Chinese Energy Security: The Myth of the PLAN's Frontline Status

  • August 01, 2010
  • Dr Ryan Clarke

This monograph examines the dynamics of China’s energy security dilemma and the role of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). Following this, PLAN development is discussed and its future role in regional security is hypothesized. This report argues that it is domestic market inefficiencies and poor management practices that pose the greatest threat to China’s energy security. Further, less and less of Chinese energy imports are making their way to the country by sea, and as such, the PLAN actually has a minimal role to play. Given these realities, Chinese fears of a naval blockade that deprives it of energy supplies, and American confidence that this is a realistic strategic option in the event of hostilities are implausible. In addition, Beijing’s desire to develop aircraft carriers and other high-tech naval capabilities, combined with its contribution to the anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden, have led many analysts to erroneously conclude that China seeks to engage in global power projection like the United States. However, the focus of the PLAN will remain regional and on asymmetric capabilities, namely the effective use of submarines and other undersea “unknowns” that ultimately seek to deter American and possible Japanese involvement in a conflict over Taiwan and/or maritime features in the South China Sea, such as the Spratly Islands, which China views as inalienable parts of its territory. Although China’s interests are expanding and becoming more international in nature, recovering from the Century of Humiliation and ensuring domestic legitimacy remain the top priorities of China’s leadership.