Honourable Mention: The Observable “Cult of the Defensive”: PLAN Strategic Shift Toward a Blue Water Navy and American Strategic Perception

Thomas M. Oliver


The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is undergoing a massive overhaul in its command/control structure, doctrine, and organization. Since 2015, the Chinese military budget allocation has placed an emphasis on modernizing and expanding its maritime forces, making possible a blue-water, offensive, roaming capability. As General Secretary Xi Jinping pushes for the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation through a process of “peaceful development,” American security officials are unsure of how to best interpret Chinese intentions. Given that Chinese rhetoric does not match its pursuit of specific weapons capabilities, the US is focussing its naval might on China’s littoral, hoping to contain Chinese expansion into the South China Sea.


With differing grand strategic preferences, the US and China are embroiled in an active security dilemma. Following the work of Alastair Johnston on strategic culture, this paper argues that key to understanding Chinese development and its use of military force is an examination of how the Chinese have exercised coercive power to fulfill political goals in the past. Though China ostensibly adheres to a pacifistic, Confucian strain of strategic culture, there exists another realpolitik thread that runs through to the present. By observing specific PLAN weapons systems development and their deployment, this paper suggests that Xi Jinping is willing to exercise force to fulfill his grand strategic goals.


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JMSS is a publication of the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

JMSS gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council.