China’s Naval Buildup and its Implications for the Asia-Pacific Region

China’s Naval Buildup and its Implications for the Asia-Pacific Region

China's remarkable weathering of the global recession has accelerated the expansion of its power relative to that of the West. American observers of China have already noted an increasingly assertive approach by Beijing, and attribute this shift in behavior to an expectation among China's leaders of a greater degree of deference and influence in international affairs.

Nowhere is this dynamic more apparent than in regional maritime issues, where Beijing's interests in maintaining access to foreign resources and enforcing its claims of sovereignty mix with foreign perceptions of Chinese intentions and external reactions to China's decades-long military modernization program. Fueled by an unprecedented period of rapid economic growth, China's leaders are investing hundreds of billions of dollars into a rapid expansion and modernization of China's military, the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

The implications of this investment for China's relations with the United States, as well as greater power dynamics throughout the Asia-Pacific region, will be profound. As China's maritime ambitions expand along with its naval capabilities, the Asia-Pacific world has taken notice, reacting with a mix of hope and trepidation. Many hope that a wealthier and more connected China will identify its interests closely with those of the international system, and use its newfound power to contribute to the health and success of the status quo. This hope, however, has been tempered by concerns about China's rise driven by history's lessons regarding the destabilizing nature of rising powers, the authoritarian nature of China's political system, China's well-funded decades-long military modernization program, and the opacity surrounding Beijing's plans and desired end-states.

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