China has steadily built up its maritime capabilities over the past three decades, giving it the ability to contest its littoral seas in the event of conflict. But significant challenges remain before it can control those waters, let alone the broader Pacific Ocean.
-- A combination of factors—including geography, the capabilities of other regional states, technological questions, and Beijing’s own dubious procurement choices—work to dampen China’s maritime potential.
-- Taiwan remains an inflection point for Chinese maritime ambitions. Without decisive control of the island, China is constrained in its efforts to project force further into the Pacific. Currently, though, China lacks the means to accomplish a successful invasion of the island.
-- Particular areas of weakness in China’s maritime capabilities include undersea warfare, amphibious lift, and aerial refueling capabilities.
Limitations on Chinese maritime capabilities
It is at sea where the greatest likelihood exists for a direct clash between Chinese and U.S. forces. Specifically, the Western Pacific is the most likely site of open conflict between this era's two most prominent powers—just as the plains of Central Europe once were the central flashpoint between the Soviets and Americans. Accurately calibrating the strengths and weaknesses of Chinese maritime power is therefore essential in determining U.S. risk and potential responses.
Click here for the full report (14 PDF pages), on the Defense Priorities website.