CHINESE MARITIME POWER IN THE 21ST CENTURY: STRATEGIC PLANNING, POLICY AND PREDICTIONS

Reviewed by: Dr James Bosbotinis

This is an important and timely book, providing an in-depth examination of Chinese maritime strategy and its prospects. Originally published in Chinese in 2015, the book has been translated into English and features a preface by Geoffrey Till. The author, Hu Bo, is well-placed to provide such an analysis. Hu is a professor at Peking University and Director of its Centre for Maritime Strategy Studies within the Institute of Ocean Research, and Director of the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative, also based at Peking University. In this regard, Hu provides an authoritative voice on the development of Chinese maritime thinking, adding to the value of the analysis within the book. It warrants highlighting that Hu provides a Chinese perspective and thus there will be areas where a British or Western reader more generally, may disagree; conversely, it also sheds light on Chinese thinking and thus can aid in developing understanding.

Chinese Maritime Power in the 21st Century seeks to provide a comprehensive analysis of the drivers for Chinese maritime strategy. Divided into 11 chapters encompassing the objectives of the development of Chinese maritime power, ‘The Connotation and Characteristics of Chinese Maritime Power’, its geo-strategic context, the disputes in the East and South China Seas, relations with the US, ‘Maritime Relations with Japan, ASEAN, India, Australia and Russia’, and ‘Deterrence is Preferrable to Warfighting’, whilst the conclusion also looks out to 2049 and the potential future nature of Chinese maritime power. Hu addresses key themes including the evolving role and importance of seapower for China, the Belt and Road Initiative, the development of aircraft carriers, and the nature of relations with the US. Hu draws on both Chinese and Western sources for his analysis, with extensive chapter endnotes included. The depth of Hu’s research is evident.

Chinese Maritime Power in the 21st Century is essential reading for anyone with a professional or academic interest in the development of Chinese maritime strategy. A principal area of this reviewer’s research is focused on China’s evolving maritime strategy and regional security in the Asia-Pacific and I found this book to be most valuable. It provides an in-depth, well-researched Chinese perspective into the rationale, challenges and prospects for the development of China’s maritime power in the coming decades, and whilst aspects of Hu’s analysis may be challenging to a Western audience (for example, with regard to Japan), it is nonetheless of value. The translation is for the most part, good, but there are areas where clarity could be improved. Chinese Maritime Power in the 21st Century will likely not appeal to the lay reader, a point reinforced by the price of the hardback, although an e-book version is available for £40.49. For those with a professional or academic interest in Chinese maritime strategy, this book will be of significant value, despite the price. This book helps shed light on how China views seapower, and its increasing shift from a continental power to a state with significant maritime interests, including possessing what is now the world’s largest navy. Chinese Maritime Power in the 21st Century is strongly recommended.