Analysts have long wondered if the Chinese navy (PLAN) had a third island chain strategy, beyond the publicly declared strategies for the first island chain (centered on Taiwan) and second island chain (extending from Japan to Indonesia). Many American commentators believed that such a strategy would refer to the ability to project power capable of reaching America's bases in Hawaii.
However, China's recent maritime activities -- such as its extended counterpiracy patrols in the Horn of Africa and its involvement in a number of port development projects in Indian Ocean littorals (dubbed the "string of pearls") -- have raised the suspicion in Indian defense circles that the third island chain lies in the Indian Ocean, and specifically refers to the waters surrounding the Indian Andaman and Nicobar islands.
As China's dependence on Middle Eastern energy sources has grown, so has its concern over protecting its sea lines of communication for those energy imports. Given projected rates of growth of the Chinese economy, this dependence is only set to increase, from between 40 percent and 50 percent today to up to 80 percent in 2025. Naturally, the PLAN has been tasked with coming up with a strategy that can secure the lines of communication for China's oil -- not an enviable task, given the tyranny of geography.