Guarding the Straits

US Navy 050330-N-1307C-005 Quartermaster 2nd C...

US Navy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

High Seas Buffer: The Taiwan Patrol Force, 1950–1979
Bruce A. Elleman

Naval War College Press
June, 2o12

Recent events in the South China Sea and the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands, timed with a continued warming in relations between Taiwan and the Mainland, have temporarily displaced the six-decade international focus on the Taiwan Straits. Yet the strategic significance of that strip of water has not declined in the wake of recent events.  If anything, the PRC’s claims to the south and immediate north of Taiwan can be seen as an oblique effort  to bolster Beijing’s territorial claim on the Green Island itself.

That this is all taking place as China bestows overdue attention and budget on its navy and on maritime strategy is likely no coincidence. For these reasons, now is a good time for China watchers and naval planners to learn more about why China is so focused on controlling its “near seas.”

Bruce Elleman of the U.S. Naval War College offers us an oft overlooked piece of that puzzle. While history, Chinese irredentism, and geopolitics have set Beijing and Taipei at loggerheads, China’s grand strategy – and the doctrine of the People’s Liberation Army – Navy (PLAN) are also a response to decades during which the China coast was an uncontested highway of American naval might. Those decades formed the thinking of today’s PLAN leaders, and their doctrine and ambitions are tempered by the humiliating fact that the PLA, strong enough to challenge the U.N. on land in Korea, has been a dull instrument on anything wetter than a shallow river.

Elleman recounts the formative years of the PLA and its nearest sea from an American point of view, thus his study offers serves as a mirror for the PLAN, and deep background for what motivates China to dominate the waters within the “first island chain.”

One thought on “Guarding the Straits

  1. Pingback: What This All Means for Taiwan « The Peking Review

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