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Xi and the need for a strong navy

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Yesterday, we noted a Reuters report on China under Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 that says Xi “has refashioned the People’s Liberation Army into a force that’s rapidly closing the gap on U.S. firepower — and in some vital areas has surpassed it.”

One of Xi’s key efforts has been to modernize the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), which — as its name shows — has traditionally been subservient to the PLA’s land-based forces. One motivation for Xi’s focus on the navy, Reuters suggests, is the perception of China’s historical vulnerability from the ocean:

In the opening scenes of the “Strong Military” documentary, Xi is shown boarding the guided missile destroyer Haikou at Shekou port on December 8, 2012, and sailing into the South China Sea for the first time since becoming party and military chief that year. As Xi looks to the horizon through binoculars, the narrator says: “As the warship pierces the waves, Xi Jinping peers toward a vision obscured in the mist of history when, 170 years ago, Western powers came from the sea to open the door to China, beginning a bitter nightmare for ancient China.”

This point has been emphasized in state media coverage of yesterday’s naval parade held to mark the 70th founding anniversary of PLAN. Here is Xinhua:

Xi: Strong navy indispensable for promoting peace

A strong navy is essential for a country to safeguard its national security. From 1840 to 1949, China was invaded by foreign powers more than 470 times from the sea, which brought untold suffering to its people. Peace, like air and sunshine, is hardly noticed when people are benefiting from it. But none of us can live without it. As a country that once endured bitter memories of foreign assaults, China might know this better than any other country in the world.

Note: Rather than “strong navy,” recent articles in Chinese state media have been using “strong maritime nation” (海洋强国 hǎiyáng qiángguó), which is SupChina’s word of the day today.

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Jeremy Goldkorn

Jeremy Goldkorn worked in China for 20 years as an editor and entrepreneur. He is editor-in-chief of SupChina, and co-founder of the Sinica Podcast.