countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany and France have shifted their foreign policy focus to the Indo- Pacific region and formulated related strategies, and even launched policies with implications of countering the BRI, this article aims to provide a brief overview and analysis of China’s promotion of BRI in the Indo-Pacific in the past year.
“China’s Military Strategy,” Central Government of the PRC, May 26, 2015, http://big5.www.gov.cn/gate/big5/www.gov.cn/zhengce/2015-05/26/content_2868988.htm.